Hands On With The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR

Image: Suunto

With generalist smartwatches like the Apple Watch and various Android Wear, Fitbit and other devices on the market, the ante has been raised when it comes to sport watches. My first running watches, in the 1990s were basically glorified stopwatches with connectivity to a chest-strap heart rate monitor. But today's models are far more sophisticated. Enter the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR - a very competent device that's suited to triathletes.

Aside from the manuals, the Spartan ships with just the watch and charging cable. My test unit is a lovely blue but there are other colours as well as a slightly pricier model that has a metal bezel - something I'd suggest is more for show than function. There are also black and ocean - which is marketing's way of saying teal I think.

The circular face is 46mm in diameter and, on paper, it's a chunky 15.7mm thick. That's over 5mm thicker than an Apple Watch for some context. However, it's comfortable to wear and at just 56g, you barely notice it. The integrated heart rate monitor on the back of the watch face protrudes by a millimetre or so but isn't uncomfortable. And, after chatting to a friend at our local Parkrun, he said that's a good thing as some people have an indentation on their wrist that makes wrist-based monitors challenging as they don't always make good contact with the skin.

The integrated GPS worked well and seemed accurate - at least accurate enough for serious recreational runners. Connectivity to GPS was very fast - we compared it to a recently superseded Garmin Forerunner 635 and it found a satellite lock faster in many cases. Neither my wife nor I are professionals but on measured course such as our local parkrun or a half-marathon course we ran, the Spartan recorded the expected distance. That's despite the Spartan only using GPS and not GLONASS. It also boasts route navigation so you can tell it where you plan to run and it keeps you on track - handy of you're running while on holidays or traveling in unfamiliar surroundings.

There are five buttons around the bezel for controlling the various features. As is the case with all watches of this type, there's a bit of a learning curve and some practice before you can hit the correct button without having to think about it.

If you're a Strava user, the Suunto Movescout app lets you sync data so you can share training and race data with friends.

For cyclists, the Spartan can also connect to various power meters. It's waterproof to 50m for that first triathlon leg in the water.

As is the case with pretty much every sports watch out there, there's an app you need to install that syncs with the watch and works with an online service. While that's quite normal, it also lead to one of the few frustrations my wife and I had while testing the Spartan on various training runs. While some of the customisation of what you see on screen can be handled on the app, other aspects seemed to only work when we used the cloud app via a web browser. For example, my wife likes manual lap timings so she can track times between various landmarks. Setting the screen up to see those couldn't be done from the app as far as we could tell.

And that lap data isn't available on the app - you need to look online for that data. Also, there's no live tracking without using a third party tool so you can't let someone else track your run even when you're carrying your phone.

As well as being a very good sport watch, the Spartan can be worn as an all-day activity tracker. It counts steps and tracks your heart rate all day as well as delivering call, text and social media notifications. If you're looking at the Spartan for all day use, then paying the extra $50 for a fancy gold or steel bezel, rather than the less expensive but functional glass fibre case, might be worth considering. You can also choose different watch faces depending on whether you want a sportier digital display or slightly classier analog look.

Would I buy it?

The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HP is a great device. Compared to similar watches on the market, the price is reasonable and it offers a solid range of features that can be customised to suit the needs of most athletes. If I was in the market for a new watch, this would be on my shortlist.

Price and availability

The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is available online and through lots of sporting goods retailers. The RRP is $399 for the regular version. You can add $50 to that if you fancy the metal finishes that come in gold or steel.


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