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Suunto 9 Multisport GPS In-Depth Review

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Let’s get something out of the way right up front: The Suunto 9 is the Suunto Spartan V2. Or next-gen Spartan Ultra, or whatever you want to call it. Except Suunto changed the naming system this go around – and now it’s called Suunto 9. Thus, if you’re looking for Suunto’s top-dog watch, this is the one you’re looking for.

Despite the significant shift in naming though (for the better), think of the Suunto 9 as more an evolutionary update to the Suunto Spartan series, rather than a major revolutionary change.  Aside from the addition of the optical heart rate sensor (which Suunto had placed in other units anyway), the only three other major changes at present are related to battery life, new super-cool GPS tracking modes, and a new GPS chipset provider (Sony). Actually, four if you count the new universal band straps – allowing you to use any strap you find on the interwebs with it.

But that doesn’t mean Suunto isn’t doing more behind the scenes on their mobile app and website – as they certainly are. It’s just that those changes don’t fit well on the back of the box, nor into this intro section.  Instead, they require a bunch of text to try and explain. Thus how you end up with a 9,774 word review.

Don’t worry though, you can watch this much shorter video instead – which summarizes all the new features and then some!

Suunto sent over (actually, I flew to them and picked it up myself) a final production Suunto 9 unit as a loaner.  I’ve been using it since May on a wide variety of workouts.  After I’m done with it here I’ll go ahead and put it back in a box and ship it back to them (I probably won’t fly it back over since that cost me a small pile of money last time).  That’s just the way I roll.  If you find this review useful, you can hit up the links at the bottom to help support the site. Let’s get cookin’.

What’s in the box:

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If you’ve seen a Suunto Ambit/Spartan box in the past, then nothing has changed.  Apparently the company bought enough boxes to last until next century (only the sleeves change for each product). So by gosh, they’re going to use them.  Except, I didn’t get the final sleeve with mine back in May, so here’s the box topless:

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Inside you’ll find the watch, the Suunto 9 charging cable (same as the Suunto Spartan series), a sticker, and a manual in a dozen languages.

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Like most watch boxes these days, they continue to get more minimalist with what’s inside it – and this is no different. That’s fine, I don’t think anyone really needs another USB wall charger anyway.

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Here’s a look at how things size up compared to the existing Suunto Spartan Ultra.  Suunto 9 is on the left on all photos.

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And from a weight standpoint, I’ve got that too:

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So as you can see, it’s just a tiny bit heavier than before, but not too much.

Finally, as a quick refresher of what’s new in the Suunto 9 compared to the Suunto Spartan series, it comes down to the following:

– Added FusedTrack: Ability to get GPS tracks without GPS data (seriously, and seriously cool)
– Switched GPS chipset providers from SIRF to Sony
– Addition of new battery performance options
– Ability to dynamically change battery options mid-workout to get to finish
– Ability to go into super-low power chrono mode to finish workout
– Added ‘intelligent’ low battery warnings day before your long workouts
– Swappable bands using industry standard 24mm straps
– Slightly bigger buttons (depth), different bezel styling too
– Added optical heart rate sensor from Valencell (latest generation 1.2 sensor set)
– Added 24×7 continuous HR tracking
– Now compatible with new ‘Suunto’ mobile app, and Sports Tracker based web platform
– Price is 599EUR/$649USD, and for 50EUR/$50 you can add chest HR strap

Again, I’ll cover all these in plenty of detail throughout this review, but just in case you’re scrolling through, the above list is probably what you’re looking for.

The Basics:

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Normally I start this section with the watch face, but I’m going to get all crazy and mix it up this time. We’re gonna start with the watch band instead. You know…cause I’m gettin’ wild.

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What’s unique or notable about this watch band? Well, it’s actually changeable…finally. See, previously on the Suunto Spartan and Ambit series watches you couldn’t swap out the band for bands you wanted (except the Spartan Baro).  Now you can. Suunto has adopted the industry standard 24mm watch bands, so you can go onto Amazon and order whatever the heck you want.

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No, really, there’s some crazy stuff you can order that should fit:

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I say ‘should fit’ because while it almost always does, there’s always a small element of hope when it comes to watch straps/bands and them actually fitting.  But again, should work. [Update: Commentor Renton below noted that the key to finding ones that work is to ensure the spring bar heads is 1.4mm and not the more common 0.8mm – the bar itself is 2.0mm, else there will be too much play.]

While we’ve got the unit turned over, you’ll notice that optical heart rate (HR) sensor on there. That’s provided by Valencell, just like all of Suunto’s other watches.  This unit contains Valencell’s latest sensor, version 1.2 That means that Suunto actually has a bunch more that they can do in terms of biometrics down the road if they wanted to via firmware updates.  Again, it’s in there – but that does require software be written around it and then software on apps and websites to support it as well.

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For now though the sensor simply tracks your heart rate. It does it in one of two ways.  The first is during workouts, it’ll power on and track you second by second.  The second is during 24×7 (continuous) mode.  In this mode it’s not technically continuous at every 1-second. Instead, it turns on every 10-minutes and tracks then.  Sometimes a bit more frequently it seems as well.  It’ll stay on till it gets a HR reading locked, which is a slight change from the past where if it didn’t get a HR reading to lock it just gave up (and thus you got gaps in your charts).  This resolves that.

You can see your HR readings via the heart rate widget on the watch by simply swiping down from the watch-face.  You can then swipe to the right to see your heart rate over the last 12 hours:

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Note that this 24×7 HR data isn’t saved anywhere beyond the watch. Meaning, it rather disappointingly doesn’t get transferred to either of the two Suunto platforms, or either of the two Suunto apps. It just goes into thin air.  Only workout HR data is transferred, but I’ll talk about that later.

Now that we’re on the watch though, let’s back up a little bit to that watch face I mentioned earlier before I got all wild and crazy.  Suunto allows you to pick from a handful of watch faces that they’ve built.  Unlike most other watches these days you can’t customize them or make your own, so they are what they are.

With the Suunto 9 though you do get a new watch face, as seen below:

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This watch face shows you total workout time towards your weekly workout goal along the other edge, and then battery life inside of that. It also shows battery life at the bottom too, for some duplicitous reason. It doesn’t show daily steps or current HR either though, like many other watch faces on other watches do these days.

Speaking of steps, those are accessed in the same way as HR – just by swiping down on the screen, or using the down button to get to it.  From there you can also view your total steps per week as well.  Calories can be accessed from the exact same menu by simply taping the screen:

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If you continue swiping down you’ll get training status, which gives you total training time that week as well as recovery time.  The training time is shown against your weekly exercise goal, while recovery time is shown as remaining hours until you’re fresh and ready to get frisky.

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A bit further down you’ll also get the altimeter and temperature data, alongside the barometer reading, as well as 12-hours variants of the altimeter and barometer data:

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The altimeter can be manually adjusted through the settings if need be.

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Lastly within the main dashboard pages in terms of data, you’ve got sleep data.  The unit will track sleep (assuming you wear it to bed).  It doesn’t need to be manually started or stopped, it’ll do it automatically for you.  You can also specify a secondary do-not-disturb time for notifications, beyond what your phone already does.

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The unit will provide some basic details of sleep within the watch itself, as well as via the newer Suunto app (but not the older Movescount one).  Note that it doesn’t track your sleep HR data on the app/platform, only on the watch itself.

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Finally, we’ll head up into the settings area briefly before getting more sport specific. It’s here you can change overall settings like the language or tones, as well as the backlight settings.  You can also change which time zones are shown as well.

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Probably the biggest annoyance I have with using the Suunto 9 while travelling is simply that it won’t update to the correct time zone automatically.  Virtually every other watch on the market today will automatically change the time zone based on either the omnipresent Bluetooth Smartphone connection or GPS signal acquisition. But in the case of the Suunto units, you have to manually change to the city that you’re in.

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It’s also in these settings that you can set the daily step goal (default is 10,000 steps), as well as configure whether sleep tracking and training targets are turned on.  And finally, it’s also where you pair sensors and your phone.  But again, I’ll dive into all things sport in the next section.  So with that, let’s get started.

Sport Usage:

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For the vast majority of purchasers of the Suunto 9, you’re going to be using the watch to track a workout or a race.  The rest, will likely be using it for navigation. Heck, perhaps you’re doing both at once. Either way, this section is all about sports, and the next navigation.

To start a workout (either race or training), you’ll press the up button once to get to the exercise menu, and then from there you’ll select the sport you want to do:

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These sports are customizable on Movescount, but not from the Sports Tracker site.  So in order to tweak things like data fields and such, you’ll likely want to hit up the Movescount site to customize these and other watch settings.

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You can see above how you can customize various sport settings, including data fields/pages, as well as sport-specific settings like GPS update rates and sensors paired. All this is exactly as before with other Suunto watches, excluding the new battery modes that I note in the dedicated section after navigation.

With all your customization done, and your sport selected, you can go ahead and tweak any last minute items before pressing start.  This allows you to add in interval training for example, or other targets.  It also allows you to specify a route (navigation) as well as change the battery status.  All of these (with the exception of battery options) are accessed by pressing the down button to a list:

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When it comes to interval workouts, you can define a specific work and recovery duration/distance, as well as have a free-form warm-up/cool-down time period.  It’s essentially a basic on-watch interval option that doesn’t allow a ton of flexibility for various other targets (i.e. setting unique power targets).  Suunto also doesn’t support any downloadable custom structured workouts onto the Suunto 9 (such as Garmin/Polar/Wahoo do on their units).

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But, that doesn’t mean Suunto isn’t doing unique power things.  In fact, when it comes to training zones, Suunto has a bit of a leg up over the competition.  Specifically in that they have zones for running power, which Garmin lacks.  This means you can specify your running and cycling power zones separately to show data pages on, as well as heart rate zones.  So if you have a Stryd running power meter, that’s definitely good news.

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Which platform (Garmin or Suunto) is the best for running power varies a bit on what you want out of it.  As I just noted, Suunto has running power zones natively, which Garmin lacks entirely.  On the flipside, Suunto doesn’t record/display any of the running efficiency metrics that Garmin shows from Stryd. Flipping back over again, Garmin forces Stryd into using 3rd party fields for running power, while Suunto shows it natively.  This means that you don’t see running power in native fields like ‘average power’, but instead in custom fields.

As I said, it’s not quite black and white. I’d say that for pure runners that just want running power, the Suunto approach is a bit better. Whereas for those wanting the other data that Stryd delivers, Garmin may be the better bet.

Oh, and before we press start on this activity (I promise you, eventually we will), you can tweak the battery profile by tapping the upper right button, which iterates through the different battery profiles (and changes the border color on the screen to indicate as such, as well as the battery durations):

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But I dive into that in much more detail in a dedicated section.  Thus, let’s press the start button (by now we’ve long since acquired GPS and HR, as indicated by the two status screen icons) and get rolling:

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At this point, you’re recording your GPS track, and your customized data pages are displaying on the screen.  You can iterate through data pages either via swipe on the touchscreen, or by using the buttons on the right side.  You can also disable the touchscreen for activity profiles if you want, which can be useful in activities like swimming or some winter conditions.

The data fields here are what you make of them and how you’ve customized them.  Note that the Suunto Spartan series, including the Suunto 9, doesn’t support any 3rd party data fields like the older Ambit watches did.  I haven’t heard of any path forward to adding in apps again on the Suunto lineup.

