Suunto Spartan Ultra Review
The Suunto Spartan is an expensive but beautiful running watch. It has an elegant, simplistic physical design, combined with an effective and intuitive user interface. The materials are not only beautiful to look at, but like the ambit range before, there pleasing to the touch. Unfortunately, this beautiful design is let down by incomplete functionality and a rather hefty price tag. If you buy the Spartan, it should be predominantly because of its looks and feel, rather than its functionality.
- 1 Will It Be Nice When It's Finished?
- 2 Physical Characteristics
- 3 User Interface
- 4 Configuration
- 5 Going For A Run
- 6 Sensors
- 7 Activity Tracking
- 8 Syncing The Spartan
- 9 Battery Life
- 10 GPS Accuracy
- 11 Comparison Table
- 12 Navigation Features
1 Will It Be Nice When It's Finished?
The Spartan has improved in many areas since it was first released, but it still feels incomplete. The first firmware versions I tested seemed like they were barely ready for beta testing, let alone production release. These early versions of the firmware didn't have even the most basic functionality, such as the ability to customize the displays. It seems like Suunto still have quite some distance to go before the firmware is relatively complete, and this poses a significant risk to purchasers. If Suunto were to abandon updates, as happened to the Garmin Epix, you'd be left with a rather inadequate device. So, will the Spartan be a nice watch when they finally finish the updates? Predicting the future is something of a fool's errand, as nicely described in The Signal and the Noise, but so far there are no indications that the Spartan will have much to justify its price tag. It is an attractive watch, made from lovely materials, and it has the highest resolution display of any watch I've tested. But beyond that these anesthetics, I don't see any functional aspects that make the Spartan a compelling purchase.
2 Physical Characteristics
The Spartan is a big watch, though it is dwarfed by earlier devices like the Garmin 910XT which always felt like wrist mounted computers. On my minuscule wrists, the Spartan feels large, but not cumbersome or awkward. The design seems to epitomize the simplistic elegance that the Scandinavians and Finns are renowned for. There is nothing about the Spartan that indicates it's a sports watch, and I feel that it would not look out of place when worn with more formal clothing. It's a far less fussy design than the Garmin Fenix 3 and like other Suunto watches, the strap is made of wonderfully soft material that feels pleasant next to the skin. Below you can see the Spartan next to some of its competitors. To the right of the Spartan is the Garmin Fenix 3, which is probably closest in terms of style and tactile qualities. It's a little more rugged with its exposed bolt heads, but this also makes it a little more visually fussy. Next is the Garmin Epix that has a little more functionality than the Spartan, adding in preloaded maps which is great for navigation. As we continue to move right, the Polar V800 has similar design aesthetics to the Spartan, using high-quality materials and an elegant, simplistic layout. The Polar does not have the conventional design of the Spartan but it is a beautiful watch. The polar lacks a color display, but has outstanding GPS accuracy. Finally, we have the Suunto Ambit3, which is here to show an earlier (and much cheaper) offering from Suunto.
Looking at these watches side on, you can get a sense of their bulk. They are surprisingly similar, and none of them could be considered thin or svelte, but they are less bulky than some of the earlier devices.
3 User Interface
the user interface has 3 buttons and a touchscreen, and is generally clean and intuitive. The menu system has a simple up/down/enter approach, with one of the menu options being a return to the previous level. You can use the touchscreen to navigate the menu as an alternative, but in most cases I found it easier to just use the buttons. There are a few touch-only actions, such as a 2 finger tap to turn on and off the backlight. The interface is responsive and I doubt if anyone will struggle to master it. The display is much higher resolution than other watches I've tested to date, and the Spartan makes good use of this by putting more data on the screen. There are a few oddities, such as using the middle button to start a run, but the top button to pause/resume. In the scale of the infuriating user interfaces that some watches have (I'm looking at you Epson) the Spartan is a delight.
