The new Suunto X9 is a versatile navigation instrument for every outdoor enthusiast. Suunto X9 includes complete GPS functions, an electronic compass, barometer, thermometer and altimeter. If you don't remember the good fishing spot you found last year, don't worry, your Suunto X9 will.
The Suunto X9 packs a stunning array of features into a single, wrist-mounted device. With GPS navigation, altimeter, temperature, compass and chronograph capabilities, this watch redefines the active sports watch category. Amazon testers put the watch through its paces on two winter backcountry ski tours. On the whole, testers came away impressed with the unit's performance, considering it a reliable companion in the backcountry.
The Convenience of Convergence
| The X9's many advanced features are easily accessible through its intuitive interface |
Instead of having to cart around a GPS unit, a timepiece, an altimeter, a thermometer and a compass, the X9 combines them all. So often, devices that attempt to cram many functions into a single unit end up sacrificing ease of use and performance. Not so with the X9. Fortunately, Suunto has taken queues from another Finnish producer of quality convergence devices, Nokia, and has successfully integrated a powerful set of features that minimizes user confusion. In the field, we found ourselves switching between altimeter, GPS, compass and time (yes, the X9 even tells time!) modes with a user-friendly interface that made it easy to get quick, accurate data.
Admittedly, the X9 is a challenge to operate right out of the box, so don't expect to take it out in the field successfully without reading the manual. One minor quibble here: While a printed quick start guide and reference card are provided, it would be great if the full manual was available in a printed format, too. A tool like this takes some time to master, but once we got our minds around the way the X9 works, it felt intuitive and easy. The up and down buttons switch between modes while a single "enter" button takes you deeper into a given mode's functionality.
All About the Modes
Many of the X9's five modes-- time, altimeter/barometer, compass, navigation and activity-- are well integrated with ample screen space for multiple data items. For instance, it is possible to view the current time while you're in any mode. Likewise, the altimeter/barometer mode allows you to view current rate of ascent, altitude, and current temperature at once. Settings for each mode are fairly easy to make, however, we weren't completely sure why map datums and coordinate positioning settings are included in the time mode settings screens; these might be better placed in the compass or GPS modes.
With support for two simultaneous time displays, jet-setting adventurers can use the X9 to keep track of the time back home, as well on the approach to Mont Blanc. The X9 can synchronize time with GPS satellites, making it highly accurate wherever you roam. On a comparatively "low tech" note, testers liked the X9's stopwatch; it's refreshingly easy to start, stop and reset.
Suunto has integrated all the powerful technology from their popular line of altimeter watches into the X9, and the watch really excels in altimeter/barometer mode. Initial settings were easy to make and when testers checked altimeter readings with known elevations on a topo map, watch readings were accurate. Keep in mind, though, that the X9's altimeter is essentially a barometer that measures altitude based on the atmospheric pressure changes that accompany elevation gain or loss. This can be affected by weather changes, and Suunto recommends recalibrating the altimeter to match known elevations, or to a GPS fix on current altitude, when possible. When switched from altimeter to barometer mode, the X9 serves as a wrist-mounted weather station that can alert you to dramatic shifts in atmospheric pressure that portend changing weather. The watch can graph barometric and temperature data from throughout the day, or even over the course of a week. Rate of ascent and total vertical data are provided as well-- great for climbers and skiers who want to keep track of progress. Finally, alti/baro mode includes a sunrise and sunset calculation for the current day-- yet another curious choice of locations, as we thought this might be better placed in the time mode.
Compass mode is also highly useful and accurate, and because the compass has a 3-axis sensor, the watch can be tilted up to 30 degrees and still report an accurate reading. The compass operates just like a traditional handheld "analog" compass with a rotating circle that indicates direction. Cardinal directions and headings are displayed, too. A bearing lock function helps you navigate a certain bearing by displaying the amount of deviation, in degrees, from your target bearing. Calibration of the compass is straightforward, and we found that if we went through the simple calibration process before each trip the unit remained accurate.
Delivering real-time coordinate positioning, speed, altitude, and distance measurement is a tall order and in many ways, the X9's GPS capability successfully delivers all of them. Just like larger handheld GPS units, the X9 features 12-channel GPS reception-- amazing when you consider the X9's GPS antenna is crammed into such a small form factor. All this miniaturization does come at a small price, however, as the watch took a few minutes longer to lock onto the satellites when we first started our adventures. After about five minutes of waiting, though, the GPS sprang to life, offering highly accurate data. Testers had used Suunto altimeter watches before, but the X9's GPS-based position, speed and altitude information is a jaw-dropping addition that makes the X9 worth the price of admission. The only caveat is that the device must have a clear view of the sky when GPS functions are used.
| To recharge the watch, simply place it on the docking station |
The X9's first GPS mode, Activity, is essentially a real-time GPS data display with speed, distance, altitude, and position data. In open areas, we were able to maintain a fairly strong GPS fix. Some drop-offs in signal occurred in trees and gullies. Fortunately, the X9 lets you to set the interval with which the GPS receiver tries to attain a signal, making it easier to get satellite data just when you need it or when the terrain permits it. Longer data intervals save precious battery life, too.
Curiously, altimeter data in the main Activity display is barometric, not GPS-based, and we had to go to a separate Position display to get GPS-based altimeter data. Confusing? We thought so, too. In fact, the only major improvement testers said the X9 needed was better delineation between non-GPS and GPS-derived data throughout the watch's functions. Perhaps a simple overview of this in the manual would solve the problem.
The Achilles heel of powerful portable devices is their thirst for juice. While the X9 isn't really an exception, it does have features that make it possible for users to intelligently manage power consumption. Selectable GPS fix modes are the big battery saver. For instance, in one-second GPS fix mode (meaning the GPS receiver looks for a signal from the satellites once every second) the battery lasts about 4 hours. Change the rate to one minute and you've got 10 to 12 hours of battery life. Turning on the GPS fix only when you need it for position and altitude data bumps you up to a whopping two weeks of available power. In a nod to the needs of adventurers who may be away from power for days, the X9's wall charger has space for a 9-volt battery, allowing you to charge the watch even without AC power. --Joshua Gunn
- Excellent time, altimeter/barometer and compass modes
- Good device controls and menus
- Good GPS performance, given the unit's size and power constraints
- Manual should be offered in printed format
- Needs clearer delineation between GPS and non-GPS data modes
- Some functions could be more intuitively placed in the device's menus