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Today, there are all different types of smartwatches on the market that are specifically used by athletes or outdoor enthusiasts. These watches may track one sport or many, ranging from traditional sports like running and biking to more adventurous or unique sports like climbing and fishing.
Many modern smartwatches have GPS features that can track where you are, how fast you’re moving and how far you’ve gone. Also, certain watches will have smart lifestyle features like message notifications.
People wear smartwatches for all different reasons. Some want an easy, convenient way to keep track of all sorts of things throughout the day, from how many steps they’ve taken to who’s texting them. Athletes and sportsmen may want to closely track their workouts or sports to have something to compare to as they continue to improve. Smart watches can do everything from giving you basic lifestyle information to help you find your way home when you’re lost on the trail.
In this article, we’re going to compare two specific watches from the same company: the Suunto Traverse and the Suunto Traverse Alpha. Don’t worry – they have similar names but are actually quite different. For each watch, we’ll give you an overview, talk about its appearance and usability, cover its features and then dive into its pros and cons.
We then have a section where we compare the main areas where these watches differ. After that, we’ve provided a Sports Watch Buying Guide for you to help you narrow down your options, whether you want one of these watches or feel that another watch is best for you. At the end of the article, we have a Bottom Line section where we quickly revisit the two watches to give you our final thoughts.
Bottom Line up Front: If the main feature you want is GPS functionality for a variety of sports, the Suunto Traverse is an excellent option. It doesn’t have a huge array of features, but the GPS features are where this watch shines, so it’s great if you’re a runner or into outdoor adventure sports, like biking, hiking or climbing. Otherwise, if you are into fishing and hunting, the Traverse Alpha has better functions here specific to these activities.
Only 8 hours with the GPS on.
Best for all kind of sports that needs GPS.
It´s a slim and lightweight watch, with large fonts on the screen
Suunto Traverse Alpha
It can last from 10 to 100 hours.
Best for fishing or hunting
Less elegant, but more resistant to outdoors activities.
What’s the Main Difference Between the Suunto Traverse and the Traverse Alpha?
The main difference between these two models is that the Traverse is an all-purpose GPS watch and the Traverse Alpha has specific features for trekking, hunting, and fishing.
First Up: Suunto Traverse
The Suunto Traverse (my full review here) is a great watch for hiking or trekking – basically for any type of adventure that requires a GPS tracker – but since it has a short battery life, it’s best for short jaunts instead of long excursions. It’s main and best features are the altimeter and barometric pressure profiles and the GPS features, both of which we’ll go into detail about in a bit.
Suunto Traverse Usability
This lightweight watch has a slim face and a silicon band that can fit your wrist either on your bare skin or over clothing. There are two reasons why the Suunto Traverse is so aesthetically pleasing and easy to read: (1) it has a large, mineral glass display with high visibility and (2) the interface uses large fonts. To make the face even easier to read in high or low light, the display colors can be inverted and the contrast can be manipulated. There are three backlight settings as well as a very bright flashlight.
Suunto Traverse Advanced Features
- GPS and GLONASS for highly accurate location signals
- Tilt-compensated digital compass with cardinal direction, true north reference, manual declination calibration and a bearing lock
- Calibration using both sea pressure and GPS through the FusedAlti feature
- General activity monitoring, like calories burned, steps and profiles for a variety of sports
- Smart notifications
- Timekeeping (countdown, alarm, stopwatch)
Suunto Traverse Pros and Cons
While the Suunto Traverse doesn’t have many features, the features it does have are accurate and useful. Its cons have to do mainly with battery life and comfort. In this section, we’re going to dive into the pros and cons of the Suunto Traverse.
Pro: Altimeter and Barometer Profiles
There are three profiles to choose from: automatic, altimeter and barometer. If you opt for the automatic profile, it will use the altimeter if you’re going up or down, then switch to the barometer when you’re standing still. The barometric technology will show weather patterns and potential storms.
Pro: GPS and GLONASS Technology
- Check coordinates
- Use a route you created in the Movescount app (route navigation)
- View speeds during ascents and descents
- Track fitness patterns
- Set and find your way to points of interest
- Find your way back to the first GPS point
- View data and trip log post-workout
Con: Poor Bluetooth Connectivity
The Bluetooth connectivity with your phone may be crummy, either sending repeat notifications through or disconnecting from Bluetooth randomly.
