Has a year of further firmware development and new hardware in the form of optical heart rate monitoring made the Suunto Spartan into the watch we had always dreamt of, or it all spec sheet and no substance?
Suunto Spartan HR – Can Optical HRM save the Spartan?
When the Suunto Spartan was released in 2016, I was, I think it is fair to say… disappointed when I did my review of the Suunto Spartan Ultra. It wasn’t so much that the watch was bad, but that there were so many features that felt like there were included to fill out a sec sheet, and either were not well implemented, or just did add much to the package. Over the last year Suunto has been tweaking and polishing the firmware, and regularly adding features – like an alarm function, (the fact the unit did ship with this in 2016 still leaves me astonished!) or GLONASS support
In a counter to that early astonishment, there have been some major league updates pushed out via firmware. So what have been the headline software updates?
- Alarm clock
- Full notification reading
- Power save options (important but not really thrilling
- Answer calls from watch
- Selecting new sports from the watch – LOVE THIS
- Triathlon Sport mode (again should have been a launch feature)
- Running cadence
- Stryd integration for trail running
- GPS refinements
- GLONASS update bringing Spartan to “best in class.”
- POI in navigation
- Power meter calibration and crank length settings
- “General bug fixes and optimisations” – always on the greatest hits for firmware
To cap things off Suunto has taken the Suunto Sport, and slapped an optical HRM sensor on the back, but you’d probably already guess that from the name!
I think it is an interesting decision from Suunto to launch the optical HRM on the Spartan Sport, although this is likely related the fact that there will have been less engineering work compared to putting an HRM the Ultra. That said, there appear to be some changes beyond just the HRM, as the Suunto Sport 10 day battery life has remained unchanged. I wonder if the slightly larger battery in the Ultra (15days use vs. 10 for the sport) has migrated down into this new unit, as the Sport is now also fractionally thicker?
So with that in mind, let’s take a look around the new Suunto Spartan Sport HR.
Suunto Spartan HR Device Design
The Suunto Spartan Sport HR follows the design theme of the other Suunto Spartan watch, black and devoid of unnecessary ornamentation – I like it
Inside the box, we have a couple of manuals, the actual Suunto Spartan Sport, and charge cable – nothing really mind blowing
From the front, the Suunto Spartan Sport HR looks similar to it’s HRM devoid siblings. Same case and three buttons on the side, but the HRM units are differentiated by the black bezel. The middle button works as a “select” option, and the two outside buttons are mainly working as menu navigation. Due to the software, all buttons can be contextual, with the function being indicated on the screen at the time if different from normal.
From the watch face screen, the down button goes through your daily metrics, whilst the top button, take you through to the “modes”;
Exercises, navigation, logbook and stopwatch. Curiously no immediately obvious heart rate widget (it is hidden in the daily metrics)
It should also be noted that the grill present on the side of the Suunto Spartan Ultra is absent here, as the Suunto Spartan Sport HR Altimeter is not based on a barometer
The Suunto Spartan Sport HR is available in three strap colours, Blue, Black, and Pink, but all with the same black bezel
Personally I think the blue looks the best here. However the black is probably better for work, plus, Suunto also does two special editions, if you want something a little less jazzy than blue or white, but still suitable for work
It is a shame that there isn’t a bare metal bezel option as there is with the standard Suunto Spartan Sport. I’m just not a fan of gold/copper cost upgrades and painted metal scratches, and then the world ends! I have already managed to get a small scratch to the black paint in the first month (Clearly the most EPIC of first world problems!)
The Fenix line of watches has managed to narrow the gap regarding style for an everyday watch, but I think the Suunto Spartan HR still has the edge when it comes to pure looks, even thought the Suunto is actually the larger watch
But is it the underside of the Suunto Spartan Sport HR where the big changes have been made with the inclusion of the Valencell three LED optical HRM
Some optical HRM units can be, if not to say uncomfortable, then slightly intrusive when you wear them. I’m thinking about the original Fenix 3 HRM when I say that. The Suunto Spartan Sport HR sits quite pleasantly on your wrist; I haven’t felt troubled by using it at any point.
While it is possible to change the straps on the Suunto Spartan Sport HR, it is more of a technical point, as the straps uses the old school style pins, rather than a quick release fitting
On the back, we’ve also got four charging dots, along with two lines for the magnets of the USB charger to fix onto.
