Suunto 9 Baro Review
Cons: Expensive, not very many features
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Suunto Baro 9 is a watch designed solely with the ultra athlete in mind. With this watch, Suunto developed a battery and a battery monitoring software optimized for the long haul, with accurate GPS data. It does not have the long feature list of the other higher end watches we reviewed. But if you are looking for a watch that will make it through your ultra-endurance event with battery to spare, this is the watch for you.
This watch does not offer the breathtaking list of features that other high-end watches in our review do. What it does offer, is a very poignant list of GPS and battery functions designed to last through your complete ultra event or your week-long backpacking tour. We discuss these functions and features in the Battery and GPS sections below.
Altimeter and Barometer
Pretty much all high-end GPS watches offer an altimeter, barometer, and compass. The Baro 9 also has something they call "FusedAlt." This is an altitude reading that uses an algorithm to combine the GPS and the barometric altitude data to make the reading more accurate. In our testing against the comparably priced Garmins, the Suunto was generally more accurate. If you are interested in more information about altimeter functions, please check our altimeter watch review.
Suunto App, Movescount App, and the Movescount Web Platform
Of course, when testing watch features, you also have to test the app you sync it with and its web platform. In fact, you really cannot review a watch without mentioning its app or web platform. It's a good idea to download relevant apps before you even buy a watch to get a sense of how well they'll work for you.
Unfortunately, this test proved to be a bit confusing with the Suunto as there are two apps and a web platform. Suunto advertises the Suunto App as an updated version, so we downloaded it first and synced it to the Baro 9. After our first run, we were already unhappy with the App.
The user interface is nice but there are functions and metrics missing that we most certainly wanted to see. Later we figured out that the missing metrics are graphed in the Movescount app. What's worse, the two apps should not be used simultaneously. Suunto advises against this for various reasons. That means that, if we wanted to go back to the Movescount app, we had to plug the watch into the computer, move the data to the web platform (also called Movescount) then pull it into the Movescount app. It is a pain.
Since our review lasted multiple months, Suunto was actively adding to the App while we were testing. Perhaps when this review goes live, the Suunto App will be a crackerjack tool. But our experience begs the question, why launch an unfinished app when you already have one that displays a larger number of metrics? It seems obvious to us that users would expect the same metrics to be displayed in the new app. In any case, Suunto may have figured out that a lot of people are switching back to the Movescount app, because they are building out the Suunto App as we speak.
One feature that we used extensively on the Garmin options, especially for triathlon training, was the option to build customized workouts that can be synced with the watch. This function will even give you a vibrating alert when it's time to switch tasks. Unfortunately the Baro 9 does not offer this. It will set up your intervals, but it's not really a customized workout. We thought about using a workaround by trying to synchronize training plans from a Training Peaks account, but the Baro 9 wouldn't support it.
Fitness Tracker and Running Dynamics
The Baro 9 offers a list of over 80 sports that you can choose from when customizing the activities you want to track. If you are just tracking your runs, it works great. It will very accurately provide what you'd expect from a high-end GPS watch. And if you want even more data, you can pair it with a Suunto Smart Sensor, Stryd Sensor, and a foot pod.
The watch can also give you recommended recovery time, sleep tracking, daily activity tracking (e.g. steps, calories, etc), and a fairly extensive weather tracking list including storm alerts. These functions are native, meaning you don't need the app to access them.
This watch can use the U.S.'s GPS, Russian's GLONASS and Japan's QZSS satellites. The accuracy of the Baro 9 is far superior to other models that only use GPS.
One important feature of the GPS that really sets the Suunto apart from its competitors is its Fusedtrack option. As stated, this watch is optimized for ultradistance athletes. Suunto wanted to make a watch that keeps on going as long as you are. The entire watch design and its special features are organized to string the battery life out for as long as possible without losing important data in the process.
So Suunto made Fusedtrack. It is a special algorithm that combines limited GPS and motion sensor data to reduce the need for GPS readings. The Baro 9 takes them at two-minute intervals. Fusedtrack combines this information with the motion sensor data to produce the track, essentially with an extremely limited GPS signal. This process significantly reduces battery usage. This very unique feature among the world of GPS watches results in a highly accurate tracking in situations where satellite signals might be suboptimal (e.g. dense forest coverage, in canyons, in cities, etc).
Ease of Use
Due to the touch screen, it was very easy to scroll through the menus on the Baro 9. The various settings are not quite as intuitive as other watches, but once we found them all, we were able to use the Baro 9 with relatively little pause for thought.
The screen is very large and clear. Even during rain, the touch screen worked flawlessly. We could even use it while wearing fitted running gloves. That was a pleasant surprise.
