The smartwatch scene has become a market segment rife with ambiguity and half measures. Pay upwards of £400 for the latest “jack of all trades” watch, but compromise on battery life, or go cheap and cheerful and deal with the lack of features. There is a middle ground, but that middle ground has become specialised into specific smartwatch verticals. Finnish company Suunto are continuing their long history of delivering timepieces and are ensuring that if you’re looking for a fitness-orientated smartwatch, you[‘ll find it in their portfolio. You’ll have to pay though! Let’s take a look at the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR in our full review – spoiler alert, we’re not fans of the name.
- Lots of fitness tracking options
- Sleep tracking seems accurate
- Battery life is good
- Companion app is poor (beaten by the WebApp!)
- Notifications from Smartphone are pointless
- No gestures, touchscreen or bezel controls
It’s fair to say that Suunto might not be the best-known brand, and it’s also fair to say that they have had it tough over their past few generations of devices with firmware issues blighting their products. This time around however the Finnish company are adamant that their Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR (snazzy name eh?) can compete with the Polar, Garmin and other high-level fitness trackers.
There are a number of trims to choose from with the Gold being the most expensive, but there are also some more affordable options (Black) for those looking to save some cash. All of the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR units (I’m going to call them Suunto from now on!) have the same specifications. The Steel option is the one I’m reviewing and it has a nice blend of a metallic bezel and black silicone for comfort.
The Suunto is waterproof, proper waterproof (not resistant) to 50 metres thanks to its IP rating which means you can take it swimming. What sort of high-end fitness tracker would it be if you couldn’t right? This is just one of the many fitness/sports modes that can be tracked by the Suunto – so many I was actually quite surprised.
There is a total of 5 buttons on the Suunto; 3 on the right-hand side and two on the left. These control the watch face information and navigates through the menu system with one button specifically aimed at controlling the backlight also. On the back face is the heart rate monitor, and the front simple has the non-touchscreen display. The strap has two pass-through buckles to keep it tucked away nicely during workouts, and they also have little notches to fit in the strap holes for extra stability.
|Material:||Steel, Mineral crystal, Glass fibre reinforced polyamide|
|Weight||66 g / 2.33 oz|
|Water resistance||50 m (according to ISO 6425)|
|Battery indicator||percentage / icon|
|Battery type||rechargeable lithium-ion|
|Integrated wrist heart rate||yes, Valencell technology|
|Button lock||during exercise|
|Display resolution||218 x 218|
|Battery life in time mode||14 days|
Performance & Use
The first thing to note about the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is that its not a small watch. It’s smaller than some of their other offerings and it does use it’s size to house some pretty impressive features. The battery life, for example, is excellent managing 10 hours in training mode, but up to 10 days (in our testing) when combining a few gym visits with general time mode use. You can also configure some of the options to extend that battery life further. For example, the battery life can be extended at the expense of some accuracy of the GPS, and the backlight can be configured to save that little extra juice also.
With over 80 exercise modes (I didn’t know there were 80 exercises!) you’ll not have an issue finding a mode to match your current go-to fitness regime, and the Suunto will start tracking it. It tracks GPS location for those wanting to head outdoors, but sadly has no GLONASS support, and will also measure your altitude when climbing, for example, your calories burned thanks to a constant heart rate monitor during exercise, as well as the ability to pair additional sensors (heart straps etc) to increase your metrics. It’s really quite comprehensive!
The accuracy of the measurements is something that is always under scrutiny when using a fitness tracker, but in our testing, the Suunto does well here. We compared it to some industry grade measuring kit whilst at the gym and the results were within a 1% tolerance on everything. I personally think that this is quite good considering it’s a watch sitting on a wrist and nothing more scientific.
Manually kicking off some circuit training was simple using the buttons on the watch to select the activity, and can then be used to pause the workout at any time, to cycle through the screens showing various information during your workout. Post workout you are prompted to deliver a verdict on your own performance and how you’re feeling, which syncs to the companion app and can be looked at historically to help users understand what they enjoyed the most versus their exercise routine. I actually found this helpful during my testing as I’m often one to jump between cardio and weights with no real thought going into what I do. Whilst this watch is not aimed at novices, it certainly did the job for this one!
Wrist-based heart rate monitors have their share of accuracy issues, but the Suunto performed well in this area managing to keep within 2 or 3 beats of the professional grade equipment’s recordings, at the gym. In some instances, it matched 1-for-1 so you can’t really sniff at that.
It’s when you start trying to use this as a daily watch that you see some of the corners that have been cut and truly understand the market this has been aimed at. Notifications from your smartphone can be controlled by the companion Movescount app. Most applications can be toggled to be displayed which is a step up from other fitness based watches. Once the notifications come through to the phone however, they cannot be dismissed. To compound this, once a notification has been passed to the watch, there is no way to view them once the screen goes black. Furthermore, as if to further degrade the user experience, the next notification that hits your phone pushes all previous notifications back to your watch in a vibration-fest, and with a speed that means you cannot read them clearly. It becomes nothing more than a notification for you to look at your phone and as such is utterly useless in this regard.
There are no wrist gestures to bring the backlight, which is quite dark anyway, to light at the flick of your wrist. Instead, you have a couple of options such as automatic or toggle. Setting it to Automatic is where I’ve found the best of the bad bunch. It lights up when a notification is received (if you can read it in time!) and can be re-illuminated by depressing the top left button when required also. That’s easier to get used to than the notifications issue.
Another indication that this is a sports tracker first and watch second is the lack of a touchscreen or rotating bezel for control of the menu system. Whilst the buttons are easily found, they have low travel meaning a hard press is required to move the menu system. I think I’d definitely like to have seen a crown or bezel rotation control system here.
There’s a limit to the information that can be displayed on the watch faces, and there are also limited usable watch faces too with no third-party options available. If you’re used to an Android Wear device, this is as far as can be from the customisation available there, without reverting to a dumb watch.
This has been a hard one for me, as I use limited smartwatch functionality, but I think I took for granted what I did need, which was especially noticeable when I no longer had it. The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is a great sports watch, and it’s only by dissecting that description you get to the crux of the matter.
Sports; the Suunto excels in delivering tracking and fitness measurements that will help those inclined improve their experience and make the most of their workout regime. The WebApp is there to be used instead of the companion app (I recommend this is what is used) when reviewing your previous metrics, and planning new ones, and the Suunto manages some excellent battery life throughout these functions.
Watch; it tells the time but is by no means much smarter than that. It handles notifications from your smart device, but not very well. Controlling the UI is clunky for those coming from a Smartwatch background, and the display density is poor. The user experience feels a bit dated, and there are no familiar smartwatch functions such as controlling music, dismissing phone notifications, or, for those that use it, NFC payments.
If you are in the sports category, the Suunto will perform as well as anything out there from Polar, Garmin and the rest of the gang. IF you are looking for a daily smartwatch which has excellent sports tracking then there are much better options out there.
On the whole, this is a great product and the battery life is amazing for what it can deliver functionality wise. The design and tracking features have been upgraded and refined from previous generation products, and a lot of kinks have been ironed out. You won’t find a sport/fitness regime that the Suunto doesn’t enable you to track and deliver metrics on and if you do, you’re more hardcore than 99% of those who’d look at such a product. It’s for this gang that this is going to be an attractive prospect.