Apple and Fitbit have their own heart rate measuring tech and Garmin has practically “elevated” all their wearables with their in house heart rate measuring tech, pun intended. In order to continue jostling for their share of the GPS Multi Sport watch segment, Suunto needed wrist based heart rate measurements quickly and they found an ally in Valencell. This timely collaboration bore fruit in the form of the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Multi Sport GPS watch. ($499)Both the Suunto Spartan Sport and Spartan Sport Wrist HR have identical features save for wrist based HR measurements. This review will only cover the aesthetics and optical heart rate measurement aspect of the Suunto Sport Wrist HR. To read the full features of the Suunto Spartan Sport watch, you may click here.
LOOK AND FEEL
The Spartan Sport Wrist HR watch performs identically to the Suunto Spartan Sport watch with the exception of optical heart rate inclusion. As a result, there’s a slight bump in the thickness of this wearable.The back of the watch houses the Valencell biometric measurement tech that flashes both green and yellow light; a signature of Valencell’s to ensure accuracy of readings across all skin tones.The watch is slightly thicker than the Spartan Sport but just that tad slimmer (0.2mm) than the Ultra. The design and location of the charging pins are identical.In terms of screen size, both the Spartan Sport and Spartan Sport Wrist HR are identical. So don’t be misled by the reduced “back” of the Spartan Sport Wrist HR.
At just 74g, this watch is considered light by any measure. Yet if you’re looking for the ultra lightweight and slim profile watches, you could shave a further 1/3 off the weight by opting for the Garmin Forerunner 935.
The outdoor grade colour touch display appears solid under bright day light and the watch provides adjustable illumination for visibility under low light conditions.The Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR is touch enabled but I found the 3 physical buttons more than sufficient in accessing the functions. Plus it doesn’t leave finger smudges on the watch and is more responsive. Like the Suunto Spartan Sport, this rendition of Suunto’s multi sport watch feels just that tad laggy and doesn’t have the smooth scrolling associated with most smart watches.
I adore the appearance of this watch and wished it was better endowed in terms of usability.
HEART RATE MEASUREMENT
Valencell’s president Steve LeBoeuf has never been a fan of wrist based HR measurements, preferring the upper arm or the ears. So it was a surprise to see Valencell sell their tech to Suunto to be used on a location which they’ve never been keen on. In the words of Steve Leboeuf two years ago:
“It turns out that the wrist is one of the worst places for accurate PPG monitoring of heart rate because of the much higher optical noise created in that region (muscle, tendon, bone, etc.) and because of the high degree of variability in vascular structure and perfusion across the human race. “
Nevetheless, once you’re backed by Valencell, it’s got to count for something. Perhaps they’ve finally perfected wrist based HR measurement algorithms over the last 2 years. Let’s take a look.Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR’s heart rate recordings were compared against that as tracked by Polar’s H10 which was connected to Polar Beat mobile app.
I’d usually compare the heart rate results over 2 different activities:
- Run on flat terrain or treadmill
- Intervals on elliptical machine or spin bikes
The HR data is extracted from Suunto Movescount and Polar Flow, plotted, and compared thereafter. Here goes!
25 minutes run on treadmill with speed variations
Other than 2 minor spikes at the start of the workout, I thought the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR performed well compared against Polar’s H10. Wearables with optical HR sensors usually perform better after the initial few minutes of warm up.
25 minutes intervals on spin bike
The wrist based heart rate measurement is pretty respectable given that intervals usually highlight the issues with optical HR sensors being unable to keep up with the quick rise and fall of HR. Again, the HR graph normalises after the initial few minutes of warm up.
Besides the mild lag, which is expected when using optical HR sensors, I have no qualms using the Suunto Spartan Wrist HR as a substitute for the chest straps HR monitors.
Valencell’s in house test also showed Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR reaching a respectable level of HR monitoring accuracy. When it comes to optical HR sensors, your mileage may vary and the level of accuracy depends on many factors.
I was also comparing the readings versus a Garmin Fenix 5 and the readings are usually within the same region.
You might have noticed a loss of HR recording from the Polar H10 at a quarter through the HR graph above which goes to show even chest straps can fail you!
12 hours HR graph on watch
By enabling this function, the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR reads your heart rate throughout the day and have it plotted into a 12 hours HR trend right on the watch. There’s also a 10 minutes version right on the watch.This idea is neat and goes beyond what the competitor’s are offering; such as Garmin’s 4 hours HR trend.
The wrist based HR measurements can further estimate VO2 max, EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption) , PTE (Peak Training Effect), and recovery duration as crunched by FirstBeat. These readings will appear post exercise depending on the activity mode. The Suunto Spartan Sport HR can also sync with Suunto’s Smart Sensor or compatible BLE HR monitors such as Polar’s H7 and H10, both of which I’ve tried and succeeded in getting readings. The Suunto Smart Sensor allows HR to be recorded during swimming and synced post workout.
To read the full features of the Suunto Spartan Sport watch series, you may click here.
SUUNTO SPARTAN SPORT WRIST HR IN A NUTSHELL
I genuinely loved the aesthetics of the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR and how light the device is. Beyond that, I’m regularly frustrated at the sheer lack of thought that went into the production of this watch.
Features such as GLONASS and Intervals had to be added as software updates to the original Suunto Spartan Sport HR. The 12 hours HR measurements by the optical HR sensors does not get recorded within the Suunto app nor Suunto’s Movescount web platform.
Personally I think when the company peddles wrist HR monitoring as a key feature, then further throws in a beautifully designed 12 hours HR graph, and after that goes on to completely deprive it it of any forms of records within the mobile app or web platform. Something isn’t quite right.
All day activity tracking stats displays are only available for the last 30 days and no longer. But why? Smart notifications can’t be customised; it’s all or nothing. Alarms to wake up to are restricted to audio beeps only even though the watch is more than capable of vibration alerts. In many ways, I see the Suunto Spartan Sport and now the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR as incomplete watches. What might have been awesome is now merely passable. And when the price is taken into consideration, it’s baffling.
If you look at products in the same price range, Garmin’s Forerunner 935, at just 49 grams versus the 74 grams of Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR, is literally an open challenge to Suunto’s offering. Pricing aside, the Forerunner 935 also features quick fit changeable watch strap, Connect IQ apps and ABC; altimeter, barometer and compass.
If the Suunto Sport Wrist HR had retailed at $249 thereabouts, I’d give it 4/5 rating with the assumption that future software updates will further improve the product. At $499, this watch gets a 2-3/5 from me. It’s good but not value for money in my opinion. Then again there will probably be a niche group of users who respond favorably to Suunto’s platform. The Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR is available in Black, Blue and Sakura at the recommended retail price of $499. The company has released two gorgeous variants, the Forrest and the Copper, to complement the original 3 colours. You can purchase the Suunto Spartan Sport from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Thanks for reading!
If you’re keen to read the full features of the Suunto Spartan Sport watch, you should click here.