Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER – First Look, First Runs, Hands On … not a Review

Suunto Spartan TrainerThe new Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER looks to be a great addition to the SPARTAN line.

On first inspection, those of you who know about all-things-Suunto, might think we have the AMBIT4 in our midst. It certainly LOOKS like the AMBIT3-tweaked. It’s not.

I have had 2x SPARTAN TRAINERs for nearly a week and 5 non-working dummy models for a few hours. So here is my run through of what’s new, with a few ‘surprises’ for those of you who keep reading through to the end 😉

REVIEW?

Review now lice at this link…

Suunto Spartan Trainer Review |Budget Triathlon Watch| Power Run| OHR WHR

 

NEW STUFF, SAME STUFF

The software is mostly the same as rest of the SPARTAN range. So the TRAINER is different because of hardware differences and hence pricing differences.

For those wanting a simple explanation: It REALLY looks like a smaller AMBIT3 but has the SPARTAN software and some new hardware bits.

For the rest of you wanting the tasty details….

  • We have 5 buttons and not the 3 from the other SPARTANs and consequently there is no touchscreen either. Button operation is similar to the AMBIT3.
  • There’s an optical HR sensor and it’s the exact same Valencell model as on the SPARTAN SPORT WHR, just turned through 180 degrees. The exact nature of the hardware integration MIGHT cause it to perform differently. We’ll address that in a review some time soon.
  • The GPS chip is entirely different from the AMBIT3 and entirely different from other SPARTANs. It is the MEDIATEK MT3339. This is a non-GLONASS chip but it features enhanced urban performance features as well as ultra-low power consumption. I believe the Fenix 5 uses the MT3333 which is GLONASS-enabled and GALILEO-ready, ie same as the F3. Actual GPS running performance for the TRAINER, however, will also depend on hardware integration and software factors.
  • It’s for “smaller-wristed people”: 46 x 46 x 15.7 mm or 1.81 x 1.81 x 0.62″, ie very slightly smaller than the Fenix 5.
  • Screen resolution is 218x218px, the same as the Garmin Fenix 5S but lower than the other SPARTANs. But the TRAINER has a smaller screen than the SPORT/ULTRA and looks like the TRAINER – so the reduced pixels probably just reflect the smaller screen area. It looks just as crisp.
  • It’s lightweight: 56 g / 1.98oz. That’s a tad heavier than a Garmin 935 and a tad lighter than a Fenix 5S – respectively 49g &  67g. It’s light, whichever way you look at it!
  • There’s no compass like on the SPARTAN SPORT & ULTRA, nor BAROMETER, nor WEATHER TREND.
  • Battery is very similar to the SPARTAN SPORT at 9 hours of GPS use (9 hours for the SPORT and 18 hours for the ULTRA). It should last 10 days as a watch/activity tracker. Edit: 8 hours and 6 minutes at lowest GPS with oHR when cycling…
  • The proprietary USB charger is compatible with the AMBIT3 but the PC software is SuuntoLink for all SPARTAN models whereas the AMBIT3 used Moveslink2. This cable also syncs as does the Movescount app.
  • Whilst I say ‘It is SPARTAN firmware‘ there ARE subtle differences. For example the SPORT allows %age backlight adjustment and the TRAINER does not.
  • Sleep tracking is confirmed to be introduced in the next firmware release c31Aug. Likely rHR- and movement-based rather than oHRV.

Suunto Spartan Trainer

 

  • There are 2 case variants of the TRAINER
  • The cheaper case is made fully of polyamide and comes in blue, black and green.
  • The more expensive case is still polyamide BUT also a steel bezel and mineral crystal lens (like the SPARTAN SPORT)
  • Note: The SPARTAN ULTRA has polyamide case, sapphire crystal lens and either a steel bezel or more expensive Titanium 5 bezel.
  • Confused? Here’s a diagram or two

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WHAT YOU GET

If you are new to Suunto then you might not appreciate what also comes as part of the Suunto-package. Here are just a few of the bits you need to know and some ‘highlights’:

  • A well-constructed device – I always say that Apple users seems to go for the Suunto for some reason.
  • MOVESCOUNT – a good app and online platform with many great and unusual insights and features such as: age group comparisons; training heat maps; and EPOC.
  • Bluetooth – Bluetooth SMART sensor compatibility (not ANT+)
  • Customer Service standards generally similar to Polar and Garmin
  • Running POWER and cycling POWER compatibility – both native BLE
  • Optical HR *OR* Cached HR (from a Suunto strap) for swimming (unlike Garmin’s oHR)
  • Triathlon profile
  • Customisable and pre-built sports profiles

POSITIONING & PRICING

Here’s where it gets interesting. I give the high and low prices for each SPARTAN model and the Garmin/Polar comparison. Of course these are the official Suunto prices, comparing to the official competitor prices. The reality on any one day on Amazon could be different. However this gives you an idea about how Suunto are targeting Garmin & Polar and what other models to consider within your budgeted price range.

  • High-end Outdoor MULTI-SPORT: SPARTAN ULTRA (Eu699 to Eu899) competes with Fenix 5 (Eu600+), 5X (Eu900), 935 (Eu550+), 5s (Eu600)
  • Upper-middle Outdoor MULTI-SPORT: SPARTAN SPORT & SPARTAN WHR (Eu449 to Eu549) competes with F3 (Eu480+) and 935 (Eu550+)
  • Low to mid MULTI SPORT: SPARTAN TRAINER (Eu279 to Eu329) competes with FR235 (Eu350)/FR735XT(Eu450) and Polar M430/M600 (Eu300)

I reckon that’s about the right POSITIONING for the TRAINER. Nice job.

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER vs Polar M600, M460, Garmin 235

Polar M600 & M430, SPARTAN TRAINER WHR, Garmin 235

Polar and Suunto have potentially superior oHR and potentially superior GPS. The more expensive case variants of the TRAINER are better than those of the lower end Forerunners and of the Polar M430. The Forerunners have a wider range of more unusual functionalities as do Polar. All 3 have different app/web data ecosystems each with strengths and weaknesses. The Polar M600 superficially stands out as good value against all of those but with AW2 many would not consider it to be as serious a SPORTS watch as all the others listed so far.

Injecting some reality into the prices: TODAY Polar M600 is Eu300 on Polar.de and Eu240 on amazon.de. FR235 is Eu245 on Amazon.de. Garmin 735XT is Eu350 on Amazon.de

The FR235 is soon-to-be replaced by a more expensive 245 but, even so, the market price of the TRAINER will likely fall by up to Eu50 in due course

SIZE & VISUAL COMPARISONS

I don’t want to dwell too much on this right now. But here are a few images to show the full SPARTAN TRAINER range (some of them are dummy units) and then a visual comparison to selected, other SPARTAN models. Finally some shots of the TRAINER compared to an AMBIT3. You decide if it’s really the AMBIT4 after all 🙂

So here we have the 5 TRAINERs with the two more expensive variants and the 3 cheaper ones tending to be grouped together in the images. THESE ARE DUMMY UNITS AND NOT ALL THE SCREEN MADE THEIR WAY TO PRODUCTON UNITS.

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For many this image will be intriguing. With a mint green lower end model, the one I am testing, being set against an vivid green AMBIT 3. As you can see they look highly similar in design. The diameter of the working part of the display is about 2-3mm bigger on the AMBIT3. You can also see that the antennae bump is reduced in size on the TRAINER compared to the AMBIT3. The TRAINER is lighter but both ‘feel’ pretty much the same to me and, indeed, the general softness of the strap and general feel of the two when compared is, overall, very similar. Just that the TRAINER is a bit smaller.

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER + AMBIT3

TRAINER on the left, AMBIT3 (run) on the right

Comparing the SPARTAN TRAINER to the SPARTAN SPORT is more revealing. The image below compares two higher-end variants which are made from the more premium materials. (I love both of these)

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER + SPARTAN SPORT

Two of my FAVOURITE SPORTS watches

The other SPARTAN models are notably larger and different in appearance. As I’ve said the firmware is the same but also, with these two models, the strap and overall feel of the quality are very similar. Whilst the SPARTAN TRAINER is notably smaller the depth of the unit, even with the oHRM sensor, is very similar.

