There aren’t too many GPS watch manufacturers that cater specifically to the endurance crowd, but Suunto is one of them. Suunto’s watches are made with bomb-proof materials, with an array of features that can handle almost anything. The Suunto 9 is the latest from the company — it’s a rugged GPS sportwatch that pushes the envelope on battery life, with unrivaled GPS performance. It’s a groundbreaking watch for ultrarunners, ironman triathletes, and other endurance athletes. Why? Dive in to find out.
Rugged but comfortable design
Like most multisport GPS watches, the Suunto 9 is as big and burly as they come. It measures 50mm wide and weighs 81 grams, making it just a tad smaller than the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus. It may be large-sized, but it does not feel like a big watch when you are wearing it. Suunto carefully designed the replaceable strap and the polyamide casing so it hugs your wrist and doesn’t dig into it. With a soft, flexible silicone band, the Suunto 9 is extremely comfortable to wear.
The company tested the watch in the most extreme conditions and it shows. The stainless steel bezel resists chips and scratches, while the silicone band is thick enough that it won’t break easily. The best part of the design is the high-resolution 320 x 300 sapphire crystal display, which is bright and easy to read. It’s high resolution, which looks great and packs a wealth of information into each screen.
It’s also a touchscreen, so you can swipe between screens and tap to make selections instead of using the buttons. The touchscreen is a mixed blessing — menu navigation is simplified, but now you constantly have to wipe finger smudges off the display.
The Suunto 9 is no slouch when it comes to sports tracking. The watch supports up to 80 different activities, including yoga, sailing and everything in between. The menu is neatly organized into a shortlist of up to 20 of your favorite activities that you can add using Suunto Movescount software. You can customize these activities by adjusting what exercise data is shown on the screen, changing how the data is recorded during the exercises, and toggling features to either gather as much data as possible or dial it down to optimize battery life.
After multiple tests and trails, we found the FusedTrack works remarkably well.
To start an activity, select one from the exercise menu and wait for GPS lock which is fast and takes less than a minute to complete. Once you begin exercising, Suunto turns off the touchscreen so you must use the buttons to navigate between data screens. Similar to most multisport watches, the Suunto 9 displays distances, elevation, heart rate data, and more.
When you are done exercising, you are asked how you feel and can answer using a “smile” scale from excellent to poor. You can choose to skip this question or turn this “feeling” feature off completely. The data from your exercise is stored in a logbook on your phone so you can review it on your watch or sync it to your phone.
FusedTrack: GPS tracking without GPS
We compared the Suunto GPS tracking to a Garmin handheld GPS unit, our iPhone, and other fitness watches, and the Suunto 9 was spot on.
We tested it in the tree-lined paths of the Appalachian trail, the open ridges of the White Mountains, and the wooded mountain bike trails of Maine. Similar to the Fenix 5X Plus, the only time we encountered any issues was when we were swimming in open water.
In the example above, we swam a loop with the same start and end point, which is not reflected in the recorded track. The problem is the water. When the watch goes underwater, the GPS signal is attenuated and tracking points are not as accurate as they should be. Suunto doesn’t correct for this poor signal, so tracking is not very accurate.
The Suunto 9 expands beyond hard-core workout data and embraces the softer side of fitness tracking.
But the most exciting exercise technology in the Suunto 9 is FusedTrack, a tracking system that combines GPS with data from the compass, gyro and accelerometer. FusedTrack plays a major role in the endurance or ultra battery life profile, the latter of which provides up to 120 hours of continuous tracking. In these power-saving battery modes, GPS is dialed down so it only records a point once every minute in endurance mode, and once every two minutes in ultra mode.
To fill in these GPS gaps, Suunto uses motion sensor data to extrapolate the GPS track. It’s like getting a full GPS track without actually using GPS.
We tested the FusedTrack feature multiple times on both flat and mountainous trail runs and found that it worked surprisingly well. In a run up a local mountain trail, the track with the FusedTrack data almost mirrors the one point per second GPS track.
The distance in the FusedTrack run was off slightly (3.9 miles as compared to 4.05 miles) and the elevation profile was not as smooth, but these are minor differences. To be able to record such a good quality GPS track without using full-on GPS is a feature that is unique to the Suunto 9, and a game-changer for long distance athletes.
The Suunto 9 also ships with navigation that allows you to follow a route, locate a point of interest, and find your way back to your starting point. The watch uses a simple breadcrumb map, showing only a directional arrow pinpointing your location, a solid line for the route you are following, and a dotted line for where you already have been.
There are no topographic maps like its competitor the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus series. This breadcrumb style of navigating works well in most circumstances, but there are times when you need a more detailed map to find your way back to the trail, or figure out which way to go at a confusing trail junction.
Basic fitness and sleep tracking, smartwatch notifications
The Suunto 9 expands beyond hard-core workout data and embraces the softer side of fitness tracking. The onboard optical heart rate monitor and built-in accelerometer track your step count, calories burned, resting heart rate, and your sleep. This data is synced to the Suunto mobile app, where you can view trends over the past day, week, month and year.
Unfortunately, this data is recorded and presented in a simplified manner. The sleep section, for example, shows your resting heart rate and total amount of sleep time, but it doesn’t break down your sleep into sleep cycles or even track your movement while sleeping.
