Suunto has recently come out with a new entry level GPS watch with optical heart rate. This is the fourth device in the Spartan range since the Ultra was released just over a year ago.
The Finish based company, best known for its range of wearables, dive computers, compasses and precision instruments, is taking its cue from Garmin and its Fenix 5 device. Suunto’s latest addition to its family of sports watches packs in a host of features, but is considerably smaller in size than the older models. It also comes in at a lower price point.
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I’ve been taking this fully featured triathlon and outdoor watch through its paces. Here are my impressions.
Spartan Trainer is a very lightweight device. In fact, coming in at only 56 grams (66 grams for the steel bezel versions) you will hardly notice its sitting on your wrist. The multi-sport watch comes in five distinct designs including a stylish gold and steel with metal bezels for an urban look; and ocean, blue and black with plastic bezels for a sporty, outdoor feel. Here is the full line-up.
I tested the black one (second from the left). Even this sporty version, with its sleek design and customizable watch faces, can easily pass for a normal every-day watch. The well-honed design fits slimmer wrists perfectly.
Suunto’s latest wearable is the direct successor to the Spartan Sport Wrist HR which has been characterized by some as bulky and expensive. Spartan Trainer Wrist HR packs in pretty much the same specs, but in a slimmer form-factor and at a lower price. It has slightly better battery life, too.
On the face of the watch you’ll find a color matrix screen with 218 x 218 pixel resolution. The resolution has seen a drop in quality compared to other Spartan watches, but the lower pixel count is partly due to the slightly smaller screen area. Nevertheless, the display is very crisp, and clearly visible both indoors and out. It is also very customizable so you can for example switch between black and white backgrounds during exercise.
This is not a touchscreen device. Instead, you’ll find five physical buttons with which to navigate. It takes a bit of practice to learn all the functions, but once that’s out of the way it becomes second nature.
With 80 sport modes pre-installed Spartan Trainer is ready for nearly any activity. Due to its water resistance down to 50 metres, swimming is also on this list. There is customizable interval training and you can use it as a triathlon watch, too.
Spartan Trainer utilizes both GPS and GLONASS to measure speed, pace, distance and altitude. Inside you’ll also find an accelerometer, altimeter but no digital compass. The devices uses heart rate technology by Valencell, the same that can be found in some of the predecessor models. You can find the LEDs on the underside of the watch, and they will shine light on the skin at quick intervals to detect your heart rate.
The lithium-ion battery life is pretty decent. Spartan Trainer will keep going for up to two weeks when used as a day-to-day timepiece, which means you can pretty much forget about recharging and just top it up from time to time. In training mode, this comes down to 10 hours, which can be stretched to 30 hours with power saving options switched on. This is plenty of training time and compares favorably with the competition.
In terms of 24/7 activity tracking, the watch covers the usual. This includes keeping tabs on your daily steps, calories and sleep and monitoring your daily resting heart rate. This is all sounds pretty familiar.
The version I tested was a pre-launch edition so sleep tracking had not yet been finalized in the app. The watch itself did, however, dish out figures in the morning on duration and average heart rate during sleep. All in all, the 24/7 fitness tracking overview in the app is fairly basic but Suunto has reassured us it is upgrading this functionality in the near future via software updates.
There are also alerts for incoming calls, text and calendar notifications. You can even add third party notifications such as Facebook and Twitter and it all works seamlessly. The device really comes into its own, though, when it comes to tracking your sports.
Right out of the box, you need to set the watch up. This is done by waking up the device, going through the setup wizard, selecting the language, and following the questions to complete initial settings. Then charge the watch with the proprietary USB cable until the battery is full.
To get total benefit, you need to create an account in Suunto Movescount and download the Suunto Movescount app. This will allow you to view your data in one of three ways: on the watch, on the smartphone app and on the website dashboard.
The Suunto Movescount.com website offers the most detail and allows you to discover new training locations, create routes to navigate and share your activities. The heatmaps, which are available on the app and website portal, are a really great feature.
You can zoom in on your location, filter by sport and view the most popular routes. You can also plan your training sessions and sync plans and routes to your device.
The watch itself shows a number of screens including a customizable time display, activity, training and recovery. There are also other areas such as settings, stopwatch, navigation, exercise and more.
You navigate through the individual screens by pressing the physical buttons. The upper right botton is used to move up in views and menus, the middle right to select an item or view alternate information, the lower right to move down in views and menus, the upper left to activate the backlight or view alternate information, and the lower left to go back.
