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Review of the Suunto n6HR MSN Direct Watch

Hands on Watch Reviews Sports/Fitness Suunto Tech

Suunto n6HR

If you’re interested in this watch, I can make the decision really easy for you. As always, I’ll go into all kinds of detail below, but for the majority of you, this first paragraph will be all you need. Here it goes: If you’re an athlete who wants to optimize his or her workouts by monitoring your heart rate, and you’re a geek who wants to be constantly connected via MSN Direct, then buy this watch. Don’t hesitate. There are no other watches out there with this combination of functionality, so don’t even bother looking. However if this does not describe you, then don’t buy this watch. If you’re an athlete without the geek part, check out the Suunto t6 or the Nike Triax. If you’re a geek without the athlete part, then check out the Suunto n3i, Swatch Paparazzi, or the Tissot High-T. That’s really all you need know. But if you came here determined to find more information on the Suunto n6HR, then read on.

Features of the Suunto n6HR

  • MSN Direct. One of the two most notable features of the Suunto n6HR is its support for MSN Direct. I’m not going to get into details about the MSN Direct service in this review since I’ve covered it in depth in previous articles (for my most thorough description of the service, see my review of the Swatch Paparazzi), but I will say that in general, Suunto’s makes an excellent line of MSN Direct watches, and the n6HR is no exception.
  • Heart rate monitor. The other most notable feature is that the Suunto n6HR is the first and only watch to combine MSN Direct services with a heart rate monitor. The monitor fastens around your chest, transmitting heart rate data wirelessly to the watch where it is displayed in real-time and recorded for later download to your PC. The Suunto n6HR comes with desktop software called Training Manager which allows you to download your training logs via USB, view and organize your workout information, and create training schedules and calendars. Integrating your Suunto n6HR with your PC even lets you share your training plans with others via the SuuntoSports.com website. (Note that the Training Managers requires any version of Windows XP, or Windows 2000 Server or Professional. For Outlook integration, you’ll need Outlook 2000, 2002, or XP. Mac users, you’re SOL.)
  • Multiple Watch Faces. As with all MSN Direct watches, you can choose from one of several different watch faces. In the case of the Suunto n6HR, one of six, with the ability to add two more for a total of eight. Many of the n6HR’s watch faces have “sub modes” which allow you to monitor your heart rate directly from the time channel. Nice touch.
  • Chronograph. The Suunto n6HR has a chronograph that not only stores up to 50 lap times, but also makes them all very easy to scroll through and access.
  • Multiple timers. The Suunto n6HR has an interesting way of combining timers with the chronograph in a way I have never seen before. While in chronograph mode, you can select from one of three different timers — timer-stop, timer-chrono, and timer-repeat — that work in conjunction with the chronograph. Timer-stop allows you to set an interval that simply elapses, sounds an alarm, and stops. Timer-chrono counts down, sounds an alarm, then automatically starts the timer (useful for counting down to the beginning of a race). Timer-repeat allows you to configure a number of different intervals that elapse one after another (sounding an alarm in between), then stops the chronograph once they have all elapsed (useful for setting up intervals to help you keep pace during a race). Combining three different types of timers with a chronograph, and making them all easy to operate and configure, is clearly a user interface challenge, but I found the features very easy to use and understand after only a cursory glance through the instructions.
  • Logbook. Every time you use the chronograph, the data gets recorded in a logbook on the watch. The Suunto n6HR stores 20 logs, then starts deleting the oldest logs first. The following information is recorded:
    • Total time and number of laps.
    • Average, highest, and lowest heart rate values.
    • Heart rate within the set limits.
    • Heart rate below the low limit.
    • Heart rate above the high limit.
    • Log time graph.
  • Three daily alarms. I would rather have one programmable alarm (an alarm that allows you to set the date in addition to just the time) than three daily alarms, but Suunto chose to go the route of the daily alarms instead. Fair enough. Curiously, this is one area where many of the MSN Direct watches seem to differ. The Paparazzi, for instance, has two programmable alarms while the Abacus and Fossil Wrist NET watches have two daily alarms. Go figure. The most important aspect of an alarm is the volume of the tone, however, which is nice and loud with the n6HR — something Suunto has improved since their SPOT watch debut.
  • Navigation menu. This is a nice touch specific to the Suunto. When navigating through the time channel, the n6HR gives you a nice little menu system to help you keep your place. The other MSN Direct watches I’ve reviewed make it much more difficult to distinguish between channels and a channel’s submenu for first-time users. I think Suunto’s interface is more intuitive than your average MSN Direct watch.
  • Water resistant. It’s good to 100 meters, or 330 feet. In other words, swim and splash all you want, but don’t dive.
  • Price. About $399.

Putting the Suunto n6HR Through Its Paces

The first thing I noticed about the Suunto n6HR was probably its weight. MSN Direct watches are not small, but the n6HR manages to be fairly light weight and sturdy at the same time. The case and the bracelet are a combination of metal and plastic which at first I thought looked a little funky, but I got used to it very quickly. The clasp is metal, sturdy, and inconspicuous as it masquerades as just another link in the bracelet. I was able to easily remove four links from the bracelet myself, so if you buy one of these online, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting it sized at any reputable watch dealer.

The buttons on the n6HR are very nice. They are metal, perfectly sized, and provide good feedback. The Fossil and Abacus Wrist Net watches both suffer from substandard buttons where the Swatch Paparazzi and Suunto n6HR have an unexpectedly nice set of pushers. It’s especially important that the n6HR have crisp and precise buttons because of its many timing functions.

The backlight on the Suunto n6HR is nice and even, but I don’t like the fact that you have to hold it down for about three seconds to activate it. It’s done that way to free up the short press for timing functions, which is fair enough. You certainly couldn’t ask someone to hold down a button for two or three seconds to start or stop a timer. Whether this bothers you or not will have a lot to do with what you primarily use the watch for. If you use it for training, you will appreciate the additional timer control. If you don’t use the watch for timing, it might annoy you to have to hold the button down in order to see the watch face at night. You can definitely tell that Suunto ran out of buttons when designing the user interface for this watch since holding down the backlight button in chronograph mode starts the chronograph or records a lap time if the chronograph is already running, and turns on the backlight two seconds later which means if you just want to see the chronograph in the dark, you are out of luck because turning on the backlight will actually operate the chronograph, as well. This is a minor point, though, since I’m guessing not a lot of athletes train in the dark.

I like the charger that comes with the n6HR. It clips onto the side of the watch, and charges the internal battery through a set of four recessed contacts. The charger is compact and easily portable, but sturdy with a nice long cord. The Swatch Paparazzi charger is compact, as well, but it’s slightly harder to get properly seated, and the cord is way too short. The Fossil/Abacus chargers are very cool (more like docking stations) but are too big for anyone who plans to take their MSN Direct watch on the road. Of all the MSN Direct watches I’ve reviewed so far, I clearly like the Suunto charger best.

The only real complaint I have with the n6HR is the screen. A great deal of it is unused. Since the face is round, and the LCD inside the face is square, the areas surrounding the LCD are completely unused, and cumulatively account for probably a third of the size of the watch face. The screen could stand to have a little more contrast, as well. As you can see from the photo gallery, the Swatch Paparazzi is actually more readable than the n6HR.

But again, this watch is for one type of person, and one type of person only: athletic geeks. If you want both training features, and the MSN Direct service in a single device, get the watch. Don’t worry about the size, the screen, or even the price. It’s very unusual to find one watch that has all the features you want, so if this is the one watch that does it for you, consider yourself lucky and snatch one up.

Additional Resources

By Christian Cantrell

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