Like Garmin and Polar, Suunto has taken its time to introduce heart rate monitoring from the wrist, but now feels it's got the tech on board to deliver data that might convince you to leave the chest strap behind.
For that pretty big extra, you'll have to pay $500, which does make it cheaper than the Spartan Ultra, the daddy of the Suunto Spartan watches, and makes it a more affordable option than the Garmin Fenix 5 and roughly the same price as the ageing, yet still great, Polar V800.
Read this: Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR review
Bottom line: If you are thinking of buying one, then you're probably pretty serious about sports tracking and wouldn't mind some smartwatch and fitness tracker-like features thrown into the mix as well.
So does the Wrist HR deliver accurate heart rate data? Does it make up for the issues and bugs we experienced using the Sport? We've been living with it for the last few weeks to find out.
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR: Design
Unsurprisingly, the Spartan Sport Wrist HR is an almost identical clone of the Sport, but there are a few minor things that separate it from its heart rate monitor-lacking sibling.
Read this: Best Strava compatible watches to own
It still has that big round touchscreen display, three physical buttons down the side and a soft touch silicone rubber strap keeping it around your wrist. It also offers the same waterproofing (100m) so you can take it for a dip. One noticeable change here though is the missing brushed metallic bezel, now replaced with a more subdued black steel bezel. You can pick the Wrist HR up in blue, sakura (pink) or black with interchangeable straps to mix the colours up. Put it up against something like the Garmin Fenix 5 and it lacks character, with a very ordinary sports watch feel about it.
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR and Garmin Fenix 5
While it looks roughly the same size as the Sport, it's actually just slightly heavier (74g up from 70g) and thicker, jumping from 16.8mm from 13.8mm, no doubt as a result of the addition of the heart rate sensor. What hasn't changed is the hulking size of this watch in comparison to its closest competitors. It's a big ol' watch, but surprisingly light and comfortable to wear.
The focal point is the 320 x 300 resolution touchscreen, which makes a trade-off between screen quality and power consumption. This the same thing that Garmin and Polar do, so it's no big surprise. It's definitely not the sharpest or the most vibrant of displays, but for a sports watch it definitely does the job. Our one main criticism though is that it's a bit laggy in responding to swipes and taps, but that's more of an issue with what's powering it.
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Around the back of the watch is of course the heart rate sensor. Suunto has opted to use PerformTek biometric measurement technology, designed by the folks over at Valencell. That's the same company that provides the heart rate tracking technology for Jabra's Sport headphones, the Scosche Rhythm+ and the Atlas Wristband.
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR: Sports tracking
If you want to track multiple sports then this watch has got you well and truly covered. There are 80 sports in total that can be tracked, and once you hit the top physical button to jump into exercise mode you'll be able to scroll through activities that include running, trail running, treadmill running, cycling and swimming (open and pool). There's a triathlon option, and even something for obstacle training.
For running, GPS signal is pretty quick, but just make sure you've switched on the Glonass support to improve tracking. Additionally, you can turn on navigation with real-time breadcrumb trails supported and set up interval training. We put it to the test against the TomTom Spark 3 and the Polar Beat iPhone app and were pretty happy with the results. If you don't select that optimal GPS option, it'll sample GPS data less frequently. We found a difference of 400-500 metres when taking that option.
GPS tracking: Suunto (left), TomTom (centre) and Polar (right)
We also took the Wrist HR for a swim, and while you won't be able to benefit from the heart rate monitor while in the water, it does a very good job of recording pool sessions, serving up accurate distance and lap counts.
Suunto should also be commended on delivering a pretty decent treadmill running mode, something that most sports watches really struggle with in terms of accuracy. That's because you're relying on the motion sensors to record distance covered. Against a Moov Now worn around our ankle, the data was surprisingly consistent.
Post workout, there's a nice breakdown in the Logbook on the watch to view previous workouts, including heart rate and pace graphs. There's also a big emphasis on recovery, giving you a score and suggested recovery time to make sure you're fully rested before working out again.
Good sports tracking should make the entire process feel effortless and on the whole Suunto delivers on that front.
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR: Heart rate accuracy
So this is the big one. Finally, Suunto has decided to embrace optical heart rate sensors, seeking to do what very few have managed and deliver accurate readings. It's something even the company itself remains unconvinced of, outlining on its own website that optical heart rate sensor technology is not as accurate or reliable as measuring from the chest. That's why you still have the option to pair an external heart rate chest strap.
