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Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review – Third Time Lucky?

I made no secret of the fact that in my mind the Suunto Spartan was a bit naff. The Suunto Sport HR, was a little bit less naff, with optical HRM. So is third time the charm for the Suunto Spartan range? Let’s see what the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR has to offer!TitaniumGeek IMG_6409 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR In-Depth Review

The fact that Suunto bombed, at least from an initial firmware setting on the Sunnto Spartan Ultra isnt a secret. Over time the firmware improved, but that didnt detract from the hardware issues.

The Spartan Sport HR – added a very good, it must be said, optical heart rate onto the back of the watch, and polished the firmware to make a reasonable “also ran device” but still quite a distance from what would be termed a good sports watch.

Now Suunto have released a new device – and undercut their two previous offerings in terms of cost… and surpassed them in device overall quality. I’ve been using the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR for a couple of months now, and if you are a dyed in the wool Suunto fan, to paraphrase Star Wars – “This is the Suunto you’ve been waiting for!”

As I type this I’ve only recently seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi and I will attempt to keep the Start Wars references to a minium, but once a geek….

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Design

The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR…. ok enough of that! From now on, the watch will be referred to as the Suunto Spartan Trainer, which is still a little long, but it will do!!! The Suunto Spartan Trainer deviates from the design theme of the higher end Suunto Spartan watches in that save for the top two models, the trainers are all polymer resin, without metal. We also see a change in colour availability to a less sombre colour palette. I’m quite a fan of the Coral colour actually, although I think pushing further out, a yellow version would look very nice!

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A BRILLIANT (in my mind anyway) option with the more costly Suunto Spartan Trainer models is that of a straightforward steel bezel. My point is, Suunto are offering the watch without a painted bezel, which is great for my potential OCD (I hate scratched paint on gadgets etc – I highly regret buying a “space grey” Macbook). It enough of that, what do we actually get?

Inside the box, we have a couple of manuals, the actual Suunto Spartan Trainer, and charge cable – nothing really mind blowing

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From the front, the Suunto Spartan Trainer actually looks LESS like it’s Spartan siblings, and more akin to the Suunto Ambit 3 – perhaps this is this something to do with the “Return of the Hump” as we now have a larger antenna, extending into the strap

TitaniumGeek IMG_8177-2 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling   Things get a little more Ambit reminiscent when you look at the charger, and the charge port

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Both appear to be pulled out of the from the Ambit catalogue. Now I have a theory… PERSONALLY I feel that Suunto had enough of the Spartan getting a bad wrap, and looked back to their past glories, with the Ambit line, and produced an updated Ambit, with Suunto Spartan sauced dripped on. A small raid to the parts bin has also allowed for the Suunto Spartan Trainer’s class leading price which will likely make a lot of people take a look at the Spartan. Again this is just a personal opinion, but I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

So how does this Ambit/Spartan hybrid differ from it’s larger siblings? The rest of the Spartan range has three buttons on the RIGHT side of the case, and that irritating touch screen for the rest of the functions. On the Suunto Spartan Trainer, we again have an Ambit-esq feeling with a 2/3 button layout, and no touch screen (RESULT!)

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The additional buttons are needed due to the dropped the touch screen, but as you light have guessed I think is a MAJOR benefit in day to day use of the trainer. The Sparatan touch screen to my mind duplicated functions and brought practically zero benefit to the watch.

In terms of button effects, middle button on the right side works as a “select” option, and the two outside buttons are mainly act 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 – most of the time. Side to side scroll on the watch isn’t initially clear

Similarly the button functions can change with long presses – holding down the middle button for example will bring up a shortcut screen

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The bottom LEFT button is for LEFT sideways scroll, and the top LEFT activates the back light, the MIDDLE button will work for RIGHT side way scroll

A nice touch is that on the main clock screen depending on the watch screen in use, the middle button can allow you to scroll through steps, battery and dual time, without having to dig deeper into the watch

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Although the touch screen has been removed, the panel has also shrunk from 300×300 to 218×218, which isn’t really noticeable. What is however is that the backlight is now unfortunately uneven, with the light source clearly in the top LEFT of the screen. This is more noticable at night obviously, but more than anything it is a shame. Don’t mistake me, the Spartan Trainer is a GOOD watch, it just happens to have a series of little niggles throughout – which is an improvement on the rest of the Spartan range

