Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I love Suunto

It's official: I love Suunto. Years ago I used a Suunto Advizor (the grey one on the left), however after much mocking from my wife for wearing a watch the size of an aircraft carrier we parted company. Altitude was nice to know, but really a gimmick for my needs at the time. Fast-forward to 2009...needs change, and the VDO 12.6 HRM+bike computer just wasn't cutting it.

After a lot of research and general geeking about, it really came down to one device - the T6c (the sexy red/black one on the right). Out of the box it was paired and working with the supplied Heart Rate Monitor chest strap, which is a real step up from previous efforts. The sensor bits that read your HR are set into the fabric of the strap, meaning they are very comfortable to wear. The only hard plastic part is a disc that sits in the centre of your chest. In fact, it's comfy enough to wear all night in order to capture the elusive resting heartrate.

I also use the FootPOD (love those capitals) to track distance when running. It clips to a wee bracket that you nail down under your shoelaces. It pops on/off if you are going to completely immerse your shoes or want to swap betweeen shoes (but it is held in place very tightly. I have no fears it would fall off in a race, unless you hit your foot so hard you've probably broken a bone). This is way more than a pedometer, in that it analyses your gait a thousand times a second using a tri-axial accelerometer. Out of the box it measured 970m on a 1000m distance, which is not at all shabby, and is what Suunto reckon the default accuracy should be. Calibrating it was a breeze - having run exactly 1000m, a few button presses tells the T6c that the 970 was really 1000, and voila! from then on it's correct. The run back along the 1000m stretch confirmed this. One caveat of the FootPOD is that it is only accurate on flat surfaces. The Orienteering race I did this weekend (another post coming on THAT) showed what I believe to be a marked variation between measured and actual, as a lot of jumping over fallen brances, roots etc plays havoc with the sensitive, er, sensors. I have no proof of this though, so I'll try to do a comparison of GPS vs. FootPOD over rough ground in future.

Finally, I have two wireless BikePOD's - one for the MountainBike and one for the Cyclocross bike. I had an initial panic that the T6c was not the right device after all, when I found there was only one 'slot' in the watch's software for a BikePOD. Trying to pair another BikePOD just confused it. After a call to Suunto's brilliant tech support, it transpires that you just pair the 2nd BikePOD as another sort of device, in this case, a SpeedPOD (whatever that is). The T6c is smart enough to recognise that it's talking to a BikePOD, and allows you to calibrate it for the different wheel diameter. So now, no matter what I'm riding, the distance/speed will be bang on, with no faffing about. Also, swapping from run to bike and back, the T6c recognises the activation of the new POD and changes the speed scale accordingly, from minutes per km to km/hr, if you want. And keeps recording the exercise log. Nice.

I've had a bit of a play with downloading exercise logs to the Suunto software on my PC using the attached USB cable. There's so much info it's scary, and I haven't had any time to do more than look at HR and distance and go "yep, I was knackered at that point". But it's nice to know it works.

All in all, the T6c gets 5 out of 5 on the Mike-O-Meter of sporty geekness. It's not cheap, but it doesn't disappoint in any way (yet).

The guys at heartratemonitor.co.uk were really helpful.
As they have a pricematch promise it was a bit of a no-brainer to go with them.


Andrew said...

You call yourself a geek? Why don't you pick up the Garmin Forerunner 305 with heartrate monitor and GPS. I bought my wife one for Christmas so that I could use it as a geotagger for my photos....


Husband. Dad. Geek. said...

Hi Andrew, from up the hill ;-)

The Forerunner's claim to fame is GPS...problem is, the size, battery life and accuracy (or lack of it) in using a GPS to track distance. Even SiRFStar III chipsets will give a total distance error of over 10% in the open in my experience. I've done loads of bike rides around here where the mileage on the bike is quite a bit less than the GPS. The Suunto FootPOD, however, is accurate to 2m in 1000 from personal experience. I agree for geotagging purposes a 305 wuld be fine, but a bit of an overkill. have you seen the iGotU?