(The Gear Loop) - Suunto has been in the GPS smartwatch and activity tracker game for a while, and the 9 Peak is the latest iteration of its stylish (and unashamedly Finnish) flagship GPS sports watch.
It’s a delicate wafer of glass, titanium and silicone that claims to offer a premium look and feel that is "designed for all the things that can’t be measured". Suunto’s words, not ours.
We spent a few weeks with the Suunto 9 Peak, putting it through its paces on various trudges up hills in the Lake District and general day-to-day use. With its premium design and premium price tag, can it really compete with the likes of Garmin, Coros and even Apple?
Our time with the 9 Peak was a game of two halves. We loved how it looked, and the sleek stainless steel chassis felt a really classy object on the wrist. On top of this, the mobile app was one of the best we’ve dabbled with in recent months, providing plenty of data and activity information to pore over post-run, walk, cycle or... game of frisbee!
But on the flip-side, the user experience really let the side down. It’s one of the slowest and clunkiest devices we’ve used in a very long time. Initially, we thought we were doing something wrong, but interacting with the touchscreen is a frustration too far for us.
Suunto 9 Peak
- Beautiful design
- Premium materials
- App is excellent
- Big bezel/small screen
- Very slow
- Only offers breadcrumb navigation
In the Loop
Everything you need to know about the Suunto 9 Peak in short:
- Size: 43 x 43 x 10.6 mm
- Weight: 62g
- Battery life: 14 days in time mode or 7 days with 24/7 tracking
- Over 80 sport modes
- Sapphire and glass construction
- GPS navigation
- Weather functions
- Touch screen
- 100m water resistance
- Blood oxygen measurements
- Thinnest and toughest watch Suunto has ever made
Design and features
The 9 Peak is a svelte device and quite the contrast to the trusty (and massive) Coros Vertix 2 that adorns our wrist on most trips. It even makes the Garmin Instinct 2 look portly, weighing in at a mere 62 grams, which is about 40 per cent less than the Coros and on par with the Garmin, although that is made from polymer, rather than stainless steel.
Overall, Suunto has crafted a good looking device. The super thin bezel encircles the sapphire glass screen to produce a very understated, yet premium feeling product. On the back, you'll find a heart rate, blood oxygen sensor and various other sensors that the 9 Peak derives a host of metrics from.
The strap on our model was a very inoffensive and subdued dark blue rubber number, packing metal hardware that echoed that shiny stainless steel bezel. We also really liked the removable stud that fastens the loose end of the strap down to the band.
But fire up the 9 Peak and things start to go downhill. That beautiful slab of sapphire glass? It’s now got a honking black bezel inside it that really detracts from the overall sleekness of the design and makes the screen considerably smaller than initial impressions may indicate.
The screen is touch sensitive but this does mean it is a fingerprint magnet. Some devices with touch capabilities have a remarkable ability to fend off grubby smears, but unfortunately the 9 Peak doesn’t have such super powers and after a minute of swiping and tapping, the screen looked like a toddler’s iPad.
In terms of price, the Suunto comes in around the same price as the Garmin Instinct 2, but that feels a lot more basic on the wrist, even though it does offer plenty of advanced features.
Alternatively, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival is another option we’ve reviewed favourably, but it doesn’t pack the same wealth of adventure and sports-tracking features.
Performance and interface
Regrettably the performance of the touchscreen does not stand up to Apple’s fabled displays, at least not from this decade.
The screen is of the capacitive kind, so uses the same technology as pretty much every touch screen released in the past 10 years, but it seems the software isn’t quite up to scratch.
Inputs are slow and laggy to the point of frustration and navigating the menus becomes incredibly tedious, as the watch struggles to keep up with even the most deliberate of inputs.
There are three buttons on the case itself, which can be used to navigate through some menus, but we couldn’t work out which menus required touch and which required buttons to navigate. It’s a fiddly process.
The 1.2 inch display has a resolution of 240x240, which displays text crisply and the backlight automatically dims to preserve your battery life. It also means you don’t dazzle yourself when looking at the watch in the dark.
While on the topic of battery life, the 9 Peak will run for about 14 days on a single charge, but this is in "time mode". If you want the 9 Peak to deliver notifications and offer 24/7 tracking, the battery will only be good for around seven days. It will remind you to charge the device when it’s getting low, so hopefully that’ll reduce those emergency charges just as you’re about to head out the door on a run.
It doesn’t just have to be a boring old run or even a bike ride that you track with the 9 Peak, as Suunto has packed in tracking for over 80 activities - from a smattering of running flavours to orienteering, fishing (?!), bowling and frisbee. There’s even the option to track a motorsport activity, which is a first in our experience unless you are counting Garmin’s ill-fated Marq series.
While scrolling through the list of activities, you’ll notice some are marked as basic, which means the 9 Peak will only track activity duration and heart rate, as opposed to the deeper fitness metrics that are available on other activities.
A host of sensors, including a digital compass and barometric altimeter mean elevation gain and loss is more accurately measured, rather than deriving this from GPS data.
While out on the hills of the (very wet) Lake District, we loved the weather-centric features, such as the storm alarm, which alerts you of sudden pressure changes and can indicate incoming storm systems. The 9 Peak is rated to a depth of 100m, so even the heaviest downpours won’t be an issue.
Wayfinding and route planning
Despite these innovative little features, the 9 Peak faces stiff competition across the board, but one of the key attributes of a good outdoors watch is the wayfinding capabilities.
Both the aforementioned Garmin and Coros watches we’ve previously reviewed offered excellent navigation. The Garmin using breadcrumb trails and the Coros offering full mapping.
The 9 Peak is in the breadcrumb camp, and routes can be added via the companion app, which has a fully-fledged route planner and we were big fans of.
Our main gripe with the breadcrumb trail system is that they offer no sense of the surrounding topography, and as we learnt from our outdoors training in a sodden North Wales (there’s a rain based theme emerging here), it’s important to be aware of the smaller details when navigating.
Overall, we wouldn’t want to use the 9 Peak’s navigation to guide us through completely unfamiliar territory, but we’d use it on a new route in a familiar area, where it wouldn't be a complete disaster if you got a bit lost.
All of these activity tracking and route guidance features were well thought out and well implemented though, but the whole experience was ruined by the frankly awful touch screen. The 9 Peak offers activity profiles that can be tuned to personal preferences, but we got so frustrated and bogged down with the slow and laggy interface, we gave up and just used the standard profiles and data fields instead.
When we did eventually wrestle the 9 Peak into action, the GPS traces were reasonably accurate in open spaces but became a little wayward under tree cover or near tall buildings.
App and data crunching
The Suunto mobile app is very well featured, offering training insights and workout analysis that you can dine out on for days. Alternatively, data can be set to automatically upload to Strava and TrainingPeaks if you really want to geek out.
The route plotting capability via a smartphone was impressive and felt intuitive, offering a fully mobile experience, rather than a poorly implemented re-hash of a desktop version that can be found on some rival watches.
In fact, the activity analysis and Suunto's partner app in general are some of the strongest points of the whole Peak 9 experience for us, as there was so much data presented in a straightforward and easy to understand manner that we think other platforms could learn a few things from it.
The 9 Peak from Suunto is billed as its top tier smartwatch and it certainly has the looks to back that statement up. Unfortunately, the interface is clunky and cumbersome to the point of despair, and even with the inclusion of some interesting features and over 80 supported activities, we’re not sure the 9 Peak can keep up with the stiff competition from Garmin and Coros.