Review : Suunto Spartan SPORT (The ULTRA’s Sibling)

suunto-spartan-menu-ultra-sport

SPORT left, ULTRA right

 

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 – although those reviews are now dated as firmware has improved. 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 (5) and possibly soon with the successor to Polar’s V800.

If you like, the SPARTAN SPORT 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).

History

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, some of which remain true as of 2oFeb2017.

Future

Whilst the Fenix 3 is at 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 February 2017 and so I am NOT going to talk too much about Suunto’s future plans other than to say that <here> they are.

suunto-Spartan-Ultra-STRYD

Walkthrough

A more detailed walkthrough of all the buttons, menus and screens is <here>.

Positives

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)
  • GPS+GLONASS is *very* good despite what you might read elsewhere in dated reviews and comments
  • 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
  • Compatible with STRYD running power meters – power IS displayed and stored natively
  • Running /lap pace from GPS seems in line with offerings from competitors (FusedSpeed uses a combination of GPS and wrist movement), although none of them are great.
  • 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
  • Supports custom pool lengths
  • Triathlon mode and support of over 80 sport types
  • Ability to create custom sports profiles both to control the sensors and the fields displayed on the watch – despite what you might read elsewhere in dated reviews and dated comments.
  • Good innovations on MOVESCOUNT – heat maps, overlay chart, peer group comparisons and more planned

suunto-spartan-menu-ultra-sport

Negatives

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: power meter calibration; and the ability to support sensors that output two types of data. 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 VERY 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 however with recent firmware improvements the likes of @fellrnr now say that the SPARTAN ULTRA  is excellent on the GPS front. I AGREE. The SirfStarV chip (?? Source: Suunto UK PR) supports GLONASS and this can be manually enabled when on ‘best’ mode on the SPARTAN. I’ve not particularly noticed better accuracy with GLONASS enabled.
  • Footpod calibration – I couldn’t do this.
  • 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 (EDIT: Due March 2017)
  • The touchscreen is mostly made redundant by the optional buttons and works better than abysmal touchscreens on some high-end devices (eg Edge 820). The SPORT’s touchscreen has been perfectly usable for me 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.
  • Only one sensor of each type is allowed to be paired at any one time. This can be annoying, for example, if you use STRYD for running and the SMART BELT HRM at other times as both are paired as a HRM. Or if you have a power meter on each of two bikes.
  • There is a current bug with single sensors that output two types of data
  • 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.
  • MOVESCOUNT: export of workouts in FIT format has improved but a fully valid pool FIT files is still not produced (although it does ‘work’ elsewhere).

Suunto Spartan Sport (+Ultra)

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  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 and altimetry functionality.

Essentially you’ll be happy with the SPARTAN SPORT if you are in this ‘for the ride’.

Comments

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 February 2017, I would say that it is quite usable in many of the scenarios I’ve indicated above but clearly I am not making a ringing endorsement. There are still annoying little quirks and missing chunks of functionality that you would expect at this price point.

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.

April 2017 sees the release of an optical version with Valencell’s optical HR sensor.

I’ve got one. I like it. I use it in rotation with other devices.

Price & Availability

17 thoughts on “Review : Suunto Spartan SPORT (The ULTRA’s Sibling)

  1. imho consumers should not reward companies releasing unfinished products.

    Plus — a 920xt successor and maybe even Fenix 4 successor should be around the corner

      • I haven’t used Garmin watches for a long time.

        But I was very satisfied with Garmin Fenix 2. My Garmin Fenix 3 has odd GPS inaccuracies. Also a bit of heart rate drift. But apart from that, it’s satisfying and most major features worked at launch. I don’t swim though, so not sure how it performs in water.

        I run with a friend who has a Vivoactive HR and another with 920xt. no big complaints.

