Suunto Vertical Review
The 2023 Suunto Vertical is my favourite Suunto watch and here’s a detailed review of it, warts and all, starting with a summary.
I love its looks and I love the many subtle improvements that have been made to its screens and menus. The wholly new onboard maps fill a massively important feature gap where previously Garmin and Coros had led. Battery life is excessively, ridiculously, crazily long, and GNSS accuracy is the best on any sports watch…ever. And I mean EVER. I even love the buttons, the strap and the app.
Every silver lining has a cloud though. I found the heart rate sensor to be pants and I would definitely like a bigger screen area. Part of the ‘bezel’ now has a solar charging ring, I’m not entirely sure how useful this is in real life. It can’t hurt though, right?
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A supremely competent outdoor watch - with onboard maps
Price - 85%
Apparent Accuracy - 90%
Build Quality & Design - 95%
Features, Including App - 85%
Openness & Compatability - 85%
Suunto Vertical Review – Summary
As a flagship device, the Suunto Vertical disappoints me only in terms of its below-meh level of heart rate accuracy. However, this disappointment is blown away by the best-ever GPS accuracy. GPS location is just one aspect of understanding your surroundings, Suunto now offers onboard maps, along with a wide range of sensors and apps that cover storm alerts, sunset alerts, ETA, barometric trends, temperature, and blood oxygen to provide a comprehensive understanding of you, in your environment and on your adventure.
The elephant in the room is Garmin which has always been at the forefront of feature-rich devices. However, in many ways, Suunto’s app store has already caught up and offered practical, add-on features rather than a plethora of “pretty” watch faces. Although Suunto could benefit from a few better watch faces! In some ways, Suunto’s approach beats Garmin as you only add the complexity you need via Suunto PLUS apps whereas having too many of those features pre-loaded means that Garmin watch interfaces are highly complex and sometimes very confusing to use.
The battery life has improved, providing market-leading longevity. With per-second GPS logging, multi-day trips are easily recorded, and on sunny days, the solar ring extends the already impressive battery life. However, the Vertical seems to have some issues with fast charging and reporting the correct battery level, which Suunto will promptly fix before you get yours!
The Vertical’s display could benefit from covering more of the available area, but it remains readable in many lighting conditions, and the configurable backlight further improves readability when needed. However, the sports watch industry is moving toward bright, high-resolution AMOLED screens. Many people are willing to pay a premium for prettier watches and shorter battery life. As a true adventurer, though, you will likely stick with trusted and efficient display technology and eschew these modern gimmicks.
Suunto’s app looks good and is good; its route planning is exceptional and benefits from 3D visualization and heatmaps.
The titanium/steel construction and 100% sapphire glass offer one of the best watch ‘shells’ possible. Suunto has tested this watch in real-world conditions to high levels of durability, and its performance exceeds the MIL standard accreditations it lists.
The Suunto Vertical is a highly capable sports watch with numerous training and physiology features. Although it lacks the increasingly less important ANT+, multi-sensor support, it may not quite match the Garmin Fenix in athletic sports that ‘need’ many boxes checked. However, many people prefer Suunto’s aesthetics and may not even use all the features that Suunto offers, let alone what Garmin could provide on top straight from the box.
I like it.
- Distinctive, rugged aesthetics on an easy-to-wear 24×7 adventure sports watch.
- Many sports profiles with the usual, wide range of customisation opportunities including zones, alerts, power management profiles, many metrics per screen, many lap types, and more
- Suunto Plus ‘apps’ and 3rd party link-ups support a wide scope of sports/navigational uses
- All key sensors – Barometer, Altimeter, GPS, SpO2, Magnetic Compass, temperature, and optical HR/HRV.
- Support for sports sensors like chest straps, power meters, cadence/speed sensors, STRYD, CORE, ActiveLook Glasses/H.U.D, and more
- On-wrist running/hiking power calculation
- Improved menu aesthetics with clearly readable screens
- Maps that support complex navigation in your adventures (routes, POIs, bearing nav, storm warnings)
- 60 hours of high-resolution, dual-band GPS-tracking; 90 hours of single band; market-leading 500hr GPS battery life (Tour); even more with solar.
- Battery management profiles; a full recharge within 90 minutes; and 10 hours of charge in 10 minutes.
- Music control for your smartphone
- Optical heart rate needs improvement
- No contactless payments (try the Sunnto 7 for music, maps and payments)
- Display/Bezel – Suunto needs to introduce larger display sizes with smaller bezels.
Introduction and competitor comparison
Suunto Vertical is the company’s biggest and best outdoor watch. It boasts the latest generation of tech, partly shared with its smaller siblings, the Suunto 9 Peak and 9 Peak Pro. Together, these three watches represent the top-end of Suunto’s product range with the 5 Peak representing a mid-range offering.
Its competitors would be the Garmin Fenix 7X and the Coros Vertix 2, both of which are good outdoor watches. The former is a complex and uber-feature-packed watch with the Coros also coming in high on the features stakes. All 3 boast high-quality materials either as standard or as an option. Once you add the sapphire lens, titanium construction and solar charging to the Garmin, you won’t get any change from US$1000, whereas Coros and Suunto come in 20-40% cheaper and perhaps represent better value.
