Introduction

Remember over a year ago when Fossil listed their PDA watch on Amazon? Yeah, those sleek wristwatches boasting Palm OS and a selection of styles including concepts for sporty, casual, and business designs that everyone had labeled "vaporware." Amid a slew of delays and setbacks, Fossil finally released it. Called the FX2008, the Fossil PDA watch is finally available to consumers. The Palm OS 4.1 powered wristwatch acts as a personal organizer, can run virtually any compatible program, and features instant syncing and text input abilities.

However, Fossil is not the only smart watch company to upgrade its tech watch lineup. Suunto recently rolled out an update of its N3i SPOT watch, the n6HR. Designed for those with an active lifestyle and sports enthusiasts, the n6HR comes with a heart rate monitor and software for managing and analyzing your training. It also features a redesigned body and durable metal strap to withstand more rigorous training sessions. However, besides the $400 price tag, there are still some factors that will make adopting this watch for everyday use difficult. But for those who want the MSN Direct service in a feature-rich sports watch, the n6HR is a decent investment.

As for the FX2008, it is at $250 significantly more affordable than the Suunto. But which, if either, watch provides the best features for its price? Read on to find out.

Specifications

  • Time, date, dual time
  • Three alarms
  • Changeable watch faces
  • Automatic time/date updates
  • HR monitor with two customisable limits and three training zones
  • Chrono with three training timers
  • Training logbook with 20 logs
  • SPOT technology
  • MSN Direct service
  • Suunto n6HR Training Manager PC software
  • USB charger
  • Palm OSŪ 4.1
  • 66MHz
  • 8MB (RAM), 4MB (Flash)
  • 160 x 160 pixels
  • 16 level gray scale
  • EL back light
  • Touch Screen
  • Address Book
  • Date Book
  • To Do List
  • Memo Pad
  • Calculator
  • Time, date
  • IRDA (v1.2a)

First Impressions

What stood out the most when I first took the n6HR out of its Suunto box was its metal strap. Having been familiar with the older N3i and its hard-rubber styled band, the metal strap was a surprise. It does enhance the look of the watch a lot more, and draws attention away from the massive bulk that is its watch body, which unfortunately has not been redesigned; the watch case is as large as the one on the N3i, and it still feels and looks awkward because of its size. This is still a major roadblock for SPOT watches, and one that, if conquered, could largely raise the popular appeal of these units.

 

The other obvious development since the N3i is the inclusion of a heart rate monitor. It works like any other heart rate monitor; there is a black strap that you clasp to your chest, and the watch tracks your cardiovascular activity throughout your workout. This can be graphed and viewed later through Suunto's personal trainer software. More on this later.

 

The FX2008, on the other hand, is much more different from Fossil's last tech watch, the FX3005, than the n6HR is from the N3i. First of all, it is not technically a SPOT watch at all, since it does not run on MSN Direct but rather Palm OS 4.1. The watch casing is slightly larger than the FX3005, and it is noticeably chunky and awkward on those who do not have big beefy wrists - in other words, people like me. It came packaged in the same type of cylindrical tin that the FX3005 came in, and again, Fossil's efforts at packaging again surpass Suunto's.

 

As would be expected, the interface of the FX2008 is completely different than that of the FX3005. Instead of the familiar back and forth scroll menus characteristic to SPOT watches, the FX2008 Wrist PDA features (surprise) a Palm OS interface. In fact, it looks pretty much exactly like your old Palm pilot or Visor handheld, except of course, that it only fits four icons on a single screen - the rest are accessable by scrolling - and that you can wear it on your wrist.

Overall, I drew two initial conclusions based on what I observed in the first ten minutes of playing with the watches; first, that both watches pack many more features than their previous models, and second, that both watches still are - for my tastes - a little too bulky for casual wearing.

Design

Both the N3i and FX2008 have design modifications from their predecessors. Focusing first on the n6HR, the most obvious difference is Suunto's inclusion of a metal strap. Instead of the leather material that was the strap on the N3i, the n6HR features adjustable metal and hard leather links. Also, instead of a strap buckle, the watch is held together by a push-button deployment clasp. (That's jewellery lingo for "flip-lock"). These changes make for an even more stable and sturdy watch, something Suunto's active consumers will appreciate. Otherwise, the n6HR does not have any big design deviations from the N3i - their sizes are almost completely identical.

