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

Suunto Spartan Trainer Review

This Suunto Spartan Trainer Review looks at the lowest cost sports watch SPECIFICALLY designed for triathlon and running with power (STRYD).

Suunto Spartan Trainer

It’s over a year since Suunto sprang the SPARTAN on an expectant sports gadget world (Summer 2016). We all were waiting for the AMBIT 4 and we got the top-end SPARTAN ULTRA. Then we quickly got the SPARTAN SPORT, the SPARTAN SPORT WHR and now the SPARTAN TRAINER WHR

Over time Suunto are also pretty good at offering cosmetic variations of the above models. The TRAINER makes a nice little side-step here from the usual story and you can see above some very nice-looking alternatives are already being offered in fall/autumn 2017.

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 and use it in training)

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER ReviewIN A SENTENCE

SPOT ON: It’s the best-priced entry-level triathlon watch and a sound GPS watch for runners – it’s great, I love it, especially with the premium case models.

WHAT’S NEW

The software is mostly the same as rest of the SPARTAN range.

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….

  • 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.
  • 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 Fenix 3. 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 resolution looks the same – 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.
  • Official battery life is very similar to the SPARTAN SPORT at ‘up to’ 10 hours of Best 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 best GPS with oHR when cycling…
  • 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 movement-based but can also be combined with looking at the separate track over resting HR through the night.

Suunto Spartan Trainer

 

IS IT FOR YOU?

The SPARTAN TRAINER WHR sits as a mid level running watch and a mid level triathlon watch. Because of it’s relatively low price the description of a ‘mid level triathlon watch’ instead becomes the ‘cheapest’ tri-specific watch.

HEADS UP: The TRAINER+MOVESCOUNT contains some pretty nice features BUT if you are looking for relatively unusual features it might not have them. For the 10% of you who have those specific sporting needs (like me) then the TRAINER will probably not be for you. But let’s not knock it because of that, as we shall see it is a great little hardware package that may well have better components than those on your mate’s much more expensive sports watch. Ssssh, don’t tell them. They will just believe the competitor’s marketing hype. We know better 😉

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER vs Polar M600, M460, Garmin 235

Polar M600, M430, SPARTAN TRAINER, Garmin 235

Positioning it against other RUNNING watches we might see the Garmin Forerunner 235 and the Polar M430 as the main competitors. Both have more features than the TRAINER; for the 10% crowd the Garmin has LOTS of features, and both have a certain look that you may, or may not, like. The M430 is probably of a broadly similar quality to the TRAINER and both are a better ‘build quality’ and appear to have a better ‘component quality’ than the Garmins.

Positioning it against other triathlon-specific watches then the TRAINER is in a bracket of its own. Perhaps you might get an old model Polar V800 or an old model Garmin 920XT/910XT at a similar price if you are lucky. Those older Garmins and V800 would each have more features than the TRAINER (again for the 10% crowd) but you will usually pay more and the aesthetics may not sit well for most of you.

Positioning it by ‘size’ then it sits nicely on smaller wrists and there are aesthetic options that will appeal to all genders. The next smaller wristed sports watch of this type to consider would be the Garmin Fenix 5S but that is significantly more expensive.

If you want a deeply connected watch then, instead, you would go for an Apple Watch 2 or a Polar M600. Of course the TRAINER still has the ‘usual’ connected features.

SPARTAN COLLECTION – COMPARISONS

Let’s start with some images to show the full SPARTAN TRAINER range (some of them are dummy units with mock-up screen that did not make it to final production firmware) 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.

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For many of you, the following image will be intriguing. Here we see a mint green lower end TRAINER model, the one I am testing, being set against a vivid green AMBIT 3 RUN. 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 than the TRAINER. As I’ve said, the firmware is essentially 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 crispness is the same in reality. The SPORT/ULTRA allows variation in backlight brightness unlike the TRAINER.

Here are the two optical SPARTANs shown from the rear. Pretty much everything is different – from the buttons to the charging contacts to the optical sensor. The sensor IS the same but oriented and covered differently.

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER + SPARTAN SPORT WHR oHR

And here is a comparison of the thicknesses of the ULTRA (top), TRAINER (middle) and SPORT WHR (bottom). They are all similar, give or take a mm. Indeed the SPARTAN SPORT non-WHR is very slightly thinner than the TRAINER.

