Suunto Spartan Sport Review – Wrist HR
It’s nearly a year since Suunto sprang the SPARTAN on an unsuspecting world (Summer 2016), here in this Suunto Spartan Sport review, we take a detailed look at the wrist heart rate (whr) version. We all were waiting for the AMBIT 4 and we got the top-end SPARTAN ULTRA. Then we quickly got the SPARTAN SPORT. Long Pause. And now we have a the SPARTAN SPORT WHR. And there will be more …
The models are very similar. Most people would buy the cheaper SPORT model rather than the ULTRA. If you want it with optical HR then you go for the WHR version. Simple. Otherwise the 2 sport versions are the same. The ULTRA is a bit deeper and that gives a bigger battery and a barometric altitude sensor.
Over time Suunto are also pretty good at offering cosmetic variations of the above models. There are already a few of these, such as the SPARTAN ULTRA COPPER, and there will be more in the future. Probably lots more so I won’t cover them here.
The 2016 release of the SPARTAN was shaky. It was and is a great bit of hardware but the software/firmware on the watch and on the app/online weren’t quite there in 2016. Fast forward to NOW and you can ignore all of that history and the product is worth considering in my opinion (FWIW: I like it)
The SPARTANs could be seen as sitting between the Fenix 3 and the new Fenix 5. You’re probably considering one of those two and have read glowing reviews. I’m not so sure about how glowing those reviews should be and I would also urge you to read my review of Garmin’s Fenix 5X – it really is NOT as rosy as you are led to believe elsewhere.
Unboxing & Contents
You get the watch and a charging strap. That’s pretty much it.
It’s a USB charging strap and the bit that fastens to the watch is with a STRONG magnet and is shown above. The strap is what you use to charge the SPARTAN and update the firmware. You can upload your workouts over the cable to or through/to the MOVESCOUNT app on iOS and Android.
The SPARTAN lineup shown from the rear only has the obvious difference of the Valencell optical sensor array. Other than that there are only tiny differences such as around the buttons.
Here we compare the ULTRA to Garmin’s Fenix 3
And here the Fenix 5X the SPARTAN SPORT WHR and a Garmin Forerunner 235.
Clearly it’s in the ‘big watch’ category rather than the ‘medium’ (235) category. It’s your call how that will look on YOUR wrists.
Turning to the depth of the watches then the ULTRA and the 5X, below, are on the THICK side compared to a lightweight Garmin Forerunner 235
Note: the SPORT WHR is several mm thinner than the ULTRA and the additional 1mm depth from the Valencell sensor becomes pressed into the skin so adds no height to the wearer.
Here’s a parade of some of the usual suspects.
- Ultra is 17mm thick, Sport is 13.8mm thick, (Fenix 3 is 16mm, 5X is 17.5mm thick, 735XT is 11.7mm)
- Ultra/Sport are 50mm in dia (watch body not screen), 735XT is 45mm in dia (screen 31.1mm), F3 is 51.5mm in dia (screen 30.4)
- Ultra/Sport have superior screen resolution 320x300px, F3 is 218x218px, F5 is 240x240px, A3 is 128x128px
Now you know.
There’s a touchscreen as well as buttons. The touchscreen is mostly redundant and you can just use the buttons. That’s what I do with the occasional swipe when it suits me. The touchscreen is up there with other ‘good’ watch touchscreens. but I don’t like touchscreens as ALL of them have their ‘moments of annoyance’ in some situation or other. In my experience, Garmin seem particularly bad with touchscreens, as a generalisation.
Earlier firmware versions of the SPARTAN SPORT had a slight lag when scrolling between menus. This HAS been improved. However I think there is a design issue here with the screen ‘flow’ from one screen to the next. It does feel a little laggy. HOWEVER I have put the Fenix 5X and the SPARTAN side by side and the SPARTAN is QUICKER at drawing most screens after a button press. It just doesn’t FEEL like it is.
(Here) is a detailed walkthrough of an earlier version of the menus – it’s still very similar situation to now and worth a quick look.
As a summary these are the main areas on the watch menus:
- Selectable watch face;
- Activity – steps and calories;
- Summary of Training History – by sport and by km/hours;
- Navigation – POIs, routes, compass;
- Logbook – Details of your completed workouts. Nice;
- Stopwatch – It’s a watch…that you can stop;
- Trending/Current heart rate;
- Settings; and
- EXERCISE/SPORTS – Here you choose from one of the MANY predefined sports profiles AND customised sports profiles that you create on MOVESCOUNT.
