Kathy Suunto 9 5x2

Test run: Suunto 9 Baro watch review

The Suunto 9 Baro is Suunto’s newest sports watch targeted towards endurance athletes and ultra-athletes. To put it through its paces, we looked for someone who loves to run and knows numbers. MEC staffer Kathy was training for her next marathon, so the timing was perfect. If you have your eye on a watch upgrade, read this Suunto 9 review to learn about some of the watch’s cool features and a run-down of who will love this watch.

I’m a recreational runner that enters a couple of marathons and a few half-marathons each year, so though my expectations for a sports watch may be a little less than ultra elite athletes, it’s still important that my watch does what I need in a way that’s easy to use. I had the chance to try out the Suunto 9 to see what type of features it has, including what features everyday users will appreciate.

Setting up the Suunto 9

The Suunto 9 is super-easy to set up; just press the middle button then follow the screen prompts. I recommend checking out the Suunto 9 support videos to quickly learn how to pair the device with your smartphone. The Suunto 9 syncs to the new Suunto mobile app as opposed to Suunto’s older Movescount app, which I mistakenly loaded onto my phone first. After a few extra steps to “forget” Movescount on my watch and uninstall Movescount from my phone, I was able to sync with the correct app.

Let’s talk numbers

The Suunto 9 checks all the boxes in terms of what I look for in a sports watch, and the app provides useful analysis of all the usual running metrics including distance, cadence, pace, heart rate, laps, intensity zones, altitude and hours of sleep. In run mode, I could receive analyses of laps in 1, 2, and 5km increments, look at my 30-day activity summary, and check out my heart rate, pace and altitude during any point of my route.

This watch gives you 80 different activities to choose from – everything from yoga to cheerleading. When I was testing it out, I ran, hiked, cycled and mountain biked. To measure heart rate, it has an optical heart rate sensor; as I tried it out during different activities, I found that the optical heart rate monitor was less accurate during my runs. At times the max spiked to 200 bpm, which was almost 50 over my actual. This might have been because I was wearing the watch band too loose; I have a small 14cm wrist, and watches tend to loosen depending on my body temperature. If you’re looking for the most accurate heart rate reading with this watch – I’d recommend pairing it with a heart rate strap, or purchase the Suunto 9 Baro with the HRM strap.

Beside the activity stats, the Suunto 9 includes a count-down timer, stopwatch and notifications from your smart phone (texts, calls, emails) that pop up on the watch face. You can scroll through your notifications history right in the watch, though if you want to delete anything, you’ll need to do it from the mobile app.

Connecting to apps

You can use Facebook to share your activities or follow other members. The watch doesn’t sync directly to Strava, but you can add the Movescount app, which does. If you use both Movescount and the Suunto mobile app, you can take advantage of some other Movescount features too. For example, you’ll need Movescount to use the watch GPS “Routes” plans.

Note: I selected the Explore function in the Suunto mobile app, which lets you map routes that will sync to the Routes function in the watch, but I got a message telling me this feature is not yet available. (Hopefully this comes soon.) Suunto recommends installing Movescount to your computer if you use both apps.

Look and feel

The Suunto 9 is a statement; it has a large, thick face with a wide band. Being a 5’1” gal with small wrists, the watch face is about the width of my wrist. People of a similar stature may prefer a watch with a smaller profile. The strap is wide, soft and comfortable, with ample notches to fit even the smallest wrists while creating airspace to allow your wrist to breathe. The strap is also replaceable and Suunto has a selection of colours and styles to keep things fun.

Like all larger sports watches, the thickness of the watch and rubber strap means it can be tricky getting tight-sleeved shirts and jackets on and off (a minor annoyance, but something to think about if you plan to do some de-layering mid-run).

A few highlights

The touchscreen is one of my favourite features and lets you scroll through the functions and settings quickly and easily. When you touch the screen and hold it, the shortcuts screen appears so you can access anything you need in just a few quick seconds. Just like the touchscreen on your phone, it works very well as long as your screen is dry. As I found out on a particularly rainy hike, a wet watch face is not a happy one; if it’s wet out or if you’re really sweaty, it’s best to switch to the 3 side buttons to access the watch functions.

Suunto 9 SadWatch (5x3)

The watch alarm has a pleasant 3-note beep and when you wake up you’re greeted with a friendly “Good morning!” message and your sleep stats. The sleep stats include hours slept, time over/under your sleep goal, average heart rate, time you fell asleep, time you woke, time awake and hours of deep sleep. You can also hit the snooze button for extra minutes of sleep, a nice feature to have on the weekend.

Suunto 9 battery power

The highlight of this watch and a major reason it appeals to ultra-athletes (and those of us who don’t enjoy recharging our devices every day) is the 3 battery power modes:

  • Performance mode: Rated for 25 hours in training mode with GPS. This setting uses the most battery power since it gives the best GPS accuracy and maximum brightness. I used this mode to run a marathon distance and needed to recharge the watch after about 48 hours.
  • Endurance mode: Rated for 50 hours in training mode with 20% brightness, and “good” GPS accuracy. I use this mode the most for everyday use and weekly activities, as it gives me about 5 days on one charge averaging around 2 to 3 hours of activity per day.
  • Ultra mode: Rated for an amazing 120 hours of battery life in training mode with GPS. The display screen operates at 10% normal brightness and “okay” GPS accuracy. The display is noticeably dimmer at this setting, so I would only recommend it for the most extreme endurance events.

With endurance and ultra modes, the GPS readings are further apart to lengthen battery life, but the accuracy of the GPS remains sound thanks to Suunto’s FusedTrack technology that uses motion sensors to fill in the gaps.

Regardless of what battery mode you select, once you hit a navigation function during your activity, the watch automatically switches to the best GPS accuracy. If the battery starts to run low during your activity, it’ll give you a warning and ask if you want to switch modes. The Suunto 9 also learns and remembers your activity days and notices if the remaining battery power may not be enough for the length of your usual activity that day. When this happens, you’ll get a message that allows you to switch to a more battery efficient mode. If the watch is running on fumes, it automatically switches to chrono to ensure it lasts to the end of your activity.

Serious athletes will appreciate FusedSpeed, which combines wrist acceleration and GPS data to more accurately measure running speed. FusedSpeed is great when you’re running trails or doing intervals, somewhere a GPS may not capture the data.

Kathy midfoot strike (5x3)

Who will love this watch?

The Suunto 9 will appeal to serious athletes and anyone who is interested in analyzing their performances from a high level right down to the nitty-gritty details. It’s also amazing for people who don’t want the worry that their activities will outlast their watch battery. It’s built for users who place a lot of importance on accurate and reliable performance statistics and GPS data and who are out “doing their thing” over long periods of time.

For those less “ultra,” the fact that you potentially don’t need to charge this watch for long periods of time is a definite bonus.

Kathy Nomura
Kathy Nomura

When she’s not crunching numbers for MEC, she’s mountain biking, hiking, skiing or running (and has 40+ marathons in the books). Always up for a lap at lunch.