As I often note, my favorite data field/page from Suunto is the lap one, as it allows me to easily see the laps in my workout mid-activity and how they compare.  This same page is also available post-workout:

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When it comes to things like GPS pace stability, I haven’t had too much of an issue here. It seems reasonable enough for me while running, staying pretty stable (though, my running pace stability is pretty good – which might help).  Laps can be accomplished either automatically via autolap on a preset distance, or manually via pressing the button.

After you’ve completed a workout you’ll whack the stop button and then get offered the smiley face of your choice to rank your workout.  This is then saved to Movescount for later reference.  After that you’ll get workout summary information in a long page full of details:

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All of this is also available on Suunto’s web platforms, though the degree of data available varies on which platform you use.  Here’s the same workout loaded to both Movescount and Suunto Sports Tracker.  Movescount is their legacy platform that has largely been used to date and is being phased out.  Sports Tracker is what they acquired a few years back and is the new platform for new Suunto devices going forward.

Here’s the entirety of an activity on Sports Tracker:

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And here’s that same activity on Movescount (and keep in mind, I can tweak those graphs a ton to show way more information).

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At present, Sports Tracker basically feels like a rehashed version of RunKeeper from half a decade ago.  It lacks most of the sport-focused analytics found in Movescount.  The good news here is that you can continue using Movescount, but the bad news is that most of the newer features you might want around 24×7 tracking (i.e. steps and sleep) aren’t in Movescount, or aren’t as detailed there.

Suunto says over time features will get ported over from Movescount to Sports Tracker, but I suspect we’re realistically talking 12-18 months or so here.  After all, I’ve been watching this transition since last December, and I wouldn’t exactly call the progress lightning fast.

Also, the Sport Tracker site can’t push your workouts to 3rd party platforms such as Strava or TrainingPeaks, but again, you can use Movescount instead.  It’s just that the whole thing ends up being cumbersome with you having to use multiple apps and sync multiple times.  If Garmin, Polar, or Apple did this, people would be at their door with pitchforks.

Again, on Movescount (as seen below), you can connect to Strava and TrainingPeaks, and even push workouts from Movescount to Sports Tracker.  But that doesn’t solve the part you mostly care about using the newer Sports Tracker platform for, which is steps/sleep/etc data.

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Ultimately, I simply just don’t bother using Sports Tracker (the new platform).  I suspect most people reading this review will fall into that same camp.  Amer Sports (Suunto’s publicly traded parent company), simply needs to give Suunto far more developer resources than it has.  Like, dozens of employees more.  And even then, it’d still be heavily behind on the app/web platform side compared to what competitors have.  Given Amer hasn’t done that, they should instead at least focus on making the 3rd party partnerships to platforms like Strava and TrainingPeaks – since that’d largely cover the major bases for most users.

(Note: You can use both platforms concurrently, but not both mobile apps paired to the phone concurrently. The Suunto 9 can only be paired to one of the two Suunto apps, either Movescount or the new ‘Suunto’ app. In order to straddle both platforms, you basically need to connect your watch via desktop USB cable to Movescount, and then pair the phone to the Suunto 9. Though in that configuration, that means workouts won’t go to Strava/TrainingPeaks till you get home to your computer.)

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Next, we’ve got the ability to navigate.  Navigation can essentially occur in one of two ways: Either as part of a workout/activity, or in a standalone mode.  With the standalone mode, you aren’t recording your activity/track for later analysis – it’s like a fart in the wind, it just disappears once you’re done navigating.

Whereas when done in conjunction with an ‘Exercise’, then it’s recorded for later analysis.  Still, no matter which option you choose, things are basically the same in terms of what you can navigate to.  This includes POI’s, which can be created online and then downloaded to your watch, or routes – which also can be created online.

For example, in Movescount I can create a route such as the below:

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You’ll notice on the side the ability to select which watch to sync it to.  In this case I’ve selected the Suunto 9.  The same is true of POI’s.

In general, I really like the Suunto planner for routes, because it clearly displays heatmaps and other people’s public moves, across more than just run and bike.  It allows you to find unique places to openwater swim for example, because you can filter on where people are openwater swimming, like below:

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Once you’ve created your route (which you can also do by importing in GPS files or copying existing activities), then you’ll add it to your watch and sync your watch.  At which point it’s accessible from the navigate menu, regardless of whether or not you’re in an activity.

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You can easily view the route profile including the elevation both prior to navigating as well as during the workout/navigation.  Note that to select a route/POI to navigate to in conjunction with a recorded activity, you’ll simply scroll down after selecting the exercise type and select the ‘Navigation’ option:

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Once you’ve started the workout or your navigation, you’ll see the planned route as a solid line, with the dashed line being where I’ve been.  My current direction using the magnetic compass is the arrow in the middle.  Simply rotating your wrist will also rotate the map.

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To be clear – this is a breadcrumb trail map only, and not overlaid with any actual mapping data such as the Fenix 5X or Fenix 5+ series have.  That would require a boatload more storage on the device, which it simply doesn’t have.

You can zoom in/out on the map by briefly holding the middle button, which lets you then control the scale of the map:

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You can swipe-up from the bottom of the screen at any time on the trail/breadcrumb page to get into a navigation-specific menu.  This is where you can change your navigation goal (i.e. go to ‘Find back’, switch to a POI, etc), as well as save your location for future reference.

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One downside I’ve seen with mapping though is that it’s pretty slow to respond to going off-course.  For example in this scenario here (a looped route), I went the wrong way and it took nearly 100m until the unit notified me I had gone the wrong way.

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Atop that, when it does notify you, you’ve only got about 2-3 seconds to notice it – because that screen then goes away leaving you with just your dot in the middle of nowhere.  Once on-route again, you will get notified briefly as well.

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The overall navigation experience works fine (I used it in the Alps as well), but it’s tough going back from having maps on other watches to not having maps.  Following a breadcrumb trail is generally great.  But where it’s problematic is at multi-trail junctions where you may have 2-4 options, especially if some of those are close together in angle or direction.  To be able to quickly reference a map has been more valuable than I’d have originally expected.

I know certainly people have been getting along just fine using breadcrumb trail navigation for more than a decade – but the same was true of landline telephones too.  Once you’ve got good maps (including topo data), it’s amazing how useful they can be in sorting out off-trail situations or workarounds.

Still, as I said, the navigation here on the Suunto 9 is functional, but by 2018 standards it’s looking a bit dated.

New Battery & FusedTrack Modes:

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Suunto says one of the biggest challenges they’ve had from a support standpoint is how to give guidance to ultra-distance athletes on how to get the best battery life from their devices.  The product team would come up with all these recommendations, which were essentially just a series of settings to enable/disable.

But that meant the settings were tied to a specific sport profile, rather than a more general concept.  Meaning that you specifically had to pre-configure these all into a specific sport mode, and couldn’t easily just use a different sport mode with your special battery setups.  So Suunto aimed to separate battery modes from sport modes via what they dubbed their ‘Intelligent Battery Modes’.  These are three and a half battery modes which simplify how battery drain occurs, regardless of sport mode selected.

The way it works is that when you go to start a workout/exercise, you’ll see a battery mode option prominently displayed in the upper edge.  Pressing the upper right button toggles through the different battery modes:

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This battery mode then corresponds with a slew of settings attached to it, but it also corresponds to the hours remaining.  Even more importantly, it does real-time math on how much battery juice you have left to let you figure out if your planned activity will go over the duration required.  For example, you can see below how many hours are left for the different modes on my watch when I took this photo:

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The three modes are ‘Performance’, ‘Endurance’, and ‘Ultra’.  There’s also a ‘Custom’ mode that allows you to find some middle-ground between these modes if you need it.  The different GPS accuracy modes roughly correspond to the number of seconds between refresh rates.  ‘Best’ accuracy is every second, while ‘Good’ accuracy is every 60 seconds on the Spartan.  And ‘OK’ accuracy is every 120 seconds.  Also note that in both Endurance and Ultra modes, they use FusedTrack for Running and Trail Running modes (more on that in the next section).

The claimed battery life for a totally full charge on the watch is the same as the top of the screenshots below – 25 hours for Performance, 50 hours for Endurance, and 120 hours for Ultra.  Here’s the full chart of what each mode does:

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As you can see, there’s actually a fair bit of tweaking going on here to get to these battery levels, especially in the case of the Ultra one.  It’s turning off the touchscreen and Bluetooth communications. It’s reducing the brightness down to 10%, and killing off optical HR (wrist HR), as well as reducing the number of colors the display uses.  All of these tweaks add up.

But, things actually get even more interesting than this. Suunto has added two layers of mid-activity battery switching. The first layer triggers when you reach 10% battery remaining, and will ask you if you want to switch to a lower battery mode – for example, setting down to ‘Endurance’ from ‘Performance’.  It’ll also give you how much battery life you’d get out of that.  So you can make the call as to whether that battery life switch is overkill, or not enough.

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Here’s what it looks like in real-life, ironically just a few hours ago:

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But it even goes a step further than that.  Rather than the watch dying entirely, when the battery gets to an even lower level the unit will toggle into a ‘Chrono mode’, which shuts off everything except a simple timer.  It turns off the accelerometer and all other functions to simply give you the total finish time for your activity.  This means that if all else fails, the total time that’s shown on Movescount and in the logbook of your watch will be correct, no matter what.  Obviously you hope to never get to that point, but at least it’s there.

This concept is roughly akin to what Garmin does on some of their Edge cycling units in going into a low-battery profile mode turning lots of things off, but, a wee bit more drastic.

Now Suunto says they ideally don’t want people to get into that pickle to begin with, so they’ve added one last battery related feature: Proactive battery recharge notifications. The Suunto 9 watch will actually learn which days of the week you tend to do your long runs/rides/hikes and proactively remind you the day prior if it doesn’t think you’d have enough battery to complete that.  So if you tend to do an 8-hour workout each Sunday, and you only have 35% battery life on Saturday afternoon, it’ll remind you to give your watch a charge.

In my 2.5 months of testing, I only managed to get that warning just as I was proofing this review (seriously, so, like 30 minutes ago) but it may be that my training schedule is kinda wonky and without a ton of consistency.  While I tend to ride longer most Sunday’s, but I’ve also had some 5-hour rides mid-week too – so that’s probably dorking things up a bit.

But all this segues directly into the next important feature which is the new FusedTrack; which is probably the most technologically innovative thing to come to the Suunto 9.  Suunto has long since used the ‘Fused’ branding for other areas, such as FusedSpeed and FusedAlti.  The concept behind both of these was simple: Start with a baseline of GPS data, and then fuse it together with other sensor data, such as wrist-based accelerometer data to get the best possible real-time pacing data – thus FusedSpeed.

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FusedTrack though takes that to an entirely different level.  The primary purpose here isn’t technically to give more accurate GPS data.  No, it’s to give GPS data where no GPS data exists.  See, when you need the Spartan to go upwards of 120 hours of ‘GPS-on’ time, that means it reduces the GPS update frequency.  In this case, down to once every 60 or 120 seconds (Endurance or Ultra modes).  That means if you were to plot GPS points, you’d get a less than awesome track in the woods while running.  Sure, it’s mostly fine for hiking since you’re moving slow enough – but not great for switchbacks and such while running.

So what FusedTrack does is take those GPS points every 60/120 seconds and uses the compass, gyro, and accelerometer to fill in the data.  All of which makes an astounding amount of logical sense.  If you think about it, if they have the GPS starting location, then they can roughly figure out everything else from that point forward.

