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Review: Suunto 9 Baro

Part 1 : New Features & Design
Part 2 : Battery Life & FusedTrack
Part 3 : Optical Heart Rate & Take-Away

The Suunto 9


The Suunto Spartan Ultra has been my go-to multisport GPS watch for almost two years now, and used to be Suunto's highest end device, their flagship model if you may. A few months ago however, Suunto announced the Suunto 9 Baro, a device that replaces the Spartan Ultra as the top tier model. For some reason, it is always quite exciting to see something get dethroned.

There are plenty of resources out there that analyse the wealth of features that the Spartan Ultra has to offer. In this review however, I will be approaching things from a slightly different angle, and will be tackling the DIFFERENCES between the old and the new flagship models, the Suunto Spartan Ultra and the Suunto 9 Baro, and hope that this write-up may help those who are considering making the upgrade.

Before we begin, here is a quick disclaimer...

Disclaimer
Both the Suunto 9 Baro and the Suunto Spartan Ultra have been provided to me by Suunto Malaysia.

I have also been testing the Suunto 9 (without a barometer) for several months now as an (unpaid) external field tester. This model has recently been announced to the world so the things that I will mention later do not violate my non-disclosure agreement.

I will also not be mentioning anything about the mobile app. Whilst I may be considered IT and tech savvy, I am a bit 'old-school' in the sense that I find the over-reliance on mobile devices to be somewhat disconcerting. I also feel that it is one of the reasons why our society is so disconnected from nature. I personally use a computer for internet access, for synchronising data with my Suunto devices, and for the analysis of my activities on movescount. A phone is just something that I carry around in case I need to contact people in an emergency.


Suunto has approached things from a slightly different angle when compared to all the other multi-sport watch brands out there. Instead of cramming the watch full of as many features as they possibly can, Suunto has decided to focus on refining and perfecting the features that they, and a vast majority of their users, deem to be the most important: prolonging the battery life for ultra runners and multi-day hikers, increasing the reliability of their devices, and honing the GPS tracking accuracy--all of which I will go through a little later.

Suunto is also trying to keep their prices low in order to make their devices more accessible to a wider range of athletes and outdoor aficionados. At first glance you may think that the prices are a little exorbitant, but there is a significant difference when you compare the current price of the Suunto 9 Baro, which is MYR2699 (USD599) to the price of the flagship model of Suunto's closest competitor, which is MYR4019 (USD850).


New Features


"Suunto 9 is a multisport GPS watch designed for athletes who demand the best from their sports watch. Intelligent battery life management system with smart reminders ensures your watch will last just as long as you need it to. The robust Suunto 9 is made for long, arduous training and racing and extreme adventures."

www.suunto.com

Aside from the aesthetic changes, the additional features of the Suunto 9 Baro are:

FusedTrack™ for improved track and distance accuracy - This is an algorithm that combines both GPS and motion sensor data such as the accelerometer, gyro and compass, in order to improve track and distance accuracy. This allows the battery life to be extended without compromising the GPS accuracy significantly.

Predefined battery modes – Three new predefined modes, 'Performance', 'Endurance', and 'Ultra', the latter of which extends the battery life to up to 120 hours with GPS tracking.

Intelligent battery technology with smart charging reminders – These provide low battery warnings that are based on your activity history, and also help to ensure that the device has sufficient charge for your next exercise or adventure.

New GPS Chipset – Switched GPS chipset providers from SirfStar to Sony.

Swappable straps – The industry standard 24mm straps are now easily changed without requiring additional tools.

Optical heart rate sensor – An optical heart rate sensor from Valencell has been added that allows continuous heart rate tracking.


The Design


The first things that most people notice are the redesigned chevrons on the cardinal points of the bezel and the introduction of the new watch face. This watch face comprises of two circular gauges that run around the external circumference of the screen, with the internal gauge indicating the remaining battery charge and the external showing the current week’s activity in hours. Both the Suunto 9 Baro and the Suunto Spartan Ultra are equipped with touchscreen sapphire crystal displays that are very responsive, although I personally do not use the touchscreen all that much.

Suunto 9 Front Face

The front face of the Suunto Spartan Ultra on the left, and the Suunto 9 Baro on the right

From the front the two devices look remarkably similar, but once you swivel them around the physical differences become more noticeable. The case is slightly different and the buttons of the Suunto 9 Baro have been sized up.

Suunto 9 Side

A closer look at the buttons and case of the Suunto Spartan Ultra on the left, and the Suunto 9 Baro on the right

On the underside of the Suunto 9 Baro lies the conspicuous optical heart rate (oHR) sensor from Valencell that is nestled into the newly designed case. Where the case and the straps meet lies a tiny discreet 'pin release' that lies flush with the strap itself. This pin is the mechanism that allows the straps to be changed out easily without additional tools.

Suunto 9 optical hear rate

The Valencell oHR sensor on the Suunto 9 Baro; the 'pin release' can be seen where the strap meets the case

One big improvement that I am very grateful for is the new lock screen. Since I accidentally ended an exercise on my Suunto Ambit way back in 2012, it has been a habit of mine to always lock the screen during an activity. One gripe that I used to have was that I was never able to scroll through the screens of the Suunto Spartan Ultra when the screen was locked. The lock screen on the Suunto 9 Baro however, fixes this.

The table below compares the dimensions and the weight of both the Suunto 9 and Spartan ranges. You can see the changes to the weight and the thickness based on the battery and the elements that have been added or removed, such as the barometer, the optical heart rate sensor, or the type of display.

DEVICE Suunto 9 Baro Suunto 9 Spartan Ultra Spartan Sport Baro Spartan Sport
DIMENSIONS 50 x 50 x 16.8 mm 50 x 50 x 16.5 mm 50 x 50 x 17 mm 50 x 50 x 17 mm 50 x 50 x 13.8 mm
WEIGHT 81 g 72 g 77 g 74 g 70 g
BEZEL Stainless steel Stainless steel Stainless steel Stainless steel Stainless steel
GLASS Sapphire crystal Mineral glass Sapphire crystal Mineral crystal Mineral crystal
CASE Glass fibre reinforced polyamide Glass fibre reinforced polyamide Polyamide Glass fibre reinforced polyamide Polyamide


Next : Battery Life & FusedTrack (Part 2)