GPS and Altitude: Polar Vantage V vs. Suunto 9 Baro vs. Garmin Instinct

Not to make Polar and Suunto the only theme here, leave Garmin out – or as perfect – let’s have a look at some comparison data from Polar Vantage V, Suunto 9 Baro and Garmin Instinct.

The used firmware versions were:
Garmin Instinct 2.60
Polar Vantage V 2.7.0
Suunto 9 FW 2.5 (or a test beta; I’m one of Suunto’s external testers)

Nov 16, 2018: Little Run on Field Roads

Duration: 45 minutes

Track preview
Track preview, open the map to explore in detail

Distances recorded:
7,85 km per Suunto 9
7.77 km per Polar Vantage V
7.75 km per Garmin Instinct

The recorded tracks showed no particular surprises here. One should really hope for that, given that conditions here are just about as good as they can get for GPS: flat terrain, wide-open views to the sky…

Altitude Data

Altitude profiles: Suunto 9 in green, Vantage in blue, Instinct in orange
Altitude profiles: Suunto 9 in green, Vantage in blue, Instinct in orange

16m+/12m-/avg 179 m/max 184 m/min 162 m per Suunto 9
20m+/26m-/avg 177 m/max 181 m/min 161 m per Polar Vantage V
16m+/20m-/avg 185 m/max 189 m/min 169 m per Garmin Instinct

In the graph (produced from raw data), one can see the Suunto 9 Baro get its FusedAlti “kick”; the altitude profiles recorded by Suunto 9 and Polar Vantage still drifted away from each other.

The Garmin Instinct recorded a similar-looking altitude profile, but ‘thought’ itself to be on another level.

We are talking about just a few meters of altitude difference here, mind you. That means that small changes in air pressure due to wind can already suffice to trick the barometric sensor into ‘measuring’ an altitude change (of sufficient magnitude to be recorded as such).

Dec. 23, 2018: Field Roads, Trail-like

Duration: 1 h 21 min

Track preview
Track preview, open the map to explore in detail

Thanks to the third watch, at least it becomes obvious that the problematic track recordings in the village (also pointed out in my explicit Suunto 9 and Polar Vantage V comparison) were problems of the Vantage V’s GPS.

Track detail (with issue of Polar Vantage V, in dark brown)

Here and there, the Vantage V really recorded a GPS track that was off, while Suunto 9 and Garmin Instinct agree, location-wise.

Trail track detail
Trail track detail

I’ve shown this trail section before, to point out the issue with trail recordings rather than with a Polar Vantage V or Suunto 9. And it still shows the general problem with trails when adding a third track recording:

All it shows is that all GPS devices contradict each other in such situations.

Distances recorded:
12.93 km per Suunto 9
12.68 km per Polar Vantage V
12.78 km per Garmin Instinct

Altitude Data

Altitude profiles: Suunto 9 in green, Vantage in blue, Instinct in orange
Altitude profiles: Suunto 9 in green, Vantage in blue, Instinct in orange

154m+/152m-/avg 193 m/max 257 m/min 165 m per Suunto 9
156m+/148m-/avg 182 m/max 246 m/min 154 m per Polar Vantage V
162m+/153m-/avg 197 m/max 258 m/min 168 m per Garmin Instinct

Again, this raw data shows the FusedAlti kick for the Suunto, a bit of difference between Suunto and Polar, a stronger difference to the Garmin Instinct. Overall, the profiles are rather similar again. This is also evidenced by the similar ascent/descent data.

Dec. 26, 2018: Test Mountain Trail

On this trail, already used to compare Suunto 9 and Polar Vantage V data as well, I also wore the Garmin Instinct.

The Polar Vantage V was on my right wrist; Suunto 9 and Garmin Instinct were on my left wrist – as is recognizable on the tracks quite often.

Duration: 2 h 30 min

Tracks and Distance

Track preview
Track preview, open the map to explore in detail

As discussed above, and before: Such tracks mainly show that such tracks are hints of the actual trails, not exact representations.

After all, they wind their ways up and down the mountains…

Up and down the Kleiner Sonnstein, this time with one more watch...
Up and down the Kleiner Sonnstein, this time with one more watch…

Distance:
7.08 km per Suunto 9
6.55 km per Polar Vantage V
7.17 km per Garmin Instinct

Altitude Recordings

Altitude profiles from Suunto 9 Baro and Polar Vantage V as well as (in orange) Garmin Instinct
Altitude profiles from Suunto 9 Baro and Polar Vantage V as well as (in orange) Garmin Instinct

802m+/831m-/avg 781 m/max 1046 m/min 405 m per Suunto 9
801m+/823m-/avg 798 m/max 1052 m/min 420 m per Polar Vantage V
1317m+/1336m-/ max 979 m/min 223 m per Garmin Instinct

Looks like we need a look at another Instinct recording in the mountains, fast; these measurements are rather ridiculous.

The altitude profile (from the Instinct) looks like some I had seen from Suunto Spartan before. Such spikes happen when the watch is worn under clothing, and the movements of the clothing slap the barometric sensor in such a way that it senses air pressure changes and interprets them as rapid descents/ascents.

One more reason to wear watches above clothing in the cold, even those with oHR – and to forget about oHR recording (or use an HR chest strap)…

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5 Comments

  1. Luís Pinto

    Gerald, what gnss did you use for Instinct? Did you made a manual calibrate altitude in begining?

  2. Anonymous

    ok, clarified.

  3. Hi, How did you review the barometric altitude in detail after your activity? Is there a way to review barometric altitude history outside of an activity?

    • Well, for the Suunto 9 (used with Suunto app), there’s a way it works now which isn’t how it’s supposed to be, eventually. (And I have a special tool, as one of Suunto’s external testers, as well.)

      As long as you can export the tour data some way, and the export file includes elevation data (which it typically does), you can import (and merge for comparison) and (re)view it with https://quantified-self.io

      Right now, where Suunto is concerned, you can find Suunto app-synced data also on sports-tracker.com, and you can export it from there and import to quantified-self. There should (soon?) be an export function directly in the Suunto app, I hope. Exports from Garmin Connect work, Polar Flow exports, etc.

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