The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

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.
Suunto Core Alu
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  ⋅  Dec 6, 2018
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72
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 9
  • Altimeter Accuracy - 30% 8
  • Battery Life - 20% 8
  • Ease of Use and Interface - 20% 6
  • Features - 10% 6
  • Display quality - 10% 6
  • Comfort and Fit - 10% 8

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 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.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Suunto Core Alu
This Product
Suunto Core Alu
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award   Top Pick Award 
Price $245.00 at Amazon$394.17 at Amazon$599.00 at REI
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$349.00 at AmazonCheck Price at Amazon
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Pros Long battery life, durable aluminum finish, great fit, precise, easy-to-use interfaceComfortable, high quality, easy-to-use, highly accurate, GPS, many features, rechargeable batteryTouch screen, many features, consistent altimeter, clear graphsAmazing features, long battery life for GPS watch, awesome display, easy-to-use, colorful and clear fontTons of features, easy to read and use
Cons Altitude and barometric graphs are sub-par, no GPS, lag on button pressesThicker profile, short battery lifeShort battery life, inaccurate step counterNot the most accurate altimeter, poor battery life in comparison to non-GPS, lacks comfortVery expensive, short battery life, heavy on wrist
Bottom Line This Best Buy Award winner is the best option for those looking for a classic altimeter watch at an affordable price.The Sunnto Ambit3 Peak is the Editors' Choice because of its fantastic accuracy, reliability, and great features.This is an all-star watch for those who keep to the front country.This watches is one of the best multi-sport fitness based watches available but the altimeter function is just average.A top-of-the-line watch that does way more than measure altitude.
Rating Categories Suunto Core Alu Suunto Ambit3 Peak Suunto 9 Baro Garmin Fenix 3 Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Sapphire
Altimeter Accuracy (30%)
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8
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8
10
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7
10
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7
Battery Life (20%)
10
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8
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7
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3
10
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5
10
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4
Ease Of Use And Interface (20%)
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6
10
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8
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10
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8
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8
Features (10%)
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6
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Display Quality (10%)
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9
Comfort And Fit (10%)
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Specs Suunto Core Alu Suunto Ambit3 Peak Suunto 9 Baro Garmin Fenix 3 Garmin Fenix 5X...
GPS? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dimensions (Inches) 1.93 x 1.93 x 0.57” 1.97 x 1.97 x 0.71” 2.03 x 2.03 x 0.67 " 2.01 x 2.01 x 0.69” 2.01 x 2.01 x 0.69”
Type of Battery Watch battery Rechargable lithium ion battery Rechargable lithium ion battery Rechargable lithium ion battery Rechargable lithium ion battery
Battery Life (w/o GPS) 12 months 30 days 14 days 6 weeks 20 days
Battery Life w/ GPS on No GPS 20, 30, or 200 hours 7 days 38 - 50 hrs in UltraTrac mode, 20 hours in regular GPS 32 hours
Altitude Range -500 - 9000 m -500 - 9999 m -500 - 9999 m Information pending information pending
Altitidue differential? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Elevation interval 1m/3ft 1m/3ft 1ft 1m/3ft 1ft
Barometer Yes Yes Yes Yes, barometric graph Yes
Barometric Recording Interval & Time (for the graph) Every 30 minutes, 24 hours Every 15 minutes, 24 hours 10 seconds, 24 hours Every 30 minutes, 24 hours Information pending
Barometric Pressure Range 920 - 1,080 hPa (27.13 - 31.85 inHg) 950 to 1060 hPa (28.05 to 31.30 inHg) Information pending 920 - 1,080 hPa (27.13 - 31.85 inHg) 920 - 1,080 hPa (27.13 - 31.85 inHg)
Storm Alert Alarm? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes (customizable pressure/temp intervals)
Compass None Yes Yes, tilt adjustable Yes, tilt adjustable Yes
Time Features Digital, dual world times, stopwatch, countdown timer Digital, stop watch, countdown timer Digital (customizable faces), stop watch, GPS time, countdown timer Digital (customizable faces), stop watch, GPS time, countdown Digital (customizable faces), up to 4 alternate time zones, stop watch, GPS time, countdown timer
Time Alarm Yes Yes, one daily alarm Yes Yes, one daily alarm Yes, 10 daily alarms
Thermometer Yes Yes Yes Yes w/ temperature chart Yes
Temperature Resistance Range -20° C to +60° C (-4F - 140F) -20° C to +60° C -20° C to +60° C -20C to 55C/-4F to 131F -20º to 45ºC (from -4º to 113ºF)
Water Resistance Yes, 100 meters Yes, 100 meters Yes, 100 meters Yes, 100 meters Yes, 100 meters
Interchangeable straps? No No Yes Yes Yes
Types of bands and material Silicone Elastomer Silicone Plastic, silicon Silicon, suede, or steel
Bluetooth connection? No Yes Yes No Yes
GPS, GLONASS, both? No GPS GPS GPS No GPS GPS, GLONASS, Galileo
Apps n/a Suunto MovesCount Suunto MovesCount n/a Garmin Connect
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 (2 years) Limited Warranty Period (2 years) Limited Warranty Period (1 year)
Other Cool Features sunrise/sunset notifications, points of interest, recovery time estimator, Activity monitoring, heart rate monitor, notifications, moon phases, points of interest, sleep tracking Snorkeling depth meter (resolution 0.1m) VO2 Max, pulse Ox, golf courses, song storage, smart pay, virtual training partner, sleep tracking

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


The Core Aluminum finish is durable  sleek  and perfect for any outdoor adventure!
The Core Aluminum finish is durable, sleek, and perfect for any outdoor adventure!

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 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.

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.

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.

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

Display Quality


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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 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.

Best Applications


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.

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 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.

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