I had high expectations of the Suunto Spartan Trainer ($279). After all, surely Suunto would have gotten it right on the 4th try? (There’s the Spartan Ultra, Spartan Sport, Sport Wrist HR and now the Spartan Trainer)
I was intrigued by the reduced bezel size of the Spartan Trainer since most Suunto Spartan series watches made your wrist and fist appear kid-like due to the sheer size of the display. The Valencell optical HR sensor was another plus for me so naturally I pulled the trigger on the Spartan Trainer when the opportunity arose. I’ve used the watch for months now here’s what I have to say about Suunto’s latest offering.
The full technical summary is at the bottom of the article.
Suunto Spartan Trainer look and feel
The Spartan Trainer is the smallest in the entire series of the Spartan series and is also one of the more sensibly priced upon initial release. Due to its size, it should fit most people with smaller wrists pretty well.
Since I own both the black and the sandstone version of the Spartan Trainer, I’ll just post pictures of both.
This is also the first Suunto Spartan watch to feature 5 physical buttons and dropping the touch displays altogether. Good move on Suunto’s part.
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 display is visible under bright daylight and a back-light provides adequate illumination for visibility in the night.
The watch strap is changeable and it’ll require a screwdrivers and some elbow grease. Also, the GPS antenna protrudes starkly from the watch. While the respective colour schemes masks the GPS module somewhat, changing the watch strap to a different colour will make the GPS module more conspicuous than necessary.
Charging is via an alligator cable which ends with an USB plug and the watch lasts up to a week with daily short training in my experience.
There are various means of syncing tracked stats; via Suunto Movescount, Suunto Link or Suunto app platform
The watch is water resistant to 50m and suitable for swim based activities such as pool swims and open water swims.
All day stats
Suunto has come a long way since the Suunto Spartan Ultra and Sport watches when the all day activity tracking aspect was relegated to a complementary function rather than core one. The Spartan Trainer has received an improved, albeit still small, activity tracking segment that records a users steps, calories and sleep.
Step count is pretty straight forward so I shan’t go into details. What you get is the step count for the day and the week.
Suunto has also implemented a novel feature which informs the users when the step count for the day is met. A display then pops up showing the step count progress for the day. It’s a nice touch.
At the end of every week at around Sunday 6pm, a step count summary will appear on the watch.
Sleep was a feature that was added just a month back and I give Suunto credit for good implementation. The duration of tracked sleep was spot on. What I particularly like is the tiny summary in the morning displaying the duration of sleep, the resting HR and how much I’m off from my sleep goals.
All that being said, it’s also frustrating that the resting HR and sleep data are nowhere to be found on the Suunto Movescount mobile app nor the Movescount web platform.
What Suunto is offering is another independent mobile app called…Suunto app. This mobile app captures sleep duration along with resting heart rate during sleep.
As with all optical HR tech on the Suunto Spartan series, the Spartan Trainer is another collaboration between Suunto and Valencell. Apple has stormed ahead with their own HR measurement tech while Fitbit boasts of their PurePulse, and Garmin counters with their Elevate tech. With no in house optical HR innovation, Suunto's Spartan Trainer is a much needed partnership between both Valencell and Suunto.
The wrist based HR readings were compared versus the readings as recorded by a Polar H10 chest strap HR monitor.
I’d usually compare the HR results over 2 different activities which I believe pretty much covers the main forms of workouts most users would engage in.
- Run on flat terrain or treadmill
- Intervals on elliptical machine or spin bikes
- Strength training
The HR data is extracted from Suunto Movecounts or Polar Flow (or Garmin Connect when I pair the Polar H10 with a Fenix 5) and thereafter compared. Here goes!
Absolutely no complains here. At every point from start to end, the Suunto Spartan Trainer was within range of the Polar H10 chest strap HR monitor for a consistent paced outdoor run.
This is where things got a little more interesting. Suunto Spartan Trainer was tracking a bit wildly in the first 5-7 minutes which I'd attribute to lack of warm up. Once that period was over, the HR captured by the Spartan Trainer stabilised and kept up to mark with the Polar H10 chest strap HR monitor. There's also a minor hiccup of HR readings towards the end which I can stomach.
So far so good.
Lastly, because the optical HR sensors are enabled for swim tracking, I decided to give it a shot and compared it versus a Polar H10. There are challenges to tracking HR from the skin surface during swimming and the results concur. This is a 1km regular paced swim in a 20m pool.
Suunto did state that the optical HR sensors will be tapped on in the absence of a chest strap HR sensor such as their own Suunto Smart Sensor. If you're genuinely interested in tracking your HR during swims, I'd say skip wrist based HR for the moment.
