By MTD Athlete AVT
In the modern running era, GPS watches are about as fundamental to running as the shoes on your feet; after all, if it isn’t on Strava then did it really happen……
Maverick being at the forefront of trail running and indeed of a tech partner have recently announced a partnership with Suunto. This meant I treated myself to a shiny new Suunto 9 baro with our partner perks and it appeared on my wrist a few weeks ago. As such I thought I would put down a few thoughts on it after a couple of weeks of testing. A brief disclaimer before I begin: this review will not even be close to the reviews available by DC Rainmaker, so if you have literally nothing to do at work today, then I recommend jumping over to his website whereby you will find more detail than is ever necessary on the watch. This is more of a musing on what I have loved and hated about the watch so far.
As full blown mountain GPS ultra-distance watches go, I think this one is pretty good looking. Black, unadorned, kind of sleek and only just crossing the offensively large boundary, Suunto have done a pretty good job here. Personally I wouldn’t wear it with a suit, nothing screams wannabe mountain man like a suit with an oversized sports watch poking out of the cuff, but in pretty much all other situations it actually looks pretty good.
This is probably the best thing about the watch; the battery is seemingly endless. This was actually the main reason why I went for the Sunnto, despite being a Garmin man for many years. In the performance mode, I get around 23hrs of use before the watch goes blank, and in the ultra-mode, something like 125 hrs, which is totally unnecessary. The biggest downside is that now I have one less excuse not to do one of these silly long races, as I can actually record the whole thing in one go now, and I only do ultras for the strava kudos……
Garmin are not even close to this kind of performance given my experience of the Fenix watches. The battery also has the ability to auto adjust, so if you are running low the battery setting will automatically change to keep the watch alive and recording.
I have to be honest, I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the GPS vs Garmin devices. My commute into work still seems to be 6.3 miles, so I guess it’s doing a pretty good job! I Think DC Rainmaker has done a lot more work analysing this, so hop over to his website if you really want to geek out.
Heart Rate Monitor
So the watch comes with a HR monitor made by Valencell, but it operates in the same way as those you get on pretty much all wrist based HR monitors. I have never had any luck with these, and the Suunto is no exception for me. Whilst it seems to do a good job of recording my HR over the day (although I am always slightly sceptical of having a resting HR of 30……) I have found accuracy while training somewhat erratic. I have had the same issue with Garmin devices however, and am generally not convinced on the wrist HR monitors for accurate readings. Doing flat out intervals with a HR of 120, followed by a gentle run to work with a HR of 200, the wrist based monitors are not even close to the chest straps for accuracy. I do have the Suunto chest HR monitor, and that I love. Extremely small and comfortable, and the accuracy is spot on from what I can tell. Problem solved!
Credit to Suunto here, the watch is very simple to use. Getting into sports modes is a breeze, just scroll up from the home screen. For stats, you just scroll down. The screen is nice and big, colours sharp, and the screen holds up well in even the brightest sunlight. The touch screen is slightly more divisive I think. It works, and though I have not had any issues with it, but I still find myself using the buttons most of the time, especially whilst training. Compared to the Fenix watches, I find the Suunto far simpler to use in terms of the watch. But, and this is quite a big but….the app and website is far behind the Garmin equivalents. Suunto have much better hardware, but the software is lagging, the apps usability and the integration between the app, the watch and the website is infuriating. The big gripe I have had here is with route planning. Like most of the sane world, I know that planning routes on Strava is far and away the easiest way to create good GPX routes. With Garmin, you just import this to the Garmin website, save it and sync your watch and the app. Voila, you have a route on the watch. Suunto does not let you do this. If you sync via the website, you wipe all the settings from the app, and vice versa, meaning if you plan a route on your computer, you can’t get it onto the watch without removing all of the app settings! Why Suunto, Why!
Suunto 9 vs Garmin Fenix
I think that most people looking at a Suunto 9 Baro are going to having to make a choice between the 9 and the Fenix 5. Having used both, there are pros and cons to each, and I have tried to give as unbiased opinion on what I have and have not liked about the Suunto here. Personally I think the Suunto 9 Baro serves a pretty specific audience compared to the Fenix 5. If big days out are your thing, the Suunto is hands down the better bit of kit. The watch is simpler to use, has battery for days, offers all of the key features for long days out in the hills, navigation is on point, is incredibly accurate and is lighter than the Garmin. The big sell on the Garmin is on the software, which is still beating what Suunto can offer. However, software can be upgraded easily, whereas having a fantastically well designed watch can’t be changed quite so simply.
It’s not a perfect device, so I still have something to moan about, but I do prefer if to the Garmin I had before. For people who are serious about spending long days out in the hills, it is a sound investment, and for me has been worth every penny so far. The software on the Suunto’s is improving all the time, so I think it is only a matter of time before it is rivalling Garmin. Compared to the previous Suunto watches this is a huge step ahead and in my opinion the 9 is hands down the best watch for ultras right now.