Suunto 9 Peak Pro Wrist Watch
Before we get ahead of ourselves, I should let you know what you are in for here. This review focuses on the Suunto 9 Peak Pro's compatibility with my lifestyle as an active mountain goer on the North Shore. It is not a detailed examination of every available feature, and it deliberately excludes analysis of the watch's running performance, as I only run to catch the bus. My routine primarily involves mountain biking, hiking, weight training, and commuting/gravel riding. Watch features that are important to me include heart rate and GPS accuracy (with a particular emphasis on distance and elevation gain), sleep data analysis, and an intuitive and enjoyable user experience. Newly added to this list is a watch that doesn't cause bleeding.
Design & UX
The Suunto 9 Peak Pro is a multisport watch with a 43mm diameter, stainless steel bezel and a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. When picking up the watch, it has a nice weight to it, not that it's heavy at 64g, but it feels well built and durable. At first glance, this watch is very beautifully designed. It has a minimalist look with three buttons on the right side of the case and a fairly large bezel that is not noticeable until the display light is on. There are many reviews that mention this as a downside but it didn't bother me at all.
To move through the menus, you can either use the touch screen or the three hard buttons on the left side of the watch which respectively perform up, down and select navigation. To navigate back to the previous page, you have to hold down the middle button. I find myself using the buttons to navigate while I am doing an activity and only use the touch screen when I am at home or work. I personally find the buttons easier to use and the click is crisp and satisfying. Setting up the watch was simple and I find it straight forward to change settings after realizing which ones are controlled from the watch vs from the app.
The battery life is insanely impressive. I’ve easily gone two weeks without charging it while having a medium background light setting. In addition, it is fast charge enabled so charging for 5 minutes will give you multiple hours of battery use. I never thought I would care that much about battery life but it has been exceptionally convenient. If only our phones would last that long. The charger could have a better designed as the watch often doesn't sit perfectly on the charger and fails to connect.
I’m not going to sugar coat things, it was a rough start with the 9 Peak Pro. The challenging part was getting the watch comfortable enough so I didn't have to stop during a descent or rage quit and throw the watch in my bag. Breaking it in required many frustrating adjustments and blood was shed. In order for the watch not to vibrate and rub to a point of causing some broken skin, it needs to sit high on my wrist and be strapped extra tight. I'll note that this particular rubbing occurs only when mountain biking. I didn't experience it when gravel riding or hiking.
We did reach out to Suunto about this issue and they recommended either wearing the watch higher on the wrist where there is ”more meat and less bone” or alternatively, to try a different strap. Wearing the watch higher did the trick for the most part, at the expense of having it sit in a les natural position. Regardless, I have made it work with the help of some callused skin and my stubborn personality. I have doubts that a typical consumer would be as persistent and willing to endure the discomfort after paying out of pocket for this.
There is something off with the design in order for it to feel comfortable when mountain biking on technical terrain. If you are curious about this watch for running, I think it would be fine, but I would still suggest a trial before committing.
I started out by wearing the watch at night as I was interested in analyzing my heart rate data and investigating some terrible sleep patterns. I was disappointed after realizing the watch doesn’t pick up on my sleep patterns as accurately as I would have liked. The watch lets you set up general sleep tracking, however after monitoring the data in the app, I realized it doesn’t actually pick up on when you fall asleep and then physically get up in the morning.
An hour after waking up and starting my morning, I would acknowledge the watch and a “Good Morning” message pops up on the screen. Wow! I slept a whopping 10 hours on a Tuesday night and should be feeling tip top. In reality, I feel like a sack of potato’s after rolling around in bed for two hours trying to fall asleep and getting up to pee at 4am, both of which the watch did not register. Disappointed, I stopped wearing the watch at night and opted instead to gauge my sleep quality based on morning heart rate readings and the classic method of subjectively rating my energy levels on a scale from 1 to 10.
I quite enjoy the watch once it is in activity mode. The customization is endless for screen preferences on all your favourite activities. This setting can be customized through the app while your watch is connected by selecting sport mode customization. I have different settings for hiking, gravel biking and mountain biking. Before and during an activity you can easily enable various features like low power mode and breadcrumb navigation. You can also easily design interval workouts through the app and sync them to the watch.
There is an impressive 95 pre installed activity modes ready to test on the watch. Not that I will be "mermaiding" anytime soon but perhaps a nice to have for some.
Compared to the previous model, the 9 Peak Pro claims increased GPS accuracy because it allows 4 concurrent systems and 32 satellites at once. Additionally, it has a new all-systems GNSS chipset (not multiband). I found the GPS accuracy very good when testing it in open remote alpine settings as well as rainy mountain conditions where cloud coverage is thick. I have yet to see any weird glitches in GPS data.