Let’s take a look at a 6KM track I did around some woods.  Note that aspects like cliffs can and will impact FusedTrack, though in looking at a few people’s tracks that have tried it in mountains on longer trail races, not horribly so (sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s also not horrendous and is definitely better than reducing recording rate to every minute or so).  In any event, here’s my forested comparison:

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What you’re looking at above is impressive.  I had planned three watches, but somehow on that backstretch I managed to stop the Suunto Trainer that I had going as well, and I didn’t notice it for another three minutes.  So let’s just stick with two tracks:

Purple – Suunto 9: This is within ‘Ultra’ mode sampling GPS once every 120 seconds, and using gyro/accelerometer/compass data in between
Teal – Fenix 5+: This is set to normal 1-second mode, GPS+Galileo

The point here isn’t to show a ‘perfect track’ of the Fenix 5+ vs the Suunto 9. Instead, the point is to use the Fenix 5+ simply as a reference for where I actually went (and it does indeed match reality).  Of course, that’s because it was sampling every single second, versus only sampling every 2 minutes on the Suunto 9.

The patterns are really clear.  You’ll notice that in general the Suunto 9 does really well as long as I’m either moving forward, or making directional changes that are logical.  Where it got confused both times was when I did short out and back and ran into dead-ends.  In both cases it stumbled there, shorting my distance considerably (in total the run was 6.01KM on the Suunto 9, versus 6.71KM on the Fenix 5+).  Virtually all of that distance loss occurred during the out and back sections.

Whereas when I was running consistently, it was very very close – especially on the straightaways.  The upper straightaway surprised me though as it dipped a bit into the field on both sides (where I didn’t highlight).

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In this particular run I made a point of running in places that had virtually no man-made structures or electrical lines or anything else nearby. There were only a few shacks along the way.

One item that’s important to note on the 120-second Ultra mode is that the display shuts off (thus is blank).  In order to see information you’ll need to tap a button, which then turns the display back on again, albeit the data shown is delayed until the next refresh.  Meaning, it’s not real-time distance on there at that point, but rather the distance at the last point the GPS ‘checked-in’.

Also, the functionality is limited specifically to running and trail running, since they need higher quality (read: consistent) pacing data than a normal walk or hike would give.  And cycling, of course, doesn’t give you enough accelerometer data to figure out the speed portion (and thus, distance).  Of course, there’s also the reality that most people running more than 24 hours (the max battery life on GPS for a single charge) are likely doing more of a blend of walking than pure running – and as such, that can impact accuracy (it’s only specified for running).

Also, Suunto warned that it’s incredibly important you calibrate your compass with almost nothing nearby.  Like, go to a field and calibrate it.  If you calibrate it next to a building or under power lines or what-not, you’ll get crap for results.

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Now, Suunto says their visions are actually more grand here, specifically around swimming.  It was hoped to have FusedTrack implemented in swimming by the time it shipped, but that doesn’t appear to be the case yet.  The goal being to do more of a merge of 1-second GPS tracking with compass data to get the ultimate openwater swim track.  Definitely looking forward to that being implemented once Suunto is able to.

GPS Accuracy:

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There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so and be fine, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Suunto 9 workouts).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.  I’ve had quite a bit of variety of terrain within the time period using the Suunto 9.  This has included runs in: Finland, Paris, Amsterdam, French Alps, Florida, US Virgin Islands, California, Germany, Austria, Italy, and plenty more.  Cities and countryside, water, mountains, trees, and open-air. It’s been everywhere!

All that said, I’m mostly going to focus on tracks from this past month, since that’s basically the time-period that the watch has been publicly released and on final firmware. Sound good? Good.

Let’s start off with something GPS-wise kinda easy, my run from this past Saturday. It was a relatively straightforward loop leading out from Amsterdam towards a nearby lake, around it and back again. It was mostly in the forest or alongside the canal, with only small bits in the ‘city’ (though these were pretty low buildings).  Here’s the overview, compared against a Fenix 5+ on the other wrist, and then a FR935 as well.  The Fenix5+ was in GPS+Galileo mode, the FR935 in GLONASS mode, and the Suunto 9 in Performance mode.  Here’s the data:

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As you can see, at a high level there’s no enormously wrong chunks, all three units look pretty good at this level.  But let’s zoom in a little bit, to this section approaching a bridge. Mind you, all units actually left the massive highway underpass correctly, but different units had difficulties on the approach.  On the left side, I’m going southbound (thus, down), whereas on the right side I’m going northbound.

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You can see that coming into it the Suunto 9 is off in the tennis club a bit (no large buildings here, just tree cover over a path).  The two other units are fine.  Meanwhile, coming back through that area you’ll notice the three units are all offset from the actual bike path.  The Fenix 5+ is on the water’s edge, while the Suunto 9 and FR935 are on the inside edge. I was on the bike path itself, technically more close to the water’s edge than not.  Sure, all of the units on this return section were within 2-3 meters, but none were spot-on perfect.  Whereas on the left side, the Suunto 9 unit is more incorrect than the others.

As I wander through the remainder of the track though, the units were by and large pretty darn close to each other. Occasionally one would wander a few meters offset one way or the other, but mostly they were very close.

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The only other section of concern was on a tree-lined path that was within about 30-meters of some tall buildings.  In this area the Suunto 9 went a bit askew, perhaps 20-meters or so adjacent to the actual path:

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Looking at the totals, the Suunto 9 and Fenix 5+ are very very close. I’m not entirely sure where the FR935 ‘lost’ distance, as the tracks certainly don’t show any cutting of corners of that length. But that’s the ‘official’ distance it recorded in the .FIT file, so it is what it is.

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As for ascent, Suunto watches don’t properly adhere to the .FIT file spec for showing that metric, thus, we don’t enumerate it in the analyzer.  However, on Movescount it does show as 16m for this run, which could be right. My run included a couple of bridges, so my guess is between 15 and 30 meters would be accurate.  Though, you can see from the overall elevation plot that the Suunto 9 did that an incoming storm clearly shifted the altimeter downwards:

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However, the Fenix 5+ plot did the exact same, starting/ending in the same spots, but with a 30ft negative spread:

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Note that while there are sections of the Netherlands that are below sea level, my specific section is not one of those.

Ok, moving onto something definitely not below sea level – the Italian Alps. Actually, technically it’s a blend of Swiss and Italian Alps, as the ride goes through both.  The Stelvio pass ride is famed of course for its jagged road etched into the side of the mountain, pressuring both cyclists (and runners), as well as GPS devices.  It’s also a fun test of altimeters as well.

At a high level, here’s the loop I did. I definitely realize a chart zoomed at this level is almost useless, but we’ve gotta start somewhere.  Plus, you can go all interactive if you want by just using the Analyzer links that I’ve provided.

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Let’s zoom into the road a little more closely though.  The first point where all the units have trouble is a tunnel of sorts. More like a thingy over the roadway to protect it from slides and such.  As you can see, no GPS is a good match for a ceiling:

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As the switchbacks start though, for the most part all the units are pretty darn close:

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I don’t really see any clear winner or loser amongst them. They all pretty much stick to the road, minus very occasional flirtings with the edge of the road by at most a meter or two:

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And again, the same up higher as well:

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Even in town, things are pretty tame.  You see some scrambles as I enter/exit one of the buildings, and doing some shooting of video/photos near the top, but that’s all contained within a small area.  You can click to expand these.

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It isn’t until I get almost all the way back down to the valley floor, on the Swiss side, going through some final switchbacks on a quick descent that I start to see some separation:

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But even to try and pick that apart would be tough. Each is very close to the road, with tall trees and occasional rock cliffs. And again, hardly a clear winner/loser there.  Overall, I’d say all units did very nicely here.

So what about elevation gain?  Here’s that plot:

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It’s very close going up, with all the units very slowly spreading apart a bit as I climbed.  On the way down you can see the Fenix 5+ showing a bug introduced in recent firmware that overly smooths fast descent data.  That bug was supposedly fixed after my ride (in the last 10 days or so), but I haven’t been in the mountains since then to confirm it.

As for which one got the summit elevation correct?  Well, the stated elevation of the pass at a sign-post alongside the road is 2760 meters.

The Suunto 9 at that same point?  2760.1 meters

Nobody likes overachievers, Suunto.

Very solid, nicely done.

Ok, let’s get in the water.

Now you may remember my video from last month where the Suunto 9 and Fenix 5+ faced off in the water…and both face-planted in failure. Seriously, their collective levels of suck would impress even the largest of jet engines.

But I took them back out again onto the water a few days ago for a redux.  Same competitors, same course, heck, even the same topless lady near the starting area.  I’m all about consistency.  And this time, things were definitely different – at last for Suunto:

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Like before I used a FR935 attached to my swim buoy as a reference GPS.  This provided a known good above the water for which to compare.  After all, with openwater swim modes the party trick is in having the GPS figure out where you went, despite being below the water half the time.  But as you can see above, this time the Suunto 9 did very very well.

Damn, it was solid.  It tracks almost precisely alongside the reference GPS track the entire time. At worst it was a few meters away, though, it did truncate very slightly the return for some reason – you can see it’s a bit short.  This despite waiting 10-15 seconds above water afterwards just to be sure.

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Again, throughout the swim, zero obvious issues – both in the recorded data, but also more importantly while I was swimming as well.  Compare that to the Garmin Fenix 5+ that stopped counting distance each time it reached 550y from the last time I stopped (which, ironically, was an improvement over the June swim where it just didn’t count distance at all).

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Of course, you may be wondering where the Fenix 5+ track is in the above – it’s the Drunk Uncle blue line that’s meandering across your screen like an errant line of mustard that missed the hot dog entirely.  Distance-wise, the Suunto 9 and Fenix 5+ ended up very close, as did the reference buoy.  In the case of the Fenix 5+, that’s mostly just dumb luck of being wrong half the time and right half the time.

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As for Garmin’s swim-specific woes – I don’t know what’s up there. They made one pass at fixing it, but it’s clearly not doing it. At least not in GPS+Galileo mode.  I suspect they’ll figure this one out, merely because the pieces that were broken on the Fenix 5+ were also broken on the FR935 and Fenix 5 in recent firmware updates.  Thus collectively, Garmin just needs to round up a bunch of employees, stick watches on them, and have a swim day or something to get some data.

That aside, from what I’m seeing on my specific Suunto 9 with GPS tracks, things are mostly good. Perfect, no. But mostly good. I know some people are seeing ‘wobbles’ on their Suunto 9 GPS tracks, which is adding about 1-2% distance.  I haven’t seen that on my runs, it seems to track cleanly and be wobble-free.  Also, as some folks know I had some rough GPS tracks back in June (both above and in the water) – but I haven’t seen those here in July – so I think things might be settling out.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Heart Rate Accuracy:

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Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs and rides – and even running up and down a mountain.

For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors.  Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the HRM-TRI or Wahoo TICKR X), as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist (including mostly the Scosche Rhythm 24). Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

Like the GPS accuracy section, I’m largely going to focus on activities from this past month, rather than things in beta. First up is that same past Saturday run from above.  This was about as perfectly stable a run as humanly possible when it came to intensity.  I simply started off and let my HR slowly rise throughout it.  The HR track should be almost perfectly flat, just rising slowly.  Here’s the data.

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As you can see, the Suunto 9 had other ideas.  Specifically, it thought I was having a heart attack the first 10 minutes.  I have no idea why after that point it decided to join the rest of us, but it did, and then it was perfectly fine for a long while before starting to lose the plot again towards the last 20-30 minutes.  I’m not sure what else there is to say about that run from a HR standpoint.  It was pretty straightforward really – the accuracy sucked at the beginning, and then was perfectly fine for almost an hour, before going a bit wonky again.

