Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Review

Overview of the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR:

The Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR is the latest wearable in the Spartan GPS line of watches from Suunto. As you can probably guess from the product’s name the main / new feature of this watch compared to other in the Spartan series is the inclusion of a wrist-based optical heart rate sensor. This watch includes most, if not all, of the latest and greatest Suunto has to offer from a features perspective. Coming in at a MSRP of $499.00 it’s a solid option to consider as a day-to-day or race-ready GPS watch but has some serious considerations I will highlight below.

Note: given the number of features available on GPS watches these days I’m going to focus on the items I hope most folks care the most about. If you are new to considering a GPS watch or simply want a full list of all the features available you can see that via the Amazon affiliate link (and you will be supporting URP if you decide to purchase this way too!)

Key Specs:

  • Weight: 75g (on the heavier side but not as bloated as some of its competitors)
  • Wrist-based optical heart rate sensor from Valencell (translation = it’s arguably the most accurate wrist-based HR sensor available today)
  • Battery life: up to 12 hours in training mode (with the caveat being that is with 5s GPS recording)
  • Steel bezel, mineral Crystal Glass, and an outdoor-grade color touch screen (which can still be operated via 3 tactile buttons as well or instead)
  • Strong and sleek design with 100m water resistance
  • GPS with Glonass
  • Smartphone notifications (note: it’s not an Apple or Android-based watch but includes a similar set of smartphone connected features compared to any of the other latest offerings from Suunto, Garmin, etc.)

Suunto Spartan Sport

The Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR is fully-featured (photo credit: Suunto.com)

Now for more details. In this review, we’ll break things down in to four areas:

  1. What’s good: the new, differentiating, or simply well designed or built features or aspects of the product.
  2. What could be improved: tweaks or improvements that could be made to make the product better.
  3. When to use it: the situations or scenarios where the product excels.
  4. How it compares: my current go-to product(s) and how this compares.
  5. Should you purchase? My overall recommendation on whether to purchase or not.
  6. Purchasing Information: where to go to purchase this product.

I’ll try to be as succinct as possible. After all, you’ve probably got more running you can do today!

What’s good about the Suunto Spartan Sport?

  • The feature set. Having GPS with Glonass means it’s about as accurate as it gets from a GPS standpoint these days. Having an optical sensor from Valencell means the same thing from a wrist-based HR accuracy perspective. Tons of customizable fields, sport modes, smartphone features, etc. This watch has a boatload of features to keep you entertained. I didn’t feel any key features were missing per se. However, the implementation of some of those features we’ll cover below.

Suunto Spartan Sport

Included is a Valencell optical heart rate sensor that does allow 24 x 7 heart rate tracking

  • The GPS accuracy. In comparing the GPS to my two trusted Garmin GPS watches it’s very comparable. My Suunto routinely came up a touch shorter but it was consistently a touch shorter. I’m OK with that as it tells me the watch is consistent (and I don’t know enough about GPS technology to know which satellites each is using and which is more accurate necessarily).
  • The ability to use a touchscreen or physical buttons. The touch screen is not perfect, there is a very subtle lag, but it’s good. And if you don’t love the touchscreen you can still operate it via the three tactile buttons on the side. Yes, the touchscreen does work when wet but again, it’s not perfect in the rain or snow.
  • Customization options. There is a lot you can customize with this watch out-of-the-box. From the initial watch faces to selecting from over 80 sport modes to downloadable Suunto apps there is a lot to like here from a customization standpoint.

Suunto Spartan Sport

You launch in to trail running, and over 80 other activities, via customizable sport modes

  • Heat maps and routes. While not specific to this watch, one of the nice things about going with a Suunto is the heat maps feature on their Movescount software platform. You can search for routes, by sport mode, and then send to your watch. What’s cool about that with this watch is that you can then see the current vs. route elevation profile in real-time. That’s a nice feature we first saw on the Ambit3 vertical that Suunto has included here as well.
  • The watch is comfortable to wear. The band is very comfortable with some give in all the right places. Gone are the days of Suunto including the plastic housing for the sensors below the main watch face.
  • Use as an everyday watch. In the black color, it’s discrete and sleek enough to wear as an everyday watch for me. It’s a little on the thick side to fit under a dress shirt but not too bad. Folks with smaller wrists may find the watch to be on the heavier and/or thicker side though.

Suunto Spartan Sport

Comfortable and discrete enough for everyday wear

  • The charging cable. It’s small and magnetic. It works well.

Suunto Spartan Sport

The charging cable is solid

What could be improved?

I am going to specifically cover issues I have seen during runs. This isn’t designed to be the end-all-be-all of bugs that may exist in the product.

