Suunto Kailash Review: Adventure Timeline-d [Updated]

Suunto has, for a while already, been right in that area of the sports and outdoors technology market where actual usefulness and luxurious aspiration collide.

Outdoors Aspiration

Use a device like a t6, Quest or Ambit (to reach back into Suunto history a bit) well, and your training will glean better results – but of course, by wearing a Vector or Core or any of the aforementioned models, you also show that you’re an outdoors person, not one for a Rolex. (Although, those have quite some outdoors/explorer pedigree as well…)

With the Kailash, which I had previewed somewhat suspiciously as soon as I had received it from Suunto for reviewing, this sense and symbolizing of adventurousness has become the raison d’être of the watch.

Kailash 7R button

Here, with the introduction also of the 7R concept and the beginning of the “World Collection” (to which the earlier-released Suunto Essential line was added when its models with ceramic bezels came out), Suunto is truly in that lifestyle market where expensive devices with premium materials and with features of, perhaps questionable, usefulness in daily life reside.

I still haven’t gone quite as far and traveled quite as much as I think the Suunto Kailash should be taken, but the watch itself provides feedback on that which has turned me around on it.

Watch Adventure

It is and remains something that looks very much like a tool/toy for a business traveler who wants to feel adventurous by virtue of all the places he’s visited.

If it weren’t for the high price (or maybe even more because of it, if you want to show your success?), this would make it the perfect device for the digital nomads who make constant travel and work on the road their aim, self-advertisement, and lifestyle.

Having had a Kailash for a few months now, however, I find how it looks and what it does more and more interesting.

Suunto Kailash in Florence

So, enough of people and attitudes I find rather strange, and on to what the Kailash does and I have been finding fun and useful:

The 7R Adventure Log

The main feature of the Suunto Kailash, supported by its GPS, is its ability to provide a record of its user’s ‘adventures’.

Suunto Kailash 7R Log: Countries Visiited

Chief among them are travel statistics:

  • number of countries visited and
  • number of cities visited, as well as
  • travel days,
  • total distance traveled,
  • distance farthest from home, and
  • average daily steps.

These are all stored on the watch and visible on displays reached by pushing the 7R button.

The data also get synced to the 7R iOS app where they reside along the “adventure timeline”, a timeline- and map-based view of where you’ve been and when (see below).

What is counted as visited is related to step counts (which are also counted to calculate your “average daily steps” taken during a year): You have to have taken at least 1000 steps in a place for it to be counted as visited.

It must have been quite a discussion how to implement this; 1000 steps is still not many, but who knows if a business traveler taking taxis would necessarily always walk much more? Yet, any fewer would not make sense or any country you fly over or every airport stopover would then be counted for sure.

(And travel days? Like distance traveled, only trips leading farther than 75 km away from the home location are counted. While any distances longer than that count for the total of distance traveled, it must have been a full 24-hour day for it to count as a travel day as well.)

GPS Uses

Of course, something must tell the Kailash where you are or it could never know where you have been.

That something is, not very surprisingly, a GPS chip.

The way that the Suunto Kailash uses its GPS is a rather special one, though. Consequently, thinking of the Kailash as a GPS watch is not the way to go…

Your Urban Location

The lifestyle (rather than outdoors) connection of the Kailash is easily visible right on the first 7R screen.

Here, just as soon as you’ve pushed the (sapphire-glass) 7R button, the Suunto Kailash shows either how far away from the next city in its database you are (or were when it last had a GPS fix) or how long you’ve been in such a city.

So, on tour, there’s at least a bit of a pointer to where you are and pass(ed) by, as we already saw in the photo above, where it shows the stop-over of the train at Firenze S.M. railway station, i.e. Florence, and as you can see in my video taken while I went to Rome for the Rome Marathon:

Again, that data is also being transferred to and shown in the 7R iOS app, where one can scroll through the timeline to get an impression of the when and where of one’s travels.

A GPS fix is taken, or at least attempted, every 10 minutes; of course, the usual caveats surrounding GPS location fixes apply.

For example, they work best when the device is in an open location with a clear view of the sky.

Not exactly the conditions to be expected during each and every fix a Kailash tries, so fewer locations will actually end up being recorded… Some types of train and airplane also appear to be built in such a way that GPS signals are blocked.

This Way is Home

The GPS on the Kailash is, or can be, used as a pointer towards home, or a home away from home, as well.

