Suunto, known for years more for wrist-top computers than fitness-oriented monitors, launched a line of heart-rate and fitness monitors in mid-2006, likely to help it tap into a growing market for personal training monitors.
The fitness-oriented "t line" of watches (so far the t1, t3 and t4) join a super high-end, multi-featured wrist-top computer (t6) making it a true family of monitors from the most basic to quite advanced (Click here to read our t6 review from December 2005).
The t3 is considered the "little sister" to the t6 because it has a wealth of functions (like it's older sibling) but leaves out the altimeter and weather features to allow it to be more fitness-oriented, sleeker and – important here – less expensive ($150-$170 compared to $500). As a result, it's also intended to be easier to figure out. Not for techno geeks, but for everyday exercisers, runners and other active folks. In addition to a chronograph (50 split laps) and heart-rate monitoring, it automatically logs and keeps in memory your last 15 workouts, calculates average heart rate and calories used (based on information you input about your gender, size and activity level), tracks Suunto's "training effect" scale (which you need to read about to understand completely), has multiple time functions such as alarm and dual time, and can leave you number-drunk with its logs of training totals for the current week, last week, and the last six months.
We used it mostly on runs for several months in various weather conditions and races, with mixed feelings. We do like its sleekness: a slim female tester could wear it comfortably without feeling she had a gazongo or ugly thing on her wrist as happens with some monitors. The logging and memory took some getting used to; although meant for a fitness enthusiast, there is a heck of a lot going on with heart rate, calories, averages, training effects, total and stuff that can leave you a bit cross-eyed. Still, with some devotion, you can figure it out and decide what's important for you to use regularly. The problem is, if you want a chronograph, heart rate features and memory, but don't care for weeks and months of logging, the t3 is your only choice since the simplistic entry-level t1 only logs one workout.
We found the training effect intrigued us and we began watching it during easy or hard workouts. Although a Suunto creation, it did seem to correspond to rest and recovery requirements post-workout, so it can act a bit like a coach.
Our biggest complaint about the t3 – and one that has kept us from wearing it for some workouts and will keep it from becoming our go-to watch – is the LCD face. It is designed to FORCE someone to focus on heart rate or training effect and has minimized the cumulative and split times of the chronograph. What does that mean? When you are in training mode, the total workout time on the top of three lines is tiny, the middle line (where you can choose to put either heart rate or training effect) is overly HUGE, and the bottom line, where you find your split times for intervals (or can put calorie burn, average heart rate or clock time, for example) is utterly tiny again. The chronograph readings top and bottom are in fact so small as to be nearly impossible to read accurately when it is on your wrist and you're moving (which we presume are both normal scenarios) unless you stare at it for a few seconds (not safe or likely in races or fast workouts). In addition, sunglasses, glare, or moving in and out of shade can frustrate you enough that you give up even trying. We know Suunto wants to force people to focus on heart rate and its own training effect reading, but this design is ridiculous, really, since it leaves these other readings so tiny.
Other basics include the ability for the user to replace the battery (great cost-savings), water resistance to 100 feet, and a polyurethane strap that has holes all the way up and down it for great adjustability.
SNEWS® Rating: 3.5 (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested retail: $150 to $170
For more information:www.suuntowatches.com