Suunto Spartan Trainer WHR optical gps sports watch review

ULTRA (top) TRAINER (middle) SPORT (bottom)

I’d say the SPARTAN TRAINER sits in the ‘medium-sized’ sports watch category (as would the Fenix 5S)

Here are some more comparison stats

  • Trainer is 15.7mm thick, Ultra is 17mm thick, Sport is 13.8mm thick, (Fenix 3 is 16mm, 5X is 17.5mm thick, 735XT is 11.7mm)
  • Trainer is 46mm in diameter, 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)
  • Trainer has a 218x218px resolution, Ultra/Sport have superior screen resolution 320x300px, F3 is 218x218px, F5S is 218x218px, F5 is 240x240px, A3 is 128x128px. Note that the resolution is probably proportional to the screen size
  • 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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SUMMARY – Similarly styled to the older AMBIT3 but smaller. Notably smaller face than both the SPARTAN SPORT and SPARTAN ULTRA. Very similar quality of construction at both the lower end (AMBIT3 vs low-priced TRAINER) and the higher end (SPARTAN ULTRA/SPORT vs premium TRAINER lens/bezel). The premium-constructed variants look good in my opinion – yes, even the white and gold one! And I NEVER thought I would say that about any white and gold watch!

UNBOXING & CONTENTS

You get a nice box. Awesome.

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER Review

You get the watch and a charging strap. That’s pretty much it.

Suunto Spartan Trainer WHR optical gps sports watch reviewIt’s a USB charging strap and the bit that clips to the watch is identical to that for the AMBIT3 and is shown above. The strap is what you use to charge the SPARTAN TRAINER and update the firmware via the new SUUNTOLINK software. You can upload your workouts over the cable to or through/to the MOVESCOUNT app on iOS and Android.

It can be charged whilst performing a workout but you would not get optical HR

USING IT –  OVERVIEW

Suunto Spartan Trainer

For those of you new to Suunto here’s a quick overview of the ‘ecosystem’; watch, app and online data platform.

USING – The WatchSuunto Spartan Trainer WHR optical gps sports watch review

There are 5 buttons and no touchscreen.

The menu system is different to the older AMBIT models even though the buttons perform similar actions to the AMBITs eg bottom left is usually ‘go back’. The newer SPARTAN firmware of the TRAINER, to me, seems more logical and intuitive.

The buttons and menus are generally nicely responsive. However when starting and saving workouts there are notable delays. The starting delay for a workout is 4-6 seconds. There were similar issues with the early SPARTAN ULTRA but these were soon rectified with improved firmware.

(Here) is a walkthrough of an earlier version of the SPARTAN menus on 2 other SPARTAN watches – the current menus are similar so it’s worth a quick look to get an overview.

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, waypoints;
  • Logbook – Details of your completed workouts. Nice;
  • Stopwatch – It’s a watch…that you can stop;
  • Trending/Current heart rate;
  • Sleep (1 September 2017);
  • Recovery;
  • Settings; and
  • EXERCISE/SPORTS – Here you choose from one of the MANY predefined sports profiles AND customised sports profiles that you create on MOVESCOUNT.

USING – The App

Suunto MOVESCOUNT app

MOVESCOUNT app shown with SPARTAN SPORT WHR

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;
  • Set up smart notifications;
  • Change some watch settings; and
  • Record a new workout just with a Suunto SMART Belt (not supplied) – No watch required! (like Polar Beat – NOT like Garmin Connect Mobile).

Here is a flavour of the APP with some screen grabs:

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Smartphone pairing is a bit on the flaky side but eventually worked on my minor-brand Android phone (Huawei). You will likely have better luck with a decent Samsung, Pixel or Apple smart 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. Other than getting it to initially pair I had no notable issues but I didn’t test it for any great length of time for notifications.

TIP: Restart your phone before attempting to pair. Restart your phone after you enter a pairing code and still get a failed pairing.

TIP: The TRAINER is Bluetooth SMART, so you pair within the MOVESCOUNT app. You shouldn’t have to enable anything on the watch as visibility/discovery should be ON by default.

USING – MOVESCOUNT – SUUNTO SPARTAN TRAINER REVIEW

Then there is the online MOVESCOUNT platform. That covers all that the app covers and 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/pretty 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 feature-laden as Garmin Connect BUT MOVESCOUNT does have some more unusual features (EPOC, sport heat maps, running power, age group comparisons, etc).

As a complement, I would say that MOVESCOUNT is more interesting than Garmin Connect or Polar FLOW.

Here are some 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 (these are NOT structured workouts); unusual lap and data comparisons; and community comparisons eg answering: how does someone who did a 3 hour marathon train?

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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!”. Although with the TRAINER’s smaller screen size compared to the other larger SPARTANs, you will need better eyesight than me!

There is good (but not perfect) native support for displaying RUNNING power metrics with STRYD.Probably on par with Garmin and Polar but with different strengths and weaknesses.

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Finally here is a pictorial summary of how 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.

Negatives/Positives:

  • Movescount does not allow the creation (yet) for complex structured workout for the TRAINER
  • Movescount does not allow the creation of non-standard triathlon multisport profiles
  • Some fields are missing, such as NP and IF, but others are ‘unique’ to Suunto eg EPOC
  • Autolap by duration is nice and relatively unusual.
  • The navigation screen can’t be disabled for some obscure reason
  • Performance alerts are missing eg audio/vibrate when HR above Zone 4.
  • Don’t forget to correctly check the  ‘Pods to search’

USING – SENSORS

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 – but that’s for the techies like me and I wouldn’t recommend relying on ANT+ to BLE conversion as a rule.