Home is an important matter, not just as something to make oneself familiar in (need I remind you of the tagline of the site you’re reading? ;) ), but also for the use of the Suunto Kailash.

Travel days are logged in this device only when it can be assumed that they really were travel, and just as 1000 steps are required in a place to count it as having been visited, so a distance greater than 75 km from home must be surpassed, for at least a full 24 hours, for a day to count as a travel day.

(The total distance traveled, meanwhile, only requires getting out of one’s comfort, uhm home, zone of a 75 km radius.)

On the second main screen, the place a user has marked as home (using the watch or the app) is really being pointed to; this screen displays the distance from ‘home’ and the direction it lies.

Suunto Kailash Pointing Home

The way the Kailash is originally set up, this screen points to the actual (Mount) Kailash. Nice touch that.

However, the display here can also, and quickly, be set up to point to a home away from home: Set foot outside your hotel in a new city, go to that screen, push the 7R button, and the GPS goes looking for its location.

Once the GPS fix has been acquired, this location can be stored as a POI (the one POI, in fact, which the Kailash can store in addition to the location defined as home).

When a place has been set like this, the second screen has two views, one towards home and one that helps get back to the POI:

Route tracking this isn’t, but if you’ve ever been in a new city and wondered which way your hotel was again, you should know how this could come in handy.

(This second display can also show the compass, which is rendered as just a compass “needle”, if the Kailash is set up to show that.)

Flashlight Mode

Talking of finding one’s way: Should you find yourself in a hotel room in a blackout, or perhaps one that is nicely darkened and doesn’t easily let you find the light switch, you only have to hold the lower button longer for the Kailash to switch from ordinary backlight to the extra-bright ‘flashlight’ mode.

Suunto Kailash in Flashlight Mode

This function is shared between the Kailash and the Traverse, with that button switching the views of a display when pushed once, activating the backlight when held for around 2 seconds, and turning on the flashlight mode when held even longer.

GPS Power Use

Since an update at the end of 2015, a power mode has also been added to the GPS functions.

Activating this by long-pressing the 7R button sets the Kailash to record a GPS location every second for the first 15 minutes and then every minute (for a maximum of 8 hours or until stopped if battery level falls below 10%, if no GPS signal was received for 30 minutes, or when the user pushes the 7R button again).

It’s still not quite the route record one gets from an Ambit, but it could be used to e.g. make a record of a marathon’s route that is relatively exact, to “replay” in the 7R app.

7R App Screen, in Vatican City
One does get a bit of a travel record anyways… Here, from my visit to the Vatican City while in Rome

(I thought about using the Kailash like that for recording the Rome Marathon, but then still went the more sensible route of using my Ambit3 for that instead.)

The 7R iOS App

All the location data recorded by the Kailash also ends up in the app that accompanies it (on iOS only), which is organized all around the idea of an adventure timeline, continuing the look-feel of the watch (more on which in a sec).

The app mainly shows a map and the timeline at the bottom, automatically starting at the current time and location (though sometimes, when a new sync is ongoing, it seems to go into the future instead of stating that when and where you are now, “Your adventure starts here. What lies ahead”).

7R App What lies ahead
Or maybe, the 7R app just questions “What lies ahead”

You can scroll back from there and see where you’ve been, with the map automatically zooming out/in if you’ve traveled farther during that time or stayed in one place for longer.

For longer durations, you can swipe up on the left side of the app to get to the “days” rather than “hours” display, where you can again scroll left/right through the timeline and see where you’ve been over longer times.

Swipe up again and you get into the summary view, which lists how many countries and cities you’ve been to, how many kilometers (or miles) you’ve traveled on how many travel days, and how far from home has been your farthest distance from it.

7R App Summary View

This latter is basically the same information also given in the 7R logbook on the watch, except that a map is added in the background (which seems to show only the most recent places you’ve been or the ones where you’ve been the longest, unfortunately, not all of them, and is also rather difficult to tap to zoom in – trying to pinch to zoom in/out often ends up just changing the display to the “days” one).

Watch it all in action here:

Your average daily steps are on the watch only, not in the app.

Also, there seems to be no way of seeing exactly which countries/cities you have been to. The map doesn’t show all of them in the summary view, and no list is available.

So, I guess you’re still back to (virtually or actually) putting pins in a map (or sharing the zoomed-in views of the “days” or “hours” display – unless you only care about the numbers, which is what seems to be the case for many a world-traveling adventurer, anyways…

Form and Function

Adventure, the way it is interpreted in the Suunto Kailash, is a rather urban pursuit ranging through space and along time, with the Suunto Kailash as the record keeper.

