GPS watches are currently all the rage. They’re feature packed and performance driven devices that can add incredible value to your daily life.
Purchasing a watch, however, is not as simple as you might think. With so many brands and so many options available today, selecting the right one might feel stressful.
We took the time to breakdown and assess two top performing GPS watches by two industry leading brands: the new Garmin Fenix 5 Plus & the new Suunto 9 GPS watch. Find out who came out on top with the new Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus GPS Watch:
Garmin has been the industry leader in terms of GPS technology for as long as we can remember. For a good period during the early to mid-2000s it seemed there wasn’t a car on the road not fitted with a Garmin navigation device.
Since then, Garmin has dipped its feet in different modes of technology. The latest is the brand’s GPS watch range. Perfect for the sportsman or anyone on the move, the Fenix 5 Plus GPS watch is taking the world by storm.
Suunto 9 GPS Watch:
Suunto is a Finnish company that specializes in the design and manufacturing of sports & diving watches.
The Suunto brand is a trusted name when it comes to sports watchmaking and it’s known for the unmatched quality & product longevity. In line with the trend, Suunto now offers a GPS watch called the Suunto 9. In line with its standards, the watch is a combination of style and performance with many features in common with the Fenix 5 included an optical heart rate monitor function.
Comparing Garmin Fenix 5 Plus and Suunto 9
We took a closer look at the features of both the Fenix 5 Plus and the Suunto 9 & were able to draw some comparisons.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus
Suunto 9 GPS
42mm, 47mm, 51mm
Up to 42 hours in UltraTrac mode
Up to 120 hours in Ultra mode
240 x 240
320 x 300
Bluetooth, ANT+, Wi-Fi, GPS
Up to 1000 songs
Step counter, gym equipment, interval training, running, golding, outdoor activities, cycling and swimming
Step counter, interval training, swimming, cycling, running, multi sports
Heart rate monitoring
HR zones, recovery time, Max HR, stress test, HR monitoring while swimming
Requires HR belt or wrist monitor: HR zones, peak training effect, HR monitoring while swimming
iOS and Android
iOS (Suunto app) and Android (Movescount App)
Yes on the Baro version only
Stainless steel or titanium
Stainless steel, Titanium Grade 5 on Baro Titanium version
Leather, silicone or titanium
Silicone, leather or textile
Sapphire crystal or strengthened glass
Mineral glass, Sapphire crystal on Baro version
42mm - 65 g, 47mm - 86 g for stainless steel or 76 g for titanium, 51mm - 96 g for stainless steel or 87 g for titanium
72 g for mineral glass display, 81 g for Sapphire crystal display, 76 g for Baro Titanium
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Design:
Both feature a similar round rugged design. Garmin tries to better protect the display with the bezel material around the display raised slightly above the watch face. The bezel also shows the buttons functions. Both watches feature circular faces unlike the Apple watch’s rectangular case.
The Garmin Fenix 5 plus GPS watch comes in 3 different sizes: 42, 47 and 51mm. I tried the 47mm and it is on the larger size. The stainless-steel version (which we had in the 47mm size) weighs 86g.
The Suunto is 50mm and weighs 72g so it is slightly larger than Garmin’s midsize model.
Both GPS watches are pretty thick but given all the electronics and battery to power them this is understandable. The Suunto 9 is 16.5mm thick and Garmin 47mm is 15.8mm thick.
Looking at the back of the watches you can see some of the sensors that are embedded in the watches as well as the charging port.
Both offer a variety of straps and case colors. You can customize them to find the case and strap that fits you best. The Suunto will even allow you to customize button colors and choose white or black charging cables.
Our recommendation: Overall, we really like the simple streamlined look of the Suunto 9 over the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Casing:
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus has a stainless-steel display bezel and fiber-reinforced polymer case with a metal back plate. You can choose from a variety of band materials including silicone, suede, or steel.
The Suunto 9 GPS watch has a glass fiber reinforced polyamide body with a stainless-steel bezel on the front. Suunto has quite a few silicon, textile, and even leather straps for customization.
Our recommendation: it’s a tie. Both feature very high quality materials and are durable as a fitness watch should be.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Display:
The display on the Suunto 9 GPS watch is 320 x 300 and is covered by mineral glass. If you want a sapphire crystal you will need to purchase the Baro version. It is bright and easy to read.