You can only store and use one pairing of each sensor type.

There are 4 types of sensor: chest strap/HRM; footpod; power pod; and bike pod (speed/cadence).

Currently (august 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. The September 2017 firmware (which I had in beta for this review) is supposed to offer pairing improvements but I can’t see what any of them are.

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 behaviour. 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. Tip: Use your smart phone.

NB: Currently dual-sided bike power meters, eg Favero’s ASSIOMA, only have data from one pedal doubled. So there is little point in buying a dual-sided PM just for a SPARTAN. The same issue will arise when trying to use the Trainer with RunScribe’s dual-foot running power meter later in 2017.

USING IN SPORTS

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 lightweight at 56g. The screen is crisp and clear enough, especially with my preference for the backlight to be on. Generally the user experience is good and intuitive, in my opinion.

 

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER Review

You have already pre-selected and pre-configured your sports profiles on MOVESCOUNT; so you are good to go.

The SPARTAN loads the sports profile and then it goes off to look for any sensors (bike pod, foot pod, power pod) you’ve told it to look for on that profile; it also needs to get a GPS fix and a oHR fix, as appropriate. You SHOULD wait for all these icons to light up, 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; custom intervals; pool length (swimming); and a few other minor things like power saving. I recommend BEST GPS.

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER ReviewThese 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.

The button press and feel is ‘quite nice’.

Garmin users might be interested that the LAP button inserts a separate tier of laps that overlap any AUTOLAP setting you may have made. ie 2 totally distinct and separate kinds of laps

I prefer to have the BACKLIGHT  on. For me it makes the SPARTAN more readable. You can configure the watch so that the screen comes on automatically or can be ‘toggled’.

 

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER ReviewThe flow around the screens is intuitive. You’ll also find an option or two hidden away through a long key press that otherwise isn’t quite so readily available with the menus. So, for example, whilst on the navigation screen you can access your location, POIs and routes with a long button press.

The only annoying part of the in-sport experience, for me, is at the end. The SPARTAN TRAINER requires a mildly tedious scroll 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 then also a bit slow at physically retrieving any chased HR data and then saving the file. Very mildly annoying at worst – I can live with that.

The more notable issues for each sport 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 on the watch without the app and without MOVESCOUNT
  • The optical sensor works in the water (TA DA). Polar also do that. As of August 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. On reflection, it is a good way to progress to transition as it avoids an accidental press of a lap button a-la-Garmin.
    • You can only create a customised swim-bike-run triathlon profile. No other multisport profile eg duathlon
    • Pressing the top button again moves you on to the next triathlon sport

RUNNING WITH STRYD

I’ve written a separate article on my first run with power with STRYD, it’s (here).

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER with STRYD Mizuno

Spartan Trainer + STRYD

Running with STRYD power has recently been improved and now STRYD works ‘correctly’ with all SPARTAN watches in the sense that the SPARTANs can now use STRYD fro POWER and PACE/DISTANCE

STRYD REVIEW | Running Power Meter, Accurate | Footpod |

APPS

Nope. None of those

GPS ACCURACY

I’ve used the SPARTAN TRAINER WHR fairly intensely through much of August 2017-to-date. 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 (repeated) and the SPARTAN TRAINER WHR came out VERY WELL IE it’s up there with the very best. That was in BEST GPS mode. In fact it pretty much out-performed every other watch on its attempt at the course. It scored 81% and the best-ever results by any wrist-watch are 83% & 87%. 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 along with files and analysis).

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 TRAINER WHR is not quite the best. Maybe its third or fourth best. Maybe. But it’s certainly not 10th or 11th best. In my experience, it is up there near the top. Although I would add caution that ACROSS ALL VENDORS I have encountered apparent differences in accuracy from one device to the next OF THE EXACT SAME MODEL.

The SPARTAN TRAINER WHR scored particularly well on the EASY and HARD sections of my GPS test route and normally-well on the medium difficulty 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. Here I look for a track that shows separate out and back tracks that do not cross. The Suunto, in red, is one of the better tracks I’ve seen here and is ‘good’. It’s compared to the Garmin Fenix 5X – which is the most expensive sports watch – whose performance here is acceptable but which: misses the bridge; crosses the tracks; and misses a right turn off the bridge.

trainer-red-5x-blue

Traier in Red, Fenix 5X in Blue

 

Here is a relatively typical GPS track for open water swimming for a large and a small lap of a nearby lake (Shepperton Lake – awesome, don’t go there, I like it to myself 😉 ). I’m the first to admit I don’t always swim in the straightest of lines but I’m nowhere near this bad and the overall distance is notably overstated. Swimming with the TRAINER’s GPS is fine to know roughly where you have been swimming…but that’s about it. I could show you a comparison but it would just show you that it’s not great.

