junk...they take on water via the pressure sensor, and 2 of the 3 i've had ran fast, about 20sec a week. avocet an alternative.
5,980 forum posts
I wouldn't be as harsh as Brandon, but there are a number of problems with the Suunto line of "wrist computers." Most of them have to do with functions most folks don't use, so probably are of no great importance. Like Brandon, I would suggest the Avocet (currently Avocet II) as a better alternative.
I have had my Avocet for about 8 years and my Suunto for about 5 years. I have found Avocet to be a lot more responsive to questions and problems (I broke the crystal on mine by clumsily tripping on a trail and sticking my wrist onto a rock to stop the fall - they replaced the whole case with a 2-day turnaround). Of course, you do have to consider that Avocet is headquartered local to me. The Suunto USA people seem to have little understanding of atmospheric science, and Suunto's main headquarters is very slow in response.
Some problems with the Suunto line - as Brandon mentioned, the "waterproof" case has several leak points. The main one is the battery compartment. Unless you are very very careful, you will get the gasket out of alignment or worn after one or two replacements. Since the battery needs replacing about every 6 months if you use the recording functions very much, this means it will be leaking within 6-12 months. I have had serious condensation just from the sweat on my wrist. You can reduce this problem by replacing the gasket every time you replace the battery (included in Suunto's battery kit at 4 or 5 times the price of the battery alone at Radio Shack or Fry's).
For my use, the worst problem is the major bug in the "sea level" barometer function. This appears to be normal up to altitudes of 4000-5000 feet, thanks in part to the coarse steps in the barometer indication (the pressure displays move in 0.05 inch Hg steps, rather than 0.01 for everybody else who makes altimeters - but Suunto actually does carry the full precision internally). Above 5000 ft or so, the sea level reading (QNH, for the pilots out there) is increasingly high, until somewhere between 10k and 11k. At that altitude, the conversion algorithm fails completely. Instead of something near 30 inches Hg, the readings I obtained (with a half dozen other Suuntos of 3 or 4 models agreeing) were (ranges represent daily fluctuations):
11,200 feet altitude ..... 8.75 inches
14,200 feet ............ 9.70 to 9.90 inches
17,200 feet ............ 10.65 to 10.75 inches
The absolute pressure function (QFE)is normal and in agreement with other altimeter/barometers, including a calibrated one the NPS had at the 14k camp. Also, the problem does not appear to affect the altitude or altitude logging functions. If you never go above 2000 or 3000 feet or never use the "sea level" function, this won't matter to you. But if you hike in Colorado, for example, and try to use the barometer settings from nearby airports, you are out of luck. Since I and others have brought this to Suunto's attention repeatedly over the past 5 years or so, it is possible that the problem has been corrected in newer versions. My most recent check on a new unit at altitude was 1 1/2 years ago, but a quick glance at a new, just out of the box Vector at Snowbird looked like the problem might have been solved.
Another problem is that the compass function in the Vector and others in the lineup that have the electronic compass is easily de-calibrated by RFI and EMI, including the old analog frequency cell phone transmissions and leakage from certain vehicle electronic ignition systems.
A peculiarity is that if you set the time interval on the altitude logging function too long (to save memory and battery), you get a much lower accumulated climb and descent. For example, if you are skiing and set the interval to one hour, you will miss all but one of the half dozen trips up the lift and ski down (gain is done by differencing the altitude reading at the specified interval, rather than cumulative like the Avocet or Thommens electronic units). So you have to go to 1 minute or shorter intervals, which uses the memory too fast and runs the battery down faster.
There are other problems as well, but this is too long a post already. Casio does have equivalent features in their top models, but watch out for their altitude limits (13,500 for most Casio altimeter watches). Timex and Casio seem to have a technology agreement, so their models are similar.
I love mine. Just used it this morning on a little ski tour.
It is a wrist-top computer. They arent kidding. I have yet to use every function on it for lack of studying the tech manual enough. It has just about every bell and whistle minus a heart rate monitor and gps.
Cant go wrong with them, easy intuitive setup of functions and use, compass is a nice bonus the avocet doesnt have and it is easier to use than most of the others because of its large display.
5,980 forum posts
If you get the Suunto Advizor, you get the heart rate monitor as well. It's by Polar. Or get the Polar 710, which is a heart rate monitor plus altimeter/barometer (sensor by guess who - Suunto - both Suunto and Polar are Finnish companies). The advantage of the 710 is that you can download everything into your computer for automated plotting.
The GPSr will take a few more years, although there are now all in one GPS receiver chips that are small enough to fit inside the Suunto or Polar wrist devices. Two problems remain - the batteries are large if you want battery life, and the antenna has a minimum size dictated by basic physics - which is why the Casio "wristwatch" GPSR is so huge.
One other problem I didn't mention earlier on the Suunto compass is that unless you are very careful to hold the watch exactly level, the accuracy is about 5 deg or worse. If you hold it very level and steady (aided by the bubble level in the older units), you can get to about 1-2 deg, or about the same as a $7 basic Suunto base plate compass. The baseplate compass plus the Suunto model lacking the compass is significantly lower in price than the Vector, is easier to get the better accuracy, and the baseplate compass has no battery to die, plus never gets decalibrated by RFI or EMI.
Matt, Bill, and Brandon,
Thanks so much for the detailed insights, personal observations, and constructive criticisms. I will take a look at the Avocet II before deciding.
I plan to use it on Mt. Whitney next month and later this summer on a trip to Ecuador, so I am going to want accuracy up to 20,000 feet. I hope that the waterproofing issue will be less of a concern for me, though in the event I fell into a creek, I would certainly want it be tightly sealed.
Great comments, thanks.
I am looking to buy a wristwatch/altimeter/barometer wristtop computer. The Suunto Vector was recommended to me. Does anyone have opinions from personal experience with this model? What about the Suunto Altimax ($50 cheaper) or maybe a Casio or Timex alternative?
Thanks for any advice...
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