Thursday, May 27, 2021

Suunto 9 Peak First Look and Test Notes Initial Review : Loses weight and bulk (lots of both), adds features

Article by Sam Winebaum

Suunto 9 Peak ($699 Titanium, $569 Stainless Steel)

Introduction:

The Suunto 9 Peak was just received for testing and this article will be frequently updated on the way to our full review. Suunto's flagship training watch it is know for high accuracy, long battery life. and... weight and buik. This new edition changes that last part of the picture, dramatically, while by spec retaining all the watch's strengths as an all endurance sports and adventure focused offering.









From my standpoint the most significant changes to the Suunto 9 are dramatic weight and thickness reductions while not changing specs for battery life or other features and in fact also adding some key features such as a pulse Ox sensor, 1 hour 100% charging, and automatic backlight intensity adjustment. The image below comparing the Suunto 9 Peak to the Suunto 9 Baro are striking.


Weight and size is felt in a watch and can also affect wrist heart rate accuracy especially on skinny runners' wrists in cold.

The 9 Peak Titanium loses a staggering 29g over the prior 9 Baro to come in at 52 g with the steel version losing 19g. By comparison the Suunto 7 weighs 70g, the similar outer dimension (-1mm here) Garmin Fenix Pro 6s checks in at 61g, the all plastic Forerunner 945 with a larger outer dimension 50g and the Coros Apex Pro 49-59g depending on strap.

This is achieved with a case that is 3.8mm thinner than the 9 Baro to come in at 13mm (tied with Polar Vantage V2 in its class with only all plastic Pace 2 anad Forerunner 245 thinner that I know of)  It has outer dimensions of 43x43 whereas before we had 50 x 50. Resolution goes to a more standard 240x240 (same as Fenix Pro 6s, Forerunner 945. Vantage V2 and Coros Apex Pro)  from 320 x 300. 









Finally the strap goes from 24mm to 22mm and I can tell already, in combination with the flatter profiled hinges is far more comfortable than I remember the 9 Baro’s to be. 


All of this slimming down does not affect the training battery life spec of 25hrs best mode and saver modes of 50, 120 and 170 hour Tour mode or the everyday time battery life of 14 days or 7 day life with notifications and 24/7 tracking. Of course these specs will be evaluated in our testing. 

The look is Scandavian or should I say modern Finland sleek. No no more clunky blocky look and feel. Its whisper light on the wrist and the reduced bulk of case, strap and hinges is immediately noticeable.

The flat buttons have a nice positive click with the touchscreen useful for navigating screens out of training modes. 


Testing Notes

Satellite signal acquisition is remarkably quick, about 2 seconds with a hill shadowing.

Screen visibility in darker forest conditions is only average with 4 data points for my eyes. The new adaptive backlight intensity kicked in and was useful but not frequently enough 

The Suunto Plus climb screen was useful, marking each climb's vertical and pace. Unfortunately

 I snapped the picture just after a climb! So far I am finding  I have to select it in options before each run. Likely a small easy to fix bug. 


Battery Life Testing

An extended test over 4.8 days consumed 75% of the battery life. During the period all notifications were on and I ran for a total of 6 hours. I discovered that sleep tracking is not on by default, turning it on the last 2 nights. This test indicates a "real world" battery life i.e. with GPS training with wrist HR in the mix of a very commendable 6.4 days. 

A 1.5 hour run consumed 6% battery demonstrating a 25 hour full GPS and wrist heart rate battery life, so at spec. 

A second run of 114 minutes consumed 8% battery indicating a 23.75 hour battery life. Note that rounding of the gauge percentages can affect this estimate so a 7% use would indicate 27.14 hours and a 9% use 21 hours so we are close if not on the spec of 25 hours in best mode.

GPS Accuracy
5.63 miles for Suunto 9. 5.65 miles for a Polar Vantage M2 on road. Difference likely as i forgot to start Suunto 9 after a stop. I did notice that it reminded with a vibration that I was running but watch was still paused.