 

Finally 10 laps of a closed-road bike circuit. The Edge 820 and the SPARTAN TRAINER BOTH show good repeatability lap after lap, when cycling in easy conditions. Both appearing to consistently ‘stay on’ a 10m wide track – as they should.

spartan-blue-820-red

 

Naturally I take my view of overall accuracy from extensive, 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 tests 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!

HR ACCURACY

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER ReviewWhen used in conjunction with Suunto’s smart belt CHEST STRAP (not included) 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 chest HRM – as sexy and streamlined as they come. To many though, the chest strap is still an annoying strap!

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 TRAINER WHR. That’s just me though. I plan MY training around TRAINING LOAD derived from HR. So HR needs to be fairly accurate for me each time I exercise.

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. Alternatively you may be one of the lucky ones who always gets perfect results (ahem) or, more likely, one who doesn’t notice the inaccuracies inherent in this generic technology across the market.

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER ReviewI 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.

But there’s a LOT of movement going on in the wrist area. Much, 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 all hoped that the SUUNTO SPARTAN TRAINER WHR would be THE BEST in the market because it had VALENCELL’s awesome HRM unit inside. Maybe not quite up to the standards of the SCOSCHE RHYTHM, 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.

I’ll just show you two charts this time: this one is typical of some pretty good steady-state running efforts. It’s a bit spikey, at times, but I would probably accept this level of accuracy if it were delivered each and every time.

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

Then this one was probably one of the poorer examples where HR was over-estimated during VO2max efforts. Maybe my arm movements are causing it, who knows? I was also doing drills near the start. Interestingly it near-perfectly matches the rapidly declining HR after the interval – that’s where other optical watches often struggle.

 

It’s a pretty similar picture across cycling and swimming. Some sessions are pretty good, others less so.

Just finally one interesting pool swim – sorry no comparison but this one looks ‘about right’. I just thought I’d show you the nifty display in MOVESCOUNT. The interesting bit is that it shows R-R data (HRV), which no-one claims to do for optical HR at anything other than resting/sleep level. But here it is but I wouldn’t read too much into it as it looks a little like a mirror image…

 

So that’s a cross-section. There are some better charts and some worse charts. You get the picture.

I have to say that 2017 has seemed to make ALL my optical HR devices work more poorly than previous years. I’ve no idea why. Many other people have certainly reported better optical performances with the SPARTAN TRAINER than I found but I can only report what I found  which is ‘variable performance‘.

To generalise across sports: A turbo trainer is best for oHR with the TRAINER. But generally running performance is better than for cycling. Swimming performance was hit and miss too. Steady-state training is more likely to be good than hard intervals. Sometimes bike trail performance was good then two days later on the same trail it wasn’t. Believe me, I know how to WEAR them properly – it wasn’t that.

(Here) are some generic tips on improving your optical HR performance.

ELEVATION ACCURACY

The GPS-derived elevation accuracy is pretty good. Here is a ride over 8 hours with a correct ascent of 535m and a correct descent of 500m. What was recorded was +552m and -580m. As you can see there is no drift that you might get with a barometric altimeter. It’s not perfect but it’s more than good enough for me.

SRTM adjusted by GPS position

 

There was another device in this test (Lezyne Super GPS) but that elevation track was pretty bad and just confused the chart – therefore I removed it.

SLEEP TRACKING

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER Review

Sleep tracking is fairly basic and seems accurate enough. I’m pretty confident that NO PRODUCT on the market has PSG-levels of accuracy to monitor sleep cycles correctly. So the TRAINER is probably as good as any other in giving an overview of sleep duration and average HR during sleep. If you want the best sleep analysis buy QS EMFIT.

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER Review

ALERTS

The SPARTAN TRAINER does indeed have vibration and audible alerts. I’ve heard louder and felt stronger but they are fine for me and similar to other SPARTANs. These are mostly configurable in a basic fashion.

For example they can be turned on and off variously for button presses; such as when navigating the menus and starting a MOVE/workout.

AUTOLAP can be set by time or distance and the alerts are active on the autolaps. But that’s about it so far…

A target set just before a workout/MOVE is started also appears not to trigger an alert when reached.

Best Triathlon Watch – Budget?

The SPARTAN TRAINER IS a contender for the Best Triathlon Watch (Budget Category). Did it win…

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

Best Running Watch?