The magnets on the back are quite strong, and attaches to the back of the Suunto Spartan Sport HR quite a surprising *snap*
I’m really quite a fan of this almost flush approach to charging, by comparison to the Polar and the Garmin slightly recessed points which can be a bit grubby over time
The Suunto Spartan range continues to use a soft coating to the straps, which does wear over time. Garmin also use a similar material, and it seems that any optical HR device will leave you eventually with shiny patches on wear points – forming on the Suunto strap and buckle in the first week or so
Using the Suunto Spartan HR
Setting up the Suunto Spartan Sport HR
When you switch on the Suunto Spartan for the first time, you go through all the usual set up procedures, language, body stats, etc.
When the original Spartan released it was I was not a fan of the touch screen I didn’t feel that it added anything to the device, other than a way to smudge up the screen. I’m sorry to say that this remains the case in all but when used for optical HRM – which will come to. Although credit where it is due, the screen is now more responsive but frequently the screen, and the watch generally, just seem sluggish. I don’t overshoot on a menu as often, but apart from the “back” function, the buttons do everything better – although still with a fractional delay. If you want to see how to do a touch screen, sports watch, then the Polar M600 is the benchmark, the Suunto Spartan Sport HR… is not.
Still, once you have played around with things, inputted your data into the watch, it’s time to install the MountsCount App either from iTunes or Google Play – which will allow you to do all the tasty firmware upgrading
With the launch of the Suunto Spartan Sport HR, Suunto have increased the functionality of the MovesCount app and software, specifically with regard to monitoring your general movements, rather than your specific exercise activities. The core monitoring of the Movescount site is split into three panes at the top, Totals, Activity (read step) tracking, and Heart Rate Zones
You get the same three panes on the app, but with the addition of a “Feelings” panel
The theory being that at the end of workout or activity, you select on the touch screen, or with the keys, how you felt by picking the right emoj. I’d be intertested to know what analysis peole draw from this over time
The a good feature of the MovesCount app, is that it clearly allows you to view the list of >80 different activities, and load them directly on the watch
The same can also be achieved from slightly owel-esq the “Other Activity” at the bottom of the exercise menu on the watch itself, but during initial setup, it is much easier on the app, but great to know it can be done on the fly
When clicking on “Other”, the Suunto Spartan Sport HR loads an additional menu which allows you access to any of the “other” activities stored on the watch – I think Suunto has covered just about any sport you can think of… cheerleading anyone? Which suggests that rather than loading them from the app, the activities are on the internal storage and merely need to be revealed.
It is frankly a good thing that you can make the Exercise changes on the watch directly, as I frequently found that the watch wouldn’t sync to the phone app, and I would have to go through the pairing process, occasionally multiple times to get the watch to sync up.
Suunto Spartan HR Smart Watch Features
Connecting the app also allows the Suunto Spartan Sport HR to receive smart notifications, and scroll through longer messages
As mentioned earlier, you can also answer or dismiss a call from the Suunto Spartan Sport HR
But just like the smart notifications for a text message, once you have seen the message or the missed call. That’s it. The notification disappears after about 20 secs or so, not to be seen again.
There is no obvious, or easily accessible menu or widget to view past notifications. I genuinely hate to sound hypercritical, but this is an example of Suunto implementing a feature which feels like it is there for the spec sheet. The smart notifications loose a lot of utility if you can’t review them when YOU want to.
Speaking of for the spec sheet features…
Suunto Spartan HR Specification
- Screen Resolution: 320 x 300
- Size: 50mm x 50mm x 13.8mm
- Weight: 70 g
- Communication: BlueTooth
- Altimeter, Digital compass, Optical Heart Rate
- Battery – 10 days standby or 8 hrs GPS activity – I find I’d get about 5-7 assuming 3-4 hour work of outs in the week
- Waterproofing: 100 m (according to ISO 6425)
- Activities: >80
- Standard features:
- GPS, GLONASS, Touch screen
Suunto Spartan Sport HR Manual
The Suunto Spartan Sport HR manual is available HERE
Suunto Spartan HR Activity Tracking
With the Suunto Spartan Sport HR, you now get activity tracking in terms of steps, and calories on the watch.
Visible from a widget that you access by pressing the down button on the watch
You can press the middle button to swap between steps and calories burned
The three dots indicate that there is an additional menu if you swipe sideways with the touch screen (with a slight loading delay) giving you steps for the week, along with averages
If you swipe again you’ll come to the instant heart rate monitor graphs
Suunto Spartan 24×7 Heart rate monitor
Well it’s here. The Suunto Spartan Sport HR has 24×7 Heart rate monitoring, is off by default, so you have to enable it by long pressing the middle button on the steps page.
