A (Suunto) Quest in the Cloud [Review]
Quite a while after the release of the t6 and its gradual updates (to t6c and t6d) – which I think are reason to like Suunto in these tough times – it’s about time a new sports instrument oriented (more) towards the top users came out. Witness the Quest, the latest in Suunto‘s lineup of training instruments… Following my interest in (good things for) running – after all, a good way of making oneself “at home” – I’m presenting an in-depth Suunto Quest review, based on a few months of testing it:
Design and Operation
Design-wise, Suunto is sticking to its clean lines and continuing with the aesthetic sensibility already seen in other recent series. The entirely more traditional round watch shape works well on the trail without screaming “sports nut” when worn to the office. Size and weight fit in there, too: it’s light, and a nice middling diameter that is not overly large (nor small), and uses the space available very effectively, with a crisp display.
As on the M series (on the platform of which the Quest is based), the menu and operation have also been cleaned up to the extent that only three buttons are necessary – and for the most part, the upper and lower buttons just work as “up” and “down” buttons; holding the center button leads into the menu, pushing it selects a menu item and leads to the next set of items.
The first time one discovers that menu is right upon first turning on the watch (it comes in the usual kind of stand-by). Hold some button, and it will tell you to hold the top button for two seconds. Then, as it starts, you get asked for your language of choice – you can choose between a very wide selection -, your choice of units to use, the time and date. Some personal settings needed for the training analysis are also asked for immediately.
Customization and the Cloud
Now, you could just go out and start training (from what I saw, the included HR belt and FootPOD even come pre-paired to the watch; otherwise, that needs to be done, of course). Settings for general/multi-sport training, running and cycling would already be set-up.
The Quest is really, from the ground up, a watch to be used “in the cloud,” though. The cloud, in this case, being Suunto’s Movescount platform for social interaction and training analysis – and in this case (rather as it got to be for parts of the t6c/d setup), also for accessing all the customization options.
This right here is the reason why the Quest comes not only with a heart rate belt (the Dual Comfort Belt), but also with the “Movestick Mini” (basically, an extra-tiny USB dongle) used to wirelessly connect the watch with Movescount.
[In the usual “running pack,” it also comes with the Mini FootPOD which records speed and distance, pace, and – a first with Suunto (and rather rare) – running cadence.]
Movescount gives you a platform in which to set up all your personal data and set timers and such more comfortably than you could on the watch itself, and it also lets you customize different watch displays for (up to five) different kinds of training, plan training programs (and save them on the watch) and analyze your workouts – not to mention share and discuss your “moves.”
Customization In Overview…
What you need to set on the watch:
- (dual time)
- (pairing with PODs: HR belt, FootPOD, BikePOD, additional “Speed POD”)
What you can set on the watch (or in Movescount):
- personal settings: weight, activity class, max HR, rest HR
- training settings: training program on/off, limits on/off, autolap on/off, timer 1 on/off, timer 2 on/off
- general settings: sounds (all on / all off / buttons off, i.e. pressing a button makes no sound, but the sounds for training guidance are played), tap sensitivity, distance unit
What you can set/change in Movescount:
- training program data (date, duration, planned intensity [found under Tools -> Training Program Planner]
- “Personal Settings”
- year of birth
- heart rate zone limits (in %)
- time and date display (12/24hr, month-day or day-month)
- distance and weight units (km or mi, kg or lb, respectively)
- “Device Settings”
- language of the watch display
- automatic saving of “moves” (i.e. training sessions; left unchecked, data gets saved automatically; checked, the Quest asks whether to save data or not)
- data displayed on the outer rim, indicated by arrows [also see below]:
recovery (i.e. time needed to full recovery), or
HR% (percent of maximum heart rate), or
%completion (percentage of planned training done, up to 100% which is also indicated by the “check mark” on the display)
- HR or speed “limits” to use for training guidance (used when no training is planned)
- timer 1 and 2 (on/off and their durations)
- “Custom Mode” 1 through 5: different modes, individually set to be used (displayed) on the watch or not [see below]
Outer Rim Display
On its outer rim, as you could see in the list of customization options above, the Quest can either display percent of your maximal heart rate, percent of a planned training session completed, or time needed to full recovery.
This setting has proven a bit strange to me. HR% and %completion are only used/needed during a training session, after all, whereas recovery seems interesting only afterwards.