Suunto has enabled all day HR measurements (12 hours) and a current HR measurement display. There used to be a 10 minutes graph but that has since been removed with firmware updates.
As for the 12 hours HR measurements, dropped signals seems to be the norm as my graph was regularly peppered with empty spaces. What you're seeing above is the exception rather than the norm.
I like the GPS acquisition speed and accuracy. The Suunto Spartan Trainer ships without GLONASS and that's quite fine given GPS acquisition speed is regularly fast.
The accuracy of GPS tracked distance was compared over a 5km run completed on a 400m running track. This is merely a single occurence and should be used as a rough reference at best.
Actual distance ran: 5000m
Suunto Spartan Trainer recorded distance: 5060m.
I've also used the Suunto Spartan Trainer on outdoor routes I'm familiar with and the distance recorded is usually within the 5% range of actual distance.
It's here that the first incidence of poor user interface surfaced. Once GPS signal is locked, the white coloured GPS arrow turning a pale green silently. A little consideration on the haptic feedback department would have been much appreciated really.
At present, you'd have to spend upwards of $300 USD to get a dedicated triathlon watch that captures transition timings, even more so for something that syncs with a Stryd power meter. The Forerunner 735XT and the newest Forerunner 935 are both decent triathlon enabled watches and both cost upwards of $350USD
Suunto's Spartan Trainer on the other hand retails at an attractive $279-$329, with a dedicated on board triathlon recording app.
During triathlon recording mode, a long press of the top right hand button starts the transition phase while a short press either starts the next event or stops recording.
I don't do triathlon but I'd figure the real potential of the Suunto Spartan Trainer is when the open water swim tracking capability is factored in.
If you would like to combined multiple sports into a single workout, it's also possible. Simply long press the top right hand button and it would go into "Multi-Sport" mode. This does not require creating the workout beforehand, simply press the top right hand button and scroll to the sport profile you would like to jump into and viola!
This is similar to Apple's multi-sport mode where no pre-creation is required. This isn't the case with Garmin's multi-sport modes where tinkering of the sports apps beforehand is required at present.
As with all sports profiles on the Suunto Sport Trainer, a short press of the top right button brings up the option to end the workout.
Compatibility with 3rd party devices such as the Polar H10 heart rate monitor and the Stryd running meter is seamless.
The connected 3rd part devices will then show up on display where possible. Take for example the Stryd running meter, Suunto has put in place a dedicated running mode with power as the focus so the power output is nicely displayed on the Suunto Spartan Trainer during runs.
The only issues I face is that the connected devices are displayed without device names. Also you can only pair a HR sensor, bike pod, power pod, and foot pod and that's it. I'm comparing versus Garmin's devices where one can connect Varia lights, tempe sensors, VIRB cameras and more.
Nevertheless, one should get the essential compatibility with the Suunto Spartan Trainer if bells and whistles doesn't bother you.
There are 3 swimming modes; pool swim, pool swim (without HR) and open water swimming. In pool swim, the Suunto Spartan Trainer can track a user's speed, pace, distance, SWOLF, stroke type, stroke rate per minute and allows customisation of pool length as well.
The optical HR sensor can be activated during swimming and I have my concerns with regard to the accuracy as shown in the HR accuracy segment at the start of this review.
Suunto does have a smart sensor chest strap HR monitor which can store your heart rate data during swims and transfers it wirelessly to your Suunto Spartan Trainer.
The Suunto Movescount app is a mere fraction of what the web platform can accomplish and I regularly found myself logging into the web platform to check out more details or customise settings. The syncing, connection and updating of workouts and transfer of data has undergone a huge improvement over the last few months; it's finally on par with the competition.
The Movescount web platform is rich with information and allows tweaking of sports profiles, displays tracked workout in detail including plotting multiple tracked stats on a single graph.
It's also in the Movescount web platform that one can select training plans and create routes for uploading to the watch.
Besides creating Suunto movie, I hardly found the need to use the mobile app since the tracked stats are already on the watch.
In July of 2018, Suunto further released a Suunto app that was designed to connect to the Spartan family of devices, along with Suunto Fitness 3 and the Suunto 9 G1 Baro. This essentially creates a fracture in the app platform for Suunto since the apps don't sync with one another.
The latest Suunto app syncs with Apple Health but there are issues on that front as well. In my case, my step count wasn't syncing properly with Apple Health and Suunto Support has acknowledged that it is a known problem and Suunto is working on it.
Things to note
The Suunto Spartan Trainer has an all-or-nothing smart notification model which I frown upon. You either receive all notifications including phone calls or you receive nothing. There are no means for customisation. I'm not a picky customer and I'm sure many others like me would've preferred a "calls only" mode.