But things don’t always start out wonky.  For example, take this also relatively straightforward run I did a few days prior. I was time-limited, so it only ended up being about 30 minutes, but you’ll see that by and large it tracks well enough:

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The only caveat would be at the very peak of that short sprint, that it doesn’t quite nail the maximum HR – it falls a bit short.  But otherwise, the three units track very cleanly throughout the run.  Note the reason why the HR looks sorta like Tetris blocks above is that the scale isn’t too big and my variations in HR are pretty small, so it’s like little blocks up/down.

Now we’ll shift over to riding, and thankfully that Stelvio ride is a great proxy for showing lots of ride types in a single ride.  From steady-state riding to sprints, descending to stop and go.  It’s perfect – even a café stop.  Here’s that beast of a HR chart:

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Now, around the 2hr 42min marker is where we reached the summit and then did a bunch of filming stuff and even went inside to warm-up and have a drink.  What’s semi-interesting here is that at the 3hr marker I actually paused the Suunto unit in terms of recording, but it apparently still records the HR data in paused mode.  I had specifically paused it and the Garmin so they wouldn’t do funky GPS stuff inside for an hour.  Anyway, thought that was interesting.

Looking at the climb first, here we go:

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Here’s a simple breakdown of the timeline above:

00:00:00-00:15:00: Heading through town easily, stopped briefly to get sunscreen at store
00:15:00-01:22:00: Dying.
01:22:00-01:28:00: Not dying, stopped at a viewpoint.
01:28:00-02:22:00: Dying again.
02:22:00-02:32:00: Not dying, stopped to fill water bottles and shoot some video.
02:32:00-03:00:00: Dying again.

Now, what’s interesting here is you can see how close the HR was between all the devices while actually climbing at a steady-pace.

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There’s some slight blips here and there, which may be due to holding a camera or such while climbing and the optical HR sensor, but by and large, things are good…except that last section from 2hr32mins and upwards.  I’ve got no idea why everyone went all wonky for this final section, since it was no different than the rest.

And then there’s the descent:

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Obviously, that’s a cluster-fudge. Clearly the Suunto is most wrong at 50-60bpm, but the Fenix 5+ isn’t far behind on the wrong-train.  What about that yellow line I added?  Funny you ask.

That’s where we stopped descending and had to do legit work for 20 minutes across the valley floor, so again, a nice steady-state effort.  As you can see, things are at least in the ballpark there.

Ultimately – these results match exactly what I’ve seen on probably dozens of rides with the Suunto 9 since receiving it: Its cycling HR accuracy is perfectly fine when you’re doing a steady pace or other steady-state effort.  It’s totally useless when doing anything else.  The good news is that they’re in good company there, as the Fenix 5+ is in the same boat.

Next, let’s look at a gym/circuit workout.  I’ll say upfront this graph is tough to read, but once you at least read this paragraph, it’ll make sense.  I had on one wrist the Suunto 9, and the other the Fenix 5+. All exercises/movements in this set were dual-handed, if involving hands, so equal strain on both. I also had a Wahoo TICKR-X HR strap as well, which was paired to a FR935.  Initially I put that on a stationary water bottle, as that seemed like a logical place for it (to not interfere with either wrist).  But then a couple of the stations took me out of range of the bottle, so you see it drop briefly.  On the 2nd and 3rd rounds I went ahead and just attached the FR935 to my waistband so I had good connectivity.

Here’s what that data looks like:

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So what you’re seeing is relatively simple:

A) Purple drops when I walked out of range early on, just ignore those.
B) The Fenix 5+ did blah, not horrendous, but not great. Just sorta in the rough ballpark some of the time, and a bit outside others.
C) The Suunto 9 did worse than either, seemingly oscillating all over the place more often

Occasionally all three devices agreed, but hardly very often.  It was more likely the TICKR and Fenix 5+ would agree, but even that was rarely spot-on, it was again more in the general vicinity.

So where are things? Well, like I said – I tried to pick a sampling from a variety of sports, that I felt most reflected what I’ve seen over the last few months.  In summary, I’d say:

A) Running: Generally OK, but I see some issues at the start of runs sometimes, and a tiny bit of lag on some sprints.
B) Cycling: For steady-state riding, it’s fine, but any sort of stop/go riding, or descending and it all falls apart
C) Gym workouts: Seems to be all over the map here
D) Swimming: While I didn’t analyze it above, you can look at my linked swim HR data in the GPS sets.  It didn’t seem terribly accurate.

Ultimately, I think the biggest challenge Suunto has with HR accuracy on the Suunto 9 is simply the design of the Suunto 9.  It’s a very ‘top-heavy’ device, which any optical HR sensor company will tell you isn’t ideal because it causes bounce, and bounce interferes with the measurement of HR readings optically.  It’s why most other watches with optical HR sensors try to keep a low-profile on the wrist, and try to reduce weight.

In fact, Suunto themselves more than a year ago noted their concerns about adding an optical HR sensor to the Spartan Ultra for precisely these reasons – and ultimately, they were spot-on: It produces less accurate results than their less expensive watches with the exact same sensor (which I’ve had better luck at).

Of course, these results aren’t all that different from Garmin’s Fenix 5+ optical HR results either. Sure, Garmin has fared better in every HR test here, but for anything but running, I’d probably still defer to some other sort of HR sensor instead of the built-in ones if I was focused on wanting accurate HR for that activity.  But that’s just me.

Product Comparison Charts:

I’ve added the Suunto 9 into the product comparison charts, which allows you to compare it against any other products I’ve reviewed or had hands-on time with.

For the purpose of this review I’ve compared it against the Fenix 5+, Fenix 5, and Suunto Spartan Ultra watches.  Those are realistically the units you’d be comparing against. As much as people might want to compare it against the Polar V800, I don’t think there’s anybody these days considering a new V800 vs a new Suunto 9.  But fear not, if you are, you can simply compare them via the full product comparison tool.

Function/FeatureSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated July 31st, 2018 @ 4:14 pmNew Window
Price$699$699$699/699EUR$599
Product Announcement DateJune 5th, 2018June 7th, 2016June 17th, 2018Jan 4th, 2017
Actual Availability/Shipping DateJune 26th, 2018August 2016June 17th, 2018March 2017
GPS Recording FunctionalityYesYesYes (with Galileo too)Yes
Data TransferUSB & Bluetooth SmartUSB & Bluetooth SmartUSB/Bluetooth Smart/WiFiUSB/Bluetooth Smart/WiFi (Sapphire only)
WaterproofingYes - 100mYes - 100mYes - 100mYes - 100m
Battery Life (GPS)Up to 120 HoursUp to 65 hoursUp to 32hrs in GPS-on, up to 85hrs in UltraTrac GPS (varies by model)Up to 24hrs in GPS-on, up to 75hrs in UltraTrac GPS
Recording IntervalVariableVariable1S or Smart1S or Smart
Satellite Pre-Loading via ComputerYesYesYesYes
Quick Satellite ReceptionGreatGreatGreatGreat
AlertsSound/Visual/VibrateSound/Visual/VibrateVibrate/Sound/VisualVibrate/Sound/Visual
Backlight GreatnessGreatGreatGreatGreat
Ability to download custom apps to unit/deviceNoNoYEsYEs
Acts as daily activity monitor (steps, etc...)YesSteps only (not distance/sleep)YesYes
MusicSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Can control phone musicNoNoYesYes
Has music storage and playbackNoNoYesNo
Streaming ServicesNoNoiHeartRadio, Deeezer (soon)No
PaymentsSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Contactless-NFC PaymentsNoNoYesNo
ConnectivitySuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Bluetooth Legacy (pre-4.0) to PhoneNoNoNoNo
Bluetooth Smart (4.0+) to Phone UploadingYesYesYesYes
Phone Notifications to unit (i.e. texts/calls/etc...)YesYesYesYes
Live Tracking (streaming location to website)NoNoYesYes
Group trackingNoNoYesYes
Emergency/SOS Message Notification (from watch to contacts)NoNoNoNo
Built-in cellular chip (no phone required)NoNoNoNo
CyclingSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Designed for cyclingYesYesYesYes
Power Meter CapableYesYesYesYes
Power Meter Configuration/Calibration OptionsYesYesYesYes
Power Meter TSS/NP/IFNoNoYesYes
Speed/Cadence Sensor CapableYesYesYesYes
Strava segments live on deviceNoNoYesYes
Crash detectionNoNoNoNo
RunningSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Designed for runningYesYesYesYes
Footpod Capable (For treadmills)YesYesYesYes
Running Dynamics (vertical oscillation, ground contact time, etc...)NoNoWITH RD POD, HRM-TRI OR HRM-RUN (NOT VIA OPTICAL HR)WITH RD POD, HRM-TRI OR HRM-RUN (NOT VIA OPTICAL HR)
VO2Max EstimationYesYesYEsYEs
Race PredictorNoNoYesYes
Recovery AdvisorYesYesYesYes
Run/Walk ModeNoNoYesYes
SwimmingSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Designed for swimmingYesYesYesYes
Openwater swimming modeYesYesYEsYEs
Lap/Indoor Distance TrackingYesYesYesYes
Record HR underwaterYesYesWITH HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM (Not with optical HR)WITH HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM (Not with optical HR)
Openwater Metrics (Stroke/etc.)YesYesYesYes
Indoor Metrics (Stroke/etc.)YesYesYEsYEs
Indoor Drill ModeNoNoYesYes
Indoor auto-pause featureNoNoNo (it'll show rest time afterwards though)No (it'll show rest time afterwards though)
Change pool sizeYesYesYEsYEs
Indoor Min/Max Pool Lengths15m/y to 1,200m/y15m/y to 1,200m/y17M/18Y TO 150Y/M17M/18Y TO 150Y/M
Ability to customize data fieldsyesyesYesYes
Can change yards to metersYesYesYesYes
Captures per length data - indoorsYesYesYesYes
Indoor AlertsNoNoYesYes
TriathlonSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Designed for triathlonYesYesYesYes
Multisport modeYesYesYesYes
WorkoutsSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Create/Follow custom workoutsNoNoYesYes
On-unit interval FeatureYesYes (added Mar 31st, 2017)YEsYEs
Training Calendar FunctionalityYesYesYesYes
FunctionsSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Auto Start/StopNoNoYesYes
Virtual Partner FeatureNoNoYEsYEs
Virtual Racer FeatureNoNoYesYes
Records PR's - Personal Records (diff than history)NoNoYesYes
Day to day watch abilityYesYesYesYes
Hunting/Fishing/Ocean DataNoNoYesYes
Tidal Tables (Tide Information)NoNoNoNo
Jumpmaster mode (Parachuting)NoNoYesYes
GeocachingNoNoVia GPS coordinatesVia GPS coordinates
Weather Display (live data)NoNoYesYes
NavigateSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Follow GPS Track (Courses/Waypoints)YesYesYesYEs
Markers/Waypoint DirectionYesYesYesYes
Routable/Visual Maps (like car GPS)NoNoYesYes (5X Only)
Back to startYesYesYesYes
Impromptu Round Trip Route CreationNoNoYesYes (5X Only)
Download courses/routes from phone to unitYesYesYesYes
SensorsSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Altimeter TypeBarometricBarometricBarometricBarometric
Compass TypeMagneticMagneticMagneticMagnetic
Optical Heart Rate Sensor internallyYesNoYesYes
Pulse Oximetry (aka Pulse Ox)NoNoFenix 5X Plus onlyNo
Heart Rate Strap CompatibleYesYesYesYes
ANT+ Heart Rate Strap CapableNoNoYesYes
ANT+ Speed/Cadence CapableNoNoYesYes
ANT+ Footpod CapableNoNoYesYes
ANT+ Power Meter CapableNoNoYesYes
ANT+ Weight Scale CapableNoNoNoNo
ANT+ Fitness Equipment (Gym)NoNoNoNo
ANT+ Lighting ControlNoNoYesYes
ANT+ Bike Radar IntegrationNoNoYesYes
ANT+ Trainer Control (FE-C)NoNoNoNo
ANT+ Remote ControlNoNoNo (can control VIRB though)No (can control VIRB though)
ANT+ eBike CompatibilityNoNoNoNo
ANT+ Muscle Oxygen (i.e. Moxy/BSX)NoNoYesYes
ANT+ Gear Shifting (i.e. SRAM ETAP)NoNoYesYes
Shimano Di2 ShiftingNoNoYesYes
Bluetooth Smart HR Strap CapableYesYesYesYes
Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence CapableYEsYEsYesYes
Bluetooth Smart Footpod CapableYesYesYesYes
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter CapableYesYesYEsYEs
Temp Recording (internal sensor)YesYesYesYes
Temp Recording (external sensor)NoNoYesYes
Compatible with Firstbeat HR tools--YesYes
SoftwareSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
PC ApplicationPC/MacPC/MacGarmin ExpressGarmin Express
Web ApplicationSuunto MovescountSuunto MovescountGarmin ConnectGarmin Connect
Phone AppiOS /AndroidiOS /AndroidiOS/Android/Windows PhoneiOS/Android/Windows Phone
Ability to Export SettingsNoNoNoNo
PurchaseSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Amazon LinkLinkLinkLinkLink
Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP programLinkLinkLinkLink
Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP programLinkLinkLink
DCRainmakerSuunto 9Suunto Spartan UltraGarmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)
Review LinkLinkLinkLinkLink