The good news is that the Wrist HR actually performs pretty well. In fact, it's probably one of the best we've tried and is up there with the TomTom Spark 3 for reliability. But it's not perfect.
HR tracking compared: Suunto (left), Polar (centre) and TomTom (right)
We put it up against the TomTom Spark 3 and the Polar H10 heart rate chest strap and it served up reliable data. The average heart rate was only ever out from the chest strap by at most about 2-3bpm and it was a similar story for the maximum heart rate.
We should also say that there was one occasion where it posted a suspiciously high maximum heart rate reading (data below) compared to the chest strap, but weirdly so did the Spark 3 as well. This was during a high intensity run, which is where many other optical heart rate sensors come unstuck. On other high intensity runs, it held up well.
We're still not convinced about ditching the chest strap, but it certainly makes a bigger impression than what Garmin and some others currently have to offer.
Tracked 10km running session – 19/04/17
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR: Average HR – 168bpm, HR Max – 191bpm
Polar H10: Average HR – 166bpm, HR Max – 178bpm
TomTom Spark 3: Average HR – 165bpm , HR Max – 185bpm
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR: Activity tracking and smart notifications
Away from dedicated sports tracking, Suunto has taken a leaf out of Garmin and Polar's books by turning its sports watches into fitness trackers. So you can count steps and view daily or weekly data. You also get calories burned data and a new software update adds resting heart rate into the mix. You still get the training screens and recovery data to factor in recorded workouts as well.
It's a pretty basic approach and lacks the more motivational features that Garmin offers with its sports watches. There's also no sleep tracking, although we're not sure we'd be all that comfortable sleeping with this big watch. Data is added to the Movescount app but overall fitness tracking feels very secondary to the overall experience. There's certainly potential here to do more on this front, especially with the addition of the resting heart rate data. Right now, it's not offering anything new or innovative.
The Wrist HR also tries to bring some smartwatch features to the party, but you're not going to get any dedicated apps or the ability to control music playback. It'll serve up notifications from native and third party apps, but there's no way to act on them. You can view them easily enough and scroll through longer messages on that big screen, but it can be a bit of a nuisance getting rid of them when you are in the middle of a workout.
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR: App
When you've finished tracking, you've got your pick of the Suunto Movescount smartphone app or the web app. The mobile option offers a far more streamlined experience but lacks a lot of the good features you'll find in the web version.
The mobile app focuses on showing you totals and workout history, which you can drill further into to see a breakdown of sessions and view graphs for aspects like pace, speed, heart rate and cadence. You can add photos and tags, add a 'feeling' and share a Suunto Movie of your sessions that'll pick out key points of data, like where you hit your maximum heart rate.
Suunto Movescount iPhone app
Suunto Movescount desktop app
Move over to the web version of Movescount and there's a whole lot more going on. For starters, there are more graphs letting you see data on energy consumption and estimated VO2 readings. There are also heat maps for running, cycling and trail routes. Dig deeper and you'll find community training insights and the ability to build training programs.
It's shame a lot of these features are not carried over into the mobile app, but it feels like Suunto finds itself where Garmin was a few years ago and where Polar is now – moving a platform predominantly developed for the web to become more mobile-friendly. The good news at least is that it does play nice with third party fitness apps including Strava, if neither the mobile or web app is up to your high standards.
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR: Battery life
Like the Sport, battery performance is based on how much you care about GPS accuracy. When you go to track an activity, you'll be able to scroll down into the options to pick from best, good or okay GPS accuracy. This then enables the battery life to be extended by spreading out the GPS fix rate. So if you go for best, you'll get eight hours. Drop down to good, and you can get 12 hours.
Tracking a few two-hour runs in best GPS accuracy mode saw the battery life drop by 20%, so we'd say that the battery life estimations were pretty reliable. If you're just using it as a smartwatch, throwing in the odd tracked session or two, then it can comfortably manage to get through a week without charging.
To get powered up, there's the same magnetic clip that attaches to the back of the watch and it'll take a less than a couple of hours to get back up from 0-100%.
- Crammed with sports tracking modes
- Easy to use
- Decent heart rate monitor performance
- Mobile app not as rich as web app
- Laggy screen response
- Big and not very good looking