The Finnish smartwatch brand Suunto has been steadily growing in the field of smart fitness/sports watches for some years now. I mainly knew it from trailrunning/running world but didn’t have any previous experience with devices from the brand. The Suunto 9 is a multi-sports adventure smartwatch, which can track, navigate, measure your heart rate and also has a number of smartwatch functions in connection with your phone (such as messages on your watch from incoming calls, messages, etc.)
I’ve used the Suunto 9 for a number of weeks in numerous activities (mountain biking, running, snowboarding, hiking, climbing, hiking and field hockey (yes that too). I have tested as many of the promised functionalities as possible and after all that use am left with largely positive but also a few mixed feelings about the Suunto 9.
First of all, the Suunto looks really good. A fairly basic design, (black and round) but robust, with a nice sturdy wristband, a flat recessed dial, tight and strong materials and three large control buttons. My first issue with this watch are the buttons. Although very good and easy to operate the watch with, the watch would catch regularly on the shoulder straps of my backpack when I tried to take it off (during for example mountain biking or hiking). As they caught on the shoulder strap it would happen regularly that the buttons were pressed, causing, for example, the tracking to stop. So as far as I am concerned they are a bit too big. Maybe if they were a bit rounded off this wouldn’t happen. In any case, the watch is not small and you really feel that you are wearing it.
The upside of those big buttons is that you can easily navigate through the menu of the watch, even if you have gloves on Which is not unimportant. Incidentally, the Suunto 9 also has a touch screen and allows you to swipe through the options (both horizontally and vertically.) The menu structure is extensive but simple and organized logically. I never had the idea that I was lost in all options. So that was very good.
If you want to track your activities, you can choose from a wide range of preset sports with customized “screens” on your watch that show relevant metrics for that sport. The basis of these screens is also well put together. For each sport, you have several screens that you can easily swipe through. Tracking is very accurate, both in the Netherlands (forest and open terrain) and in the mountains (Alps) at different speeds. Speed and altimetry are generally good, although in the Netherlands I was sometimes 100 meters below sea level, according to Suunto 9, which even for this low country is a bit much.
A very good indication of the intensity of your effort (more than a pedometer, which the phone also has) is your heartbeat. The Suunto 9 has 4 LEDs on the back of the watch that sit against your skin and measure your heart rate. This Wrist Heart Rate (WHR) technology measures the blood flow in your wrist. As Suunto itself indicates, WHR is more of an “estimate” than a really reliable and precise measurement. And very dependent on how well the watch fits on your wrist, which is not always optimal during sports. For more exact measurement you better take a chest strap sensor. I have varying experiences with the WHR on the Suunto 9. Where often it seemed well dialed in, I regularly had very crazy measurements, from no measured heartbeat at all to a heartbeat of 213. So it is not very reliable, unfortunately, and I used it as a general impression of what I had done, rather than an exact record of it.
I actually could not navigate with the watch. That was mostly because I did not manage to get GPX files for routes onto the watch. Neither via the regular Suunto app or via the Suunto Moves app. For a moment I thought I had managed when I uploaded a GPX route on the Suunto Moves site, but it did not appear in the Suunto moves app. And if it had, I could not get the Moves app to communicate with the watch, because of the connection with the regular Suunto app prevented that. The watch cannot connect to both apps at once.
If what I wrote above these lines seems a bit confusing it is because it did not work well (at least not for me) either. The two apps can’t really be used simultaneously, they differ in some aspects and overlap in others. Connecting the watch to my iPhone was a struggle in itself on many occasions. If there was a connection then synchronizing the data could also take a very long time. Once that was successful however, you did have a complete set of data about your activities that were shown in a visually appealing way.
Once you have that connection with your smartphone, you can receive notifications on your watch. That works well, with clear and nice-looking messaging on the watch. I am not a huge fan of always receiving all kinds of messages and having your wrist buzz all the time, but if you don’t want to miss anything, then this works very well.
Last but certainly least, I am very pleased with the battery life. The watch can last a long time and do a lot of tracking. After a firmware update, I was happy to see you that the Suunto notifies you in time if the battery life is to low to do any tracking. And not just before you actually try to start tracking and ready to step out of the door and do your thing, but well in advance. So that was very nice.
As I said at the beginning, I have a bit of mixed feelings on the watch. In itself Suunto 9 is a good watch in its category. The looks and functionalities are good, but it does not all work as well as you would like. Therefore, but the pros and cons in a row:
Looks, construction, robustness, materials used
Navigation and menu
Screens with sports metrics
Could be better:
Large control buttons
Connectivity with telephone
Navigation or issues upload gpx to phone
Heart rate tracking