Lag in scrolling
There's an obvious lag selecting, starting and exiting workouts. It's not a big deal but definitely noticeable in this day and age when scrolling and tapping on our mobile devices warrants a near instant response.
There's also a very pronounced delay when commencing workout recording. This could mean a big deal for those gunning for personal best timings. The lag previously ranged from 2-3 seconds but this has improved with subsequent firmware updates.
According to Suunto, there are more than 80 sports profiles you can choose from and customise. The watch does not have altimeter nor barometer so you're heavily dependent on GPS-based altitude.
I reside in Singapore and was pleasantly surprised when told by the nice shop attendant that Suunto will arrange a pick up service for the watch in the event a repair is required. Thereafter the watch would be shipped to Finland for repair and returned to me in 2 weeks. I'm genuinely impressed by the level of service for a watch that costs roughly $279. This is a first for me having used and reviewed fitness wearables for close to 4 years now. And the warranty covers 2 entire years!
Estimated VO2 max
The estimated VO2 max based on the optical HR sensor readings are erratic, jumping from 39 to 55, then 60 before dropping to 35 and then my last working gave me 39 ml/kg/min. All these happened over a span of 2 weeks.
I'm definitely not a 35 or 39 based on beep tests I've done nor am I remotely close to 60 really. Matter of fact, I can't quite make sense of the readings.
I understand that Suunto and Firstbeat have worked together on multiple devices previously but the Suunto Spartan Trainer isn't one of them.
Stopwatch and timer
There's a dedicated stopwatch and customisable timer function.
The watch allows one to set POIs, find locations and create routes in Suunto Movescount for uploading to the watch.
It is possible to easily create intervals on the fly in certain sports profiles to work out to. In order to do so, one would have to access the specific sports profile such as treadmill running, thereafter create intervals by scrolling down and accessing the settings.
Long pressing the right middle button brings the user to a shortcut menu where one can quickly access these modes:
- Do not disturb
- Set alarm
- Change watch face
- Go to settings
Suunto Spartan Trainer in a nutshell
I like the GPS acquisition speed, the native multi sport mode, the sleep tracking, Stryd power meter compatibility, dedicated triathlon recording functions plus the detailed Suunto Movescount web platform. This watch would do great for someone who's attained a level of seriousness about training or intend to. The Suunto Spartan Trainer has improved by leaps and bounds over its predecessors in terms of stable mobile syncing experience, enhancement in all day activity tracking and a more sensible pricing strategy.
Yet like most of the Suunto Spartan watches I've reviewed, the wearables tend to perform less impressively when it comes to all day activity tracking and the finer points of a complete GPS activity tracking multi sport watch.
Bearing in mind a recreational athlete wannabe trains 1-2 hours max at best daily. So the other 22-23 hours in a day should warrant enough attention when it comes to all day activity tracking no?
It's great Suunto has upped their game by including sleep tracking which was pretty well done I must add. I particularly like how Suunto has added resting HR measurements along with sleep duration right on the watch. The sleep data is recorded in the Suunto mobile app but not the Suunto Movescount app.
Smart notifications appear on the watch along with incoming calls. Yet there are no options to toggle whether the user would like app notifications OR incoming calls. It's an all or nothing deal. Why?
The vibration level is pretty soft and could seriously use some beefing up. Nevertheless, it's not my main gripe. I'm just curious why the alarm can't be set to vibration only; the default is a jarring audio beep along with vibration. Again, I ask why?
Backlight doesn't come on automatically but requires manual activation when required OR manually turned on throughout. Wrist flick activated back light is not available at present; sad but true. This is not rocket science but something I've seen even on my Casio G shock from 10 years back. So why again?
Granted the Suunto Spartan Trainer is one of the most economically priced multi-sport watch you can get at present and it's backed by a reputable optical HR sensor technology, I personally found it hard to stomach the shortcomings of this wearable simply because I view all day activity tracking as of equal importance versus sports workout recording.
A capable GPS multi sport watch should be able to perform on all fronts and the Suunto Spartan Trainer performed splendidly on the training front but fell short in the all day activity tracking aspect. Put simply, what could have been stellar is now merely good.
You can purchase the Suunto Spartan Trainer 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.
If you reside in Singapore there are plenty of outlets peddling Suunto's latest offering though my personal favourite is Morning Star at Queensway shopping centre which coincidentally is where I purchased this wearable. I don't get commission from them but I'd gladly give a shoutout to a vendor with good service. Would love to hear your views in the comments section and thanks for reading!