You can see from the image above that the screen crispness and brightness look very similar. That is the same in reality. The SPORT/ULTRA allows variation in backlight brightness.

SUMMARY – Similarly sized to the AMBIT3. Notably smaller than the SPARTAN SPORT and SPARTAN ULTRA. Very similar quality of construction for the lower end AMBIT3 vs TRAINERs and the higher end SPARTANs vs TRAINER. The premium-constructed variants look good in my opinion – yes, even the white and gold one!

GPS ACCURACY

It’s early days. Yet I have covered well over 50k running with the TRAINER and I have completed my standard test twice. The first time with the pre-production unit (it has to be returned) and the second time with the proper unit.

Looks Great To Me

The proper unit IS superior…as expected.

The TRAINER scored 81% in my standard test (details and source files here) which puts it equal with the V800 and Spartan Sports (+/- WHR). That’s better than ANY Garmin I’ve tested. Period.

Admittedly it just edges out the F3 (three) and the 935 but a win is a win for Suunto.

Note: It’s highly likely that a recent AMBIT3 RUN test has produced even better (the best) results – watch this space.

The new MEDIATEK chip, and its integration into the overall TRAINER package, seems to work. It performed exceptionally in some parts of my test and elsewhere, ironically it struggled most near where there were high buildings and a long tunnel. It also struggled to a lesser extent on the tricky section, shown below, in Richmond. There is a loop under trees going near a building; then under a fairly wide bridge and then soon after a switchback and under the bridge again.

Trainer in Green, Ambit 3 in blue

This particular section often causes GPS havoc and the lines before and after the switchback should not cross. Often there is a shift in one direction or another which I think is due to tiny timing/GPS-syncing errors in the watch (Source: TomTom on a question about the RUNNER3). Almost every device exhibits this SHIFT behaviour in my experience.

oHR ACCURACY – provisional

Again, early days. This is not a review.

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER + SPARTAN SPORT WHR oHR

Looks different but same Valencell unit. Trainer oHR looks more like the Scosche, note the AMBIT3-compatible charger

In several people’s experiences, the SPARTAN SPORT WHR and VALENCELL sensor strangely took a while to ‘bed in’ and start producing good oHR results. I also had mixed experiences with the earlier SPARTAN SPORT WHR.

Trainer (Red) vs HRM-TRI (TRI adjusted for dropouts)

The SPARTAN TRAINER does seem slightly better so far; which is encouraging.

The chart above shows a good performance on a steady state run. I could equally have shown other charts with poorer performance and, once again, note that optical performance varies CONSIDERABLY from person-to-person.

RUNNING WITH POWER

First Run With POWER: Discussed in more detail (here).

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER (WHR) :: First Run with STRYD and running POWER

WHY IT WILL SELL WELL

The running watch market is still a large, growing market. Many runners will be using the Apple watch and all the AndroidWear2 sports watches appearing this year. Eventually people will realise that none of them are as good for running as a dedicated sports watch like the Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER.

The TRAINER is a good overall offering, it’s competitively-priced, hopefully accurate and fairly functionally rich.

From a functional perspective it covers the needs of >90% of runners, cyclists and triathletes.

Runners and triathletes with ‘normal’ requirements should all consider the TRAINER.

The Fenix 5S is selling well because it meets the aesthetic needs offered by a smaller watch. The SPARTAN TRAINER has similar sizes at a notably lower price.

For existing AMBIT3 lovers, the TRAINER might be a sensible upgrade but you would lose some functionality.

Indeed for Eu279 it probably also wins as the choice for an entry-level triathlon watch – remember you’d have to buy the HRM-TRI for the Garmin 920XT to have comparable HR when swimming.

It’s the ENTRY-LEVEL watch that: natively supports STRYD; natively supports oHR for all triathlon sports; and it has a compact and lightweight build that will appeal to many. There are sporty and non-sporty aesthetic options.

