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Suunto Spartan Ultra GPS Multi-Sport review – Failure or Fabulous?

I’ll be honest, the Suunto Spartan has been a watch I have been aching to get my hands on. My own regular watch is the Garmin Fenix3, but I always keep an open mind to potentially purchasing a replacement device. The Suunto Spartan is a device which visually, and on paper at least, looked like it might find a permanent place on my wrist – which is why this review has been so hard to write…

Suunto Spartan Ultra GPS Multi-Sport, Multi-FAIL, watch review

In my opinion, the release of the Spartan has been long over due from Suunto. The presence of the GPS antenna “hump” on a lot of their watches called out regarding the dated components contained within. The Suunto Spartan has been totally redesigned for the current multisport market, where being technically proficient is no longer enough. A function over form approach no longer cuts things in the market as the boundary between sports watches and smart watches has been steadily blurring, look no further than the ludicrously priced Garmin Chronos.

It is no understatement to say that the designers of the Suunto Spartan have absolutely nailed the casing of the Spartan. Yes, it is *slightly* on the bulky side, but it looks absolutely gorgeous.

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The watch I’m reviewing today is the Suunto Spartan Ultra Steel. As appropriate as it might seem for TitaniumGeek to review the Titanium edition of the watch, I personally think that the price difference of £50 for the titanium over the steel version is actually worth it. But I stress that again, that very much a personal decision based on my perception of value.

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I also think that the black and bright silver of the steel version just looks better! Plus looks good for the work environment.

Disclaimer

This has been a difficult review to write, I think the title says it all. So a little clarification before we continue. In terms of devices I purchased the Spartan myself, similarly, my Fenix 3 is purchased from my own wallet, from Amazon, no Garmin discount applied. When I mention the Polar V800, that review was a loan from Polar, and was subsequently returned.

Device Design

The Suunto Spartan Ultra box, looks very… well spartan, but in a good way. It has all the look of an expensive product – essentially dark and brooding.

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Sliding off the outer cardboard, and opening up the black box inside, you are greeting by your first view of the Spartan. Powered off, and with no flashy sticker on the screen, sitting… plotting

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Inside the box, we have a couple of manuals, the actual Suunto Spartan, charge cable and little Suunto sticker. I DO like the inclusion of little stickers like this…but I have NO IDEA what I’m supposed to do with it!!

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As soon as you get the Suunto Spartan Ultra in your hands, it is instantly recognisable as a Suunto. The size, the curve of the back, and the way the strap connects to the watch close to the top of the bezel contain strong Suunto DNA traits, but with many design touches that mark the Suunto Spartan as it’s own device

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For me, the steel bezel around the outside exudes pure class. I’ve been a fan of the Fenix3 since it debuted, you got all of the sports features of the Garmin 920XT, with looks which could still just about cut it at work. By comparison, the Suunto Spartan has a style which the Fenix3 can only dream of!

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As mentioned, the underside of the Suunto Spartan is slightly curved and feels very comfortable sitting on the wrist

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On the back, we’ve also got four charging dots, along with two lines for the magnets of the charger to fix onto.

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The magnets on the back are really quite strong, and snap to the back of the Suunto Spartan with a pleasing *click*

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I’m really quite a fan of this almost flush approach to charging, by comparison, the slightly deeper charge slot on the Fenix 3 has a tendency, just to hold a bit of muck, as do the screws on the front of the Fenix3

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The Fenix3 ability to hold muck is only exacerbated if you do something like ToughMudder

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I highlight this, as the Suunto Spartan has the option for obstacle racing baked in from the get-go

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Plus the exterior design, I think should withstand picking up too much muck, simply due to how shallow all the indents in the device are

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Thinking about obstacle races etc, and my experience with the Fenix3 paint chipping is another reason why I opted for the steel Suunto Spartan, rather than either of the titanium options, as I just didn’t want to have to deal with possible paint chips on the Suunto either.

On the LEFT of the Suunto Spartan we’ve three buttons

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The middle button working as a “select” option, and the two outside buttons mainly working as menus selects. Due to the software, all buttons can be contextual, with the function being indicated on the screen at the time if different from normal

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On the LEFT side of the Suunto Spartan is the speaker grill

The strap is covered in a soft-touch rubber, which I’ve never really been a fan of.

