Sunday, September 02, 2018

Suunto 9 Baro Full Review: Highly Accurate GPS Tracking, Improved Wrist Heart Rate, Outstanding and Leading Battery Life

Article by Jeff Valliere


Suunto 9  Baro
$599 ($649 with Chest Heart Rate Belt)
Colors:  Black (tested) or White
Available now
Introduction:  
The Suunto 9 Baro is the latest evolution of high end GPS multi-sport watches from Suunto, building and improving upon their most recent Spartan series. In addition to a much simpler name (in stark contrast to the more recent Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro, which we reviewed here), the Suunto 9 features several improvements, that, even while not a revolutionary overhaul, are worthy of consideration if you are planning to upgrade from previous Suunto models, or are looking at Suunto for the first time.  The Spartan series had some improvements over previous Ambit models such as easier and more intuitive menus, a touch screen to accompany buttons, slightly better navigation functionality, wrist HR on certain models, more comfort, interchangeable bands, but overall was looked at as a step back with less accurate GPS, diminished battery life (in all but the Ultra model), lack of add on apps and all at a hefty price tag.  The Suunto 9 addresses many of those concerns and I think is the best watch yet from Suunto.


Key Features:
  • Intelligent battery modes allow users to select the correct battery mode for their session length and calculates battery-saving settings accordingly. If your session takes longer than planned, the watch will recommend to change the battery mode when the battery gets low—all without having to exit the workout. The intelligent battery modes can also detect recurring long training sessions and trigger charge reminders well in time before your next long session.
  • FusedTrack™ technology combines GPS and barometric data with movement sensors to improve the track and distance accuracy while conserving battery life for ultra-distance activities.
  • Activity-specific heatmaps on movescount.com can be used to find popular trails (or unpopular trails), which can be selected and then downloaded to the watch for navigation on the go.
  • The Valencell PerformTek optical heart rate sensor is best in class, used by biometrics manufacturers for highly accurate HR measurement
  • The watch will also display sunrise/sunset times, and gives storm alarms when a sudden drop in air pressure occurs.
Specs:
Glass: Sapphire Crystal
Bezel: Steel
Case: Polyamide
Strap: Silicone with quick release
Battery Life: Up to 120 hours with battery saving options enabled
Navigation: GPS/GLONASS
Water Resistance: 100m
Weight: 81g
Diameter: 50mm
Thickness: 15.8mm
In the box you have the watch, manual, charging cable and sticker, and HR Chest Strap if you spring for that option.
The Watch
Redesigned, with a smooth and rounded bezel, the S9 is classy and striking, looking less like a sport watch and with a look which could certainly hold it’s own at the office or formal gatherings. It is available in black and white with multiple band add on color options.
It weighs 81 grams. By comparison, the Ambit 3 Peak weighs 86 grams, the Fenix 5 Plus Sapphire 88 grams and the Fenix 5X 98 grams. The S9 is lighter than the aforementioned, but is no lightweight when compared to the svelte Forerunner 935 at 49 grams. It fits very well on my skinny wrist with a comfortable and semi sticky silicone quick release wrist band.  

The S9 has smooth lines with no sharp edges to catch on a sleeve or bed covers or pinch the wrist if monitoring sleep, unlike the Garmin Fenix 5X. The three buttons on the S9 are a little more pronounced than previous Suunto watches, feeling precise and high quality. The buttons were enlarged for easier operation, but I have not necessarily found them to be an advantage over the more low profile buttons.

The screen is large and efficiently utilizes space. Unlike the 5X and Ambit 3 Peak, which feel a bit dense, blocky and where I am almost always aware that they are on my wrist, the Suunto 9, though comparable in size, for the most part, goes unnoticed on my wrist and I generally forget that I am wearing it.
Comparative Physical Dimensions (left to right): Fenix 5 Plus, S9, and Fenix 5X
  • Suunto S9 is 50 x 50 x 16.8 mm / 1.97 x 1.97 x 0.66 ",
  • Fenix 5 Plus is 47 x 47 x 15.8 mm so a touch thinner and smaller,
  • Fenix 5X is 51 x 51 x 17.5 mm so the broadest and thickest. 