LIMITERS

Higher level athletes with more demanding tech requirements may encounter these known issues, which are:

  • Complex and ‘unusual’ multisport profiles can’t be created eg Otillo;
  • Only one sensor of each type can be paired at any one time eg only one powermeter (re: bike+STRYD);
  • Advanced sensors that produce more than one data type must have only one type of data visible at a time eg speed+distance but not cadence from a footpod;
  • Pace and power alerts; and
  • Only simple interval workouts are possible and not complex structured workouts

All of these issues affect ‘gadget-serious’ triathletes like me. We have to spend a little more money on workarounds or accept slight compromises.

But most of these issues will not affect most of you and, in any case, they are nearly all on the roadmap to be included in future firmware.

BEST TRIATHLON WATCH?

There is probably no one single ‘best’ triathlon watch. Here are my recommendations for the best triathlon watch and the best running watch.

 

Best Triathlon Watch 2017 | Top 10 | – Review & Recommendations

 

and

Best Running Watch 2017 | Top 10 | Review, Recommendations & GPS Sports Watch Comparisons

 

 

OPINIONS & COMMENTARY

I was lucky enough to have 2 models from Suunto. The black one with a metallic bezel is rather beautiful I think. This is a pre-production model but functional. Apparently it is the only one in the UK and proper production of this particular variant is not scheduled until the end of August. So there can’t be that many of that model anywhere else in the world either. It is destined for one of the UK sales reps rather than my wrists tho!! It looks super smart and it drew quite a few complimentary comments in the few days that I’ve worn it.

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER + SPARTAN SPORT

SPARTAN SPORT (right), SPARTAN TRAINER (left)

I never particularly liked the aesthetics of the square antennae-lug on my Ambit3. BUT this model of the TRAINER renders the aesthetics of the lug irrelevant IMO, ie if you buy a black-cased variant it ‘blends in’

Two of the colours of the base models of the TRAINER are a little garish for my liking (green, blue below). But, luckily, you are not me and will probably like them 😉 Either way the build quality is good.

Suunto Spartan TrainerI never liked the AMBIT3 menu interface. I very much prefer the User Interface of the new SPARTAN firmware. So my preference is certainly for the SPARTAN TRAINER as it is now over the AMBIT3 in that respect.

I had a few glitches and a lockup with the black/metal version. But as I pointed out earlier, this is a pre-production model so the few glitches are not unexpected.

One of my PERSONAL criticisms of the aesthetics of the Fenix 5X was the visible bolt heads on the front of the watch which, in my opinion, makes it too rugged-looking for my liking. The SPARTAN TRAINER also has the bolt heads but now I’ve decided I like the look. Sigh!!

Turning to running with power and STRYD. The combo with STRYD and the SPARTAN TRAINER is one of the most attractive and possibly cheapest on the market right now. That’s a great selling point for those of you interested in running with power and looking to upgrade from a running watch that’s seen better days. For the time being I sometimes supplement the SPARTAN+STRYD option with either a MILESTONE pod or Polar STRIDE SENSOR to get a decent instant pace as well as STRYD’s POWER. I will publish something this week or next about running with STRYD and the SPARTAN TRAINER

The light weight, the accuracy and the 5-button format will appeal to some, more serious athletes.

AVAILABILITY & PRE-ORDERS

Pre-orders are being taken now by lots of companies….and most of them are ‘hoping’ to get the devices. Early distribution is very limited and I’m clarifying exactly who has it before directing you anywhere.

Initially availability will be of the cheaper Ocean, Blue and Black models from 31.8.2017.

Around about the same time production starts on the Gold and Steel models leading to limited availability during September as the volumes ramp up.

I suspect that there will be no notable discounting of the SPARTAN TRAINER in 2017.