Whilst the SPARTAN TRAINER is clearly NOT the overall best running watch on the market, it still IS a contender for a cateogry-based best running watch award. Did it win…

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

 

RESOURCES & SPECIFICATIONS

  • Screen Resolution: 218x218px
  • Size: 46mm x 46mm x 14.9mm/15.7mm (steel bezels are slightly thicker)
  • Weight: 56 g / 1.98oz.
  • GPS Altimeter, Digital compass, Valencell Optical Heart Rate
  • Battery – 10 days standby or officially ‘up to’ 10 hours on best but tested by me when cycling as 8.0-8.5 hrs on Best GPS+oHR  Up to 30 hours with power saving options. 14 days battery life in ‘time mode’
  • Over 80 sports modes + custom modes
  • Waterproofing: 50 m

The Suunto Spartan TRAINER HR manual is available HERE

Detailed specifications: http://www.suunto.com/en-GB/Products/sports-watches/suunto-spartan-trainer-wrist-hr/suunto-spartan-trainer-wrist-hr-steel/ or here.

Some other viewpoints on the TRAINER when first released are given (here)

Suunto Spartan Trainer WHR optical gps sports watch review

BUGS & QUIRKS FOUND IN THE SUUNTO SPARTAN TRAINER REVIEW PROCESS

Sometimes there is a fine line between how things are designed to work and how I think they should work. Either way I class them as a bug or a quirk. Bugs & Quirks are NOT missing features, that’s different.

The bugs and quirks found so far by me seem to be those which will only materially affect a minority of possible users; probably people who would buy a different watch in any case.

  1. In triathlon mode it seems that running sensors do not connect. The workaround seems to be to get the swim mode to look for them and pair them whilst in transition. Pressing ‘START’ when you really do start.
  2. In a triathlon it is not effectively possible to have a bike power meter and a running power meter.
  3. Some sensors that transmit more than one data type can only have one of data type paired and working. eg STRYD transmits power and speed/cadence
  4. In some scenarios where the milestone pod is paired as a footpod, the cadence alternates between the correct value and half the value. Cadence normally comes from the SPARTAN
  5. When starting an exercise there is an approximate 5 second delay
  6. Pairing to my Huawei smartphone devices takes repeated attempts

SUMMARY

It’s a great little watch. I like it.

It’s priced fairly when compared to the notably more expensive Fenix 5/5X – although the Fenix 5’s have more features. It’s real competitors, as a similarly-priced running watch, would be the Polar M430 and Garmin 235 but it has no competitors as a watch designed for triathlon at the same retail price point.

Looking at a similarly sized sports watch you might compare it to the much more expensive Fenix 5S.

It’s a cost-effective, entry-level triathlon watch : aka the cheapest, dedicated tri watch in a new model.

For more RUNNING features at a similar price you’d go for the Polar M430 or Garmin 235.

The SPARTAN TRAINER WHR is, in my opinion, a bit more stylish and a bit more suited as a 247 watch than the Polar or Garmin, especially with the premium case models.

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 a Bluetooth power meter then you may well consider the SPARTAN TRAINER WHR but if you have LOTS of bikes and sensors then the TRAINER will become annoying as you repeatedly switch between sensors on all your bikes.

Suunto SPARTAN TRAINER ReviewIt’s nice enough for swimming. And priced just right for the odd triathlon or two each year

I’m relatively keen at triathlons and I would NOT race competitively with a TRAINER. By the same token I wouldn’t race with a FENIX 5 either. But I REALLY WOULD & DO use the SPARTAN TRAINER 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 for super accuracy rather than rely on ANY vendor’s oHR.

Great for running, good for power-running with STRYD

As of August 2017 the SPARTAN TRAINER WHR still has some niggles and they will probably be obscure enough not to affect you. For example, structured workouts need adding for some people. 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’d make the SAME recommendation of any other optical sports watch.

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 as a running-with-power watch and I like it. Especially the pretty black and silver version!

PRICES & AVAILABILITY

Official RRPs are:

  • Eu/$279 to Eu/$329
  • £219 to £279

There  are some good value BUNDLE deals at NewRunningGear (EU/UK) and availability at different Amazon locales is good and prices there seem to have dropped a little lately.

stryd-suunto-trainer--bundle

Clickable

 

68 thoughts on “Suunto Spartan Trainer Review |Budget Triathlon Watch|Power|OHR

  1. Thank you very much for further testing the GPS accuracy. Based on your observation I’m probably going to replace my 935. Yes, I know that sounds silly at first sight but I only run and the 935’s GPS performs bad vs. my Ambit2 in my region (heavily covered by trees). And I’m not nitpicking, I’m using such devices since the Forerunner 201 (and that one was really bad 😉 ).
    So at the end I rather take less of those new gimmick features and go for accuracy.

    As your observations for the Fenix 5/935 correlate with my observations I go for your real-world testing approach.
    At least they sound more solid than doing one or two runs in Paris and tell people that everything is fine.

