On paper the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is an incredibly feature-rich GPS watch for just £219. It’s a full triathlon watch with multi-sport mode and links well with sensors, tracking everything you’d need while offering excellent navigation features that no rivals match at the price point. However, in practice a few flaws scupper the device, including smaller issues like a lack of structured workouts, and one massive problem in the wildly inaccurate heart rate tracking I experienced.
- Expansive feature set for the price
- Triathlon training mode
- Excellent GPS tracking and features
- Understated design
- Heart rate tracking a bust
- Lacking ability to create complex structured workout
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Using The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR As A Heart Rate Monitor
I tried everything. I wore the Spartan Trainer on both wrists, at various points along my lower arm and at every possible degree of tightness – including vein-poppingly tight. I even tried a second unit, in case the first was faulty. None of it worked – the Suunto never tracked my heart rate correctly.
When cycling, the Spartan Trainer was usually 5-10bpm out compared with a Wahoo Tickr chest strap, but as soon as started running it would record my heart rate as impossibly high – 20-30bpm higher than it’s ever been on any run I’ve ever tracked, including marathons, track sprint sessions and hill intervals, no matter how easy I was taking it. Compared with the Tickr, it was consistently 40-50bpm too high when running. And that’s when it worked at all – the heart rate would occasionally just drop out entirely.
This has the effect of making its recovery advice and calories burned stat useless, because it’s based on the wrong heart rate data. You may never encounter this issue with the Trainer – other reviewers don’t seem to have had the same problems (or at least not to the same degree) – and maybe I was just unlucky enough to get two duff units, but it simply didn’t work for me, and every other tracker I’ve ever tried has.
You can also opt to turn on 24/7 heart rate tracking on the Trainer, which is displayed as a graph over time on the watch. But only on the watch – the data doesn’t get sent to the Movescount app or website, which makes it a tad pointless. As with cycling, I found this data to be less inaccurate than with running, but still higher than any other tracker I’ve used.
If you want even vaguely accurate data for any sport, you’d need to pair another sensor like a chest strap, which is simple enough, but defeats the point of having optical tracking in the device itself.
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Using The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR For Running
Before you start tracking your runs, you need to set up the sports profile on the Suunto website (or you can opt to use the basic running profile already set up on the watch). Any keen runner likes to fiddle with their data screens to show exactly what they want, but having to do so on a website and then connect the Spartan Trainer to a computer to sync the activity profile across seems unwieldy. You can set up the data screens for most GPS watches either on the device itself or an app that syncs with the watch wirelessly.
You can put up to seven data fields on each screen, which is great for in-run stat junkies. However, unless you are very sharp-eyed, I found it best to stick with a max of four data fields, as the Suunto screen isn’t large enough to see more than that clearly while you’re running. Four is plenty and you can add more screens to scroll through.
Once it’s all set up you click a button, wait for the GPS to lock on (which was always within 30 to 60 seconds for me, even when I was inside my flat just before a run), and head off. The GPS tracked my runs accurately and the lap screen is particularly well done on the Spartan Trainer, showing a clear breakdown of your splits. Intervals are also neatly displayed, if you set up the specific screen in your running sports mode on the website.
The intervals profile allows you to create basic workouts on the watch before running. This doesn’t extend beyond simple reps of distance or time, with the same recovery period in between. Other watches in this price range, such as the Polar M430, allow far more detailed workouts to be created – based on heart rate or pace, with a mix of interval lengths – and sent to the device, so Suunto is lagging behind here. It might be that it’s reserving that functionality for its higher-end watches, or it could arrive in an update. Hopefully the latter.
However, Suunto outshines the competition with its navigation capabilities. It’s easy to create a route online, or nab a popular one in your area, and send it to the Spartan Trainer to follow during a run. There are even heat maps for running and cycling so you can see the roads and trails people like to use.
If the idea of setting out on the same old route you've run a hundred times kills your motivation to run, you can go online and within a couple of minutes you’ll have another route ready on your watch. It’s very well executed on the Suunto, far better than on more expensive watches from other brands, making it a faff-less feature runners will use regularly.
After a run you can peruse all your details on the watch, app or website. As well as those you’d expect – pace, time, calories, heart rate – you also get your running cadence and an estimation of your recovery time and the training effect of your run, which is based on its intensity.
Unfortunately, if the heart rate is inaccurate, both the recovery time and training effect stats are effectively useless. I spent most of my runs in the maximal heart rate zone no matter how easy I was taking it, which meant I was constantly given huge recovery times.
At the end of each run, and indeed all activities, you can also select how you felt during it. This can be turned off easily enough, but it can be useful to monitor how easy or hard you are finding different types of runs over time. Be honest, though – you’re never going to feel excellent during a track sprints session.
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Once you’ve set it up, and you can have profiles for all kinds of running – indoor, trails, intervals – the Spartan Trainer is an excellent running watch. Aside from the heart rate failings, that is, which you can solve by pairing a chest strap with the device (but shouldn’t have to).
