Suunto 9 Baro

I’ve had a Garmin Fēnix 3 HR that I’d been using for a while–about 2 years–when in started flaking out on me. While I like the watch, after having it lose its mind half a dozen times while out on the trails was simply unacceptable. I had my phone and maps, but I felt uncomfortable trusting the device. Additionally, the Fēnix 3 was really pushing the limits of unacceptable accuracy. I used a footpod to help keep track of the performance, and it would be quite off on some runs… like 20% off, though not usually that bad. Additionally, I have a chest heart rate monitor–the MZ3–and the Fēnix 3 would record the heart rate fine, but it would compute calories and the training effect wrong. In fairness, the MZ3 is not listed on the ANT page as being compliant, which Garmin happily pointed to when I mentioned this issue.

So I decided it was time to make a change. After some debating, I decided to go a different direction and get the Suunto 9 Baro. A few things factored into this decision. First, I figured that the software among the Garmin line of products couldn’t really be all that different, so a new Garmin would likely land me in the same frustrating place. Second, it seems like Suunto likes to exercise a lot of control over their products and they have a strong reputation on being accurate, friendly, and reliable. Finally, I liked the barometric sensor for determining elevation. I don’t really need it at this moment, but I like running in the mountains and it can be a real boon there to help keep track of elevation and elevation gain. Note: GPS sucks at this… it can be off by a pretty substantial margin, especially on the elevation gain front.

The Good

I’ve now had the watch for about 5 months and, on the whole, I like it. The interface is very clean, easy to follow, and generally easy to operate. The performance of the watch has definitely been much better than the Fēnix 3, both outside and on the treadmill. The GPS is a bit off sometimes (generally less than 5%) but is acceptable. In fairness, it seems that it only deviates that much when I happen to be in a very covered area, preventing the watch from seeing much of the sky.

The Suunto 9 has proven to work well with my heart rate monitors (I tried all of them, just to be sure). It also works nicely with my Stryd footpod and even pulls back the power reading.

The Not So Good

On the downside, I’ve run into a few issues as well:

The Suunto backend for uploading activities to services needs work. It doesn’t scale with the volume and the standard response from tech support is to wait 24-48 hours for it to show up. Sorry, but that’s just too long for a small, simple transfer. The real answer needs to be: scale your backend Suunto, that’s what elastic computing is for. This is by far my biggest complaint.

The watch face can be too dim in the dark without the backlight. I could turn up the brightness, though I’m a little concerned about how that would affect bettery life. I currently have it at the default setting of 50% though, so there is some room to play. I also have taps to the screen turned off while recording a workout. Having that turned on might help the situation, but I don’t want it due to activities like basic training where I move around a lot. Too much risk of doing something unintended.

Importing routes to the watch got harder. I use apps like AllTrails to create GPX routes for my trail runs. With the Movescount platform, I could just upload it on the web page and sync it to the watch with the Suunto Link app. Now you have to AirDrop to the phone and choose to have the Suunto app handle it, which is fine, but isn’t documented anywhere on their site. Additionally, it’s not as full featured. Namely, it drops all waypoint information on import. Suunto’s tech support said I could still use Movescount to import the routes, but it’s going to be decommissioned and all other indicators on their site say that once you sync with the Suunto app that you cannot use Movescount anymore. Not sure what to believe here, but I’ve avoided trying because I didn’t want to find out they were wrong. I’d much rather have Suunto app support the waypoints instead.

Optical HRM is meh. To be honest, it is on the Fēnix 3 too. I hoped for better, but it’s definitely not reliable enough for workouts based on heart rates. I’ve found that it can be substantially off (over 10%) and that’s just not good enough for the task. So I don’t really use it other than to have the watch keep an eye on my heart rate over the course of the day (seems okay for this purpose).

You can only pair one HRM at a time. I’m human and sometimes I forget my normal heart rate monitor. I keep a backup in my bag that’s not quite as accurate but is definitely more accurate than the optical sensor on the watch. Unfortunately, it appears that the Suunto 9 will not remember more than one HRM, so I have to go through the whole pairing process whenever this happens. Not a deal breaker, but I do wish it would remember more than one HRM.

End Result

I’m pretty happy I made the change and I hope that Suunto gets their backend figured out soon. It seems like they want to do good here, but it seems slow in the making.