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Reviews > Electronic Devices > Watches > Suunto x9i > Test Report by Pamela Wyant

Suunto X9i Wristop Computer


Tester Information:
 
Name:  Pam Wyant
Age:  49
Gender:  Female
Height:  5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)
Weight:  165 lb (77 kg)
Wrist Circumference:  6.5 in (16.5 cm)
Computer systems – Compaq TC 1000 tablet,
                         Dell Dimension 4300 desktop

E-mail address:  pamwyant(at)yahoo(dot)com
Location:  Western West Virginia, U.S.A.

Backpacking Background: 

Finally pursuing a long-time interest, I started backpacking 3 years ago.  I've progressed from day-hiking and single overnights my first year, to weekend trips the second, and finally to a 7-night trip on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia this year.  I hike and backpack mainly in the hills and valleys of West Virginia, and generally use a hammock sleeping system.  In general my backpacking style is lightweight and minimalist without giving up safety or comfort, and I’m always interested in ways to lighten my pack a bit more.


Initial Report

Suunto X9i and accessories

September 29, 2006

Product Information:

Manufacturer:  Suunto
Year of manufacture:  2006
Date of Delivery:  September 15, 2006
Model:  X9i Wristop Computer
Advertised Weight:  2.7 oz (76 g)
Weight as delivered: 
   Wristop Computer - 2.8 oz  (79 g)
   Charger (assembled for standard US outlet including cable) - 4.4 oz (125 g)
   PC Interface Cable only - 2 oz (57 g)
   User Guide - 4.6 oz (130 g)
   Pocket Guide - 0.4 oz (11.3 g)
   Extension Wrist Strap - 0.7 oz (19.8 g)
   Adapters - US style 0.2 oz (5.7 g)
                     Other 2 prong adapters 0.6 oz (17 g)
                     3 prong adapter 1 oz (28.4 g)
Battery:  Rechargeable Li-Ion
Stated Battery Life:   4-5 hours using GPS; 2+ months using only Time and/or Alti/Baro Modes
Manufacturer Website:  http://www.suunto.com
MSRP:   Not given on website

Product Description:

The Suunto X9i is a multi-functional wristop computer intended to provide the user information to enhance their outdoor experience.  There are 5 primary modes:  Time, Altimeter/Barometer, Compass, Navigation, and Activity.  The X9i is available with a black case and a grey-scale face, or a grey case with a black face, and features a black rubber strap with a metal adjustment bars and fastener.  This wristop computer is much larger than any sports watch I've seen, measuring a little over 2 in (5 cm) across the face, with the strap tapering down to 3/4 in (2 cm) at its narrowest.  From one tip of the strap to the other, the length measures a bit over 10 in (25 cm).  The strap is formed to a pre-curved state, preventing the X9i from laying flat on a surface.  On the side of the X9i are five buttons, two on the left side, and three on the right.  The buttons are well integrated into the case, extending only slightly beyond it, and so far don't seem easy to bump accidentally while wearing the X9i.  In fact, they take deliberate effort to depress so far.  The case is smooth and rounded, with no rough edges noticeable.  The crystal is smooth and clear without obvious flaws.

Included in the package from the manufacturer were the following accessories and documentation:
Charger featuring 4 different adapters
PC-interface cable
Suunto Trek Manager CD
User's guide
Pocket guide
Brochure providing tips on ensuring a good GPS fix for the first use
Card advertising National Geographic TOPO! mapping software as the exclusive mapping software partner for the X9i
Extension wrist strap

Rather than re-hashing much of the information available on the Suunto website from their on-line manual, in this report I'm primarily sharing my experience in setting the X9i up and preliminary experimenting with the various functions.

