Suunto M5 Fitness Watch

Designed for people who simply want to exercise, the Suunto is easy to operate and won't overwhelm you with needless functions.
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Heart-rate monitors can be intimidating with all kinds of buttons and selections that might turn off the user just in a quest for basic fitness. And some heart-rate monitors are loaded with features that many people just don’t need.

This “fitness watch” is just what it says. It’s simple in its operation, and the screen literally holds your hand through the process of pushing buttons to keep you on track. Plus it’s all about fitness – fitness of any level, but nonetheless, fitness. That means you don’t get interval timers, lap times, recovery alarms, hydration meters, or all the other bells and whistles. And that’s OK for the right user.

We used this watch for a few months – it arrived at stores in August – and found it pleasant in many ways. Once you input your fitness level, age, gender, experience, and the like in a user profile, it chooses workouts for you, based on whether you chose fitness or weight-loss as a goal. And, each time you use the monitor, it tells you what your workout is going to be. For example, 30 minutes hard, or 50 minutes easy – and then it doesn’t take its eye off you (so to speak). Lag a little on the intensity and a little beep chirps with an arrow reminding you to step it up; push a little too hard and a beep chirps to tell you to back off.

Then, once you are done, you can scroll through a series of summary screens telling you what you did, what percent of the target workout you finished, how long you exercised, how many calories you burned, and your average and peak heart rates. It also tells you how many hours you’ll need to recover. Heck, you can even look at charts and graphs of what you’ve done and size up overall percentages of your completion of target workouts.

And, for the women, it looks nice and sleek on the wrist. No big clunky sushi dish here.

You can also do a fitness test (walk one mile as fast as you can), which you can then re-do to track your progress. Then, data from the tests are logged for you to review in one neat package on your arm. Oh, and the test and the workouts are based on recommendations from the well-reputed American College of Sports Medicine.

One feature we found a bit “evil,” if you will: If you are not working out at the intensity the watch has chosen, it will simply increase your workout time to completion – without telling you! So if you expect to go 50 minutes to hit 100 percent (or x number of calories), you may be sweating it up for 5, 10 or more minutes if you are lagging. Now, that’s not to say you can’t just stop whenever you want. But if you are a Pavlovian dog-type of an exerciser, you’re going to be watching for that “100% completed” message. Same goes the other way: Work out what it deems too hard, and it’ll shorten the routine.

There is also no directed warm up or cool down (and this is not explained in the manual). Rather, the watch simply assumes you’ll be going easier at the start and finish and calculates that as part of your routine.

You also can’t scroll through the workouts it has selected for you for the week and re-arrange them based on your schedule. If it says 50 minutes medium, well, by golly, that’s what you’re doing. You can’t choose to do that in two days and do something harder that day. Again, if you do a different workout, it just recalculates, so all is good in the end. Nevertheless, there is something odd about just assuming the watch is going to (correctly) tell you what to do.

For the fitness user or gym-goer who wants some personal coaching, this could be the watch for her. You get your own trainer on your arm, harassing and needling you nicely to get out there. For somebody who wants to do intervals, have more control over the workout, or is simply comfortable with high-tech features, a different model may be the way to go.

Users will also have to make a decision concerning the aesthetics of the watch. The black watch with the black face is indeed verrrry cool, but if you wear glasses for any reason, you might struggle to read the watch when there is glare either outdoors or indoors. The basic white face with black writing may be the way to go.

If you’ve opted for the upgrade to the new website, you can also download and share with others in a community of like-minded souls. (We did not review that option.) You can also use the Suunto POD for tracking speed and distance – another feature we did not test.

All in all, the basic watch/heart-rate monitor could be a nice coach for those in search of a little guidance.

SNEWS® Rating: 4.0 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)

Suggested retail: $209 (watch and heart-rate belt)

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