And don’t forget you can make your own comparison chart via the full product comparison tool.

Summary:

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Suunto’s in a tough spot in terms of competition these days, and they admit it themselves. When I met with them they were clear that they’re no longer trying to compete on feature counts with Garmin. It’s simply not going to win there, Suunto just doesn’t have the resources (namely, developers) to do so.  Instead, Suunto is aiming to compete on making a device they believe is more durable and attuned to what endurance athletes want: Better battery life, better GPS and altimeter tracks, and solid reliability.

When it comes to achieving those goals, it may just be too soon.  In an effort to find those better GPS tracks, Suunto changed GPS chipset vendors as noted, which means they’re going through a bit of a teething phase right now with the new Sony chipsets.  As I tweeted though, solving GPS accuracy issues is always a very long road – and sometimes that road doesn’t have a happy ending.

What is clear though is that Suunto’s work in long-battery conditions is incredibly cool, and definitely market leading.  If you’re someone aiming to do a run (specifically, a run) more than 32 hours, then the Suunto 9 most definitely should be atop your list. The 32-hour marker is the max that Garmin can do at 1-second GPS recording, so once you’re beyond that point it comes down to a low-battery bake-off between Garmin and Suunto, and Suunto’s tracks win every time in that mode due to their new FusedTrack.  As I said, it’s incredibly cool. Absolutely perfect? No. But still really damn cool and better than what Garmin offers.

If you’re using the device for under 32 hours of GPS-battery life, then the Suunto 9 pitch is a tougher one.  Virtually all the features implemented into it were targeted at the Ultra runner.  The company eschewed adding in some of the lower priced Suunto 3 features around adaptive training plans into the Suunto 9 – thus minimizing appeal to those who might want those functions and aren’t planning on running a 50K race anytime soon.

Finally, I hope that as we fast forward to the end of the year and beyond we’ll see more features shifted from Movescount into the new Sports Tracker platform, enabling that to better compete with…well…Suunto’s very own existing platform.  Doing so, in turn, makes the Suunto 9 more appealing, as it starts to consolidate the various data streams it’s collecting into one cohesive place.

Wanna Save 10%? Or found this review useful? Read on!

Hopefully you found this review useful.  At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device.  The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love).  As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers an exclusive 10% discount across the board on all products (except clearance items).  You can pick up the Suunto 9 Fitness (or any accessories) from Clever Training. Then receive 10% off of everything in your cart by adding code DCR10BTF at checkout.  By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get a sweet discount. And, since this item is more than $49, you get free US shipping as well.

Suunto 9 GPS Watch (select dropdown for color)

Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (all colors shown after clicking through to the left) or accessories (though, no discount on Amazon).  Or, anything else you pick up on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells).  If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.  Though, Clever Training also ships there too and you get the 10% discount.

Thanks for reading!

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125 Comments

  1. Rui Pereira

    The link to Clever Training goes to Fitbit Blaze…

    • Well that’s odd (and a serious downgrade!).

      Fixed!

      Thanks!

    • Andrew

      Thanks Ray. Great review.

      I was one of those peeps who found the optical hr measurement didn’t work during activities such as running. Just picked up my cadence. Funny as my Scosche is pretty solid. I wonder why the Valencell sensor didn’t transplant that well. Did Suunto involve Valencell deeply enough in the integration? Is it just an issue with a heavier bouncing mass attached to the sensor? Shame the optical sensor isn’t allowed to move a little independently from the main body of the watch. I hope the occasional GPS glitches are resolvable with the new Sony chipset. The latest swim tracks look amazing. How do they compare with the Ambit 3?

      All the best

      Drew

    • Though I’m working with the Suunto Spartan Sport WHR, I’ve found that I have to buckle the watch down one more notch for running & swimming where WHR tracking is desired/utilized. This has resulted in spot-on HR measurements throughout the respective activities. For daily use, though, I dial it back a notch on the band (quite literally) for comfort’s sake. No issues in daily or sleep tracking for HR when worn as such.

      FWIW, I opted for a customized Spartan Sport Baro for my next watch. The only real appeal to the S9 was the glass watch face, but comments from early users indicated that there was no difference in the mineral glass of the Sport series to the real glass of the 9, especially with touch sensitivity and whatnot. So…yeah.

      Such is my $0.02. Good luck.

  2. Rikard Stensson

    I’ve updated, and updated, and updated the home page…. and now it’s here, the review, by the best reviewer on the internet.
    Thank you for hour hours of work, you mad man.

    Hoped for more with the Suunto 9, really. The lack of wifi is a bit of a bummer.
    But then again, I’m a very casual athlete. It still has more features than I’ll ever need.

    Might still pick it up because I find movescount much better than connect.
    Thank you Ray. Awesome read as always.

    • Thanks, appreciate it!

      I squeaked in with 42 minutes to spare on getting it posted by the end of July. Though honestly, I’d have called it successful even on Hawaiian timezones. :)

      While the lack of WiFi is a bit of a bummer, it honestly hasn’t impacted me at all. I just let it sync via BT and it works pretty seamlessly.

  3. Kyle

    Ray,
    Whatever happened to Garmins attempt to get more battery life in the Fenix 5 series. I remember seeing in the review it was supposed to be something like what Suunto is doing now with Ultra-trac but never happened?

    • Yeah, I’m not sure there. I don’t know why that didn’t pan out as well as they thought.

      I wanna do some more head to head UltraTrac vs FusedTrack type stuff for fun. As shown above, FusedTrack is definitely pretty good – but when it goes askew, it does so for upwards of that two-minute period (until the next ‘reset’ basically). Whereas UltraTrac would be suckier more often, but also corrects more often too since it’s not a straight 60/120s on/off type thing, but rather variable instead.

      Would be curious how those compare directly in a variety of conditions.

    • John

      Can you charge the suunto 9 and fenix 5 plus in the middle of a
      Gps activity?

    • Walter Guerra

      I know that the Fenix 5 can do that. I don’t know about the Suunto.

    • Brad Patterson

      Yes, you can charge mid activity. I just tried it to verify.

    • Jonathan Burchmore

      I would very much like to see the FusedTrack/UltraTrac comparison.

    • Velibor

      As far as i know, both support this function. The difference being, Garmin cable connector makes it impossible to do so while wearing the watch on your wrist, whereas Suunto connector is flat enough to do so.

  4. Pete

    Fantastic review as always. Unfortunately way out of my price range. Any chance of the Amazfit Stratos review? Can’t decide between that, coros pace, sunnto trainer, 735. Cheers.

    • Yeah, it’s on my to-do list somewhere. Though, probably will it up the Coros Pace first.

    • Fredis

      Mr Xi will be watching you… I am not a big fan of chinese products. Cellphones or sports watch are powerfull tools to know everything about someone and there is no privacy in China. So they are usefull for the governement to collect data, spy people and control the population (the famous “big data”). Think about heatmap on Strava but this time all informations will be in China… This is a real danger for people’s freedoms and the states of law too. I hope you won’t promote chinese products with a review. Just take time to think or read about that. For example :

      link to wired.co.uk

      link to theguardian.com

      Thanks.

    • Andrew

      All smart watches and smart phones are made in China. Facebook, Apple and Google collect big data and mine it (and sell it on to 3rd parties like the Russians – thanks Mark). I am pretty sure Ray’s only interest is unbiased reviews of new sports tech and would not wish to go down the dangerous road of political censorship as exists in China.

    • As Andrew noted, almost everything is made in China. Some, such as Garmin devices are made in Taiwan. I believe Stages is moving to either Vietnam or Singapore, and so on.

      Ultimately though – the last 2-3 years of history has shown us that the American/European companies are no better at managing privacy than a company in a country that has questionable privacy values.

      It’s up to individuals to decide how much things are valued or not, but given there’s virtually no public proof that a specific fitness company in China is better or worse than that of another country, it’s really hard to make any judgement based on that fact.

    • Fredis

      I think it is an important topic and it is interesting to discuss about that. I don’t judge Ray’s work, i just want to give you my point of view after few years in China and Asia. First, as you know, Taiwan is not China, it is a different country with individual and collective freedoms now. Second, there is a huge difference between the country of production and then the country where the data are saved… I trust more in states of right than in dictatures. In states of right companies can make bad things of course but the law is always here to protect people against abuses and preserve liberties. In China no privacy, the governement will have access to all informations your watch or your phone save because data are in China (“1984”, here we go). It is interesting to live in a country where people are not free and under control then you understand how important are states of right.

    • Andrew

      I agree that the rights and freedoms we are used to are continually under threat both from within and without.

      It is those very individual freedoms that give us the right to choose what we read, with whom we share data and what we buy. Those freedoms come with a responsibility to use them wisely.

      I don’t believe that it is Ray’s role or the purpose of this website to enter into what is virtually pure political debate or to politically sensor what he chooses to review.

      Perhaps you should start your own website and create a more appropriate forum to continue with what is an interesting debate.

  5. ekutter

    The elevation bug on the 935/Fenix5/Fenix5Plus lines has indeed been fixed for some models in beta fw. (9.73 for the 935). I don’t believe it’s been rolled out beyond beta fw yet in any product.

  6. Bo

    Thanks for the tip about the two apps and desktop application. I tried out the Suunto 3 and I couldn’t make sense of the software nightmare. I have a 9 on order, but now I’m not sure.

    I might look for a used Fenix 5 and call it a day.

