This is the tech gear I have both been looking forward to and dreading at the same time. The time has come and the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium gets the honour of being my first ever smart watch.
Let me preface this review with this. I have not worn a watch regularly since 2011, when I had to have on-going treatment for De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, more commonly known as Mothers thumb or Mommy Thumb. I found that the constriction and weight of wearing a watch made the condition significantly worse. Well my babies are no longer small enough for me to cradle in my arms, and as much as I love my Breitling I have never fallen back in the habit of wearing a watch.
Still it was tough to turn down the offer to review the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium, the newest premium variant to their very successful lines of sports smart watches. So here I am, throwing all caution to the winds and strapping it on for the ride.
When I look at watches my first thought is always, is it going to be too big to sit on my wrist? I am kind of cursed with a skinny frame and even the dreaded middle age spread has not gone to my arms. My partner thinks the Suunto 9 is big, but she is used to having a Fitbit Versa 3 herself. It does fit on my wrist so it did not look ridiculous.
My review unit is in Granite Blue, which is a subtle colouring that exudes a sophistication over more standard colour offerings in the market. A thin orange ring around dial face makes a statement without screaming “look at me!” The Nylon textile wrist straps matches the main watch body, with a double loop to keep the loose end under control.
The Suunto 9 has a touch screen and 3 buttons all on the right side, and that is all you need to navigate through displays and features.
Like any smart watches, it comes with its own USB charging cable and a proprietary magnetic connector.
Putting the Suunto on charge first, the magnetic dock on the cable is unidirectional with two guide rails to ensure the correct orientation and position. If you do try to reverse it, the magnet will not latch on. The magnet has some serious force, I found that out after letting it latch onto the Ikea metal trolley I have near the USB point. More than once. I’m a recidivist, what can I say?
Getting start is pretty simple, if you know yourself well.
You wake the watch up using the top button and follow the wizard, which takes you through:
- Language selection – pick something you can read fluently in naturally
- Define profile – this is all about you, gender, birth year, unit system, weight, height.
- Time Date – clock format, time zone
- Then you need to wander outside and let the Suunto 9 find a GPS signal
Getting familiar with the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium
Suunto 9 has a touch screen and three buttons you can use to navigate through displays and features. These covers every action you can do on the unit and will take some time to learn and gain muscle memory.
The full function of each action is listed at the end of the review, but the short version is:
- screen has swipe and tap: swipe up, down, left, right; tap, tap and hold, double-tap
- upper button: press to move up
- middle button: press, press and hold
For various reasons I have not played sports regularly since Master L was born. Before that my weekly “friendly” badminton competitions was keeping me in reasonable shape with a solid 3 to 4 hours of cardio intensive exercise. The past eleven years have largely been chasing kids, running around supporting kids team sports, the swim lessons and occasionally racing my niece Moo in the pool back when I could still beat her. Now that Moo swims for state trials she is on her own, over and out for me.
So the moment I was dreading was finding out my resting heartrate after being mostly sedentary for so long. While it was not quite as bad as I thought (hey running after kids is hard exercise), and taking into account the high stress environment I operate in, it was hardly surprising. What it did for me though is to bring to my attention the need to start taking action to improve my health.
The first rule of smart watch is to wear the smart watch. There is no telemetry gathering when it is not being used. It is taking me a while to get back into the habit and after a few days I was starting to get symptoms of De Quervain’s tenosynovitis again. It does make for interesting trends in the app when there are periods of zero data.
The second rule is to manage your notifications. I have not quite realise just how often I get a notification on my phone. When it is on the table I can glance at the screen to see what is popping up. When it is in my pocket I tend to miss it completely anyway. But with the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium on my wrist and open season with notifications, it was absolutely going bananas and driving Lady A insane. In the interest of self preservation, I quickly went through the app and turned off most of the notifications. Not going to lie it took me a few goes to finetune the notification to an acceptable level, which was pretty much everything except calls and school specific apps. The beauty of this is that I am only getting nudges for the key things I need, and my instances of missing call notifications have dropped noticeably.
To keep track of your training activities does require input – that is, select your sports mode. By default there are over 70 different sports profile such as walk, run, bike, swim, open water swim etc for example. The profiles are designed so that the most relevant statistic is displayed during the exercise along with a map if you are outdoors. And if that is not enough for you, you can created your own customised sports profile via the Suunto app. Perfect if you have your own set of sports routine.
Since I rarely plan any formal exercise (I know, I know), I tend to forget to set the mode on the Suunto. At kids soccer training I do a lot of running around and join in the games so the kids have match practice. The Suunto monitors what is going on but it is totally my fault for not using it to keep track of activities better. Regardless in conjunction with the smartphone app, the Suunto gives an insight into your general health and routine each day.