Con: Short Battery Life
The battery will only last for 8 hours with the built-in GPS feature turned on, then up to two weeks without GPS. While you can set different GPS readings from 1 second to 60 seconds, the most reliable one is 1 second, which is also the one that will drain your battery the fastest. Even with the 60 second setting, though, the battery will die after about 8 hours or so – not long enough for a multi-day trip.
Con: Uncomfortable to Use or Wear at Times
While many smart watches have convex buttons, the buttons on the Suunto Traverse are flat, making them a little hard to press. This just takes getting used to, though.
The Suunto Traverse’s silicon band with holes only on one side can get hot and sweaty in hot weather, which can be distracting and itchy.
Next Up: Suunto Traverse Alpha
The Suunto Traverse Alpha was created for fishing and hunting, and its features speak to those specific sports (automatic shot detection, for example). Though it shares part of its name with the original Suunto Traverse, this watch is very distinct in its strengths and uses.
Suunto Traverse Alpha Usability
The Suunto Traverse Alpha can be used and worn in pretty much all conditions: rain, snow, cold or hot temperatures, etc. It has scratch resistant sapphire glass and a durable stainless steel bezel that don’t tend to show signs of damage even after wear in various conditions. The strap, which is made of nylon, is equally durable. One drawback is that the strap may start to smell after a lot of wear, but you can upgrade to a silicon strap to fix that problem.
If you’re going to be out at night for something like fishing, hiking or hunting, you can customize and use the red backlight, which is bright enough to help you see but without getting in the way of night vision goggles.
Suunto Traverse Alpha Features
The Suunto Traverse Alpha has a lot of GPS functionality that’s specifically helpful for fishermen and hunters. We’ll get more into those specific features in the “pros” section. You can also search Google Earth for things like meadows and water sources, then mark those locations on your Suunto Traverse Alpha to find them easily once you’re outside.
The built-in sunrise and sunset feature will automatically update based on your time zone. This is useful if you need to be up with the sun (or back at camp before it sets) but you’re not sure of the exact sunrise or sunset times.
Other features include:
- Activity tracking (calories and steps)
- Barometer with notifications for pressure, weather trends and storms
- Incognito backlight
- Moon phases
- Notifications via Bluetooth
- Water repellent straps
- Water resistant up to 100 meters
Suunto Traverse Alpha Battery Life
Whether the battery life is good or poor depends on how you use it. There are three GPS settings: best, good and OK. Best means that GPS is recorded every 1 second; good is recorded every 10 seconds; and OK is recorded every minute. Basically, the more frequently the watch records your location, the shorter the battery life is going to be. In the best setting, the battery will last 10 hours; in good it will last 15 hours; and in OK it will last 100 hours.
If you want to use the highest accuracy or you’re going to be on the trail for several days on end, consider bringing along a portable charger so you can recharge your watch partway through your trip.
Suunto Traverse Alpha Pros and Cons
While the Suunto Traverse Alpha doesn’t track multiple sports, its features for the sports it does track are excellent. It doesn’t have many cons, either. In this section, we’re going to talk about the pros and cons of the Suunto Traverse Alpha.
Pro: Excellent GPS Functionality for Hunting and Fishing
You can mark fishing- and hunting-specific points of interest (there are 10 to choose from) and label them with keywords like “bedding area,” “trail” and “trail camera.” Not only can you find the areas you marked but you can easily see the reason why you marked them. It can also auto-detect when you shoot a rifle by paying attention to the recoil, and then it will mark the time and location of the shot (so long as you’re already recording a route with GPS).
Con: Poor Multi-Sport Tracking
The Suunto Traverse Alpha is great at what is does – help outdoor lovers go about a fishing or hunting excursion (and maybe hiking, too), but it’s not great at tracking other types of sports like biking, running or swimming.
Suunto Traverse vs. Suunto Traverse Alpha Compared
Both watches truly shine when it comes to their GPS features, but the Alpha has features that are specifically helpful for fishermen and hunters. The choice here really comes down to the sport(s) you engage most in and how you want to use the GPS – whether for tracking things like distance and pace when running or biking, or for keeping track of fishing- or hunting-specific routes and point of interest.
When it comes to battery life, both watches have a short battery life when the GPS is used as accurately as possible. The Alpha, though, has a better battery life with GPS if you use it on one of the lower settings – it can last up to 100 hours in the OK setting, so even though you’re giving up accuracy, this watch could accompany you on a multi-day trip. When you set the Suunto Traverse to the 60-second setting it only lasts for less than one day.
