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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).
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)
Price - 90%90%
Apparent Accuracy - 85%85%
Build Quality & Design - 90%90%
Feafures, Including App - 85%85%
Openness & Compatability - 85%85%
A solid, mid-tier triathlon watch suitable for beginners and the more serious amongst you. Packed with hiking functionality.
The Suunto Spartan Trainer reviewed here sits very well in the mid-tier of triathlon watches. It has solid capabilities, looks good and is nicely priced for what it is. It’s hard to justify the notable extra cost to move up from the Spartan Trainer to something like a Garmin Fenix 5S Plus. At this price, it only faces competition from the Polar Vantage M and Garmin’s somewhat older 735XT, which will soon be superceded.
It has a few annoying triathlon-related features which stop it being an effective ‘pro’ triathlon watch and these features would be lack of ANT+ support, lack of complex structured workouts and lack of support for L+R bike power meters. There are a few other peripheral triathlon features missing of that nature too which might be added over time through firmware.
Some will have concerns over the accuracy of GPS and oHR but, in reality, such accuracy is the same as found on your friend’s Garmin.
So, for a wannabe ‘pro’ triathlete it won’t do. But most people are not in that category and want a cool, well-functioned watch for the occasional triathlon and for lots of fitness, running and cycling training and the Spartan Trainer is GREAT for all of you. Couple with that the design and colour options available on the Spartan range and you can get just the look you want.
It IS a good triathlon watch and I would say it is a recommendation, albeit with the reservations I lay out above and in the detailed review that follows.
I do like the Spartan Trainer though !
IN 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.
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.
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 😉
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
You get the watch and a charging strap. That’s pretty much it.
It’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
For those of you new to Suunto here’s a quick overview of the ‘ecosystem’; watch, app and online data platform.
USING – The Watch
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);
- 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
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:
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?
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
These options can be easily accessed before you start the sport OR you can press and hold the middle button during the exercise to do the same thing.
Scrolling through the data/navigation/lap pages is quick and smooth whilst exercising.
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’.
The 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).
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
Nope. None of those are available on the watch
It does sync to the Suunto app on your smartphone.
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.
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.
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!
When 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.
I mentioned the phrase on the WRIST before. A company called VALENCELL make what has appeared to be historically the most accurate optical HR sensor. It goes on a band, normally worn on the upper arm in a device called the SCOSCHE RHYTHM+. Reviewed (here). It was SO accurate I spent quite a while figuring out if I had actually really been recording the chest strap on several watches rather than the Scosche on one of the watches. I hadn’t. It’s accurate.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The Greatest Triathlon Watch on a Budget?
The SPARTAN TRAINER IS a contender for the Best Triathlon Watch (Budget Category). Did it win…
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…
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
Some other viewpoints on the TRAINER when first released are given (here)
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. By the time you read this, they have probably all been fixed!
- 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.
- 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
- When starting an exercise there can be an approximate 5-second delay
- Pairing to my Huawei smartphone devices takes repeated attempts
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.
It’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
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