The t6 is one of Suunto’s high-end heart rate monitors. But calling it just a heart rate monitor wouldn’t be doing it justice; it’s more a complete training package. At £300, you immediately know the t6 means business, and it doesn’t fail to impress once you start using it.
First, the watch. There are three main modes on the t6, Time, Altimeter/Barometer and Training modes. The Time mode has all the normal watch functions you’d expect, like time, date and alarm. In Alt/Bar mode you can choose to have either the altitude or barometer and temperature displayed. In training mode the stopwatch records different aspects of your training session, and can display your current or average heartrate, or your current altitude. The T6 has several templates for training, but most useful of them is the interval training mode, the number and length of intervals can be setup to suit your requirements. 1mb of memory in the watch means you can store a lot of training sessions before it runs out of space.
What is EPOC?
EPOC is a feature developed in a Finnish laboratory that significantly raises the bar. It can essentially be described as an indicator of how hard a training session was. The amount of extra oxygen needed by your body post-exercise is measured, so the more strenuous the exercise the higher the level of oxygen consumption. The EPOC value varies from day to day, and on a good day when the body can handle the training, the EOPC value will be lower. It effectively gives you an idea of whether you’re training too hard or are taking it too easy.
The watch then, is fairly simple to use. Load up the supplied software and plug the t6 in via a USB lead, and concealed technology becomes apparent. The Suunto Training Manager downloads your training sessions form the watch and extrapolates the data. The left hand side of the screen lists all your recorded sessions by date, and the right side is spilt through the middle. The top half displays graphs of your session, and by default your heart rate is compared to your EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, see boxout). The data presented in these graphs can be changed to altitude, VO2 and many more. The bottom half of the screen compiles more detailed specifics of your session, max hr, average, duration, calories usage, and so on.
Initially we found the t6 watch slightly confusing, but after five minutes of flicking through the menus we decided that in fact it was easy to use. Suunto have kept the functionality of the T6 quite low, giving you just the information you need. It’s when you plug the T6 into your computer and download all the data that it gets serious, though the software presents the data in a clear and un-cluttered way.
The chest strap is comfortable to wear, and we have worn it for some long periods. The connection between the watch and strap has to be down manually the training menu, but a connection is established instantly, and we never once had any problems with the connection dropping.
It has to be stated that it is a large chunky watch, some opinions thought it too big and ugly, but I liked it. We especially liked the large display of the screen, with large and very clear numbers. A backlight is useful for secret nighttime training session. And a quick press of two buttons locks the buttons, so there’s no accidental stopping of the stopwatch.
We have been wearing the watch almost consistently for the last month, and our only real criticism is the buttons. With full finger gloves on you sometimes find yourself pressing the button again because it didn’t work the first time, they could be easier to press and provide more feedback to confirm the button has actually depressed.
The Suunto offers probably the best training tool that a serious racer, or a person who is trying to get really fit can invest in. It is a serious wedge of money though, but you do get a lot for that wedge. There are no other heart rate monitors available that have the EPOC feature, which is a great benefit if you are taking your training very seriously. The Training Manager no doubt adds to the cost, but if you are embarking on a long time training plan, downloading the data onto your computer has to be considered essential (it beats manually compiling data into a spreadsheet), as it archives your training sessions and makes it easy to analyse the data from previous sessions and gauge your progress.
Should you buy it? Well that depends on how serious you take your training. If you want every advantage going, then the t6 has to be on your shopping list. Yes there are cheaper options, but none have the sophistication and ease of use that the t6 offers.