Suunto's Spartan GPS sports watches haven't exactly blown us away but the Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is the Finnish company's latest attempt to prove it can rival the best of what rivals Garmin and Polar have to offer.
The Trainer Wrist HR is essentially the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR with a smaller, slimmer body. You can expect the same sports tracking modes, onboard optical heart rate sensor, a waterproof design and big battery life. It's a sub-$300 watch that's going to appeal to runners, cyclists, triathletes, swimmers and outdoor lovers and that price is key here. There's very few watches that can offer these features for this price.
So the price is right, but does it deliver where it matters? We've been living with the Trainer Wrist HR for a month now taking it running, swimming, cycling and more to find out.
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR: Design
Before we get onto looks, we have to talk about size first because that's the big talking point here with the Trainer Wrist HR. One of our main design gripes with the Spartan Sport Wrist HR was its hulking size and as you'll see from the side-by-side picture below, things have been scaled down pretty significantly. It's 15.7mm thick and weighs 56g (or 66g for metal bezel models) making it lighter than the Sport and it shows when you're wearing it. Its smaller stature makes it all that more appealing.
It is still undeniably a sports watch looks-wise, but some of the design language has evolved from the bigger Spartan watch in an attempt to make it a more attractive option. There's the visible screws around the circular watch display, two additional physical buttons to aid navigation and a softer feeling replaceable strap with watch-style buckle.
There's five models to choose from, the ocean, blue and black models ($279) are the cheapest of the bunch and feature plastic bezels. If you want something more luxurious, the gold and steel options, which feature metal bezels push the price up to $329. The ocean (turquoise) model we had might be an acquired taste for some, but we appreciated the bright splash of colour that makes a change from the usual drab colours we usually have to pick from with sports watches.
Trainer Wrist HR (left) and Spartan Sport Wrist HR (right)
Shrinking down in size does come with some compromises but none that will really have that great of an impact on day-to-day use for the majority of people. Waterproofing is down from 100m to 50 metres and there's now a smaller non-touchscreen display that sees the resolution drop as well. It's a situation once again where vibrancy and sharpness is sacrificed for extending battery life and offering good screen visibility in all conditions and that's exactly what you do get here.
Around the back is where you'll find an optical heart rate sensor, which relies on the same Valencell technology used in the Sport Wrist HR. You'll also find charging points for the charger that magnetically clips into the back.
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR: Sports tracking
While there's some changes in the design department, there's nothing really missing on the sports tracking front. You still get 80 sports modes that come pre-installed comprehensively covering indoor and outdoor activities with the core activities of running, swimming and cycling all covered.
You still get GPS tracking (though no GLONASS support), a built-in altimeter for outdoor tracking, navigation modes, route planning options and the ability to pair additional sensors like Stryd's running power meter, cycling cadence sensors and external heart rate monitors for additional metrics. Ultimately, you are getting a very similar tracking experience to the Sport Wrist HR and that's definitely a good thing.
GPS tracking accuracy: Suunto (left) and Polar Beat (centre and right)
Our running experience through training runs and our race test at the Great North Run with the Trainer Wrist HR was virtually identical with the Sport Wrist HR. You get the same metrics displayed on the watch while GPS signal pick-up is speedy as well. You can still adjust GPS quality (best, good and okay) to extend GPS battery life and in optimal mode it delivered the goods in our numerous tests. There were some small discrepancies with distance tracked, but data like average pace was generally spot on.
For swimming (indoor and open water) and cycling, the Trainer Wrist HR impresses well. GPS tracking was solid and it's these modes where a touchscreen is not really missed as the watch can be trickier to navigate in the water and cycling on a bike.
Post workout, there's some nice insights into recovery and training loads, some of which can be viewed on the watch but most of the additional data requires you to head to the Suunto Movescount web app. Whether you're a triathlete in training or just like to track more than one sport, then this watch has well and truly got you covered.
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR: Heart rate accuracy
Wrist based heart rate monitors are a mixed bag when it comes to accurately measuring your bpms. Yes, they might be more convenient and comfortable than chest monitors, but there's multiple ways that reliability and accuracy can be affected from fit to skin colour.
The heart rate monitor on the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR is up there with some of the best we've tested, so we were hoping for a similarly solid performance from the Trainer Wrist HR and that's pretty much what you get.
HR accuracy compared: Suunto (left) and Polar Beat (centre and right)
It didn't deliver identical results to the Polar H10 chest strap on every occasion, but it's one of the most reliable we've tried. We put it through high intensity training, checked in on resting heart rate throughout the day and put it through the running test and above is a sample of the kind of results that were produced. Average heart rate results were generally two or three out from the chest strap while graphs do show similar dips and peaks. Those maximum heart rate readings can appear higher, but on the whole results appeared pretty reliable.
Suunto certainly makes a better argument than Garmin and Polar that you can ditch that chest strap and measure heart rate from the wrist, but we still think there's some room to make the accuracy even better.
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR: Fitness tracking and smart notifications
Suunto's sports watch does double as a fitness tracker but it still feels a very secondary feature to the sports tracking where Suunto really excels. From the watch you can check on daily and weekly step counts and continuous heart rate data. You can now also monitor sleep as long as you activate it from the settings. Activity data can be viewed from the app, but these features simply don't feel as robust or as insightful as they are on Garmin Connect or Polar Flow.
It's a similar story when it comes to adding smartwatch-style features. It'll serve up notifications from first and third party applications, but you can't respond to them. Suunto does have a community-driven place for apps, most of which are designed for its Ambit watches, but we're hoping that support will start extending to the Spartan watches including the Trainer.
If you want a sports watch that doubles as a fitness tracker and smartwatch, there's better options out there to go for instead.
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR: The app
When you need to sync and review data, you still have your choice of the Suunto Movescount smartphone or web apps. While the mobile version is showing signs of improvement, it's still very threadbare and streamlined, so you might find yourself spending more time in the web version if you really want to get the most of the data that the Trainer Wrist HR churns out.
With the mobile app, you can see a feed of all your Moves (workouts), which is also broken down by individual sports and you tap to dig deeper for additional metrics, share the workout or watch your Suunto movie of your route. That's really your lot though. There's definitely room for improvement here and while we appreciate that the experience is clogged with unnecessary information, there's so much more it could be providing.
Over in the web app you'll find more streams of data metrics, the ability to compare data, see heatmaps and access community features. It's here where you can set up support for third party apps like Strava. Hopefully some of these features will start finding their way into the mobile version in the not too distant future.
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR: Battery life performance
Thankfully, a smaller body doesn't necessarily mean a vastly reduced battery performance from the Trainer Wrist HR. Suunto claims you should get up to 10 hours in GPS tracking with the best accuracy, up to 30 hours using the power saving modes and 14 days in watch mode. To put that into perspective, the Spartan Sport Wrist HR manages 8 hours in best GPS mode and 12 hours in power saving mode.
Now we should mention that initially we did encounter some battery-related issues with the Trainer Wrist HR where it struggled to make it through a day, even without sports tracking. With the latest firmware update on board, it's been an entirely different story and we'd agree with Suunto on those strong battery claims. If you don't regularly use the GPS, it's good for a couple of weeks. With more rigorous GPS use, you will comfortably get a week's worth of training out of it. It's a really good showing all round here.
Thanks to Duracell for our place in the Great North Run where we tested the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR.
- Slimmer design
- Great value for money
- Solid heart rate monitoring
- Strong battery life
- Web app better than phone app
- Underwhelming fitness features
- Limited smartwatch features
- Touchscreen is gone