    • Yeah, it’s not ideal, but it does work. Ideally they’d allow bidirectional sync between Sports Track and Movescount, which would solve it sorta. But as of today it’s only from Movescount to ST, not the other way around. In reality, the other direction would actually be more valuable because it would enable ST to get the ‘better’ 24×7 data (which MC doesn’t really care about), while MC gets the underlying fitness files.

  7. The only way I could get the Suunto to work reliably with the optical hear rate was to wear it the wrong way round so the sensor is on the inside of my wrist. Having it the other way produced some shocking results both for gym work and cycling.

    I think the rubber strap being new and stiff didn’t either, I had to almost force the clip into the next notch to get a decent fit

    • Jens

      Hi James and Ray and others. I’m not sure this “top heavy” part of Suunto 9 is what causes bad HR readings. I’ve been using my Suunto Trainer lots since April and 95% of the times when I run (always steady running, never intervals) my HR is 180-190, i.e cadence numbers.

      Now I read about this altimeter bug in the Fenix 5 series on this page and would like to know if this means a Forerunner 735 would be better for altimeter measurements?? I’m soon doing my first half marathon since I got my Fenix 5s (as well as my 735 btw) and am not sure which to use in the race. I am considering running with two watches but am not sure if I should use a Garmin + Polar V800 + OH1 or Garmin + Polar M430 or Garmin + Spartan Ultra + OH1, and which Garmin to use?? I think my 735 has been the most consistent with optical HR as for Garmin watches, but I’m not sure. It would be a shame not to race with a Fenix IMO. I will be running with GPS only I think as I’ve heard bad things about Glonass…
      (BTW for GPS accuracy I feel Polar V800 is best, comments?)

    • Renton

      @ Jens Forerunner 735 hasn’t barometric altimeter, so it doesn’t suffer this bug even if, it only uses GPS for altitude measurements and data may be less accurate; if you install latest beta (9.73) on your Fenix 5s, elevation bug is solved so I think you can use it , remember that is however a beta, so maybe there would be other bugs around the corner… If depends on me, i would go for Polar V800 + Garmin 735…

  8. Henrik

    Suunto for sure knows how to make beautiful watches.

  9. Thijs Rieken

    With such a spec list and, once again, meh wrist-based optical HR, I’d rather get the Spartan Ultra than the 9…

  10. Marius

    Suunto 9 or Garmin Fenix 5 Plus, that`s the question.

  11. Theo

    Ray, Thanks for the detailed review! For now I’ll stay with my SSU. Did you get any info about Suunto planning multiple BLE sensor support? It seems that this still isn’t solved with the S9. As Powertap P1 user, this is still kind of anoying. Remember to put this in your comparison chart as Polar and Garmin did solve it.

    • No immediate plans for fixing that. I actually asked yesterday, though more in the context of Stryd which they kinda sorted by Stryd now pairing as a footpod and getting power, as opposed to a power meter (which takes up the bike power meter then). It does mean you depend on Stryd pace though, not GPS pace. Not really sure that’s an issue per se, but something to note.

      On the dual cycling power meter thing, I feel like in some ways Vector has shown that companies can do it correctly within the spec. Favero with Assioma is planning on doing so in a firmware update later this month too. So that mostly just leaves the PowerTap P1, since others like 4iiii and SRM have modes for it too.

      Thus I’m not entirely sure whether it’s right to blame PowerTap or Suunto for it (one is to blame, but I don’t really know which one).

    • Theo

      Yeah, I see that it’s not that straight forward. Let’s hope that the industry agrees on a common approach.

  12. Renton

    I tried some 24mm quick release band but they don’t fit properly… the pin head of spring bar of Suunto 9 is 1,4mm and the most common pin head spring bar is 0,8mm so there is too much play…

  13. Boris

    „Suunto’s in a tough spot in terms of competition these days, and they admit it themselves. When I met with them they were clear that they’re no longer trying to compete on feature counts with Garmin. It’s simply not going to win there“

    Me and many others I know would easily buy a SUUNTO or a POLAR device… if they only would do „the dual thing“ (ANT+ & BLE). 🤷‍♂️💸👋

    • “if they only would do „the dual thing“ (ANT+ & BLE).”

      Of course, you know what the real kicker there is? Almost all these devices have the dual-capable Nordic chipsets in them anyway. It’s simply a firmware/license update to enable it.

      I do agree it’s becoming less and less of an issue, but it’s still an issue – especially for those wanting to accurately capture their indoor workouts such as those on TrainerRoad or Zwift, and want to collect that power data where single-channel BLE connections limits that.

    • Boris

      dual-capable chipset: Wow. What a bummer.

      less and less, but still an issue: Exactly. I nearly always have a reason for a multi device-setup. (🤓😋)

      BTW: Have seen that my anlyzr account has expired yesterday. Will renew it again. Good stuff! 👍👏

    • Thanks Boris – glad the Analyzer is working out for ya!

  14. Christian

    “The company eschewed adding in some of the lower priced Suunto 3 features around adaptive training plans into the Suunto 9..”

    Do you know if there are any plans of implementing firstbeat features (eg. body resources, training load,..)? Then I would seriously consider the watch to buy.

  15. Luís Pinto

    Honnest review! I liked. DC was well to praise what is right and point the finger at what is wrong.

  16. Renton

    Just for reporting since i read all this review…. : elevation bug is still present in Fenix 5/5X Plus and Fenix 5X , i’m reporting this bug since i owned Fenix 5X (about 3 months ago), now i sold it for Fenix 5 Plus and the same bug is still here! I’ve reported that this bug is here for Fenix 5 Plus line also since i have purchased it, but nothing… not a single reply from beta team or Garmin customers support! The crazy thing is that i found the issue and i have reported them : they only need to roll back sensor hub firmware version. I discovered it by accident, as soon i received a replaced Fenix 5 Plus i tested it out of the box (it came with 3.20 fw) without any update and the altimeter worked correctly! As soon as i synced with Garmin express, it found a sensor hub update firmware and installed it! After this little 400kb update (it updates only sensor hub firmware and not system fw), altimeter start to exhibit this f*****g bug! I told to beta team that if the want to solve this bug, they simply have to roll back sensor hub firmware to previous release… no answer like usually! Now i have purchased a Suunto 9 for my training since if you go for a bike ride or ski or any other activity involving fast ascent/descent, Fenix 5/5X Plus and Fenix 5X is totally useless, all data about climb/downhill is totally no sense! Some users report that also D2 Charlie is affected (and i suppose Tactix Charlie) I don’t want to imagine how useful could be D2 Charlie or Tactix Charlie (based on the same platform of 5X) if it will be use for fly or skydiving…

    • Just to clarify – are you on the latest beta build with the 5 Plus? It’s supposed to fix it.

      As you noted, it’s a newer bug that randomly showed up as they tried to address some sort of elevation issue and overcompensated. Unfortunately the only way to see it/reproduce it, is basically to descend a big hill/mountain fast enough (bike only).

    • Renton

      Yes, i’m on the latest (3.53) beta; bugfix came out in 9.73 beta only for Forerunner 935 and Fenix 5, not for Fenix 5X and Fenix 5 Plus line… However, as i said if you go for a skydive or
      fly with a plane (if you are a pilot), that they are not so trivial activities, or simply if you skiing, elevation chart is rubbish! Also if you try to calibrate altimeter after a swim it doesn’t work, it starts to count slowly until, maybe, reaches set altitude…

    • Ahh, I see, the beat for the 5+ is still considered a non-public beta by the looks of the e-mail.

      On the calibrate altimeter post-swim, depending on how quickly that is, that’s likely on purpose. Garmin actually locks the altimeter for 5 minutes following a swim, thus ensuring that water in the baro ports has time to go somewhere else.

  17. rents

    I noticed however that elevation bug is linked in some way to post swim altimeter calibration, in all sw version without bug, altimeter set instantly also after a swim, in buggy sw version, altimeter it slow to react for after swim calibration as for fast descent…

    Ah, i forgot to mention one thing about Suunto 9 band… spring bar itself is 2,00 mm , only pin heads that fit into watch’s holes are 1,4 mm , so spring bar could be also bigger than 1,4 mm, it’s important that pin heads are 1,4 mm .

  18. Still no Galileo?
    Any idea why a European brand is not using it?

    • Paul D

      Does it really add value? More satellites being actively tracked = higher power consumption = lower battery life. If the current accuracy is good, why add more at the expense of battery?

  19. Patrick

    Hi Ray,

    Another great review – Thanks!! :)

    Just a quick note to your comment about customers having enough USB wall chargers lying around (not Suunto specific but may apply nonetheless):

    I just got notified by Garmin Denmark that the warranty on my fenix 5s Plus has been voided because I charged my fenix with an Apple (iPhone) wall charger. The use of all third party non-approved chargers will void the warranty. Only a PC USB port or a Garmin charger are approved charging units.

    Thus I actually don’t think that customers have enough of the ‘right’ wall chargers lying around :S

    … I think I’ve might have bought my last Garmin unit?!

    Cheers
    /Patrick

    • Hey Patrick-

      I’d actually love to follow-up on that (read: Cause a Wednesday afternoon…conversation).

      Whatever Garmin Denmark is saying is fundamentally wrong and needs to be corrected. Garmin doesn’t include chargers in their boxes anymore, and the entire premise of how USB charging works voids the very concept of what Garmin is saying (a device effectively ask for how much juice it needs, and the charger provides it up to the limit it can).

      My e-mail is simply my first name at this domain. Cheers!

    • Patrick

      Thanks for the reply.
      I’ve sent you an e-mail! :)
      Regards,
      Patrick

    • Luke Hardman`

      haha What did they have to say about this?!

    • Patrick should be receiving contact from his Garmin support friends (either Danish or American) likely today.

      Officially they said as part of a longer note: “Our intent is to encourage customers to use reputable chargers most likely to operate within specification.” – Meaning, there’s no issues with using that charger or any other ‘reputable’ charger.

      (Sorry, this slipped by last week – but I talked with Garmin HQ folks about it last night and they noted that nothing has changed in how they process support, and that this should have been handled differently on a few levels.)

    • Patrick

      Thanks a lot, Ray!
      Your help on clearifying this is much, much apprieciated.
      I owe you a beer! :)
      Regards,
      Patrick

    • Klippert

      Just a quick update:

      Got an email from Garmin Denmark and to put it short they said that they were very sorry for any inconvenience this subject may have caused and that the warranty on my fenix 5S Plus wasn’t voided.

      They do however encourage customers not to use cheap off-brand chargers as it may(!) void the warranty.

      Once more thanks to Ray for helping and sorting things out, and also to Garmin for getting back to me. In the end it all turned out to be another good experience with Garmin customer support.

      Regards,
      Patrick

  20. RuNa

    Regarding the apps, what happens to all your Movescount history if you change over to the new Suunto app? I used it for a bit with my Spartan, but went back to the rather useless Movescount app because syncing with the new Suunto app doesn’t add the moves into Movescount. Your history starts again from scratch. Surely it wouldn’t be a big ask to link the two? I like looking at year long graphs for example.

  21. Stuba

    RuNa, just use third party app/software and you won’t have vendor lock-in.

    I think you can export all of your data out from Movescount. Some services can import data from .fit files. It still most likely will lose your adjustments you could have done for your workout. It would be nice to test which services export your stored data and not the ”raw” files you have inported, losing all comments and modifications.

    • RuNa

      Not sure how to export everything at once from Movescount, but I managed to move the Strava history (linked to Movescount) into Training Peaks in one go using Tapiirik (SyncMyTracks made a hash of the transfer – lots of missing data and all moves labelled Running).
      Problem is I like to keep things simple and I like the Movescount website. Would like to do without all 3rd party apps is possible.

