Tech Watch Review

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

This year, I took two watches around the world. On international trips from Iceland to Nepal, watches from Suunto and Timex served as ever-ready, wrist-mounted gauges. Time, weather, direction, heart rate, and altitude were among the read-outs on my wrist as I pushed through wilderness and to mountain peaks.

suunto and timex.jpg

Suunto Vector HR and Timex Expedition E-Altimeter

By far, the Suunto Vector HR watch was the most useful of the tested two. It has tools for outdoor adventures and physical conditioning. Time, altimeter, and heart-rate are the main three functions I use on the Suunto. It also has a barometer to monitor weather, a digital compass, and other tools.

A heart-rate monitor strap is included in the Suunto box. You wear it during workouts, and your heart’s beats-per-minute are displayed in real-time on the watch face.

Suunto Vector HR watch copy.jpg

Vector HR; heart-rate belt miniaturized behind watch

In my tests, the Suunto watch (www.suunto.com) never skipped a beat. Its functions were accurate, and its rugged build has kept the watch looking new after much abuse.

I’ve used it around the globe this year — including up past 18,000 feet in Nepal — as well as almost daily at home during bike training and workout runs.

There are no scratches. I haven’t even had to change a battery, despite near-daily use for more than six months straight.

suunto closeup.jpg

Close up: Suunto Vector HR

One downfall: The Suunto’s alarm is too quiet. More than once, the tiny beep has failed to wake me when I was depending on it to get out of a sleeping bag for an early start.

The Suunto Vector HR is not cheap. It retails for $329. It is a solid investment if you need a bomb-proof outdoors watch that also has heart-rate monitoring capabilities to train for your big adventures at home.

The Timex Expedition E-Altimeter watch, the second timepiece in my half-year test, is marketed as being appropriate “from base camp to the board room.”

Timex Expedition Watch.jpg

Timex Expedition E-Altimeter

The watch, which comes in four designs, from $199 to $224, is handsome and hefty. Its wide stainless-steel case and solid band make for a unit that weighs 5.1 ounces on my scale. (The Suunto, by comparison, is 2 ounces.)

There are feet and meter markings. The watch can assess altitude via its tiny built-in barometer up to 25,000 feet.

Its girth and its analog face — including a half-dozen small hands, numbers, a date box, tick marks, degrees, and tiny text — create a striking design that can indeed do double duty outdoors and for formal functions alike.

But the same attributes that make for its unique look also overly complicate the watch. It’s hard to quickly glance at the E-Altimeter for a read-out. The big design also feels heavy on the wrist.

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Close up: Timex E-Altimeter

I wore the E-Altimeter off and on in Nepal this spring. While trekking in the Himalayas, the watch’s altimeter proved accurate and reliable. It can store and recall high and low altitude points reached on a climb.

The company (www.timex.com) touts the watch was “designed for the outdoor adventurer with sophisticated taste and the desire for something different.” The analog instrument is indeed different. It lacks many of the tools an outdoors person may need, including an alarm and a compass. There is no heart-rate option either.

But Timex has a neat offering with the E-Altimeter watch. For the right crowd, the missing features may not matter. For some sacrifices, Timex lets you ditch the digital face and go with a more classic look.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.

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Posted by Rob Brewer - 07/23/2010 09:16 AM

Not sure why you didn’t use the Timex WS-4 instead of the E-Altimeter. I’ve had this watch for over a year and would love to see a head-to-head with a Suunto product. It doesn’t have a heart-rate monitor, but it does have most of the other features you list for the Suunto you tested.

Posted by MattK - 07/27/2010 11:35 AM

I’ve been seriously considering the Vector for well over a year but hesitated given the many not-so-positive reviews. I keep hearing about how easily the lense scratches, how the paint on the bezel wears off after only a few weeks, that the seals are easily damaged by insect repellent and sun screen. Is the latest version more rugged than previous iterations? Please let me know. More at GearGuide.Info

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 07/27/2010 04:03 PM

MattK — I’ve seen none of those problems after much abuse.

Posted by LouieK - 07/28/2010 07:31 AM

I have a vector myself. It is true the lense does scratch easily. The bezel has held up fine for me and i’ve had it for nearly 6 weeks now. I bought an invisible shield from zagg and it’s worked perfectly. Suunto I know has had problems with watches in the past i.e. Suunto Core but they are really on top of the ball on fixing these issues and providing a quality product. I recommend them. – LouieK Altimeter Watch

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