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Both the Garmin Fenix3 HR and the Garmin Vivosmart HR have similar coatings. Initially the coating feels very nice and soft, but within a week of wearing the Suunto Spartan, as with the other watches, the strap has become shiny in a few places, and is my main reason for disliking this strap material. I’m sure many of you will put that down to OCD, but the Suunto Spartan, as with the other two, are not cheap devices. Thus I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect them to withstand general usage – I’m not even saying wear and tear!

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In terms of overall size, the Suunto Spartan is quite comparable to the Fenix3, which I think is reasonably it’s main competitor. The Suunto Spartan ha a 50mm bezel, whilst the Fenix3 is 51mm. The dimensions between the two watches are interesting. The Fenix3 IS larger, whilst the Suunto Spartan uses it’s case more efficiently, with a larger 300×320 vs 218 x 218 pixel screen.

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In terms of size, there are very few differenced between the Suunto Spartan Ultra reviewed here, and the sport. Essentially the same device, but in the sport, they nixed the pressure ssor and some battery capacity to shrink things down to 13.8mm thick. By comparison the Suunto Spartan is 17mm, whilst the Fenix3 is 16mm deep. Frankly, given the very pleasant curve on the back of the Suunto Spartan Ultra, I actually thought it was thinner than the Fenix 3 initially

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Using the Suunto Spartan

Setting up the Suunto Spartan

When you switch on the Suunto Spartan for the first time, you go through all the usual set up procedures, language, body stats etc.

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It is as soon as you start using the Suunto Spartan you realise how superfluous the touch screen is. EVERYTHING in the setup can be done as well, if not more effectively using the buttons on the side of the Suunto Spartan. About the only thing I found where the touch screen gave any advantage was providing a univerasal “swipe backwards” feature, for the multiple times I over shot menus

Once you’ve put yourself into the watch, it’s time to setup on Movescount.com

Movescount

With the launch of the Suunto Spartan, Suunto have given Movescount a lick of paint. Which is kind of how it feels. They have moved a few bits around.

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Added a new heat map function, which is useful for indicating there are a few people in the area who run with a Suunto device

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and apparently, no one who cycles round here

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The heat maps are nice, but I don’t really understand why they put the effort in here. People in cities, or with greater concentration of Suunto users may find it a more useful feature

There has also been an update to Suunto Link to help you update your firmware

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Sports Modes

The Suunto Movescount website is where you have to go to make changes to the app/sports profiles loaded on the Suunto Spartan.

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Many sports watches come with 5-10 sports built-in, newer smart watches allow you to download extra sports, and the Suunto Spartan is no different. Suunto have really pushed the boat out here with are a wealth of sports modes available from day one, allowing you to have up to 20 different sport profiles loaded on the Suunto Spartan at the same time

Suunto gives you access to 78 different activities, making the Suunto Spartan, and any Spartan series of watches multisport watches in the truest sense of the term

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A lot of those 78 icons are relatives odd/random. Thankfully Suunto also gives you the option to search for activities,

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I was a little disappointed when I finally saw the search menu, showing me that the second from bottom activity was actually windsurfing and not “Jaws Shark Simulation Swimming”!

There is however a negative reason for why you need so many different sport modes with the Suunto Spartan though. Each sport profile is used to determine which information you can display and also which sensors the Suunto Spartan will receive data from – so as a user you are relatively locked out from your own device in terms of display, and data field customization

Indoor cycling is a good example – which has two separate profiles, one with and one without power meter usage. Neither of sports profile however will allow you to show cadence during the workout!!
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However this is not TOTALLY the end of the world, as the absent cadence data is still recorded if you have the appropriate sensor paired, and is shown at the end of ride summary. But personally I do find knowing my cadence during a ride to be very useful – although at least in Zwift, it’s visible in the up LEFT of the screen anyway

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For both indoor and outdoor cycling, I am however quite a fan of when the post ride data you get when the activity is uploaded to MovesCount, as you automatically get power graphs produced (Yes I wasn’t really looking to push myself on this ride!)

