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Hands-on Gear Review
Suunto Core Alu Review
Cons: Altitude and barometric graphs are sub-par, no GPS, no adjustable screen settings
Bottom line: This Best BuyAward winner is the best option for those looking for a classic altimeter watch at an affordable price.
This is your classic altimeter watch with the best basic features. There are many different types of Core watches, all featuring a different construction and similar features. In this review, we looked at the ultra-durable aluminum version that proved to be resistant to dings and scratches with its finishes and hardened scratch-resistant mineral glass. We loved this watch's basic features that are accurate, sleek, and simple. Of the non-GPS watches, it has the most features and the easiest interface. However, when compared to GPS contenders, the features seem a little old-school. That said, the altimeter proved to be the most accurate in our tests (with regular calibrations), and many of our testers liked its basic functionality and style. We also liked that we didn't have to worry about battery life, like we do with GPS watches. In addition to all these pluses, you can typically find the regular Suunto Core on sale anywhere from $250 to $330. If you want the aluminum finish that we reviewed here, you'll have to shell out an addition $100. The plus is better durability, and clean, sleek finishes. Overall, this is the best non-GPS watch tested. It has the best altimeter accuracy and features a sleek, comfortable fit. The display is easy to see while the interface is easy to use. Take it with you on your next big adventure or wear it to work.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Altimeter Watches Review
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Core Alu is our Best Buy Award winner, earning top marks for accuracy and comfort. We also like that you can find it on sale for a decent price, based on the model you choose.
The Core Alu has all the basics of a great altimeter watch. It features an altimeter and barometer, digital compass, and thermometer. It does not come with a built-in GPS like the Suunto Ambit3 Peak or the Suunto Traverse. Overall, this watch scored middle of the road when it comes to features, but of all the non-GPS watches, we think it's the best.
Altimeter and Barometer
The Core uses a manually adjusted sea level air pressure reference that is important to set correctly upon pulling it out of the package. Based on the latitude you live at, the reference sea level air pressure changes. Do not rely on the default setting as this may be the incorrect reference value. Your local weather station should have this reference number located in its page. You can use it to set your watch correctly.
The Core has the altimeter and barometer functions linked together. It measures elevation in three-foot or one-meter intervals, which is similar to most of the altimeter watches tested. 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.
The Core also 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. It can store up to 10 logs. It also has five different recording intervals (to help save battery life if you need it) of one, five, 10, 30, and 60 seconds that are adjustable. It also features a neat altitude differential that tells you how much elevation you have gained and lost over one trip.
The Core also features a graph that shows both altitude and barometric pressure trends (not at the same time). While the graph is decent, it is not nearly as nice as other GPS-based contenders like the Garmin Fenix 5, Suunto Ambit3 Peak, or Suunto Traverse. It's a little small, but much better than the Casio PRW-6000Y.
Similar to its competition, the Core has a digital compass with adjustable declination. You can set it to help you record and follow compass bearings. In general, the compass was regularly accurate given proper daily calibrations. However, we would recommend that if you're doing serious off-trail exploration, bring a map and compass for better reliability.
Once again, like the competition, the Core features the basic timekeeping features. It has a stopwatch, countdown timer, one alarm, and sunset/sunrise reference based on what your reference city is set to. We also like that it has a dual time option that shows you the time in two different time zones. This is helpful if you're traveling and want to pre-set the time to the location you're heading to. That said, all the GPS-watch contenders provided an automatic adjustment, which we thought was a little more convenient. Additionally, if you're looking for more than one alarm, check out the Casio watch options; they both feature five alarms.
Other Cool Features
The Core is also designed to take you snorkeling with a depth meter profile and log recorder. It is waterproof enough to go down to 100 feet, although it will only accurately tell you your depth to 30 feet. In addition, it has a temperature sensor that is most accurate when worn on a backpack or away from this skin. This is especially helpful for guides in the summer, who can't hike with students when it's more than 90F outside.