Getting started:

Upon opening the box, it was clear this was a complex piece of equipment that will require some reading and studying to use properly.  A good example is the charger - instead of a simple "insert one end into the watch and plug the other into the wall" type adapter, this one actually required assembly.  I opened the user manual to see how to assemble it to charge the X9i, but to my surprise didn't find any documentation on this.  Hmm..  Luckily it was pretty intuitive.  I looked the selection of four plug adapters over, and only one was going to fit in my outlets.  It simply slid into the back of the adapter and snapped in place.  Step one done. Now, it needed a cord to be able to connect to the X9i. Looking the adapter over, I noted a USB port on the bottom.  Aha!  Slide the USB end of the PC-interface cable into the bottom of the adapter, and voila, the charger is assembled and I plug it in!  Hmm.. the directions say "...attach its data clip firmly to your Suunto X9i".  Okay, this should be easy.  Um...  where does it attach?  I don't notice any holes on the sides.  Turning the X9i over, 4 recessed metal contact points are readily visible.  The clip on the end of the PC-interface cable has one side with four metal teeth - putting two and two together, it's pretty easy to figure out that I clamp the tooth side of the clip to the contact points on the back of the wristop computer.  I like the way the clip clamps securely in place, with the teeth on the bottom biting into the contact points and the top of the clip securely fitting over the body of the case and resting against the crystal there is no risk that the contact points will slip and the unit will fail to charge.  The X9i immediately springs to life and begins charging, showing 12:00 as the time.  So far, so good.  Checking it every now and then, and browsing the user guide in the meantime, in about 5 hours I notice the X9i is fully charged.

The photo below shows the location of the contact points on the back of the case and the teeth on the charger clip.
Contact points

General setup:

Okay, time to get started.  Having browsed the user guide, I know I need to select some settings I want to use. Most settings are made from the Time mode. 
First on the list is the UTC offset.  Umm... what's that?  Oh well, I'll worry about it later and set the time so I can start wearing my new toy, er.. tool.  Luckily, this is fairly intuitive, although there are directions and diagrams in the user guide showing how.  Basically it's a matter of navigating with the buttons in a manner similar to menu keys on my cell phone.  The right side buttons are used for entering the menus, scrolling up or down through them, and selecting the settings I want.  The left side buttons allow me to leave the setup menus and return to the time function, and also to select sub-modes.  Enter, start data, or stop back buttons can be quickly pressed to access some functions, or held longer (about 2 seconds) to access other functions.  I manage to set the time, date, and an alarm fairly easily and move onto units.  Some of these are fairly easy with only a couple of choices, such as the way to display the date (month then day, or day then month) and the temperature (F or C).  Some are a little more complicated such as datum, position, or grid (for mapping).  I decide I don't know what I want on some of those, so I'll worry about them later.  Within a few minutes, I have the X9i up and running and can look at the time, use the stopwatch, and check the barometer (even though I'm not really sure how that cool little bar graph relates to the expected weather yet).  Wow - I have a lot to learn to get the most out of this.

Next, I install the provided Suunto Trek Manager CD to my Dell Dimension 4300, which goes smoothly and glitch-free.  I open the software, and briefly check it out, then move onto the PDF manual.  The PDF manual is quite a bit more detailed than the user manual and I browse through it a bit.

Okay, first thing to learn - what is UTC offset?  I go to a search website and find out UTC is short for "Coordinated Universal Time", the basis for worldwide civil time, which used to be known as Greenwich Mean Time.  The UTC offset turns out to be important for coordinating the time on the X9i to the atomic time available from satellites when using the GPS - I need to set the correct offset for the time zone I'm in, or my time won't be right when the X9i coordinates with the satellite.  Since the PDF manual on the Trek Manager CD has a GPS Datum List and a Local Grid List, I am surprised it doesn't have a UTC offset list for different time zones.  Fortunately I was able to find a list showing the necessary offset to set for different United States time zones on the Naval Observatory Website.  Eastern Standard Time requires a -5 offset, while Eastern Daylight Savings Time requires a -4 offset.  Once I know what the offset is, I can quickly set it.  I will need to remember to change the offset by an hour in a few weeks.