As is the case with the N3i and N3, the n6HR's wireless transmitter is built into the watch face rather than into the strap. Upside: more flexible strap. Downside: bigger watch face. Also like its predecessors, the n6Hr is designed with a circular face and black under casing. It is not as heavy as the FX2008 and is much more comfortable to wear. (The bottom of the FX2008 is steel versus the n6HR's softer plastic /rubber material). Again, it is obvious that Suunto has sport-oriented consumers in mind by crafting an even more rugged watch than its predecessors.

The other new item in the n6HR package is the heart rate monitor. This black strap wraps around your chest to read and transmit your well... heart rate. It is designed with a curved upper portion to better fit the form of your ribcage and to minimize discomfort. However, I still found it to be somewhat stiff. When I slipped the strap on before running, it feels fine. However, a few miles into the run and I can definitely feel some discomfort at having something wrapped around my chest. (Note that this discomfort is characteristic of many other heart rate monitors as well.) Perhaps Suunto should develop some kind of sensor that transmits the same information without being constricting.

 

 

The FX2008 also sports some design modifications over its predecessor. The first major difference is a slight increase in the size of the watch face, and consequently the watch casing as well. This is to accommodate the promised 160 x 160 pixel screen, 8 Mb of memory, and other features required to run a scaled down version of a Palm Pilot. It may not seem like a big deal, but with watches, every millimetre makes a difference, and yes, the larger watch casing is definitely noticeable. Not a good thing. However, the design changes are not entirely bad. The new leather strap is much more comfortable than the stiff plasticky stuff the FX3005's strap was made of. It feels like high quality cracked leather, and it is.

(Image credit: Fossil.com)

 

Formwise, Fossil has maintained the square shape of the watch from the FX2008, a good tactic to minimize space (though whether enough space has been minimized is questionable); if the watch face was circular, the size of the watch casing would be intolerable. Another similarity is the FX2008's solid steel casing. Shiny and heavy, just holding this thing gives the impression it was built with geeky tech-centric businesspersons in mind; it is obvious that you do not want to be playing tennis with this watch on. Oh yeah, and there are some extra buttons that you didn't see on the FX3005 (after all, the FX2008 is not a SPOT watch). Along with a rocker button (a button that can be pressed as well as "rocked" up or down), there are page up and page down buttons, as well as a back button that doubles as the back light toggle. Also of note are an infrared port and a compartment in the buckle that stores the stylus.

Below are two pictures that illustrate the deign contrasts between the two watches.

Functionality - n6HR

"Physically and socially active people will find Suunto n6HR smart sports watch can really make a difference to their lives. Training will become more fun and effective, while navigating through everyday life will be easier and more efficient." -Suunto

On the topic of functionality, both watches posses major elements of importance. However, because many of these functions do not overlap (such as the heart-rate function in the n6HR and the PDA-specific functions in the FX2008), this section will be split into three subsections, two of which discuss the functionality of each watch independently of each other. The exception is the third section, which will be a comparison of watch faces. That said, lets move on to what the n6HR brings to the table in terms of watch operation.

Actually, in terms of functionality, the n6HR is completely identical (running a comparison on the Suunto web site reveals this) to its N3i precursor except for the operation and functions related to the heart rate monitor. Since we already published a review with a functionality section on the N3i, we will focus on the new inclusion of heart rate monitoring, tracking, and organizing features.

The heart rate monitor is similar to conventional strap and watch combinations that measure and record your heart rate. Besides several interval times, the n6HR can also be programmed to beep outside your ideal training zone. This means that if you slow down too much during a run (like slow to a walk or stop to take a piss) and your heart rate drops below your training zone, the watch will beep obnoxiously until you get your blood pumping again. But get too worked up and your heart rate will go over your zone (i.e. potential heart attack zone), causing the same obnoxious beep to emanate from your faithful n6HR.

