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 the easiest-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. The Core Alu is often on sale for around $200. 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.
Suunto Core Alu Review
Cons: Altitude and barometric graphs are sub-par, no GPS, lag on button presses
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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.
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).
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 PRW-6000Y. 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.
Ease of Use and Interface
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. This meant that we pressed a button twice (thinking we hadn't pressed it all the way the first time), meaning timers started and stopped again.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The display is decent. The mineralized crystal face is highly durable and easy to see in regular light.
It is much nicer than the basic block readouts of the Casio models, but not nearly as sleek as any of the other higher end Garmin and Suunto models. The font style is a little pixel-ish, and you can't invert the display background like on the Ambit3 Peak and Traverse.
One minor drawback is that the backlight is dim in comparison to the GPS watch options. Take a look at the picture below for a comparison.
Comfort and Fit
This watch is one of the more comfortable models. We love the silicon 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, which cannot be said for behemoths like the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire. Overall, it's a comfortable and nicely fitting watch that doesn't stand out too much if you wanted to wear it in non-outdoor settings as well.
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 style 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.
This basic altimeter watch is well-suited for any vertical excursion. Since the battery life is long, you can take it with you on treks into remote terrain. Similar to other watches that we tested, this model slows down a little in the cold, so using it in temperatures that dip below -4 degrees F is not ideal unless you wear it underneath some clothing. In all, it's a great hiking, backpacking, and mountaineering option.
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 the all the basics — altimeter, barometer, and compass — and features a high performance and durable construction. Wear it on your next big adventure or at the office.
— Amber King and Ben Applebaum-Bauch