Early impressions:

One of my first impressions about the X9i is the huge size.  It pretty much dwarfs my wrist, as shown in the photo below:

Size comparison

The X9i felt very awkward when I first put it on, but I have become somewhat used to it, especially when I took it for a test hike.  However, my wrist still feels restricted when I wear it, I'm sure at least in part due to the stiffness of the wrist strap.  It's hard for me to bend my wrist naturally without the edges of the strap interfering with my movement or digging into my wrist uncomfortably.  I have found wearing it at least one notch longer than I would need to makes it feel more comfortable.  I wore it to bed the night it first arrived to determine if I could sleep comfortable with it on, and find out I could, but I did wake up a few times and was conscious of it being on my wrist.  Even the band is very wide, as shown below:

Suunto band

The X9i felt pretty comfortable when I took it for a trial hike, and it was handy just to lift my wrist and see what was going on.  However, if I wear it very long around the house or out and about when it is hot, my wrist begins to feel uncomfortable and sweaty, and I grow tired of it feeling restricted.  I suppose in an instrument this large and expensive, it's too risky to trust it to a leather band, but I wonder if that wouldn't be more comfortable than the stiff rubberized strap.  At this point, I don't believe I can tolerate it as an everyday 'watch', so I will probably be limiting its use to hiking and backpacking or other activities that I might need its specialized functions.

Time Mode Display

A little about the functions:

Time mode:

This mode is pretty easy to master, although I still get a little mixed up about the functions of the Start-Data button and the Stop-back button from time to time.  The photo to the right shows the face of the Suunto in Time Mode.  There are three different functions displayed.  The top shows the day and date, which can be customized to show the date in the order the user prefers for the month and day.  In the center is the current time for the chosen time zone (customizable to show 12 or 24 hour formats), and at the bottom the photo shows the 'dual time' which allows the user to have an additional time zone displayed.  The bottom of the display can be changed to show seconds, or to show (and use) the stopwatch function.  The alarm was easy to set, activated at the correct time, and was easy to deactivate by merely pressing 'Stop', but the sound is soft.  This could be bad if I am really tired and don't notice it when it goes off, but it is nice to know it won't startle everyone within hearing when it goes off.  It's quiet enough I don't believe it would even be noticeable to anyone if it went off during a meeting or worship service, unlike some other watch alarms I've heard.  So far I've tested it twice, waking up before the alarm the first time, so that wasn't a good test.  On my second test, I was asleep when it went off, and it did wake me, even though it is quiet.  I'll be monitoring this again a few times to see if I ever sleep through it.

Alti/Baro ModeAlti/Baro Mode:

This mode can display EITHER the altitude OR barometric pressure, but not both at the same time.  In the photo to the left, the barometric pressure is displayed.  The top section of the screen shows the pressure at sea level, the center shows a graph of the barometric pressure over the last 6 hours, and the bottom is displaying the temperature in the photo.  (No, it really isn't 84; having the X9i on my wrist makes the temperature read hotter than it really is.  Apparently the X9i must be removed from the wrist to display an accurate temperature.)  The bottom display can be changed to show the absolute barometric pressure, or the current time.  Changing the bottom display is a simple matter of pressing the Stop-back button, so it's very easy to switch back and forth.  Of interest in this photo is the high spike to the left side of the graph.  I thought this was due to a sudden pressure change, but it turns out this reflects altitude change while driving.  Since this  mode uses the same barometric sensor for both altitude and barometer, changing altitude will affect the barometer, and vice-versa.  I think this will take some getting used to in order to effectively use either function.

Compass, Navigation, and Activity Modes:

I was able to calibrate the compass easily the first time, and two additional times on the first try.  The documentation states the GPS takes longer to get a fix the first time (up to twelve minutes), and to be sure to find a place with clear visibility to the sky.  I was pleased to find the GPS locked on the first time in about 8 minutes, and signaled with a beep that a fix had been obtained.  Other than these successes, early experimentation with these modes has proved rather fruitless, in part because when I am outside using them I don't have the PDF manual on the CD available.  The user guide and pocket guide contain a list of the functions and some information, however not enough detail to fully understand these modes.  Without the guidance of the full manual, I could turn the functions on, but couldn't really understand how they were working.  In particular, it was irritating to me that neither user guide nor pocket guide mention the fact that to navigate along the desired bearing, the small circular bearing indicator needs to be inside the sighting marks at the top of the X9i display.  I also found it confusing that the compass display would come and go, and couldn't find the reason why in the user guide, however according to the manual, the compass displays for 45 second and then goes into a 'sleep' mode to save battery power.  I think this would be useful information to include in the user guide, especially that Start-Data needs to be pressed to re-activate the compass.  One thing I am disappointed in is that apparently waypoints can only be marked with the names listed in the menus - things like 'start', 'end' 'river' 'road', and 'camp'.  This seems limiting to me - I'd like to be able to name the road or note a little bit about the camp.  These modes are definitely something I will be reading up on and working with as I field test the Suunto X9i.

