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Which Watch? 'A brief guide' by Jon Wickham

Written by George Fisher

Image for article Which Watch? 'A brief guide' by Jon Wickham

A couple of years ago I wrote an article to help steer you through the complex maze of buying a sports watch. Well, time moves on, and so have watches (haha!). Smart watches are much more common now, and our range has changed substantially. In fact, only one of the watches in this article was featured back in 2015. (2015 Feature on 'Which Watch?)

Though there are now more players in the sports watch game, we have continued to stick with Suunto and Garmin

Both brands have heritage firmly rooted in outdoor sports and navigation, so we feel they continue to understand our customers better than any of their rivals. Often customers will ask which brand is best; the simple answer is that they are both good, and many of their watches very comparable. Hopefully this guide will show you a few of the nuances that separate them.

See a larger version of the flowchart.

There have been several advancements in this category, probably the biggest of which is wrist-based heart rate sensors. Previously you will have had to use a heart rate belt, worn on your chest, to measure your beats per minute. Many people found pairing the belt with the watch a bit of a faff, or the belt just plain uncomfortable. However, after speed and distance, heart rate really is the key piece of data to inform your training. It’s not just about how much work you do, but about how hard your body finds that work; both in terms of measuring your fitness, but also making your training fit your goals.

Ultimately belts tend to be slightly more accurate than the wrist sensors

There are still reasons to use a heart rate belt in preference to the wrist based sensor. Wrist based sensors need a good contact with your skin to work, and some people with skinnier wrists may find that this is difficult to achieve. In particular, during an activity where a watch may be wobbling around or buffeted (like swimming) the sensor is likely to lose contact with the skin, and thus give inaccurate readings. There are also times where you may not want to wear the watch on your wrist, mounting on the handlebars of a bike for instance, or perhaps when at the gym, so a heart rate belt still has its uses. Ultimately belts tend to be slightly more accurate than the wrist sensors, so if you want the best data, go with a belt. All of the watches in our range can be paired with a belt, and the Suunto Traverse is the only one without a wrist-mounted heart rate sensor.

If you have been put off in the past by bulky sports watches, then it’s worth taking a look at our current range

The size of these watches has also been reducing. This is down to the continual improvement in battery technology, which is driven by mobile phones, plus the incorporation of GPS aerials into the body of the watch, rather than mounting it externally as with the older Suunto Ambit series. Lower-profile watches are much more comfortable for people with thinner wrists to wear. So, if you have been put off in the past by bulky sports watches, then it’s worth taking a look at our current range. In particular, the Garmin Forerunner 35, Garmin Fenix 5s and Suunto Spartan Trainer models are much lower-profile than older watches.

Again using smartphone technology, touchscreens have been introduced to watches as well. They can make menus simpler and quicker to navigate, in a similar way to a smartphone. However, in wet conditions, screens can lose their sensitivity so it may not always work for you. The Suunto Spartan series can be operated through its buttons without using the touchscreen, but you just have three buttons as opposed to the five buttons of the Garmin Fenix 5.

Speaking of smart phones, all the watches have Bluetooth connectivity so you can move data to your phone. You can also receive notifications from your phone, such as text messages or social media updates

Activity tracking is also incorporated into all these watches. Paces per day, and (in some watches) more details like calories burned and reminders to move if you have been sat for a long while. Wear them in your sleep, and some models can give you feedback on sleep duration and quality.

All the watches we stock include the ability to give you an OS grid reference (or other regions), except for the Garmin Forerunner 35. The Garmin Fenix 5X is the only one in the range that will allow you to view OS mapping (sold separately as Garmin BirdsEye Select vouchers for £20). Bear in mind that the screen is fairly small compared to a handheld GPS device, so it’s best for quickly checking your location rather than planning longer routes.

Checking the fit of the watch is also advised

Due to the size of the aerial on many watches, plus often large faces to display information, some of the watches can feel quite bulky on the wrist. We would suggest that most people will get used to this, however for those with narrower wrists, it’s a good idea to try watches on before buying.

It is also worth considering whether you will be wearing the watch day-to-day, or purely for exercise. Some watches definitely shout ‘Sport’, whereas others are perhaps a bit subtler. Try one on to see if it is aesthetically right for you.

There are many more functions in these watches than I have been able to cover here. If you would like to know more, then it’s a great idea to pop in to the store so our staff can answer any of your questions and you can see the watches in the flesh. Alternatively, have a look at our website and contact us by phone or email.



Forerunner 35 (featured)
A simple watch for runners and cyclists that picks up the baton from the old Forerunner 10. If you just want to see how far you have travelled, your speed and some heart rate information then this is the one for you. All in a sleek, small package.

George Fisher UK - Garmin Forerunner 35

Fenix 5
The successor to the popular Fenix 3, and a great all-rounder. Multiple different sport modes available, beyond simply swim/bike/run. Also includes Altimeter, Barometer and Compass, making this ideal for use in the mountains.

Fenix 5s
The same features of the Fenix 5 but in a smaller, slimmer package. Ideal for people with narrower wrists or who feel the Fenix 5 (and previous watches) are too bulky. The only drawback is a reduced battery life of fourteen hours.

Fenix 5x Sapphire
Garmin’s top-of-the-range watch. Building on the Fenix 5 but with a slightly larger display that will show OS mapping. Also has tougher sapphire glass.


Traverse (featured)
Best thought of as a Core (or even the old Vector) with GPS, which can give you an OS grid reference for navigating. No training functions beyond your current speed and distance covered, so many people may be better off with the Garmin Fenix or Suunto Spartan range. However, ideal for many walkers and climbers.
George Fisher UK - Suunto Traverse

Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
Suunto’s entry level training watch. Unlike its predecessor the Ambit 3 Run, this is a multi-sport watch with the same software as the higher-end Spartan Sport. Brilliant value for money and very slim.

Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro
The new competitor to Garmin’s Fenix 5, and the successor to the older Suunto Ambit 3 Sport, Peak and Vertical models. Buy this over the Trainer for the easy to use touchscreen, barometric altimeter giving more accurate ascent and descent data, and smart ‘dress watch’ looks.

Try Before You Buy with George Fisher UK

Here at George Fisher UK we run a number of events over the course of the year, from our popular Runs with Ricky Lightfoot (Where you can trial Suunto watches), our Summer Academy and in store talks, to regular in store podiatry and sports rehab clinics. Keep an eye on our events page to find out what's on next.

We have Garmin units (not watches) that you can 'loan' from our shop to 'try before you buy' - Boot and Equipment Hire

We also run Navigation Courses that focus on map and compass but cover GPS units. The first event for 2018 is already listed on our Facebook Page.