The bands are quick release and are compatible with many 24mm bands made by Suunto or other brands that make “normal” 24mm width bands with the narrow pins as seen in the photo above vs. the very different Garmin band attachment where the quick release mechanism clips onto a cross bar. As of this date, there are not many bands to choose from that are marketed to be compatible with the S9.


Touchscreen:  


The mineral crystal color touch screen on the S9 is vibrant and easy to read in most conditions.  The screen brightness is adjustable on a 0-100% scale and I have essentially gone with whichever brightness level the corresponding battery modes has for a default, which seems to be sufficient (I never feel like I need anything over 50% brightness), as does the auto setting that darkens/brightens the screen as necessary depending on the light conditions. I was initially apprehensive of the utility of a touch screen on a GPS sport watch, but it does work well if that is what you prefer. It is responsive, intuitive and easy to use. When recording an activity (or “Move” in Suunto Movescount parlance), I find that I do not really ever need to touch the screen, unless I want to more easily toggle through navigation settings.  If you prefer, you can also do just about all that you need to do, whether in an exercise recording mode, or in day to day use with just the buttons and can even disable the touchscreen if you so choose during an activity to conserve battery. Some of the more conservative battery settings also disable the touch screen by default. Though the touch screen works very well in most conditions, it is difficult to use when wet and quite slow to respond, requiring multiple attempts.  Additionally, when wet, I found that the screen lights up constantly for some reason, but again, if this were a consistent issue, you can adjust these settings and get around with no problem using just the buttons.


The touchscreen is handy for scrolling through the menus and toggling various settings such as Connectivity, Outdoor, Navigation, etc….


In most cases, once I begin an activity (or Move in Suunto speak), I lock my watch so I do not mistakenly futz a button and stop recording by mistake.  With the Spartan series, when locked, you are unable to scroll through data screens which I found to be somewhat irritating. Thankfully this issue has been resolved with the S9 so you can scroll data screens at will.

I do find that when I am using the touchscreen, it is very prone to collecting smudges and fingerprints, which I find somewhat distracting and obscuring depending on the view angle and lighting conditions.  Maybe I am just a bit picky, but this bugs me and I am often cleaning my watch screen throughout the day.


One other limitation of the touchscreen is that it is not practical for use when wearing gloves. Technically, you can do it with gloves that are designed to be used with touchscreens, but the movements and selections are too small and precise for any level of ease or accuracy and even more difficult if even slightly damp.  These are the times where I would prefer to at least have 5 buttons as an option.


All of this said in non exercise all day use, the ability to swipe and touch is a nice convenience and speedier than using buttons.


Wrist HR Accuracy:
Sporting a new Valencell wrist HR sensor, I am generally satisfied with the improvements in accuracy over the Spartan Wrist HR Baro.  It was summer when I tested, so it being warmer and thus warmer with more humidity and sweat which helps accuracy. Unlike the Spartan Baro, where it was clear that the sensor was confusing HR with Cadence which is what happens when reliable blood flow is not detected (in cold dry air with clenching of hands,very abrupt arm movements, and when the watch shape and weight is excessive for the wrist size)  this is clearly not the case with the 9.  

Worn side by side with a HR strap paired to another watch, I am often getting parallel, nearly identical readings when compared side by side on the run and when graphed together. Each time I look at both watches to compare, HR is almost always within a beat or three of one another and overall HR average is within 1/2 a beat to one beat per minute. I have very thin wrists, so getting this level of accuracy is a great improvement over the Fenix 5X and the Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro, where I had completely given up on using wrist HR on either of them. My most accurate readings are when I wear on my dominant wrist (always a good first step to improve accuracy as the dominant wrist is usually thicker than the non dominant wrist with stronger blood flow), but even when worn on my non dominant wrist, I am overall seeing good results.
The wrist HR sensor is not completely flush and is slightly raised, however it goes unnoticed.
It was tough to capture a photo, but Suunto/Valencell utilizes 2 green flashing lights and 1 orange flashing light to give wrist HR readings.