Likes so far –

Multi-functional
GPS at a light weight
High quality

Dislikes so far –

Limited instructions in the user guide/the need to consult a computer to obtain in-depth instructions
Bulky
Stiff strap

Nitpicks -

The print on the flow charts showing the functions on the pocket guide and user guide are so small I can't read them without a magnifying glass.
The user guide is nearly 1/2 in (1.3 cm) thick and contains 8 languages.  It would be nice if separate thinner manuals were provided for each language, so I could take along only the one I need.  It would be especially nice if these incorporated more of the necessary instructions to operate the X9i functions.

Field Report

Date:  December 5, 2006

Over the last couple of months I've used the Suunto X9i  for several short day hikes near my home, at Girl Scout camps in the central and northern section of West Virginia, and on a long day hike to Abingdon Shelter on the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee.  I've also used it on a weekend backpacking trip to the Cranberry Backcountry in eastern West Virginia, and a weekend trip that was supposed to be backpacking, but turned into a car camping trip with day hikes in the Spruce Knob Lake area in eastern West Virginia.  Elevations as measured by the Suunto X9i  have ranged from a low of 837 ft (255 m) to a high of 4861 ft (1482 m).  Weather conditions have ranged from lows in the mid 20 F (-5 C) range to highs around 70 F (20 C), and everything from bright sun to heavy rain.

General findings:

For the first few weeks I wore the X9i, it felt very bulky and heavy when I wore it for everyday activities, but surprisingly, I found it more comfortable when I was hiking.  I believe this is due to the fact that I usually use trekking poles when hiking, and this results in my keeping my hand and arm angled in a fairly fixed position.  During my everyday activities I am constantly changing my hand and arm positions, which results in the watch being more noticeable.  At first I felt very self conscious wearing it around because it was so large.  Over the last few weeks, I made an effort to wear the Suunto X9i day and night to get used to it, and now find it more comfortable for the most part although every now and then I get tired of wearing it, or it gets hot or uncomfortable and I take it off.  I don't feel as self conscious wearing it around.  Once in a while the band still pinches my wrist, but not as noticeably as when I first started wearing it.  The band hasn't softened any, so I assume I've just gotten more used to it being there.  I've find I prefer to wear the band a little loosely and let the watch slide around a little as I go about my usual activities.  It does often catch on my sleeves as I put shirts on or take them off, especially fitted long sleeved tees.  I usually push the sleeve on my left wrist up over the X9i rather than wearing it over top of the sleeve, but occasionally leave it under the sleeve until I want to peek at the time or temperature.  Happily, the X9i doesn't seem to catch on anything else - doorways, pack straps, or other equipment.  So far the only signs of wear are a couple of minute scratches on the lower edge of the case.  The crystal is still flawless in appearance.  Besides wearing it in several rain showers, I've worn the X9i several times while bathing or showering, and was happy to find the lens remains crystal clear and the X9i continues to work, so the waterproof claim is valid.  As recommended, I don't change settings or push buttons while the X9i is underwater.

The large screen makes everything easy to read.  I find this especially nice for the date, since every other watch I've worn that had a date function had it in such small numbers that it was difficult to read.  I've found setting 3 (out of 6 possible settings) for brightness and setting 4 (out of 8 possible settings) for contrast optimal display settings for me.  I've taken the user guide, pocket guide, and some pages I printed from the manual on the software CD on a few trips to read up on the various functions, but for the most part I find using the X9i function buttons intuitive and don't really need the guides with me to use the various functions.