Most of the configuration of the Spartan has to be done via their website and then synced to the watch. There is some configuration built-in, but not much. I generally prefer having a website for configuration as it's much easier than trying to do it on the watch, but it does mean you can't change the configuration when you're away from your computer. Most running watches have a few modes to choose from, such as running indoors or running outside, along with other sports such as cycling or swimming. The Spartan has dozens of modes with the idea that the watch would be configured more specifically. There are modes like "interval running", "race running", "track running", etc. This is an interesting approach as it allows the watch to be set up for that specific activity, displaying different information in different situations. You can also configure the sensors that are used and the GPS accuracy/battery life trade-off for each mode. Unfortunately, in their haste to release the Spartan they did not support the creation of new modes or the customization of the display. This has been partly remedied, but when you add a new custom mode, you have exactly 3 screens to configure; a 4-field display, a 5-field display, and a list of recent laps.
Based on the press releases, I believe there will be more customization in the future. The display of recent laps is rather cool, as you can compare your split times, or heart rate across each lap. The image below is from a recorded run rather than live, but it's a reasonable representation of what you see.
5 Going For A Run
To start a run, you simply select the exercise mode, wait for the Spartan to acquire a satellite lock and a link to any sensors and then hit start. If you've synced your Spartan in the last few days, then it should acquire a satellite lock quite quickly. For my accuracy tests I always give a watch at least 5 minutes so that it can download the real satellite position information (ephemeris) rather than having it rely on the predictions it downloads during the sync. The current firmware will show when a heart rate monitor is connected, but there's no indication of the connection status for a Footpod. The Spartan display is remarkably crisp, and they put more data on the screen than other watches which can sometimes make it a little tricky to read. Like most watch displays, you sometimes have to tweak the angle so the light hits it right for optimum clarity. The Spartan has a built in the monitor, but remember this is measuring the temperature quite close to your body so it's likely to be a little inaccurate. When you finished your run, the Spartan will give a nice list of summary statistics, plus a screen of listing some averages for each lap (assuming you recorded some laps of course.)
The Spartan works with various Bluetooth heart rate monitors I tried, including the Polar H7, Wahoo TICKR Run, and Suunto's own heart rate monitor. I found the heart rate monitor that is packaged as an option with the Spartan worked fine, though I've generally used the Wahoo as I can get the heart rate data on any Ant+ watches I'm also using. The Spartan is unique in supporting the Stryd footpod, a Running Sensor that will transmit "Running Power." It's nice to see these new Running Sensors supported as first-class devices, and the latest firmware seems to support the Stryd reasonably well.
7 Activity Tracking
Like most modern running watches, the Spartan will act as an activity tracker by counting steps. This seems to be something of an afterthought with the Spartan as the standard display does not show your step of progress unless you press the middle button. The Spartan step counting seems to be reasonably in line with the other devices that I've tested. There's always some variation in the precise account, as different watches will detect or ignore small steps, especially if you doing something like cooking and moving around the kitchen rather than striding down the path on a walk.
8 Syncing The Spartan
You can either sink the Spartan using a USB cable to a computer, or over Bluetooth to the smart phone app. I found that syncing to the smart phone app has been a little patchy, and I generally rely on the PC app. Syncing the Spartan will upload your workouts to their website, download information to speed up satellite lock (SGEE or Server Generated Extended Ephemeris), and to download any configuration changes you've made on the website.
9 Battery Life
Suunto claim 18 hours of battery life, but I only got 17 hours in my testing. That's enough for most runners, but if you're into Ultramarathons, I'd suggest looking elsewhere. The Spartan can extend its battery life by reducing GPS accuracy, but even then it's only 26 hours.
10 GPS Accuracy
When the Spartan was released it had the worst GPS Accuracy of any watch I've tested. Subsequent firmware upgrades gradually improved the situation, and as of release 1.6.14 the accuracy is pretty good. (The actual GPS firmware is 5.7.10-P2.1-SNT.003.) My GPS Accuracy page has detailed, objective, statistical analysis of the Spartan and many other watches. I know that many readers prefer something a little less technical, so I've also included some rather more subjective visual representations below. You can see the improvement in the tracks with the updated firmware, as they are now closer together and have far fewer that wandered off on their own. You'll notice that the tracks form 2 distinct paths along the middle portion of the image, and it's not clear to me why this might be. My actual running path goes over the same points in both direction, and the split between the 2 sets of tracks does not appear to be directional. If you look at the lap markers you'll see that they are reasonably close together, which suggests both reasonable positional accuracy and fairly good responsiveness of the watch to the pressing of the lap button. The Spartan seems to have a few problems going under the bridge, which is not surprising, but seems to recover reasonably quickly. If you look at the color coding of the tracks, you'll see the middle, curved section has relatively good accuracy. I find this rather surprising, as this is a section that causes most watches the greatest issues. By comparison, the rightmost section with the sharp right angle turn does rather worse, and this is a section that most watches do okay on. If you look at the statistical analysis, you'll notice that the Spartan has relatively good trueness but poor precision compared with watches that have similar overall accuracy ratings. This means that compared with the watches of a similar accuracy rating, over a quarter of a mile distance (400 m) the Spartan is less likely to be correct, but over greater distances these errors are more likely to even out. These results are with GLONASS turned off, and I've seen dramatically worse results with it enabled.
