Gear Review: Suunto Core (All Black)

Watches, they’re a pretty underrated piece of gear. The story of the wrist watch itself is drenched in the history of combat, from the plains of South Africa during the Boer Wars and the trenches of northern France and Belgium, the skies above Germany and the Far East to the Afghan sands… The wrist watch has been a vital piece of gear that helps a soldier work out when to move, when to sleep and when to fight.

Over the years we’ve had more and more features added to this ever present companion, alarms, moon phase/calanders, lighting, compasses, GPS… The list goes on and on. The key things that a soldier has always needed is accuracy and durability.

Those two key features became the norm once solid state computing and LCD displays became affordable. The reign of the Casio LCD Watch and specifically its G-Shock line for military and sporting use became much more prevelant.

So where does Suunto fit in with this? Well the Finnish company has actually a lot more history than you’d think… Much like the watch itself, Suunto has grown and developed due to military needs and then become just as popular with the civilian market.

The reason for my purchase? Well it’s the watch of choice for Denzel Washington’s character, Robert McCall in the Movie remake of The Equalizer (And it’s sequel).

It’s also seemingly the watch of choice for the characters in SEAL Team with most of Bravo Team having been spotted with the Suunto All Black at one point of another.

The Suunto Core All Black is part of Suunto’s Core watch range, meaning that it has three “Core” elements… Three things that Suunto regard as vital for an outdoor explorer to have.

  1. Altimeter
  2. Barometer
  3. Compass

These three tools make the Core All Black quite a useful tool to have in the wilderness, although for your average guy it might take a little explaining as to why you’d need them.
The Altimeter is what tells you your height above sea level… the Suunto Core works by using its built in air pressure sensor to give a reasonably accurate reading as to your height above sea level. This differs from some watches which use GPS to give you a fix on not only your location but also your altitude. GPS is arguably the better and more accurate way of measuring due to barometric pressure being a variable but the software is pretty good from what I’ve seen in working out the real altitude no matter the air pressure.

The altimeter on the Core All Black is based around a pressure sensor on the rear of the watch, two small holes allow air to touch the sensor and give a reading that can be interpreted by the watch’s software. You can change the units from Feet to Metres which is excellent, the UK basically flitting between imperial and metric depending on what day of the week it is…

measuring from -500m to +9000m and with a log function that allows you to record previous ascents/descents as well as changing the intervals that it records its data (pilots for example might want a per second reading for up to date information rather than the per minute reading that a climber might be able to get away with).

The readout on the display is pretty straightforward, The main section is devoted to the altitude with a smaller section being swappable between Blank, Log Timer, Reference Altitude and Temperature.

Next up, the Barometer is the key air pressure sensing element of the watch. Air pressure monitoring is an age old way of forecasting weather… falling air pressure can often mean the onset of bad weather. Rapidly changing air pressure might even spell out a thunderstorm.

The Suunto Core All Black uses the same barometric pressure sensor to work out your altitude, it’s fancy software doing the hard work of working out actual altitude vs variable meteorological conditions… it’s not foolproof but it seems to work pretty well, if it’s important to know your exact altitude or the pressure then you can calibrate the sensor “on the go” using known reference points.

The graph is pretty simple to read, showing the pressure readings in 30 minute increments you can see a trend of what’s likely to happen with pressure fronts moving through your location. It should always be combined with a dose of common sense, but it will allow some worst case scenario forecasting if you’re out and about.

There is also a little trend indicator that’s shown on the top left of both the Baro and Time screens, probably the quickest way to get an idea of the weather in your area. As with the main barometer display, a falling line from left to right can indicate bad weather approaching and a rising line usually indicates clearer weather in the short term.

The most common reason for is that the lower the pressure, the more likely it is that the moisture in the air can rise and condense into larger water droplets. If the pressure is low enough, it then hits a point where gravity overcomes it’s ability to stay airborne. It’s not 100% idiot proof though, there’s often much more to consider when looking at weather forecasting.

The last of the “Core” features… A Compass. An absolute necessity for outdoor pursuits, One that could very much save your life. The ability to tell which way is which should never be underrated.

The Suunto Core compass should never be used as your primary navigation source, it’s at best, an emergency back up. Unfortunately the compass simply isn’t accurate or reliable enough to be used as your primary compass.

That being said, I’ve used it a few times now and as long as you’re not near a large amount of metal such as a car, shipping container or rifle (ahem Bravo Two Zero, you’re doing it wrong)… you should get a reading accurate enough to travel by.

Calibration of the compass is automatically completed and periodically the compass will ask you to manually calibrate its magnetic sensor. The easiest way to do this is to remove your watch, place it on a plastic bottle and spin the watch slowly about 10 times. Bearing in mind that the watch should be as level as possible for the most accurate readings.

Declination can be set to offset grid and true north from magnetic north, it can also be turned off should you not require it.

The bottom section of the screen is switchable (as with the Baro/Alt screens) between blank, Time and Cardinal Points. All in all, a workable back up to your main compass.

