Suunto SPARTAN WHR – First Impressions of the Optical HR sports watch with Valencell-inside (NOT a review)

Suunto Spartan Sport whr optical hrI’ve had the SPARTAN Sport WHR for a couple of weeks now and I have used it for lots of varied sessions, from 30 minutes to 4 hours, and probably well over 30 total hours of training. I’m still taking an overall view on the optical HR.

I’ve been using either the SPORT (non-WHR) or the SPARTAN ULTRA more ‘on’ than ‘off’ over the last 6 months, so I am reasonably familiar with the many shared features.

This is NOT a review

I like the ULTRA but I find the SPORT has better GPS for some reason. I would class the WHR’s GPS as ‘one of the best’, in my experience. I have used 3 SPORTs devices, 2 ULTRAs and 15 other GPS models to arrive at that personal conclusion.

suunto spartan sport whr valencellA month ago, or so, I started using the SPARTAN SPORT (non-WHR) as my preferred running watch. That’s not to say it’s the most feature-full watch out there; it clearly isn’t. I just like it and it meets most, but not all, of my watch-needs when it comes to running. Stick a STRYD on my foot and a SPARTAN SPORT on my wrist and I’m a happy bunny (Easter-related pun TOTALLY intended).

The WHR is tantalising.

The tantalising bit is that the WHR supports optical HR whilst swimming. At the moment the only other company to do that is Polar and I have used the M200 and M600 a fair bit in the pool just for that purpose. Then, with the imminent arrival of lake swimming, I’m not sure what I’m going to use when lake swimming as the benefit of optical HR on the wrist, for me, goes away – I wear a chest strap (HRM-TRI or maybe Polar H10).

Question to self: as well as for running, do I also wear the WHR for pool swimming? It seems to get my stroke count and lengths about right; I don’t need much more than that.

The SPORT WHR’s firmware was annoyingly upgraded to v1.8.26 midway through my tests. But that annoyance was tempered by some nice firmware feature additions.


My original review of the SPARTAN SPORT is (here) from 2016 on early firmware; that review has been updated from time-to-time in line with some of Suunto’s monthly feature releases. It’s too time-consuming to update every article on every watch, all the time, with manufacturers’ continuous firmware changes.

I’ll come to some first thoughts on accuracy in a minute but first a re-cap on some of the features that tickle my fancy or “whatever the metaphor is for the opposite of that“.

So as of April 2017 the SPARTAN family’s firmware is ‘generally fine’ in my experience – although there are some exceptions to that general view. It can do the stuff now that, for me, it should have been able to do last year, the most obvious being the ability to set a custom pool length, pod calibration and sports profile customisation. Specifically, with the latter, choosing what data metrics to display. You can now even define basic intervals and targets on the watch.

SPORTS MODES aka Sports Profiles – You can have up to 7 metrics per screen and you can finally change the metrics on the screen of a custom-profile, 5 metrics works well for me. There are also fancy graph displays of HR, for example; although I don’t think these can be customised yet. They’re nice but not my kind of thing.

There are other nice features like being able to specify which sensors to search for on each profile.

Then there is a lot of the ‘normal’ sports profile stuff like: level of GPS accuracy and GLONASS; autopause; low/full colour; autolap; touchscreen on/off; feeling on/off; recording interval; and more besides.

Some features are noteworthy in that work in subtly different, sometimes superior, ways. For example the SPARTAN can shown 3s and 10s power averages. Of course so can many Garmins. But the Suunto allows several average power metrics to be shown simultaneously when running with STRYD. Only a device with native support for power running can easily do that.

Running-Power-Metrics-STRYD-Suunto-spartanPerhaps after your exercise you want to see autolaps and manual laps presented separately? Suunto and Polar allow that ‘out-of-the-box‘; Garmin doesn’t.

Within the full list of features there ARE a fair few things that you cannot do on an out-of-the-box Fenix 5. Probably fairly trivial things but then again some of the things that the Fenix 5 can do that the SPARTAN can’t may be described as trivial by some people.

A thousand features are useless if none of them are what you need.

I’m not quite sure exactly how the SPARTAN works with a footpod. I use a Polar stride sensor. That does give good instant pace data whilst running, certainly more accurate than my 920XT ever was, pre-STRYD. Maybe I just hit lucky with auto-calibration? Maybe.

This leads nicely into my first real bone of contention. The SPARTANs do not seem to be able to take 2 types of data from a sensor that produces two types of data. For example, I have to use a Polar Footpod AND the STRYD sensor because the SPARTAN doesn’t seem to like taking power AND stride-length from STRYD.

I also tried to use 4iiii’s  Viiiiva V100 to convert cadence and power from an ANT+ power meter. You can’t get both using that method.

My second bone of contention comes with lack of ANT+ support and cycling in general. With the kit I like to use, I simply can’t use the SPARTAN for cycling in earnest. In the short- to medium-term, Suunto will NEVER make real inroads into the cycling market without ANT+ support. And obviously cycling is also part of triathlon. So penetrating the triathlon market becomes tricky too.