Charging the Suunto X9i by either the pc cable or the power adapter has been easy.  The advantage of charging by plugging the pc cable into the USB port of my computer is that I can go ahead and download any data from the Activity mode to the Trek Manager software and clear the memory of the X9i while I charge it.  The Trek Manager software is easy to use, and easy to view data, but I did have a hard time figuring out how to change from metric to imperial measurements.  I spent quite some time searching the help files without finding any reference, and finally stumbled on how to do it myself quite by accident.  Highlighting User under Local Data at the top of the left column brings up a User screen at the bottom right side.  The current settings for Position, Speed, Distance, Altitude, Air Pressure, and Temperature are highlighted in red.  To change the setting, I simply have to click the one I want, and it is instantly highlighted and made the default setting.  Couldn't be simpler, but not having this listed in the help files resulted in a lot of frustrated searching. 

I've found it interesting to view data about where I've been in Trek Manager, but that brings me to the frustrating part of the X9i.  There is seldom much data to view when using the GPS, since it rarely picks up a signal.  Out of approximately 5 hours I had the activity mode on in the Cranberry Backcountry, it recorded exactly 1 trackpoint, and the GPS showed satellite reception at 1 or 2 bars only a few minutes.  Performance was better on the Appalachian Trail - out of the approximately 4 1/2 hours I used the GPS, it recorded 233 trackpoints while set partially in the 1 second mode and partially in the 1 minute mode, and was showing 2 bars of reception much of the time, occasionally dipping to 1 bar, but with several miles of no reception.  Much of the difference in performance can likely be attributed to tree cover - my Cranberry trip took place in October during the peak of fall color, with most leaves still on the trees, while my Appalachian Trail hike was in November when most of the leaves were already down.  As I've attempted to use the GPS, I've found it nearly impossible to get a signal under even moderate leaf cover, difficult in the midst of trees with bare branches, and sometimes hard even in clear open fields.  The GPS never got reception on my Spruce Knob Lake trip, in spite of part of our hike being across a long open field.  Even in other locations when I've obtained a 2-3 bar signal, it's easily lost even in relatively open spots.

So far, I haven't really been able to track how well the battery will last when using the GPS steadily, because it never keeps a signal steadily.  I've been able to use it on a 3 day trip without the battery failing, mainly because the GPS was usually on 'sleep', which it goes into after several minutes of not finding a signal.

On to a little more information on the modes.

Time mode:

I've naturally used this mode the most.  Who doesn't need to know the time on a regular basis?  One thing I found very interesting was the way the time coordinates with the GPS satellites.  When daylight savings time changed, I changed the UTC offset to -4.  The time didn't change right away, so I left it that way until the next time I used the GPS.  Within a few minutes of getting a signal, I checked the time and it had automatically changed itself back one hour.  I have not used the stop watch function at all on the trail, but have used it a few times in daily activities to keep track of time elapsed and it seems to work well and is easy to use.  I haven't really found a personal need for the second time zone setting or the second function, but it's nice to know they are there if I ever need them.

I've used the alarms several times, but have found this a second disappointing thing about the X9i.  The alarm is so quiet it often will not wake me from sleep.  This isn't a major problem on the trail, since something else will usually wake me up, and I'm never on a real time schedule when backpacking anyway, but without a backup clock alarm would be a major problem in my everyday life.  I hadn't thought I would need three alarm settings, but found them very handy last weekend at Girl Scout camp.  Due to a power failure, we needed to keep a fire going in the lodge fireplace all night long to keep the girls warm, but the wood at the camp was overseasoned and would last only about an hour before the fire would extinguish itself.  I first set the three alarms to go off on an hourly basis, but after sleeping through the first one and having to restart the fire instead of just adding an armload of wood, I set all three alarms to go off at 15 minute intervals.  Unfortunately, I still heard only a few of them, but I would usually wake up within a few minutes of one of them.  I guess I heard them subconsciously, and would bring myself awake without recognizing that I had heard it.  However, at home Monday morning I had not reset the alarms, and none of the three woke me up.  Not a good thing.

The Suunto X9i seems to keep very accurate time, so that is a good thing.

