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Suunto Core Alu Review

This Best Buy Award winner is the best option for those looking for a classic altimeter watch at an affordable price.
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $429 List | $245.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Long battery life, durable aluminum finish, great fit, precise, easy-to-use interface
Cons:  Altitude and barometric graphs are sub-par, no GPS, lag on button presses
Manufacturer:   Suunto
By Amber King and Ben Applebaum-Bauch  ⋅  Nov 19, 2019
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74
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 13
  • Altimeter Accuracy - 30% 8
  • Battery Life - 20% 9
  • User experience - 20% 6
  • Features - 15% 6
  • Comfort and Fit - 15% 7

Our Verdict

The Suunto Core Alu is a classic altimeter watch with a robust set of basic features. There are many different types of Core watches, all featuring a variety of styles and similar functions. In this review, we looked at the durable aluminum version that proved to be resistant to dings and scratches with its metal casing and hardened mineral glass face. We love the performance of this watch's basic feature set. Of the non-GPS watches, it has the most features and an easy-to-use interface, which is sleek and simple. The altimeter proved to be very accurate in our tests with regular calibration. Many of our testers like its functionality and style. We also enjoy that we don't have to worry about battery life, as we do with GPS watches. When compared to GPS contenders, the features seem a little old-school, but overall, this is the best non-GPS watch we tested. It has the best altimeter accuracy and features a sleek, comfortable fit. The display is easy to see, and the interface is easy to use. Take it with you on your next big adventure or wear it to work.


Compare to Similar Products

 
This Product
Suunto Core Alu
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award   
Price $245.00 at Amazon$599.99 at Amazon$399.99 at Amazon$453.99 at Amazon
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$399.00 at Amazon
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Pros Long battery life, durable aluminum finish, great fit, precise, easy-to-use interfaceGreat battery life, accurate tracking, easy to useTracks many activities, easy to use, stylish, comfortableTouch screen, many features, consistent altimeter, clear graphsComfortable, high quality, easy-to-use, highly accurate, GPS, many features, rechargeable battery
Cons Altitude and barometric graphs are sub-par, no GPS, lag on button pressesExpensive, slightly bulkyShorter battery life, less accurate GPSShort battery life, inaccurate step counterThicker profile, short battery life
Bottom Line This Best Buy Award winner is the best option for those looking for a classic altimeter watch at an affordable price.This watch is your ultimate mountain sport training tool.This altimeter watch is loaded with features for the mountain athlete.This is an all-star watch for those who keep to the front country.This watch excels because of its accuracy, reliability, and great features.
Rating Categories Suunto Core Alu Coros Vertix Garmin Forerunner 935 Suunto 9 Baro Suunto Ambit3 Peak
Altimeter Accuracy (30%)
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
8
Battery Life (20%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
3
10
0
7
User Experience (20%)
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
7
Features (15%)
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
7
Comfort And Fit (15%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
6
Specs Suunto Core Alu Coros Vertix Garmin Forerunner... Suunto 9 Baro Suunto Ambit3 Peak
GPS? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dimensions (Inches) 1.93 x 1.93 x 0.57” 1.85 x 1.85 x .61" 1.85 x 1.85 x .55 2.03 x 2.03 x 0.67 " 1.97 x 1.97 x 0.71”
Type of Battery Watch battery Rechargeable lithium ion battery Rechargable lithium ion battery Rechargable lithium ion battery Rechargable lithium ion battery
Battery Life (w/o GPS) 12 months 45 days 2 weeks 14 days 30 days
Battery Life w/ GPS on No GPS 60hrs up to 24 hrs regular GPS, up to 60 hrs in Ultratrac w/o hr tracking 7 days 20, 30, or 200 hours
Altitude Range -500 - 9000 m None provided None provided -500 - 9999 m -500 - 9999 m
Altitidue differential? Yes None provided Yes Yes Yes
Elevation interval 1m/3ft None provided 1m/3ft 1ft 1m/3ft
Barometer Yes Yes, barometric graph Yes, barometric graph Yes Yes
Barometric Recording Interval & Time (for the graph) Every 30 minutes, 24 hours Every 10 min, 24 hours Every 30 minutes, 24 hours 10 seconds, 24 hours Every 15 minutes, 24 hours
Barometric Pressure Range 920 - 1,080 hPa (27.13 - 31.85 inHg) None provided 920 - 1,080 hPa (27.13 - 31.85 inHg) Information pending 950 to 1060 hPa (28.05 to 31.30 inHg)
Storm Alert Alarm? Yes No No Yes Yes
Compass None Yes Yes Yes, tilt adjustable Yes
Time Features Digital, dual world times, stopwatch, countdown timer Digital, stopwatch, timer Digital (customizable faces), stop watch, GPS time, countdown timer Digital (customizable faces), stop watch, GPS time, countdown timer Digital, stop watch, countdown timer
Time Alarm Yes Yes, 10 daily alarms Yes, 10 daily alarms Yes Yes, one daily alarm
Thermometer Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Temperature Resistance Range -20° C to +60° C (-4F - 140F) -4 to 140F (-20 to 60C) -20° C to +60° C (-4F - 140F) -20° C to +60° C -20° C to +60° C
Water Resistance Yes, 100 meters Yes, 150 meters Yes, 50 meters Yes, 100 meters Yes, 100 meters
Interchangeable straps? No Yes Yes Yes No
Types of bands and material Silicone Silicone Silicone (leather options, as well) Silicone Elastomer
Bluetooth connection? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
GPS, GLONASS, both? No GPS Both Both GPS GPS
Apps n/a Yes, Coros app Garmin Connect Suunto MovesCount Suunto MovesCount
Charging Type Battery specialized cord Specialized cord Specialized cord Specialized cord
Warranty Limited Warranty Period (2 years) Limited Warranty Period (2 years) Limited Warranty Period (1 year) Limited Warranty Period (2 years) Limited Warranty Period (2 years)
Other Cool Features sunrise/sunset sunrise/sunset, sleep tracking, VO2 max sunrise/sunset, sleep tracking, VO2 max, etc. Activity monitoring, heart rate monitor, notifications, moon phases, points of interest, sleep tracking notifications, points of interest, recovery time estimator,