What the 24×7 heart rate data is NOT is easily glanceable. The watch calculates your heart rate every time you request it for instant heart rate. So such expect brief delays before you get the data.
You can display the heart rate in two ways, instantaneous, where the Suunto Spartan Sport HR draws a live graph for you
Please note I say draws, not refreshes, or starts to replace an existing graph, but draws a fresh graph, from scratch, even if you just accidentally swiped away. Every. Time. With the same delay nearly
The tapping the screen will give you your average HR over the last 12hrs, with samples every 10 mins, so equating to resting HR
Thankfully there is no major delay in the 12hr data coming up, well no more than the delay you’ll get used to with the Suunto Spartan Sport HR menus
In fact, I got so grumpy about the delay with the optical HRM data populating when trying to take pictures, I actually timed it! I found it takes between 8 and 23 secs in order to find your heart rate, normally coming in closer to the 20 second mark
Oh, and this 24×7 HR data is currently not recorded on the watch or the app. It is written over on the watch every 12hrs. So no long term rest HR monitoring here until Suunto can update the firmware. Do you see what I mean about features for the spec sheet, and not the user?
Oh and to finish off this little section of activity tracking, you are not going to get any sleep data from the Suunto Spartan Sport HR, nor estimations on distance based on your step count.
Suunto Spartan HR Watch Faces
The Suunto Spartan Sport HR has a user choice of six watch face options, however, the movements on the different watches are fixed
I ended up using the above face, simply for the extra data of the steps. It is worth noting, unlike on several other devices, there is no option to have your heart rate displayed on the watch face. Personally I don’t mind not seeing my HR on the screen, nor frankly get a major benefit from being able to glance at my instant heart rate. But many features on the Suunto Spartan Sport HR feel like “me too” features, but then missing out some seemingly obvious front facing features is odd
You can quickly change your watch faces by long pressing the central button on the main watch face, and also brings up a short cut to allow you to get to the settings.
Suunto Spartan HR Accuracy
When I reviewed the original Suunto Spartan Ultra, the unit seemed a little generous when it came to step tracking compared to the Fitbit Blaze and Fenix 3
Unsurprisingly given that both versions of the watch use essentially the same firmware, that generosity has continued.
Although the really surprising point might be how little my daily steps have changed over nearly one year… that is a little disturbing!
Suunto Spartan HR Running
Thankfully the core activities on the Suunto Spartan Sport HR do work well. One is running and the GPS. There is no waiting around, you get a satellite lock within a few seconds.
The Suunto Spartan Sport HR now can display cadence whilst running, which I find particularly useful. You adjust any of the custom fields each activity on the MovesCount app, but you can’t do that on the watch when you out on an activity.
We also have running with power baked right into the Suunto Spartan Sport HR right from the get go.
I’ll be honestly I really prefer having the powered running built right into the watch, and no need to sideload apps etc
You can set up to display lap averages, and view as you go along
At the end of the run, you get the break down displayed on the device
You can easily scroll through this data on the watch screen,
Or have it all displayed in a very easily accessible manner from the MovesCount website for you to dig into. But if you look closely most of the metrics are do to with your activity, on the route, you get no running dynamics information
But going back to the running with power. You have to select a particular exercise “Running with power” you can’t merely attach the Stryd pod to the running exercise, different sensors, need different apps, which is a rather unusual way of dealing with things. The same is also true of cycling with power meters, which also needs different exercise app compared to cycling without a power meter
So in terms going for a run, how does the new optical HR fair when going for a run?
As you can see, the optical HRM is a little bit over eager at the start of the run, a dip down as I stop for pictures, then the Suunto tracks well with both the Garmin Fenix 5 (which on this run seemed to have the optical HRM working) and the 4iiii chest strap. Both optical units hold within about 5 beats of the chest strap until about 20mins in when both optical systems start to over trend
One aspect that has made writing this review more difficulty, especially looking at the optical HRM tracking, is that frequently the data, for want of a better word, corrupts, with random zeros into the file from movescount. Unfortunately, there is no way to know that this is going to happen whilst you are doing an activity, and appears wasted when this has happened
This does appear to happen infrequently, and give that the MovesCount still displays all the graphs nicely it is likely an issue with the site, rather than the recording on the Suunto Spartan Sport HR itself.
