This review has been specifically written for those of you who want a slightly rosier view of Suunto’s summer-released SPARTAN. So please read it in that context along with everything else out there and make an informed decision.
There are a lot of negative reviews and online comments many of which make perfectly valid points. If there are any factual errors please let me know.
What is it?
It’s a high-end multi-sports watch and effectively competes only with Suunto’s own AMBIT 3, Garmin’s Fenix 3 (4?) and possibly soon with the successor to Polar’s V800.
If you like, it sits in the tri-watch space.
The Suunto SPARTAN is the next iteration of the AMBIT series. Effectively it is the AMBIT 4. Just like the earlier AMBIT 3, there will presumably be several product variants with differing features for differing markets. The SPARTAN’s underlying hardware capabilities will essentially be very similar or identical in these models. So far this has given us the SPARTAN ULTRA (multi-sports and hiking) and the SPARTAN SPORT (MULTI-SPORTS, +oHR version to follow in 2017).
The product, with what seems to be a great hardware specification, was released too early. All reviewers and many users have pointed out omissions and flaws in the initial product, many of which remain true as of 26Oct2016.
Whilst the Fenix 3 is near the end of its development lifecycle, the SPARTAN SPORT is at the start. Question: Do you want to buy a Fenix 3 and know exactly what it is and will likely always be OR do you want to trust and buy into the SPARTAN’s proposed development?
This is a brief 1 minute review of the product as it is today in October 2016 and so I am NOT going to talk too much about Suunto’s future plans other than to say that <here> they are.
A more detailed walkthrough of all the buttons, menus and screens is <here>.
For me, I’m quite happy today to wear the watch all day and use it for: an endurance run using STRYD; a 25m pool swim; or a gym session.
I like all of this:
- It’s a good-looking watch IMO.
- Screen readability is good
- Battery life is good at 10hours in ‘best’ mode (ULTRA is higher)
- 7 metrics per screen are supported, 5 metrics works well.
- Supports HR caching underwater with the old-tech SUUNTO SMART BELT
- Either touchscreen- or button-operation are equally possible and the general design of the unit and menus is good IMO.
- Screen resoluion is good at 320x300px. Compare: Fenix 3 – 218x218px; Apple Watch 2, 38mm – 272x340px; and Apple Watch 2, 42mm – 312x390px.
- Elevation data from the GPS altimeter is in line with similar devices (FusedAlti on the SPARTAN ULTRA uses a combination of GPS and barometric altimeter)
- Pool lap counting and the detection of my freestyle is very good. I typically swim >>2000m
- Water resistant to 100m
- Fully compatible with STRYD running power meters
- Running /lap pace from GPS seems in line with offerings from competitors (FusedSpeed uses a combination of GPS and wrist movement)
- Workout distance measurement from GPS is in line with offerings from competitors
- Good on-watch day summaries and lap summaries
- Compass points in the right direction (phew) and allows a declination setting
- The basic breadcrumb routing (‘navigation’) functionality seems in line with other offerings of the same type
- Several inbuilt watch faces and colours
- Ability to attach ‘feeling’ to workout
- Triathlon mode and support of over 80 sport types
- Good innovations on MOVESCOUNT – both current (heat maps, overlay chart) and planned (peer group comparisons)
For me, the SPARTAN SPORT user interface ‘works well’ from a logical design point-of-view but it needs to be smoother and more fluid in the implementation. We need to be sure that this is firmware fixable. (SPORT runs smoother than the ULTRA for me)
From a functional point-of-view, personally, I really want: customisable sports profiles; power meter calibration; and the ability to enter custom pool lengths. That’s it. For me.
Of course you are not me and you could have more demanding or different requirements and the following points may well apply to you:
- GPS – I have found the GPS accuracy in running to be good alongside V800, 920XT, 235 and TomTom Runner 3, including on my 11 mile test route. In open water swimming it was not good. Many GPS accuracy issues are reported elsewhere including @fellrnr and @dcrainmakerblog. Suunto have acknowledged a GPS bug. The SirfStarV chip (?? Source: Suunto UK PR) supports GLONASS but this is not yet enabled on the SPARTAN.
- Footpod calibration – I couldn’t do this.
- Only supports 25/50 metre/yard pool lengths.
- Only directly supports Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensors, like AMBIT3
- It’s relatively big, essentially the same size as a Fenix 3. If you have small wrists then you will have to check how it looks on you.
- Structured workouts and/or interval workouts are missing
- The touchscreen is mostly made redundant by the optional buttons and works better than touchscreens on some other high-end devices (eg Edge 820) but touch control can still be improved.
- Sleep/Activity247 Heart Rate tracking over time are not recorded on the device or MOVESCOUNT
- Strap wear has been reported eg @titaniumgeek. I’ve worn mine for 100s of hours and only have very slight signs of wear.
- Sensor dropouts – There are reports of sensor dropouts: when multiple sensors are in use (I experienced this on two occasions on earlier firmware); and after extended use-periods (I experienced this once).
- Only one sensor of each type is allowed to be paired at any one time. This can be annoying if you use STRYD for running and the SMART BELT HRM at other times as both are paired as a HRM.
- Navigation: The SPORT model is likely to be geared towards multi-sports. So for those of you wanting more navigational functionality in the future, the SPARTAN ULTRA may be a better bet. POI/Waypoints are already scheduled and not currently on the watch.
- MOVESCOUNT: export of workouts in FIT format do not always produce valid files especially for swimming.
Who will buy this
At the moment you would need to be happy with a good-looking watch that’s going to improve its functionality in 2017. You’ll be fine now for general and undemanding use across multiple sports.
If you have specific requirements for GPS accuracy then tread cautiously. If you are expecting the functionality of the AMBIT3 in the clothing of the SPARTAN you will be disappointed; particularly, it seems from others’ experiences, on the navigation & GPS fronts.
Essentially you’ll be happy with the SPARTAN SPORT if you are in this ‘for the ride’.
Customisable sport profiles are supposed to be imminent. For me that will make the user experience a great deal better for some more demanding sports’ uses that I currently use other watches for.
The elephant-in-the-room is clearly that the SPARTAN was released too early; initially as a premium-priced device. With the product as-is in October 2016, I would say that it is usable in some of the scenarios I’ve indicated above but clearly I am not making a ringing endorsement.
More of the attractions of buying an improving SPARTAN will come through its integration into an evolving MOVESCOUNT app and online service. I would expect a more compelling product after Spring 2017.
Prices now seem at a relatively sensible level (26 Oct) although, as you can see below, variable from country-to-country.
Disclaimer: This is a loan unit from Suunto UK PR and will be returned.
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