Through the Movescount app you can also create short Suunto Movies that show the details of your run – or indeed any GPS activity. These are great, especially if you like to share your activities.
Using The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR For Cycling
As with running, you set up your cycling sports mode on the Movescount website. I should say modes – you can fine-tune several different types, including ride tracking focused on specific data like your cycling power or cadence (if you have the Bluetooth sensors required to measure those stats paired with the Spartan Trainer).
Connectivity with other sensors is vital for serious cyclists because you can’t track metrics like cadence or power from the wrist, so the Spartan Trainer boosts its triathlon and cycling credentials by being easy to pair and use with a variety of sensors.
There are also the same navigation features found in running modes, with a global heatmap of popular routes. However, it’s a little harder to follow a route on a bike even if you put the Spartan Trainer on your handlebars, because the screen is a little too small, which is to be expected on a tracker in this price range.
Using The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR For Swimming
Both open-water and pool swimming are well supported on the Spartan Trainer, which even attempts to take a heart rate reading in the water. The results of the latter aren't great, but then you’d expect that from any optical wrist tracker.
Your swim stats will be recorded accurately, however. You’ll get distance, duration, laps, stroke rate, SWOLF and a host of other data you can set up on the website, and in the open water you’ll also get breadcrumb navigation to keep you on track. No-one wants to get lost in the water.
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Using The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR For Step Counting
The Spartan Trainer will notch up your daily step count and send all the details over to the Movescount app, so you can view your progress towards your daily goal (which is adjustable) on your phone or watch. Your step count is easily accessed on the watch at the click of a button, which takes you down to the daily activity screen. Although this is a watch designed for more athletic pursuits than hitting 10,000 steps daily, if step counting is key for you, it’s done well here.
Using The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR For Calorie Counting
It turns out faulty heart rate tracking really can ruin a lot of things on a GPS watch. For example, a 48-minute run burns 689 calories on the Garmin Forerunner 935 (heart rate working correctly) but 1,550 calories according to the Suunto.
If you’re using a heart rate chest strap, or if the heart rate doesn’t measure anything at all, you’ll get more accurate calorie counts on each activity with the Spartan Trainer, which also gives a daily tally. Like other everyday tracking stats on the Trainer, it’s done well enough (when the heart rate is working), but it isn’t the focus of what is primarily a sports watch.
Using The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR For Sleep Tracking
The Spartan Trainer will give you a basic time spent asleep number in the morning, which you can then view on the watch along with the time for each of the past seven days. That’s it, though – the data doesn’t currently show up on the app or website. That might change with later software updates, but for now the sleep tracking is pretty pointless, especially as the Spartan Trainer isn’t the most comfortable device to wear all night – you’ll certainly be aware of it on your wrist.
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The Movescount Website And App
The Movescount app is where you can check out your data from recent activities, create Suunto Movies and check in on your everyday tracking stats (bar 24/7 heart rate, which only resides on the watch). The website allows you to set up your sports modes and create routes. The Suunto syncs activities quickly over the air to the app and with the website when plugged in (though you also need to download the SuuntoLink programme to sync it with the website).
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You can also use the website to find training programmes and sync them to your calendar and watch. Unfortunately the sessions within those programmes are very basic compared with Garmin or Polar training programmes. You get distance, duration and an intensity (easy, moderate or hard) to follow, rather than proper intervals.
How Often Am I Going To Have To Charge It?
If you have the GPS setting on Best accuracy you’ll get eight to ten hours of life out of the Spartan Trainer. This can be extended to 30 hours if you reduce the accuracy of the GPS. Battery life when not training is a couple of weeks, though less if you have 24/7 heart rate tracking on.
If you run, cycle or swim outdoors five or more times a week, you’ll need to recharge the Trainer at least once to get through seven days, and probably twice if you commute by bike or run to work.
Where Can I Wear It Without People Laughing At Me?
Unless you opt for one of the wilder colour schemes, which include bright blue and a rather sickly green hue called Ocean, the standard Spartan Trainer is a nicely understated tracker. It’s still clearly a sports watch, but you won’t feel the need to stash it away from view it in between activities. If you pay the extra money for one with a metallic bezel, then it’s all the more stylish.
Should I Consider Buying Something Else?
If you are a triathlete on a budget, the Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is a stand-out choice, even with the heart rate tracking issues I experienced (get a chest strap). If the heart rate works for you, then you’re quids in.
For runners, it depends on how much you value structured workouts. For me, they’re absolutely key and I would pick the Polar M430 (£199.50) over the Suunto on that basis alone, even though it’s not as stylish.
Then there's the all-conquering Garmin Forerunner 235 (£220-ish, shop around) and the very affordable TomTom Runner/Spark 3 Cardio (£179.99) to consider. The Spartan Trainer is better than all those three when it comes to its navigation features, but for most runners that’s less important than workouts and training programmes.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.