I suspect few people will switch from Coros or Garmin to Suunto and vice versa. So, the most likely buyer of a Suunto Vertical would be a new adventure watch buyer or an existing Suunto owner, most likely a Suunto 9 / 9 Baro owner from 2018 or AMBIT3 Vertical owner from 2016 looking to upgrade to a more modern device with maps, solar charging and superior battery life.
Key competitor comparison (all have onboard maps and great battery life)
- Garmin – more expensive, more complex, the most features, good app and good app ecosystem
- Coros – better value, great features, not-so-great-app and limited ecosystem (but improving)
- Suunto – better value, equally great features, a rich well-designed app and an already-good 3rd party app ecosystem.
Suunto Vertical – What’s New?
There are a whole host of changes and additions. Let’s start with the 4 major leaps forward which are
- Proper, onboard maps downloaded over WiFi
- Even better battery life – 90 hours of GPS+Galileo recording
- Accurate dual-frequency, 4-constellation GNSS/GPS
- Solar Charging
I’ll cover those in much more detail in a minute but note that there are also these additions
- Many tweaks to the menus
- Ability to have two 3rd party apps per workout (like Garmin)
- Refreshed and expanded the weather widget
- New solar widget
- New charging screen
- Other widgets also refreshed
- Good, tactile buttons
- The Sapphire lens is 100% sapphire. Not simply a sapphire coating.
- Nice looking, interchangeable, silicone strap that works well
- New design details like a ridged Titanium bezel.
- New charging puck, although it’s similar-looking to the previous ones.
- A new watch face that shows solar charging
- Fast charging, 90 minutes from zero to hero.
- Subtly different MIL-STD-810H ruggedness tests. Suunto claims to exceed these standards in any case.
- Display-based flashlight for in-tent use rather than wayfinding
- Voice feedback through earphones (not tested)
Last, but not least, are general additions to most of the Suunto range via the smartphone app
- Swim stress – based on CSS
- Impact of your workout
- Training load, Training Stress and Workout Intensity
- Recovery, including ‘feeling’ feedback
- Progress feedback to assess long-term improvement
- A daily coach, updated after every sleep, workout, and every day
- Workout planner with the ability to link to external services like TP
- Race running or cycling Strava segments on the watch
- Race apps tailored to specific events like duathlon, swim-run and
- Various tests covering decoupling, aerobic abilities, FTP and Cooper Test
Deep Dive: Suunto Vertical Maps
Vertical is the first high-end Suunto watch to have proper onboard maps. It’s an important feature for an outdoor watch to have and we can reasonably assume it will be on all the company’s new high-end watches going forwards. Recent Suunto 9 Peak/Pro models may get maps as an update if they have enough space to store them but my guess is that they won’t.
The maps have no place names and are not routable, which means they essentially depict the terrain as a layer or picture. Any active breadcrumb route is superimposed onto the image without any comprehension of junctions or other points on the map. However, this is perfectly normal and distinct from your car’s SatNav. You can obtain this type of routing capability on the Suunto app. Nevertheless, attempting to enter an address into, say, a Garmin watch’s routing engine is a tricky undertaking and is best avoided.
The map layers give a screen focus at these levels: 500m>200m>100m>500m>25m. Another nice feature is how the zoom works between the layers. Press to zoom to the next level of detail or press and hold to zoom out – it works very well, especially with the tactile buttons.
One nice feature of the map is that you can open and keep it open without starting to log a sport. Another is contour lines. It’s pretty flat where I am most of the time in London and the contours add nothing but when tested in Surrey and Cornwall, they give a feel for their potential usefulness in more seriously mountainous areas.
Bearings, POIs, Pan/Zoom, compass and the ability to follow breadcrumb routes are all linked to the map functionality and there are 3 flavours of maps – normal, dark and high contrast.
Overall, I would say that the watch itself is far more than competent as a navigational tool. While it is true that you should use the app for more complex route planning needs, that is the case with other brands as well.
Deep Dive: Suunto Vertical’s Awesome Battery Life & Charging
The battery lives are so impressive that it would take half a lifetime to fully test them from fully charged to fully depleted. Suunto appear confident that the actual battery lives are even longer. I would say that this is a good starting point since all batteries degrade over time, and this approach will keep you happier with the performance for longer.
The solar charge is derived from a 3mm ring that encircles the display.
Al I can really do is state the impressive battery life claims which are these:
Performance Mode (4 GPS systems, dual-band)
- 60 hours of recording (85 hours with solar @50k Lux)
Normal/Endurance Mode (4GPS Systems, single band)
- 90 hours of recording (140 hours with solar)
Ultra Mode (4GPS Systems on/off for 0.5 seconds, single band)
- 140 hours of recording (280 hours with solar)
Tour Mode (logging once every 2 minutes)
- 500 hours of recording (30 days with solar)
That’s twice the battery life of the Suunto 9 Peak and three times that of the older Suunto 9 Baro.