No GPS watch would be complete without smartwatch features that let you interact with your phone without removing it from your pocket. The Suunto 9 connects to your phone via Bluetooth and receives all your phone notifications including text messages, emails and incoming phone calls. When a notification arrives, it pops up on the watch face. You can scroll to view a portion of the message and then swipe back to return to the watch face.
There is no way to delete a notification or respond to it, though. You need to remove it from your phone before it will disappear from your watch. An incoming phone call is handled the same way as other notifications. You can see the caller and the number, but you cannot choose to decline or answer the call, which is disappointing. This is a small feature but a helpful one that is found on competing devices like the Fenix 5X Plus. We hope Suunto bundles it into their software in a future update.
Intelligent battery modes, charging reminders
Battery life is the winning feature for the Suunto 9. The company takes a novel approach that creates three distinct intelligent battery modes — performance, endurance, and ultra — that you can set regardless of the sport mode you are using.
The modes change a variety of settings to conserve power, including dimming the display, turning off Bluetooth, and reducing the GPS tracking frequency from once a second to once every 120 seconds. You can select a mode when you start an activity and then change it on the fly when you need that extra juice. Suunto calls it “intelligent” because the watch tracks the power level and your activity and then predicts how much time you have left on the battery.
The watch will prompt you to change battery modes when it senses the battery won’t make it through the activity. If you ignore these warnings and completely drain your battery, it will go into a chrono mode that only provides a basic timer.
The software side of the Suunto 9 is the area that needs the most improvement.
In our testing, we found the performance mode to deliver around one full day of continuous tracking; the endurance mode offers about two full days of tracking; and the ultra mode indeed extended the battery to an incredible 4.5 days of non-stop tracking. Under normal use with Bluetooth notifications, 24/7 heart-rate monitoring, and occasional trail runs, we could go almost a full week without charging.
Besides the intelligent battery modes, Suunto also added preemptive reminders that pop up on the watch when your battery is close to dropping below the critical level. These reminders are not randomly generated. The watch software keeps track of when you run and how far you run. The watch uses this information to calculate how much battery life you need for your normal run cycle. If your battery is dwindling, the watch will prompt you to charge ahead of time. We really appreciated these “Are you training tomorrow?” alerts to remind us to charge the watch. More than once this feature saved us from showing up to a training session with only a sliver of battery life.
Confusing software options
The software side of the Suunto 9 is the area that needs the most improvement. Previous Suunto watches synced to an mobile app and web-based platform called Movescount. Movescount is great for analyzing your performance, customizing the watch, and sharing data with third-party services. It doesn’t handle the lifestyle metrics like sleep, step count and all-day heart rate. Because of this limitation, Suunto decided to abandon the Movescount platform and it’s moving over to the new Suunto mobile app.
The Suunto app takes some of the performance analysis of Movescount and adds in lifestyle tracking to provide a full picture of your overall health and fitness. The Suunto app has a beautiful interface, but it is missing key features. The app syncs to Sports Tracker, an online performance analysis tool that is being developed with Suunto’s input, but there is no Strava or Training Peaks syncing. This is a huge omission that Suunto is working hard to fix, but it is not there yet as of the writing of this post. There also is no way to customize your watch using the Suunto app. That feature is only available in Movescount.
The Suunto 9 is for endurance athletes who want a watch that’ll outlast them.
The transition away from Movescount and towards the Suunto app is confusing for the user. You cannot stop using Movescount as you need that platform to customize the watch or sync to third-party services like Strava. Likewise, you cannot ignore the Suunto app if you want to track step counting, sleep tracking and other health metrics. Using the two apps together at the same time is inconvenient and, in the case of creating a route, will actually break that feature.
Suunto recommends uninstalling the Movescount app on your phone and use only the mobile Suunto app to sync to your phone. You then can sync to Movescount by connecting your watch to your computer using the USB cable and the desktop Suunto link app. We’ve been using Suunto’s recommendation, and while it’s a hassle to sync twice, it does work.
Price, availability, and warranty information
Suunto offers a limited warranty that covers defects in materials or workmanship on the device for two years from the date of purchase and one year for accessories.
Unlike other companies that eek out more battery life by shutting off essential features like GPS, Suunto manages to provide staying power without sacrificing tracking, a critical component when analyzing performance. If you want a watch that’ll go the distance, has a ton of performance options, and feels good on the wrist, then the Suunto 9 should be your top choice.
Is there a better alternative?
Fitness fanatics who want ultimate control over their performance data and don’t need the extra battery life of the Suunto 9 should consider one of the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus watches, which offer a winning combination of customization, a robust feature set, and third-party app support. We recently reviewed the flagship Fenix 5X Plus and consider it to be at the top of the class in performance and features.
If you are just starting to take your fitness seriously, you should consider starting with a less expensive watch like the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music, which has an optical heart rate monitor, onboard music, GPS and multi-sport tracking. We reviewed the non-music Vivoactive 3 and found it to be an excellent device for those who want more than a fitness band, but don’t need all the extra features and more expensive price tag of the Fenix and Suunto watches.
How long will it last?
Like its predecessors, the Suunto 9 has a rugged design that’ll provide a solid 4 to 5 years of fitness tracking. You likely will upgrade your watch by then because you want something more flashy and not because the watch has broken. Suunto also tends to support its legacy devices, regularly rolling out updates that add new features and improve existing ones.
Should you buy it?
The Suunto 9 is for endurance athletes who want a watch that’ll outlast them. The battery life and tracking alone make it worth its weight in gold for folks who enjoy running or cycling for hours on end.