Last updated on October 17th, 2017 at 11:00 am
Garmin dominates the sports watch market with devices such as the excellent multisport Fenix or the less excellent but affordable Forerunner 235. However, there are several other brands out there producing great watches, and the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR could be one of the best options out there in terms of price and features.
Priced at £219 the Spartan Trainer is almost the same price as the Garmin Forerunner 235 but it is a proper multisport watched aimed ideal for triathletes or multi-sports enthusiast.
Design wise, the Suunto is far nicer than the Garmin too, it has a nice metal case with 5 metallic buttons, and what seems to be a decent plastic watch face. In comparison the Garmin is largely plastic, the design isn’t as nice and the watch face feels very flimsy. Both watches are relatively small, certainly compared the Fenix 3, so if you have small wrists it will still look fine for daily use. The Suunto is also available in multiple colours including Blue and Ocean(green). I have reviewed the all Black one, which seems like the most sensible choice if you plan on wearing it all the time.
The straps of the watch are replaceable, and with the way, the main watch is designed you will have to use a strap specifically designed for the Suunto. At the moment you can buy replacements for £25 and there does not appear to be cheap 3rd party options on Amazon at the moment.
The watch is charged via a proprietary clasp which is very similar to the Garmin Forerunner.
The optical HRM area is visibly larger than the Garmin with the LEDs spread further apart, it appears to use 2 green LEDs and 1 orange, and the HRM bump does not come out as far as the Garmin. I found that wearing the watch in bed was less annoying than the Garmin as it was rare I would see the LEDs flashing, whereas the Garmin was quite visible unless you wear the watch very tight.
I found the LCD screen of the Spartan a little unusual, it appears to be higher res than the Garmin, but the backlighting is odd. When you light up the watch you can see the backlight bleed from one of the LEDs. The text appears to be a little harder to read, it is fine during the day, but mid sports I find it a bit of a pain to read. Comparing the 2 watches it seems like the plastic face is quite far off the LCD on the Suunto, whereas the Garmin has no noticeable gap. I think this is what effects the readability and certainly is the cause of the visible backlights.
Navigating the watch is a little more confusing than the Garmin, but I think this is largely due to the fact it has so many more features. There are 2 buttons for up and down, then the centre-right buttons go into the option, so, for example, it would go into the exercise list. The bottom left button is the back button, but then the top right button gets randomly used to change the data screen. It took me a little while to realise this is how you view your daily calories instead of just steps.
I found setting up the software wasn’t immediately obvious, though I didn’t read the instructions. There is no quick link to the software on the product page, and the PC software is named differently than the main software. You have SuuntoLink for Windows but the main interface and app is called Movescount. The Android app has pretty shocking reviews online but I had no major issues with it crashing or syncing. However, for syncing I always just plug my watch into the cable which is attached to my PC when I go for a shower. When I return everything is automatically synced for me. The app displays almost exactly the same data as the Movescount, and it is a beautifully designed website/app. In the app it appears to be impossible to get specific daily activity stats, you just have to integrate the graphs, on the website you can see specific step counts and calories for the day but it is still in a weekly view. Garmin has a much better system where you can go into specific days, see the full timeline, total calories, distance covered and steps made.
If you have the watch paired with your phone you can receive alerts. I found this works very well for texts, calls, and telegram. You can read the full message using the up and down keys, and I found it quite useful. I am terrible for missing phone calls so having my watch vibrate when I get a call helps.
Just like Garmin, you can install apps developed by the community, unfortunately, because Suunto isn’t as popular as Garmin, the variety of Apps is not as good. In particular, I like the different watch faces you can get for Garmin, which give a better overview of the day’s activity/stats, but there do not appear to be any available for Suunto
In terms of calorie and step counting, there is a large difference between Garmin (and also FitBit). The Suunto is much more generous with the step counting than Garmin, but it won’t track any steps at all when in cycling mode. which for my can give odd daily steps. Technically this is more accurate than Garmin and Fitbit randomly counting steps. Daily calories, on the other hand, is far less generous, the Suunto general reports around 3k calories per day, whereas the Garmin was generally pushing 4k. In reality, I estimate that I burn around 3.5K a day and as an ex-fatty, I think I would prefer my calories being under-reported to avoid the temptation of eating them back. I have no way of telling which system is correct though, and you should always take calorie and step estimations with a pinch of salt.
Where the Suunto really starts to shine is when you actually do an activity, there is a huge number of things to choose from, including running, treadmill, cross trainer, swimming, cycling, triathlon, weight training and even things like sailing, cheerleading and cricket. So, in terms of sports tracking the Suunto Spartan is orders of magnitude better than the 3 options you get with the Garmin.
In terms of performance during activities, I have also found the watch perform excellently. I only had 1 noticeable issue and this was when a 5K run synced to Strava saying I had only run 3k. It appears the GPS didn’t lock on and the watch software tracked the 5K but the GPX data didn’t show it. However, this was only on one dark and cloudy day and it didn’t happen again.
What is worth pointing out though, is that the HRM appears to be quite accurate, I compared it to a chest strap, and when at the gym I would randomly check on the machines, and the Suunto always appears to be accurate within 1 or 2 beats. This is important because the Garmin is bordering on useless sometimes. If you use it in the gym on the treadmill or indoor bike, it just doesn’t lock onto your heart rate for several minutes. On the bike, I find it will report 140bpm for 10 minutes before settling down, while the treadmill is stuck at around 100BPM. Many users report issues online with the Garmin, so it makes the Suunto far more appealing.
One your activity is complete you are provided even more information than you get from Garmin. As with Garmin, you get a heart rate graph, pace, speed, cadence, ascent and descent as well as the estimated VO2. However, unlike Garmin, you also get EPOC Peak and PTE plus you can grade your activity with a feeling. So, you can mark a bad run as poor or whatever. It is really far more information than any amateur fitness enthusiast could possibly need.
If the built-in tracking functions are not enough for you, you can expand the functionality even further with various accessories. It uses Bluetooth to connect to various accessories and these can include power meters, speed/cadence sensor, foot pod (for treadmills) and also Bluetooth HRM chest straps. Unfortunately, my HRM is broken at the moment so I didn’t have a chance to check it, but I assume it is just as easy to use as any other Bluetooth device.
Overall, this is a fantastic watch, the pricing seems to be spot on and you get a lot of watch for the money. There was nothing that annoyed me significantly about the watch, the app could do with some tweaks, and the screen could be better, but I am not going to moan at this price. The ability to track multiple sports and the excellent heart rate accuracy make it considerably better than the Garmin Forerunner 235. That being said, now the Fenix 5 is available you can pick up the Fenix 3 for £299 which is a great price too, but you get a clunkier large watch and I am not sure the extra features of the Fenix are really worth the £80 premium. Lastly, I will say that it is so good that I am thinking of selling my Garmin and replacing it with this.
You can buy the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist Hr today from Suunto for £219 and it is also available on Amazon.
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist Hr
Product Name: Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist Hr
- Design & Build - 90%90%
- Features - 90%90%
- Price - 95%95%