The display on the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus GPS watch has 240 x 240 resolution and seems to be a little more dim. The basic version has a domed chemically strengthened glass face which can be changed for sapphire crystal, but this will cost you $150 more.
Our recommendation: The Suunto 9 wins here because of the higher resolution and higher brightness levels. A saphire crystal will also help protect the display from scratches that might happen over time and we would recommend paying the extra money for it.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Comfort:
I find the Suunto 9 GPS watch to be the more comfortable of the two watches. I believe this is due to the design of the back cover, which is smother and does not have the same bubble/bump design as the Fenix. Also, the lugs are more curved providing a better fit. Your results may vary based on your wrist type. My wrist is not thick and the Suunto felt more comfortable than the Fenix.
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus seemed to wobble more on my wrist compared to Suunto 9. While this could be because of my wrist I feel the curved lugs help it fit better versus the Fenix’s straighter lugs.
Our recommendation: I preferred the Suunto 9. It felt comfortable from the moment I put it on my wrist and there was no discomfort running with it for long periods.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Battery Life:
Suunto watches are known for their state-of-the-art battery saving technology. The longevity of their watches is unmatched, providing up to 120 hrs or 5 days of usage on one charge. The feature is called ‘intelligent battery mode’. There are 3 battery modes to choose from: Performance, Endurance and Utra. My watch actually showed up to 126 hours of run time in Ultra Mode.
The Suunto also has a unique Fusedtrack function which combines GPS and motion sensors to improve tracking and save on battery life. The Suunto will also give you smart reminders based on your activity history and will switch to power saving mode if your battery is running low. Suunto watches have evolved and come a long way in the last couple of years.
The Fenix 5 offers up to 42 hours or almost 2 days in UltraTrac mode for GPS tracking and up to 18 hours in regular GPS mode. Similar to the Suunto, UtraTrac mode will record track points and GPS data less frequently, which improves the battery life. The GPS accuracy and tracking on both watches is good.
Garmin also introduces us to Power Save Timeout Settings, which might be useful if you are training with breaks in between. Set it to Normal, and it will enter low-power mode after 5 minutes of inactivity; extended will change the wait time to 25 minutes before entering low-power mode.
Our recommendation: The Suunto definitely wins here with up to 120 hours of battery life which is ideal for ultra-runners or if you simply don’t want to take your battery charger with you.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Menu:
The menu on the Suunto 9 is simple and easy to use. The touch display is a definitely a huge plus especially nowadays when almost everything has a touch functionality. Almost instantly I was able to browse through different menus and options and get to where I needed to be.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus GPS watch does not have a touch display, so it takes a bit of time to get used to. I cannot say it’s complicated, but it will take you a bit of time to learn the menu and get to all the different customization options that Garmin offers you.
Our recommendation: If you want a simple to use menu and a touch screen, get the Suunto 9. If you want to have more customization options and can live without a touch display, the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus will give you more choices.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Modes:
Both of the watches have a variety of sporting modes and navigation functions to choose from.
The biggest difference really lies in the customization options. The interface of the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus allows for more custom-built modes and functions to fit your specific workouts. The Suunto 9 does have customization options as well but they are more limited.
Our recommendation: Each watch will work fine for 95% of the users and their needs; if you are part of the last 5% that wants or needs to be able to customize almost everything then the Fenix 5 is the way to go.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Connectivity:
Both the Garmin and the Suunto have full Bluetooth connectivity. This allows the GPS watches to connect to your smartphone and other Bluetooth peripheries and relay information back & forth.
The Garmin GPS watch is also able to connect to ANT+ and WiFi devices, while the Suunto is not although an adapter can be purchased.
A compass, barometric altimeter, gyroscope, accelerometer, and thermometer come standard on the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus. The thermometer will allow you to measure the temperature around your Fenix 5. This might be useful for running or climbing as well as swimming.
A barometer is installed on the Suunto 9 Baro version, but not on the Suunto 9 which relies on GPS information to calculate altitude. The Baro version also comes with the sapphire crystal which is a great addition.
Our recommendation: There are hundreds of Ant+ products on the market, so if you want to have more accessories and sensors compatible such as a heart rate monitor or bike speed sensor with your watch, Garmin is the way to go out of the box. The addition of the thermometer is also a plus.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Health Sensors:
Most of us will be buying a fitness watch for tracking exercises and measuring our bodies performance.