Alti/Baro Mode:

I've found this my favorite mode so far.  For the first several weeks (including my Cranberry Backcountry trip) I mostly used the altitude.  It was really interesting to see the gain and loss as I hiked, and nice to know when I was near the top of an elevation gain.  (Only a little more climb to go now!  You can do it, you know you can.)  The only real downside of the Altitude mode is that the barometric pressure may affect the readings, so when the weather is changing it may not be as accurate.  Over the course of a few days this is really noticeable, so it is important to set the reference altitude often for more accurate readings.  A very good example of this is I just checked the reference altitude after using the barometric mode the last several weeks, and it shows my elevation at 1306 ft (398 m), while my mapping software shows the elevation at 931 ft (284 m).
I've used the Barometer mode the last few weeks, and have really noticed that dropping pressure means a storm front will soon move in, and rising pressure means the weather will clear soon.  This came in especially handy last weekend, when a major wind storm moved into the area we were camping.  The wind continued fiercely while the pressure was low, but once the pressure started to increase I knew the storm was over.  A drawback to the barometer is that it is affected by altitude, so when there are a lot of elevation changes, it's difficult to tell whether the changes are due to weather fronts or not.  A good example of this is when I just now changed my reference altitude, the barometric reading dropped by 13 points.
One interesting thing I've noted in changing the reference altitude is that I can't make it entirely accurate.  Pressing the up or down buttons to change the numbers results in them changing by 3 or 4, not 1.  Holding the button will change the numbers faster, but there seems to be no way to change them only 1 at a time.  There also doesn't seem to be a pattern as to when it changes by 3 and when it changes by 4.  Odd.
Another feature of this mode is temperature.  The only way to get an accurate reading of the temperature is to remove the X9i from my wrist for several minutes.  Typically when I have it on my wrist, the temperature varies from 65-85 F (18-29 C).  The real temperature may be anywhere from 30-75 F (-1-24 C).  This is a real nuisance when I want to track temperature, especially on cold nights when my choice is to be able to check the temperature easily and put a large cold instrument on my wrist the next morning, or to keep the X9i warm and forgo knowing how cold it really is.
Also available in this mode, by pressing Start-Data is the time of sunrise and sunset, which I find interesting, although I haven't found any actual use for this information so far, as I can usually estimate about what time I need to be out of the woods before dark hits anyway.

Compass mode:

I've tested this mode a few times and found the electronic compass generally accurate with a baseplate compass.  I haven't done a lot of navigating with it, but did use it a little in Track Back mode.  When using it while navigating, a small circle and sighting lines appear.  Putting the circle in the sighting lines means I'm navigating in the right direction, at least most of the time.  Occasionally even though I knew I was walking the right direction, the bearing indicator circle would be way off to one side, but would eventually correct itself.

Navigation mode:

I have not used this mode much yet, since my mapping software is not compatible with the X9i, however I did use it successfully once in Track Back mode.  It coordinates with the Activity Mode and the Compass Mode.  When I was tracking back, it showed the mileage back to my starting point, and it was quite accurate.  I reached my destination (the starting point of the trip) at 0.00 miles.  Due to the poor reception of the GPS, I haven't yet been able to complete an entire route of any length, so I haven't had a chance to navigate a route that I had created on a prior trip with the GPS in the activity mode.

Activity mode:

One bright point about this mode is that it keeps track of the time elapsed once an activity log file is started.  It will also record elevation changes over the activity even if the GPS is not obtaining a signal.  What I've had trouble with is figuring out how far and how fast I've traveled, because it simply either doesn't ever obtain a signal or loses it so often the data is skewed.  I haven't been able to tell how accurate it is, but I have some concerns stemming from my Appalachian Trail trip.  Even though the distance from Abingdon Shelter to U.S. 421 is 5 m (8 km), my log shows I traveled 5.82 m (9.4 km) in spite of the fact I lost reception totally for the last 20 minutes or so of my hike, which I estimate at close to a mile (1.6 km) since we were traveling pretty fast to beat a storm at the time.  The navigation mode however showed a reading of a little over 4 m (6.4 km), which I expect was correct.  The activity log shows an average speed of 3 mph (4.8 kmph) which may be pretty accurate.  However, I'm pretty sure I never hit close to the maximum speed of 18 mph (29 kmph) the log shows I did!

