It’s not an easy task to say something new about a watch that was premiered a few months ago and has been reviewed by hundreds of people, tested in every possible aspect and analyzed in almost every possible detail. I believe though that there are still some important things that have not been really pointed out. When you focus on one thing you might miss another one that may even be more important in normal everyday use. What made it all even more difficult is the fact that this is at the same time a completely new watch and the same old watch.
What’s new then? The 9 Peak – it’s case – is about 30% thinner and 30% smaller in diameter than 9 Baro. Do some quick math and it turns out that the space inside its case roughly half of the space inside 9 Baro case. You could squeeze two of those in the old model case. If any smartphone brand would have designed a new model, half the sizer of the previous one, you would read everywhere headlines about a revolutionary product, changing rules of the game, breakthrough technology and so on. Well, Suunto did just that. And they don’t seem to brag about it too much. There’s more “new” in it. A new GPS module, a new heartrate sensor, an O2 sensor added (though it’s not as useful yet as you might expect, in short – you have to be still to do the measurement, but they claim it will change with future software upgrades). Even assuming there’s been much technological progress in 3 years since the first Suunto 9 premiered – designing the 9 Peak must have been a challenge. They basically had to make it al most from scratch.
And why old? Functionally – there’s not much difference. For most users almost nothing changes. A few details in the menu (some of which with new firmware update are available in the 9 and 9 Baro) and that’s about it. It’s pretty much the same old Suunto 9.
First impression almost everyone has is quite predictable. It’s really light and really small. All previous top models from Suunto were – as I see it – meant to be somewhat intimidating. “I’m a big serious watch” – they shouted. This one looks and feels almost like a toy and this is very misleading. There’s no point in reading all the detailed specifications – this is certainly the most advanced sports watch Suunto has ever made. It’s not perfect though.
Probably the main feature you would associate with a sports watch is GPS accuracy. There’s some misunderstanding in the very term – sports watch GPS accuracy, and I will explain it in details in a separate video – let’s just say it’s not just the GPS signal that the watch uses to determine your location – there’s a lot more going on. The watch gets the initial fix pretty quick, usually within a few seconds. You get four modes – Performance, Endurance, Ultra and Tour. Each checking GPS data in different time intervals. In Performance mode the watch does it every second and this results in very accurate line. Endurance – every minute and Ultra every two minutes. These two, to fill the space between GPS signal readings use Suunto’s FusedTrack technology which is simply combining data from all other sensors (accelerometer, compass and altimeter) to calculate your speed and direction. The last mode, Tour, that’s supposed to give you 170 hours of recorded training time – more than a week non-stop! – checks your position once every 60 minutes and does not use FusedTrack to save battery, so it will basically draw a straight line from one point to another. It’s rather something like a GPS tracker you would use on polar expeditions. Not really useful for running or biking even when you cover ultra long distances.
The Performance mode will cover most of your needs though. Full battery will give you 27 hours of training time. To put it into real life example – running a half marathon distance in just under two hours I used up only 8% of battery. Quite impressive.
The other thing about the battery is even more impressive. Suunto says it charges from 0 to full in one hour. Not really accurate, since the number I got was 1h6m. Wait before you judge them though. The watch charged to 99% in… 47 minutes. It gets even better than that. Since charging speed decreases slightly, the battery charges much faster in the beginning. You will get first 10% in 3’30”, 20% in 7’, and 50% in only 19 minutes. This is crazy fast. Back to the halfmarathon example – you need less than 3 minutes of charging to run the distance. Even in summer it takes me longer to dress up and lace my shoes. How cool is that! The “empty battery anxiety” is gone. I have genuinely stopped checking battery level on this watch. Some time ago I was able to record (and save!) a 50 minute run having only 3% battery left when I started. And it was still running with 0% on the screen… I’m really surprised they did not advertise this more. It is a total dealbreaker, for me at least.
The case is smaller so the screen is smaller. Just like in many other Suunto watches the black “bezel” around the screen takes up more space than the screen itself. Does not look best but you get used to it pretty quickly, especially if you’ve owned another Suunto watch before. It may seem the screen is very small then but actually I feel it’s not. Even with all the possible stats you may have on screen in your customized sport mode everything is perfectly readable. Smaller screen means less pixels (60% of what you get in 9 Baro screen) which possibly plays some role in energy saving.
I see two small screen related “problems” though.
First one is „Raise to Wake”. It works 20, maybe 30% of the time. Even if it was the other way round, I would still be not happy. And it’s not a matter of settings or calibration.. Sometimes it turns the backlight when I lower my wrist, not when I raise it…. I may always force turn it on shaking my wrist but… come on, it’s not the way it’s supposed to work. It’s not a big issue during the day but in the evening or at night it’s quite frustrating. I ultimately turned it off and I’m using a button to turn the backlight on. Pretty much every other sports watch or smartwatch gets it right. Every time. So it’s not some avant-garde technology.