GPS Tracking
Below a screen capture from DC Analyzer comparing the S9 to a Garmin Forerunner 945 and Polar Vantage M2 all worn simultaneously in a particularly winding section of trail in deep thick forest. While I can not be sure which tracks are "correct"  the Vantage M2 and Forerunner 945 agree while the blue line for Suunto 9 Peak does not. Note that the S9 was solo on one wrist while the other two were on the other.
Graphs: DC Analyzer

I recent participated in Ragnar Trail Colorado. I ran 3 courses with official distances to the tenth of a mile and Suunto 9 Peak and Polar Vantage M2 results below.



The Peak appears closer to actual distances than the Vantage M2. The course was in more open scrubby brush than the first test. In the test below, also through more open treeless territory, this time in Park City, shows how closely the Peak tracked the actual trail (blue) with other watch the Garmin Forerunner 55 (Initial Review).


Wrist Heart Rate



As is quite often the case I am finding accuracy early in runs to be better on my thicker dominant wrist (above) than my left non dominant wrist (below) as shown by the high early spikes. Most watches, and especially heavier watches on thinner wrists have a tendency to pick up cadence instead of heart rate in the first ten minutes or so until they settle down and the S9 Peak is no exception. I do think the now much lighter weight and now more wrist conforming design of the 9 Peak should improve accuracy over the 9 Baro.


Now in Park City my first two trail runs show consistent accurate wrist heart rate on my problematic non dominant wrist from two slow trail runs. An update I missed? Terrain? Low humidity? Slow paces? Still to be determined. The many sharp drops are from stops to take some of the pictures below.




Rapid Charge

The Suunto 9 Peak has a rapid charge feature: 1 hour to 100%. I put the watch on the charger at 27% battery and 45 minutes later it was at 100% indicating 71 minutes. It sat at 99% for several minutes and I missed the gauge roll over to 100% so it meets its spec or very close. This is a very rapid charge. I can't recall one as fast or even close.


Charger Unit

Instead of aligning pins or a plug in cord the S9 Peak has a magnetic ring. Attach the charger anywhere and it starts to charge the watch. I have not yet determined if one can charge while in workout mode.


Screen Visibility
To get to its strong battery life the S9 Peak has several tricks up its sleeve. The backlighting is adaptive to light conditions. I saw it triggered while running in a dark forest for a short while and the better visibility was welcome but shortly after in almost but not quite as dim conditions it stayed off. 

On the run in overcast conditions or in the forest during several runs  back in New Hampshire  digits are quite thin and a times can be hard to see, and harder to see than a Forerunner 945, Polar Vantage M2, and Wahoo ELMNT Rival worn on the other wrist during various runs in dimmer light. I note that the minimum number of data fields is three. Why not a choice of 2 or 1 as others offer with resulting bigger digits a mystery.

Now that I am in Park City, Utah at high altitude and with of course lots of bright sun,  the trans reflectivity of the display definitely improves the legibility but I still think as above digits could be fatter and bigger and a 2 data field view option is needed.

Finally it took me several days to figure out how to activate the backlight in everyday mode without pressing a button. I find myself needing to do this to for example see beyond the time, for example the smaller fonts battery gauge. Unlike many watches the S9 requires a distinct flick of the wrist to light up. For sure this helps save battery and is easy to adapt but even doing so things can remain dim. The default brightness of "medium" can of course be adjusted to a brighter setting. 


Suunto Plus

I am just starting to explore Suunto Plus. It is a collection of mini apps or widgets which can be loaded as screens into your training modes. They currently include  Climb, Loop, Sprint (or intervals), Race a Ghost Runner, Safe (Location), Weather, Strava Relative Effort view, Training Peaks, and others. 

As of  now, it appears you can only load one at a time and each time you activate a workout you must select your choice as Suunto Plus is in off mode by default each time. I expect updates will take care of both issues: multiple choices and save your defaults for the next time.