HR% are also shown only in a training mode using the HR belt; %completion is only shown in a training mode, and then only when a training session is also planned, of course (but it was a d’oh! in which I noticed that…). After a session, if %completion is chosen, the Quest will also show that (and the check-mark if you got to 100%) for a while longer (the rest of the day?).
Recovery is mainly interesting after a session, but you will already see the recovery time required after your training increase while you are still on the move – and of course, until the suggested recovery time is over.
So, if you use a training plan and want to be able to see how much of the planned session you’ve completed, set the outer rim display to %completion.
If you want to have a graphic indication of your HR%, choose that.
And if you’d like to know how much recovery time you will and do need after the current/last training session, that may be the setting for you.
Here, it gets really interesting, because you can set these with individual names, for different activities (as per the activities that Movescount ‘knows’) – and these also get set automatically when a log gets transferred onto Movescount, so there’s no more having a run registered as “not specified sport” until you edit that field in Movescount).
These modes also get different HR and speed limits (here, the actual limits – bpm or km, respectively, to the HR or speed limits on/off setting towards the beginning are set); they are pre-set so that the Quest searches for HR belt and/or PODs or none of them; they use different autolap settings (distance in km at which a lap is automatically registered), and up to 5 different displays per mode.
The displays always set the central, larger, and the bottom, smaller, line of the Quest (remember, the outer rim is set to show HR%, % completion or time to recovery, earlier on in the list). The combinations are tremendous, as the Quest can display…
- an “empty” line
- average heart rate
- average heart rate in percent
- average pace
- average running cadence
- average speed
- heart rate
- heart rate in percent
- pace [current]
- running cadence [current]
… on row 1 (the central one), and…
- an “empty” line
- average heart rate
- average heart rate in percent
- average pace
- average running cadence
- average speed
- heart rate
- heart rate in percent
- heart rate zone
- interval timer
- lap time
- running cadence
… in row 2 (the lower, smaller, one)
It might sound a bit overwhelming, and indeed it does point to the one “problem” with the Quest: Suunto tried to make things easy for the user (and it all isn’t hard if you have a notion of technology), but the Quest is rather like the t6c/d in making you have to know what you need and want.
A Running Example
A mode for running already comes pre-set, but one might want to adjust it as desired. Personally, I typically use these displays:
- heart rate & stopwatch
- heart rate percent & heart rate zone
- pace & running cadence
- distance & time
- heart rate & interval timer
For general heart rate training, having heart rate percent and zone displayed is very nice for guidance (without a training plan set up).
Especially for things like barefoot (or “barefoot”) running, running cadence is a valuable metric to look at.
For interval training, you will want to have the interval timer displayed. (There is also a beeping, but if you use any other autolap or guidance, you will also get the beeps from those, which gets very confusing – trust me, I’ve been there ;) )
Things are similar for the other training modes – if you decide to use them: You’ll just have to decide which modes and which displays and settings you’ll need. You could set them for running, general HR training, cycling, or even for different kinds of running (HR guidance, intervals, recovery, all with different heart rate and speed limits and displays).
What makes the Quest different from the other Suunto sports instruments is that you can customize it heavily, not just in terms of the displays (like the t6c/d), but also to the point of whether or not you have it search for HR belt and/or PODs in the training modes you set (which saves battery and a few seconds). Also, as mentioned before, when you transfer your logs to Movescount, you automatically get the activity set in Movescount at it was pre-programmed to be.
How Well Does It Work?
With the profusion of possibilities, it might sound difficult to handle. Once set, though, the Quest is a nicely unobtrusive sports (and everyday) companion.
With heart rate or speed limits set and turned on, the Quest displays “up-” or “down-” arrows and beeps to guide its user into the set limits; the same is done when a training plan is programmed, but then it guides you into the HR zone (easy/moderate/hard/very hard/maximal, displayed as zones 1-5) you set. With a plan set, you also get it displayed when you activate the training menu (and you can see the %completion on the outer rim, if that is set to be shown).
Personally, since I like not to use a pre-set program, the guidance in terms of heart rate zones is very useful (with or without limits), except that I often hover right on a limit between two HR zones. This can get the Quest into a frenzy of beeping, because it instantly informs you of your changing from one HR zone into another. (A longer press on the central button while in a training mode takes care of that – it turns off all the sounds.)
With training plans set, this does not happen; there is guidance also by beeping in order to signal that you are outside of or just got inside the proper zone, but it has a delay between two beeps so that there is no acoustic signal if there has not been a change into or out of the desired zone.
