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[REVIEW] Suunto 9 Baro sports watch

The object of this review will be the Suunto 9 Baro, top model from the Finnish producer’s offer of multisport watches. As I used Suunto’s earlier model, Ambit Peak 3, for a few years you will find some comparisons between them as both are state of the art offerings in their own time. At the same time I will try to show the capabilities of sport monitors to riders who did not  yet got to know the subject.

First impressions:

The watch was delivered in a black box that was marked only with the most minimal amount of information allowing to know what the content is. One of the most important was: ‘Made in Finland’. Nowadays you don’t often find mass production ware to be made anywhere else but the country that produces everything. Inside the box the watch was smartly located in a cardboard stand, on its left was located a connection cable, and on its right the heart rate sensor with a belt. Apart from the minimal amount of necessary data in the instruction and some warranty information that’s all. Nothing to divert your attention from the Nine.

The watch presented itself great. Black watch case with silver cut ins made it look like it was fluid metal just T-1000 when you changed the angle of looking at it. The first thing after you take it out of the box is its weight – 81 grams – which is just right in my opinion – not to light, cause it’s good to feel that you have the watch on you – and not too heavy (I prefer to train my bicep in the gym). Nine fits the wrist very good thanks to a silicone band that is stretchable. This gives a possibility to match it to the forearm circumference  pretty well which is very important when reading ones heartbeat from the wrist comes to mind. Also, while riding the watch doesn’t jump all over your wrist, which is by the way the case with my old Ambit.

After the first switch on you have to configure the watch. The process is very intuitive and easy. Switching from Ambit’s 5 buttons to 3 + touch screen in the Nine did not cause me any problems. Another nice feature are the buttons themselves. After pushing them they give a clicking sound (not very loud but noticeable) and also you can feel when the button is pushed in hard enough. In my opinion it’s a great feature because you can turn off the electronic sound and vibration and still be able to discern when the button is pushed.

Full specs can be found on Suunto’s page (https://www.suunto.com/Products/sports-watches/suunto-9-baro/suunto-9-baro-black/). I will just quote the highlights:

– dimensions: 50 x 50 x 16,8 mm

– weight: 81 gram

– glass material: sapphire crystal

– display size: 1,3 inch

– display resolution: 320 x 300

– operating time with GPS: 25 / 50 / 120 hours depending on GPS mode

– operating time without GPS: 14 days

– hear rate measurements: wrist or HR monitor

– navigation from uploaded tracks or ‘follow me home’ option

– compass

– barometric altitude

– 100m water resistant

Web app:

The basic watch configuration is done. If the views in sport modes don’t suit you well you can change them. But you’ll need the phone app to do so. The app is called Suunto App. Pairing with the watch is flawless. The connection is fast and secure.  We can see a lot of improvement from the earlier application (Movescount) where the problems with connection were on daily basis.

After connecting  we can find on the screen an option for changing the sporting modes. It’s very easy: the phone shows us current view with slots for data, we choose what data should be in which slot and it’s done. It’s a good thing that Suunto decided to move this feature from web application to the mobile one.

Another nice feature moved from the web app to the mobile one is the ability to  upload routes to phones navigation system. You just have to go to ‘Map’, click the ‘+’ sign and provide a .gpx track. After that you check option ‘upload to phone’ and its done. From the same menu we can create tracks using the provided tools.

The app’s main screen shows our daily sport status: steps, calories, hours of training etc. Below it you can see your activities. Just pick one and check all the data concerning it. The app can be connected with all the  usual sport applications (Strava etc) and if you pair it with them all the activities will automatically be upload to your profile.

One thing that I did not like about the app was the lack of possibility to change the color theme. White background doesn’t suit me at all. Old Movescount was far better looking than the new app. But as the work concerning the app is still being done, maybe we will see this feature sometime in the future.

Main view:

This will probably be the mode in which we will see the watch the most. In comparison to the older Ambit we have a possibility to personalize the clock face. Digital or analog time display, some color variations give more than a few possibilities. But as I like to have everything my own way a will have to ask: why Suunto did not add the option to personalize the watch faces similar to the sport modes? Than you could see all the needed information on the clock face every time you looked at it. Now we are limited to the Suunto engineer’s ideas of what we need. The view that I have chosen shows steps by day (good), date, battery status (switchable with current height above sea level and second time) and regeneration time, which I do not need. I would gladly exchange it for let’s say calories burned. Or I would happily change the second time to current hearth rate. I think you get the idea 😊 So Suunto, please add this option!

