I recently purchased a Suunto X9 GPS wristwatch and thought I’d share some of my first impressions of it.
I purchased the X9 because of it’s size and weight. The Garmin Foretrex 101 is .1 ounce lighter than the X9, but much larger. No way am I wearing the Garmin – it’s just too geeky.
The X9 is a large wristwatch, but not so large as to attract too much attention. It’s a very solid piece of gear and well constructed. I verified its weight at 2.7 ounces.
I’ll let the reader do web searches to find out more about X9 features. I’ll just briefly go over my impressions of it.
There are five push buttons on the sides of the watch that are very hard to depress. Because all but one of the buttons is diagonal to another, you can’t easily use an across-watch pinching motion to press a button. You really have to contort your fingers and hand and exert a lot of pressure on a button to activate it. And it’s easy to activate the button twice as you struggle. This problem is so bad that after a few days of working with the unit, I got so frustrated with the buttons that I sent the watch back for a refund.
Even if the rest of the watch’s features were super, I would not keep this watch. The buttons are just too hard to use.
Battery life is short, but I figured I could use the X9 in a check GPS, check map type mode, keeping the GPS function off most of the time. This would minimize battery usage. The watch comes with a recharger that can accept a 9V battery to recharge the unit, so I figured I could field recharge the unit every couple of days or so.
Unfortunately, the recharger is large (4.5” x 2” x 1.5”) and adds another 2.1 oz (w/o battery) to your pack. The battery cover door is hard to open/close and not very strong. I would see this breaking in field use.
The recharger (aka docking station) is poorly designed. It clamps the watch in such a way that the watch and recharger cannot lay flat on a table. It looks a mess while in the cradle. This is minor point, but poor design. The unit is also hard to open and close around the watch, making charging and PC access more of a pain. You can’t just drop the watch in it’s docking station like a Palm Pilot PDA.
Suunto does not provide any other recharging options suitable for field use. You’d have to bring a mess of 9V batteries, or a small solar panel and a rechargeable 9V battery. Perhaps not practical for multi-days hikes.
The watch is one piece – the bands cannot be user removed or replaced. Oddly, the watch comes with an undocumented extra band, maybe for extending the diameter of the original band to fit around your leg or outside a puffy jacket.
The compass feature seems to work fine, but it’s not as easy to use as a non-electric compass.
Some of the user preferences are not totally utilized – on the sunrise/sunset screen, you get 24-hour time even if you select 12-hour time. And the date is displayed as DDMM even if you select the American MMDD format option.
The GPS function can record position information every second or once every minute. That’s it. Since we’re dealing with very limited battery capacity, I think more options need to be available here. I’d like to see 5, 10, 15, 20, 30-minute intervals to wring more battery life from the unit. The limit is 8000 track points. That’s good for 11 12-hour days, recharging the unit nightly.
If you give up track logs but still use GPS a couple times a day, you could probably go a couple of days between recharges.
I don’t know if the watch’s firmware can be user updated. It’s not documented in the manuals and I couldn’t find a firmware page on their website. There’s no “display version” option in the watches menu system.
The “night mode” for the X9’s backlit display is not well implemented. Night mode tells the watch to activate it’s backlighting whenever a button is pressed. You have to tell the watch when to use night mode. I think the watch should know when it’s night and adjust the backlight option accordingly.
These is no provision for daylight saving time. You have to adjust the UTC offset manually for DST. Many GPS received are also “dumb” when it comes to DST.
The watch does not lay flat because the thick wristbands are permanently curved. So it has to sit on its side or face when not on your wrist. The crystal is well recessed, so scratching is minimized.
The watchband is a bit hard to take off you arm, as it’s hard to unattach the buckle tongue and the buckle doesn’t easily slide over the strap.
GPS sensitivity is much lower as compared to my Garmin Etrex. The Etrex locked and maintained quicker and longer than the X9. I didn’t keep the watch long enough for extended field testing of GPS sensitivity, but I doubt the X9 would maintain a lock while worn on the wrist without clear view of the sky.
The software that comes with the watch allows you to import gif, bmp, or jpg scanned maps and calibrate them. You can add waypoints and tracks and upload/download them from the X9. The software is not intuitive and a little frustrating to use as compared to Oziexplorer. I don’t know if the X9 uses a proprietary NEMA sentence structure, and I didn’t try it with Ozi.
The menu system on the watch is easy to use until you get to the GPS functions. These are spread out over three menus (all modes, activity, and navigation). Setting waypoints, go to’s, etc is not intuitive. After reading the manual a couple of time and working with the unit, I was still frustrated on how to use GPS functions like waypoints and go to’s. I’m sure I could figure it out eventually, but outdoor gear should not be this hard to use. I didn’t have to read the Garmin manuals to learn how to use my Etrex and 45XL.
Setting a waypoint needs to be really easy and involve as few key presses as possible. It’s not on the X9.
This complexity may be due in part to the limited display real estate, but I think the X9 software could have been designed much better.
Well, as you can tell, I didn’t like the X9. The buttons alone are a deal killer. If the buttons were easy use, I still couldn’t recommend the X9 due to the complexity of its GPS menus. If that were easy to use, I still wouldn’t recommend the X9 due to its poor GPS performance and value.