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As another example, there are five running profiles to choose from of which one has run with power baked right in for use with Stryd – nice one Suunto!

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However NONE will allow you to view your cadence during the run!!! Come on Suunto! Cadence isnt just for cyclists Suunto! You lead the way with power for running by building the metric straight into the device, and drop with ball by failing to include the practically ubiquitous metric of cadence! Now here is my first caveat – there may be a way to show cadence whilst running, there may be a way to edit what is shown on each profile, if there is, it’s certainly easier to perform this task on Garmin or Polar devices for example

Connectivity

Now this may be more of an issue for some more than others, but sensor setup for Suunto Spartan seems relatively limited when it comes to pairing sensors. You can pair the following over bluetooth:

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But you are only going to be able to pair one of each. You can go into a paired devices menu, which will tell you that each slot has been filled, but without giving you any idea as to by which device.

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This isn’t even just an issue for people with multiple bikes with different sensors attached. If I want to use the Stryd HR when running, it uses the heart rate, power pod, and foot pod slots. Which means every time I swap back to the bike I have to repair the power meter, for the bike, or repair for the turbo trainer.

There are many people who have multiple sensors. This watch doesn’t seem to deal with that well.

Smart watch features

One of the most useful features I have found using smart watches is getting smart notifications, be it texts, calls, or app notifications

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When a notification comes through the Suunto Spartan gives a slight buzz (A little too faint actually for my liking) and up pops the relevant message. This message then disappears after a 10-15 sec time out, and that is it. There no notification screen to look back onto, in case you missed a notification. This is particularly irritating when you get several notifications which come through at once. If you look at the picture above, you can see two little lines at the top of the screen. These look like they should pull a drop down notification screen using the touch screen. Nope.

I wonder if this is something that is a firmware issue, rather than an accidental omission?

Watch Faces

The Suunto Spartan has user choice of six 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, it could display. After being used to Garmin IQ watch screens, it felt strange to have options, but fixed options.

Long pressing the central button on the main watch face brings up a short cut to allow you to get to the settings, or change the watch face, in one of the only sections of the watch where the touch screen has a clear use

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One thing I have been VERY surprised at with the Suunto Spartan, is the alarm function. Or lack of it. It’s possible that there is a function hidden in the app in order to allow me to set a wake up call (i cant find it if so), similarly I’m nearly 100% there is no way to set an alarm from the Suunto Spartan itself, which is…odd. In addition to waking me up, I cant find any evidence of sleep tracking. These are not vital features, but are quite surprising in a £550 watch, when you consider both are available on the FitBit Charge for under £90!

Widgets

By pressing the down button from the watch face, the Suunto Spartan displays an activity tracker widget for steps

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An additional down press brings you to a review of the week, ordered in time

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A final press will bring you to a recovery adviser, which sometimes is a little surprising, being advised not to exercise for 32hrs after a 6km run

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By comparison, Garmin was happy for me to strap on my running shoes in a quicker 23 hoursTitaniumGeek IMG_3582 Suunto Spartan Ultra GPS Multi-Sport review - Failure or Fabulous? toughmudder swimming Suunto sports Spartan Ultra spartan running multisport Multi sport watch garmin Fenix3 Fenix cycling

However, I really have no idea which watch is giving the best physiological advice!

Accuracy

I’ve usually got a few watches knocking around on the bench for reviews but tend only to wear one at a time for work. But I was a bit surprised to see the 12,894 step count recorded when at work, simply as it didn’t seem to be a particularly active day in the practice.

Over the weekend, I strapped on a FitBit Blaze (review pending) and my Fenix3 to see what they gave in terms of step counts.Now each company will have it’s own particular algorithms for monitoring steps, but it’s not unreasonable to expect most devices to get a similar ball park, without about 1000 steps I personally think is reasonable.

So wearing the Suunto Spartan and the FitBit Blaze on my RIGHT arm, and the Fenix3 on the LEFT, I was quite surprised at how large the difference between the devices was

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I don’t know if this is something which can be addressed through a firmware update – most likely so, as “increase to step counter accuracy” is a common comment many devices firmware updates, but currently, I would label the Suunto Spartan as inaccurate

Running

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The inability to customise the display comes up quite clearly when running. Caveat – the Polar V800 and M400 watches have minimal customisation in what is displayed during an activity, however, these devices debuted in 2014.