The notion of a timeline forms the red thread through all that, not just in the app but even on the watch:

Like the hands of a clock on an ordinary watch, so the “timeline” in the midst of the Kailash’s display moves forward with time.

When a notification is received, the time when it was received is marked on that timeline and this marker moves left as its time moves to the past.

Set an alarm, and it is set on the timeline, from where that scrolls back to the current time. As the alarm time approaches, the alarm marker becomes visible again until it becomes the present time and goes off, then moves into the past.

Go into a different time zone, and the watch automatically adjusts for the time zone you are in, then also scrolls from home time to local time (or reverse), as required.

Suunto Kailash Time Zone Update

Set up and look at a “world time”, i.e. the time in another city, and the same scrolling between your current time and that time applies.

Final Thoughts

The Adventure Timeline™ behaviors are all playful things for the watch to do, but also consistent with its concept and somehow delightful a touch.

Add in the functionalities you get, of ‘adventure’ data and a little helpful GPS use, combined with the premium materials and looks, and you have a fascinating lifestyle product for the person who is into traveling – and not in a position where they have to skimp money…

One thing I have found it necessary to be aware of is the battery life.

In ordinary use, the Kailash runs relatively long on a single charge; I’ve typically got something like 5 days out of one charge – but when it needs to be recharged, you better have the cable and a USB plug/charger ready, or you might end up with a watch that only shows a blank screen as the last 10% of charge drop rather quickly.

The cable, coming with its own roll-up box, is nicely enough made (if a bit chunky in look); all of it fitting together into the Kailash transport tin is even nicer – and if you don’t want to bring any of these things, you can actually use an Ambit charging cable all the same.

While on that point: The watch band starts looking slightly worn rather quickly, but it’s far from problematic; the titanium bezel seems nearly indestructible even when it comes to its coloring. I’ve regularly, carelessly, struck the watch bezel against a wall and there’s only the slightest of discoloration/color loss at the very edge of the bezel.

Suunto Kailash Bezel

The Kailash is still not a sports watch for training or even just an outdoors watch to take on hikes (and get the usual sports-watch statistics); don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because it uses GPS.

It is, however, a good-looking piece for a digital watch.

If you travel enough, preferably in a business suit and internationally, and yet don’t want the normal watch everyone has, but rather a timepiece with special looks and special use, there you are…

Update [August 2016]

Not only have I had a Kailash for a while longer now, I have finally been traveling by air to, and around, China with it. So, there is quite a bit more in the statistics.

Thanks to a new firmware update, released August 2016, there is also something new to point to, feature-wise: Since that update, the Suunto Kailash can not only display the number of cities and countries its wearer has visited, but it can also show the lists of those cities and countries:

Now, I find it even more interesting a travel tool/toy – for the well-heeled, still, given its price and feature set. The newly released Suunto Spartan Ultra has a comparative price, though…

Availability

The Suunto Kailash is available only directly from Suunto or in select stores.

14 Comments

  1. Asaf

    Excellent review. Really enjoy reading.
    I’ll just add my thoughts about the macro level: Suunto, IMO, is doing 2 marketing mistakes.
    One, thinking that they are a watch company.
    Second, thinking that their customers have ‘specific’ needs.
    Nobody really cares about watches… It’s just plastic and metal on your wrist. Suunto should start think of itself as a software company that by incident, implement its code into a watch. tomorrow, perhaps into HUD. I know, they think form triumphs function, right? The functional american approach can be indeed sometimes a little bit too much. I’m also not a big fan of Garmin plastic products. BUT- it seems they forgot what their USP is. Fancy watches makers are abundant. Don’t abuse your adventurous heritage to promote the most non-adventurous product…

    My second point is about ‘specific’ needs. Wrong, wrong, wrong…
    Let the customer choose. Let him or her be a Suunto user, regardless of product being used. That means that all the feature that exist on one device should be available on all the others.
    Crazy? don’t think so. Garmin, which sells by the millions, is developing features that reach MOST, if not all their products. hardware limitation seems to guide them with what goes where.
    These days Polar added route import to their V650. V800 got it immediately too. The days Suunto had navigation advantage are over. It’s now time not just wait until competition makes a move but to initiate moves (no pan intended). Look at the second screen/dispaly feature. Such a great concept but poorly executed. Why limit the GIANT second display to just 3 data fields…
    Well, that’s my 2 cents (what coin they use in Finland?) for Suunto.
    Have a great weekend.

