In a previous post I bemoaned the fact that the sports/fitness watch market was in general dominated by watch technology companies such as Apple and Xiaomi, or fitness app companies such as Fitbit. I pointed out that the market was desperate for a serious sports watch manufacturer to get their hands dirty.
Suunto make a splash
Now to any professional or recreational diver the name Suunto is renowned and held up as the pioneer of diving wearables. They almost single handedly drove the dive computer market for over 20 years, constantly improving their algorithms and hardware to constantly drive the safety of divers to the heights that they are today.
There cannot be a diver out there that hasn’t owned, or even hankered to own either a Gecko, or better still, a Viper, by the esteemed company.
Suunto have historically had a few models in the sports watch market such as their Spartan range, but even though they have begun to gain a formidable reputation with trail runners for their GPS accuracy, the need to pair the watch with a chest strap heart monitor has in the past held me back from trying my favorite dive computer manufacturer within this niche, as my reviews are modeled in the main at utilizing the modes of the watch within an everyday wellness monitoring scenario and a fitness tracker second. And the wearing of a chest heart rate monitor is impractical in this scenario.
A New Barometer
My contacts at Suunto, tipped me off about their new model the Suunto 9 Baro. Now having an old dive bag still full of Suunto diving equipment, I have to say that I took very little persuading from them to accept the offer of a review model. I think they must have been parked around the corner because my shiny new watch was delivered by courier about six hours later.
Oh if only all manufacturers were this eager to have their products reviewed.
Let’s deal with the Baro thing first. There isn’t much point in having a sports watch without the inclusion of a GPS chip to help you track your exertions. However, there is a very patchy record of experiences with watch GPS caused in the main by cost-cutting on the part of many manufacturers resulting in less than accurate measuring and mapping results.
Let’s face it any niche in which Apple can reasonably claim to have the most reliable GPS chip has a major problem when that chip is the very same one in the notoriously poor iPhone. Watch makers have recently borrowed a trick from the Drone industry and paired GPS with GLONAS. The mistaken theory behind this is that pairing the two systems provides more accuracy, when in fact what it actually does is improve consistency and speed, accuracy is effected only very slightly.
Suunto have introduced an alternative approach to the issue of accuracy in their new flagship. They have linked their GPS chip set with a barometer and in doing so have produced an insanely accurate unit that not only matches the much vaunted Garmin but outstrips it. In that the extra data gathered even allows the inclusion of a storm warning.
Spot the Missing Activity
Now one of the main considerations in purchasing a sports watch has always been making sure that the object of your desire actually supports the sport or activity that you intend to track your efforts in.
I for one have been guilty of buying a watch that I like the look of and having to compromise on the selection of activities on more than one occasion. Very often kidding my partner, and more importantly myself that the data it gathered was near enough to enable me to make use of it.
There is every possibility that Suunto have you covered in both concerns here. Although I have been my usual boring self here and opted for the black. Suunto offer the model in a range of color options to boggle the mind. And the watch supports a mind blowing 80, yes you read that right EIGHTY sports.
About the only thing not covered is tiddly-winks.
Weight 81 g / 2.86 oz
Bezel material: Stainless steel
Glass material: Sapphire Crystal
Case Material: Glass fiber reinforced polyamide
If you are looking for apps a-la Apple, then do yourself a favor, look away. Because like the Xiaomi, and it has to be said, an ever-increasing number of manufacturers, Suunto believe in the serious sports watch and the details and accuracy that they can deliver and so they direct all the computing power of their device at the sporting software, with understandably impressive results.
If you are someone who want their watch to include ‘Fortnight’, or if you want to be observed jogging down the street talking to your wrist then holding your wrist to your ear in alternative motions, then move along this watch is not going to be for you. There are currently numerous manufacturers that work towards your desires. Although it does have to be pointed out that manufacturing base is diminishing.
Suunto, are one of a growing market share that have moved in another direction as they have realized that there is a serious and growing sector of the market who are beginning to take to the idea of a fully loaded sports watch over a string of gym measuring equipment. And that growing market is ravenous for flexibility and more importantly accuracy, and they are more than prepared to pay a premium for quality.
Suunto, are very rarely accused of hashing things, but this time it seems that the hardware has been made ready whilst the software department has been dragging its feet in the mud. This has resulted in the watch being released with a whole lot of features and data avenues that the older software (Movecounter) is not capable of making use of. While the new software (Sports Tracker) although capable of handling the new reports that the new data can facilitate, some still useful aspects of Movecounter are still to be hibernated across to the new platform.
Suunto assure use that this issue is planned for the next software update. But anyone with a knowledge of Suunto, will be aware that although they do update their firmware, it could very easily be 12/18 months before they do so, which leaves the matter of data manipulation a bit of a frustrating shuffle between both systems. This is obviously something that any purchaser should take into account.
In my humble opinion is that the quality of the product and the sheer amount of variation in the data streams far outweighs the negatives of having to manipulate two software programs.
I only have one urgent request of Suunto. Please, please enable the 24hr BP performance into the Sports Tracker system as soon as possible, because for those using your watch as a keep healthy system, this information is vital and they/we need to be able to download that from the watch.
A Bolt of Genius
Anyone who has experience of Suunto, will support the statement that the company applies a massive amount of common sense to complicated issues, often coming up with such logical solutions that have the genius of seeming simple.
Anyone who owns a Fitness Tracker, or sports watch will tell you that the weakest link of any watch no matter what price or which manufacturer, is the battery. Even with an expensive watch with the best battery power protection system, it really is only a matter of time before your confidence is tried by a battery failure either mid-event or even on the starting line. We have all fallen foul of forgetting to ensure enough charge before we complete. It is all too easy to do.
Riding over the hill on a white charger, swinging from the saddle and landing in the middle of the fight come Suunto, sporting a barrage of fresh ideas in the war against battery drain.
The Suunto 9 Baro, learns your training history and routines, so that if you plan a substantive event into the watch, in preparation for the upcoming event the watch will switch off various battery rich functions and begin to message the wearer that a charge is necessary. If you ignore the messages or even input an event at the last minute the watch will continue to turn off functions to enable the battery to survive to the end, even as far as stripping all the way down to a chrono.
Big Fish, Little Fish
So am I about to change my daily driver?
But only for one reason, and for once in my life it isn’t the software deficiency.
No. It’s size. As you can tell by the dimensions above, and some pictures. This is not Sharm-El-Shake, it’s Doncaster, and so wearing a dive computer would look more than a little out of the box.
I have very thin and weedy wrists and this substantial piece of equipment is relatively chunky and makes me look ridiculous. For those of you in the same boat as me, then please refer to my Xiaomi Amazfit review to find out what I recommend.
If on the other hand. You have the wrist to enable you to mask such a large watch, then I would indeed point yo towards the Suunto, it really is a remarkable leap forward, and could easily become an icon.