From the watch face screen, the down button goes to your daily metrics, with the MIDDLE and bottom LEFT buttons allowing your to scroll through the three fields

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An initial press on the top button, take you through to the “modes”

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Going up you get Exercises –> Navigation –> Logbook –> Timer —> Settings

Whilst going down, Activity Tracking –> Training –> Recovery Advisor –> Sleep Tracking

At first glance there doesnt appear to be a dedicated HR app. But that is because Suunto appreciates there is relatively little use in just knowing your heart rate during… well day-to-day life. As such, 24×7 HRM tracking is hidden behind the HR trend screen in your daily metrics. Pressing the top LEFT button (oddly enough) will flick the trend screen over to an instant HR monitor, which will also give a trend over 10 mins, and an estimated calorie burn per hour. All in, a much more useful screen than just a straight forward HR reading

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This is probably a good time to look at the heart rate sensor on the Suunto Spartan Trainer, which has a slight refiement of the Valencell system seen first on the  Suunto Spartan Sport HR

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Whereas on the Suunto Spartan Sport HR the HRM is very much part of the case of the watch, the sensor on the Suunto Spartan Trainer is now a separate component to the case also fractionally reduced compared with the sport

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The Suunto Spartan Trainer has taken a similar line to Polar and Garmin, with modular sensors which are inserted into the case, which has likely aided the Trainers low price.

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All the different optical sensors systems employed today, are now sufficiently slight you cant really tell you are wearing them. Which is quite a journey when looking at something such as the Garmin Fenix 3 HR, which would always leave a distinct impression on my arm.

For the style conscious, it is worth pointing out that the straps on the Suunto Spartan Trainer are not exactly quick release, nor available in a series of loud or interesting styles. So other than direct spares from Suunto, you are pretty much keeping the colours your device came in

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The Suunto Spartan range continues to use a soft coating to the straps, which does wear over time – however it is practically totally unnoticable on the lighter ocean colour strap, and just about impossible to photograph

TitaniumGeek IMG_8244 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling   Whereas on the black Suunot Spartan Sport HR, it was quite apparent before the review unit was returned. Unfortunately I have no reason to think that the black Suunto Spartan Trainer will fair any better – something to consider when choosing a colourTitaniumGeek IMG_7070 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Specification

  • Screen Resolution: 218 x 218
  • Size: 46mm x 46mm x 15.7mm
  • Weight: 56 g
  • Communication: BlueTooth
  • Sensors:Altimeter, Digital compass, Optical Heart Rate
  • Battery – 14 day standby, 10 hrs GPS activity – I find I’m getting about the 8-10 hour mark depending on what I’m doing, this can be increased to 30hrs by paring down functions
  • Waterproofing: 50 m
  • Activities: >80
  • Standard features: GPS, Valencell HRM, 24/7 activity tracking, HRM works with swimming

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Manual

The Suunto Spartan Trainer manual is available HERE

Using the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR

When you switch on the Suunto Spartan Trainer for the first time, you go through all the usual set up procedures, language, and body stats, etc. But things like sleep tracking need slightly more user intervention

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The loss of touch screen I really think helps the Suunto Spartan Trainer and you start to feel that right from the start during the setup – the system feels less laggy.

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 be notified of any firmware updates… but ONLY notified

In spite of the other lessons that Suunto has clearly taken to heart, some things have, for want of a better phrase, not been taken on board. Whilst Suunto is very good at putting out updates, squashing bugs and generally keeping their firmware up to date, to do that actual update, you still need to plug the Suunto Spartan Trainer into the computer *sigh*

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Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Smart Watch Features

A bluetooth connection to your phone, once confirmed in the Movescount app, will allow the Suunto Spartan Trainer to receive smart notifications from your phone. Whilst you can scroll through longer messages, there is no dedicated message menu. So when you move from one message to another, there is no way of going back to review to the older message.

Polar, on everything other than the M600, has the same lack of menu, but that fact you can review messages later on the current Garmins does give the company a distinct advantage in the smart watch realm.

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You also get the simply smart watch functions allowing you to see who is calling, and dismiss them if need be

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But just like the smart notifications for a text message, once you have seen the missed call. That’s it. The notification disappears after about 20 secs or so, not to be seen again.