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Core Alu earns high marks for accuracy and comfort. Depending on the model, it can usually be found on sale for a decent price.

Performance Review


This Suunto model is comfortable  durable  and simple to use.
This Suunto model is comfortable, durable, and simple to use.

Altimeter Accuracy


The Core Alu displays elevation in three-foot intervals, which makes the watch very precise. The altimeter/barometer was at the top of the list, despite this watch's lower price point.


We hiked 10,000 vertical feet to determine which altimeter provides the best accuracy. Even though some altimeters could use GPS to auto-calibrate and calculate position, the Core seemed to be the most accurate. The altitude was never off by more than 150 feet, which is good for an altimeter watch. (We performed regular calibrations and set the sea level references to our testing locations).

Here we get to California Pass in the remote San Juan mountains. The altimeter proves to be about 70ft off from the actual elevation. All other watches tested were not so accurate.
Here we get to California Pass in the remote San Juan mountains. The altimeter proves to be about 70ft off from the actual elevation. All other watches tested were not so accurate.

Battery Life


We are impressed with the battery life of the Core Alu. It has a traditional watch battery that can simply be replaced when it runs out. It's periodically a little less convenient than a rechargeable device, but for longer treks or thru-hikes, it can be reassuring to know that it's not going to die on you at a critical moment. It is spec'd to last about one year, depending on the number of logs recorded.


In general, higher performance comes with more power use. In comparison to other non-GPS watches, this has the shortest battery life. This is 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 Casio's PAG240B-2 or GW9400. They are solar-powered and require only a few minutes in the sun each day to charge. Alternatively, you can check out the Casio SGW300HB which has a battery spec'd to last three years. It is also only $65 but has limited functionality.

The buttons are large  convex and easy to use with a pair of gloves. Here we see the left side of the watch with two buttons and the sensor. The right side of the watch has three buttons. This watch features just a simple watch battery.
The buttons are large, convex and easy to use with a pair of gloves. Here we see the left side of the watch with two buttons and the sensor. The right side of the watch has three buttons. This watch features just a simple watch battery.

User Experience


The Core Alu has a gentle 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 can be pressed with gloves on. Our primary issue with this watch's ease-of-use is that we sometimes found there was an odd delay using some of the timekeeping features. We would sometimes press a button twice thinking we hadn't pressed it all the way down the first time, leading to timers starting and stopping.


The mineralized crystal face is highly durable and easy to read in regular light. The font is a bit pixelized and you can't invert the color of the display background, but we still think it's a decent display. One minor drawback is that the backlight is dim in comparison to the GPS watch options.

Comfort and Fit


This watch is one of the more comfortable models. We love the silicone strap with an ergonomic fit. It is lighter and less chunky than other feature-laden models.


