We were disappointed with the Suunto Spartan Ultra, it came out too early; a product that suffered from unfinished development with too many bugs. We even published a test review with no holds barred (https://www.test4outside.com/en/produit/suunto-spartan-ultra/).Since, to be honest, through all their updates Suunto has largely corrected the crash and burn, and the watch now runs smoothly. Subsequently we were very excited about testing the Suunto S9 Baro.
This watch is undeniably a very beautiful object with a successful design, the combination between a classic touch and sportiness. You still have the imposing size of a Suunto Spartan Ultra and the weight on the scales is almost identical: 80g for the S9 Baro and 77g for the Spartan Ultra (without the cardio belt). Both aesthetically and also when you delve into the menus, you have the feeling that you’re wearing a version of the Spartan. The difference is happening on the inside, this is what we will define throughout this field test.
DIFFERENT LEVELS OF PERFORMANCE
It is very difficult to test this kind of product because, beyond the complexity of the various menus and multiple customizations, we must consider the entire public spectrum that are targeted by Suunto. The expert or regular athlete doesn’t like the step counter, daily calorie count or the daily heart rate… all these data are considered as gadgets that are not used for any performance analysis. On the other hand, some people, expect that these should be an integral part of a watch that costs nearly 600 euros. It’s out of the question that this info should be absent when the slightest connected bracelet provides them. It is also fashionable as Apple with its Watch provides it. In order to judge the Suunto 9 Baro, we must look at different cases. Each sports person will find what he/she needs for his/her sport or level.
Suunto made some choices, mixing quite sophisticated functions with basic information. The menus are clear, well prioritized and when you have managed the little gymnastics concerning the three buttons and the touch screen, just complete the skills by learning more you just tap the screen once to bring up another page. So with this idea, we tried finding the recovery time after several training sessions. Press three times on the bottom button, a tap on the screen and this data appears. It’s simple… when you know how to use it. The online instruction booklet or downloadable pdf is pretty basic.
The purpose of this test is not to re-transcribe the Suunto 9 Baro’s specifications that are found on the brand’s site, which have been widely used on multiple blogs. What interests us is its effectiveness in use, especially in training and for outdoor practices in general.
INTELLIGENT BATTERY MANAGEMENT
The big improvement concerns the battery management and the new energy-saving Sony GPS chip compared to the one in a Suunto Spartan. It’s the same battery as the Spartan Sport (smaller than the Spartan Ultra) and yet, thanks to this new chip, the energy consumption management has been greatly optimized.
Suunto announces a 25-hour autonomy in Performance mode and 120-hours in Ultra. Therefore on each exercise you can choose the mode type to adjust the GPS strength (and therefore the duration of the battery). During the exercise the watch indicates the level of battery charge and warns you if it needs charging. By the way, the charging icon is on the second screen, just click once on the middle button.
Despite this technology, we had the impression that the Suunto 9 Baro needed charging often, a little too often… Searching a bit, asking the company, we were given the following explanation: that if the daily heart rate is activated, the energy consumption increases … decreasing its autonomy, CQFD. The LEDs used for measuring the HR are energy-consuming. So, our advice: you need to zap and disable this function if you want to optimize the durability of the watch. Another advantage to this manipulation, we cut the beam of green light that emanates from below the watch, which is a bit of a pain in the middle of the night when the watch is placed on the bedside table, or in the cinema when a green glow sneaks out from your wrist…
But back to the performance of the battery. In action, and especially over long distances, the gain is (very) appreciable. You are certain to record your exercise and/or be able to use the watch for orientation.
In terms of GPS accuracy, and therefore tracking accuracy (which results in the measured distance), you must fine-tune it according to the sport. In running and trail running, the FusedTrack algorithm, which combines GPS and motion sensor data, is automatically activated. It gives precise tracking. Cycling, it’s different, especially compared to the Spartan, which is more precise because it takes more GPS captures. To be clearer: the Suunto 9 only exploits the FusedTrack data in trail and running “Endurance” or “Ultra” modes. The FusedTrack uses wrist movements and the compass to reconstruct the track between two GPS points, which is not possible whilst cycling.
So, in cycling, the Suunto 9 in Endurance mode takes a GPS reading every minute (1 reading per second on the Spartan). In “Ultra” mode, the Suunto 9’s GPS picks up every two minutes in comparison with one shot per minute on the Spartan. In the end, the bicycle tracking of the Suunto 9 is generally a little less precise than the Spartan’s.
You can zip between three GPS accuracy modes (and therefore the battery durability). In order: “Performance” for maximum quality, “Endurance” for extended life and “Ultra” for maximum autonomy. In “Endurance” mode the GPS reading is done every minute, in “Ultra”, every two minutes.
When we look at trail running and road running tracking, frankly, the accuracy is very good, we did not notice any distortions.
TRIATHLON, SWIM & SWIM-RUN
The Suunto 9 Baro, like Spartan, is also aimed at triathletes and swim-runners. The two exercises entitled “Swimming in the Pool” and “Swimming in Open Water” are therefore very popular programs. For the first one, the GPS is not active because you swim inside and the measurements are done via wrist movements. This explains why, unfortunately, all the training that includes kicking with a board in your hand (the one that isn’t wearing the watch for example!) are not counted in the session’s total. Contrary to open-water swimming, the GPS is active. It is recommended to synchronize with the Suunto App before your session, in order to capture the satellites as accurately as possible. In both cases, indoor and outdoor, the Suunto 9 Baro’s performances are good, all swim strokes are taken into account, we have access to Swolf, the pace…
Despite its weight you don’t notice the watch. When swimming in a wetsuit, depending on the equipment used, it is not easy to slide the watch under the neoprene, but generally, triathlon suit sleeves tend to be much shorter and stop above the wrist. Be careful during transitions, not to snag soft neoprene (and very thin in this area) with the buttons of the watch when you leave the wetsuit in a manner. These buttons don’t have that little “friction” that we noted on the Spartan, when you operated them. It’s now fluid.