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Activity Tracking

As mentioned above, the activity tracking on the Trainer is quite straightforward, but does have some interesting points in terms of providing the user with summaries

If you hit your goal, in my case of the default 10,000 steps, the Suunto Spartan Trainer will buzz and give you an overview of your activity that day – yes I had a VERY early start the day this photo was taken!!

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Similarly at the end of the week, you’ll get a little week report flash up on the  Suunto Spartan Trainer which is actually quite a nice little feature if you’ve been a little lazy of late, and gives you pause to thought. The converse it also true, if you are absolutely shattered, this unbidded overview of the week might make you realise if you are over training

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Sleep tracking is available with the Suunto Spartan Trainer, but is oddly not enabled by default. You’ll find the option to enable it, nestled deep at the bottom of the first menu. It’s a little strange, as Suunto requires you to activate sleep tracking at a separate time, rather in the initial setup, which might have made more sense

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The setup is a relatively standard, you tell the Trainer when you normally go to sleep, and then when you usually wake, allowing the watch to more easily track your slumber, From there, tracking will begin automatically, an interesting enough will also give an indicator of what your sleeping heart rate is, in a wrist version of the Beddit Sleep monitor

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Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Watch Faces

The Suunto Spartan Trainer has a user choice of seven watch face options, however, the movements on the different watches are fixed

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I ended up using the above face, simply for the extra data of the steps, and frankly it seemed the most, well, useful

You can quickly change your watch faces by long pressing the central button on the main which will bring up the shortcut menu, as mentioned earlier

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR – Cycling

TitaniumGeek IMG_8153 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling

There is now a plethor of optical heart rate enabled watches on the market, so it makes sense that the tests done from here look at a Garmin unit, the Suunto obviously, a Polar OH1 and a chest strap, in this case the 4iiii Viiiiva

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So a quick winter spin, with winter beard utterly failing against the biting wind. But enough with moaning about the cold weather – what was the heart rate data like? It’s well known that cycling can, for various reasons, prove a challenge occasionally for optical HRM devices due to the vibrations through the wrist – but here all units did well!

Well, the Garmin Fenix 5 does it’s own thing, but nothing new there, the 4iiii, Spartan and OH1 all tracked very well once things had warmed up after the first couple of minutes, and only a couple of blips along the route.

TitaniumGeek Screen-Shot-2018-01-10-at-20.43.45 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling   Next part (although out of order) in the “discipline of three” is running – as let’s not kid ourselves here, Suunto are targeting the cost conscious triathlon crowd here, who may be inclined to ignore the recovery advisor which pops up at the end of every activity you do

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Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Running

I think our of the box, strongest suit that the Suunto Spartan Trainer has is running. Especially as there is running with power built in. Remember Suunto were the first to work with Stryd, and simply things work as expected when you hit the run with power activity.

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The Sunnto Spartan Trainer 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

Right, off for a run!

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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 – but now showing average power. Some a little bit more power related info would be nice

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At the end of the run, you get the break down displayed on the device

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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 to do twith your activity, on the route. What you don’t however get are any particularly indepth running metrics, which a little surprising given Sunnto’s support for the Stryd power metric right out of the gate

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As alluded to above, some niggles still remain. You have to select a particular exercise eg “Running with power”. You can’t merely attach the Stryd pod to the running exercise. Different sensors, need different apps, so a running basic and a run if win power app exists which is a rather unusual way of dealing with things. The same is also true of cycling with power meters, which also needs two different exercise apps – basic and with power.

So in terms going for a run, how does the optical HR fair?

Well on the first run, the Suunto Spartan Trainer didnt really cover itself in glory which is an oddity give how well things tracked during the cycling portion of the testing.TitaniumGeek Screen-Shot-2018-01-08-at-21.48.59 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling   The Suunto Spartan Trainer does seem to wake up and “get with the program” after about 13 minutes, but that’s over half way in to the run!! So after a few more tests, I’m sorry to say that the similar picture was maintained. I even stopped to stretch in the same place to try and keep the test fair!TitaniumGeek Screen-Shot-2018-01-10-at-20.45.37 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling   This time the Suunto Spartan Trainer is more on the ball, certainly compared to the first attempt. Now we are pretty much keeping in line on the troughs, but flying off the handle regarding the upper heart rate zones. However I had a thought as those numbers looked a little familiar to me, so I went back to look at some more data.