Suunto Spartan HR Swimming
Swimming is one area that Suunto has managed to bring something unique to the table – functioning optical HRM in the pool! From the MovesCount site you can view the different fields on the swimming apps, but crucially you cannot adjust these fields
I’m making an assumption here, perhaps one reason for the locking of the fields os the Suunto don’t want people attempting to enable instant optical HR, instead keeping to average heart rates, which may be more accurate for the activity of swimming when dealing with an optical HRM
When do go for a swim, you need to initially sselectyour pool length – either from the default 25m, 50m, and 25 yard and 50-yard pools, or custom pool size from 15 m all the way to 330m!!!
Then you do the whole splish splash thing
I would advise in the Movescount app, toggling the screen power save OFF for swiming. The Suunto Spartan Sport HR doesnt activate at a glance, and it is much easier to use in this activity with the light permanently on
You can review your swim on the watch after, but get a much better overview from MovesCount
As an interesting aside, the watch is able to detect your swimming style, which is a nice feature…if it wasnt for the fact it also thought I was apparently just bobbing around for 10 mins during my swim!
Suunto Spartan HR Cycling
One issue that comes to the fore with cycling is sensor pairing. Now most people with have one heart rate monitor, and if they are lucky one foot power pod. But it is not unusual to have more than one bike. Similarly, in the Zwift World it is not unusual to have more than one power meter. That being one for the bike, and possibly one on the smart turbo and that causes a problem for the Suunto Spartan Sport HR, as it doesnt like multiple sensors – for exmaple here is the Wahoo KICKR powered up, and both the PowerTap C1 and Bepro Pedals sending out signals.
The Suunto Spartan HR searches and connects…to something but doesnt tell me what!
If you look on the sensor page in the settings of the watch, there is merely a power pod there – no identifying features as to which of the three actually connected. Which is a bit naff when BlueTooth sensors have the ability to broadcast more detailed names, rather than the ANT+ sensor ID
From an optical heart rate perspective, things seem to settle down nicely on the bike, doing a few Zwift intervals. Here zoomed in to show the improved variation
Suunto Spartan HR Conclusion
Suunto has clearly done a lot of work to improve on the Suunto Spartan range, and they have some beautifully stylish hardware, but it feels like Suunto is building watches with one hand tied behind their back, spec sheet fluffing, rather than focusing on a narrower, better device.
I think the best example of that is the 24×7 HR monitoring. It just adds no value here, as the data gets wiped after 12hrs, and to view your instant heart rate takes AGES (well about 16 secs). My point here being why did they put a hobbled, or half-baked version of 24×7 heart rate monitoring on the watch in the first place? It doesn’t add any value and in fact detracts from the exercise optical heart rate monitoring which works well.
They could have just left the watch alone at the point. “Good job on the optical heart rate monitoring! We got average optical heart rate working in the pool, we’re the first mass market device to do that, great stuff team!” End of story. But no instead, we have a slow, naff 24×7 monitoring, which actually makes the watch seem a little worse as it detracts from other great areas.
Powered running works out the box, and well. I’m certainly a big fan of this, and it might encourage other companies to start looking at this as a core metric as Stryd demonstrates the benefits inherent in its use
It feels like I have been overly negative about the Suunto Spartan Sport HR, which is a little unfair when we come to look at the price. The Garmin Fenix 5 is an additional £150, coming in at about £500, whilst theSuunto Spartan Sport HR is ~£350, so a direct comparison there isn’t fair (Plus let’s not forget the Fenix 5 is rather off the ball with optical HRM currently)
The Polar M600 is about ~£250, cracking operating system, but is really little more than a running watch, and by comparison to the Suunto Spartan Sport HR looks a little anaemic with it comes to features.
As a purely financial package, at £350, the Suunto Spartan HR offers at awful lot of watch, with more features than most people would ever need. But there are quite a few niggles, and I genuinely think that is best word for all of these little comments I have made. Niggles. None are absolute deal breakers, just many things which have made me scratch my head when using this watch.
The big problem that the Suunto Spartan HR faces is that it squares up against the now ageing Garmin Fenix 3 HR which is now around the £350 mark. Blow for blow, the Suunto Spartan Sport HR compares well on secs and I think that has been Suunto’s plan, because on quite a few of those features the Suunto Spartan Sport HR doesn’t quite deliver on the execution – personally I find the inability to review smart notifications a perfect example of that.
I think 3/5 is a reasonable score for the Suunto Spartan Sport HR – based on price, stylish package and massive sports profiles. We just need to hope things improve even further in the firmware over time!