There was nothing unusual to report on distance and elevation data from the Suunto 9 peak pro. Activity data gave very similar readings to my Garmin edge 520 and Strava when recorded through my phone.
Heart Rate Accuracy
Using an optical heart rate measurement is fine, until it's not. Everything seems accurate until you actually pay attention to the data you're provided. I noticed the discrepancies the most during weight lifting. After finishing a set, I would check my wrist and only after I stopped moving would my heart rate start to climb, leaving me to believe it wasn't registering my heart rate while actually performing the activity.
Optical heart rate accuracies can be affected by many things including where it is placed on your skin, how much hair you have, how much you sweat, arm movements, flexing, skin pigmentation or tattoos. In other words, there is a lot of room for error. In the product and safety regulatory information booklet, Suunto recommends wearing a compatible chest heart rate sensor for higher accuracy and quicker responses to changes in hear rate.
Throwing on a chest strap is certainly more accurate and is quicker at picking up variations in heart rate. Testing this on a gravel ride, I had my chest strap connected to my Garmin 520 for comparison and the chest strap was always much quicker to respond to an increase or decrease in heart rate compared to the optical heart rate on the 9 Peak Pro. This isn't unique to Suunto's product, but rather for all optical heart rate monitors.
Navigating and analyzing data in the Suunto app is easy and visually pleasing due to the colour coding of activities. The home page gives you a general overview of your training progress with customizable widgets so you can see the data most important to you. Opening the calendar gives you a visual representation of your activities with varying sized bubbles that are colour coded to specific activities. Weekly, monthly or annual data can be easily analyzed. Opening up an activity will allow you to go into depth on specific features unique to that activity. You can also connect the app to Strava so your activities upload automatically. The only downside is there is no way to access your data through the web; it's only accessible through the app.
Migrating to the training zone displays a graph of your overall training progress that shows your fitness and fatigue levels. Fitness (Chronic Training Load) describes your long-term training load and gives you an overall trend of your fitness. Fatigue (Acute Training Load) describes your short-term training loads and shows how hard your recent workouts have been. So if you increase your training compared to usual, your fatigue will increase faster than your fitness. Additionally, you get a graph showing your Training Stress Score (TSS). Every activity gets a TSS score that is based on the intensity and duration of the activity. Throw it all together and you are given a graph that shows whether you are losing, maintaining or gaining fitness and a fourth category for overdoing it.
Now, I would love to believe the training data provided for me is 100% accurate, but my training stress scores are based on heart rate data and as I just mentioned, I have doubts on their accuracy. Additionally, after starting a 6 week training program for an enduro race, I had little to show for it according to the app. I would hardly call it a strict training program, but I did increase my overall volume and included some decent time at the gym and on bike intervals. I think the most important thing to note is that I physically felt stronger and fitter after these extra additions to my regular schedule.
The app, however, did not validate my feelings as I have yet to break out of the ”keeping fit” category and into the “making progress” category. Perhaps my training isn’t strict or long enough for Suunto to recognize it as progress or maybe it’s due to the heart rate discrepancies. On the opposite spectrum, the app spared no time throwing me into the “losing fitness” category after a week of being sick with a cold where I decreased my volume. Ouch.
The watch does not come with maps but you can download a route or use the breadcrumb navigation feature. I did test this map feature and it was as decent as toonie-sized maps get. For big bike exploratory missions I always have maps on my phone but I can understand that runners in particular would download a route and leave the phone at home.
On a random note, it is impossible to crop an activity in the Suunto app. If you want to crop your activity because you forgot to stop it and drove 50km home, then you’ll have to download the gpx file, crop it, then re-upload it to the app which is more than annoying to do. I found that out the hard way, numerous times.
I think the Suunto 9 Peak Pro has a lot of potential for an active person who wants a functional multisport watch with a minimalist design. I do not believe, however, that it is the right watch for someone whose main activity is mountain biking. The limitations really are in the physical design when placed in an environment of constant impact and vibration. It’s unfortunate, because the potential is there. The watch is beautiful and has an abundance of features, great GPS accuracy, a killer battery life and a genuinely enjoyable user experience.
I will continue to use the 9 Peak Pro as I enjoy what it has to offer but I will be selective when to wear it for mountain biking. At its current discounted price, this watch is certainly more reasonable to consider among many other options.
The Suunto 9 Peak Pro is currently on sale for $509 CAD down from $699 CAD available here.