Below is typical (well, maybe 80% of the time) of what I am seeing with the wrist HR on the S9 (blue) when compared to using a chest strap (purple).  There is usually some slight disagreement in the first 5 or 10 minutes, then they run parallel throughout most of the run. I have noticed that when I stop, usually for a moment at a summit mid run, my heart rate will of course drop.  The S9 and chest readings will vary again as can be seen below from minutes ~42-47, but soon correct for the most part once I get moving again.
Periodically, I see odd readings like the graph below where the S9 (blue) will seemingly randomly disagree with the chest strap (purple)
Graphing: DC Analyser
Despite the overall and significant improvement in reliability, the Suunto 9 can still have a bad day.  The graphs below show this on a recent run up Pike's Peak. The blue line graphed is the wrist HR of the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (usually pretty good, but having a bad day) and the Suunto 9 represented by purple is going completely haywire.  This is a very rare circumstance, the only day of many test days that it was this bad and bad for both watches.




Overall I am appreciative of the improvements in wrist HR accuracy and find that the level of accuracy is reasonable for my not all that serious, recreational use.  However, for the more serious, hardcore athlete who is training by and depending upon very accurate heart rate, I would suggest sticking with a chest strap for key workouts.
During exercise the S9 wrist HR continuously reads your HR second by second, but for 24x7 tracking it shifts to every 10 minutes or so, thus saving a bit of battery.  24x7 accuracy is good, but a reading every 10 minutes is clearly missing data in between, so take it with a grain of salt.  Like the Spartan series, HR is graphed over a 12 hour period, but is not stored anywhere on the watch or uploaded to the Movescount app, currently, but is planned to be with an October upgrade.


Wrist Heart Rate Tips
These comments apply to all wrist heart rate monitors. With any wrist heart rate monitor smaller wrist sizes, how the watch case fits one your wrist, poor blood flow especially in cold weather, clenching of hands, vibrations such as those on bike rides, and accentuated arm movements such as when running steep downhills can affect accuracy. High spikes tend to occur earlier in runs when blood flow is lower as shown on the last graph above and are largely caused by the units confusing cadence for heart rate.
It is useful to be well warmed up before starting runs to get better accuracy. The watch should be on your dominant wrist and not on the customary left wrist for a watch if you are right handed. Wear it a bit higher than a normal watch to avoid the wrist bones and have it snug so no light or air sneaks under as they can interrupt the light illuminating your wrist.
Altitude Accuracy:
Altitude elevation readings with the barometric altimeter and FusedAlti have generally been close to accurate with the Suunto 9, but I have found that like any other GPS watch I have used, the S9 drifts and requires a certain amount of babysitting with near daily calibration, more so when the weather is in flux or when travelling up/down through elevations (when not in recording mode), but it typically holds within 30-50 feet of the actual elevation on a run after being calibrated at a known elevation beforehand.  I am not as concerned in my day to day use about precise, real time elevation, but am concerned that it accurately tracks my vertical gain/loss over the course of a run and the Suunto 9 does this exceptionally well. Changes in weather and pressure can occasionally throw off my readings by 100 feet or more, but I rarely worry about it unless I know I will be following routes where I will need to make elevation based navigational decisions. In those cases I'll be sure to calibrate ahead of time from a known elevation (and also cross check with a map, my Gaia app and Garmin inReach Mini).
On the summit of 8,144 foot Green Mountain, just 6 feet off.
On the 14,009 foot summit of 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. 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 feet to be very good accuracy.
Suunto 9 is represented by the blue line.