The Android app is relatively basic but does a good enough job for me.
You can do all of this with the APP:
- Review workouts graphically and with numbers;
- Sync your workouts;
- Change some watch settings; and
- Create a new workout just with a Suunto SMART Belt – No watch required! (like Polar Beat – NOT like Garmin Connect Mobile).
Here is a flavour of the APP with some screen grabs:
Pairing to the smartphone is a bit on the flaky side but eventually worked on my phone. I don’t really do all that app/sms notification stuff…but you CAN. Once that is set up and working you don’t need the MOVESCOUNT app running to get notifications. I’ve heard reports of some users having issues there – other than getting it to pair I had no notable issues.
Note: It is Bluetooth SMART..so you pair within the MOVESCOUNT app. You shouldn’t have to enable anything on the watch as visibility should be ON by default.
Then there is the online MOVESCOUNT platform. That covers what the app covers and quite a lot more besides. There are 3 kinds of sports data platforms: rubbish ones; general expansive platforms like Garmin Connect and Suunto MOVESCOUNT; and more analytic ones like Training Peaks.
Most people are going to be more interested in the ‘expansive platforms’ ie ones which take your data and expand on that in some interesting ways. They will probably help your training a bit and probably help your sporting enjoyment a bit without going into the gory sporting data details that someone like me might be more interested in.
MOVESCOUNT is a little slow at times and that is probably due to its highly graphical/mappy nature. However it is probably one of the better platforms and there are many interesting and useful areas to explore. Overall it’s probably NOT as good as Garmin Connect BUT MOVESCOUNT does have some more unusual features (EPOC, sport heatmaps, running power, age group comparisons, etc).
Here are some interesting screen grabs to give you a flavour of the MOVESCOUNT platform online, some are worth a click if you are not familiar with MOVESCOUNT. Of particular interest might be: Heat Maps to find new routes; training plans; unusual lap and data comparisons; and community comparisons eg answering: how does someone who did a 3 hour marathon train?
You configure the sports modes on MOVESCOUNT. Strangely, you cannot edit an existing sport mode but you can create and edit a new sport mode. You can have lots of screens with up to 7 metrics on one screen “yep..SEVEN!” and there is proper native support for displaying RUNNING power metrics with STRYD (unlike Polar and Garmin – May 2017)
Finally you can create new sports modes with customised screen/metrics or you can (de-)select pre-existing sports modes. There are several layers of settings: watch level (eg tones OFF); user profile level; sport level (eg wheel size); Navigation, POIs; and choosing specific metrics for each screen. Similar to most reasonably advanced sports data platforms.
Bluetooth Low Energy (aka Bluetooth SMART) sensors are supported. ANT+ sensors are NOT supported. It is possible to use a 4iiii Viiiiva to convert ANT+ to BLE.
You can only store one pairing of each sensor type.
There are 4 types of sensor: chest strap/HRM; footpod; power pod; and bike pod.
Currently (May 2017) there is a limitation with some single physical sensors that transmit 2 types of sensor signal. The limitation is that only one of those signals can be recognised. For example STRYD cannot work as a power pod and as a foot pod ie you can’t get pace AND power from STRYD, just one or the other.
A nuance that the SPARTAN has is that it will only look for a particular sensor type in a particular sport if you tell it to. For example if you have a bike power meter the SPARTAN won’t look for that PM when you choose a running sport profile, which is correct. Although you could, if you wanted, tell the SPARTAN to look for the bike power meter whilst running. This behaviour is unlike some competitor products where it seems that all previously paired sensors might be searched for. Suunto’s approach is good in one respect and then annoying in another respect ie when you have forgotten to add a particular sensor to a new sport profile and are just about to start that sport with no computer nearby. Grrrr. (Use your smartphone web browser).
I’m only going to cover the triathlon sports of swimming, cycling and running. Even then the experience of actually using the device during a sport is pretty similar regardless of the sport.
Generally the SPARTAN SPORT WHR fits snugly for sporting use and I find it comfortable and reasonably lightweight at 74g.