    Asaf from Israel

  2. hmmm. not so sure Asaf. ‘specific needs’ do exist to a degree in the customer base. companies segment their markets by behaviour (and other things) just so that products can be marketed to the segments ‘appropriately’. one hopes that the real product behind the marketing actually lives up to the messages given.

    having said that, imo, garmin sells a lot because they have squillions of features (check the forums many don’t work for up to a year) yet people seem to often buy based on features they don’t actually need.

    it can’t be aesthetics why people buy some of these watches. Many, but not all, the garmin ones are really not nice.

    1. Ain’t that the truth…

      Just look at the discussions about GPS accuracy, where not only every wrong point (for which there should probably be a fix) is a tragedy, but any other error on the map also seems serious – even as the GPS tracks have become so exact (within their limitations) that it’s possible to tell which wrist the watch was worn on and which side of the road a person ran.

      Meanwhile, I’ve still seen a “review” (of the Vertical) talk of “turn-by-turn directions”, which speaks of nothing if not a lack of, well, reading and understanding the feature lists.

      Nice to see you here, @5krunner ;)

  3. hah! An Austrian using the abbreviation “ain’t”…very good. Most English people don’t even know what it is an abbreviation of!

    GPS accuracy? You mean the instant pace on Garmin watches that ABSOLUTELY CANNOT tell you how fast you are running? But that is only on running watches so maybe knowing how fast you run is not so important? :-) The workaround? Buy a 2005 footpod model then all is good. But, again, that workaround only worked with the MOST FEATURED TRIATHLON watch (920XT) AFTER ONE YEAR.

    But Garmin do mostly research their users to produce mostly intuitive software interfaces. Garminmaker then provides an awesome, ‘independent’ and unbeatable sales and PR channel.

  4. […] that my full Kailash review is now […]

  5. Asaf

    I think you miss my point. Suunto has the ability to make their watches more powerful. they already have spent time and money on software development.

    Yet, they choose to implement just part of it to just some of their watches. specifically, consider breadcrumbs, flashlight, steps counter or barometric graph. none of it reach the vertical model. Is it possible? yes. Does Suunto choose to do so? NO.

    So, you are left with the question, why?
    Segmentation? Why not let the customer choose if he wants to activate it?

    1. The answer is simple: $£€¥ :-P

      1. Asaf

        they lose more money than win. This is a stone-age marketing technique.

        1. Your word in their manager’s ears…

  6. First of all thank you for the in depth reviews. I’m commenting for the first time, but I really find all your reviews very useful.

    I love the idea of this watch, and for being someone whose business is focused on travel I feel really tempted to purchase it, but at the end of the day I feel like it does too little for the price.

    I really wish it had more outdoor features, maybe not something to extent of the Spartan or even the Ambit, but maybe somewhere near where the Traverse lives. Many of us who travel may be fans of exploring the cities we are in, and to share with others what we did. I sort of use my Traverse to do that already by using some of it’s features in a way I’m sure wasn’t intended by Suunto.

    I don’t know maybe more sharing/social features, after all i think for the price one should be able to show it off as much as possible.

    1. “Worst” (not really, but somehow, hence the scare quotes) thing about it is that the 7R app looks like it could easily allow for a few more such things. You could easily share (screenshot-like) images of the map to show where you have been, for example. If only one could also share short clips from it or overlay/individualize a little bit more of the data from that, it might be just that touch that’s missing… (Android would/can allow the user to “record screen” and even that would be a possibility – but I don’t think iOS does that. Or it’s just my iPod Touch ;) )

      Take a picture during that urban exploration, and it is (seems) to even be shown while going through the timeline in the app… (Now I feel like I should show more of the app again, but I only use it with an iPod Touch rather than an iPhone – and my work iPhone is too old for it, being a, what iPhone 5? – and it’s not ideal, of course.)

  7. I’m guessing you can’t input the places you’ve already been? I’ve been to quite a few places already and it’d be nice to program that into the watch but I’m guessing that’s not possible.

    1. Yeah, no, only where you’re still going will end up in the watch, not where you’ve already been… Might actually be a good suggestion for an app update, at least.

  8. […] one in Rome was in spring, before the Spartan was even announced. There’s a look at the Kailash from this trip, but that’s a very different […]

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