Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Most accuarte altimeter we tested, easy-to-use menus, lots of great features
Cons: Display is a little dark, expensive.
Best Uses: Mountaineering, backpacking, trekking, ski touring.
The Suunto Core is the most fully featured altimeter watch we tested. The Core has something for everyone: waterproof buttons for snorkeling and shallow diving, more accurate altimeter and barometer functions, nicer graphs, and a slightly easier-to-use interface with a nicely labeled and easy-to-understand menu. The downside: the Core is also one of the most expensive non-GPS watches we tested and at $300 is $100 more than the Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1 or the Suunto Vector.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Core has three alarms, which is the same as the Suunto Ambit2 and the Suunto Vector and less than both the Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1 and the Pathfinder PAG240T-7, which have five. Besides having less alarms, what we thought was the bigger deal was the Suunto alarms weren't very loud and we had to put the watch close to our head to make sure they woke us up. The Core has a stopwatch and a timer and during either of these functions you can see the current time and whatever your stopwatch/timer is measuring.
Altimeter and Barometer
Unlike both Pathfinder models and the Vector, the Core has the altimeter and barometer functions linked together. It measures elevation in three-foot or one-meter intervals compared with the Pathfinder 20 feet or 5 meters and the Vector's 10 feet or 3 meters. The altimeter/barometer feature is sweet. It calculates long-term pressure trends to give you a more accurate reading. For example, when you are ascending it gains with you as the barometric pressure changes at a rate far faster than the barometric pressure changes with weather. Once you stop gaining elevation for a while (i.e. sleeping) it realizes that and sees any barometer pressure changes as what they are and not elevation gain. This is a pretty cool and fairly effective feature; it works sometimes but not always in our real world tests. As a whole we thought it had the second most accurate altimeter only every so slightly behind the much more expensive Ambit2.
The Core has an altitude log. While this doesn't seem like a big deal, once people get an altimeter watch this is one of their most-used features. For up to seven days the Core will log your total ascent, descent and number of runs. For skiers, it logs how many laps you take while for hikers and climbers on trails that go up and down it will tell you your true vertical height gained. The Vector has a 24-hour log and will also store up to 100 logs. The Pathfinder models can only hold up to 40 logs.
Something we didn't like compared to the Vector was that you had to go through three or four menu pages to adjust the altitude. Whereas the Vector you just hold down a single button in altitude mode to adjust the altitude.
The Core has a graph for showing both altitude and barometric pressure trends that was excellent and likely the best in the review. The only bummer is it took several menu pages to pull it up, but we did get the hang out if and could pull it up pretty quickly with time.
Similar to its competition, the Core has a compass with adjustable declination. You can set it to help you record and follow compass bearings. In all the models we tested, if you are doing more serious off-trail travel we wouldn't bring this as your only compass, but it's fine for people who just need it for a general point of reference.
Other cool features
The Core is one of few altimeter watches you can take snorkeling or shallow diving. It is waterproof enough to take down to 100 feet, though it will only accurately tell you your depth to 30 feet. While certainly not a "must have" feature, the Core has sunrise/sunset times. You can access this by selecting your location (or the nearest one out of 400 options compared with the Pathfinder's 48). As a result you can know sunset/sunrise times and set alarms.
The Core, the Ambit2 and Vector have thermometers good from -5F to 140F compared with both Pathfinder models, which range from 14F to 140F. With all of these watches, to get an accurate reading the watch must be off your wrist for some time in order for your body heat to completely dissipate from the device.
Ease of use and interface
The Core similarly to the new Ambit2 uses a different menu pattern than the older Vector, so people upgrading will have to relearn how to use their watch. Once you get hang of it, the menu on the Core is easier to understand and the menu items are much more clearly labeled. You get three pieces of information displayed at the same time. One upgrade to the Core over the Vector is an extra button to navigate through the menu and function options.
The display is the Core's one weakness. In high intensity light conditions (on a glacier for example), and/or with dark glasses, the screen was more difficult to read than other models we tested. Readability aside, we like the overall layout of the menu icons on the Core, with its large screen and big and easy-to-read numbers.
We wish Suunto would offer both the black on white and the negative options for the display like they offer on their Ambit2 GPS altimeter watch.
The Suunto Core displays elevation in three-foot intervals while most competitors show elevation in ten-foot intervals. The altimeter/barometer function on the Core is the best we tested. The Core basically calculates your long-term trends to give you a more accurate reading.
The Suunto Core Brushed Steel retails for $500 and is the stainless steel version of this watch, while the Suunto Core Aluminum Deep Black, $400, is made from aluminum. Both feature an altimeter, barometer and compass.
The Suunto Core Crush is available in a variety of colors, including the Core Red Crush - $300.
The Core Accessory Strap, $50, fits all Suunto Core models and includes the pins and screws to attach the strap.
— Ian Nicholson
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Most recent review: July 21, 2014
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