        In an ideal world, I would have a V800 and an Ambit3 to compare and find defects in the Fenix 3. But purchasing Fenix 3 was already a big investment 🙂

  2. Ok! I agree with most of the points you mentioned.
    In my case it misses laps during a seim workout! There is no day that it misses 100-75 m from a 1900-2000m workout.
    The heart rate strap is bad. Underwatter works fine for me but running and biking it looses signal very often.
    I have two bikes with powermetters (witch I can’t calibrate) and a Stryd (foot pod gen). Ok If I have paired one of them and I try to pair other power sensor it deletes the paired one.
    There is too much to improve on this watch, personalition side is very poor, not only the ability of personalize the sport profiles, also to rename the paired pods.
    Also what about the steps, calories,recobery etc. Information that it supposes to record?
    Another important thing (for me) is to improve the movescount phone app. It is very poor compared to garmin connect or polar flow.

    My recomendation is Don’t buy the spartan…it is an early beta version of a very expensive watch, lack of deficiences…
    After a month of intensive use, I have returned back to its box…waitting for future implementations, that are all delayed…

  3. too bad they do the same mistake as polar did with v800. publishing a new unfinished product…
    seems like this release strategy swaps over from software releases, they do exactly the same…

    the prices in EU for spartans are strongly fluctuating, ive seen the sakura sport HR for 260€, the white HR for 290€.
    a good site to compare the prices:
    http://geizhals.eu/?fs=suunto+spartan&in=

  4. If they had kept to their schedule of new features so far I might be more positive. As it is, they’ve already delayed some things. That points to a v800 style wait for a complete watch, and a lot of frustration for users. I’d agree with other posts, nobody should buy this until the schedule starts to be met with regular updates and feature releases and the watch is more complete. If it was cheap it might be acceptable, but at launch it was the most expensive watch on the market despite the hardware not being better than Fenix 3 which is a complete package. With the release of Fenix Chronos, complete at launch with brand new hardware, this is just embarrassing.
    I disagree with your statement about Fenix 3 by the way. Fenix 2 had updates a year after Fenix 3 was out and used different software. The Chronos uses almost the same software, certainly the same platform, and so will likely get updates for a long time yet. They even backported most of ConnectIQ 2 so even apps will be compatible for the foreseeable future. With “Chronos Cheap” aka Fenix 4 due at CES I just don’t think Spartan is competetive in this state and even die hard Suunto fans are returning it.
    Let’s hope Polar’s lack of Kona goodness was because they are finishing their colour awesome tri watch before release and will turn up at CES with a truly competetive device. Unfortunately for Polar, they have no experience in the outdoors world so might end up with Fenix level hardware and great fitness functions but nothing more. The more I think about it, the more it looks like a one horse race going forwards 🙁

      • They could put indoor rowing in, lots of people asking for that. And the stuff the F2 had that was removed would be nice too although it’s been so long I can hardly remember what those were.
        At this point I’d actually like to see a proper Epix aimed directly at hiking and outdoors without all the fitness fluff. A GPSMap 64s on the wrist would be perfect for me and I’d even accept it being bigger than Epix

  5. After reading your rosy Spartan and not-so-rosy 735XT reviews, comparing them with dcrainmakers (skewed the other way around) and having used the Spartan for a week and the 735XT for months (including several triathlons), I find it hard to understand how anybody would chose the Spartan over 735XT except maybe on its better looks.

    With regards to buy-now-the-product-will-get-better – never, ever do this. Buy when the product does what you need it to do. Suunto might as well decide to release a Spartan 2 in March with all the missing features and you would have no way to complain or get any refunds.

  6. madness,what have they got right???? ok you have listed the +ves and -ves pretty well and i agree with them nearly 100%. But have they got running right?swimming right? cycling right? navigation right? I want to like it. I am gojng to close my eyes until marhc and then try again. thi sdid not happen

  7. Just tiny remark – i think only spartan ultra has barometric altimetr, sport only gps. Regarding navigation features – suunto usually support full navigation feature in lower models…there might not be difference between ultra and sport navigation wise. I have ambit 3 run – budget option and it has full navigation features as higher ambit models (peak and sport) have.

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