But that is not all, because Suunto even took the time to develop a training manager, "an advanced training tool that helps you plan and analyse your training." According to them, "training sessions, notes and calendar events can be automatically updated from your PC to your smart sports watch. You can keep a training logbook with up to 20 logs, providing you with the information you need to analyse and fine-tune your training." Wow, that sounds really convenient!

Actually, it isn't.

The training software splash screen looks cool

 

The Suunto training manager is cool up until the splash screen disappears. Then its is all downhill. Never mind that it took me half an hour to establish a link between the n6HR and my computer, lets just pretend that was my fault. Alright so now I have downloaded the results of my morning run, all three laps of it. Wait, I ran through my neighbourhood, to the local store, back through another neighbourhood, and then to my house. How does that constitute to three laps? I have no idea, but apparently I ran three laps. Maybe Suunto should figure out a way to calculate miles or something, but you know, inventing laps works too.

The only nice part about the training program is you get to see your heart rate displayed as a line graph. It is very good to know that at 10.4 minutes into the run my heart rate dropped drastically (I stopped to take a bathroom break at the store), and that shortly afterward it went back up. Also of note is that my heart rate peaked as I was returning home at approximately 20.2 minutes into the run. All interesting stuff, but now its time to explore the program a little further.

Another central feature to the Suunto training manager is the ability for athletes to connect with the online community and "get the best out of their sport," as the training manager puts it. This service, it touts, is "mainly based on exploiting the logs measured with a Suunto sports instrument and analyzed with a sport specific Suunto PC software. Together these free elements provide the user with a revolutionary benefit" (bold text added). In the hope of attaining this revolutionary benefit, I was willing to overlook the grammatical errors in that sentence. After registering on the Suunto website, I logged on. Here is what I came up with:

Wow, this definitely looks like it will enable me to get the best out of my sport. I can view the log of someone who has biked the Reichenbergerarg44ikff,k!-!11!l33tdd$%. Knowing that information is somehow going to help me plan my run next week. I had expected that I would be able to upload my logs to a community of professionals (with a $400 price tag, Suunto could have at least hired a few pros to analyze something) who would comment on my training regime. What I got was a log of Bike tour Hochsteinkreuz. Revolutionary.

Okay, now that we have established that the training manager sucks, what really is the incentive to buy this watch? What is to keep people from just buying an N3i for $300, and then something like a Timex T59761 (which has five target zones, that's two more than what the n6HR has) which costs $65 on Amazon? There are several reasons not to go the way I have just suggested and save money. First being the n6HR's built-in dynamic updating weather reports. Checking the weather on the computer or television is defiantly not cool anymore, which is where the n6HR comes in; real time weather-checking walking out the door. But that's not it; you can even check your weather while running. You can glance down periodically to see the little watch icons change the current forecast from cloudy to raining. It is always good to verify a shower with technology even when it has soaked you to the bone.

Other benefits of having a combined SPOT watch and heart rate monitor include the ability to check your stocks while swimming, read word-of-the-days while doing jumping jacks (this takes some coordination to master), or check up on last night's basketball game while actually playing basketball: "Wait time out guys, hold that ball there Jummy. BEEP BEEP. Shiiit, I cannot believe Purdue lost again."

If you want to be able to do all of these cool things, buy an n6HR. If you want to save $35, don't.

Functionality - FX2008

The FX2008, unlike the n6HR, is completely different from its predecessor, the reason being it runs on Palm OS and is essentially a palm pilot. This has two implications. First, anyone who knows how to use a Palm Pilot will know how to use the FX2008 with minimal further training. Second, anyone who doesn't know how to us a Palm Pilot will need to learn, then undergo minimal further training. The point here is that this watch is in most aspects identical to a Palm Pilot counterpart. It's got a calculator, date book, etc. There are exceptions, mind you. Obviously, the 160 x 160 pixel screen is smaller than that of a handheld Palm Pilot, and it can only display four icons at a time. To compensate for this, Fossil included a rocker button for users to navigate through icons not displayed on the screen.

