For my approach of microexploration, I have been finding some of the disadvantages and problems of WearOS devices to be more than made-up for by the advantages.
The Suunto 7, in particular, has been useful as a tool along those lines.
The Outdoors Problem of WearOS
A WearOS watch like the Suunto 7, with its great maps, should be predestined for outdoors fun.
Unfortunately, WearOS watches have disadvantages in outdoor use. It is no wonder they have mainly been made for general fitness, in addition to the smartwatch functions the system has really been meant for.
Only Casio, with their ProTrek Smart series, dared to really go into the outdoors world before Suunto.
The Suunto 7, not least in the contrast to what people have come to expect from Suunto, has made the disadvantages of WearOS particularly clear – especially the problematic, highly settings-dependent battery life.
We can, however, turn the issues into positives.
Let’s look closer!
Exploration doesn’t have to be a dangerous adventure, a journey into the far-away unknown.
It can be quite enough to take different paths right around one’s home.
To pay more attention to what changes, on the same paths, with the seasons.
To learn more and realize how different it can make the same places.
The Suunto 7, in my opinion, works well – perhaps best – as a tool for such microexploration.
Looking Closer Through Maps on the Wrist
With its routing and tracking capabilities using Mapbox maps as well as Suunto heatmaps (showing where most people have gone and recorded activities), it can be used to learn a lot and look closer.
You can follow routes you have planned out – and when you do that before plugging in the device over night, connected to WiFi, you get the maps for the routes you have planned downloaded automatically.
That way, they load faster, and the Suunto 7 can be put in airplane mode to make the battery last longer, as well.
The Advantage of Not Having Automatic Routing
When you need to change your plans, you can also see alternative paths you can take, right on the watch screen.
There is no automatic routing along the maps, but I think that’s an advantage more than it is a disadvantage, too.
We have all too much of a tendency, even just with a route line on the watch, let alone when there are turn-by-turn directions and automatic routing, to outsource our thinking to external devices.
It breeds bad habits, trusting devices blindly and not paying enough attention to our surroundings and our position in them. I very much think that we should avoid that.
(Considering how often automatic routing from apps leads astray, trying to follow paths that don’t even exist or aren’t actually the best to take, that is all even more true.)
The Battery Life Advantage
Battery life can still be a concern, of course, but I find that a concern about this can teach us better behaviors.
Trusting an outdoors watch to lead along paths, without having to think oneself – that’s what I see as the real problem. Remember, I want us to look closer, learn more, not to blindly follow directions a watch gives!
Thus, the better idea than having the navigation view active all the time (which wouldn’t be all that long; it draws battery like crazy) is to take the concern over battery as reason to turn away from navigation.
Maybe even just let the Suunto app record in the background, having switched back to watch display. Then, it is perfectly doable to go out for hours.
Follow whatever path you know to take or that strikes your fancy.
If you want to go extra-long, settle down for lunch break, certainly for a bivy over night, and recharge the watch.
(Recharging while on the go is, unfortunately, not as advisable; it works, but ‘breaks’ the navigation. But hey, if you want to explore longer – or just have some fun for shorter – you shouldn’t need to move and charge the watch.)
While settled down, have a look around you. In reality, and with the maps on your wrist.
The Mapbox maps, especially when downloaded to the device, and with the ease of use provided by the touchscreen (plus buttons for zooming), make that easy and worthwile.
I have discovered a few places like that.
Names of places I’ve gone only too often, without ever checking what they were called.
Places with names that I never noticed before but now saw on the map, and found it worth checking out.
All that isn’t even in the mountains yet, where the maps offer another world of insight into the peaks and paths and interesting places and spots around.
Navigation? By Map!
Navigating or exploring, paths that looked good on a map (or, well, in and to an app, what with automatic route creation between places), have regularly been less good in reality.
Sometimes, paths didn’t even exist – and the map on the Suunto 7 helped find alternative routes or bushwhack back onto an actual path.
Sometimes, the paths were not entirely clear to see, and the map on the Suunto 7 helped figure out which was the right way.
Again, this shouldn’t be cause for complaints. It should be reason to engage more deeply with paths, with maps, and with the trail in front of one’s feet.
It can only help get more at home.
Heatmaps and The Tracks Most Taken
Sometimes, the paths seemed chosen badly compared to trail markers, and the heatmaps view made it clear where most people had actually gone.
Other times again, I rather enjoy having the heatmap view to avoid the roads more traveled and take other trails.
Around my usual home base, many (if not most) most-taken paths are the ones that I myself have taken time and time again – and seeing them light up the heatmap is a great motivation to try and take all roads around me.
World Wide Maps
For me, a major story is also this: These maps are available for the whole world.
When I was traveling in China with a Suunto 7, I had excellent maps for everywhere I went, right on my wrist. In cities same as in rural areas, I could see where I was, where I could go, and where other people had gone before.
Trail descriptions, let alone gpx files, are not usually available for rural parts of China.
Tourist maps are more fanciful than they are useful. Chinese mapping services are plain bad when it comes to anything but driving; international map services don’t work well, if at all.
The Mapbox maps in the Suunto app (on the phone and on the Suunto 7) work great, though. And they are free; no need to buy topo maps for the region – which wouldn’t even be available, anyways.
My Chinese is good enough that I should have been able to get myself back to familiar places, had I got lost. It would still have been very odd to suddenly appear at some farmer’s doorstep. Thus, I appreciated these maps a whole lot.
The Mapbox maps on the Suunto app (on the smartphone) also helped tremendously in discovering the places where people went – but that’s a different story from that of the Suunto 7, even if it is related.
Problems, Then – But also Challenges to Learn By
All in all, then, I don’t want to talk away the shortcomings. The Suunto 7 definitely does have those.
This device is also a whole lot of fun as a tool for both fitness and microexploration, though.
A bit after its release, the Suunto 7 also got sleep tracking and body “resources” analysis, helping with the aspect aspect of “getting at home” that is (re-)learning that we are bodily beings.