A hiker's watch with GPS


I'm not one to wear those big sports watches. But Suunto has packed a striking mix of functions into its X9i model ($500, suunto.com/x9i), including perhaps the smallest GPS receiver sold. And while it sits high off the wrist, it's not too bad looking.

Suunto actually calls it a wrist-top computer, which is only a bit of hype. Besides GPS, it includes an altimeter for tracking how high you've hiked, a barometer for predicting the weather, a chronograph (fancy word for "stopwatch"), and a compass to help with the tracking functions. Yes, time and date, too.

It's the GPS functions that distinguish it. They work, if more slowly than hand-held GPS devices, and are limited by the device's size and the life of its rechargeable battery, which can drain in a day of frequent GPS use. The 1-inch, text-only screen doesn't display maps, so tracking functions are similar to early GPS hand-helds. You establish way points, which are sites measured in latitude and longitude, either via a PC connection before you go out or by clicking buttons on the watch to note them as you trek. The watch helps you get from point to point. A Hansel-and-Gretel type function, for example, can get you home by backtracking sites you've noted along the way.

Using a PC, you can set way points by clicking on digital topographic maps for planning a trip. Or download data from the watch when you get back to map where you were. Accompanying software can calculate how far you went, how fast, how high, and what the barometer was reading, if you care.

So, like other high-end athletic watches, it's aimed at the superfit adventurers; you know, the folks who climb rock walls and jog through hill, meadow, and dale. It's not that I don't aspire to join them; it's just that I, uh, yeah, that's it—I don't wear watches.