Another detail, the watch strap. On the Spartan, the surplus strap was not blocked despite the two loops. After swimming a few lengths, it detached. This is no longer the case on the Suunto 9 Baro. The brand has designed a notched watch strap and the loops are anti-slip.
As you have seen, the wrist heart rate does not work when swimming. If you want to have access to this data, you have to pair the watch with a belt like the Suunto Smart Sensor or any Bluetooth model.
The Suunto brand whose Scandinavian headquarters is in Finland, is inevitably aware of the development of swim-run, yet the watch does not offer a dedicated program.
The day when watches’ optical sensors (all brands) will be both reliable and accurate, we will have made a great leap forward. We thought we had got rid of cardio belts. For the time being, the measurements they give are only mere indications because they are too prone to variations. This is also the case in the Suunto 9 Baro. The announced figures are whimsical in the worst cases and in the best case, close to reality with a percentage of error (plus and minus) of 20%. For example the watch sensors don’t like: the hand vibrations on the bike, cold (limited blood flow), water (ineffective in swimming) body hair, certain skin colors do not help either to the collecting information via the LEDS. A green light is sent into the dermis where there is an influx of blood. The blood reflects this light captured by the optical sensor that will analyze it and determine the HR.
In use, the Suunto 9 Baro displays erratic data during the first moments out training. Then they stabilize and near those of a cardio belt (we did the test). If the watch gives global information, especially when it makes averages, on instantaneous measurements the data are not useful for a training. They just give you an idea.
TRAINING AND POI…
The Suunto 9 Baro is aimed at athletes whose training dimension is paramount. On the Spartan, you could plan your training. This feature disappeared on the Suunto 9 Baro if you use the Suunto application (Movescount can plan your workouts). For sessions defined or not by a coach (the relationship Suunto / Trainingpeaks is fluid), there is the obligatory split format. Pyramid intervals are not provided in the configuration. For other splits, they are set-up on the watch but not on the Suunto application (to be transferred to the watch).
The other thing lacking concerns the POIs (Points of Interest), important guidance information that you want to add or achieve. You cannot program a POI on the watch. For example, if outside and you want to enter a point and the head for it, you can’t. On the Spartan, you can enter a POI by hand directly on the watch.
When you want to trace a route and use it on the watch, you have to go through the Suunto application. The plot is in segments and you can’t enter comments on POIs. Too bad because in the mountains, on ultras, some points entered in advance can be valuable. The circus: go through Movescount (which will disappear in a year).
For the rest, the watch offers classic and effective services: GPS accuracy, trackback, altimeter (barometric and GPS), storm warning, sunrise and sunset, barometer, digital compass.
MOVESCOUNT VS SUUNTO APP ?
Suunto is currently using both Movescount and the (almost) new Suunto application. For people migrating from a Spartan for example to a Suunto 9 Baro, you must choose either one or the other. Movescount should be disappearing within a year, so, the choice is obvious. The two services are not linked, so we don’t find Movescount moves on the Suunto Application. If you want to recover them and read them on the application, you have to go to the Sportrackers website and create an account. You must then link the Movescount account to Sportracker. Twelve hours later, you have to install the Suunto App and log in to the Sportracker account: the Movescount history is now available.
For info: for users who have wiped off the bug that causes crashes on his smart phone if you load Movescount and Suunto app: it has been changed on the current update.
The Finnish brand has chosen to no longer use desktop (except to use Movescount soon to disappear), since the application does not have a computer version, so everything goes through your phone.
If drawing a route is relatively easy on the application, it isn’t the same comfort as doing it on a larger screen. For the moment, and while waiting for the removal of Movescount, use the latter (or Openrunner for example) on your computer, record the gpx file, then transfer it on your smart phone via Airdrop for those who use the Apple IOS. You must then agree to open the file via the Suunto application. When will there be a reading and your moves programmed on a computer screen?
We really appreciated the way that all watch synchronizations are done without any problems. The info is quickly passed from watch to smart phone and vice versa. All connections with third-party devices such as power sensors are also a kids game.
While we did note some weakness with the Spartan during vibrations, particularly moving, the Suunto 9 Baro corrected this hiccup. The vibrations you have directly on the wrist when receiving info are more powerful and do not go unnoticed. The ideal would be to be able to adjust the intensity yourself.
Lastly, it’s common for watches to be connected and receiving notifications from your smartphone is very practical, especially when you’re skiing: it avoids taking your gloves off, taking out your phone from your pocket or losing it on the chairlift! You just take a look at your wrist.
The Suunto 9 Baro is a solid watch with excellent battery management. This beautiful performance object offers interesting versatility for outdoor sports, whether you are trail runners, triathletes or cyclists. There are still a few things to improve in the “training” and “orientation” sections for it to be picture-perfect.
We used this equipment over a long period of time
These are our thoughts after intensive use:
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