  • The battery life at this price point. To be honest, this is the deal-breaker for me. At $499 I want a watch that can last for 24 hours in GPS 1 second recording mode so I can use a watch all day for 100km – 100m races. Garmin has figured this out long ago and continues to do so with their latest models. I hate to say it but the advertising for this watch is a little misleading as well. When the product first launched, it was advertised as the battery life lasting up to 8 hours (which I assume meant in 1s recording mode). Now I see the advertising refers to the battery life as “up to 12 hours in training mode”. It’s only when you read the fine print you realize the 12-hour battery claim is actually for 5s recording mode. Point is – in 1s recording mode I wasn’t even able to get 8 hours of battery life. It was probably somewhere closer to 6-7 hours (note: the optical heart rate sensor is enabled continuously in activity mode and then takes readings every 10 minutes in daily mode to show you a 12 hour daily history). So this means most of us would probably have to charge the watch nearly every other day at least.
  • The altimeter. In this watch, it is a barometric-based altimeter combined with a GPS-based altimeter to record and disply your vertical gain & loss during activities. From my experience, I prefer a fully barometric-based altimeter. I’d love to be told I’m wrong but I believe a fully barometric-based altimeter is still the most accurate way to measure vertical gain & loss in as close to real-time as possible. For example, on only my third run wearing the watch I saw this (and I don’t think it was a Movescount issue as I noticed the watch simply stopped recording vertical gain while I was heading up our local mountain).

Suunto Spartan Sport

While I would love to claim my climbing has improved recently something tells me this wasn’t an accurate representation of how fast I was running up our local mountain

  • Heart rate accuracy. As I noted earlier it’s pretty good for an optical wrist-based sensor. However, it’s still not as accurate as a chest strap-based sensor. Dropouts in heart rate readings still occur from time-to-time from what I saw. And I saw the HR accuracy having some issues when my arm was soaked from rain or sweat.

Suunto Spartan Sport

The overall accuracy of this optical sensor is OK, and it’s come a long ways the last 2-3 years, but it’s not accurate enough for me to rely on it at all times just yet.

  • Data field customization. You cannot customize data fields without adding a new sport mode. Plus, you cannot customize individual data fields in a given sport mode once you set up that sport mode. You have to start all over. And you can’t do any of this on the watch itself. You have to be in the full Movescount platform to do this customization. I am admittedly a big Garmin fan but why have they figured this out years ago while Suunto still doesn’t allow for an easier way to customize data fields?
  • Half-way implementation of features. Two key features are included but only half-way from my perspective. Suunto has finally included an interval feature now but you can only adjust the repeat and recovery segments of the workout feature, not the length or duration of the warm-up and cool-down portions. I don’t really understand that – don’t you need to warm-up first before launching in to intervals or hill repeats? I shouldn’t need to warm up, stop my watch and save that activity, switch to the interval workout, complete it, and then switch to a third activity to cool-down (very possible this is user error on my part but I could not figure it out). A similar half-way feature for me is the implementation of the daily heart rate tracking. You can only view your daily heart rate by launching in to an activity screen to see the last 12 hours of of heart rate data (where the watch is taking a measurement for 60 seconds every 10 minutes to produce that view). And the main issue is that heart rate data is not saved to the Movescount site or visible on the app. It simply disappears. You need to visually or manually keep track of it I guess? So while I would love to get daily and sleep activity tracking I can refer back to it’s not possible at this time. It’s odd.
  • The price. At $499 this watch doesn’t pull it all together for me when I compare it to what else is out there. I could overlook some of the issues I’ve seen with the altimeter, or the data field customizations, but not the battery life for ultras.

When to use it?

  • Runs under 6-7 hours because that’s all you can get out of this battery in 1s GPS recording mode. Recording in 5s GPS mode is not acceptable for me but may be for folks primarily running in a straight line I guess?

Similar products to compare with:

We could use a lot of words to compare it with all the competing GPS watches and wearables on the market. However, rather than do that I’ll try to keep it simple. From what I’ve used over the years (4-5 different Garmins, 2 Suuntos, and an early version of a wrist-based optical sensor) I simply prefer the offerings from Garmin at this point in time when I look at the overall value and features I’m looking for in an everyday running or race watch.

At this price point and feature set I would recommend the Garmin 935 or Garmin Fenix 3 HRM-Run.

If you want to spend less there is no shortage of options from both Suunto and Garmin that do 80-90% or more of what the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR does. Happy to discuss in the comments section below if you want to highlight your specific needs or wants.

Should you purchase?

So, the $499 question – should you purchase the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR?

In a word, no. I just cannot recommend it at this price point with this battery life. The overall value is just not there for me when I compare it to what else is out there. This includes other options from Suunto as well.

Questions, comments, or feedback on this watch? Please share! And thanks for reading!

Purchasing Information

If you’re interested in purchasing this watch, please first check availability at your local, independently owned running specialty store. They need your business and are a great resource for the community.

If that’s not an option, please consider using this affiliate link for Amazon. The return policy is great, and it’ll drop a few nickels into URP bucket if you decide to keep it. Thank You!

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