About 3 months back, the Suunto 9 ($599) multi sport GPS watch was introduced to the world. It was an abrupt breakaway from the Spartan series which included the Suunto Spartan Ultra, Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro, and the Suunto Spartan Trainer.
The Suunto 9 doesn’t ship with the bells and whistles most smart watches masquerading as fitness focused wearables have. This watch boasts of an incredible battery life of up to 120 hours and being “tested to the extreme with thousands of hours testing in the toughest conditions.”
I’ve been using the watch for more than a month now clocking mileage running in the trails and urban roads of sunny Singapore. Here’s what I have to say about the watch.
The Suunto 9 used for this review was generously provided by Amer Sports Malaysia and will be returned after this review. The watch was connected to an Iphone 6S running OS 12.0 for the review.
SUUNTO 9 LOOK AND FEEL
The Suunto 9 is a gorgeous watch measuring 50 x 50 x 16.8 mm; big by any measure. Yet Suunto has put in place a series of calculated moves, culminating in an overall design which serves to make a logically large watch appear smaller.
Specifically for the black model, four strategically angled slivers of polished bezel reflects light and gives the watch an optical illusion of a reduced footprint.
The same treatment is accorded to the contact point between bezel and watch case, accentuating the necessary reflective outline to an otherwise matt black watch.
Four curved inscriptions border the sapphire glass display without encompassing the entire bezel, at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions of the watch while the cleverly sized watch lugs angles off gracefully and is flushed with the quick release watch straps. Beautiful implementation.
The watch is identical in size to its predecessors but fits like a tee on someone with small wrists like me. My wrists are about 6 inches in circumference so you can use the pictures in this review as a guide.
The watch weighs in at 81g, giving it a robust feel compared to the cheaper plastic-ky feel from the competition. You will feel the watch bouncing around your wrist if you opt for a loose fit during your runs.
The back of the watch houses optical heart rate sensors from Valencell along with the charging and data transfer connectors.
Three physical buttons coupled with a less than responsive touch display control all functions of the Suunto 9. In comparison, I’d very much have preferred the five buttons set up on the Suunto Spartan Trainer. The touch display was near useless in wet conditions and left smudgy fingerprints on the sharp display.
The display could use a contrast bump but otherwise views fine under bright daylight. It does appear a tad wash out under dim conditions when the back light is activated. However, due credit must be given to the selection of the fonts on the Suunto 9. Yep, the fonts. I appreciate attention to details and time and again, Suunto has not disappointed in the aesthetics department of their wearables since the first Spartan.
The interface scrolls with a mild lag and those of you coming from the Apple Watch camp or more recent Garmin watches will definitely feel the difference.
The on board vibration is unfortunately too mild and non adjustable so you may miss the auto lap notifications. There’s also no wrist flick activated back light, you’ll have to rely on button presses or screen taps depending on settings.
The Suunto 9 is water resistant to 300ft so it’ll be good for nearly all water based activities you can throw at it save for those which are diving in nature.
I was able to use the watch for slightly more than five days with all day activity tracking enabled with a few hours of GPS enabled workouts thrown in. Without any training, the watch supposedly lasts up to 7 days with 24/7 activity tracking and smart notification enabled, and up to 14 days in time mode only.
Battery usage during GPS enabled workouts is another ballgame altogether which I’ll touch on later in this review.
As with most premium watches from Suunto, the Suunto 9 is made in Finland.
SUUNTO 9 FUNCTIONS AND FEATURES
The Suunto 9 gives the user a complete multi-sport GPS watch experience.
The watch received GLONASS update in November 2018 so that’s a big plus for those living near far north or south.
GLONASS can be activated when needed from the navigation menu.
The watch also functions as an all day activity tracker that will record your steps, sleep, and even lowest resting heart rate in a day.
The Suunto 9 watch comes imbued with more than 80 sports profiles with the possibility of personalising each profile on the Suunto Movescount web platform. For example, you might prefer a certain orientation of the stats during run and then have an entirely different display format when you activate the trail running profile.
The watch comes with a default triathlon recording mode and it’s also possible to join multiple activities together simply by long pressing the top right button during activity recording and then selecting the next profile you wish to continue recording in.
There’s also a training goal, activity duration per workout type,along with recovery monitor right on the watch. Exploration of how the watch functions through screen taps is necessary as some of the features are not in-your-face obvious.
The watch is Bluetooth enabled so you can connect compatible BLE accessories to enhance your training experience since the Suunto 9 isn’t ANT+ enabled. The list of compatible accessories isn’t extensive but includes:
- One heart rate sensor
- One bike pod
- One power pod
- One foot pod
The Suunto 9 also has an on board compass along with navigation features which makes this watch outdoor-suitable. For example, I can easily plot out a trail on the Suunto mobile app, transfer it to the Suunto 9 and access the navigation function to find my way along the route.
