Suunto Core Usability – Heuristic Review
Over the last several weeks I have enjoyed reading the great information from this Suunto forum. My initial desire for a Suunto watch was seeded by a friend of mine (who shares my love for Japanese dive watches) when he mentioned buying a Suunto dive instrument. I never gave it too much thought. My passion for watches has mainly been with Japanese based automatic watches. I felt like an old-school purist when it came to watches… only automatics.
I really can’t recall how I started getting interested in more high-tech watches, but I decided to pick up a fairly inexpensive Casio Pathfinder. I really got excited by this inexpensive watch. Especially impressed by some of the great information it was feeding me; e.g. moon phases, sunrise-sunset, best times for hunting/fishing, and my favorite… a vibration alarm. I wish more watches had vibration for their alarms.
Then I remembered the Suunto and did some Google searches, which lead me to this forum. I also spent a lot of time on their website. I thought the Core was the right choice for me based on my outdoor activities. Though I feel I will also eventually purchase a training instrument as well.
I decided I would do a review on the Suunto Core after having it for the last week. My training and work experience is in the area of human factors engineering, usability and user experience design. I thought I would review this product in a similar fashion as I would do a typical heuristic usability based evaluation.
I have to say I really like the Suunto Core. There is a certain interactive experience that gives this watch great value in my daily life. Of course there are areas for improvement, but the overall impressions are very good.
I have categorized my review into some general areas of human factors, usability and cognition. I hope you find the review interesting.
- Opening package and getting started was a successful experience. Good interaction… hitting any button to activate the watch… coordinates well with 1st page in manual.
- Good use of user scenarios in the documentation to showcase ways to use the features.
- Nice to have a Quick Guide and the full user manual. The documentation is fairly clear and the text is “chunked” for readability with effective associated images.
- Easy/convenient battery change (ideal for in the field use)
- I found the button mapping to its features and functions to be fairly intuitive. Pressing the mode button cycles one through the three primary displays. Visual feedback (albeit small) is given by the chosen mode text being surrounded by a rectangle.
- Basic functions and displays can be achieved by the user (via subjective experience) from some exploratory usage. However, I believe the user still needs to read the user manual to gain access to many of the mode settings.
- I feel the learning time is fairly short due to low variability in the button pressing patterns.
- Temperature sensor would be more usable if it were positioned in an area of the watch that would be least affected by body temperature.
- Alarms seem to have an adequate tonal characteristics, decibel level and duration, with a user option to “snooze” (for 5 mins). It would be great if the watch could also have vibration, which would be useful in noisy environments and for users with hearing loss.
- I’m not sure what amount of decibels is produced from the alarm, nor do I have a formula for minimal auditory recognition. This could be an area for further investigation. The tone for the alarm is fairly high (as I perceive it), this higher frequency may lie in a frequency segment that one can typically experience hearing loss. Not to beat a dead horse, but this is where a vibration alarm can save the day. Or perhaps a setting for changing the tonal characteristics of the alarm (decibel, frequency, duration).
- I do value all the Core alarms (wake up time (yes, I wear it while I sleep ;-)) , storm alarm, count-down timer alarm). These add great value to the interactive experience with the user.
- I do like the feedback the Core gives when one presses in the mode button. The short lines going around the dial gives the user a timing assistance for the length of time one needs to press the mode button for activation. Also, a feedback beep for each button push helps to indicate successful activation (this can also be turned off).
- When in Mode, there is visual affordance offered to help the user know which buttons are applicable to the context of the mode. They show 4 short lines next to the buttons that have capability.
- Inconsistent mapping: the user sets the Date to Month-Day, but when editing it is in Day-Month order. A bit disorienting.
- Logs, locking logs, laps, and many of the memory related features are probably the most challenging (at least for me) to understand. I think the manual falls a bit short on both procedural (step by step usage) and conceptual (why use it) level help. Though I feel through some exploratory usage I will be able to effectively use these features. I have a climbing trip next month so I look forward to making use of these features (e.g. avg ft/min ascending/descending, etc…)
- Gestalt Principle of Proximity: Something to keep in mind when using the features of this watch and interpreting its feedback. The proximity principal suggests that elements (e.g. buttons, display info, feedback) that are close together are cognitively interpreted as being associated with each other. Btw, “close” can mean close in physical proximity or close in a time sequence. The positioning of the Core’s 5 buttons should have some design reason influencing their placement, but based on the proximity principle I would suggest switching the Start/Stop and View buttons with the Light and + buttons. The View button being repositioned below the Mode button. The reason for this is the strong association the View button has with the Mode button. There is a high level of reciprocal frequency of use. However, due to the lack of short-cuts to manage settings, one does have to use the Light button to traverse the Mode choices, probably making the suggested change moot.
