Heart rate monitors have been around since the late 1970s, when a European ski team first implemented them en masse as a means to enhance their workouts. Since then, these devices became increasingly advanced, adopting features such as logbooks and distance tracking software. And as tools that give athletes important feedback about target exercise zones, the heart rate monitor has become a staple of aerobic training. Enter Suunto's T6 wrist-top computer.
Billed as an all around "personal training device" the T6 is packed with features for avid athletes and work-out fanatics. Not only does it include a heart rate monitor, it stores up to 25 logs, calculates speed and distance, measures altitude and air pressure; and above all, it features the ability to upload all of this data to your computer for analysis through Suunto's personal trainer software. Not willing to shell out the big bucks for a human personal trainer? After taking a look at what the T6 truly has to offer, this electronic personal trainer could very well be the next best thing.
Product Features (From Suunto.com):
The T6 measures 1.4 centimeters thick, and the watch casing measures about 17.4 square centimeters with a display area of 3.1 centimeters. These dimensions are a testament to the compactness of the T6, a major plus for the device that Suunto undoubtedly made an effort to deliver. Because of its low profile, the T6 can be worn inconspicuously even as a casual watch without turning eyes, something the comparable The Polar S625X cannot claim. The sturdy black casing encloses a display made of mineral glass (as opposed to the hard plastic of the S625X), which is one of the best cuff and scratch resistant materials out there. And if you want even more protection, optional display shields are available from Suunto.
The device weighs in at a lightweight 1.9 ounces, 0.2 ounces less than then S625. Once again Suunto has minimized bulk in order to eliminate as much as possible the burden of exercising with a watch strapped to your wrist. The tactile buttons are located on the sides of the watch, with two on the left and three on the right side. These buttons are not easily depressed, and require moderate pressure to activate. While this may seem unintuitive at first, it serves the function of preventing accidental button depressions during vigorous workouts.
In terms of watch display, Suunto utilizes a dot-matrix grid system to provide the maximum amount of textual readability and organization. Around the display, the casing is all rounded, with no edges or places that could potentially snag on clothing. The rubber strap retains the color scheme of the main casing, and is composed of durable rubber. There are slits cut into where the strap is particularly thick near the watch face to increase breathability, and the strap is secured by a traditional buckle clasp. If you want to wear the watch on the outside of a jacket, Suunto also sells an extension strap made of the same black elastomer.
The T6 also comes with a "datasnake," a cord that connects the watch to a USB port on your computer. This is the cable that transfers log files and statistics from your device to Suunto's personal trainer program for analysis. Finally, the last element of the T6 package is the "smart belt". This heart rate belt fits around the chest area and, using a 2.4 GHz frequency over designer Dynastream's ANT network, wirelessly transmits data to the T6.
Overall, I'm very pleased with the design of the T6. As with previous Suunto watches I've reviewed, Suunto has managed to pack a slew of features into a comparably small and lightweight device whilst retaining high standards of ruggedness.
At first, it was hard to determine how to take advantage of the many functions the T6 has to offer. Thanks to Suunto's brief and poorly organized instructional manual, I had to figure out how to fully access most of the features of the watch myself. And while its commendable that Suunto produced a menu in eight different languages, the vagueness and painful conciseness of the instructions left me wondering why Suunto didn't spend a little more time developing a friendly and more thorough manual for such a complex device.
Even so, the T6's easy-to-navigate menu system only took a few minutes to get used to. The two peripheral buttons on the right navigate up and down the menu to access specialized screens: training, altitude/barometer and time. The center button with the Suunto logo serves as the enter key. On the left side, the start/stop button is used during training and in the stopwatch function of the device (holding the button activates the stop). The alt/back button serves to change shortcuts and to connect to a wireless transmitter (i.e. heart rate belt, pods). Below is a map of button functions taken from the T6 manual.
Below is an in-depth summary of menu functions and the key combinations required to access them, taken directly from the T6 instruction manual.
Confused? It is a little bit overwhelming at first, but the above map is a helpful reference point down the line as it encompasses every menu screen the T6 is capable of displaying.
But what the T6 is really all about is its heart rate monitoring abilities. Here is where the T6 truly shines. After strapping on the transmitter and connecting, the T6 behaves very much like any other heart rate monitor out there. Besides the customary HR data, it displays other useful information such as such as altitude, air pressure, distance, and lap splits. It stores all of this information to 128kb of system memory, enough for a weekend of hard workouts, but probably shy of an extended hiking trip or a week of PC-less training.
But these are all functions other heart rate monitors offer as well. So what makes the T6 unique? The answer is the device's ability to calculate and analyse the time interval between two heartbeats, something called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). This relatively new set of information (which Suunto claims as extremely accurate) augments your typical heart rate data, and is used to calculate training loads and recovery efficiency. The graph data is then juxtaposed alongside heart rate after uploading statistics to Suunto's training program.
It's all good up until this point, but unfortunately the bundled person training program leaves much to be desired. Even though there is a help section, the lack of a manual or tutorial is a serious frustration. And that would be alright if the training manager were any semblance of user-friendly. Unfortunately, as has been the case with most of Suunto's hastily complied (at least that's what it seems) software, the program feels more like an alpha version than the final release of a "training manager" designed to compliment and excellent piece of hardware.
Lest I seem too vicious with the software, I should concede that it does what it's supposed to do accurately and straightforwardly. After connecting the T6 to my PC, I can upload my workout data and read a variety of graphs stacked on top of each other representing my heart rate, EPOC, speed and altitude. But reading is one thing, accessing and manipulating is another. There's no dragging and dropping to speak of, and the data exports with Suunto's proprietary extension, making it useless to anyone without Suunto software.
In the end, although it does its job, the spartan interface and stripped-down functionality of the training software simply just doesn't do justice to what the T6 package could potentially accomplish. It's time Suunto invested a bit more in software development. Actually, it's been that time since the history of Suunto software.
Compared to similar offerings from Polar, the Suunto has done better and worse than its competitor with the T6. The hardware (compared to the S625X or S810) is much better. Suunto's design team has done a marvelous job of streamlining the T6 and creating a device that is as slim and sleek as possible without sacrificing important features or durability. Yet Suunto once again falls in the quality of their software. And with the software being such an important part of the analytical abilities of a heart rate monitor, Suunto's failure to create a more user-friendly and quality training manager is a serious impediment to the full training experience. Because other than that, the T6 is easily one of the best training packages on the market.
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