    • I don’t go in heavy trees much (my standard route does include lots of trees but not dense woodland)
      I would say that on the occasions when I navigate through dense tree cover that there is a noticeable positive difference with gps+glonass on an edge 820 (whose gps is generally not great)

      basing on real world scenarios has some value esp if you compare to other watches at the same time. I think ‘hazards’ need a bit more consideration by everyone. eg approaching a tunnel straight and going through it straight and coming out and going straight will favour certain algorithms that predict that way. I think garmin’s algorithm does.
      that’s oen reason why I think garmin’s guesses don’t work on a hard part of my standard course where the hazard is a tunnel that is approached at 90 degrees with high buildings. on coming out of the tunnel the GPS pick up position is interesting.

      just saying: the 935 has a lot of nice functions. buy hrm-tri to negate the average ohr; buy stryd to partly negate the average gps…sorted 😉

    • the manual lap button is bottom right, perhaps slightly awkward positioning for some people’s taste but I like it there so that it can be pressed with the right index finger (with the right thumb providing the counter pressure on the other side). yes the button is reasonably responsive.

      There is a slight bit more feedback from a 235’s lap button (also bottom right). polar m430’s lap button is middle right and its button is more recessed and has less feel to it

      The vibration from lapping with all 3 i would say is good enough to let you know you’ve pressed it.

      in terms of avoidning a missed press, I would say the 235 just wins

  2. “As a complement, I would say that MOVESCOUNT is more interesting than Garmin Connect or Polar FLOW.”

    Maybe. But maybe not. ?

    Movescount and Blow are, at least from my point of view (my data is my data; and I’m the master of my data) not very open minded and therefor not user friendly. Garmin at least gives me a broad variety of syncing options. You even can upload data from other devices to you account. Still remember what pain it was go get out several years of training data out of Blow (and former service). In my Movescount (test) account I still can’t upload an existing (e.g. fit or .tcx) file – but pictures. ?

      • Of course, as I’m the tech guy at home, I had to get out the data of my GF too. For her (as a typical 90% user) it was too difficult/laborious. ?

        I hope SUUNTO and POLAR will change their mind/strategy “open up” – eg. ANT+/BLE combo & data sync options. Looking around they both definitely lost customers because of that. And I hope that GARMIN will learn to deliver products with proper software from beginning on – those bugs can be very annoying.

  3. How does this compare to the Nixon Mission(which can be had for a similar price now at Walmart)? Like I get that runs android wear, so it has some advantages of software, but what about in terms of build, gps/hr accuracy, and battery life?

      • It’s an android wear watch designed for surfing, skiing, and diving, but from what I’m told since it’s android wear it can do fitness and running too via apps. I’ve just never used android wear(have an android phone), or any smartwatch really. What’s tempting me to that is the lower price(retail is higher, but amazon, walmart and jet have it for way cheaper, almost half in some cases), but then it’s 48mm vs 46mm here, which the larger maybe an issue when exercising(not sure I’m a newbie)?

        • androidwear should offer fairly similar functionalities across watches.
          However you also need to consider the accuracy of the components and quality of the build. I know of the Nixon but have never looked at it in any detail. The Polar IS the best androidwear device for sport.

          • The Polar is to expensive, why I am looking at Trainer and the Mission. I was also thinking about the Sport(as I can get it open box for about the same price as this). I really just want something for hiking, gym work and day to tracking.

  4. If this and the Sport model cost the same, and I just need a swimming and for walking and hiking, which would suggest? Would these be better than the older Fenix 3(none HR or that Adventure model)? I don’t want to stray over $300.

      • Say I am more indifferent to the HR working for gym work. Guy at my local sports shop said HR is not really needed if I don’t have heart problems(which I don’t) or close to having heart problems.

        • both have gym profiles.
          what do you want to record?
          if it’s calories then they will be derived (guessed) from heart rate. polar likely to be more accurate for calories

          • More of my general actives at the gym, like rope climber machines(which part cardio, part weights), treadmill, stair climber, and general weights. I also like to hike(locally here in Ventura) on the weekends, and when I walk for work. So I might be fine without a barometer, which other Suunto models have.

            Right now deciding between this, the Sport version(without the HR can be had for a little under $300), M600, and I’ve noticed the Fenix 3(non-hr) for the same price. I am worried that the m600 or the Fenix 3 maybe on the large side? I tried the Suunto Traverse in person(would have gotten one, if it wasn’t aimed at hikers and people into fishing); it was comfortable & nice, though a hair large for my wrist. The New Balance RunIQ, also felt nice in hand, but sadly reviews were bad. The store didn’t have the Fenix 3 or Spartan Sport to try. They also showed me the Nixon Mission because it was the only other sport model the store had. Too thick for somthing that lacked HR, and too surf oriented(ironic since i live by great surf, but can’t surf at all).

          • Spartan sport is one of biggest F3 and traverse prob similar.
            there will be sports profiles that cover some of your activities with garmin and suunto Spartan.
            i’d go by looks!! and then figure out exactly what you want ti to record and do.