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But leaving limitations aside for a moment, let’s look at what you do get when out for a run

To revert to a previous point – having running with power built in from the get-go is VERY cool

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On a powered run, you have power in the top LEFT, HR in the top RIGHT, pace in middle LEFT, distance middle RIGHT and total time underneath

Using the middle button during and activity changes the screen, through average data

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Lap averages, if you have set up auto lap

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Finally display map of run, which you can zoom in/out on using the touch screen, or more effectively use the buttons

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

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It could be reasonably argued that the route I took over the Chevin in Belper was more of a trail run than a general run…

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However the trail run profiles which Suunto have kindly created for us, don’t allow power when running, so I opted not to use them, losing information on the ascent. This may seem trivial to people who don’t use Stryd, but lets also highlight the fact I cant display cadence during the run, on a £550 multi-sport smart watch

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As an aside, I don’t know if there is a firmware issue with the Suunto Spartan, but if you stop to take a lot of pictures, say for a review run, I have seen it throw the GPS quite out of whack – I’m fast, but not this fast!
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In relation to running and general activities aspect of the Movescount App which was quite interesting is the Suunto Movie. After your run, if you manage to sync with the Movescount app on your phone, you can select your run

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Suunto Movie was launched in 2014, and probably explains why it is buried at the very bottom of each activityTitaniumGeek IMG_3769-576x1024 Suunto Spartan Ultra GPS Multi-Sport review - Failure or Fabulous? toughmudder swimming Suunto sports Spartan Ultra spartan running multisport Multi sport watch garmin Fenix3 Fenix cycling   Hit the movie button and you get a little film produced showing your activity as a heat speed map, with relevant stats displayed over the video. This might not be something for you Monday morning jog, but I imagine could be very cool for something like the RideLondon

There are some impressive examples on Suunto Movies Youtube page

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Swimming

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Splish, Splash. Swimming isn’t by best sport. Since fracturing my elbow my speed did recover, however, because of the pressure I ended up putting through my unbroken arm and shoulder, I’ve ended up with a supraspinatus tendinosis (I’ll be doing some rehab posts later in the month I think). I probably state this, as an excuse for my slow times over my 800m swim tests with the Suunto Spartan

For the swimming, as with the running, I also wore my Fenix3, and it was as I was setting up the Fenix3 to start with, I noticed an issue.

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The Suunto however only has 25m, 50m, and 25 yard and 50-yard pools. Which I was a little surprised at, although to be fair, a 33m pool is mainly used for water polo, which isn’t one of the Suunto Spartan activities

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A 33m meter pool is not that unusual, especially in Europe, as it allows 3 lengths to be 100m. Easily something which could be addressed via firmware, but a little surprising that the 33m pool was omitted on this multi-sport watch.

Initially, this might not seem a big deal, but if your pool is a 33m pool, it somewhat reduces the usefulness of the Suunto Spartan as a training tool in that pool.

If you have a Suunto Spartan with the HR bundle – then you have the ability to record HR on Bluetooth whilst in the water. For this reason, the Suunto Spartan is able to display your average heart rate for the swim

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The swimming application, in either open water where the GPS is enabled, or pool swimming covers the standard metrics. But it remains a shame about the lack of the 33m pool, or perhaps a custom pool length, as is seen on some other devices

TitaniumGeek Screen-Shot-2016-08-29-at-21.01.55-1024x723 Suunto Spartan Ultra GPS Multi-Sport review - Failure or Fabulous? toughmudder swimming Suunto sports Spartan Ultra spartan running multisport Multi sport watch garmin Fenix3 Fenix cycling

Cycling

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Now previous points about not being able to customise the displayed data are, in my opinion, less important when it comes to cycling. If I’m doing a triathlon, I’ll be monitoring my ride power output on a cycling head unit, not my watch, however, I’ll certainly be using a multi-sport watch during the event, though.