Summary:

So far, I have to say I am disappointed in the Suunto X9i.  While the features are very cool, a lot of them are available in other sports watches that are much less expensive and lighter.  The main attraction of the X9i to me was the GPS, which fails miserably so far in the areas I hike.  The secondary attraction of a built in thermometer is fairly inconvenient to use, since to be accurate I have to take it off my wrist and let it set for at least 5-10 minutes.

Long Term Report

Date: January 30, 2007

Since my field report, I've taken several day hikes with the Suunto X9i, ranging from 1-10 mi (1.5 - 16 km).  Elevations have ranged from around 600-1100 ft (200- 400 m).  Weather conditions have ranged from bright and sunny to overcast, to day-long rain.

Summary of findings:

I've found the Suunto X9i mainly useful for the time and compass features, which both work well.  I also like the time of sunrise/sunset feature which is part of the Alti/Baro mode.  The Altimeter and Barometer features, while interesting, haven't really proved very useful for me, mainly because it is necessary to reset a reference point often.  When using the Altimeter mode, weather changes will greatly affect the readings from day to day.   When using the Barometer mode, changes in elevation will greatly affect the barometric readings.  Switching back and forth on a single trip will greatly affect both readings.

The Navigation and Activity modes have not been very useful, mainly because the GPS receiver seldom maintains a signal lock for very long, but also because they do not seem to work properly.  I attempted several times to use the X9i to record a route I traveled, but had only a little success.  The slightest bit of tree cover (even bare branches) or much cloud cover will cause very poor reception.  At times even in areas with a clear sky reception was poor.  Here is a photo of the type of terrain and sky where signals were not picked up:

Sky and terrain photo

Here are several examples of poor performance in the Navigation and Activity modes from some of my hikes -
Note:  In the following section when numbers are used that were obtained from the X9i, they have been provided as they read without metric conversions.

I hiked a trail near one of our local schools twice.  The first time the GPS unit picked up well, and showed an activity distance of 2.26 miles (which I believe to be pretty much correct). I tried to use the 'track back' feature and follow my trail back, but the bearing indicator was directly opposite of the way I needed to walk most of the time, and the distance recorded for the reverse trip was 4.47 miles.  I used a route I created in Trek Manager from the first track and attempted to follow the same route again another day.  This time, with some cloud cover, the GPS worked poorly, and did not pick up well enough to really give me any indication of which way I should travel.  This time the activity mode indicated a distance traveled of .56 miles.  The GPS finally started picking up a signal at the end of the hike (a loop trail), so I decided to try one more time.  Once I entered the woods, which consistent mainly of deciduous trees with bare limbs, the GPS soon was losing the signal and picking it up only intermittently.  I cut the hike short and took a side trail which led me back to the beginning, and yet the activity mode showed .62 miles, a longer distance than the entire hike!  Another strange thing was the elevation shown.  On the first trip, the X9i showed elevations from 499 to 732 feet on the way out, and 479 to 719 feet on the track back (fairly consistent at least).  On the second trip, elevations were shown as from 1089 to 1302 feet for the full trip, and 1129 to 1299 feet for the partial trip.  Since the elevation should be taken from the GPS in the activity mode when GPS is available, the greatly differing elevations between the first trip and second trip seem very odd.

I hiked a 10 mile (16 km) section of the North Bend Rail Trail, and the Activity Mode showed the distance hiked at 5768.86 miles, with an average speed of 3.3 mph and a max speed of 26 mph.  If I could run at 26 mph, I would be a famous athlete, breaking all world records!  When I checked the trackpoints for this hike, the first one had a distance of 5755.47 miles.  I have no idea why.  The GPS did receive a fairly good signal for most of this hike, but did sometimes lose signal.  The sky was not obstructed during the hike (being a rail trail with a wide, clear track) but it was a rainy day.  I did not try to use the track back feature for this hike, but interestingly enough, the bearing indicator worked on the way back to show the approximate direction I needed to travel, and kept a fairly accurate distance to travel back to the starting point in the Navigation mode.  Oddly, it showed an elevation ascent of 331 feet but an elevation descent of 262 feet, while traveling the exact same terrain back and forth.