  22. Joshua David Griswell

    So if I run exclusively, and GPS accuracy is what interests me the most (followed by HR, but distantly). Is the Suunto 9 the best option for me?

    The price is high, but I can manage it. It sounds like Strava syncing works with the cable and a computer, so that’s fine.

    Like, my other option was going to be to get a Fenix 5X or something but honestly, it sounds like the GPS accuracy on trails is kind of crappy with the Fenix and I’m not cool paying $500 for a watch with shitty GPS!

  23. Michael

    Hi DCR !
    Thanks for your incredibly detailed review ! I was waiting for it to get a solid idea of what the Suunto 9 offers and if it’s worth the investment.
    I own an Ambit 2, and I’m extreamly happy with GPS and elevation accuracy. But I’m tired of depending on a cable to upload my trainings , I’d love a bit more batery life, and getting phone notifications (just knowing who is texting o calling). I absoluttely don’t care about optical HR.
    Well, my question know is … Spartan Ultra, SSSWHRB, or Suunto 9 … ???
    Would you (and any others opinions are wellcome too) please advice me on this ?

    • Renton

      SSSWHRB hasn’t sapphire glass , has less battery life and no new battery mode of 9, it was a difficult choice for me, at the and I went for 9 because I think it will game much more margin of improvement so nice is new…

    • Michael

       “it will have much more margin of improvement because is new” thats a good point to consider too …
      Forgot to mention openwater swims, that an other important feature to me…

    • A W

      I have the wrist HR baro and it’s a wonderful watch, and works flawlessly in all ways (wrist HR is bang on, GPS reception great, etc).

      But it’s a no-brainer, gotta go with the 9 for extended battery life and FusedTrack.

  24. Renton

    * it will have much more margin of improvement because is new…

  25. Tim

    No Fusedtrack on a bike? Can it take data from a wheel based speed sensor? Does it have a compass?

    Speed and heading was good enough for pilots to find tiny islands in the giant Pacific Ocean while being shot at during past wars.

    Seems like this dead reckoning should be easy addition for the bike. It wouldn’t be perfect, but should be close.

    FYI- the gps in our 2005 minivan claims to use this if it loses signal. Like in cities with tall buildings.

  26. Hylton

    Sorry if this seems obvious or if I missed it somewhere on the review but does this unit have a virtual training partner function or support an app that has this function?

  27. Jean-Philippe Proulx

    Its actually possible to switch GPS precision, on/off screen, etc. on the Sparta Ultra while recording an activity in order to increase battery life. With the 9 it guides you to do so and I think they could easily add this (software) feature on the Sparta Ultra.

    • Jean-Philippe Proulx

      Hold middle button to enter Settings, then adjust accordingly. Works during exercise just the same way you set a new route. This assistive battery mode could easily be rolled on the Spartan Ultra and other models.

  28. Ruben

    Amazing review as always!
    Quick question: what do you think of the white rubber for everyday use? Will it stay white?

    • Paul D

      So far so good for me – no discolouration.

    • Ann Ongena

      YES, I had the white gold Spartan HR more than a year now and I wash it under the cold water with soap and once in awhile I scrub it with a soft toothbrush and toothpaste, works like a charm. Now I have also the 9 and compared my Spartan with the new one and still looks as new and I have been wearing it every single day and some days it gets really dirty and sweaty!

  29. John

    Ray,
    Thanks very much for the thorough review of the Suunto 9. I’m as interested in your thoughts about durability and screen readability as I am about battery life and GPS accuracy. Of the obvious competition at this level of watch, who’s screen is the most readable outside swimming or riding? Which watch do you think is the most reliable and durable? I appreciate all your wonderful work in our regard.

  30. Volker

    Do you know why they moved the gps chip from sirf to sony? Better performance, battery consumption to just because it is cheaper for them?

  31. Scott

    A shame it doesn’t support ANT+. I wonder why they chose that route?

  32. Stefan Winterbauer

    Great review as always!

    I really want to like Suunto, because of the design and overall focus on reliablity and accuracy but they are making it very hard.

    Can’t imagine why a company is allowing this clusterf… with two Software-Plattforms and Apps. This ist a no-go for me! Syncing can already be painful but with two different platforms for one watch? No way!

    Then there is this thing with accuracy: I understand it may take a while before they can take advantage from the new chipset but why these issues with OHR? If You are dead serious about GPS accuracy and OHR accuracy I’m afraid I think the good old Polar V800 with their OH1 sensor ist the best bet. Polar even makes better OHR sensors wristbased (although with terrible watch designs). Suunto should have done a better job here, in my opinion.

    It seems clear, that Garmin owns the market in terms of features. But for people who are into accuracy and data it’s a choice between Suunto and Polar now. I am very curious, what Polar has to offer in September with their new Vantage series in comparison to the Suunto 9 …

  33. Eric

    Thanks for the fantastic (as always) review, Ray. I’ve been waiting for this review before deciding whether to upgrade from my Ambit3 Peak. I think I’m going to hold off another six months or so in order to see how Suunto does with improving GPS accuracy. I’m definitely their target market with this – give me battery life, GPS accuracy, barometric altimeter accuracy, and, to a lesser extent, navigational features and that’s really all I want. I’ll buy whatever watch masters those four areas even if it’s at the expense of other flashier features.

    Is incremental accuracy improvements over the next 6-12 months something you plan to keep an eye on and revisit here?

  34. Tim

    The thing I find odd about the 32 hour marker is that even the most serious ultra runners only do that once, maybe twice a year, even if that.

    At first blush the Fusedtracks seemed like a cool idea – but I suspect it’s functionality largely boils down to “I forgot to charge the watch” type situations plus the one big race per year (if that).

    Seems like a rather small benefit for what seems like a headache with respect to the downsides – the platform issues, lack of customization on the watch face, etc.

    • Paul D

      “The thing I find odd about the 32 hour marker is that even the most serious ultra runners only do that once, maybe twice a year, even if that.”

      It also means you no longer have to charge your watch every few days – or risk the watch dying mid-long-run.

    • Scott

      “The thing I find odd about the 32 hour marker is that even the most serious ultra runners only do that once, maybe twice a year, even if that.”

      I would definitely have to disagree with that comment. The most serious Ultra runners that I know do several 100 milers each year and/or FKT attempts that can last much longer. I wouldn’t consider myself that serious and I do one or two a year.

  35. Mario

    – no galileo!!! (for an european company a nogo)
    – no mapping!!! (that must be in a new high end modell)

    Well, the Suunto 9 is out for me. I hope, the Polar Vantage V will have it. If not, the Garmin Fenix 5x plus is my only choice.

    • Paul D

      “– no galileo!!! (for an european company a nogo)”

      Why is it no go? If accuracy is good and battery life is excellent, why add more satellites and sacrifice battery life?

  36. Mihai

    I used the watch for a month in all kinds of conditions while running between 90 and 150km weeks with longvruns in the mountains. While on paper the watch is great I had to return it as I found its software unreliable.
    My observations ,after 30 days of using it intedively, are:
    Standby consumption is big. Around 10% day with 24h hr off and power saving on.
    Found a bug that will not allow me to change between battery profiles mid activity. It said that it was changed but it was not.
    The new fusedtrack is great. Did a 56k run in the mountains and the track was ok – one km off compared to a fenix 3 set to capture every second. An 9hr run that consumed just 20% battery (hr captured from belt). It has great potential.
    At some point my gps tracks and pace were totally off. Had to reset the watch, worked for 2 days, and then had the same issue again.

    So, while the hardware is good and the new fusedtrack feature is great, the watch has some doftware issues that made me return it as I do not have the patience to wait for fixes. On paper it was absolutely what I wanted: basic features, stable and great battery life but, unfortunately, it has some catching up to do.

    • Stefan

      “So, while the hardware is good and the new fusedtrack feature is great, the watch has some doftware issues that made me return it as I do not have the patience to wait for fixes.”

      That old Suunto-Problem!

    • Mihai Serban

      I would not say old as the first 3 Ambits were great in this regard. The Spartan though…

    • Jens

      I would like someone to post an updated SSU review with the latest 2.0.42 firmware. I bought it in June and so far I have no complaints (I did pool swimming, open water swimming, running, roller skiing, walking with it so far), so I would say most (all?) bugs are fixed by now and that the SSU is a good buy (now decently priced). The only thing to mention (which might be because of old hardware???) is that I can see some weird background light around the edges during an activity. IMO that is not supposed to be there, it’s like it shines through without meaning to.

    • Andrew

      I agree with Serban that this is not an “old problem” for Suunto. I would be interested in any examples you could provide other than the first gen firmware Spartans.

      Suunto’s earlier products such as the A1,2,3 & vertical were rock solid. The “old problem” your refer to is actually a relatively new one for Suunto and started with the Spartan series. This was more a case of underdeveloped firmware at the time of release. It was not particularly buggy. It was just underwhelming and not as feature rich as even their last watch. Their firmware has caught up. I have a Spartan. It is good reliable minimalist watch and has never crashed. Just works like… clockwork!

      Garmins have been problematic on release and beyond for years. I would suggest that if there is an “old problem” then it belongs to Garmin. They are pretty good at subsequently updating and fixing the software. Unfortunately not all the issues are in firmware and rectifiable. Just look at the F5 ant antenna and baro problems and the F5+ GPS issues.

  37. John

    Multiple people have asked about the screen legibility difference between the Suunto 9 and the Fenix 5+. How about between the Ultra and the F5. Will anyone who has experience with both units please comment on that? Thanks.

    • Both units on both sides of the fence are using the same screens as their previous units.

      I think in general I find the Suunto Spartan/9 shows colors a bit more crisply, but I find readability and overall a bit easier on the Fenix 5. Again, purely talking the display here.

    • Andrew

      If considering only the screen:
      The 9 is a slightly bigger display. They seem pretty similar from a contrast PoV in direct light and probably use the same technology.

      If considering legibility:
      I prefer the bolder fonts of the F5+ (but the GPS was really poor so I returned mine).
      The Fenices seem to have brighter backlights (nearly matching that of the beacon like Ambit 3).
      Transflective displays are generally poor if not in direct sunlight or backlit.

      Shame there are no e-ink watches. A front lit high contrast monochrome reflective display on a rectangular screen would be my preference.

  38. Milan

    Thaks for a great review. My question is about connectivity with a phone and music control. Are features like picking up a phone, controlling volume of the phone or controlling music via suunto 9 only a software problem? Are they going to be avalilable after some software upgrades or one must wait for a new product?
    Thanks for the answer.

    • It would only be a software update, but that doesn’t mean such an update will come anytime soon – or ever.

      I haven’t seen Suunto express any interest in music control or the like in any conversations I’ve had with them. Not even the slightest mention of anything musical/etc…

    • Milan Liska

      I dont care that much about music control, at least if one could pick up a phone or end a call so that you dont have to take out your phone on a bike or look for it in backpack when skitouring etc. :/ I have ambit 3 and I wanted tu buy a new model. I hope they will add this functionality soon.

  39. rectangular

    I just switched from a Fenix 5 to a Suunto 9.

    I was really turned off by all the features Garmin is focusing on that I’m really not interested in (music, payments) while seemingly not fixing and focusing on really great activity tracking and accuracy. Suunto seems to have doubled down and focused on features for endurance athletes. I really appreciate that.