You see, I’ve been focusing on higher cadence running, in order to try and do a half marathon in Sept in the company of a dodgy knee. So I’m trying to keep around the 180-190 cadence mark. If I overlay the cadence from the above run, suddnely it become clear what the Suunto Spartan Trainer had done:

TitaniumGeek Screen-Shot-2018-01-09-at-21.53.35 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling   Unlike standard chest straps which record you pulse through electrical impulses, optical HRM’s are looking for changes in optical signals, which could also be induced by vubrations through the sensor device, such as high cadence running. What i think has happened is the suunto has latched onto the vibration from my cadence rather than the pulse from my wrist. Hopefully this is someting which can be cleared up in future via firmware tweaks.

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Swimming

TitaniumGeek IMG_5651 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling   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

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However unlike other optical HRM Suuntos’ you can now access live heart rate data in the pool, or on your open water swim. Although between you and me, I’m not sure how useful instant optical HRM is whilst swimming. I’m normally a little too busy flailing my arms to check my watch. Heart rate zones with an audio feedback I think are more than sufficient thanks!

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When you go for a pool swim, before hitting start there is an option menu which will allow you to select your 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!!!

TitaniumGeek IMG_8279 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling   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 Trainer doesnt have an “activate at a glance” to view the screen 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 online

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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!

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Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist 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 in the smart turbo and that causes a problem for the Suunto Spartan Sport HR, as it doesnt like multiple sensors – for example here is the Kinetic Road and Roll powered up, and both the PowerTap C1 and Garmin Vector 3 pedals sending out signals.

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The Suunto Spartan Trainer searches and connects…to something but doesnt tell me what!

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If you look on the sensor page in the settings of the watch, there is merely a power pod connected – no identifying features as to which of the three actually is sending the data. Which is a bit naff when BlueTooth sensors have the ability to broadcast more detailed names, rather than the ANT+ sensor ID

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So we’ve already covered cycling, and running, but it seems reasonable to compare the how the heart rate sensor functions when doing a few Zwift intervals. Here zoomed in to show the improved variation.

For some reason the trainer is reading fractionally high compared to ther units, but otherwise we have a trace comparable to both the POLAR OH1 but also the 4iiii viiiva.

TitaniumGeek Screen-Shot-2018-01-10-at-20.47.53 Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling   I think from everything we’ve seen the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is certainly a reasonable optical HRM, perhaps with a few niggles during running, but i wouldnt have issue with it during general training, although I’d probably want something more reliable for race day

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Conclusion

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Suunto has clearly done a lot of work to improve on the Suunto Spartan range, and it looks like that have managed it (if by raiding the Ambit parts bin)

I’ve been rather negative about the Suunto Spartan in the past, and in all honesty, they have been watches, I have not missed when they have been charging and things like that – not a good sign.

I’ve enjoyed reviewing the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR, not only because Suunto have seemed to have turned their ship around, but that the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR works.

As an analogy, it is the VW Golf of the current triathlon world. It’s not got the biggest bells and whistles, or frankly some of the smartest software or hardware. But it works. Everthing now works, just so.

There are still a couple of minor niggles with the trainer, as I’ve illicited above, but they are minor when we look at the overall package. Someone might raise the point about the optical HRM when running, but that isnt a deal killer for me, when overall, the trainer works. Heck my personal day to day watch is a Fenix 5, and as I’ve documented at length the Garmin ELEVATE sensor is pretty poor, but that is merely one point on an overall watch which meets my needs otherwise.

Now there bit that gives Suunto their home run is pricingm – the lowest I can find the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is £189, for a fully fedged triathlon watch. My normal recommendation for straightforward smart watch with some tri capabilities is the Polar M430, at £159. The M430 is still probably the best running watch out there, but as a whole package the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is now going to be my number one recommend.

Which leads me to a slightly bizzare award, I’m going to give the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR 3/5, there are still several frankly lazy niggles in the unit, probably biggest of all for me is with regard to sensor pairing.  BUT I’m also going to deploy the “Recommend” stand as well – as things can only improve through firmware.

If you are looking around £200 for a triathlon watch the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is the one to buy. It’s not perfect, but Suunto have now released a watch which can really get the job done

 

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TitaniumGeek TG-recommended-copy Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Review - Third Time Lucky? Triathlon swimming Suunto running Optical Heart Rate Multi sport watch HRM cycling

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James Gill

Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. Feel free to drop me a line about sports tech, medicine, or frankly anything that you want to chat about!!