I selected the Climb module for my first test and combined it with Navigation on a route I easily built in the app.

I took the picture below at the top of a climb, really on the start of the downslope and as the data is real time by stopping  to do so, things look slow!
 

The left center NGP field is particularly useful as it shows a grade adjust current pace with the to right feet climbed per hour rate. Above that the climb stats and grade.

Another screen related to Navigation and the route I loaded from what I can tell shows altitude and remaining climb on the route.  Unlike Garmin and Coros, as of yet individual climbs on a route are not shown and evaluated as they occur as far as I can tell. This seems pretty essential and while the Suunto Plus and Climb widget  is new I would like to see these very useful types of vertical features added as soon as possible. 

On my next run I selected the Weather module. To get accurate readings you are supposed to take it off and lay it down for 30 seconds as it is watch's sensor and not your phone that does the measuring. I did not take it off. 

The temperature of 79F shown was decently close nonetheless to the actual temperature during the run of 72F. The screen also shows barometric trends as well as sunset and hours of day light remaining.   Recall that as of now you can only select one Suunto Plus widget at at time.  I hope and expect this will change.       

Navigation and Routes

Unlike the Suunto 7 (RTR Review) with its spectacular high resolution screen for mapping and navigation..and with its far lower battery life,  Suunto 9 Peak relies on the breadcrumb approach but also offers turn by turn directions for loaded routes. 

Both Suunto (and Polar) use mapping from Komoot with route building easily done in the Suunto app. Komoot has superb road but also trail maps and it is rare a known trail is not included in my experience. This allows the watch to give you a heads up as to which way to go at junctions. 

During my first test I set up a trails route but made a mistake as near the start one of my choices for the climb was an downhill only trail. The watch notified me that I was Off Route as I took an alternative about 100 meters later or so. 

Knowing the area, I rejoined my loaded route a few miles later but can't recall an On Route notification. I did get an On Route notification when at the end of the run I crossed the point I had to change plans... Below the planned route (left) and actual (right). Much of the back half after rejoining was on route and the breadcrumb map screen clearly shows this and had me on the route as shown below yet I was not alerted for turns at multiple major junctions. 

Clearly the map and the turn by turn elements need to be able to "catch up" with inevitable changes in plans when you do in fact return to the route loaded to the watch. 



Note the level of  breadcrumb map detail with the switchback just ahead clearly shown in the picture and on the display with route covered and route ahead and direction clearly indicated. 


During subsequent runs I learned more about the navigation and turn by turn directions.
You will be notified of off routes approximately 100 meters beyond where you went off route as shown below. The correct route is at the light colored trail straight ahead to the left and climbing. 

You will note the Off Route message is not showing. It appears only very briefly with a light vibration. I was not able to capture it with the camera in time although I was anticipating it. The indication (pop up screen and vibration) is the same as for the notification for a turn very subtle, too subtle but that should be an easy fix.  

It appears the Off Route zone is more a circle around you than linear as below I was Off Route parallel to the road seen and had traveled about 200 meters off route but received no alert. The route (the road seen above the watch) is the blue line to the right below on the watch.

Turn indications appear initially fairly consistently at 295 feet / 90 meters before a junction. All trails and roads shown in the app are enabled for turn indicators and the Komoot map database is very complete. Having tested the Suunto 7 with the same system I can say that most trail systems and trails shown on topographic maps are included. 

The view below is on road with the turn at the furthest out orange construction signs. Good luck seeing in time which way you are supposed to turn although it is indicated at the top. Along with holding longer a more effective use of contrasting colors, arrows for direction and bigger fonts is in order and an easy fix.