Looking at my daily scorecard is like looking into the abyss. A summary page for each day displays key metrics such as:
- Actual duration of sleep (vs targeted sleep)
- Resources on wake-up, how much body resource you have on wake, and how much you gained from sleep
- Average and minimum heart beats per minute
- Awake duration
- Deep REM sleep duration
- Quality of sleep in percentage
Daily activity over 24 hour period
- Active, inactive, stressed, recovering
- Heart rate
- Calories burned
As you can see the Suunto thinks I am losing fitness. My wake up resource is pretty average and my sleep deficit would make the Victorian economy look booming. On the bright side it mostly confirms what I always tell people, I sleep like the dead with very little interruptions. Also it seems on average I spend as much active time as I do in stress time. Ahh … life is good.
Scrolling across the tabs you can get more details of:
- calories burned
The Suunto measures your progress using a Training Stress Score (TSS), to quantify the training stress of a workout. This is used to chart your training load from either losing fitness (puts my hand up), maintaining fitness, productive trainig and going too hard. Whilst it is not the same was a formal assessment in person by the Australian Institute of Sport or a qualified personal trainer, the Suunto’s TSS chart will guide you and flag if you are overdoing training to the point of detriment to your body.
The face of the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium is a sapphire crystal protecting the 320×300 resolution touchscreen. Like any watch I wear it gets bumped around and knocked into things, this one is still pristine without a scratch after almost two months.
The straps are a standard 24mm with quick release pins. This makes it a snap to swap straps and opens up the opportunity to customise with third party strap design to your heart’s content. I actually don’t mind the stock standard strap, it is robust and suited for the job.
There has been regular updates for the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium since I first got it. Updates are delivered via the Suuntolink software on either Mac or PC over USB. There has been three updates since I started received the review unit in late April 2021. The update is painless, requiring only a sync with the app first for data backup before the Suuntolink takes care of everything.
Via the Suunto app, you can sharing your exercise scorecard publicly, which can be inspiring others or gain inspiration for yourself. Be mindful of this feature as it will display your route as I can see residential start and finish points.
This brings me to the next point – GPS accuracy. My testing of this feature shows good accuracy, good enough to pinpoint where I started my circuit. This is the same with publicly shared achievements.
The Suunto 9 have four modes to manage battery life. The official data states:
Performance Mode – up to 25 hours
Endurance Mode – up to 50 hours
Ultra Mode – up to 120 hours
Tour Mode – up to 170 hours
So far in my use case, I am getting by most of a week without needed a recharge. An alert pops up when the battery is down to 20%, and charging does not take a significantly long time. I did not actually measure the time it took to charge, but it was easily done in the 2ish hours between dinner, fruit and bath for Princess A.
I would like to have more granular control rather than app-wide, but this is a limitation of WearOS rather than a fault in Suunto’s implementation. For example I would like to have favourited contacts to be given exemption from a blanket app wide no notification.
The Suunto 9 Baro Titanium has a reflective screen and fairly dim backlight. In the weaker Melbourne winter sun it is just on marginal for reading, made a little more difficult with the screen being a fingerprint magnet.
The screen brightness can be an issue.
Not so much a gripe but a heads up, it is possible to not connect the charger properly despite the correct orientation. You need to feel or hear the click as the guide rails locks into place.
There is no media player support which personally I don’t mind, others may.
The lack of NFC support is a little more disappointing but I will live.
There is no option to customise the notification tone. It sounds like my dishwasher and makes Lady A wonder.
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to utilise a smart watch. The insights gained from the daily scorecard can be a stepping stone to a healthier life in general. People discount how much calories burn and steps taken when you potter around doing routine things. I used to get off the bus a stop or two earlier to get in some extra walking which is easy enough if you are taking public transport and not in a COVID lockdown.
The combination of features and battery life of the Suunto 9 is gear towards a more fitness orientated person than myself, particularly at the price point of $799. The Suunto 9 Baro Titanium is their top of the line offering and there are cheaper models that be a better fit. Regardless my experience with the Suunto and the on-going updates demonstrates a commitment to the product for refinements, improvements and new features. The Suunto website is chock full of tips and FAQ.
There is currently a end of financial year sale on right now on the Suunto website although stock seems to be limited. The Suunto 9 Baro Titanium is also available from Harvey Norman, MacPac and other outdoor sports retailers, as well as Amazon.
DRN would like to thank Suunto for providing the review unit. It is now up to me to take onboard the metrics and get fit!
Measurements: 51.5 x 51.5 x 17 mm (2.03 x 2.03 x 0.67″)
Weight: 76g (2.68 oz )
Bezel material: Titanium Grade 5
Glass material: Sapphire crystal
Case material: Glass fibre reinforced polyamide
Strap material: Silicone
Swipe and tap
- swipe up or down to move in displays and menus
- swipe right and left to backwards and forwards in displays
- swipe left or right to see additional displays and details
- tap to select an item
- tap the display to view alternate information
- tap and hold to open in-context options menu
- double-tap to return to time display from other displays
- press to move up in views and menus
- press to select an item
- press to change displays
- keep pressed to got back in settings menu
- keep pressed to open in-context options menu
- press to move down in views and menus
While recording an exercise
- press to pause or resume recording
- keep pressed to change activity
- press to change displays
- keep pressed to open in-context options menu
- press to mark a lap