Even better than that, the new fast charging mode should give 10 hours of GPS recording for a mere 10 minutes of charge time with a full charge taking 90 minutes.
- I couldn’t really verify the battery performance claims. When I was at a low level of battery, the indicated number of hours remaining (6) was miles off and I got 3 hours until the battery died although I looked at the map a few times and did have the backlight cranked up.
- I can’t get the watch to charge fully or charge quickly. Suunto is unsure why and this seems to be a me-dependent issue.
- Battery charge and solar gain are not recorded in the workout data/log and so I can’t show you either on any charts (Suunto has said that they are aware of this omission and would like to add it).
- In the solar widget photo, above, the widget does not seem to reflect the 4 hours of full, direct sunlight the watch received in the middle of my garden, nor the runs and walks I’d done beforehand (possibly due to a firmware update erasing the data)
Suunto Vertical Accuracy
Suunto was confident that this is the most accurate-ever GPS. But is it?
These GPS test tracks all have the Vertical in RED and cover a selection of my road rides, trail rides, road runs and hikes.
10-Mile GNSS Running Over a Precise Test Course Used Multiple Times
Suunto received the best-ever results with reflected signal in one part of the course being the only, minor concern.
Trail MTB In Cornwall – Coast to Coast and Back, Suunto Vertical Review
Nothing to see here. All was good with Garmin Edge 540, Wahoo and Apple.
riding in the Surrey Hills
Nothing to see here, all is good.
Tour Mode Hiking in Cornwall
Tour mode grabs a GPS point every couple of minutes or so. Consequently, the GPS track is a bit rubbish if you are looking for accuracy. However, it pretty much grabs the gist of things if that’s all you need for a massively long multi-day hike. Personally, I’d never use it but I did this time…just for you
I’d call some of these parts of the track ‘walking up a steep coastal cliff’.
Heart Rate Accuracy
The heart rate sensor can occasionally be accurate but, for me, it was usually unacceptably inaccurate most of the time. Heart Rate accuracy varies from person to person and from use to use. You may well be considerably luckier than me…or not. FWIW: I tend to get bad results with HR sensors from all brands and so I use a reliable chest strap HR sensor.
Elevation accuracy looks good.
The Tour Mode elevation plot doesn’t look great but is accurate for the data points taken
Noteworthy – Flashlight
The ‘flashlight’ simply turns the display fully on and cranks up the backlight. It gives enough light to rummage around in a dark tent and find stuff.
Noteworthy – Weather Widget
The widgets have all been tweaked but the Weather Widget has been tweaked more than most and now looks usefully cool and is refreshed every hour from your smartphone.
Take Out – Suunto Vertical Review
Suunto’s relatively new corporate owners have likely put the company on a good financial footing. With eco-friendly assembly in Finland, the company is also sending the right messages to its typical adventure customer base. Whilst the recent but smaller 9 Peak Pro addressed the ‘smaller wrist‘ market, Suunto Vertical appeals to typical, existing Suunto users and wholly new adventure watch buyers, which could make it more challenging for Suunto to sell this excellent watch in large volumes.
Another key takeaway from this review is that Suunto Vertical is gaining ground on the Garmin Fenix for the adventure features that count, although from a starting point of much lower market share. I would add that overall the Coros Vertix 2 is roughly on par with Suunto Vertical, but Suunto’s superior ecosystem gives it a winning edge. The company’s investment in the transformed app and easy-to-implement partner integrations over the last few years is impressive and clearly paying off, and the watch itself is no longer missing a key strategic feature – offline maps. Plus, Suunto has added small-scale feature boosts such as the ability to run 2 simultaneous Suunto apps (like Garmin, Coros has none), but the watch’s inability to pair two chest strap sensors or any ANT+ sensors may be frustrating for technically-minded endurance athletes/triathletes.
With the exception of a full-screen display, the watch and strap have properly addressed all the aesthetic and visible hardware components. Other than some buggy map rendering that will be sorted out soon, the watch runs smoothly and quickly.
The style of the menu interface and screens dates back to 2016. Before I got hold of the Vertical, I was thinking that it might need a refresh. Coincidentally, it has received one, albeit a subtle one. Maybe a wholly new look and feel will be appropriate in a few more years, so long as it does not distract from the generally good level of usability the watch has today.
Of course, there is always room for improvement, as is the case with any sports watch. The major feature sets are covered more than well enough.
The obvious answer is that Suunto needs next-gen screen tech. But I’m not sure this would benefit the performance-minded, ‘pro’ target market, as it would inevitably lead to a battery life hit and customers probably place a greater value on longevity. That said, it needs a bigger display area, even if only the same dullish tech is used.
Similarly, as a triathlete, I would be inclined to suggest that Suunto should give me more of the feature that I would use, such as track mode, multi-sensor pairing, and ANT+ pairing. However, I’m not Suunto’s target demographic. Suunto can better serve its target markets by enhancing its physiology features and forming partnerships with companies in that area.
Overall, the Suunto Vertical is an excellent adventure watch that is worth considering for both typical, existing Suunto users and wholly new adventure watch buyers.
Price and Availability
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