One thing to note – again pointing back to how the Quest is made for people who know what they are doing – is that the planned training sessions are not adapted. That is, whereas the M5 would show you a recommendation for the day and adjust how much of the day’s recommended training you have done, depending on how long and hard your training is (even while you are in the middle of it), the Quest will just “keep you on track” for what you yourself planned for your training, right now and for however long in advance it’s programmed.
Should you find that you planned more than you can handle during this session, you’ll better adjust your plan (in Movescount and synchronized to the watch) if the recovery time during which you should not be doing the next session would be longer than what you had planned.
Of course, there are both upsides and downsides to this: If you know what you are doing and just want a sports instrument as a reminder of your own plans, then the Quest is ideal. Like the t6c/d, you can set it and forget it – or not – just as you find it best, but it shows you what was planned and helps follow that plan. Personally, I like that.
If you want guidance that amounts to coaching, however, you’ll want to go for a t4d or M5. (I had a chance to try the Quest against my t6c/d and an M5 on loan, and find the M5’s coaching function interesting, but too pushy for my taste.)
Comparing Quest and t6c/d
Maybe the most noteworthy difference of t6c/d and Quest in terms of data is the disappearance of Training Effect (TE) calculation on the watch itself (which the t6c/d does, but not the Quest).
It does get calculated in Movescount, though, and I’ve found the display of recovery time on the Quest’s outer rim to be a rather nice alternative for estimating how hard my current training will be. To me, the addition of the HR zones display more than makes up for it, too, with cadence a nice extra to have thrown into the mix. (Admittedly, I just recently went for lactate testing, from which I also know the current HR zones in which I should perform my training – making that rather important… and I started using “barefoot” running shoes, which makes cadence good to know…)
Other things that go missing are altitude and therefore ascent/descent (which are also rather nice to have, but not essential for training), as well as the ability to pair the instrument with two HR belts and up to five PODs – but these, like the calculation of EPOC, respiration and other of those body parameters, are not something many people are going to miss, I dare say. (Okay, I’ll miss them myself – but haven’t really paid much attention to these things in quite a while.)
The timers, too, are reduced: the t6c/d allows you to set a warm-up timer and a certain number of laps for which the timers are used, whereas the Quest just cycles through the timer(s) until you stop the session and set the timer(s) to off.
The Quest’s “lap-tapping” shouldn’t go unmentioned. I barely use laps, but it is an interesting idea: rather than hit a button, you hit the watch face (“tap” not as on a touch screen, but as in a knock) to manually mark a lap. The sensitivity of this function can also be set, which I’ve found to be quite necessary. For me, “medium” sensitivity requires too hard a knock; on the other hand, if you go Nordic walking and use the poles roughly, I’d imagine that medium or low sensitivity may be necessary to avoid having every stride register as a lap.
A Look Inside Movescount
Not only settings, customization, and planning, but also storage and analysis of training sessions is done in Movescount. Continuing with the comparison, here’s a look at how one training session’s data, which I recorded with both Quest (on the left) and t6c/d (on the right), is displayed there. Nothing has been edited, which is why the run is shown as “unspecified sport” in the t6c/d data [click on the image for a bigger view].
The Final Word
All in all, after a few months of testing the Quest, I do rather like it (and note that I’m an Austrian, so “rather” tends to mean “very much”).
I wouldn’t give away my t6c/d for it, which I’ve come to like all the more after using the Quest – but that’s simply a result of it having been my training tool for several years now, set up as I like it, and known with all its quirks. (By the way: the backlight still flickers on-off when you turn it on during a training session using HR belt or PODs. My dictum still holds: if you need to see something during the night, run with a headlamp!)
This may easily change as I use the Quest more and more, because the HR zones display and guidance, and the calculation of recommended recovery time are rather more helpful than the t6’s training effect display for the kind of training I am and want to be doing (which is self-directed, but with support from my sports instrument).
So, for a total beginner, I wouldn’t recommend the Quest, nor necessarily for someone who’s using a t6c/d, happy with it, and just pining to have the next top model. For someone looking to step up to training plans, follow their own planning and get serious about heart rate zone-based training (and intervals, and other sports), though, it is more than worth the consideration, as it will help you step up to a whole new level of training and serve you well at that for a long time to come.
You can find another nice review at ultra168, here, by the way… and I only just saw that runtheline.com put up a Suunto Quest review, too. Also, note that Suunto has a YouTube channel, among other things containing videos of the Quest.