You’ve already pre-selected and pre-configured your sports profiles on MOVESCOUNT so you are good to go.
There is a slight lag as the SPARTAN initiates the sports profile and then it goes off to look for any sensors you’ve told it to look for and it also needs to get a GPS fix and a HR fix, as appropriate. You SHOULD wait for those fixes and they take only a few seconds. Then you are off.
There ARE some sport profile options that you can configure on the watch and these include: power pod calibration; target setting; navigation (breadcrumb, POI or course); autopause; GPS accuracy level; GLONASS off/on; custom intervals; pool length (swimming); and a few other minor things like power saving. I recommend BEST GPS and no GLONASS.
These options can be easily accessed before you start the sport OR you can press and hold the middle button during the exercise to do the same thing.
Scrolling through the data/navigation/lap pages is quick and smooth whilst exercising.
Garmin users might be interested that the LAP button inserts a separate tier of laps that overlap any AUTOLAP setting you may have made.
I prefer to have the BACKLIGHT always on. For me it makes the SPARTAN more readable. You can configure the watch so that the screen comes on when you turn your wrist to look at it. Initially I used this when running at night and, in March, it seemed pretty good in that respect.
You can use the touchscreen to flick between screens or to navigate the in-exercise menus. The touchscreen DOES work pretty well, I found, but I prefer to use the buttons 95% of the time. That’s just me.
The flow around the screens is intuitive. You’ll also find an option or two hidden away through a screen swipe that isn’t so readily available with the buttons. So, for example, on the breadcrumb navigation screen you can swipe down for you location, POIs and routes.
The only annoying part of the in-sport experience, for me, is at the end. The SPARTAN seem SLOW to get through the post-exercise summary/lap/feel/save screens. OK you can turn off the ‘feel’ screen – aka smiley/sad face screen; and the lap screens are good; and the plots of HR/elevation over time are nice. But I’m not into any of that stuff I just want to save the file and move on. It’s also a bit slow at then physically saving the file. Very mildly annoying at worst – I can and do live with it.
The more notable issues for the various sports come to bear when considering how all the various sensors work…or not. I’ll cover the accuracy of sensors in the, err, accuracy sections. And I’ve covered sensors in general in the, err, sensor section above 🙂 Genius.
Before moving on to accuracy I just wanted to highlight these points
- You can create an on-the-fly interval workout
- The optical sensor works in the water (TA DA). Only Polar also do that, as of May 2017 Garmin do NOT do that.
- The ‘special’ triathlon mode deserves a mention
- You CAN insert manual laps in each leg, unlike with Garmin
- Pressing and holding the top button enters transition. I didn’t like this at first but, on reflection, it is a good way to progress to transition as it avoids an accidental press of a lap button a-la-Garmin.
- Pressing the top button again moves you on to the next sport
APPS – Suunto Spartan Sport Review
Nope. None of those
That chapter was easy to write 😉 It’s possible Suunto might introduce ‘app’ capability later.
I’ve used the SPARTAN SPORT WHR a lot since March 2017. It has been one of my watches of choice for a variety of reasons, including GPS accuracy.
Part of my usage covered a formal GPS test route and the SPARTAN SPORT WHR came out in the same ballpark as the non-WHR version. IE it’s up there with the very best. That was in GPS mode and NOT GPS+GLONASS mode. In fact it pretty much out-performed every other watch on its attempt at the course. It scored 81% and the best-ever result by any wrist-watch is 83%. I take the best result as the final one and haven’t seen any need to re-test it, unlike other watches. So I don’t formally test repeatability…I’m only me and I have a day job and limited time. Rest assured, though, the test is a hard one. (Details here).
Maybe the competitive offerings had a bad day and didn’t quite perform as excellently as they could (some of them are re-tested). I could debate myself for hours and maybe the SPARTAN SPORT WHR is not quite the best. Maybe its second or third of fourth best. Maybe. But it’s certainly not 10th or 11th best. It is up there near the top. In my experience. Although I would add caution that ACROSS ALL VENDORS I have encountered apparent differences in accuracy from one device to the next OF THE SAME MODEL.
The SPARTAN SPORT WHR scored VERY well on the easy sections of my GPS test route and normally-well on the medium difficulty sections. But it picked up marks over most others by also performing well on the hardest sections.