If you’d like to support this blog (thank you!) please order through the links below. My normal partners are being very honest and saying that they can’t get stock for quite a while – be wary of less scrupulous sites. I’ll also put up the Amazon links for those of you that prefer that as and when the appear. It has been listed on Amazon.com for about 6 months but bizarrely is now not there…

36 thoughts on “Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER – First Look, First Runs, Hands On … not a Review

  1. About stryd and spartan, this is not a good solution. Stryd is great but the suunto development is poor, I mean, Stryd is not a bike power meter, is a running pod. If you have a bike with a power meter and yo want to use any suunto watch and also stryd you can’t. Suunto allows only one pod for each type linked to their watches, so if you link stryd and you want to link also a bike powermeter you will loose stryd. WHY SUUNTO??? Polar and garmin devices allows to add tons of pods from same type…
    Also the unique data you get from stryd into a suunto device is power…and stryd algo gives you pace, distance…
    I’ve moved to a 935. Yes the gps is poor compared to the spartan sport I own, but I have solved it using stryd pace and distance data fields.
    Suunto should improve this!!

    • thank Haitz
      STRYD: yes I made those point above. Suunto are very aware of this and I have been told are working on it.
      depends on your perspective. 935’s STRYD integration could also said to be ‘poor’ as, for example, power alerts are not possible when running (hence the latest stryd app)

  2. Thanks again for the information and for the website.

    I agree with the Stryd question.
    I have a Spartan WHR and I am quite disappointed.

    Impossibility of interval training screens customization.
    Limitation to the use of Stryd (despite the propaganda of native Stryd).
    Impossibility to disable the navigation screen.
    Screen with manual lap time is only possible if you disable the automatic lap.
    Impossibility to leave the GPS only to register the route, leaving pace, distance and power for the Stryd.
    Impossibility to create pace and power alerts (tones/vibration can only be switched on or off).
    Impossibility to put more contrast on the display.

    I have sent several messages to Suunto, but the answer is always that the team will be informed and they are working on improvements.
    I really like the aesthetic question, but in training the watch is not good enough.

    Any info on the next Spartan upgrade?

    • I have raised most of those points myself with Suunto on a couple of occasions. They really ARE aware. And AFAIK are working on most of them.

      some of your VALID criticisms would be true of Garmin/Polar (power alerts). indeed garmin could not even do the auto/manual thing at all.

      As I said in the content, my opinion is that for 90% of runners/triathletes the supplied functionality will be fine. and yes I would say that less than 10% of runners use complex structured workouts.

      • Very happy to know that! Thank you!

        Explaining better and not wanting to be boring, what bothers me the most:

        1 – Stryd is an exceptional tool and I love it. I can not understand the limitation of information fields, nor the inability to turn off GPS (or leave it on only to record the route) and leave all work to Stryd (power, pace and distance).

        2 – Spartan interval training option is very cool, but I do not use it because the existing non-customizable fields do not please me. I would like to be able to customize to my taste within this option.

        3 – Manual laps and automatic laps must be independent. Currently, you either have one or the other.

        4 – The navigation screen is cool, but useless to me. Why not have the possibility of its exclusion?

        5 – Pace and power alerts are essential and certainly expected in a watch of this standart.

        6 – Not so important, but I wish I could opt for less battery for better contrast.

        Overall, the watch is good, but it has the potential to be excellent!

        • 1 – you can turn off gps. just use an indoor profile. but the limitation is that Spartans cannot yet handle one sensor that outputs 2 data types ie stryd. (spd/cad may be different)
          2. there could be more options I agree. again, suunto know this
          3. ?don’t understand this. you do have both. if you export to elsewhere then you will lose one, that is more of a limitation of tcx file format. maybe I misunderstand
          4. fair enough. that mildy annoys me too. minor point tho
          5. yes
          6. you can choose lower gps for better battery life. I hope they introduce ‘inverted’ colours

          • I explain the number 3:

            As far as I can tell, the automatic lap will reset the manual lap.
            Then, for interval training, the automatic lap must be turned off.

            See Suunto’s answer to my question:

            “Dear Gerson,
            Thank you for contacting Suunto.
            No, you will not be able to use them both simultaneously. However, you can activate the autolap on one sports mode and deactivate it on another sports mode.
            For further assistance, please let us know. ”

            Thank you again!