But what else does this watch have? Let’s have a look…

One of the key things outside of the “Core” elements of the Suunto Core All Black is it’s thermometer, a vital tool when in the great outdoors. Knowing the temperature allows a massive amount of forward planning, especially when combined with a log of the recent barometric pressure.

Speaking of the pressure log, a 7 day log is automatically saved which shows the pressure in half hour increments. Certainly useful, not only for building up a picture of the local climate but checking against known data such as The Met Office or Accuweather to ensure your data matches up for calibration.

Calibration itself is an obviously important factor, the watch uses two main sensors that are able to be calibrated… the Compass is a simple affair, calibration is semi-automatic with it correcting itself continuously. You are able to manually calibrate the compass by resetting the watch and it’s worth doing, certainly after the watch has been near a large metal mass such as an airplane or ship.

The Barometer/Altimeter can also be manually reference corrected by taking either a known figure such the known altitude of your current location or the barometric pressure (check most weather data sites for this information in your area), this will allow a correction should your watch become incorrect. Suunto state the software is very good at working out altitude vs pressure but bearing in mind it’s using one sensor for both tasks, never take it as an absolute fact that the pressure or altitude is correct unless you’ve cross checked with another measure.

The watch obviously is primarily designed for telling the time, so without wanting to ignore this vital element… What basic functions does it have?

A 12/24 hour digital clock display, not the most fashionable in a world that after the 1980s mostly returned to an analogue display, but for pure functionality it’s actually the better option.

There’s a slight nod to the analogue display of traditional watches in that the seconds can be seen moving around just inside the bezel in most of the “time” related screens, a nice little touch and one that’s useful if you choose to have the date/day displayed on your watches screen as opposed to a digital second read out.

A pre-programmable countdown timer is able to be used, not something I’d ever thought of using before but now that I’ve got it, there’s actually a lot of scope for its use from cooking pasta or setting your “bleed out” time at an Airsoft game to working how much air is left in your SCUBA tank.

The timer is programmed through the central menu and is able to be set from 1 second (not much use really) through to 99 minutes and 59 seconds in 1 second intervals, more than enough for most tasks, for anything else I’d suggest using the alarm.

The alarm is a simple affair, with no day selection your left with a selection of hours and minutes, simply turn the alarm on, select the time you want it to go off and once you’ve selected the time it’ll go off for when you’ve set it. I usually use my phone for my alarm but since I’ve had the watch I’ve been using it to act as a snooze failsafe, a role in which it’s worked well so far.

A “home” time is able to be selected, useful for those flirting between time zones although I rarely travel and I’m usually able to work out the time in another place pretty easily. One scenario it’d work well for us if you were working somewhere such as Afghanistan or Hong Kong, allowing you to work out if it’s 3am or 6pm at home before calling.

The last function I’ll cover on the “time” screen is a sunrise/sunset indicator, again… not one I’ll use every day (except if working out whether to take the NODs out) but if you’re planning a trip out, knowing what time it’ll start getting dark by is incredibly useful. Bear in mind that the further away from the equator you are, the longer it takes from sunset to darkness… In the UK your looking at about 90 minutes after sunset for true darkness (weather and seasonal dependant).

There is the option to set the Alt/Baro screen as a dive “depth meter”, accurate to 10 metres it’s not something I’ll probably need but for the casual sports diver it’s a nice touch.

Backlighting is provided from a sheet of the photo-luminescent material that’s been used in decent outdoor watches for the last 20 or so years, it works well enough and provides an even backlighting to read the whole display (more than can be said for my entry-level G-Shock).

The strap is a silicone type with a really nice profile, wide and hollow near the watch body and tapering off to a 1″ strap with a wide buckle and tongue which is low profile and finished in a non reflective coating.

There are a pair of strap organising loops, they look like any old loops you find on a watch but they actually peg into the strap itself which prevents any loose ends on the strap becoming a nuisance, I really like this feature and it’s one I’ve not seen before.

The battery is actually user-replaceable… which when you think about it makes sense, if you’re in the middle of a maintain range you can’t nip off to Timpsons. The battery is a CR2032 which being used in a variety of optical sights and small electrical gear is a commonly stocked item, certainly in many military units supply chain.

To change the battery you can even use the new cell (although not an easy task) to open the body, simply use the cell as a makeshift driver and twist anti-clockwise until the seal pops. Replace the battery and use the old cell to close the waterproof seal again.

The buttons are knurled and appear pretty rugged, I’ve heard of buttons becoming stuck or breaking but I’ve had to dig around for negative reviews… they’re mostly the exception rather than the norm. The bezel is slightly glossy and turns to work in conjunction with the compass… a pair of glow in the dark bearing markers help aid navigation on the move.

Overall, it’s more expensive than your bog standard G-Shock so if telling the time is your only consideration, buy a G-Shock. However, if you’re looking for a competent watch that will aid you in outdoor environments, the Suunto Core All Black will serve you pretty well. It’s not the easiest watch to read in direct sunlight though and you might want to play around with the contrast settings, it’s a sod to photograph as well… but unless your reviewing the watch or simply have an addiction to the ‘gram, that’s a problem you just won’t have.

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