The raw FIT/TCX GPS test files of ALL devices are available (here) in a public folder along with an analysis spreadsheet of the summary results (there are three tabs in the spreadsheet).
Here’s an example from the test where there is a tricky section involving 2 passes underneath a solid stone bridge and a large circular route underneath tree cover near buildings. There’s also an out and back around a tree where I look for a track that follows the separate out and back tracks. The Suunto, in red, is one of the better tracks I’ve seen here.
Here is a GPS track for open water swimming compared to a Fenix 5X and a 920XT (from a different day). The 920XT is the better of the 3 and the SPARTAN WHR is the worst of the three. I’m not too bothered about GPS accuracy whilst swimming as there is an inherent and significant amount of inaccuracy coming from the submerging of the watch. The WHR undoubtedly overstates the distance but I’ve no idea what the precise distance was (920XT 2438m, Fenix 5X 2398m, WHR 2787m, actual distance might be c2400m )
Naturally I take my view of overall accuracy from other real-world usage as well, actually I use the test to support my baseline view and if my view differs to the test I look closer and run/bike some more. You could criticise my test in many ways but then you would eventually get to the point of needing a scientifically rigorous and repeatable test with standardised conditions and standardised movements of the arm and so on…and I bet even Garmin don’t do that. And that CLEARLY would then not be anywhere NEAR real-world usage. We would then probably have manufacturers producing devices to pass the test with flying colours but then failing in the real word…sigh!
When used in conjunction with Suunto’s smart belt CHEST STRAP you get all the HRV, super accuracy and caching delights that you would expect from a top-notch HRM. It’s even a pretty small one – as sexy and streamlined as they come. The chest strap is still an annoying strap though! Hey! I like straps.
But you want to buy the SPORT WHR because of the optical HR ON THE WRIST. Let’s talk about that…
If the optical HR was 95% accurate every time with maybe only one spike or trough per session I’d probably be happy. Unfortunately there is not a single optical HR device FOR THE WRIST that I would use from ANY MANUFACTURER. Including the SPARTAN WHR. That’s just me though. I plan MY training around TRAINING LOAD derived from HR so it needs to be fairly accurate each time I exercise.
So you have to gauge, in general, if you are that interested in super-HR accuracy. If you ARE then please don’t buy ANY optical HR device. You’ll be disappointed at some point or other if you are unlucky or you may be one of the lucky ones who always get perfect results (ahem) or, more likely, who don’t notice the inaccuracies inherent in this generic technology across the market.
Now, I mentioned the phrase on the WRIST before. A company called VALENCELL make what has appeared to be historically the most accurate optical HR sensor. It goes on a band, normally worn on the upper arm in a device called the SCOSCHE RHYTHM+. Reviewed (here). It was SO accurate I spent quite a while figuring out if I had actually really been recording the chest strap on several watches rather than the Scosche on one of the watches. I hadn’t. It’s accurate.
There’s a LOT of movement going on in the wrist area. Much more than the upper arm. As well as movement there is maybe a bit less blood available to be sensed by the oHRM on the wrist. But we hoped that the awesome VALENCELL HRM unit inside the SUUNTO SPARTAN SPORT WHR would be THE BEST in the market. Maybe not quite up to the standards of the SCOSCHE RHYTHM (review) or the Polar OH1 (review), because of the wrist-worn position, but somewhere very close.
As we shall see. It isn’t. It’s on a par with the other wrist-based optical HRMs. Sometimes a bit better, sometimes not. A lot of people, including me, were disappointed as we had hoped that the VALENCELL+SUUNTO COMBO would give us the accuracy we wanted to enable us to trust ourselves to ditch our chest straps.
Now here’s the part where a sneaky reviewer convinces you it really is super accurate. They show you all their best charts and they also major on ones that are on a stationary bike trainer indoors. That is an EASY scenario for optical HR.
OK here are some accurate ones to start with 😉 but I know you are clever enough to see through me. The first is on a fairly bumpy trail on a MTB. As you can see the green HR line matches the red line nicely – MUCH better than the Fenix 5X. Perfect (well perfect enough for me to use). The lines overlain on the satellite image incidentally show the superior GPS (not GLONASS) performance of the SPARTAN.
Then this one is typical of some of the OK running efforts. this is a good example of something that, to me, is bordering on not quite accurate enough but which would be acceptable to most people.
