I always quite liked the idea of owning a watch that told me what height I was at. But the price of these watches put me off. I ended up buying a Casio Twin Sensor Compass watch, which I can’t complain about, it’s an excellent watch. But it lacks the altimeter.
I finally made the decision to get an altimeter watch and the brand Sunnto would crop up on most searches. I opted for the Suunto Core All Black watch but this was getting mixed reviews and I was almost put off by the numerous complaints about the dim display and being difficult to operate. My other concern was having a bulky watch. I’ll address all three potential issues during the review.
What’s in the box:
The watch comes with quick guide instructions in various different languages and two spare loop hoops for holding the strap in place.
Initial Set up
Many reviewers commented on the Core All Black watch being difficult to use. I totally disagree, this watch is incredibly easy to use. The watch has five buttons, two on the left side and three on the right. The instructions are also surprisingly easy to follow.
As you’ll see from the instructions above, pressing down and holding the middle right button for two seconds starts up the watch (I’ll refer to this button as the east button during the review). It takes you through set up, using the top and bottom right buttons to toggle through your preferences and press the east button to confirm your selection, you can press the bottom left button at any time to go back a stage. Initial set up takes you through: Language > Unit > Hours > Minutes > Seconds > Year > Month > Day. This should only take a few minutes. Once you’ve set up the initial settings, you have the functions of a basic everyday watch.
The watch also has a useful Sunrise/Sunset function. If not already prompted to set this up, Press and hold down the east button for two seconds. Scroll down with the bottom right button and select ‘Sunrise’ then your location. I selected: Europe > Western > Aberdeen. The other UK cities available are London, Manchester, Belfast and Lerwick (Dublin is also available). I was hoping Edinburgh would be on the list but in theory Aberdeen is probably more suitable for me as I do most of my hill walking in the Highlands of Scotland.
To calibrate the altimeter, again hold down the east button for 2 seconds. Scroll down using the bottom right button until you see ‘alti-baro’ and select with the east button then select ‘reference’ with the east button. Toggle up and down with the top and bottom right buttons to select your altitude (of course you can only do this when you know your actual height). My one minor gripe is; when calibrating the altimeter the figure only goes up or down in single digits when holding down one of the toggle buttons. This would have been better if it went up or down in multiples of say five.
Pressing the east button takes you through three of the main functions: time > alti & baro > compass. The watch highlights what setting it is on underneath the time. Using the bottom left button takes you through the secondary functions for example underneath the time you can also view: day and date > seconds > dual time > sunrise/sunset > stopwatch > countdown timer > blank.
In the ‘alti-baro’ setting using the left hand bottom button also displays: log > temperature.
Finally in the compass setting, you can use the left hand bottom button to view: time > direction. If you want to use the compass, for best/accurate readings always calibrate. The watch will occasionally prompt you do this but you can do this yourself anytime in the compass setting by holding the watch level and slowly rotate the watch clockwise for 15 seconds.
Display and design
Display: My primary concern about this watch was the fact that many reviews described the display as ‘dim’. My initial thoughts when I first set the watch up, was ‘Ohh it is dim’. But bear with me here. The Suunto Core All Black has a negative face. So the background isn’t grey like most LCD watches, it’s black. Clue is in the name of the watch, ‘All black’. I’ve used this watch for the last week now and I have never struggled to make out the display. This includes; indoors in dim lighting, bright sunlight with and without sunglasses and in overcast cloudy conditions. The mineral glass screen does attract finger prints though.
The watch weighs in at 67g, so it’s fairly light. It is comfortable on and if you’re already used to wearing watches then you’ll probably not even notice the difference. The strap has thirteen notches to suit all wrist sizes. My wrists are slender and I use the fourth tightest notch. The loosest notch is only circa 6mm away from the end of the strap.
The buckle and pin feel solid and secure. The pin it’s self is quite wide compared to most other watches.
Design: Whilst the face is larger than my old Casio, it is smooth so my sleeve slides over the watch easily and does not catch on my sleeve when extending my arm to reveal the watch. I also think the all black face and strap makes this watch stylish enough for everyday use.
With a search around the internet, most users found that these can take quite a bit of abuse being outdoor watches but the one negative point I did notice is that the aluminium bezel becomes scratched/scrapped over time, making the watch look perhaps a bit tacky. I’ve already bashed the watch a few times, albeit indoor and no marks or scrapes as yet..
Using the watch whilst out on the hill
I was over in Arran for the weekend and we went for a seven mile walk, starting from sea-level to 365 metres at Loch na Davie. The watch was out by 4o metres before starting the walk, so I calibrated the watch to ready 0 metres. During the walk I took readings from the altimeter at various intervals. Once using the map to get my height then checking the watch. I then used the altitude reading to plot my location on the map. Both occasions the reading was spot on. Quite impressed there. When we reached the small lochan I checked the altitude again and verified the reading with the Viewranger app. The results are impressive, see the picture below:
I checked the altimeter on the way back down and the reading was accurate on the descent too. On higher hills and during bigger days out I will probably calibrate more often, but based on this outing I was pleasantly surprised by the accuracy. Ideal for identifying false summits!!!
You may have noticed in the picture above that the temperature reading is +20°c. This was certainly not the case, it was much colder. As with most watches with thermometers, the heat from your wrist makes the reading inaccurate, so to get the correct temperature means taking the watch off and leaving for twenty minutes. However, I noticed that the temperature dropped quickly and within a few minutes the temperature read +2°c. I’ll find this useful when wild camping or staying in bothies.
When comparing the watch compass against my traditional Silva compass, the reading was some 60° out. After a quick calibration, both the watch and compass agreed. However the watch is pretty sensitive, meaning you have to hold it steady. The watch has a setting where you can lock it on a bearing it and advises you if you veer off course. The watch also shows where north is, by two small strokes on the edge of the screen, so you can set the bezel to north, like you would with a traditional compass. All very useful, but in reality I think I’ll only use for reference or if I happened to lose my compass.
The Suunto Core All Black comes with all the other usual settings you expect to get with a digital watch like; stopwatch, timer, alarm and back light. The menus and settings are easy to navigate and use. Whilst the display could have been a bit brighter, I haven’t found this an issue and I’m pleased with my purchase. You can adjust the contrast, however this made little or no difference, so I wouldn’t bother with this setting. I haven’t as yet tested the barometer, but to be honest, this is a function I probably won’t use. If I was to score this watch out of 5. I would give it 4.5/5.