As its name implies, Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR dishes out optical heart rate measurements from the wrist. The watch uses Valencell developed technology for these measurements. Valencell customers include consumer electronics and wearables companies from all over the world. Its technology is featured in products such as Scosche Rhythm +, Jabra Elite Sport, Bose SoundSport Pulse, Atlas Wristband and many more.
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For example, Scoche Rhythm+, which relies on Valencell technology, is one of our recommended heart rate monitors, with accuracy comparable to chest straps even though its worn on your upper or lower arm. Nevertheless, for high intensity training and exercising at peak heart rate levels you may still want to opt for a chest strap. The accuracy of wrist based heart rate measurements is getting closer, but it is still not on par with chest straps.
I tested the watch on a number of run and swim sessions. It was no trouble at all transitioning from my Garmin Vivoactive HR to wearing the Suunto.
To record an exercise press the upper right button to open the launcher. Press the middle button to select exercise, and scroll through and select a sport mode. During the recording you can change the display with the middle button.
The right upper button is used to pause an activity. Stop and save with the right lower button or continue with the right upper button. All in all its not too difficult to learn how to navigate the screens and most of it is intuitive. There are sport-specific displays with fancy charts and relevant, real-time information, all customizable. Navigation mode lets you follow a pre-loaded route.
In run mode the watch will let you know when you have completed a mile (or kilometer depending on settings), audibly and via a vibration. This is a great feature which serves as a reminder to quickly glance and check on your stats to see how well you are performing.
When you’re done with your workout, you’ll have the option to rate how you felt, ranging from excellent to poor. Presumably, the watch uses this to adjust your recovery times. All data is then stored on the watch and will sit there until you sync your device.
The app will go into quite a bit of detail on your run. I actually found that the information is more clearly laid out than on the Garmin Connect app. It is also more comprehensive. You can, for example, chart your pace, speed, heart rate, altitude and EPOC. The website dashboard will also allow you to chart VO2Max, Energy Consumption, Vertical speed and R-R.
For comparison purposed I strapped on my Scoche Rhythm+. The data was not all too different. For the above run, Spartan Trainer measured an average heart rate of 157 compared to 154 on the Scoche Rhythm+ arm band. I did find that I needed to tighten the device around my wrist before heading out to ensure accuracy. But this is to be expected. Also, some of the values were a bit higher than on the arm band.
GPS data was also pretty good. Living in London you would think the GPS signal is strong, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Because its such an urban area you do get drops in the signal due to interference, and the accuracy can vary. However, the GPS on the Scoche Rhythm performed no better or worse than my Garmin Vivoactive HR. In fact, I found it to be slightly more stable and consistent in its readings.
I also did a few swim sessions. Interestingly, the watch will keeps tabs on your ticker while you’re in the pool, although Suunto does give a health warning on the data: “The optical sensor may not provide accurate heart rate readings for swimming activities”.
In addition to heart rate, you can also chart your EPOC, stroke rate, swim pace and SWOLF in the app, along with VO2Max, Energy Consumption, Vertical speed and R-R in the website portal. The watch display was clearly visible in the pool despite the wet conditions, and I was able to navigate the screens and stop and start activity without any problems.
All in all, I found the watch performed very well and had a really great feel. Being a Garmin fan, it was surprisingly easy to transition to Suunto’s tracker. Its worth pointing out once again, the version I tested was a pre-launch edition. Further software functionality will be added in the coming weeks and months, and bugs and quirks (which I didn’t really find), will be ironed out.
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is not your average fitness tracker. For those that are looking to see how many steps, calories or floors you can log in a day, there are other options out there that are significantly cheaper.
If you’re considering a watch like this, its most likely you are serious about your sports and fitness. And its with sports tracking that Spartan Trainer really comes into its own. The watch has a multitude of sport profiles, built-in GPS, one of the best optical heart rate sensors around, altitude measurement, breadcrumbs to ensure you don’t get lost and many, many other features. And all this in a new slimmer design.
The direct competitors to this watch are probably the Polar M430 and Garmin 235 running watches. But Suunto’s latest tracker comes with more features and at a similar price-point. As a multi-sport watch that can also be used as a triathlon watch, its undercuts the competition in terms of price by a significant margin.
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
Suunto has come out with a really solid product that provides excellent value for money. If you are serious about sports and are looking for a fully featured multi-sport watch, this is definitely an option worth considering.
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