Here’s another that’s kinda OK albeit a bit spikey at times
Then turning back to a bumpy bike ride we get the following chart which I would say is unacceptable for the SPARTAN WHR but the FENIX 5X is unacceptable too.
And then a nice pleasant road bike. All is well and good until a stop and then all manner of craziness breaks loose with both the WHR and the Fenix 5X.
So that’s a cross-section. There are some better charts and some worse charts. You get the picture.
I have to say that before this year I’ve had generally good oHR performance across the board but this year there seems to be ‘something in the air’. And, as you can see from the Fenix 5X and the SPARTAN WHR we can see that these top-end devices BOTH have issues. Maybe it’s cold weather or sunspots. I just don’t know.
To generalise across sports: A turbo trainer is best for oHR with the SPARTAN. But generally running performance is better than for cycling. Swimming performance was hit and miss too. Even on bumpy terrain the SPARTAN SPORT WHR CAN perform well with the oHR but then, inexplicably, it doesn’t perform well. Even on the exact same route another day. Believe me, I know how to WEAR them properly – it wasn’t that.
(Here) are some generic tips on improving your optical HR performance.
Yeah. It’s good enough for me. Look at this over 2.5 hours. That’ll do despite it not being mount Everest.
Compare it to this elevation drift on the Fenix 5X over a longer time frame.
- Screen Resolution: 320 x 300
- Size: 50mm x 50mm x 13.8mm
- Weight: 70g
- Altimeter, Digital compass, Optical Heart Rate
- Battery – 10 days standby or 8 hrs GPS
- Waterproofing: 100 m
- Activities: 80+
- Other: GPS, GLONASS, Touch screen
The Suunto Spartan Sport HR manual is available HERE
Alternate format for a review of the Suunto SPARTAN SPORT, non-WHR, (here)
Summary – Suunto Spartan Sport Review
It’s a great little watch. I like it.
It’s priced fairly compared to the more expensive Fenix 5/5X, although the Fenix 5’s have more features.
For features at a better price you’d go for the Fenix 3HR. But then, with the F3HR, you have just bought an old and fairly common model for quite a lot of money with quite a lot of features that you will NEVER use AND the Fenix 3 is NOT COMPATIBLE with all the new 2017 CIQ apps and beyond. Tread carefully.
The SPARTAN SPORT WHR is, in my opinion, a bit more stylish and a bit more suited as a 247 watch.
You compare the WHR to products priced more cheaply, like the Polar M600, but the comparison is more difficult as the M600 is really a super-connected running smartwatch. Sure I use the SPARTAN SPORT as a RUNNING WATCH too. Mostly I use it as an out-of-the-box running-with-power sports watch. It’s pretty much designed for that and will be improved further once I can also use STRYD as a footpod rather then the separate Polar footpod.
With cycling then you’ll be fine if you are not a competitive cyclist and just have the one bike you most often use. If you have the right Bluetooth power meter then you may well consider the SPARTAN SPORT WHR but if you have LOTS of bikes and sensors then the WHR will become annoying as you switch between bikes and sensors.
It’s nice enough for swimming and the odd triathlon.
I’m relatively keen at triathlons and I wouldn’t race competitively with a SPARTAN. By the same token I wouldn’t race with a FENIX either. But I REALLY WOULD & DO use the SPARTAN for general triathlon training and that’s where you spend the most amount of hours with your electronic best friend. Admittedly I’d wear a chest strap and so, in reality, I’m using the Suunto SPARTAN SPORT (non-WHR).
As of May 2017 the SPARTAN SPORT WHR still has some niggles. But they are relatively minor and MIGHT be obscure enough not to affect you. Some more work needs completing on 3rd party sensors, especially ones that transmit multiple data types (eg STRYD). But it’s pretty much there as a finished product. Now Suunto’s job is to go on expanding the feature set over the next few years and spreading out the firmware goodness to other models in the series.
My caveat with recommending it would be the optical HR. I’d say, just to be sure, buy it somewhere where you can easily return it within a month IF the optical HR just doesn’t work on you. You could be lucky…or unlucky in the optical HR regard. You’ll never know until you try it.
I could give it a 5 out of 5 or a 2 out of 5. It would just depend on the criteria I used. But I use it and I like it. I’m wearing one now.