Thursday, October 11, 2018

Gear Closet: Suunto 9 Fitness Watch Review

As an avid runner, cyclist, and outdoorsmen in general, I love wearing a watch that can keep track of my activities levels on a daily basis, but especially during a workout. For me, my day-to-day timepiece of choice is an Apple Watch, in part because it does a great job of reminding me to stay active, but also because of all of the other features it brings to the table, most notably displaying notifications, granting me access to my calendar, allowing me to respond to texts, and a host of other things. So when I got the opportunity to test out the new Sunnto 9 fitness watch, I was worried that I'd miss all the things that Apple Watch provided for me. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about at all, as the 9 offers much of the same functionality, along with more features for fitness tracking and much better battery life.

Suunto is well known for creating excellent watches for use in the outdoors, and the 9 is no exception. It is built tough enough to survive in the harshest of conditions and still keep on ticking. This device is waterproof down to 100 meters (328 ft) as well, which means you don't have to worry about using it in or around water. I've worn this watch on numerous workouts while running, mountain biking, and hiking and it has come away with nary a scratch. I've even taken it on a number of trips where its dual time and auto-adjusting features have come in very handy.

At its core, the Sunnto 9 is a fitness-focused watch that was built for outdoor athletes. It comes preloaded with more than 80 sport modes, allowing it to track a run at the gym, on the road, and the trail, just as easily as it monitors a swimming, cycling, or rowing workout. The watch's built-in GPS is fast, accurate, and easy to use, tracking distance, speed, location, and a variety of other features, while the onboard barometer does a fantastic job of measuring vertical gain and loss along the way. Of course, the 9 is also equipped with a heart rate monitor as well, which plays an important role in determining the intensity of a workout, calories burned, recovery time, and other important factors.

While the Suunto 9 doesn't compete directly with the Apple Watch in terms of "smart" features, it is by no means lacking in the area of connectivity. The watch pairs with a smartphone and can provide wrist notification for text messages, app alerts, phone calls, and a variety of other info. This helped me to get past my reliance on my Apple Watch while testing, and while Suunto's device doesn't offer all of the features of Apple's, most of the time I never missed any of the functionality. I suspect dedicated outdoor athletes and fitness focused individuals will feel the same way, trading a bit of tech features in favor of improved tracking and onboard GPS navigation, complete with route info displayed right on the screen.

All that said, the Suunto 9 is no slouch when it comes to technology. It can share data using a mobile app for both iOS and Android, and it can upload your workouts to Suunto's Movescount website. The watch itself can't save to Strava however, although the data can be pushed over from Movescount. That can make things a bit ponderous, but it still works fairly seamlessly.

As mentioned, one of my biggest gripes about the Apple Watch is battery life. My watch is a few years old now and its battery struggles to make it through a day, particularly after a long workout. That said, even the newer editions of Apple's timepiece have to be charged every day, which can be a real drag while on the road. The Suunto 9 on the other hand has vastly better battery life, with three predefined modes to help users at the most out of their watch. Those modes include Performance, Endurance, and Ultra, which provide anywhere from 25 hours to 120 hours of battery life, with full GPS tracking, depending on your needs. And should you start to run low on juice, you can switch to any one of the other modes at any time to help conserve power. The 9 is even smart enough to recognize that it is getting low on a battery life and suggest that you switch modes if you don't have enough power to make it through your workout.

One of the things that has bothered me about Suunto watches in the past is the operating system that they run. I never felt that it was very intuitive and menu options were often buried in places that weren't convenient for quick use. I'm happy to say that the company has addressed these issues with this watch, which is easy to navigate –– thanks to a touchscreen –– and is responsive at all times. There are still plenty of menus to sort through to get to the things you want, but they are much easier to understand and navigate then they were in the past. This helps to make the entire experience an all around better one.

The Suunto 9 is a full-featured, fitnesses-focused outdoor watch that is aimed at an active buyer for sure. That said however, Suunto has also built it to be attractive, comfortable to wear, and versatile enough to be used in a variety of settings. While I might not wear it with a three-piece suit, it does it in well in pretty much every other environment. Unlike some other watches in the fitness space, it doesn't scream "look at me, I'm an athlete," preferring a more subtle approach.

As you can probably tell, the Suunto 9 is a fantastic all-around watch crammed full of a lot of technology that has been shrunken down to fit on your wrist. Because of everything that it offers, it slides into the premium space when it comes to fitness watches, carrying a price tag of $599. Personally, I think it is worth every penny and other serious athletes are likely to agree. It offers an incredibly high level of performance, mixed in with good "smart" features, and excellent battery life. If you're a more casual runner or cyclist the benefits of this watch will probably be lost on you however and you can save yourself a lot of money by picking up a less expensive timepiece that isn't as accurate in its tracking. But for those of us who appreciate a watch that can truly help us to improve our level of fitness, speed, and endurance, it is safe to say that Suunto has a winner on its hands with the 9. If you fall into that category, you're probably going to see some good benefits from using this device and it should be on your short list of new gadgets to add to your collection.

Purchase one now at REI.com.


Suunto 9 - Never worry about running out of battery life again from Suunto on Vimeo.

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