Toggling through the menu is pretty straightforward: going down you have all the stats of your daily movements: steps, steps per week, calories etc. Going up you go to sport modes, navigation and settings. Fast and easy.

Sport modes:

Or the thing that we buy this watch for. Suunto says that there are more than 80 sport modes to choose from. I will have to believe it cause I’m too lazy to count them all. As I mentioned earlier, every of the sport modes can be personalized to our needs. Every view in the sport mode can accommodate 3, 4, 5 or even 7 different sport stats. You can add graphs and column views. One thing that caught my eye was that I could not add more than three views to a sport mode (mountain biking for instance). I was able to get all the stats on the three views but many people will want more than that. I think it should not be such a big issue to allow sport modes to have more than 3 views?

What sport parameters can we attach to a view? Every one of them 🙂 Heartbeat, distance, time of activity, calories, power, cadence. Most of these parameters has additionally their percentage twins or triplets i.e.:  what percent of our maximum heartrate is the current heartrate etc. Here I can pinpoint a great feature: even when our view doesn’t show the current heartbeat we can track in which heart zone we currently are. It’s done very nicely: around the display there’s a colorful line divided in 5 sections. Each section responds to one of the zones. And each of them has its own color. So at a glance we can see the zone we are currently training in. Great!

Another great feature is the option to change the GPS accuracy during the activity. Your battery’s going low? Change the battery mode from Endurance to Ultra and you’ll almost double the battery life. Of course it causes the GPS to take measurements less frequently but still, you’ll be able to get the whole activity recorded. The default battery mode is different for every sport mode and the watch saves the last used battery mode as the default for the next activity.

There are four modes: Performance (satellite connections every second), Endurance (connection every 60 seconds), Ultra (every 120 seconds) and Custom in which we can choose which options we want to turn on or off (backlight, GPS, etc). As bikers we will probably be interested mainly in the Performance mode.

Battery:

The manufacturer states that the Nine’s battery life should be 14 days on one charging. I think that it’s possible but unlikely. Maybe if we’d be using the watch only as a timepiece. On the other hand, the battery life with maximum accuracy GPS measurements is said to be up to 25 hours on a single charge. Or 50 hours with 60 second GPS connection interval. Or 120 hours with 120 second one. Tough number to beat.

Another nice feature is the battery reminder: the watch learns your activities schedule and if necessary proposes to charge the battery a day before an anticipated training is to be done.

GPS Navigation:

First some technical info. According to the manufacturer the watch works well with GPS, Glonass and QZSS. The software update from 18th of June 2019 added to that list the European Galileo system. There are three modes of work for GPS: connection every second, every 60 seconds and every 120 seconds. In order to achieve the best results Suunto created a feature called Fusedtrack. What is it? It’s a way of calculating ones moves, speed and direction based on the watch’s accelerometer and comparing it with the GPS data from the 60 second and 120 second measurements. That way we can get a pretty good projection of our real route and still have some juice in the battery. Of course this feature will not be very useful for riding bikes but for other activities its great.

To start the navigation we can either go into the navigation menu (if not in sport mode) or go to options in sport mode and then find the appropriate option. After uploading the .gpx with the track from the app, we go to ‘Navigation’ choose the route and it’s done. The watch shows our current position in comparison to the route. Nothing else. We get no points of interest, no road etc. On the other hand, this way the navigation in clearer, more easy to read and probably eats a little less energy. And if your using it in the mountains, the plains and everywhere else where there’s not much civilization going on, why bother with anything but the direction which you should be heading?

Connecting with GPS satellites after starting your training is very fast. It’s probably the contribution of regular GPS calibration which takes place every time you connect the watch to your phone (Movescount didn’t have that option). Ascend and descend in the Baro version are calculated from two different sources: one is the stardard GPS way. The other one uses the built-in barometer. After comparing the results from both of these methods you get a more precise outcome that from the GPS only. It makes the more difference the more you train in an environment with lots of little ups and downs. Moreover the barometer can tell you whether the storm is coming which can very helpful in the mountains.