There’s no on board maps here so Garmin’s Fenix 5 Plus line effectively one upped Suunto’s breadcrumb routes. It’s going to boil down to how much you need on board maps and the money you’ll willing to fork out.
The watch also shows smart notifications but it’s one way only so you won’t be able to act on the notifications.
Here are a few less obvious but highly effective gestures which may aid in your navigation of the Suunto 9:
- Single short tap on display – Brings up backlight in non workout mode OR toggles to secondary menu is there’s one.
- Long tap on display – Brings up “Shortcuts” menu.
- Double quick tap on display – Brings display back to main watch menu.
- Access notifications by swiping to the left on the watch display and then swiping or scroll down.
- Two-finger tap – Activates backlight in “toggle” mode, stays on until you tap with two fingers again.
These quick gestures don’t work under all conditions and I’d suggest you do some exploration on your own.
The Suunto 9 watch has native compatibility with the Stryd power running meter. When connected, you see power readings directly on the watch during use.
SUUNTO 9 FUSEDTRACK AND GPS
The game changer Suunto did with their flagship is the implementation of FusedTrack tech. What this does is allow the Suunto 9 watch to combine GPS readings at either 1 minute or 2 minutes interval with the on board magnetic motion sensor to deliver a decently tracked running route.
It was mighty impressive to see this in action during my run in the trails.
FusedTrack will only kick in for activities like running or trail running as it requires a consistent feed of data from from the accelerometer. Even then, only in endurance (1 GPS recording per minute) or ultra recording mode. (1 GPS recording per 2 minutes)
This technology will effectively stretch the battery life of the Suunto 9 up to 120 hours, thus the big marketing push on how the Suunto 9 was built to last – just like you. This is the battery usage breakdown in my experience for trail running:
~1 hour performance mode recording: 5% battery used
~1 hour endurance recording mode: 3-4% battery used
~1 hour ultra recording mode: 1-2% battery used
The key thing to remember before starting your runs either in endurance or ultra mode is that the Suunto 9 watch requires calibration. This would involve moving the watch in a figure of 8 manner while the watch calibrates itself. If calibration is not done or not done properly, you’ll going to have a wonky track. I know because I experienced one.
There is a reduction of the watch functions in the respective battery modes. This would include the display going off, wrist HR turning off, Bluetooth capabilities are cut and so on. These are pre-set in the endurance and ultra modes but the user can create a custom battery mode of your own to utilise the best of both worlds.
In my case, I created a custom battery profile where the display would go off when not in use but squeezes the most out of the GPS recording; getting slightly longer battery life compared to the pre-set performance recording and more GPS reading frequency compared versus the pre-set endurance recording mode.
So how effective is this FusedTrack in reality? To test this, I went to Singapore’s Mac Ritchie trail where I put the Suunto 9 to work numerous times in either performance, endurance, or ultra mode.
Roughly 80km of running in the trails later, I have new found respect for trail runners, and I’ve also developed a keen curiosity in trail running along with improved fitness.
The Mac Ritchie trail is a 10km dirt trail through tropical rainforest terrain. It is humid and hot with half the run umbrella-ed by forest canopy. The distance markers along the run are put up by the National Parks which serves to demarcate the actual/official distance. Even thought elevation isn’t significant, the Suunto 9’s altitude readings were consistent throughout the runs.
I completed a full loop of the trail clocked in performance mode (every second recording) and after comparing versus the Suunto heat map, I’m comfortable to use this as the benchmark track.The distance of the trail from start to end is 10km and the Suunto 9 measured exactly 10.0km in performance mode.
I would then repeat the Mac Ritchie route over multiple occasions with different battery configurations and then overlay the tracked route against the performance recorded route for comparison.
Suunto 9 performance mode (reference 10km route) vs. endurance mode (10.4km recorded)
The was the first time I’m putting the watch in endurance mode so it was surprising and certainly impressive. For a GPS recording interval of only once per minute, it’s remarkable considering the distance was off by a mere 400m.
Suunto 9 performance mode (reference 10km route) vs ultra mode (9.83km recorded)
Starting to observe more prominent deviations from the actual trail when watch was recording in ultra mode. Again, you have to bear in mind that GPS recording was once every 2 minutes. If you need run up to 120 hours; you might be able to forgive the deviation. I think you’d agree with me that it’s still jaw-dropping given the recorded distance was 9.83km versus the actual distance of 10km.
The verdict? FusedTrack impresses, along with Suunto’s GPS performance in trail environments. These are the recorded distances by FusedTrack over multiple trail run sessions on the Mac Ritchie 10km route.