The second issue – and it’s not an issue in terms of buggy software, it’s rather a design flaw for me – is about the touch screen. While it is very convenient to use it to navigate through the menu, even if it is much less precise and responsive than touchscreen of any phone – you don’t get to use it all the time. It’s basically turned off in training mode, so you cannot switch screens just swiping. You need to use a button. If one of your screens is music control, you can change/pause your music track with touchscreen but to change the screen you have to the button again. Even if you don’t use music control, not being able to swipe left and right in training mode is quite disappointing. And… you can cycle through training screen only one way. I know it’s a typical “first world” problem but I’m sorry, it’s just not logical for me and frankly, I see no rational reason why it’s been designed this way. Strangely – or not – if you use “Custom” training mode, you can switch touchscreen on in workout mode. You would have to configure it separately for every single activity. Sure, most of us use but a few, but still – why they could not include this switch in every training mode?
The whole user interface is the same as it used to be. The menu looks the same, same icons, same colors, same font, same functions for all buttons – if that’s not your first Suunto you will feel instantly at home. What I don’t like is that it’s as laggy as it was. Just like my old Spartan Trainer. I would expect some progress in this regard from a top model. The buttons are great though. You get a nice click, the “resistance” is perfectly right – this cannot get any better. But there’s a small issue with this as well. You can easily press the button, getting the click, feeling you “did” press it and nothing happens. And you really don’t have to try very hard to do it. You have to learn to press it the right way… Another first world problem but sometimes frustrating. Especially when during a run you suddenly discover you failed to unpause a few kilometeres earlier. I’m used to pressing pause/resume button without even looking at it and it did happen to me.
To say the list of available sports is extensive is an uderstatement. And you can customize them a lot. Running is possibly though the most commonly chosen activity among sportwatch users by far so it’s no surprise that they have added some new features with running in mind.
They are a little short of perfection though.
“Snap to Route” automatically corrects your location if you get slightly off your predefined route. It works great, you get a perfect, clean line. In reality it’s useful for running events like marathons only, when you actually know your exact route beforehand and can upload it to your watch. Sure, you can create a GPX file before every run, you can then stick to it not allowing any freedom based on how you feel that day, what’s the weather like etc. Well, you can…. You can also use a previous run – but you will be “repeating” all errors that were recorded. How it really should work is “snapping” to a road, track, path, whatever – that is on Google Maps, or OSM, or any other online mapping service. This would require internet connection though and it’s definitely not a “cosmetic” change in software.
The other feature is “Ghost Runner” and it’s flaws could actually easily be easily fixed with a software update. It’s your virtual pacemaker, and the watch shows you how far behind or ahead you are with the “Ghost Runner” running at a steady pace. The way you set this pace though is what I don’t like. It simply uses your first kilometer pace. When you’re doing a flat run – it’s not a big problem, unless you’re running a long run and expect to change your pace in the process. If you start uphill – like I do most of my runs – it’s almost unusable. Setting it manually would be the best way and I seriously hope someone at Suunto comes to the same conclusion soon.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a great device. There are some terrific features but there are some issues I could not have ignored and it’s simply easier to point these out than talk for hours about every single thing they did right. And – hopefully – most of the issues will be fixed in a future software update. By the way, this is done without having to plug the watch into a computer. On the flip side, you cannot really opt not to go with the upgrade nor can you roll back to previous one if the new one is buggy. I’m saying that because it has happened before with Suunto that a software upgrade fixed some issues but also introduced new ones.
I don’t mind it doesn’t have most of smartwatch features. You cannot send a text, you cannot answer a call (you actually sort of can, but it’s completely useless), you cannot control your camera, you cannot browse photos, check the news, the weather or currency rates. There’s no third party apps either. And that’s all perfectly fine with me. It’s not a smartwatch. It was never supposed to be.
Suunto 7 is more of a smartwatch if you need one.
What I cannot fully understand is why they made this watch at all. It’s like they felt forced to do it. The model before this one was released a long time ago and they needed to do something to show they are alive, but – it is not a gamechanger. If not for the fast charging – it would not even feel like major improvement. On the other hand, to be completely frank – there’s not much more you would REALLY need from a sportwatch. I know competition has this or that feature that Suunto has not but … do I REALLY wish it had any of them. I don’t. Yes, there’s plenty of things I thought were completely unnecessary until I actually started using them – now I think they are essential. But I know many people, very experienced athletes, using sports watches that some would rather believe belong in a museum – and they don’t even think about replacing them. After all, even the best watch will not make you go faster or further.
The bottom line is – you cannot go wrong with this one. Sure, it’s not perfect, but for now, I don’t see any real reason to replace it anytime soon because it’s actually too much of a watch for my needs anyway.