When I got to the turn ahead shown above, the screen reappears telling me direction to turn with indication of how far I have to go to the next turn and what I think is an estimate of time to get there based on my current pace. 
To build a route in the Suunto app see our Suunto 7 review here where we go into detail as it is the same for both watches except..instead of breadcrumbs as here, the much higher resolution and consequently much lower battery life Suunto 7 screen shows you the route and maps on gorgeous detailed topo maps right on the watch. I will say the app route building is much improved since I tested the Suunto 7 with more smarts and fidelity figuring out far more accurately what the intent of your finger presses are than before as you touch off segments or pieces of segments to build your route.

Above is a route I built around the neighborhood. Each white dot represents a press of the finger to mark a segment. Below is the route in my list of routes upload able to the watch. Very important you will see an additional toggle for turn by turn guidance. 
Mysteriously it is not an option when you build the route (as shown in first app view) and my first couple runs I was puzzled that while I was clearly following a route (breadcrumbs and all) no turn by turn directions were appearing...  You have to enable it in the list of routes, after...as shown below for turn by turn directions to appear. Why not do it in the build screen with the option to turn it off on the routes list I don't know. Seems logical that if you are building a route to follow, maybe more likely for the first time you would want to be able to turn on turn by turn guidance right then and there.

To illustrate the level of mapping detail see a trail route below in Park City's Round Valley, a well known and well marked trail complex. Every trail is selectable and every trail junction on the route will trigger the two alerts above, assuming you have turn by turn  guidance for the route to "on". You will note the slow pace of 3.1 miles per hour, walking pace. I have two activities running and walking selected. Even if I turn off walking that 3.1 mile per hour pace remains. Simple bug or deliberate? It would be cool to punch in or have app evaluate past efforts of each time including vertical in the mix to estimate your total time for the activity. 

In summary the turn by turn guidance works well but is hard to see and hear, easy fixes. The Off Route functionality needs work to alert sooner than 100 meters off route, Garmin and Coros alert at 20-30 meters. 

I am not certain and will retest but I do not believe Garmin yet has a trail database to go with their road database (which has turn by turn directions_  relying more on compass direction changes on trail  the is unless you build routes from heat maps in Garmin. See our review of the Garmin Fenix Pro 6S here
 

App Statistics and Trends




As I am only a week or so in to testing I am building the various statistics and trends. Shown above the 4 basic swipe views for each key element with more detail available by tapping. Clean and complete. 


Comfort and Style

Several days in, I find the Peak to be incredibly light and comfortable. The hinge design, rear of the watch and buttons are never noticed as biting or in the way even when sleeping.

The styling is super classy and modern in a sleek simple way with thetitanium providing a moderately shiny contrast to the dark blue band.


Official Suunto Info: 


All-new upgrades for the Suunto 9 Peak include:

  • Blood oxygen level measurements to help determine acclimation levels at higher altitudes

  • Automatic backlight intensity adjustment depending on lighting conditions           

  • Faster charging: 100% battery in 1 hour

  • Improved watch strap with new metal fastening pin

  • Added watch face that showcases weekly training metrics and inspires new routines

  • Bluetooth 5 doubles the sync speed between watch and Suunto app. over the air updates


The Suunto 9 Peak will be available in two different styles with four nature inspired colors:

Granite Blue Titanium and Birch White Titanium, made with sapphire glass and grade 5 titanium and All Black and Moss Gray, made with sapphire glass and stainless steel. 

MSRP: Titanium models: $699.00, Stainless steel models: $569.00

Weight: 52g (titanium) 62g (standard)

Materials: Grade 5 Titanium or Stainless Steel

Glass: Sapphire Crystal

Water Resistance: 100m

Battery Life: 25 hours with Performance mode and up to 170 hours in Tour mode

GPS: GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, QZSS, BEIDOU

Availability: Pre-sale and launch on 5/25/21, available for purchase at Suunto.com on 6/17/21


Key Comparative Watches

Garmin 6S Pro Review

Garmin Forerunner 945 Review

Coros Apex Pro Review

Polar Vantage V2 Review

Suunto 9 Baro Review


Full Review soon.