The thin profile also fits easily over and underneath clothing and made it work well for a range of arm sizes. Overall, it's a comfortable and nicely fitting watch that doesn't look out of place in a non-outdoor setting.

The core fits nicely over and underneath clothing.
The core fits nicely over and underneath clothing.

Features


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.


Make sure to calibrate your watch regularly to ensure great accuracy on your adventures.
Make sure to calibrate your watch regularly to ensure great accuracy on your adventures.

Altimeter and Barometer


The Core Alu has altimeter and barometer functions that are 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 assesses long-term pressure trends which gives a more accurate result. If you are ascending and the pressure changes, it calculates the differential as altitude. If you pause your elevation gain for a break (or camp somewhere for the night), it recognizes this and attributes pressure change to the weather.

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 on its website. You can use it to set your watch correctly.

A comparison of altitude logs (top left and right): Suunto Core Alu  Garmin Fenix 3  (bottom left and right) Suunto Ambit3 Peak  Suunto Traverse.
A comparison of altitude logs (top left and right): Suunto Core Alu, Garmin Fenix 3, (bottom left and right) Suunto Ambit3 Peak, Suunto Traverse.

The Core Alu also has an altitude log. If you have not owned an altimeter watch, this may not seem like a big deal. However, once you start using your watch, this often becomes the most-used feature.

A look at the log information provided by the Core.
A look at the log information provided by the Core.

It keeps track of skiers' laps and 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 Alu also features a graph that shows both altitude and barometric pressure trends (not at the same time). We appreciate that this feature is included. Its output is much better than the Casio PRW-6000Y, but not nearly as nice as other GPS-based contenders like the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire, Suunto Ambit3 Peak, or Suunto Traverse.

Compass


You can adjust the angle of declination of this compass. With some setup, you can record and follow compass bearings. In general, the compass is regularly accurate given proper daily calibration. However, we would recommend that if you're doing serious off-trail exploration, bring a map and compass for better reliability.

The digital compass gives you the direction of travel. In addition  you can set your heading to keep you moving in the right direction.
The digital compass gives you the direction of travel. In addition, you can set your heading to keep you moving in the right direction.

Timekeeper


Like its competition, the Core Alu features 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 a different time zone. 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 which all feature five alarms.

A look at all the displays tested. From top left to right: Casio SRW300HB  Casio PRW-6000Y  Garmin Fenix 3. From bottom left to right: Suunto Core Alu  Suunto Ambit3 Peak  Suunto Traverse
A look at all the displays tested. From top left to right: Casio SRW300HB, Casio PRW-6000Y, Garmin Fenix 3. From bottom left to right: Suunto Core Alu, Suunto Ambit3 Peak, Suunto Traverse

A comparison of the nightlights of each watch. From top left: Casio PRW-6000Y  Suunto Traverse  Garmin Fenix 3. From bottom left to right: Casio SGW300HB  Suunto Core Alu  Suunto Ambit3 Ambit.
A comparison of the nightlights of each watch. From top left: Casio PRW-6000Y, Suunto Traverse, Garmin Fenix 3. From bottom left to right: Casio SGW300HB, Suunto Core Alu, Suunto Ambit3 Ambit.

A look at the profiles of two Suunto watches. The lower watch is the Core while the watch above is the Suunto Ambit3 Peak.
A look at the profiles of two Suunto watches. The lower watch is the Core while the watch above is the Suunto Ambit3 Peak.

Value


This Best Buy Award winner is a great option for those on budget. With this watch, you're getting a classic altimeter option that provides accurate and precise functions. It's also comfortable and comes in a variety of styles and color options.

Other models of the Core have many of the same features as the aluminum version for $219. If you're looking for something even less expensive, check out our other Best Buy winner, the Casio SGW300HB that has a retail price of $65.

Hike and adventure anywhere! The Core Alu is a great partner on any mountainous mission in remote terrain.
Hike and adventure anywhere! The Core Alu is a great partner on any mountainous mission in remote terrain.

Conclusion


If you're looking for a high degree of accuracy at a sale price, a watch in the Core Alu line is a great place to start. It provides you with all the basics — altimeter, barometer, and compass — and features high performance and durable construction. Wear it on your next big adventure or at the office.

Run  hike  or backpack high into the mountains; the Suunto Core Alu is a perfect partner for any backcountry mission.
Run, hike, or backpack high into the mountains; the Suunto Core Alu is a perfect partner for any backcountry mission.


Amber King and Ben Applebaum-Bauch