Suunto Race Review

An in-depth review of the Suunto Race GPS running watch.

By on April 6, 2024 | Comments

If there are just three things you need to know about the new Suunto Race ($450), it’s that the high-definition AMOLED display is simply beautiful, the value for the price is exceptional, and ultrarunners need not fear because the battery life puts the watch in the same company as those from Coros.

This watch is a beautiful piece of hardware. Nothing has changed with the Finnish company’s keen sense of style and design combined with high-quality componentry. But it’s the competitive price point for a feature-rich watch that is a big leap forward. The base model includes several first-time features like worldwide touch screen-enabled maps, a vibrant screen, heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring, and Suunto Guides that do everything from offering coaching to providing real-time effort monitoring.

But even among these positive changes, two staple Suunto drawbacks remain true: The processing speed is still less than other similar watches from other brands and the mapping out of the box is not as strong. Also, some key features I’ve grown to love from other manufacturers are missing, including offline Spotify streaming and solar charging.

Still, the total package, including its value, warrants the addition of the Suunto Race to our Best GPS Running Watches guide. Read on for the details.

Shop the Suunto Race
Suunto Race - face view

The Suunto Race. All photos: iRunFar/Craig Randall

Suunto Race Display

The 2.45-ounce (70 grams) Suunto Race is the first trail-specific watch to use an AMOLED display that’s a generous 1.43 inches across. We’ve all become accustomed to high-definition displays — be it on our phones, laptops, or TVs — but GPS watches for running have been slow to bring this same brilliance to the wrist. Companies like Garmin have offered these high-definition displays but not in their trail-focused fēnix or Enduro lines. Even the watch that recently preceded the Suunto Race — the Suunto Vertical (Suunto Vertical review) with its $800 price tag — still has an analog display.

The difference between AMOLED and analog is staggering. This display is incredibly vivid and easy to read in any weather or light condition. In my five months of testing, I’ve taken it to Hawaii’s beaches, Colorado’s snowy mountains, and daily through the flat light and early winter darkness. It does take more battery power to keep the display running, but Suunto has built-in standby and raise-to-wake features to help conserve power.

These battery-saving options are handy on paper, but in practice, they can be problematic. While at rest or during activity, the watch will dim the screen for battery conservation. Unfortunately, it can take several seconds for it to come back to full brightness — so much so that I’ve slapped at the watch in frustration when I simply want to check the time or see some data while running.

Of course, you can get around this by leaving the watch in full display mode, but as I mentioned, it takes a significant toll on the battery. In day-to-day life, this means charging the watch more often. If you are in a race or out on a very long run, you’ll want to be mindful of the display setting and put up with the mildly annoying dimming to keep the watch from running out of power.

In the future, when technology costs come down and battery efficiency improves, all GPS watches will include an AMOLED screen, but for now, Suunto is in a class of its own by combining this beautiful display with the watch’s other features.

Suunto Race - front view

A front view of the Suunto Race.

Suunto Race Battery Life

Before the Suunto Race, one of the knocks against Suunto watches was the battery life, especially for ultrarunning. So much so, in fact, that many of us have taken measures like re-charging a watch during activities, such as at aid stations, in order to make a watch last the duration of an event. It was nice that a Suunto watch was able to charge while in use, but it’s 2024 and we need a watch that can go for 20, 30, or 40 hours of continuous usage. Out of the box and with full features enabled, including heart rate monitoring and best-performing GPS tracking, the Suunto Race can exceed the company’s 40-hour battery life claim. I’ve gotten close to 45 hours of letting it run on my wrist in a test scenario from home.

With a lower battery performance setting in a non-activity mode with fewer GPS pings and heart rate, sleep tracking, and mapping disabled, the watch will stay powered for up to 26 days. Compare these stats to the Garmin fēnix 7, which is nearly twice as expensive, or any Coros model, some of which are less expensive, some of which are more, and you won’t find a more competitive watch for the price and feature set.

One sneaky difference between Suunto’s newer watches, starting with the Suunto 9 Peak Pro that came out in 2020, and competitors’ products are their fast re-charging times. When you plug the Suunto 9 Peak Pro, Vertical, or Race into the wall, it takes only about 25 minutes for the watch to recharge from dead to nearly 80%. In less than an hour the watch will be fully charged again. This is about 45 minutes to a full hour faster than the competition. It’s a very impressive feature, and if you are endeavoring to push the watch beyond 40 hours in a single push, you can still recharge the battery during an activity.

Suunto Race - side view - v2

The side view of the Suunto Race.

Suunto Race Features and Functionality

When looking at the Suunto Race, you should ask yourself if you’re a dial or buttons person. Frankly, after testing nearly all of the best GPS watches for running over the last four years, I’m still not a dial guy. From the Coros Pace to the Coros Vertix line and now, unfortunately, with the Suunto Race, I continue to find dial scrolling imperfect and unreliable.

