(Pocket-lint) - In the world of smart sportswatches it's often hard to see beyond the 'Garmin, Garmin, Garmin' sell. But Suunto offers a very able multi-sports watch in its Suunto 9, which is capable of tracking running, cycling, swimming and much more. Not only that, but its battery life lasts and lasts, making it ideal for triathletes.
- Mineral glass face, LED back-lit screen (320 x 300 resolution)
- Stainless steel bezel & (removable) silicone strap
- Glass fibre reinforced polyamide casing
- 50mm face x 16.5mm depth; 72g
- -20°C to +55°C operating temp
- 100m water resistant
- Black finish only
There's not exactly a lot of choice with the Suunto 9: it comes in black, it's got a silicone strap and it's rather large on the wrist (probably because of the battery within). There's no smaller model: it's a 50mm face and that's that.
We've found it generally comfortable to wear, though, while its low weight makes it barely noticeable. It's only the trio of protruding buttons that can dig into the wrist, given their position, but at least not everything is touch-screen controlled (this is also possible, however).
Those buttons cycle through selecting activities, marking laps and such like, showing their worth during exercise when you don't want to be messing around staring at or swiping at the screen - it's a case of 'hit button and keep on going'.
The circular watch face has a mineral glass covering, which is a little lacklustre in its finish. It catches fingerprint grease all too easily and has reflective properties that make it look almost as though its protective coating hasn't been removed (that's not the case, honest, we've picked at the edges many times to make sure).
It's also not the brightest going, but the LED backlight does ensure the panel is visible in various conditions, while the scale of the display means important training settings are clearly visible at a glance. That's useful to us when cycling, should we want to double-check training zone, average speed, cadence (if there's a synched monitor, sold separately) and so on.
The silicone strap is a sensible match for a watch that's 100m water-resistant, but it's easily removable too, should you wish to switch it for another. You know, maybe a more exciting looking one.
- Tracking covers: Running, Cycling, Swimming and much more
- GPS, Altimeter, Optical heart-rate monitor
- Week-long battery life (with tracking)
- Bespoke magnetic charging cable
The Suunto 9 stands out in two areas: it's got shed loads of training options; and it's got standout battery life that goes on for days and days at a time.
While running, cycling and swimming are likely to be the main training options, there are a whole load more. Are you ready? Deep breath. There's also Trail Running, Treadmill, Power Cycling, Indoor Cycling, Mountain Biking, Openwater Swimming, Triathlon Race, Obstacle Race, Weight Training, Circuit Training, Hiking, Cross-Country Skiing, Alpine Skiing, Ski Touring, and Other.
That's great if you have particular additional activities, are looking to give the watch more information about your altitude relative to activity and so on. With cycling you might use a power meter and a cadence monitor in addition to the built-in heart-rate monitor. With trail running the built-in altimeter will be able to measure some steeper inclines at decreasing pace to better judge your exertion, and so forth.
Outside of specific activated activities, the Suunto 9 also monitors step count (via its built-in accelerometer) and, if you wear it at night and activate with a long-press of the middle button, sleep tracking (which we've disliked as don't find it useful for our needs, nor is the watch comfortable for nighttime wearing).
In terms of display, there are various screens to cycle through and show you live action of what's most important to you. We found the heart-rate zones - which are colour coded during and post exercise - to be particularly useful, while runners may find their pace, average, cadence and so forth of most interest. The large screen makes everything easy to see at a glance.
Now for battery life. We used the Suunto 9 for 10 activities consecutively, clocking up nine-and-a-half hours of tracking while out on the bike. That meant GPS and heart-rate tracking at regular intervals for accuracy. Between sessions we didn't turn the watch off, so it kept on tracking - or trying to, even when on the side table! - across the length of 10 days. Even then, the battery still had only just reached its alert level and, we suspect, would be good for another two hours of pure exercise tracking.
In short: the Suunto 9's battery life is epic. It could cater for an Iron event all in one and you wouldn't have to worry. Well, not about the watch, probably more about your calorie intake and heart-rate/training levels!
Charging happens via a magnetic clip-on dock, which is easy to position in place. There's no annoying stand or unnecessary flaps/covers to open. It just clips on and that's that.
However, the heart-rate tracker does often kick in when the watch isn't being worn, flickering profusely, which is rather annoying - especially in the middle of the night when you're trying to sleep.
- iOS and Android app
- Mobile notifications available
- Logbook of activity with breakdown of information
On the app front the Suunto 9 is capable, but not best in class. The Android and iOS app will sync with the watch easily enough via Bluetooth, but we found that each activity took 50 seconds to transfer to the watch - a batch upload of 16 took around 13 minutes, which is just ridiculous for such a small amount of information. Very strange.
The data break-down within the app is fairly solid too: there's a main screen showing your week's activities and goal, while scrolling down will reveal past activities. Each activity is selectable and will present your GPS route, speed, heart-rate, HR zones, comparison to equal activities, and a plotting of your last 30 days' activities.
The biggest lacking in the app is the ability to communicate beyond its walls. We use Strava, for example, which the Suunto app doesn't talk with. So that data is locked into Suunto, which may prove of limited use for your needs if you're looking to supplement an existing programme. If this was to change we think Suunto would be onto a stronger setup.
Then there's the social aspect. Within the app it's possible to share activities publicly, with friends, or specifics. You'll see plenty of surrounding activities by others in training, which are colour-coded by activity type. There's the potential for some nice social clubs, but, again, most will hold all their eggs in the one basket rather than overlapping Suunto with, say, MapMyRun and/or Strava/Garmin.
Should you want the Suunto can also cater for smart notifications. Whether that's a Twitter message, an SMS, and so forth, the prompt will pop-up on the watch's screen - should you permit it the notifications via the app - making it into even more of a smartwatch. We deactivated such features, however, to focus on the sports front and leave the phone to handle all notifications, but each to their own.
While there are some commendable aspects about the Suunto 9 and its software, it's a little buggy overall. We've had the watch totally freeze and black out only to be rendered useless for a period of time, which was unexpected.
The Suunto 9 is an accomplished multi-sport watch. It's a bit big and chunky, but that gives it space for a big battery - and boy does this sportswatch last and last (and last). You'll get 10 days of activities out of it no problems, so whether you're a triathlete or competing in an Iron competition, or anywhere in-between, the Suunto definitely has the stamina to keep on going.
It's not quite perfect, though. The slow syncing and the locked-down software experience will be somewhat limiting, we've had some intermittent power-off issues, while the large size also won't suit all.
But in the world of smartwatches that last for barely a day (we're looking at you, Apple) or where the next closest competition can't last for as long, Suunto has a quality product on its hands that's worthy of the space on your wrist. A few tweaks and it'd be next-level. It's not exactly cheap either.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus
It's hard to not love the most accomplished Garmin going. With similar battery life and an established software platform, it's got that slight edge. It's super expensive though.