10.1 SGEE and Accuracy
There are some suggestions online that syncing the Spartan before you run will improve GPS accuracy. The idea is that the sync will update the cache of satellite information (SGEE), which in turn will improve accuracy. This satellite information is a prediction of the GPS Ephemeris data, which gives information needed to use a satellite's signal for calculating the watch's position. Because it takes about 30 seconds to get a satellite's Ephemeris, having it preloaded reduces the time to get a usable location (Time To First Fix, TTFF.) This predicted Ephemeris data is not typically used to improve accuracy, but a publication from Telit suggests otherwise for the chipset used in the Spartan. The document is rather ambiguous, but I interpret it to mean that for the time between the watch getting an initial fix using the SGEE data and getting the true Ephemeris from the satellite the accuracy will be compromised. Given this should only be for a minute or so at the start of a run, this shouldn't have a practical impact. It's possible the situation may reoccur mid-run as satellites drop below the horizon and others rise up, as the watch will use SGEE data until the new satellites Ephemeris has been downloaded. To test how this worked in practice I did a few runs with the SGEE data expired (>7 days since the last sync) and I found that the GPS accuracy was not impaired. If anything, the accuracy might have been better without SGEE data, but I didn't collect enough data for statistical analysis. Of course, it's possible that slightly stale, but usable SGEE data might cause a problem. To test that I'd need to wait for a few days between syncing and gathering data, and repeat that for every run, which would take ages.
11 Comparison Table
I evaluate running watches in three distinct ways. Firstly, you can use a watch on its own, without any kind of Footpod. This is probably the most common way runners use their watch, but you miss out on a lot. The second rating is with a standard Footpod that is available quite cheaply. These Footpod's can be reasonably accurate once the calibrated, but calibration is a little tedious. The final evaluation is with the Stryd Footpod, which is vastly more accurate than any other type of Footpod, or and more accurate than GPS. The table below looks at the score, and the value for money of each watch for each of the three conditions. (I’ve also tested the Apple Watch 3, but I’ve not included it in these tables as it’s not really a running watch.)
The score is the sum of how well each watch can answer the four basic questions (how far, how fast, where are you, what's your cadence), plus some bonus points.
- The "How far you've run" will be based on GPS only for "without Footpod" and "with Standard Footpod", but based on Stryd if supported in the "with Stryd Footpod" table..
- How fast you're running assumes you're using a Footpod if it's supported, otherwise the rating is 0-2 based on GPS accuracy.
- The "Where are you?" is based on various navigation features such as back to start, breadcrumbs, and preloaded maps. For some watches, you have to turn GPS off to get the benefit of Stryd, so those watches have worse "where are you scores" with Stryd than without.
- The cadence score uses 1 point for an internal cadence sensor, 2 points for footpod support, 1 point for support from chest strap cadence, and 1 point for cadence alerts.
- I give 1-2 bonus points for application support, 1-2 bonus points for data upload, 1-2 bonus points for Optical Heart Rate Monitoring, and 0-1 bonus points for battery life.
- Value for money is the score divided by the price (at the time I last updated the table.) Your needs may be different, so you might weight the different aspects of the watches differently, or be basing your decision on different criteria totally. Hopefully this table will give you a good starting point for your decision.