Wrist vs belt heartbeat measurement:

As I always trained with the HR belt on I had to make a comparison between it and the wrist measurement. With the comparison measurements in my Ambit was connected with the HR belt and the Nine was solely dependent on its Vallencell heartrate meter. The Vallencell measuring device is said to be state of the art where heart measurements are considered. I did two types of tests: one consisting of a walk, trot and a sprint and one with my standard Enduro type riding. Why? Because I wanted to know how the wrist measurement is dependent on movements of the hand on which the watch is placed.

As far as the walk / run test is concerned the measurements were in line for both devices. Suunto 9 showed constantly 1 to 3 more beats per minute than the Ambit but it was a constant difference so I cannot tell which device showed the arbitrary and true bpm value.

The ride: For the first part of the ride the measurements were the same as with the walk / run test. I was riding calmly to the trainings grounds, the bpms were in line with the 1-3 difference all the time.  But when I started the usual ride regime which consisted of drops, jumps, roots etc., the measurements from the Nine were lower, much lower. They were equal to the half of the bpm I saw on the Ambit. The reason for this was the fact that the watch slipped from my forearm to my wrist. Suunto advices to wear the watch about 5 centimeters above your wrist in order to get the most accurate reading. After readjusting the watch strap the measurements went back in line with the HR belt.

To be frank I was a bit skeptical about the wrist measurement feature. I tested a few of other devices with this option and I was not satisfied. Hoverer Suunto managed to get to job done the right way equipping the watch with good measurement device. The first production watches were said to have some issues with the wrist measurement but Suunto repaired the problems with software updates so I did not encounter any sudden peaks in the bpm that were the biggest problem. The Nine sometimes showed the bpm with a little lag (2 – 3 seconds) in comparison to the Ambit, but maybe it was caused with the sensor not being ideally placed on the form arm.

All in all the wrist heartrate measurement is pretty precise and appropriate for amateur trainings. But unfortunately due to specifics of gravitational bike riding and for people who need the most accurate reading possible I would recommend buying the HR belt.

Suunto 9 Heartrate measured from wrist – Enduro riding
Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Heartrate measured from HR belt – Enduro riding

Riding with the Sunnto 9:

I mounted the Ambit on my handlebar and the Nine on my left wrist. That way I could check both reading at the same time. The wrist strap that came with the Nine was far more comfortable and managed to hold the watch in its place. The Ambit always hit mi in the wrist bones while riding…

Nine can be paired with all the usual bike meters: power, cadence etc. To pair with the device we just have to choose the type of the monitor and proceed along the information seen on the screen. Than you can see the data from the monitor on your views in the activity.

For all activities we can choose the light or dark theme of the display. Both are readable no matter what visibility conditions are like. Backlight can be toggled on and off in the battery modes. As I mentioned earlier, the HR data can bead read in two ways: precise on a view were you put the HR data or on the circuit of the watch face, where the current heart zone is displayed as a color. You can change the hear zones while being in an activity in the options menu.

A nice feature (not present in the Ambit) is informing about the incoming sunset. I set the alert 20 minutes earlier and I had a great reminder when to start going home from the woods.

Pros:

– more than 20 hours of work in maximum GPS accuracy

– ability to change GPS accuracy while in sport mode

– wrist heartbeat measurement

– looks great and is manufactured very good

– Suunto app is still being developed

– the price in comparison to competition

Cons:

– wrist heartbeat measurement is not ideal

– Suunto app is still being developer

– the price – it’s still much for a watch

Summary:

The Suunto 9 Watch is the top model from the Finnish manufacturer offer. It’s designed with maximum compatibility with most of the sports and physical exercises out there. My main task was to see if the watch can and should be used for gravity mountain biking. Do we need this thing for our fun? In my opinion yes, but only if we want to get better at what we’re doing. Constant measurements of our body plus the times on our training routes provide us with great insights about what we achieved. Additionally the watch can help us to plan our energy consumption, monitor our fitness abilities and it’s a good member of every trip.

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