- The barometric graph is one of the nicest displays on the Core. It maps well to our understanding of positive & negative change. This is simply presented without axis labels, legends, etc… yet it simply serves its purpose in conveying a sense of barometric change (constant, gradual or dramatic) and direction in change (the very effective arrow). Simple images like this can be very effective. Many high level analytics (perhaps at a dashboard level) will use spark-lines (very simple directional line graph) to convey the change trend and its change intensity.
- All buttons and bezel have excellent tactile feel with the waffle grid pattern (light green model). I felt my light-green bezel was firm but moved without too much effort and was precise in its clicks.
- Display size for time and altimeter read back is quite visible/readable based on the formula for text size recognition by distance. The formula suggests that cap-height (height of capital letter) should be at least 2.74 millimeters for adequate recognition from a distance of 1 meter (roughly 3 feet). The cap-height for our time & altimeter read-out is approximately 10 mm. This size is quite easy to read when one turns their wrist, typically the distance between our eyes and wrist is slightly over 1 foot (if one bends their elbow to view).
- The other displayed text (e.g. view area – lower left button) does challenge recognition, but should be readable for those with corrected vision.
- The display area seems ample, so smaller icons, text and numbers can stand out a bit for better recognition.
- While buying my Core at REI, I took both positive & negative display models outside the store (with a sales associate in pursuit :-d ) and examined the readability of both displays under sunlight conditions at noon-time. Black (negative) displays can reflect light and make it a bit more difficult to read, yet I found both comparable in readability. I thought the positive display was a bit better. However, I understand the negative display models have a contrast adjustment which should enhance readability.
- I have found the Core's light to be just about right in its brightness and duration. Someone mentioned on the forum that it was not as bright as the Casio, but it was more appropriate to our dark adjusted eyes. I totally agree with this observation. I actually found my Casio too bright to look at when getting a time check in the middle of the night. I'm sure this particular point has a lot of science behind it and could provide a lengthy discussion. Another smart feature of the luminescence is it stays active when the user is actually interacting with the Core (e.g. pressing any of its buttons).:-! The luminescence of other brands will typically time out even if the user is engaging functions.
- E-Ink might be a consideration. It can be found in Amazon’s Kindle book reading tablet. It’s a low power, reliable and readable solution.
The principal components of electronic ink are millions of tiny microcapsules, about the diameter of a human hair. In one incarnation, each microcapsule contains positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles suspended in a clear fluid. When a negative electric field is applied, the white particles move to the top of the microcapsule to become visible to the reader. This makes the surface appear white at that spot. At the same time, an opposite electric field pulls the black particles to the bottom of the microcapsules where they are hidden. By reversing this process, the black particles appear at the top of the capsule, which now makes the surface appear dark at that spot.
- Solar powered battery.
- Their website needs a usability over-haul. The navigation (information architecture) is awkward and disorientating. A review of this site would be very lengthy. :rodekaart
- Short-cuts: Just like in most technology interactions, as one becomes proficient they look for short-cuts. It would be nice to have one for toggling on/off the alarms.
- Speaking of alarms. We have an icon for the time alarm, it would also be nice to have an icon for the storm alarm. During a recent stormy night I was awakened by the storm alarm (which I thought I had turned off), but found it awfully dark for my usual wake-up time, then I noticed the time was 3:30 AM . The icon would make it easier to know its state.
- And speaking of icons, Suunto might help international sales ;-) if they could "iconize" the mode indicators: "Time Alti & Baro Compass". There are some good resemblance icons available for each of these modes that would play well for all languages and would also free up a little space.
- I really like the look & feel of my light-green Core. The band is extremely comfortable. I’m anticipating the slotted openings in the band will make wearing the Core more comfortable in hot weather.
- My preference for the light-green Core is due to its larger face as I perceive it relative to the other Core models. And there is something about that light-green “rosette” that adds to its appearance. It is just one very cool watch to wear. :-!
- I was surprised how light the watch is, and found the size and shape very comfortable on my medium sized wrists.