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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 😉
SUUNTO SPARTAN TRAINER REVIEW?
Suunto Spartan Trainer Review now live at this link…
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 and NOT the same as the other, larger SPARTANs. 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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!
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/relesaed 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
GREATEST TRIATHLON WATCH?
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.
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.
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.