The barometer is helpful with altitude tracking and predicting changes in weather. However the barometric pressure is nearly always in a state of flux and thus affects your altitude readings.

GPS Accuracy:  
The S9 has switched it’s chipset from SIRF to Sony and this is a clear improvement over Spartan models. In Performance mode (best) the Suunto 9 tracks quite closely to the Fenix 5 Plus, as well as the Ambit3 Peak, which has been my benchmark for GPS accuracy. There is a bit of drift here and there, but nothing out of line or outside of expectation for any GPS, as I find that on the trails, it is more common than not for any GPS to be a few feet off of my actual footprints on the ground.  Again, I could get overly wrapped up as to how closely a GPS follows my exact virtual footprints on the ground, but the S9 is at least as accurate, if not more accurate than any other watch I have used to date.


Suunto 9 in Performance/1 second intervals mode represented by the blue line, Ambit3 Peak Purple at same tracking rate.
Track Analysis DC Analyzer
S9 blue, Fenix 5 Plus purple, track very closely to one another (both at 1 sec.)
Yet another example of both the S9 (blue) and 5 Plus (purple) tracking pretty darn close to one another (both at 1 second intervals).


Below is a section of my track on Mt. Holy Cross compared to my Ambit3 Peak (S9 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 (both at 1 second intervals)
There was only one very short exception on my Holy Cross hike where the S9 straightened things out a bit (blue), where the Ambit (purple) was more in line with my actual track.


FusedTrack:
FusedTrack is a key new feature which debuts on the Suunto 9.  FusedTrack is genius as it extends battery life while maintaining GPS track accuracy. It fills in the blanks in the seconds BETWEEN the 60 second (“Endurance” mode) or 120 second (“Ultra” mode) GPS ping intervals, "Performance" mode being 1 second pings.  Of course a greater interval between GPS pings helps to conserve battery life. Using the accelerometer, gyro and compass, FusedTrack improves track accuracy over the traditional tracking method, where the gap between the longer ping intervals would simply be blank, a straight line, which may not be an issue if running out and back on a perfectly straight road, but runners make turns, especially on trails, which are prone to be curvy, had accuracy compromised to a greater degree.  When FusedTrack is used in Endurance (60 second intervals) tracking mode and Ultra (120 second intervals) I do see noticeable differences in accuracy between the two modes.  When using the Endurance setting, FusedTrack works exceptionally well and I would not hesitate to use and expect reasonable accuracy if I were looking to maximize battery life (predicted up to 39 hours).  


I have seen some impressive results with the 60 second GPS ping interval Endurance mode.  The screenshot below shows the Fenix 5 Plus at Best 1 second tracking (purple) vs. the S9 in Endurance mode (1 minute intervals with FusedTrack) (blue) and you can see that they run pretty close to one another even, with stats at the end of a run being quite close in both vertical and distance.
I am slightly more hesitant to rely on Ultra mode for a high level of accuracy, at least for running fast, as more ground is covered in those 120 seconds between pings, and especially since most of my runs are less than 90 minutes in duration. I have however seen some surprising, reasonably accurate tracks in Ultra mode and for slower hiking and multi day outings it would be a great option for reasonably good stats and navigational purposes if you are looking for a maximal 130 plus hours of use.  
In the screenshot above showing a recent run up and back down Bear Peak, purple represents the Fenix 5X in Best 1 second intervals with blue is the S9 running in Ultra mode (2 minute intervals with FusedTrack) and predicting well over 100 hours battery life.  The middle section running along the top is through a deep canyon and is always a good test for GPS watches and if they are going to misbehave, it is likely to happen here. The S9 in Ultra mode performed impressively well, as was the case on several other runs involving deep canyons, running among 1,000+ foot rock towers and over summits.  I was also running the Fenix 5 Plus in UltraTrac mode, which I have done several times, but deleted from the mix in the above screenshot, as it was clearly way off and really messed up the specific comparison I was trying to make. 