Any ways, setting up the watch is much like setting up a typical Palm Pilot, you go through the routine of screen calibration, time zones, and all that stuff. After a few taps, the FX2008 is ready to go. The Palm syncing software is easy and intuitive to use, and you can easily sync most Palm compatible programs (hi-res games being an exception, for obvious reasons). And here is where it gets tricky: text input.

Text is written using a kind of graffiti except there is not gracious text input space at the bottom of a Palm Pilot screen. Instead, you write directly on the watch screen. However, there seems to be a little problem with the watch reacting to pressure variances; if you press too hard, nothing happens, too softly, and well...nothing happens as well. With practice, inputting a short phrases like "bvy fgod" (buy food) can be easily accomplished in seconds. The lesson here is basically to keep text input to a minimum, and to compose messages that get to the point.

The FX2008 is not going to replace a palm pilot, I am sorry to conclude. But it does make for a nice note-jotting device for those that can wear it without looking like a certified geek. What I would like to see in the next generations of this thing is a flip screen with more space to write. Are you listening Fossil? Because this is a good idea. Like I was saying, there should be a flip screen. When closed, it should display basic information like time and date, but when opened, it reveals a larger screen full of features (like most cell phones). Or just a smaller watch. Either way, I would be satisfied.

Functionality - Watch Faces

This section is brief in terms of text. Okay here goes: Fossil had more watch faces last time than Suunto. It still does.

Note: Each watch faces come with an inverse also, so multiply the above by two for a more accurate estimate of how many faces the FX2008 comes pre installed with.

---vs.---

Conclusion

 

With the potential market for these watches, it is not surprise that Fossil and Suunto have both made attempts to revitalize their tech watch products. And while their design goals were divergent, both implemented features to further boost the appeal of their products. In Fossil's case, this was a wearable Palm OS; or, more accurately, the better-late-than-never release of a PDA watch they had been promising for years. For Suunto, this meant further targeting the sport-enthusiast market with a built-in heart rate monitor and included heart rate transmitter. In this respect, both Fossil and Suunto have succeeded in adding new features without visibly increasing the size of their last generation watches.

But in their frenzy to cram features and functionality into their watches, both companies have declined to address the most prevalent roadblock to common adoption of these watches: size. If Fossil can cram a PDA into a watch, and if Suunto can add a heart rate monitor without deviating much from the N3i's size, then why not spend more time scaling down these watches to be more wearable instead of jamming extra bells and whistles into an uncomfortable product? Many people would love to own a watch that has advanced functions, but few (the niche market of large-wristed people with a geek streak and a small chunk of disposable income) are willing to sacrifice image or comfort in doing so. This is an issue both companies must address, and one that could open up a much wider consumer base if addressed.

In the mean time, those with large or moderately-sized wrists and who enjoys sports as well as technology will find the n6HR to be a not unworthy choice. It tells the time, checks your heart rate, and gives you all the functionality of a SPOT watch, with only a little of the awkward factor of wearing a watch that size. But then again, you can get the same features by purchasing an N3i and the Timex I made reference to in the Functionality section. But if you want both features in one watch and are willing to shell out a little extra for it, the n6HR is a decent choice.

On the other side of the fence, those with large or moderately-sized wrists who want to have a Palm Pilot sitting on their wrists will find the FX2008 a better choice. (For obvious reasons; the n6HR is not a Palm Pilot.) This thing is heavier and slightly longer than the n6HR, so it is not for activities involving harsh conditions or shock. This watch Fossil designed to appeal to big-time geeks or businesspeople who need to jot down quick notes. It gives you all the functionality of a Palm Pilot at the expense of a somewhat awkward-to-wear timepiece.

"Wristop," "Computer," and "Advanced-tech" watches still have a long way to go before general consumers and watch aficionados will consider them for normal use. But until then, both Fossil and Suunto have made commendable efforts in keeping the idea behind a wearable computer-esque tool alive. If the technology survives for a few more generations, my biggest hope is that the size barrier will be overcome. Only then will these units be able to compete seriously with other prosumer digital watches.

Suunto n6HR - Verdict: 7.5

Fossil FX3005 - Verdict: 7.8

 



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