From a cycling perspective, a lot of my issues are going to be repeated. I’d like to be able to select which data is displayed on the watch. I’d certainly like to be able to show a single data field, such as power. I regularly have a lot of data fields displayed when using cycling GPS units, so the small text doesn’t bother me too much

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But in both cases, I have the GPS units set to be able to change a screen, to get a single large data field to concentrate on power output. Again this is not possible with the Suunto Spartan.

Ironically actually get the largest text display at the end of a ride!

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I have mentioned that you cant see cadence displayed on the Suunto Spartan when cycling, this because you need to use a separate cycling (cadence) activity to be able to see this rare and very unusual data, and you certainly wouldn’t want to be able to view cadence and power together

TitaniumGeek Screen-Shot-2016-08-29-at-21.55.58-1024x288 Suunto Spartan Ultra GPS Multi-Sport review - Failure or Fabulous? toughmudder swimming Suunto sports Spartan Ultra spartan running multisport Multi sport watch garmin Fenix3 Fenix cycling

There may very well be ways to create your own activity profiles, with the displays as you want them, but the bottom line for me is that other devices do it more effectively, more user friendly and at a lower price point

Niggles

Over the review I found there were a series of things I didn’t like about the Suunto Spartan. That is not unusual with any product, as none is perfect, but the niggles with the Suunto Spartan seemed to be to do with common features other companies have nailed, so I thought it worth while airing those irritations here. Now some could easily be addressed through firmware, whereas some are a little more difficult to address, but at this price point, I’m not sure that they should be

Now some could easily be addressed through firmware, whereas some are a little more difficult to address, but at this price point, I’m not sure that these niggles should be in the watch in the first place (I highlight the lack of alarm function!!). Again these are personal irritations, so to some people they may not matter, and some people may actually disagree. I’ll be very interested to see other peoples opinions in the comments below

  • THERE IS NO ALARM FUNCTION – It’s a watch, a smartwatch for pities sake! How this was overlooked I don’t know
  • The touch screen adds NOTHING to the experience of using the watch other than a back swipe – EVERYTHING else can be achieved more easily and faster using the buttons. The presence of the touch screen currently feels like a “me too” functionality which was including for sake of the spec sheet, rather than the user.
  • The system is laggy – I have found myself pressing a button more than once after waiting a few seconds after not getting a response. Yes I’m being impatient, but Suunto has priced in such a way t
  • Lack of customisable displays during activities – such as being able to see cadence in any of the bike modes
  • The smart phone app really is merely a method of syncing, if you want to change anything on Suunto Spartan, you have to plug into the computer.
  • Syncing is unreliable
  • The vibration is too weak (this may be a highly personal point)
  • There is no notification screen/menu in order to check missed notifications
  • Inability to connect to multiple versions of the same sensors type – essentially allowing for multiple bike use.
  • Pedometer is rather out of whack.
  • Some of the activities don’t even allow access to the expected sensors – e.g. indoor cycling
  • There is no gesture activation of the back light

Conclusion

The Suunto Spartan Ultra, in my eyes, is one of the most effective visual designs for a sports watch I have seen. In fact I think it looks much nicer than many regular watches

I really hate to sound hypercritical of the Spartan, but it feels a little bit like a lick of new paint on old operating system. If you are already a Suunto user, and like their watches, you’ll love the Spartan. For me, I’d put it below both the Polar V800 and my own Garmin Fenix3.

There are so many points where it just felt that something had been left out of the Spartan, I actually became almost annoyed using it. Quite possibly this is the first device I have ever reviewed on TitaniumGeek that I’m inclined to state – DONT BUY. My don’t buy recommendation is made largely on price, for £300, this would be a watch with limitations, but at £500,the Suunto Spartan is just a bad way to spend money currently

Compared to the other devices out on the markets, there are better performing devices, more user configurable devices, and many which are better value for money devices. The only thing I can confidently say that the Suunto Spartan has over many of the other devices out there is looks. Basically this is the most beautiful device in the multisports watch world, but it’s a terrible shame that is is currently all beauty and no brains.

So I’ll have to see whether the forthcoming Polar M600 is able to knock the Fenix 3 from my wrist?

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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!!