When you think of Finland, what types of things come to mind? Indestructible phones? Friendly wildlife? What about the best outdoor watches in the world? Well, that last one is arguable, but there’s no doubt that the Suunto Core All Black is one of the best ABC watches in the crowd; Suunto’s design-centric approach to the watch resulted in a Red Dot “Best of the Best” award in the Product Design category. The Core is used by premiere athletes like Ueli Steck, but mere mortals like us can also own this fantastic piece.
Suunto Core All Black Features:
- ABC Functions
- Storm alarm
- Sunrise / sunset
- Depth meter for snorkeling
- Multiple watch, date and time functions
- User-replaceable battery
- Multilingual menu (EN, FR, DE, ES)
- Mineral glass face
- MSRP: $299
Breaking in the Suunto Core All Black
The first thing to know about the Suunto core is that it’s absolutely jam-packed with features. This page (look under ‘Specifications’) enumerates quite a few of the watch’s do-hickeys and breaks them down into different categories, but the sheer number of functions is a little overwhelming. For this review, we’re going to talk about general functionality and some of my favorite features of the watch.
The Core was first released in 2007 and it has seen 25 different versions, all with the same functionality but different aesthetics. The model that I’m reviewing, the Core All-Black, features an inverted white-on-black display, subtle luminous markers and a comfortable black black rubber strap. The strap is comfortable and the buckle is ergonomic enough to not irritate your wrist – what’s more, the retaining strap that holds down the band has a small notch to lock into the grooves on the band.
Suunto’s Red Dot award was for design and it’s easy to tell that the Finnish company spent a lot of time making the watch dead simple to operate. Everything is intuitive – five main buttons, a delineated menu and on-screen indicators to tell you which buttons are do what in various menu screens. I didn’t read the user manual until halfway through my test period and I had still been able to figure out all of the Core’s functions just by exploring the interface. Brilliant, brilliant design sets the Core apart from other ABC watches.
The Core features three main modes: Time, Alti/Baro and Compass. Each of these three screens feature further ‘Views’ which give additional information or functionality for each mode. The Time mode has all of the features you’d look for, plus a few special ones. My favorite two are the ‘Dual Time’ mode and ‘Sunrise/Sunset’ times. Dual Time mode allows you to view two separate times on the same screen – when traveling, I like to set the main time to wherever I’m traveling and the Dual Time to my home time zone. The Sunrise/Sunset times are exactly what they say – you can set your location in the main Menu and the Core will spit out the appropriate times. I found this feature especially useful for planning my alarm time on an early morning peak attempt, but there are a wide variety of creative uses for this feature.
The Alti/Baro mode is the one that I spend the most time with. The Core can be set to measure altitude, barometric pressure, depth in liquid or to automatically switch between the three. For daily use I set the Core to the ‘Automatic’ mode and let it pivot between altitude and barometer settings; if the device detects you moving five meters in altitude within three minutes, it’ll switch over to ‘altitude,’ and if your elevation is constant for twelve minutes, it’ll switch back to ‘barometer. This means that, in automatic mode, you’ll get beeped at for using elevators or long flights of stairs.
The Alti/Baro function is enormously useful, primarily due to its ability to log data and graphically display trends. Under the ‘Log’ view in the Alti/Baro mode, the user can start tracking altitude information and the Core will log it at 1s, 5s, 10s or 30s intervals based on what you select under Menu->Memory->Rec Interval. Another favorite feature is the ‘Storm Alarm’, which will let you know if there’s been a drop of 4hPa/.12inHg in a three hour period; the shrill beeping shouldn’t be an excuse to not be observant of the weather, but if you’re deep in a drainage and can’t see the sky then this feature can be invaluable..
The other spanking cool Alti/Baro function is the trend indicator on the main Time screen and the graphic trend display on the main Barometer screen. The Trend indicator will give you rough information about atmospheric pressure over the last six hours in two three-hour arrow segments. In addition, the graphic trend shows you a detailed bar graph of pressure over the last six hours.
These can be a little tricky to properly employ since you need to have a basic understanding of how the watch uses atmospheric pressure and reference altitudes to calculate trends. If you don’t switch between modes and, say, start climbing while locked into the ‘Barometer’ mode, the watch will interpret this as a decrease in atmospheric pressure and assume that a storm is coming on. I learned how to navigate with an altimeter watch out of Freedom of the Hills and, if you’re in a really off-the-map experience, basic ABC skills are essential. Make sure you have a firm understanding of the functions before trusting what the Core is telling you.
Lastly, the Compass mode is straightforward but no less valuable for that. The Core All Black has a rotating bezel and, in theory, you could navigate with the Core and a topo. I personally always navigate with a floating needle compass, but in a pinch the Core is accurate and consistent enough that I’d feel comfortable trusting it. What’s more, the Core features a bearing lock mode, so you can take a bearing on, say a distant gendarme and the Core will give you a visual left/right indicator if you stray off of course; this is especially useful if there are a few ridges and valleys between you and your waypoint. The coolest part is that the further off-course you get, the longer the left/right arrow will get. It’s a simple system, which is precisely what you want in the back country.
In general use, the Core is ergonomic and user friendly. I never ran into problems with the inverted display during any viewing condition – if that’s something you’re worried about, you can lay it to rest. At times I did find the viewing angle to be slightly smaller than a traditional watch, but it wasn’t enough to be a problem. The five buttons are small enough to not catch on gloves or accidentally get pushed, but if you hold down the bottom right button for two seconds the buttons lock out. Another one of my favorite features is the backlighting options. The bottom right button turns on the illumination, but then the watch will stay illuminated as you continue to press buttons. You can also set the watch to illuminate with any button press. This is a very valuable feature if you’re fully utilizing the Core in the dark – such as, for instance, an early-morning peak assault.
Scratches, Wear and Tear
The watch is comfortable and light, but I found the paint to be less durable than I hoped for. The All-Black model is going to pick up scuffs easily, and mine has had enough encounters with granite and indoor climbing walls to show a little wear and tear. Additionally, though the scratch-resistant mineral crystal display is a feature of this watch, I still managed to put a decently sized scratch in the mineral crystal during a really unspectacular activity. So it goes.
- Intuitive, user-friendly design
- Wears comfortably for long periods of use
- Very accurate BC functions
- Graphic atmospheric trends are very useful
- Absolutely jam-packed with great features – storm alarm, button lock, bearing lock, etc.
- Mineral Crystal display is a plus, even though I still scratched mine
- Black paint isn’t durable, shows wear easily
- Viewing angle of white-on-black display is slightly diminished
- Backlight flashes distractingly in compass mode
The Bottom Line: Suunto Core
The Core is the type of product that, given another decade, will be as much of a part of mountaineering as GORP or a GriGri. That’s a bold statement, but the Core just has everything in an ABC watch – ease of use, exceptional accuracy and functionality. It’s sleek enough to wear in social situations while keeping your ties to the mountains. I had this watch for a four week testing period and I’m now looking to purchase one for myself. You can say I’m giving it my seal of approval.
Buy now: Available from REI.com