          • Well I want to record my hikes, my activity through out the day at work, and gym activities like rope climbing. I don’t like how the Polar M600 looks but Im told feature wise it’s versatile, so that has my piqued, prefer the RunIQ, but not stable. So I am now deciding between the Spartan Sport, Trainer and F3 regular. Which, is better for a newbie? Would touch be an advantage here for a newbie? Will the F3 still see updates? All of them can track steps and estimated calories?

    • Is that a good or bad thing? Cause it makes it sound like it wasn’t that good, which is why it was repalced.

      • The MT3333 has Glonass. I guess that was the main reason for the switch.
        I always disable Glonass because whenever I enabled it (920XT, 630, Fenix 5 and now 935) I got the impression that it made things worse. Of course I can’t prove it.

        I believe that the external antenna bump is more of interest than the chipset itself. I mean: My old watches with a SirfStar III can produce quite remarkable results but they also have dedicated antennas (means: watch looks ugly but does a better job at GPS).

        • glonass affecting quality – yes I agree. fellrnr does too. dcr does not. I would say tho that it does seem to help with tree cover and navigating (cycling)
          bump is of interest (tomtom effectively has one) but note it is smaller than the ambit…so things have changed.

  5. I am right now stuck deciding between the Trainer and Sport(non HR) as both are priced similarly. I just want a sports watch for hiking and help me get a little more motivated to walk more, use the stairs more, and track some gym stuff. I think I may like the size of the Trainer better, but the Sport has more features for hiking, and maybe better built? Is there much of a battery difference? Is touch screen an advantage? Which do you think would work better for my needs?

    Or should I spend the extra $20 and go for the larger Garmin Fenix 3(non-HR) that every store I went to was telling is the one I should get. Some reviews say it’s not as accurate in terms of gps, while others say it’s too many features for those getting started and can be buggy. Thank a lot.

    • f3 is not buggy but does have lots of features. it’s big and the gps is not as good as others. the look is ‘rugged’ not classic
      touch screen is not an advantage but you can use buttons for trainer and sport
      sport and f3 are better quality of construction with materials but trainer is well made too

      • Which would you suggest for the beginner just getting into a better training rutuine, but is an farily avid hiker?

          • Enough for 2-4 hour hike, may 5 hours max. If anything I’d probably be doing a 3 hour with gps on and off when in the ocean or falls.

          • pretty much any watch can meet that duration of recording.
            i’m stuggling to say what you should get as you need to provide precise criteria of the functions it needs to have. just saying “what is the best watch for hiking and running and a bit of cycling” is less helpful that for example “must have ohr, must be a small format, must have 10 hours gps recording time for gps”
            as you do not seem to have specific requirements I suspect all the ones you are considering will be fine.

          • Well I am not 100% sure what functions I need/want besides GPS w/ bread crumming(+ distrance traveled), activity tracker, estimated calorie burned, and how many steps I’ve taken+possibly steps take on stairs. Plus, of course the aforementioned battery life.

          • I take the sport has the better battery life and GPS? The sport model I would be looking at is regular model without the wrist HR(the other one is out of my budget) if that makes a difference. (Though with chest HR might be within budget if i go with the blue color, which doesn’t feel femme enough for my taste, but the white color does come under budget.)

            Last question if I am looking at the Sport, would the F3(non-HR) be also worth a look as both are in a similar price range? Just to be safe I will probably wait a week just to see what IFA brings.

          • (answers in brackets)

            I take the sport has the better battery life and GPS? <yes, it’s in the reviews> The sport model I would be looking at is regular model without the wrist HR(the other one is out of my budget) if that makes a difference. (Though with chest HR might be within budget if i go with the blue color, which doesn’t feel femme enough for my taste, but the white color does come under budget.)

            Last question if I am looking at the Sport, would the F3(non-HR) be also worth a look as both are in a similar price range? <yes> Just to be safe I will probably wait a week just to see what IFA brings. <yes but many products will be announced but only available to buy a few months later, so don’t get your hopes up>

          • If you care about accuracy and support longevity, the Fenix 3 is starting to get there in age as it’s older device and been replaced by the much nicer Fenix 5, which is not only faster, but more reliable GPS wise. Just spend the extra 60-70 and get the Ultra, it’s the same size as the F3 last I remember, and more feature rich for hiking outdoors. Sure you don’t get the HR, but that’s not the most important feature of these devices.

          • in my GPS tests the F5 comes out worse than the F3. The F3 has got its bad reputation from when it was in early production models ie before the gps was improved.

            The SPartan SPORT and SPORTAN SPORT WHR are reviewed elsewhere on this site as is the F5X (and entire series including 935) and as is the Fenix 3.

  6. [quote]just saying “what is the best watch for hiking and running and a bit of cycling” is less helpful that for example “must have ohr, must be a small format, must have 10 hours gps recording time for gps”[/quote]
    +1

  7. I’m trying to decide between Spartan Trainer Wrist HR and Spartan Sport Wrist HR. I wil use it 24/7, sports are mainly running and cycling. Otherwise I prefer the looks of Sport but I’m wondering if it is too big for my narrow wrist. I would like to know which one you find more comfortable to wear (especially when running)? I am not competing anymore, so I suppose the accuracy of wrist hr will be good enough for me.