In the screenshot below the S9 is in Ultra mode (2 minute intervals with FusedTrack) represented by purple vs. the Fenix 5 Plus in UltraTrac mode (2 minute intervals) in blue running amok .  Huge differences! It is clear here that the FusedTrack is doing a great job putting together a reasonable track in the absence of continuous communication with the satellites. I think Ultra mode would be fantastic for multi day hikes as well as extremely long runs and mountaineering adventures, eliminating many battery charging worries.
My sole complaint with FusedTrack is the need to calibrate the watch before each use if you are using Endurance or Ultra modes (or a custom mode that is utilizing 60 or 120 second intervals where FusedTrack will be employed).  Suunto recommends that this calibration take place out in an open area such as a field with a full view of the sky which I guess it is a small price to pay for such an innovative and useful feature, but for me, this calibration process almost always takes place in the car on the way to a trailhead, or someplace that is not necessarily out in the middle of a field, or when I have to get running and don’t really have time to go through the long wrist rotating process.  
The calibration process requires quite a bit of wrist turning, 30-60 seconds worth, which is minor I’ll confess, but I wish this process could be streamlined in some way or better yet, automatically take place behind the scenes.


Battery Life and Pre Set/Customizable Intelligent Battery Modes:
Battery life is excellent and when combined with FusedTrack described above, the Suunto 9 is the best option currently on the market for those looking for a watch that will accurately track throughout ultra distance events and treks.  In Performance mode (best tracking, wrist HR on, display on, touch off, brightness normal, vibration and bluetooth on), the 9 optimistically predicts 25 hours. 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 S9 had used 40% of the charge with 60% remaining. This equates to roughly 20 hours, perhaps a bit more, but that is with wrist HR, screen on a brighter setting and on all of the time.  If you more conservatively customize those settings by toggling screen brightness, (or even to timeout after 10 seconds, coming on only with push of button), turning off wrist HR, turning off touch screen, it is more likely to get 24 hours on the best GPS setting. Endurance mode which tracks at 60 second rate with all the same other settings as Performance including wrist heart rate, aside from having a reduced screen brightness, predicts more than 35 hours, which I think would be a great battery extending option without compromising much in the way of accuracy.  Though I have not run continuously long enough to run the battery down in any of these settings, I have done the math and can confirm that these battery predictions are very close to accurate in any of the modes.


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 and Endurance Mode Battery Life Predictions (based on full charge)
Ultra and Custom Mode Battery Life Predictions (based on full charge)

Additionally, once the battery level drops to 10%, the S9 will give a Battery Low warning and give you the option to adjust down to a lower battery setting mid activity to help get you through the remainder of the workout.  Once the battery drops to an even lower level (~1%?), it will default to a timer only mode and turn off the GPS to conserve battery even further and hopefully finish out the workout, so at least you have a time recorded. No GPS track will be recorded at the end of the activity after GPS was turned off but earlier track and other data will be saved. Also, to help reduce the chances of the above scenario, the S9 has a proactive battery recharge notifications, where it detects patterns in your use over time and will give reminders to charge your battery ahead of time, just in case you forget to keep it topped off appropriately.
Demonstration of Intelligent Battery at RTR's YouTube Channel

Charging
The S9 has the same secure magnetic charging cable as found in the Spartan series.  This cable is easy to use and could easily be used for charging during an activity, though with the long battery life here, you would be much less likely to ever need to.


Alarms/alerts/sounds:  
Like the Spartan series, sounds and vibration settings are basic, but sufficient.  You can opt between sounds/vibrations for buttons/alerts, both or either. I prefer vibrations only for alerts and no button noise or vibration. This is super handy when synced with your phone to be alerted to phone notifications without bugging others around you, but I do find the vibrations to be somewhat less robust and less obvious than the vibrations in the Garmin Fenix series.  I don’t often miss alerts when wearing during day to day use, but probably miss them half of the time or more when on the move and running, biking, etc....

