The Suunto N6HR is the company's third smart watch for Microsoft's MSN Direct, a subscription-based service that wirelessly delivers tidbits of information via FM radio signals to a variety of compatible timepieces. The N6HR is almost identical to Suunto's step-down N3i, but this model has a different wristband and, as the HR in its name implies, a built-in heart-rate monitor. Arguably, that makes the N6HR the sportiest smart watch currently out there--and at $400, it's one of the more expensive ones.
Suunto, a Finnish company, is known for its sports watches, and overall, the N6HR looks and feels durable with a scratch-resistant crystal face. Of course, you can get much cheaper standalone, wristwatch heart-rate monitors--Suunto offers them for about $150--but if you happen to be an athlete with a geek streak who's in the market for both a smart watch and a heart-rate monitor, the N6HR is it.
Like the N3i, the N6HR is very comfortable to wear and is water-resistant down to 100 meters. The nice thing about Suunto's MSN Direct watches is that the receiving antenna is built into the timepiece itself (around the border of the face) and not into the band, as is the Fossil Abacus. That allows Suunto more flexibility in designing its bands, and for the N6HR, it's gone with a water-resistant leather band that's narrower yet slightly thicker than the N3i's. We've also seen this watch with a rubber-and-metal combo band, but our review sample had the leather one.
As you might expect from a company with a history of making workout-oriented watches, the N6HR's heart-rate monitor feature is quite solid, although you'll definitely have to consult the manual to master its more advanced features such as interval timers and setting heart-rate limits. Typical of these types of devices, the watch comes with an adjustable transmitter belt that must be fastened around the lower portion of your chest. In case you've ever wondered what the standing heart rate of a CNET reviewer is while writing a review, this editor is wearing the transmitter while composing this and averaging around 60 beats a minute. Luckily, writing reviews doesn't put much strain on the ticker.
Now, a couple of notes about the heart-rate monitor: We like that Suunto made the numbers easy to read by silhouetting them on a black background. You'll put the watch into Stopwatch mode mostly when you use the heart-rate monitor, but in Time mode, you can set most of the watch faces (you can choose between eight designs to customize the look of your watch) to display the heart-rate numbers as part of the face. Finally, you can log your workouts and transfer them to your Windows computer with the included Training Manager software and USB cable; the latter charges the watch via your PC, but an AC adapter is also included for recharging when you don't have your PC around. On the computer, you can organize and graph your workouts and even share them on Suunto's community Web site, Suuntosports.com. We found the software useful and easy enough to navigate. Unfortunately, there's no support for Mac users.
The N6HR has the same features that all MSN Direct watches have. When you subscribe to MSN Direct (which costs $40 a year), you sign up for a variety of channels. Microsoft's MSN Web portal beams data to the watch via an FM radio signal, allowing you to receive short messages, news alerts, stock quotes, sports scores, daily horoscopes, and even movie times for theaters in your area. For an extra $19 per year, the service will synchronize with your Microsoft Outlook calendar, putting two days' worth of appointments on your wrist and serving up discreet reminders as they approach. In the year or so since its launch, Microsoft has been steadily adding channels to its lineup, so expect more as time goes by.
As for battery life, depending on how much you use the heart-rate monitor, you should be able to go about four days before the low-battery indicator comes on. That's not too terrible, but Swatch's less expensive Paparazzi models offer better battery life, lasting as much as a week before needing a recharge.
Currently, the Paparazzi is arguably the best deal among smart watches, but if price were not an issue, this reviewer would prefer to wear Suunto's more-comfortable N3i or N6HR. Hopefully in the future, Suunto will find a way to add even more features, such as the altimeter, barometer, thermometer, and compass found in its similarly priced X6-HR, X6-HRM, and X6-HRT non-MSN Direct models. With those features on top of MSN Direct, the N6HR would seem like a bargain. As it stands, it's just a luxury gadget for sports enthusiasts.