Scoring third highest in this metric, we were impressed by how long the battery on the Core lasts. It features a traditional watch battery that can simply be replaced when it runs out. The battery in the Core is spec'd to last about one year. However, this will vary with the amount of logs taken and used. More power is required with higher performance of the watch. In comparison to other non-GPS watches, this has the lowest battery life simply because it requires more power to perform more powerful functions like generating graph details and storing log information. If you're looking for the ultimate in battery power, check out the Casio PRW-6000Y. It is solar powered and only requires a few minutes in the sun daily to maintain a charge. Alternatively, you can check out our other Best Buy Award winner, the Casio SGW300HB, that has a battery spec'd to last three years. It is also only $65, but has limited functionality.
Ease of Use and Interface
The Core has an easy learning curve. The menu items are clearly labeled as are the buttons. If you have trouble using the watch, the user manual is incredibly helpful and easy to use. Additionally the buttons are large and easy enough to press to be used with gloves. That said, we did think the Garmin Fenix 5 had an easier setup and the menu interface seemed to be more logical, but it had way more features to figure out.
The Suunto Core displays elevation in three-foot intervals which makes the watch incredibly accurate. The altimeter/barometer function on the Core is the best we tested. We hiked over 10,000 feet to determine which altimeter provided the best accuracy. And even though some altimeters could use GPS to auto-calibrate and help to calculate position, the Core seemed to be the most precise in our tests. Either the altitude was right on, or just off by a 150 feet (at most). All the tests conducted meant we were performing regular calibrations and the sea level reference was also set to our testing location(s). Overall, if you're looking for a watch that provides the most accurate altitude readings, this is it. All other contenders also did very well, but weren't as precise.
The display of this contender is decent. The mineralized crystal display is highly durable and easy to see in regular light. That said, it's not nearly as nice as the Garmin Fenix 5 or the other Suunto watches. We felt like the font style was a little analog, and we couldn't invert the display background like we could with the Ambit3 Peak and the Traverse.
This meant the black letters always sat against a light background. In the future, we'd recommend that Suunto change this so we could see the screen in different light conditions. Also, the night light was the worst in comparison to the GPS watch options. Take a look at the picture below for a good comparison. This Best Buy award winner is the bottom middle watch.
Comfort and Fit
It scored as one of the most comfortable watches in this metric; we loved the silicon strap with an ergonomic fit.
In addition, we liked the thin profile of the watch. It fit easily over and underneath clothing. Overall, a comfortable and nicely fitting watch.
This Best Buy Award winner is a great option for those on budget. In this review, we tested the durable Suunto Core Aluminium watch that features a rugged aluminum finish. This watch is about $429, which is not much lower than our top contenders. However, the regular Suunto Core features the same functions as the aluminium version for only $329. Plus you can find it for sale online for even less. With this watch, you're getting a classic altimeter option that provides accurate and precise functions. Its also comfortable to wear and has many color options. If you're looking for something even less expensive, check out our other Best Buy winner, the Casio SGW300HB that has a market price of only $65.
This basic altimeter watch is best for any vertical excursion. Since the battery life is long, you can take it with you on long trips into remote terrain. The watch slows down a little in the cold, so using it in temperatures that dip below -4F is probably not the best idea (similar to other watches tested), unless you wear it underneath some clothing. In all, it's a great hiking, backpacking, and mountaineering option.
If you're looking for the ultimate in value and accuracy, the Suunto Core is where it's at. Built as an altimeter watch, it provides you with the all the basics. It features high performance, a good display, and a durable construction. Wear it on your next big adventure or at the office. Not only does it have performance, it also comes with a flair of style.
You can check out other versions below. Many of these options can be found on sale at a variety of sites online.
The Suunto Core
Core Brushed Steel
Core Ultimate Black
Below is a photo comparison of all four different versions mentioned, from left to right, Core Ultimate Black, Core Aluminum Deep Black, Core Brushed Steel, and Core Gray Crush.
Suunto Core Accessory Strap
— Amber King
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