App. functionality and syncing:  
The Movescount app. is solid and reliable and as with the Spartan and Ambit series watches, stays synced with my S9 almost all of the time to receive notifications, but does not stay synced for some reason in regard to transferring Moves or updating settings with a new connection needing to be established each time I want to upload activities to the app.  After completing an activity, I’ll begin the sync process to upload my Move to Movescount which then transfers it over to Strava, but can easily take 5-15 minutes, which can seem tedious at times. If I forget to sync my watch with the app., or plug into the computer (which I rarely ever do anymore), Moves will simply not sync. The process takes a deliberate effort. Garmin is not entirely immune either, with occasional delays or sporadic difficulties staying connected, but overall seems to be more stable for me and automatically uploads/syncs activities on its own without my help.

Viewing and Analyzing Your Moves:

Within the Movescount app, you can access previous Moves and most of the data, maps and graphs, Below are screenshots of a Move in the Movescount app.


Map of my run in Movescount.


Map of my Move in Movescount with heat maps toggled on. Heat maps show popular routes taken by other Suunto users, brighter orange more popular.

You can also create a shareable topo map based movie of your Moves with pictures and data overlays. view some recent 24/7 activity (but it is not very comprehensive) and adjust and refine watch settings as well as activity settings. The visible fields during an activity are customizable and can be adjusted within the mobile app. or from Movecount browser view on a computer. You just need to remember to sync up after doing so.


Smart features/Notifications:  Like the Spartan and Ambit series, the S9 has the very basic functionality as a smartwatch which is essentially limited to text, email, calendar and phone notifications. The amount of text you can read is more than enough to get the gist of the message and gauge its importance. Finding and reading messages with the S9 is easier than prior Suunto watches: find, scroll through and expand, however there is no way to clear out the messages after reading, so they just pile up over time.  A small complaint, but I would love to be able to clear these out at will.


Navigation:
Navigation with the S9 is the same as in the Spartan series, an improvement over the Ambit series, but a far cry from the topo and road map based navigation utilized in the Garmin Fenix 5X and Fenix 5 Plus series. You can plan routes in Movescount to follow, either free form or uploading pre existing routes shown in the Heatmaps that are generated by consistent use on popular routes by other Suunto users, create waypoints, navigate by compass and backtrack on a breadcrumb trail. Navigating by a single line or breadcrumb trail is easy, reliable and sufficient for most usage, but having having built in topos, as is the case with the Fenix Plus watches, is immensely helpful to visualize and anticipate the terrain around you and see nearby features, trails, roads, intersections, etc….  We covered the navigation settings and process more extensively in our Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro review here:


24/7 Tracking/Sleep Tracking:  
Aside from adding continuous 24/7 HR tracking, the Suunto 9 performs essentially the same as the Spartan series in this regard. It will track HR and graph over a 12 hour plot and you can view a graph representing the previous week, as is also the case for calories and steps, but it does not store anywhere beyond that currently be it in Movesount, or on the watch for more than the previous week. Suunto tells us that sleep data will come to Movescount in October 2018. Sleep data is currently is available in the Suunto app which has a more limited analytical capability and as of now no sharing to other sports platforms such as Strava.  


Sleep tracking is excellent and very accurate and for a large watch, is comfortable and not particularly distracting at night, nothing jabs or pinches in the middle of the night, but the overall bulk of the watch might bother some in bed.


Sport Modes and Data Screen Customization:
Same as in the Spartan series, sport modes and data fields can be easily and nearly endlessly customized depending on your use and preferences.  This can be done from the Movescount app or the Movescount PC version, but not on the watch. Being able to customize from the mobile app is handy, but if out in the field, you have to have your phone and have to have reception, so would be nice if you could also do from the watch.  
We covered this process in more detail in our Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro review here:  


Web Platform and Mobile Apps:
Suunto is struggling here and is in a period of transition from its long time Movescount app to the new Suunto app based on Sports Tracker developed by an Amer Sports sister company.   