Or does it?

I’m actually going to contradict myself now. In recent years I’ve started to come to the realisation that in duathlons/triathlons I really like and want my cycling ‘head unit’ and all the glory that comes with that. I’m not so keen on the little displays that all wrist watches have. Having a ‘fixed’ race head unit might save a second or two switching a 920XT from wrist to bars but that time saving is not what is changing my opinion but rather the richness of cycling-specific functionality from a cycling-specific device.

So a good swim+run watch COULD make a good tri watch when combined with a decent cycling head unit.

And I’m still not sure if I want a sensor pool or not. If I’m not sure then I probably don’t need it. A sensor pool would be handy on bikes though.


Movescount continues to come on in leaps and bounds. You can create rudimentary training plans. You can create routes and there are some very nice route Heat Maps. There are some nice insights into YOU compared to the population. There’s LOTS of nice little features eg CP curves. But I can’t set heart rate zones by sport 🙁


Here are some thoughts on accuracy.

GPS Accuracy – I rate the SPARTAN SPORT WHR as ‘one of the best’ and that was in GPS mode and NOT GPS+GLONASS mode. The raw FIT/TCX GPS test files are available (here) in a public folder along with an analysis spreadsheet of the results (there are three tabs in the spreadsheet).

Elevation Accuracy: I have a lack of hills where I live. The WHR’s elevation abilities seem Ok to me. Here is an example where it performed a little better than an Edge 820 and against a properly SRTM-adjusted elevation profile, although both seemed fine to me.


Optical Heart Rate Accuracy has been sometimes Ok and sometimes not. Below is an OK example from a one hour running-plod with a bit of speedy, running excitement after 20 minutes. When swimming/trail biking it has been good for a while and then less so. Turbo trainer use has been good, as expected.



It’s a nice-looking device that I like to run with. I like the accurate run pace and power with the appropriate ‘pods’. The SPARTANs keep getting better and still need to get better in some respects. My personal bug-bear is now the lack of multi-data sensor support for STRYD/PMs. Suunto are still working to ‘further refine’ the oHR – from what I can gather.

I still have a GENERAL nagging reluctance to switch to oHR. I base my training load/recovery off accurate HR data and I have not found ANY oHR device from ANY manufacturer that I trust to do that as well as a chest strap.


Suunto Spartan SPORT now sells from about Eu/$/£300. Some partners linked to here offer discounts and as from May 2019 there will be discounts that should take it lower – especialty with the loyalty schemes linked to from here with REI and Wiggle

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8 thoughts on “Suunto SPARTAN WHR – First Impressions of the Optical HR sports watch with Valencell-inside (NOT a review)

  1. I’m getting close to have my review for the Spartan series finished as well. My biggest gripe is the sensors support and how it (miss)handles them.

    I hate that I need to pair a sensor every time I want to switch. I hate that I could not make it work at all with the Viiiiva for power (when all my Ambit3s) are perfectly fine with it. And I hate that, even when I have a Bluetooth enabled power meter, I wouldn’t be able to use it with Stryd in a triathlon.

    Other than that, as a running watch, I also find it great. There are many thingw that I like about it. Only if Suunto would get back to the ANT+ road…

  2. Is customizing workouts through Movescount still shambolic as in the Ambit3?

    I had this funny experience where a structured workout with a lot of different intervals of different size, setup to last exact 20′ (in theory) used to last 21′ or so on the watch while i ran it. YEP IT RAN LONGER than expected, defying its purpose in the first place

    It turned out that the customized feature was placed on top of the chrono (i.e the watch started recording the time first and then started the customized workout after that), same for any laps snapped at the end of each segment, first on the chrono and then on the structured workout…. so these small delays kept adding up…

    Needless to say that the good customer support at Suunto stack their head in the sand and never even replied and touched that ticket…. The proverbial inconvenient truth…

    So it would be interesting to know whether it is the same shamble in the Spartan…. maybe give it a try?

    Any runner interested in something with a little structure alas should give a wide berth to them if thats still the case….

  3. I have two SSSWHR in our family and they are both over reading even after the software update. HR, and therefore PTE and Recovery time are all way above where they should be.

  4. Hey – thanks for doing this. I’m keen on moving from my 920XT to Suunto sometime soon, primarily for the Movescount offering and also the optical HR. Can the wrist HR be turned off if you want to use a strap, and if you do put on a paired strap does the watch default to it over optical? Have you found out where the battery life limit is? I’m genuinely tempted by the Sport with WHR, but the longer battery and barometric alt from the Ultra are also quite tempting. It’s a difficult choice, although I’m unlikely to do another full IM for a few years and so the battery life may not be such a problem(we have a new baby).

    1. hi.yep the chest strap will override the optical and that wold prob make the battery life same as non-whr version (why don’t you buy that?). be guided by the official battery life and ‘knock a bit off’ . gps and ohr are big juice-eaters.

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