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Suunto Core Watch Review

by The Review CrewSeptember 12, 2010

At WatchReport, we’re big fans of outdoor watches. We’ve reviewed several Casio Pathfinders, and today we have the Suunto Core Light Green. There are eight Core models, differing in case design and coloration. I chose the Light Green for both functional and aesthetic reasons – it’s the lightest of the bunch, with aluminum bezel and vented rubber strap, and I prefer normal black-on-white LCDs to the negative variant.

The Core is an altimeter/barometer/compass watch, much like the Pathfinders, but with a completely different design aesthetic. Before we start comparing, here’s a list of the features onboard:

* Altimeter/Barometer.
* Temperature sensor.
* Compass with declination correction.
* The pressure sensor also works under water, serving as a depth gauge. More on this below.
* Alarm, stopwatch and countdown timer.
* Dual time zones. The second timezone is settable to any time, and so will work in places like Delhi, Newfoundland and central Australia.
* Display of sunrise and sunset times, based on you selecting a city.
* Recording and plotting of data – the Core can save and display data for altitude/pressure or depth.
* Storm alarm and barometric pressure trends.
* Waterproof to 100m (330ft).
* Hard plastic case and vented rubber strap. This version uses a custom lug with screws, so only Suunto straps will fit; some of the other models have bracelets with normal lugs that’d accept a generic strap.
* User-replaceable CR-2032 battery, a nice touch.
* Domed mineral glass crystal.
* Bidirectional bezel with N/S/E/W markings.
* Huge bitmapped LCD display with green backlighting.
* 60g in weight, 14.5mm high by 50mm wide.
* The watch uses a proportionally spaced font, the first one I’ve seen on a watch. It makes it easier to read but can be initially disconcerting to see the time shift right when the minute ends in one! You can see this effect in the top picture.

Backwstrap There’s a lot of functionality in this watch, but due to thoughtful design its easy to use. Suunto also has an excellent online demo that shows the features and the user interface that I recommend to you. The watch has three main modes, Time, Altimeter/Barometer and Compass. Each of these, in turn, has different views you select via the View button. For example, Time mode shows the time in the center area, but the area beneath it cycles between

* Seconds
* Day of week with Month and Day in the form of ‘Thu 10.9.’
* Time in second timezone
* Sunrise and sunset times – nice for hiking.
* Stopwatch
* Countdown timer
* Blank space

While that’s displayed, the seconds run ’round the outside, just like the Lumi. Above the time, there’s a small three-segment display of recent barometric pressure trends and an indicator of the Altimeter/Barometer mode. The seconds ring is reused to show compass direction, active buttons and a progress bar when entering setting mode. Due to the bitmapped display, menu choices are spelled out, which makes operating the watch easy. ‘backlight’ is easy to understand where an abbreviation might confuse.

Here’s a comparison shot with a G-shock to show relative size. The core is wider but thinner:
Gshocksidecompare

Holding the Mode button shows the progress bar racing ’round the screen, thence to setting mode. It’s all menu-driven, and uses full English words. You can select other languages, too, Spanish, German and French are all supported. The full-word interface, combined with the button cues, makes this the simplest ABC watch to use I’ve yet seen. The logical layout of the menus and modes is a testament to the human factors engineers at Suunto.

Leftside Altimeter/Barometer mode is probably the most complicated on the watch. Like all ABC watches, the Core knows what the pressure and temperature are right now, but needs to know a bit more. Pressure varies with temperature, altitude and weather, so you need to tell the Core either local altittude or current barometric pressure. Usually, you just read the altitude off of the topo map before you start hiking. The Core has three operational modes here: Altitude, Barometer or Auto. In Altimiter, the Core assumes that you’re going up or down, and that barometric pressure is constant. This is good for hiking, but it can get fooled – I’ve had an altimeter swear I was descending while climbing a hillside due to an impending storm, so with all ABC watches a bit of caution is required. In Barometer mode, the ambient pressure is tracked and plotted, which is nice for off-the-grid forecasting before you set out to hike. Automatic mode does a pretty good job of switching back and forth all by itself. Due to the location on the wrist, the temperature readings are only accurate when the watch is left off your wrist for at least fifteen minutes and are therefore minimally useful.

Unlike the Pathfinders, the Core’s pressure sensor is also designed to work under water, and can measure depth down to 10m. It’s designed for snorkeling, which is a delightful touch and very welcome innovation.

Rightside The Alti/Baro mode also incldes the logbook, or electronic data recorder. As the user manual explains, this saves current altitude periodically and displays it as a graph. You can save, recall and view them, along with calculated values like ascent and descent rates. Unlike fancier watches, there’s no way to transfer them to a computer, but the bitmapped display is quite adequate for reviewing hikes.

Compass mode uses a solid-state electronic compass, complete with declination correction. Like mechanical compasses, it loses accuracy when tilted off the level, so you have to try and hold it level, which can be tricky. As expected, you can lock in a heading to track quite easily. Since the compass draws a lot of power, the Core pauses it after a few seconds of displaying a heading, but a touch of the Start button brings it right back.

Subjectively, this is a very nice watch to wear and use. The light weight, smooth shape and vented strap worked great when I took it along for a week in the Costa Rican jungle, working flawlessly even in stifling heat, torrential rainfall and darkness. The compass was spot-on compared to the instrument-grade model along, and worked under the canopy where GPS failed to lock on. The low profile slides easily under a shirt sleeve, and the large, clear display is effortless to read quickly. Off the wrist, it served well as an alarm clock, and even includes a snooze button!

Strapkeeper I particularly liked the vented strap, which breathes very well and stayed put while hiking. The lock on the strap keeper, shown at left, keeps the tail of the strap from getting loose.

Retail price for the Core is $250, and they’re available online for as little as $175. I got mine at REI using my 20% annual discount and have been very happy with it. Recommended.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.