Wrist based optical heart rate sensors are pretty much a standard feature of every smart fitness watch on the market. Both of the watches come with the sensor and you can get your heart rate measurement at any time. I tried measuring them side by side and could not get consistent results. Most of the time the Suunto 9 showed a higher result by at least 3-5 bpm. Garmin also seemed to refresh the results more often. I compared my Apple Watch 3 to the 2 other watches, and Garmin Fenix 5 plus results were the closest to my Apple Watch.
Another interesting fact is that the Suunto 9 took a few seconds to find the HR by slowly decreasing or increasing the number; for example, when you just put on your watch or stopped moving rapidly. The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus was able to jump 10-20 points to get to the right number much quicker.
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus also has a model available with “Pulse Ox acclimation”. This $300 option isn’t cheap, but if you are going to be climbing or hiking in high altitudes, this is a very helpful feature.
Our recommendation: The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus has a better optical heart rate wrist sensor that allows for more accurate heart rate measurements. The addition of the Pulse Oximeter is a huge plus for anyone doing activities in high altitudes.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Smartwatch Features:
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is definitely the winner here. Tons of options, apps store, credit card payments and built in music player.
If you don’t want to take your phone with you during your workout session, the Fenix 5 has a built-in player that can store up to 1,000 songs. Songs can be uploaded via Wifi and through additional apps, like the Spotify app for Garmin). If you do carry a smartphone this may not be such a big deal, since you can stream from your smartphone. Obviously, music playing will decrease the battery life of your watch, so expect up to 13 hours of music playing on your Fenix 5. The reasoning for excluding a music player on the Suunto 9 might have been the desire for longer battery life or perhaps they feel that their core clientele are hardcore ultra-marathon runners who are not interested in listening to music while they run.
We love the payment ability in this watch. By linking your credit card to the Garmin pay app you’ll be able to breeze through checkout lines wherever there’s a scanner present.
The connect IQ Store has quit a few apps that you might find helpful such as weather apps and additional watch faces that can be downloaded.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Navigation:
Both GPS watches have built-in navigation. The Suunto 9 is very slow locating your position.
It took me on average 3-5 minutes each time to find my position. I had this issue indoors and outdoors. Note that this could be because of my location where I tested the watch and you may not have this issue. The Suunto will allow you to save up to 250 points of interest such as where you parked your car, certain parts of your favorite running trail that you want to stop at and many more. Navigating back shows distance, ETA and your coordinates. Be aware that this is not a true turn by turn navigation like on your smart phone.
The Garmin Fenix 5 plus showed my location right away. You also get to see what is nearby and get directions with built in navigation (restaurants, landmarks etc). While it is not super-fast and definitely not as easy to use as a big screen on your smart phone, it is there when and if you need it.
Our recommendation: The navigation is superior and faster on the Fenix 5 plus. If you are planning on using navigation even occasionally the Fenix 5 GPS watch is the way to go.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Apps:
I downloaded the Garmin Connect IQ app and the Suunto app. Both are beautifully done and show tons of information about your workouts.
I really liked the Heatmaps on the Suunto which shows popular trails and other people’s runs. I can see how it would be useful if you want to try new routes and see what is popular with other people.
The app shows your typical measurements (duration, distance, avg pace, detailed pace, average heart rate, max heart rate, heart rate zones, your ascent/descent, burned calories and cadence) you can also comment, share, add images and photos.
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus shows similar data but also adds performance condition, training effect (aerobic vs anaerobic) and temperature change. Overall, while they are similar, the Garmin Connect app is more advanced with more features that are displayed clearly.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Pricing:
The basic version of the Suunto 9 retails for $499. If you would like to get a sapphire crystal display – prepare to pay $599 for the Suunto 9 Baro and $699 for the Titanium version. The Baro version also includes a barometer.
The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus starts at $649 (while you can find plenty of merchants selling it for $499.99), and goes up to $749.99 (typical sale price of $599.99) for the Sapphire edition and $1,099 (typical sale price of $949.99) for the 51mm case with sapphire glass and Pulse Ox sensor.
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix 5 Verdict:
Based on the features, navigation, built in payment system and music player, I would choose Garmin Fenix 5 Plus over the Suunto 9. For the ultrarunner who does not care about music, payments and detailed on screen navigation, the Suunto 9 is a beautiful watch with incredible battery life.