          • edited:

            I don’t recognise what Suunto support are telling you. AFAIK it’s wrong. Or the question has not been put in full details.

            with Spartans there are manual laps and auto laps BOTH shown in the summary at the end of the workout.
            with the SPARTANS there are manual laps and auto lap BOTH shown in MOVESCOUNT
            when you export data from the MOVESCOUNT environment then, effectively, the TCX standard is used. The TCX only has one kind of lap. (I’m not sure if you export to another format what happens with laps)
            Even if both lap types were exported then mnay destination bits of software would not support both kinds of laps either – for example if you exported to Garmin connect or sporttracks.

            do you actually own a trainer or a sport. I can’t see how you have a trainer already. so I am not sure of the model-specificity of your question.

  3. I love the look of the white and gold version! I live in Norway, do you think it will be difficult to get a hold of it there? Since it’s a limited edition…? It’s the only version that I want!

    • i think the production on that model starts later ie there at NONE right now – I only had ‘dummies’ in that colour. I expect maybe end of September?

      I agree. it did look really nice. not really my colour or my thing BUT despite that I liked the looks of it. (and the black silver one which was my preference – again similar availability although mine was working)

  4. Nice try Suunto, but i won’t be buying anything until targets and alerts can be set to pace. Luckily Polar and Garmin offer this so i’m not stuck for spending my wages.

  5. Great news! Since you know the other Spartan models well, how do their screens compare other than the Trainer having a lower resolution (crispness, evenness of backlighting, responsiveness etc)?

    • the trainer is lower res at 218×218 but it’s smaller. it seems to amount to the same thing in the end. they look very similar in terms of crispness…but one is smaller
      i’s say with backlight off the trainer is darker but otherwise the same with sport at 100%
      the Spartan sport can have the backlight %age configured.
      saving and starting an exercise IS sometimes slow. there is a delay of 4-5 seconds starting.
      other than that the general responsiveness is good
      there were criticisms of the SPORT. some improvement were made over time to the sport. people still criticised it as being slow BUT I timed the regular screen transitions and the SPORT was faster BUT it felt slower.

  6. HI thanks for getting this update out quickly. This size and looks of the metal ones will be perfect for my wife.

    I think I have asked you this before will it be possible to just get cadence with Stryd on Suunto sport or trainer?

    Do you know if Suunto are planning a wrist heart rate version of the ultra? My sport whr is not getting beyond 12 hours on good setting during ultra marathons in the mountains.

  7. Funny to read this thng the day i have just bounced back my Ambit 3 Vertical because the buttons have basically frozen… not that I would consider a brand that doesnt even manage to record your workouts accurately fit for any (semi) serious training purposes to begin with… oh… but they do thank you when you help them flushing out bugs in their wonderful firmware, alas to the benefit of the next model (Spartan) only…. you Spartan owners should thank yours truly….

    • depends on what’s important to you.
      +/- 1-2bpm HR accuracy is important to me – so i’d go for neither as-is. indeed nor any optical hr device for the same reason
      with a hr strap and stryd then i’d take either for sporting usage. the ambit4 …err… I mean TRAINER wins on the looks front with some of the colour variants, so i’d take the black and metal bezel one. (M430 doesn’t support STRYD…yet)

  8. Have you done any tests for the Wrist HR against the Fenix 5 series? I don’t tend to use one and opt for a chest HR, but interested in views?

    • there’s no point in comparing two things where you are not sure which is correct.
      plus your personal factors will mean that you would get potentially totally different results to me with ohr
      so yes I have compared the whr and f5’s ohr each to a chest strap.

        • I was responding directly to your question which I interpreted as about 2 watches (admittedly I could have read it a different way about 3 watches)
          you would get different readings from each arm, potentially, due to differing motion artefacts but mostly similar.

          I tend to avoid the ‘idiot-wearing-too-many-watches’ factor wherever possible 😉 but even then I could still have the 3rd watch in the back pocket for HR comparisons (doesn’t work for gps comaprisons)

          ok i’ll cut to the chase…yes you’re right 😉

  9. I’d be happy to support you so please do post a preorder link for the black and silver bezel version if shipping to continental Europe is an option once that becomes possible. Thanks
    Chris

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