  8. Looking at the screenshots: did you actually see the HR-zone graphs (on the blue version in the screenshot) or the screen where one data and the target circle is highlighted in yellow, with a target circle having a little arrow showing where you are (along the darker shade) (on the black version)? I can’t find where to set these.

    • This is what I’m talking about btw:
      1. your shot of the screens: (I just saved it so that I am able to share it here) https://www.dropbox.com/s/isehbjkubtl3r0t/Suunto_Spartan_Trainer_Screens.jpg?dl=0
      2. I could not find the HR zones screen, but the one with the supposedly yellow target circle with an arrow and one highlighted data field looks in reality like this:
      https://www.dropbox.com/s/31far1o40el49fu/Suunto_Spartan_Trainer-RealScreen.jpg?dl=0

      • those are dummy units and the screen are not real screens. to be fair suunto did ask me to remove the images (and I did remove them from this review). I did mention the dummy units/screens in the post and will clarify further

        • Thank you for the clarification. Do you happen to know whether they are planning to introduce those features? Although there were many considerations behind, part of why I made the purchase quite honestly is that the screen with the highlighted data field and the target gauge looked just great. Much less so in real life. It is fair that they asked you to remove it from the review, but they still keep it on Movescount and on youtube ads tied to the Spartan brand. That’s called misleading customers… (from Suunto side of course) Nonetheless, I’m sure their intentions are good and they are actually bringing this to the watches.

          • ha ha. I didn’t know about the movescount/youtube info. ty
            I don’t know if they plan to introduce the screens
            they were obviously being considered at some fairly advanced stage in the development. so I would say a good chance

  9. I’ve been using the watch a month now and the heart rate is often far to high at the start. I don’t know what’s causing that. Seems like once your hear beat is up or you become a bit sweaty if is better. Are going to turn the watch around to see if it records better on the underside (more blood?).
    Also, I’ve been wondering about the R-R data in movescount. It’s too symmetrical, and the exported *.fit file doesn’t contain any RR data. So I think the optical sensor doesn’t record R-R data in the watch, but it’s some kind of conversion from hearbeats to miliseconds.
    I’m also going to record with a bluetooth cheststrap, maybe will have RR data then? Anyone, knows?

      1. i’m pretty sure it’s not rr data really….even tho it is classed as such. sometimes the data points have to be filled for reason ‘X’ and the by-product is that it then looks like RR
      2. I try hard in all my writing on optical to say buy from someone you can return turn as ohr accuracy is individual-based as well as tech-based. having said that if ‘only’ it is a bit out at the start then you could just turn it on a bit earlier or try wetting your arm (I suspect neither will work)
  10. Nice review. I have owned an Ambit3 Sport with smart sensor chest strap for a couple of years now and despite being very happy with my purchase I have been considering upgrading to a newer model. Do you think the Spartan Trainer or Spartan Sport/Sport WHR/Sport WHR Baro/Ultra are worth the upgrade? I have read that these new colour displays are actually less legible in daylight than the old b&w displays of the Ambit3s, is this really the case? Is it enough of an issue to discourage an upgrade?

    Aslo, I am interested in your thoughts of the value of having an OHRm in terms of daily activity tracking. I always use a chest strap for sport but am curious if there is any true value added in having an OHRm over a watch without (Spartan Sport). Do they track calories more accurately? Is there any real world value in having constant HRM data or just a nice metric?

    Finally, I hike a lot and the GPS altitude data from Suunto has always been pretty good. Even so, I have always wanted a watch with a barometer so as to monitor weather trends. I have read that garmin’s fenix line is a disaster with inaccuarte hardware in units which has pretty much put me off getting an F3HR or F5S. How do you rate the barometer in the recently released Spartan Sport WHR Baro or Ultra? Also is the OHR enough of a plus to make the BARO a better upgrade than the non OHR ULTRA with better battery life?

    • the displays are fine IMO.
      there is virtually no value in constant HR monitoring outside of sport via optical in the scenario you describe
      i tend not to look too much at the altitude stuff. theoretically the FusedAlti of suunto should be good, especially over long durations also with POI recalibration to known altitudes (eg home) that should be good too.

      • Thanks for the feedback. So if it were you… Would you opt for the cheaper no OHR Spartan Sport / Spartan Ultra vairants in favour of better battery life? In place of the OHR equivalents (Sport WHR / WHR Baro)?

          • I agree. The only value I see is maybe the convenience of not needing to put on a strap for morning and evening RHR test. Do you know if the OHR can be completely turned off and then on only when desired? If so I would assume it would bring battery on par with the non OHR units in the line up?

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