    So far, after almost a month of use, I’m really happy with my decision. Although I wish the Suunto could support multiple sensors or my Powertap P1 pedals better, the GPS accuracy and battery life during an activity is amazing. There were certain canyon rides and long runs that my F5 would always get confused and lost no matter what. And even when it was ideal conditions the F5 would always be off course just enough to be frustrating. The Suunto 9, so far, seems to be much more accurate and a lot better in keeping signal.

    Overall, the switch reminds me a lot of when I moved from Windows to Mac over a decade ago. Sure, the Suunto supports less, but what it does support seems to be pretty good and reliable.

    It is also great to have native support for my Stryd foot pod. The Connect IQ app on the F5 always felt precarious and somewhat unreliable.

    It seems like others on here are considering a similar switch. I hope this is helpful (albeit all anecdotal)!

    Thanks for the great reviews and information Ray! I always look forward to them and all the info and details they contain.

    • rectangular

      The only big downside that I have noticed so far is that the battery life when just “idle” (not tracking an activity, just showing time and reading HR) is less than I had hoped. It seems to burn through 10-15% battery a day on my rest days (I think someone else above mentioned the same thing). Not a big issue, more of a nitpick than anything.

  40. Ann Ongena

    I’ve been using the 9 for a couple weeks now in prep of my my big mountain foot race end of the month which will take me 40+ hours. One of my 11+ hr Trail running “mountain” workouts in “performance” mode shows in Movescount only the first 3 hrs on the map but has the right amount of time, miles and elevation gain. When I intended to delete it in Movescount (so I could download again) it says I won’t be able to download it again, so I haven’t done it. Is there another way I can try again. I assume there was a glitch with downloading as all my other running workouts were fine.
    Second question: with the Spartan I just had to tap the screen to show time and battery life during a running workout. With the 9 the screen is locked when in running workout mode, I can’t figure out to show the time and can’t find the information on that.

  41. Luke Hardman`

    Thanks Ray

    Great review! Always enlightening. Admittedly I completely lost interest after reading this: ” Suunto watches don’t properly adhere to the .FIT file spec”.

    To me that means that it won’t play properly with other platforms (Strava, TrainingPeaks etc.)

    I went through that with the Fenix 2 swim recordings (it would give the distance of the entire swim as the distance of the first interval on Strava) years ago and it drove me insane. If a company cannot stick to a standard format I am not interested.

    As an aside, I have a friend with an Ambit Sport (or something like that) that gives her pool swim distances that aren’t even multiples of the pool length……

    Thanks again,

    Luke

  42. Jonathan Burchmore

    Some observations after a week of using a Suunto 9 alongside a Fenix 5X Plus. I’m wondering if anyone else is seeing the same things.

    1. I’m getting horrible battery life in watch mode. On the order of 25%+ drain per day. The watch seems to use less battery when recording an activity than it does just sitting on my wrist. I have 24hr HR turned on and smart notifications. Backlight settings are default and I’m using the outdoor watch face.

    2. The watch seems to sync with my iPhone a lot. I frequently get the “Syncing” notification when trying to view the logbook or settings on the watch.

    3. Distance accrual in Endurance mode seems really long. On the order of 10%+. Here’s an example:

    link to analyze.dcrainmaker.com

    Plotting the route of that run on Garmin Connect I got a distance right around 22mi. Fenix 5X Plus in UltraTrac mode was 21.91. Suunto 9 was 24.24! The autolaps on the Suunto 9 were also all over the place, both in distance, ranging from 0.94mi to 1.14mi when set to 1mi and with correspondingly all over the place paces.

    Here are the raw activities:

    link to connect.garmin.com
    link to movescount.com

    • Jonathan Burchmore

      Sorry, wrong analyzer link, here’s the public one:

      link to analyze.dcrainmaker.com

    • Scott

      Interesting. My take away from this is that my old Suunto Ambit 2 and Garmin 910XT are much better than these two super expensive devices!

    • Jonathan Burchmore

      In defense of the Fenix 5X Plus, its GPS tracks look perfectly fine when not in UltraTrac mode:

      link to connect.garmin.com

      And in defense of the Suunto 9, the tracks in FusedTrack mode really are amazingly good. But during an ultra the primary thing I’m worried about is distance to the next aid station, and I’m really not that concerned with what the track looks like afterwards.

    • Marius

      Which of the watches would you recommend? I am having a hard time deciding between the S9 and Fenix 5 plus.

    • Luke Hardman

      I don’t understand why people are having problems deciding. Have you read the review above? Ray clearly says that if you are not running over 32 hours (most of us) the Suunto is probably not for you. And even if you are running that far once a year or whatever is it worth having a watch that performs less well on all your training runs?

    • Jonathan Burchmore

      Marius, I’d recommend the Fenix 5 Plus without reservation over the Suunto 9, even if you regularly run 24 hours or longer. I do, and charging the Fenix on the fly isn’t a big deal.

    • hb

      I have both the 9 and the 5X Plus and have been putting them through their paces – for what it’s worth, here’s my take …

      Context – I do 100 mile ultras, usually in the 25-30 hour range, but most runs are 5-20 miles and I do like being able to wear the watch as a daily driver from time to time. I’m doing Leadville in a few weeks and still haven’t decided which watch to wear.

      Aesthetics – purely subjective but I think the 9 is a much nicer looking watch – more streamlined, more distinctive. I also prefer the screen and the way the characters look.

      Battery life – Garmin says the 5XP can go 32 hours but I’m guessing it would be more like 28 if using continuously. The 9 can go much longer than that but at what cost of accuracy? My results in the 60 and 120 second modes haven’t been as good as DCR’s. You could charge the 9 while wearing it as long as you don’t need oHR.

      Wrist heart rate – I use heart rate functionality a lot so this is an important feature to me. So important, that I just use a strap, which also saves a little battery life. When using oHR with these watches though – I give a slight edge to the 5XP.

      Bells/whistles – 5XP all the way here. PulseOx, ClimbPro, music, Wifi, apps (although these usually always suck IMO). The Suunto has cool battery modes – that’s about it.

      Alerts for heart rate, etc – The 9 kind of sucks for this, which is a bummer. I train at MAF HR and the vibration and audio cues are practically non-existent. The Garmin is much better here.

      Bottom line – I’m leaning toward the Suunto. Plus, it’s $250 less than the Garmin.

  43. alexei

    has anyone test it on Triathlon mode? is it good? open water improved over the spartans?, i heard this would be supposed to be great in open water…any thoughts?

  44. Jonathan Burchmore

    I came across something on the Suunto App beta forum that has made living with the 9 a lot less painful. On iOS, there’s an app called RunGap which can do synchronization between Sports-Tracker and Strava/Training Peaks. I’m using it to push my workouts into Training Peaks. It can even be configured to do so automatically.

  45. Justin Bandoro

    Hi Ray,
    Is there any way to power off the device between workouts to save battery? I just got one, and can’t figure out how to do this – not interested in wearing it 24/7.
    Thanks!

    • Andrew

      Long press (around 4s) the up and down buttons simultaneously.

    • Andrew

      Sorry, it seems to boot up again unprompted a few seconds later. My mistake. It does go into a reduced power state (hibernation) if left stationary on the side long enough (just like the Ambits). The screen is blank. I am not sure what the exact battery life is in hibernation mode. It will be at least a month. As the power output is minimal compared to that used during an activity there is generally no need to switch off between activities unless they are weeks apart.

  46. Allen

    I have been using the Suunto 9 for nearly a month now. I previously had an Ambit 3 Peak which I liked a lot, and never had any problems with. I thought the increased battery life, smaller size, wrist based HR, sleep tracking, etc were worth upgrading. All these things are indeed nice improvements, however the basic functionality of GPS tracking no longer works reliably.

    This is a MAJOR issue with the new 9 which so far has not been addressed by Suunto, even after several calls to their support line, sending logs in multiple times etc. I have only used it for running/trail running so far, as well as daily wear.

    On about HALF of my runs, it seems to connect to GPS satellites before starting the run, but when I upload to Movescount (via Suunto cable hard connection to PC), there is no GPS data present, no map, etc. Strava interprets these runs as “Treadmill workouts” presumably because there is no GPS data to work with, and again there is no map in strava that shows where I was.

    This has happened on 45 min-1.5 hour runs on trails and pavement, as well as a 100 mile trail race (TRT100). While running the watch appears to be tracking distance, elevation, pace, HR, etc – and there is no indication that it is not tracking via GPS until I get home and upload the data. In the 100 mile race the watch actually measured 121 miles – so it was off by >20%, presumably because it was not using GPS data but was using the fused-whatever calculations based on accelerometer and compass data. When I uploaded to Movescount it had no map, no indication of where I had run. Strava thought I did 121 miles on a Treadmill.

    Another issue I have had was with the distance recorded being significantly short. In these cases the Suunto 9 did record GPS data, and although it was set to “performance” mode with 1 sec GPS sampling, the GPX file, FIT file etc did not record a data point for every second – instead they vary between 1 sec and up to 87 seconds apart which clearly impacts the accuracy. My Ambit 3 never did this. Suunto advised me to delete the standard “Trail Running” mode in the watch and create a new one, which did (inexplicably) seem to fix this issue, at least for now.

    The whole experience has been incredibly frustrating, I’m seriously wishing I had not sold my Ambit3 Peak to “upgrade” to the new 9. On my latest call today, the rep admitted that this is a known issue and promised they would get back to me in 1-2 days to let me know if they will be able to fix it on my watch or not. I told him I am seriously thinking about returning it and getting a Garmin instead if they are not able to fix it soon.

    In short, if you are thinking of upgrading to the Suunto 9, DON’T. There are some serious bugs they need to work out. Stick with the Ambit3 Peak or a Fenix, it is not worth the hassle.

    • Jonathan Burchmore

      Did you have the watch in Power Save mode? There’s a known issue where it will fail to record a GPS track if Power Save is enabled when you start the activity.

    • Allen

      Jonathan, that may actually be the problem! Thanks for the heads up. I’ve been using power save mode since it seems to lose 5-10% power each day in normal use even without GPS activities. Funny that none of the 3 Suunto reps I talked to mentioned that.

    • Jonathan Burchmore

      I had the same thing happen to me and found this thread on the Suunto App beta forum:

      link to forum.suunto.com

      My “lost” activity was only a 60 minute walk. I can’t imagine how pissed I’d be if I had lost a whole 100 miler.

      I’ve been experiencing the high drain in watch mode too. Unlike you, however, my watch reads consistently long, not short. Go figure.

    • Becca

      huh! I will have to check out the forum link you posted. I have been having similar issues with the Suunto 9 — re GPS coming up short – wasn’t sure if it was tree canopy or what….

  47. Matt

    Hi Ray
    With the new battery features, does the 9 not have the Best gps override of the Spartan, when using a route during an activity?

  48. Becca

    Great in-depth review! Greatly appreciated. I have been wearing the fenix 5s plus and the suunto 9 baro on the past few runs. Being on the east coast, a lot of tree canopy covered trails. Suunto 9 seems to be struggling with this, moreso than the garmin fenix 5s plus… both were off from the trail’s documented mileage. While garmin was off by about 0.2-0.6, Suunto was off by 0.6-0.9 – it was extremely disheartening. Now, I do plan to go back and ensure I am using the most accurate GPS setting re Suunto… but if this is how it performs, it’s kind of a deal breaker… I was wondering if you had anything more to say on the GPS accuracy when it comes to tree canopy coverage and performance/accuracy. I am gearing up for my first 50 miler, hence interest in suunto as I move closer and closer towards a hundred.