- 22nd Sep 2018 – 9.87 km in endurance
- 15th Sep 2018 – 9.83 km in ultra
- 7th Sep 2018 – 9.51 km in ultra
- 31st Aug 2018 – 9.95 km in ultra
- 22nd Aug 2018 –10.4 km in endurance
I know some of you are probably wondering if Fusedtrack would work if the speed wasn’t consistent since trail running involves a fair bit of walking as well.
To test this, I did the Mac Ritchie trail again and this time, I intentionally walked all the uphills and ran only on flats and downhills. As fate would have it, it also poured and the trail became a stream of sorts with water up to mid shin; I wasn’t able to run and was waddling along. The perfect conditions for testing Suunto’s FusedTrack!
I’d usually complete the run in 53 minutes thereabouts but took 1 hour and 16 minutes that fateful day; having to break up the run into 2 recordings which I subsequently combined into a single run.
Suunto 9 (run/walk) performance mode (reference 10km) vs. ultra mode (9.51km recorded)
So does FusedTrack work with walking and running along with erratic pace? It does appear so in my case. Distance recorded was 9.51km in ultra mode versus actual route distance of 10km.
In fact, it was even better than when I ran consistently while recording in ultra mode. Again, I have to stress that your mileage may vary. I’m sure it’s on everyone’s mind at what speed FusedTrack kicks in for running and trail running.
According to a Suunto rep’s explanation, “there is no specific speed – it’s more linked to the type of movement you do with your arm. If you walk, it won’t work very well. It will still try, but won’t be as good.” So there you have it. That’s also the reason why activities that doesn’t involve consistent arm movement feedback, such as cycling, doesn’t allow FusedTrack to work.
As much as I would like to, I wasn’t able to get anything from Suunto whether FusedTrack will be implemented in the Spartan Ultra series or in performance mode for Suunto 9.
It’s a mixed bag in when I moved out of the trails to the tar roads. Like most GPS watches I’ve reviewed, the Suunto 9 stumbled somewhat in concrete jungle Singapore.
There’s this loop I usually run at which is surrounded by tall buildings, closely resembling HDB flats(Housing Development Board) where most Singaporeans reside; buildings easily 10 storeys and more. So this test is both necessary and realistic.
You can see from the picture above that other than the red coloured route which was tracked decently, the Suunto 9 struggled on a few occasions and missed a big chunk of my running loop. It got me concerned whether it’s just my unit or the performance of the Suunto 9 in urban setting.
Yet when I did a 5 km run on a standard running track the Suunto 9 came up tops, recording the starting and ending locations accurately. Like I said, mixed bag.
At the back of my mind, I also wondered if Suunto could’ve implemented FusedTrack for every second recording given that GPS tracked routes could use a bit of “calibration.” as well. Would’ve been awesome wouldn’t you agree?
SUUNTO 9 WRIST HEART RATE SENSORS
Suunto doesn’t have their own in house wrist heart rate development so the partnership with Valencell continues. To test the Suunto 9’s optical HR sensors, I used three activities which I regularly engage in; probably along the line of what most people would do as well. I have to stress than I approach HR tests from a layman perspective; if the graph agrees, it’s usually good for me.
Suunto 9’s HR performance was compared against the HR measurements as recorded by the Polar H10 chest strap HR monitor. All Suunto 9 workouts were done in performance mode or every second recording. Here goes.
The first test is weights training involving 3 sets of circuits.
- Deadlifts x 12
- Squats x 12
- Bench press x 12
- Seated row x 12
Thereafter I finished with 3 sets of 15 reps of kettlebell swings and 12 reps of hammer curls.
The results aren’t spectacular and I’m not surprised. The wrists undergo a lot of flexing during resistance training and this most probably prevented an accurate reading by the optical HR sensors.
The Suunto 9 does capture the general HR trend though it consistently missed out on the squats workout which is the highest red peak.
Next up is a hills circuit involving 9 rounds of uphill and downhill runs.
Pretty impressive. Not erratic jumps and Suunto 9’s HR measurements closely followed that of the Polar H10 here.
The last test is a 10km trail run at the Mac Ritchie reservoir.
Having used a fair number of optical HR sensors, the initial spike in HR as measure by the Suunto 9 can be easily explained by a lack of warm up. Once that’s done, Suunto 9’s HR readings normalises and appears in sync with the HR graph as charted by the Polar H10, albeit a tad jumpy.
The watch will also measure your HR throughout the day and during your sleep. A word of caution, the optical HR sensors is extremely bright and I’ve been told by my bed partner that my wearables kept flashing brightly in the night when I wore it to sleep with loose fit.