The GPS worked fairly well on a scouting hike I took at one of our local Girl Scout camps, at least on the hike in.  However, it lost the signal for most of the return trip, in spite of walking the same trails, under clear skies.  Ascent and descent distances measured were fairly close this time; 325 feet ascent and 85 feet descent on the hike in, and 16 feet ascent and 249 feet descent for the return.  Fairly accurate, as I did a bit of exploring around, including one extra section of out and back trail, which could have affected the elevation slightly.  However, looking at maps of the trip in and the return trip, one would never guess the same trails were followed.  The following route map shows my hike in with dotted red lines and the return hike with a solid red line.  I should point out that the section on the upper left side was the out and back side trail that was not followed on the return trip.

Route maps


Software:

The Trek Manager software was a little tricky to learn.  It took me awhile to figure out that I could change the X9i default settings merely by clicking on the setting I wanted at the bottom right of the screen.  Map negotiation also took me awhile to figure out.  To load data on a downloaded track, I just had to click on the track name (pre-named by date), but to bring up a map of the track, I had to double click.  To center or change location, I needed to click on the map with the mouse, and drag it to the desired area.  To zoom in, I needed to click on the magnifying glass icon, but instead of dragging the mouse over the area I wanted enlarged, I had to click on it.  Each click made the map a bit larger.

Near the end of the test period, I was exploring the software, and discovered I could make different folders of waypoint names and load them to the X9i, although only one at a time can be loaded.  This allows me to have different waypoints for a dayhike than a backpacking trip, or different ones for different areas I might visit.  This is a very useful feature, since the pre-loaded waypoint names often weren't very useful to me in the areas I hike (for instance there is no "coast" or "canyon" in most of the areas I hike, but there is often a bridge or shelter.  The one limitation is that a list can only have 19 mempoints.

Loose faceplateRepair issue:

The day after my 10 mi (16 km) rainy weather hike, I noticed the right side of the faceplate over the crystal of the X9i was coming loose, through which I could see some copper colored wiring (maybe the antenna?) inside.  The photo to the side shows the loose area - the red background is showing through the loose part of the faceplate.  I had a bit of trouble negotiating the website to find who to contact regarding warranty service, however I sent an e-mail through the website and within one hour received an e-mail giving me a toll free phone number to call within the United States.  My call was promptly and courteously taken care of, with the representative stating it would be covered under warranty, and I have received a shipping address to send the X9i in for repair, which I plan to do tomorrow.

Summary:

While the Suunto X9i is a very cool concept, the performance of the GPS leaves much to be desired.  A few other things I would like to see improved are a less stiff and bulky wrist band that would lay flat, since I found it very difficult to lay the X9i on a flat surface to obtain a GPS fix with the preformed band; a way to load more than 19 waypoint names into the "Mark Mempoint" function and/or to have more than one list of waypoint names loaded at a time; a way to automatically save a recorded track into a route that can then be directly loaded back onto the X9i for navigation; and of course more accuracy in general in the Activity and Navigation modes, including a Track Back feature that works properly.  I'd also like to see a little revamping of the menu and submenu system, changing the sunrise/sunset times over to the Time mode.  I'd also like to see the long press commands replaced by additional submenu selections instead, such as one to start a manual GPS fix instead of using a long press on the "Stop Back" button, which is hard to recall.

For myself, once I receive the repaired wristop computer back, I will probably continue to use it on hikes in areas I am not very familiar with, with the hope that in the event I would become 'misplaced', I would be able to find a clear area to obtain a GPS fix, locate my position, and find it on a map to plot my way back to where I need to be.  I do not plan to rely on the X9i as my sole navigation, which isn't recommended by Suunto anyway, and don't find it practical for tracking a complete route to have for return trips to the area or to share with others.  It will probably not accompany me on trips in terrain I am very familiar with, since I have lighter weight watches and I really don't find the altimeter and barometer functions useful enough to overcome the weight and bulk of the X9i.  Hopefully as technology improves, GPS reception in future versions will become more reliable for the areas I hike, in which case, I believe I would find this an excellent product that would mesh well with my lightweight hiking philosophy.

Thanks to Suunto and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test the X9i Wristop Computer.

Read more reviews of Suunto gear
Read more gear reviews by Pamela Wyant

Reviews > Electronic Devices > Watches > Suunto x9i > Test Report by Pamela Wyant



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