Friday, December 19, 2014

Suunto T6c Heart Rate Monitor Review

September 5, 2009 by · 6 Comments 

T6c

Not too long ago, the Suunto T4c helped me, with its coach program, to go from injured to training again. I was very impressed on how it helped me navigate the process of determining just how long and how hard to work out. However, now that I’m fully trained back to my normal state, I was wondering what a more ‘pro-level’ device would give in terms of data. The T6c is positioned just above the T4c in Suunto’s fitness line, and therefore it is currently the top of the range device. The T6c, along with the Training Manager software included in the package, is designed to provide you with an exhaustive amount of data about your workout sessions so that you can track your progress and plan future sessions accordingly. The purpose of this post is to discuss the features of the T6c as well as to outline for whom this data may be relevant and who the ideal user of this device could be. Again, I’m no doctor or trained in anything other than common sense, so consult your physician before trying to become the next Lance Armstrong.

In my review of the T4c, I discussed how the device can help an athlete in the transition from not doing any cardio work towards a progressive increase in their training load. The T6c, in contrast, is about helping a currently active athlete in increasing their performance and analyzing where certain cardio events occur during their workout (hill work, sprints, etc). To begin with, the T6c records R-R heart rate data. Only the very high end of heart rate monitors across all brands do this right now. This is mostly because it consumes a lot of device memory, but on the flip side, gives the software plenty of data upon which to conduct its analysis. Effectively the T6c can record and store your heart rate data in 2 or 10 second increments. Other heart rate monitors, including the T4c, from what I understand, average (smooth) and aggregate data so as to conserve memory (high, low, average for segments) even if the current realtime information is displayed.

The R-R data recorded is then used to provide you with a better analysis of your training session. This includes your EPOC, Training Effect, Respiration Rate, % of VO2Max, Altitude, Speed & Distance (if you have the appropriate pods paired to the T6c), as well as other supplementary data. With the software, for example, you can see when your heart rate sky-rocketed was when you went up a specific hill, and then you hit your max respiration rate shortly thereafter.  This kind of data is useful as a forensic tool and as a training tool if you know how to adapt your training plan accordingly.

This should perhaps bring me to my main point about who this device is for. Firstly, I think that in order to get the most value out of this device you should really know your max heart rate and possibly your Vo2Max scores. If you don’t, all the data recorded and TE will be off. So, to begin with, a user of this device will probably know this data (from a lab test) or have an accurate idea of what it is from experience watching their heart rate in challenging situations (there are several websites that help you conduct self-tests to determine these values). Secondly, the T6c does not have a coach program like the T4c, so this device is more for the self-sufficient or coached athlete. Software tools, like the FirstBeat Technologies Athlete software I reviewed earlier, can provide you with the coach facility, but require you to use your computer for planned workouts vs. on the device, like the T4c facilitates. Whilst anyone could use the T6c, I think that the kind of data it generates will probably only make sense to the kind of person that is either very well read or enthusiastic on what some of the values mean or the kind of person that perhaps has a professional review their data for them to adjust their training regime.

In terms of the T6c itself, I must say it is an order of magnitude above other wrist devices I’ve used in terms of quality. The mineral glass, gorgeous display, solid construction, user-replaceable battery, comfort, and quality build all lead me to believe that this is a device to keep around for a while. Paired with the comfort strap, I have no hesitation in recommending this watch for anyone that wants to use it as their main watch, or have comfort issues with other heart straps, for Suunto’s comfort strap is probably the softest of all the manufacturers. The only gripes I have from a hardware perspective is that the alarm is a bit on the low volume side, and the backlight works, but is mostly helpful in very dark situations, and less so in pooly lit situations. The alarm issue is a bit annoying at times particularly since the T6c does not have visible heart raze limit zones, it just beeps. Very hard to hear those beeps with an iPod on or whilst on a bike.

The user interface of the T6c is, however, different from that of the T4c, 3c, and 1c. It is simpler in some regards as several features have been removed assuming that people will be using the PC software to analyze and plan their workouts. The logbook, for example, doesn’t contain tons of data on your watch, as I noticed an hours worth of workout consumed between 7-10% of the device’s memory (due to the R-R data), thus the T6c is designed for its data to be downloaded and analyzed, not analyzed in the watch itself. Another feature I do miss from the T4c is the ability to set what Training Effect I’d like to reach and letting the watch guide me to achieve it. However, the T6c makes up for this by giving you the realtime Training Effect so that you can monitor it yourself. Another feature the T6c has that I like is that you can completely customize every single line of the data display whilst exercising. This gives you great flexibility to track any parameter regardless of what screen you are on. I, for example, like to keep track of my time, my heart rate, and my altitude when doing mountains so that I can know how much I have left to go before I’m at the summit. I then switch screens to the second display mode to see my speed, distance, and EPOC values. A couple of things I do wish the T6c did better, though, were that the interval timers allowed you greater flexibility for more complex workouts, and two, that the display allowed you to have the nice circular rendering of your heart rate like the T4c.

The software and PC transfer cable work as advertised, but I wish the PC Pod were capable of being used rather than using a cable (the data rate required for the R-R data transfer is higher than what the PC pod can support). The software itself is not pretty to look at or work with, but it does the job, providing you with ample amounts of data analysis and correlations for R-R, altitude, and other data that your pods may have collected. However, I think that if you do own the T6c, you will probably enjoy it quite a bit more if you get yourself a copy of the FirstBeat Athlete software to do additional data review, unless your data is being reviewed by a coach which will assign your workouts. The only weird bug that I’ve noticed with the T6c is that sometimes there will be laps in the data where I had not placed them, and only once did I have a day’s workout yield corrupted data that was not downloadable.

I’ve been using the T6c religiously for my workouts since I got it, and I must say that I really enjoy using it. The TE/EPOC values are quite useful in knowing how ‘tired’ you are and how much you’ve put into your workout. I then use the generated data with FirstBeat’s software to plan my training programs for the upcoming week and month. Keep in mind that all the T6c does is keep track of your cardiovascular exertion. What I mean is, if you’re a cyclist out on a 100km ride where you haven’t even come close to your max heart rate, you will suffer muscle fatigue and the watch has no way of knowing or telling you that your leg muscles are tired (but I’m sure you’ll know). Thus, I find that the TE/EPOC values are more useful when doing training runs where you are perhaps peaking and doing interval work. I also find the T6c most useful when I’m doing indoor training on a turbo trainer. I don’t think anyone really likes training on a turbo trainer, but it is part of what we need to do, particularly in the winter. The T6c has helped me (on rainy days so far) to reach the desired level of exertion whilst training indoors. Otherwise, it is very hard to tell if you’ve really pushed yourself hard enough and long enough.

In conclusion, I recommend the T6c to anyone that is looking for a very complete heart rate training tool. Whilst I think the T4c may be better for athletes that are starting a new exercise regime, the T6c will help current athletes to see what an how their cardiovascular system reacts to their training load. Paired with the FirstBeat Athelete software, the T6c can also help the self-sufficient athlete generate training programs to improve their fitness level progressively.

Other Reviews of the Suunto T6c –

Competitive Cyclist Reviews Suunto t6C Cycling Pack

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