Sports Watch Buying Guide
The smartwatch you choose will have a lot to do with the types of fitness you prefer and how much you want to track your stats in order to challenge yourself. Also, it’s important to understand which sports you won’t be engaging in – there’s no reason to pay for extra features you won’t ever use. In this section, we’re going to cover the types of features many sports watches have to help you narrow down your list of must-haves.
Battery life is tricky when it comes to smartwatches because the battery may drain faster the more features you use. For example, using GPS can make the battery run out quickly. Think about what you’ll be using the watch for, which features you’ll be using and how long you have to go between charges.
Daily Activity Tracker
Even more advanced smartwatches have some basic activity tracking, which is great for your fitness days off or when you want to stay on top of your stats even between workouts or sports. Your watch may be able to track things like:
- Steps per hour or throughout the day (or both)
- Notifications if you’ve been idle for a while
- Sleep monitoring to determine sleep health
Smartwatches with GPS technology have improved accuracy when it comes to things like distance and pace. Also, GPS technology can keep track of your location, and some watches have the ability to lay your locations over real-time topographic maps to give you a better view of your path. GPS is helpful for runners who need to continually improve things like distance and pace, and it’s also great for outdoor adventurers who depend on knowing where they are and how to retrace their steps. A watch that also has a built-in barometric altimeter is especially helpful for climbers and hikers who need to keep track of their elevation.
Heart Rate Monitor
If you want to track your BPM, look for a sports watch with heart rate monitoring technology. Some watches go above and beyond simply telling you your BPM, though. Here are two ways they do that:
- Heart Rate Zones: Knowing the heart rate zone you’re in will help you get the type of workout you’re after. The general heart rate zones are recovery, endurance, aerobic capacity, anaerobic threshold and maximum aerobic.
- Maximum Heart Rate: Your max heart rate is the maximum number of times your heart beats within one minute when you’re at your highest, most intense fitness level. This rate is unique to everyone because it’s based on things like your age and your genes. Knowing your max heart rate will more accurately dictate your other heart rate zones.
Multiple Sport Tracking (Multisport Watch)
Depending on how many different types of activities you want to track, you may need a watch that can track stats for a variety of sports. You may also want to switch between sports easily. For example, I may go from walking to jogging to hiking all in one excursion and I need to easily switch sports without stopping. While general activity tracking is fine for daily life, having specific sport modes means that dedicated data will be tracked and shown to you.
One more thing: if you’re into water sports, you’ll need a sports watch that’s waterproof. Water resistant watches are great if there’s a chance you’ll get caught in rain or splashed with water, but a watch that’s going to be submerged actually has to be waterproof (water resistance is typically not eneough).
Notifications via Bluetooth
If you want to be able to get notifications through your watch, look for one that will connect to your phone using Bluetooth. While some watches only have basic notifications, like telling you who’s calling or showing who texted without giving a preview of the text, others can show you all sorts of messages, including social media and email alerts. If you think you’ll only want these notifications some of the time, look for a watch that lets you toggle the notifications on and off.
About the Suunto Traverse App
The Suunto Movescount app, which you’ll use regardless of your watch, is where you’ll go to see your data post-workout and a video of your adventure, and it’s also where you can create routes before you head out, then follow those routes thanks to the watch’s GPS. The app is also where you can connect with the rest of the Suunto sports community in order to chat or share stories.
Bottom Line: Suunto Traverse or Traverse Alpha?
Suunto GPS watches are generally GOOD, regardless of which you choose, so which one has the edge here?
Just Need the GPS: If the main feature you want is GPS functionality for a variety of sports, the Suunto Traverse is an excellent option. It doesn’t have a huge array of features, but the GPS features are where this watch shines, so it’s great if you’re a runner or into outdoor adventure sports, like biking, hiking or climbing.
The Suunto Traverse Alpha has a lot of features specifically for fishing and hunting, but very few (if any at all) for other types of sports. Also, while many of the features are also good for daily tracking, getting notifications via your watch and for traveling (like sunrise and sunset times based on time zone), there are too many bells and whistles here to make this worthwhile for just a basic tracker.
Fishing or Hunting? The only case in which I would specifically purchase the Alpha version here is if you ARE primarily hunting and fishing with it.