But, for whatever reason, we all found the placement of the buttons difficult to access while running. We are all right-handed, and it seems more natural to have at least one button accessible with the thumb of the right hand if you wear your watch on the left wrist, but this might just be personal preference.
We also lowered the score for the Ease of Use category because of the situation with the apps.
As mentioned above, Suunto put a ton of thought into how to maximize battery life in the Baro 9. Frankly, we were very impressed with their results.
Ultra-endurance athletes have reason to celebrate — the Baro 9 claims up to 120 hours of activity-based battery life in its battery-saving Ultra Mode. We only ran it to 34 hours in the mid-use Endurance Mode before a warning appeared on the screen stating that we had two hours of battery left unless we switched to Ultra Mode.
Suunto claims that the Endurance Mode goes up to 50 hours. We believe this because, although we only would have gotten 36 hours, we were running it with smartphone updates, notifications, etc. We were not attempting to extend the battery life exponentially. The key here is that you get warned and can react accordingly. Fusedtrack is automatically activated for the Endurance and Ultra modes. Of course, if you are tracking an activity that lasts longer than your battery even in Ultra Mode, you can charge the watch with an external battery without interrupting the track.
The nice thing is, when you start your activity, the watch estimates how long the battery will last at that rate, so you can choose your battery mode accordingly from the get-go. Alternatively, you can create your own battery mode settings to optimize some metrics while reducing others.
Of course, there has to be a catch. Despite having all these amazing battery life features DURING an activity, the Baro 9 performs quite dismally during what we call normal use. Its battery performs poorly during day-to-day tasks. Only the Apple Watch Series 4 is worse. The Baro 9 only lasts a dismal four to seven days when using it as a normal smartwatch and doing three to four hours of activity during that time.
We tested the accuracy of the distance tracking, mapping, and the heart rate monitor. For whatever reason, the Suunto heart rate readings seemed to be less accurate than the high-end Garmins. This might have to do with the fit of the Baro 9 since larger wrist testers seemed to have fewer issues.
We compared the distance calculation to a route in Google maps and to the tracks of the other watches. In a previous test period, we tested it against the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire (blue line, below). They both reported the same accurate distance, only 0.01 off the Google maps distance. And both watches put us squarely on the bridge when crossing the river, unlike the value options that often put us in the water on our way over.
If you look on the bottom left of the chart, you can see that the Baro 9 was perhaps 1 or 2 yards more consistent around corners and was better at tracking the road. This did not affect the distance measurement though since the Baro 9 map tracking line was consistently better than the Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire.
The Baro 9's wristband does not lay flat and have hinges like several of the other watches do. This meant that the fit was not as good as the Garmins or the Coros Pace for some of our testers. Watch bands with hinges that lay flat and do not have a pre-existing arch can be tightened to suit smaller wrists better.
The Baro 9 cannot lay flat, so the band has an arch that just did not fit some testers as well as it did others. This might have resulted in the less-than-perfect optical heart rate readings. If a poor fit allows outside light to enter the heart rate monitor area or if the watch slid around too much, the optical heart rate will be less accurate.
The Baro 9 doesn't fit under many tighter running jackets due to its large size, but it isn't a heavy beast, either. One issue mentioned is that the buttons are all on the right side. Testers wearing the watch on their left wrist said that if they made a right angle with their wrist (e.g., when leaning on something), the buttons could dig into the back of their hand.
One thing about the Baro 9 is that it is large, but it looks quite sleek. This is, of course, a personal preference, but all our testers found the watch to be heavy duty and durable, but also office appropriate. That is if the watch size doesn't overwhelm your wrist. Everyone agrees — it is a good looking watch.
Ease of Set Up
The set up of the Baro 9 went quite quickly and was pretty easy. As mentioned, however, the presence of two apps is confusing. This watch is about the middle of the road when it comes to set up — not too slow, not too fast, not too confusing (except for the app selection).
If you are a hardcore ultra-athlete tired of carrying an external battery in your kit or you prioritize GPS accuracy over every other feature, this is the watch for you. That said, outside of the endurance sport world, we had a hard time seeing how this watch fits. It fulfills a definite need in a niche market, but a basic feature (like storing music) would help justify the price tag. For that reason, we did not give the Baro 9 any awards this time around.
The Baro 9 will survive your ultra event probably better than you will and will also give you accurate GPS data. In the middle of the night, when you have not brushed your teeth in two days, and you are still running in the wilderness with the hope of getting that belt buckle, there will be one thing you can count on — the Baro 9 will still be recording your data. At least you can post it on Strava. Because we all know, it never happened if it is not on Strava.
— Larin McPeak