DATA PRESENTATION AND MOBILE APPS
Tracked stats on the Suunto 9 can be accessed on the Suunto mobile app, the Sports Tracker app and mobile platform, and the Suunto Movescount app or web platform.
Most users would be caught in a pickle because of a few reasons.
The old Suunto Movescount app has served loyal users for years so getting people to jump ship is going to be difficult. Plus the new Suunto app is barely a year old with kinks still being ironed out.
The Suunto Movescount app syncs with Strava but not Apple Health while the Suunto mobile app connects to Apple Health, with some issues, but not to Strava. Sports Tracker pulls data from Suunto mobile but not Suunto Movescount.
Confused and messy yes? I also need to mention that the Suunto app only allows one watch connection while the Movescount app and web platform allows multiple device connections. Also both Suunto app and Sports Tracker app resemble one another in presentation but the Movescount is another ball game altogether.
I was caught in a dilemma and ended up using both the Suunto mobile app and Suunto Movescount web platform and ignored Sports Tracker completely. As a result, a few workouts that appeared on Suunto app stubbornly refused to move over to Movescount despite my best efforts.
Perhaps to give some credit to the Suunto app, the new app places a bit more emphasis on daily activities such as step count, sleep tracking and resting HR during sleep.
It also appears that Suunto is trying its best to update it with Movescount features. As of publication, users can customise individual sports profiles and tweak the watch display; identical to what you could do on the Movescount platform but at the convenience of your mobile device. Good move.
It also implemented a Strava-like feature that allows users to compare the performance over the same workout route.
I also thought the capability to create routes right in the Suunto app and have it synced to the Suunto 9 deserves praise, something which I wasn’t able to do in Suunto Movescount app previously.
As you can see, there are still benefits of using the various platforms and Suunto has kind of gotten itself caught in a bind catering to the old customers and still having to look ahead and revamp with the Suunto 3 and 9 series while including the Spartan users.
SUUNTO 9 CONCERNS
Before I summarise, I thought I’d list a few concerns I had with the Suunto 9. The replies are from Suunto sources, quoted either verbatim or paraphrased.
1) Step count does not sync properly to Apple Health.
Known issue, hopefully fix coming in Nov 2018 update.
2) Are there plans to enable the Suunto mobile app to connect to more than 1 watch?
“We will check this feature and have it discussed for future development.”
3) Strava or Training Peak connection from Suunto app not possible.
Update coming in Nov 2018, Strava and Training Peak connection possible then. (Completed)
4) Can you use both Suunto app and Suunto Movescount app on the same mobile device?
“The Suunto App and Movescount App don’t work at the same time, you would need to use one app for your watch and delete the other one.”
(For the record, it works for me sometimes but not all the time, it’s simply more reliable to use Suunto app on your mobille device and sync to Movescount platform via cable to your computer.)
SUUNTO 9 IN A NUTSHELL
It seems by now that each company has their own niche areas. Apple and Fitbit with overall health and well being, Polar banging their drums loudly over the Vantage release and science backed training, Garmin with their feature full wearables that caters to all spectrum of users, and Suunto with their focus on trail running and ultra distances with the Suunto 9.
To put things into perspective, this watch allows the user to run up to 4 marathons (20 hours?) consecutively with every second GPS recording and wrist HR measurements. The beauty of FusedTrack kicks in when you need to go beyond that, such as the 300km UTMB.
Suunto deserves credit for making the best looking wearables on the market – the watch looks absolutely beautiful. The company also doesn’t hide the fact that the Suunto 9 is intended at specific groups of users – people who run ultra distances requiring upwards of 20-35 hours.
That being said, you do lose out on training features which wearables from the likes of Garmin possess- such as race against previous race, app platform, and Firstbeat goodies such as race predictor, training effects.
The other concern I have is the data collection platforms. All 3 platforms, Suunto app, Suunto Movescount, Sports Tracker, have their own strengths and it would do Suunto users a wealth of good if the company did some painful consolidation quickly.
I had a lot of fun with Suunto 9’s FusedTrack and have to admit it’s been a while since I was impressed by GPS watches. In my usage experience, FusedTrack performed as described in running based activities. As for GPS performance in specific urban settings, I’ve experienced better. Perhaps it’s just my unit but if it isn’t, hopefully software updates down the road might solve this issue.
As of publication, Suunto has gone ahead and released 3 editions of the Suunto 9 that ships without barometer for $100 less. You lose out on the storm alerts, barometer based altitude readings along with a mineral glass instead of sapphire. But you do get FusedTrack, Valencell backed wrist HR and lengthy battery life. I take it that Suunto hopes to target the group of users who trail run but not necessarily in high altitudes.
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. If you’re interested in the watch, you can purchase the Suunto 9 from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Thanks!