To get some clarity, we contacted Suunto and they replied:  


To clarify the app we are moving to is going to be the Suunto app, not Sports Tracker. The goal is to have Strava integration [to the Suunto app] by the end of the year, but no current date yet. The process is going to be to download to Movescount for Strava transfer for now. There will be overlap of Suunto app and Movescount, with the ultimate goal of only having the Suunto app for all products Ambit3 and newer.”

Traditionally, Suunto users would have to do everything in Movescount, configure settings, upload and store “Moves” or activities from the watch, access apps that could downloaded to Ambit series watches-but NOT with Spartan series or S9, and connect with 3rd party platforms such as Strava or Training Peaks. The new Suunto app currently has features that Movescount doesn’t have such as the in app storage and display of sleep and 24/7 activity for the S9, while at the same time not having as of yet the full analytics, the route planning of the Movescount app, or integration to other platforms such as Strava. Suunto tells us that in October sleep data will come to Movescount and that by the end of the year it is expected that Strava integration will come to the Suunto app. 

We recommend staying with Movescount for now unless sleep and activity tracking in the app is critical to you and you don't need the more robust analytics, route planning, or Strava integration currently missing from the Suunto app.

But wait, there's more. If you want to have both apps to use on your phone, you can’t, and have to choose and then go back to relying on your computer to upload from the 2nd app, or get another phone.  Ughhh. To top it off, I find connectivity between the watch and apps to be unreliable, requiring a lot of patience and hand holding to upload “Moves”.


Conclusions/Recommendations:
Despite my gripes about the currently disjointed web platforms/apps, lack of apps that can be loaded to the watch (such as you could with the Ambit series and especially with Garmin) and currentl weak 24/7 data tracking/storage, the Suunto 9 Baro is one of the best, if not the best GPS watch, on the wrist sports instrument, on the market today and certainly the best watch Suunto has produced.  GPS accuracy is as good as it gets, altitude is accurate, wrist HR accuracy is very good for the most part. 

What really sets the S9 apart is the FusedTrack and intelligent battery modes.  This is a game changer for the Ultra endurance, hiking, trekking, and mountaineering communities who put a very high premium on battery life. Being able to record accurate, or reasonably accurate data in Endurance or Ultra mode is a huge advantage over anything currently available, including the new 32 hour spec Fenix 5X Plus. The typical Suunto customer may likely not care as much about custom watch faces, widgets, 24/7 tracking or smartwatch functionality, but I would love to see Suunto catch up in many of these areas and get their web platforms/mobile apps more rapidly consolidated into one app while expanding their functionality. This would open up their market greatly.


As I often say, a Garmin (Fenix or Forerunner) is a watch you put on and wear all the time due to its robust tracking and smartwatch functionality and customization, whereas a Suunto is a piece of gear that you put on, along with your other sport specific gear, then take off when done.  However, if you are not so concerned about smartwatch functionality beyond basic alerts, then the S9 is comfortable enough and looks very classy for day to day wear.


For those who are most concerned with top tier accuracy and battery life over 32 hours and are not so concerned with round the clock creature comforts, can accept the current online platform focused on watch customization, performance and multi-sport tracking, this is the watch you are looking for, specifically you Ultra runners and multi day adventurers.  The S9 is a very worthy successor for Ambit fans looking for a superior upgrade.


Comparisons
Suunto 9 vs. Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (RTR initial review)
With the 5 Plus you get the option of on the wrist topo and road maps, the loading of routes including trails generated via heat maps with change of direction indications, an app and widget ecosystem, music on board or phone music controlled from the watch, and a superior, complete if not as elegant current app. These "Plus extras” will set you back a minimum of $100 more than for the Suunto. With the $599 Suunto 9 you get superior, user controllable battery life with high accuracy of GPS tracking and wrist heart rate recording beyond 32 hours, well beyond the $699 Fenix 5 Plus 14 to 17 hours (our testing in its best mode) and beyond the 32 hour spec of the yet pricier $850 and up Fenix 5x Plus. S9 can accompany you for several days of activity on the trail without thinking of recharging. Suunto formerly weak wrist heart rate accuracy now challenges Garmin’s former lead there. The S9 is currently an athlete’s focused high accuracy, long battery life tool more than a do it all fully complete smartwatch app combination but, as with any such technologies, it can and will be updated and expanded.

