Sunday, July 01, 2018

Suunto 9 Baro Initial Impressions Review - FusedTrack, Extended Intelligent Long Life Battery Settings and Improved Wrist HR

Article by Jeff Valliere

Suunto 9  Baro ($599)
Available now
Update: See our full in depth review of the Suunto 9 Baro here
We recently received the new Suunto 9 which was released on June 26th for review and after initial testing, wanted to give some first impressions before our upcoming, full in depth review.

Introduction:  The Suunto 9 is the next generation of GPS watches from Suunto with the look, menus and operation are very reminiscent of the Spartan series watches (see our review of the Spartan Sport Wrist Heart Rate Baro here) , but with some interesting new additions.

Whats new:
  • FusedTrack, which fuses data from the barometric altimeter and movement sensors between GPS pings to improve accuracy and help conserve battery for very long events.
  • New HR sensor
  • Compatibility with Suunto's multiple mobile app. platforms
  • Easily swap-able bands
  • 24/7 continuous HR tracking
  • pre and in workout Intelligent battery tracking with a higher level of adjustability of features to most efficiently optimize battery life based on length of planned activity or as battery gets low.

Comfort and Wrist HR Accuracy:  
at 81 grams, the 9 is no lightweight, but fits very well on my wrist with a comfortable and not too sticky silicone quick release wrist band.  The 9 has smooth lines with no sharp edges to catch on a sleeve or bed covers or pinch the wrist if monitoring sleep.

Sporting a new Valencell wrist HR sensor, I am impressed so far with the improvement in accuracy  over the Spartan Baro. On my first run with the 9, worn side by side with a Garmin Fenix 5X with a chest strap heart rate strap, HR seemed to be within a few beats every time I looked and might be a little more accurate on my dominant wrist.  The blue line on the graph below represents the 9. Aside from a few wonky jumps, it stayed closer than I expected and at the end of the run, overall average was within 1 beat of the Fenix 5X with chest strap(128 vs. 129).  It is summer, so it being warmer with more sweat may help, but unlike the Spartan Baro, where it was clear that the sensor was confusing HR with Cadence this is clearly not the case with the 9.
Comparative Graphs: DC Analyzer
I'll definitely do more testing before I come up with confident conclusions but these initial results show good accuracy and promising improvements over the Spartan's wrist heart rate sensing.

Altitude Accuracy:
Altitude so far is quite accurate.  After calibrating my 9 and 5X at a known elevation before my run, at the summit of 8,144 ft. Green Mountain, the 9 was within 6 feet, and for comparison my Fenix 5X (which seems to have been off of it's game the last week), was reading about 140 feet short.

On the 14,009 foot Mountain of the Holy Cross, during my 30 minute summit visit, the Suunto 9 was reading 14,013 feet and my Ambit 3 Peak was reading just a few feet higher, but they both tracked quite closely throughout the day. Of course when I stood up for the photo, it jumped to 14,019! I consider within 10 to be very good.

Suunto 9 is represented by the blue line.

GPS Accuracy:  
In Performance mode (best) the 9 tracks quite closely to the Fenix 5X and my actual track on the map.  There is a bit of drift here and there, but nothing out of line or out of expectation for any GPS.  I find that on the trails, it is more common than not for any GPS to be a few feet off now and then.

Suunto 9 represented by the blue line.

Below is a section of my track on Mt. Holy Cross compared to my Ambit3 Peak (9 is the blue line).  For the majority of the 8+ hour hike, both units tracked spot on and very much in line with one another.
There was only one very short exception where the 9 straightened things out a bit (blue), where the Ambit (purple) was more in line with my actual track.

Fused Track
My initial impressions of FusedTrack, a system which fuses data from the barometric altimeter and movement sensors between GPS pings to improve accuracy and help conserve battery for very long events are mixed, When Fused Track is used in "Good" (60 second intervals) tracking mode and "OK" (120 second intervals) I do see differences.  When using the Good setting, FusedTrack seems to work quite well and even just after initial and limited testing, I would not hesitate to use and expect reasonable accuracy if I were looking to maximize battery life.  I would certainly be more hesitant in OK mode and am not yet convinced it is any better than Garmin's UltraTrac.  Time and further testing will tell.

Yellow is 'Good' and orange is 'OK'.  The yellow is remarkably close to my true track, the orange at 120 second sampling not so much.

Battery Life:  
So far I am impressed .  In Performance mode (best tracking, wrist HR on, display on, touch off, brightness normal, vibration and bluetooth on), the 9 optimistically predicts 25 hours.  Real world initial testing shows it to be a bit less.  For example, leaving the house at 3am with a full charge, driving to the mountains, then 8:17 of tracking in Performance mode while hiking and then a long drive home, by 5pm the 9 had used 40% of the charge. This equates to roughly 20 hours, perhaps a bit more, but I doubt 25.  Endurance mode which tracks at 60 second rate (Good) with all the same other settings as Performance including wrist heart rate, aside from having a reduced screen brightness, predicts 50 hours, which I think would be a great battery extending option without compromising much in the way of accuracy.

The new battery performance options are easy to use. At  the start of any workout, in any type of activity, you can easily select from Performance, Endurance, Ultra and Custom and it will display a prediction of battery life for each as you cycle through to make a reasoned choice.  The battery remaining for each will show in real time to help with the decision.  If you get down to 10%, the 9 will alert you and you can change to a different setting on the fly if need be.

When you enter your activity mode, you can press the top button and cycle through and select any of the 4 battery modes with view of hours remaining using that mode.  

Performance Mode Battery Life Prediction (predictions below not based on full charge)

Endurance Mode Battery Life Prediction 

Ultra Mode Battery Life Prediction
Note that wrist HR does not display as it is inactive in this mode but a chest strap could be used and we will test for its impact in this scenario and others.
Or, from the start screen above you can use the down button or touch screen to select, or make any changes you prefer in the custom mode.

I'll put in many more miles and summits before publishing a full review, but so far I have to say the Suunto 9 has far exceeded my expectations.  With GPS and altimeter accuracy that seems to rival the Ambit3 Peak (overall, the most accurate GPS watch I have used to date), impressive battery life, especially when utilizing the Endurance mode, and still retaining very reasonable accuracy, as well as a thus far, more accurate wrist HR, the Suunto 9 is looking to be the best watch they have made to date.

The Suunto 9 is available now. See some purchase options below.

Reviewer Bio
Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 2d Masters in 2015. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the Colorado 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.   

The products reviewed in this article were provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
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Jeff Valliere said...


Anonymous said...

Good info. Looking forward to the more in depth review. Thanks!

Stromdiddily said...

Man...still nothing more accurate than the 3 peak. Disappointed a bit.

Jeff Valliere said...

Stromdiddily - Not so fast, the Suunto 9 is performing very well so far and I am quite impressed, easily rivaling the A3 Peak in regards to GPS accuracy, altimeter and battery life, all in a bit more modern, user friendly package with HR. Full review to come, so stay tuned!

Marius said...

Hope to read the full review soon!

Stromdiddily said...

Any more updates on this? Looking forward to a full review!

Jeff Valliere said...

Stromdiddily, as a matter of fact, yes, we are very close, as I am working on it now and doing some final FusedTrack testing. Thanks for checking in and stay tuned!