This watch has two buttons on either side of a scrolling dial, and it’s just too sloppy for my tastes. It is tactile and looks great, but to actually use the dial, such as at the end of a run when scrolling to the save option, it scrolls too quickly and needs more precision than my energy-deprived brain can quickly muster. Fortunately, it also has a touch screen that, in most circumstances, lets you avoid using the dial. The touch screen itself is a brilliant upgrade, particularly when using maps.

You get either 16 gigabytes of internal storage for the steel model or 32 gigabytes for the titanium model that you can fill with maps from all over the globe. You have to set up Wi-Fi pairing with your home router, open the free Suunto app to find and download the map you want, and then spend about 10 minutes transferring the maps to your watch.

The downside is that the maps are unnamed and unlabeled, which is a gripe we’ve had with other Suunto watches. The plus side is that they’re fully touch-screen compatible, so you can simply swipe around the screen to move about the map, and then, and here’s where the dial is a very useful touch: turn the dial to zoom in and out with total ease.

Suunto Race - button and dial side view

The buttons and dial on the Suunto Race.

Suunto Race Heart Rate Monitoring

Several Suunto watch models have come with optical heart rate sensors and the one on the Suunto Race is the best yet. In fact, while it’s still not as good as the data obtained from a heart rate strap, the optical heart rate data is more reliable, accurate, and dependable than any other watch I’ve tested. Though all watch manufacturers tout optical heart rate tracking accuracy in their marketing, behind closed doors they will tell you that it is, particularly at high aerobic outputs, pitiful. This is the least pitiful among watches I’ve tested from Coros and Garmin over the years, and it has emboldened Suunto to integrate HRV measurement into its feature set.

HRV has become a buzzword in coaching circles for its ability to indicate your training readiness. Multiple factors affect it beyond exercise, but in simple terms, HRV observes the differences in time between your heart’s beats. It’s imperative to use sleep tracking to get an HRV score that is as accurate as possible. It has become an interesting metric I refer to each morning after wearing the watch at night. The watch has a “do not disturb” mode that keeps the screen dark at night and pauses alerts.

Suunto Race - optical heart rate sensor back view

A look at the Suunto Race’s optical heart rate sensor.

Suunto Race Other Features

On the topic of night-time use, another excellent feature of the Suunto Race is the flashlight. Enabling this function takes over the entire display with an adjustable brightness white glow. This is unlike the more preferred style that Garmin offers, which is a light at the top of the crown, enabling you to point the light at things, but I still very much appreciate this version of a flashlight, particularly when sharing a small space with someone, such as a tent.

Suunto has a library of Guides that you install on the watch from the app. There are everything from Strava Live Segments to nutrition alerts to cadence and power measurements, as well as other coaching components. The app is much improved from the old days of “Movescount” — it’s a very clear and easy-to-use addition to the watch. Transferring courses or routes is fast and a breeze.

In terms of on-wrist sizing, it’s the same size as the Suunto Vertical but the Suunto Race feels smaller on your wrist. As a result, it sits somewhere between the tiny Suunto 9 Peak Pro and the Suunto Vertical in terms of on-wrist size.

Suunto Race - worn on a wrist

The Suunto Race, as worn on a wrist.

Suunto Race Overall Impressions

The Suunto Race, for the money and feature set, is the most successful watch for trail runners from the brand as of now.

The impressive battery and high-definition display alone make it a steal for the price, but when you add the best optical heart rate sensor on the market and clean aesthetics that put it way above even the best-looking watches from the competition, this watch becomes a highly covetable device.

The lagging processing power is the only real drawback. Suunto still hasn’t managed to make a GPS watch move as fluidly when scrolling features, enabling functions, or saving activities as the other brands. This is a rather small critique when we’re talking about a difference of milliseconds, but it’s the one complaint I continue to have with the brand’s products. That doesn’t take away from making the Suunto Race the runner-up for best overall GPS watch in our Best GPS Running Watches guide.

Shop the Suunto Race

Call for Comments

  • Are you running with the Suunto Race? If so, what are your thoughts on its various specifications and performance?
  • How does the Suunto Race compare to other GPS watches you have used?
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Craig Randall

Craig Randall is a Gear Editor and Buyer’s Guide Writer at iRunFar. Craig has been writing about trail running apparel and shoes, the sport of trail running, and fastest known times for four years. Aside from iRunFar, Craig Randall founded Outdoor Inventory, an e-commerce platform and environmentally-driven second-hand apparel business. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Craig Randall is a trail runner who has competed in races, personal projects, and FKTs.