Suunto 9 vs. Suunto Ambit3 Peak

Comparisons between these two are inevitable, as many Suunto aficianados rejected the Spartan series, maintaining that the Ambit series, particularly the Ambit3 Peak was still the best watch Suunto makes and continues to sell. The most important attributes being GPS accuracy, battery life, a barometric altimeter with accurate altitude readings, durability and a wide array of sport uses. The Suunto 9 offers GPS that is at least as accurate, battery life that is superior, far superior when factoring in the advantages of the intelligent customizable battery settings and FusedTrack, equally accurate altimeter and an equally wide array of sport uses. Additionally, with the Suunto 9, you get an easier to navigate menu system, a lighter, more comfortable form factor, wrist HR, touch screen, interchangeable wrist bands, better 24/7 activity tracking (still limited, but better than essentially none), better notification capabilities, vibrating alerts and a more modern, classy look. The Ambit3 Peak on the other hand has access to apps that can be uploaded to the watch to customize it, where there is no such option for the Spartan series or S9. The Ambit3 Peak can also be found for roughly half the price of the S9, so it depends on your budget and needs.

See our initial impressions of the new Garmin Fenix 5 Plus here. Full review soon!

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.   


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7 comments:

Jeff Valliere said...

Following.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comprehensive review!

Will you guys be doing a review of the 5X plus? I'm debating between it and the S9.

Jeff Valliere said...

Thanks for reading Anonymous. We are currently working on our full review of the Fenix 5 Plus, essentially the same as 5X Plus, aside from size, battery life and Pulse Ox.

Recommendation would depend on budget and intended use/preferences.

phil bradburn said...

Hi - great review. I got my Suunto S9 about a month ago. I was fortunate to have two really long races to test it out on (145 miles - 38.5 hours on a customised "endurance" setting - which was good) and 133 miles - 34h15 on a custom "performance" setting (I turned off HR, beeps, vibrations, display, touchscreen etc) - and I still had 13% battery left. The impact of turning off the display is massive and I estimated that the 13% left would have got me to 40 hours total. Which is out of this world for the best GPS setting.

Rob Brooks said...

Hi Jeff, I want to love my S9 but it's definitely suffering from the cadence-as-HR problem when I run (it seems just fine otherwise). My previous two wrist HR devices (Mio and Polar) have read consistently dependable in almost all circumstances, which makes this even more frustrating. I've tried all the usual tricks (updated firmware, inside and outside of both wrists, various strap tightness) with no success. I'll keep hoping a future firmware update makes a difference, but for now I'll have to continue linking it to my Polar for HR numbers.

Jeff Valliere said...

Sorry to hear this Rob. As I mentioned, I had the exact same problem with the Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro, confusing cadence and HR, it was majorly frustrating. For me the S9 has not had this issue and accuracy has been pretty good, with just the occasional hiccup or bad day. Overall though, I feel that wrist HR has a ways to go before widespread accuracy for all is achieved. Otherwise, I really like the S9 from a GPS and battery life perspective. Hope you get things squared away soon.

Marduk said...

I hope Suunto implements possibility to add graphs to custom sport modes. If I am not mistaken, this still stands: https://forums.watchuseek.com/f233/cant-add-graphs-customized-sport-modes-spartan-hr-baro-movescount-4599649.html , which is a kind of deal-breaker for me, because I am used to that from Ambit 3 series. Otherwise a 9 is a great watch.