A few weeks ago I bought and subsequently returned a Casio G-Shock Mudmaster GWG-1000 watch on the basis that the digital display was unreadable and to hear the alarm you had to have the watch right up to your ear and the hearing of a long-eared bat. For £550 I expect better.

What I replaced it with is the Suunto Core All-Black and this article is a short review of this watch.

I don’t want this to turn out looking like a help manual — although I will offer a few tips — and Suunto have a pretty good user guide on their site, so I’ll list the features up front and then go on to pick out particular points of note (of note to me, anyway).

Features:

  • time, day, date, obviously,
  • barometer,
  • altimeter,
  • depth meter,
  • weather trend indicator,
  • storm alarm,
  • compass with bearing tracking,
  • stopwatch,
  • countdown timer,
  • (single) alarm,
  • secondary time zone,
  • memory features for altimeter and barometer,
  • backlight,
  • choice of units (i.e. metres/feet, 25h/12h etc.)
  • water-resistant to 30m (100ft).

The first thing to note about the All-Black is that it is in fact pretty much all-black and it has a grey, negative display. This is therefore a stealthy watch. This is very handy when you’re being pursued through the jungle by the Viet Cong, which happens more often that you might think in semi-rural villages just outside Taunton.

I think the All-Black looks fantastic but the negative display does prove problematic when it’s dark. It’s hard to read and you’ll definitely need the backlight, which is subtle but it’s enough to see the time.

Suunto Core All Black.

There are two main displays on the Suunto Core. There’s the big display that can cycle between time, barometer/altimeter and compass and then below that there’s a smaller display for most other things (like the stopwatch, countdown timer etc.).

If you need to regularly check the secondary display at night then you’re going to be using the backlight a lot, which is probably why batteries in the All-Black only last a year or so. My eyesight isn’t what it was and I need my spectacles for the secondary display at night (although not during the day). Hopefully the Viet Cong would pause the invasion until I’ve found my glasses.

One of the reasons I returned the Casio was because of a poor readout of one of the displays but the Casio cost £550 and the Suunto Core only costs £135. It’s about what one expects for the money. I wasn’t willing to compromise at £550 but at £135 I can accept the extra effort needed at night in exchange for a watch which, as I said, I think looks great.

There are, anyway, things you can do to improve matters with the Suunto Core. It has a contrast option in the service menu which can be set from 1 to 15. My watch came with it set to 8 and I increased it to 12 to make things more legible. Suunto have an article about accessing the service menu but beware, using it seems to reset the whole watch so get the contrast as you want it straight away.

When I first activated the watch it threw me into a kind of setup routine where you can set things like the units, button tones, language and similar. It was only after a few days and a bit of Googling I found out about the contrast setting and after altering that I had to set up everything again.

Compromise also applies to the alarm. The Suunto’s alarm is certainly better than the Casio’s but I doubt it would wake me up. I have an alarm clock for that anyway and this is another of those compromises I’m prepared to make at the price (disclaimer: my hearing isn’t brilliant anyway).

There is a bit of intelligence in this watch. As I previously mentioned there are three views you can cycle through for the main display: time, altimeter/barometer and compass. Note that the altimeter and barometer share a display. You can either choose which one you want for that view or set it to automatic. What it does in automatic is it gives you the barometer display by default and if it detects you changing altitude it’ll give you the altimeter instead.

There are plenty features on this watch to keep the outdoorsman happy — the bearing tracker might be particularly useful for adventurous walkers — but I’m very much an indoors person and for 99% of the time I want the time and date from a watch. I also want a watch that (I think) looks good and the Suunto Core All Black ticks the boxes for me.

I’m going to give this watch four stars. I think the secondary display could be a little bigger and there’s enough screen real estate to make it so. Otherwise I’m quite happy to use this as my main watch from now on.