Available now including from our partners below


Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. No other compensation was received by RTR or the authors for this review beyond potential commissions from the shopping links in the article. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I guess the real test will be how accurate the GPS and HR sensor is?

Carl said...

Looks good, interesting to see how it compares with the Vantage V2 and Garmin 945. I currently have had a Suunto Spartan for the last few year's which has hold up great, but would like to have some better data such as recovery and effort. Also interested in training plans and suggestions such as what I understand Polar and Garmin are offering.

Don't seem like Suunto are as "advanced" in those aspects but the design language is on top in my book. The later is very subjective off course.

Looking forward to the review!

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Carl,
I am pretty sure already that the Vantage V2 and for that matter M2 have deeper and especially more easily accessible recovery data as the Polar's analyze recharge directly on the watch at wake up. No looking at the app for that For several years now I have had a Polar on my wrist exactly for that reason. . See our Vantage V2 review below with Recharge and most of the rest applying to Vantage M2 except Navigation (Komoot base maps and turn by turn as with Suunto S9 Peak), Hill Splitter, and some of the more sophisticated performance tests. As far as 945 I always race or do hard works outs with one on the wrist for its high visibility 3 field view and Performance Condition. The topo maps are also great. Any including the elegant S9 Peak would be a big improvement over the Spartan
Sam, Editor

JASON said...

There is no way to compare with the 6X, compared with the old GPS line is more accurate. But there are still problems with heart rate. So I will not start. The battery performance is not very good either. I still like my 6X

The Stoat said...

Almost the watch to make me give up on my ambit 3 peak, but I thought I was going to get maps with my next watch upgrade....

Carl said...

Thanks Sam for your detailed response.

Will have a look at your Vantage V2 review. I guess Garmin 945 would be a great choice as well, from what I've read and seen, best all-rounder. However I like the "underdogs" and also the design of Suunto and Polar. Ans being Scandinavian it feels a tiny bit better to support the finns ;). In the end of the day though it seems to be many fine options out there with Coros also taking some market shares.

A questions out of curiosity, which software platform do you prefer and why?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Carl,
As I am fortunate to be able to test pretty much everything I can sort of pick and choose:
For recovery and trends clearly Polar
For style clearly the Suunto 9 Peak
For racing and performance metrics 945
For value and battery life Coros
For legibility on the run and data field flexibility Wahoo ELEMNT Rival although Garmin also good in that department.
Sam

Carl said...

Hi Sam, Thanks for the walkthrough, I will probably skip on Suunto 9 peak. I like their app, which has improved, but seems like the competition has a bit more too offer. Also read that visibility isn't too great, which is also important. Garmin a bit boring design maybe, like what I see from Polar also need to look up Coros. Thanks again, both for your replies and also a great site which I have followed for many years now. //Carl

Sam Winebaum said...

Thanks Carl!

Michael F said...

Hi Sam. I’ve owned the 9 Peak since it’s release. Coming from a Fenix 5X. Unfortunately, I can’t read the 9 Peak. Love everything else about it. Granted I’m no youngster. I’m 51. In your opinion, what’s the best watch for legibility/readability? Coros, Wahoo, another Garmin, different Suunto? I use my watch for running and cycling and display 4 data fields. Thanks

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Michael,
I agree the legibility and inability to either have 2 fields of fatter digits ( as Garmin) is the key weaknesses of the Peak. I am sure it has something to do with battery life conservation...in the smaller case, a mighty fine case.
As far as legibility the Garmin fat digit 3 field mode or for sure Wahoo, the key defining strength of the watch really is legibility and at yet more fields than Garmin. The Wahoo pretty strictly focused on the in run/bike/swim: no sleep, no deep analysis of trends but it does export everywhere. Over time they may add those "smartwatch" features but don't have confirmation on that
Sam, Editor

Michael F said...

Perfect thank you for the reply. No need for smart watch stuff so I may give the wahoo a go.