11.1 Score Breakdown without a Footpod
11.2 Score Breakdown with a Standard Footpod
11.3 Score Breakdown with a Stryd Footpod
11.4 Basic Features
|Weight (oz)||Size (CM3)||Display (mm)||Resolution (Pixels)||Waterproofing||Heart Rate
|Garmin Epix Review||2015||6.2||3.0||48||29 x 21 (609mm2)||205 x 148 (30.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 5X Review||2017||5.6||3.5||36||30.5 (round) (731mm2)||240 diameter (45.2K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 3 Review||2015||6.2||2.9||33||30 (round) (726mm2)||218 diameter (37.3K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin 935 Review||2017||5.6||1.7||24||30.5 (round) (731mm2)||240 diameter (45.2K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin Vivoactive HR Review||2016||4.9||1.7||19||21 x 29 (609mm2)||148 x 205 (30.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin 920XT Review||2014||6.6||2.2||35||29 x 21 (609mm2)||205 x 148 (30.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3 Review||2017||1.5||17||30.5 (round) (731mm2)||240 diameter (45.2K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Garmin Vivoactive Review||2015||5.4||1.3||13||29 x 21 (592mm2)||205 x 148 (30.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Suunto Spartan Trainer Review||2017||7.8||2.0||25||24 x 23 (529mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit2 Review||2013||7.6||3.1||30||29 (round) (661mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit3 Peak Review||2014||7.9||2.9||30||29 (round) (661mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Suunto Spartan Ultra Review||2016||7.1||2.7||38||32 (round) (804mm2)||320 diameter (80.4K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal (Limited Footpod)||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 2 Review||2014||5.7||3.2||32||31 (round) (755mm2)||70 diameter (3.8K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit3 Run Review||2014||7.9||2.5||30||29 (round) (661mm2)||128 x 128 (16.4K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit2 R Review||2013||7.6||2.5||30||29 (round) (661mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Garmin 235 Review||2015||4.9||1.5||19||31 (round) (755mm2)||215 diameter (36.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Garmin 620 Review||2013||7.1||1.5||20||25.4 (round) (507mm2)||180 diameter (25.4K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin 910XT Review||2011||7.5||2.5||49||33 x 20 (660mm2)||160 x 100 (16K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Footpod/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin 310XT Review||2009||7.5||2.5||63||33 x 20 (660mm2)||160 x 100 (16K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Footpod||Yes|
|Garmin 225 Review||2015||6.2||1.5||24||25.4 (round) (507mm2)||180 diameter (25.4K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|TomTom Cardio Runner Review||2015||6.0||2.2||30||22 x 25 (550mm2)||144 x 168 (24.2K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Polar V800 Review||2014||8.0||2.8||31||23 x 23 (529mm2)||128 x 128 (16.4K total)||Good (30m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Polar M430 Review||2017||7.2||2.0||24||23 x 23 (529mm2)||128 x 128 (16.4K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Polar M400 Review||2014||6.6||2.0||24||23 x 23 (529mm2)||128 x 128 (16.4K total)||Good (30m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Garmin 610 Review||2011||7.3||2.5||41||25.4 (round) (507mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Fair (IPX7)||Yes||Footpod/Alert||Yes|
|Leikr Review||2013||7.3||2.4||25||41 x 31 (1271mm2)||206 x 148 (76.8K total)||Fair (IPX6)||Yes||Footpod||Limited|
|Epson SF-510 Review||2015||4.4||1.7||24||28 x 22 (616mm2)||128 x 96 (12.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Limited Internal||Limited|
|Epson SF-810 Review||2015||5.5||1.8||28||28 (round) (616mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Good (50m)||OHRM Only)||Limited Internal||Limited|
|Garmin 10 Review||2012||3.8||1.3||33||25 x 24 (600mm2)||55 x 32 (1.8K total)||Good (50m)||No||No||Yes|
|Charge On The Run?||Training
|Garmin Epix Review||24||17.6||50||Yes (with USB=Garmin)||Yes||Record||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin Fenix 5X Review||20||23||35||Yes, but can't be worn||Yes||Record||Yes||Bluetooth/Ant+|
|Garmin Fenix 3 Review||20||22||50||Yes (with USB=Garmin)||Yes||No||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin 935 Review||24||24.5||60||Yes, but can't be worn||Yes||Record||Yes||Bluetooth/Ant+|
|Garmin Vivoactive HR Review||13||13||Yes (with USB=Garmin)||No||No||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin 920XT Review||24||19||40||No (terminates)||Yes||Record||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3 Review||13||13||No||Yes||Bluetooth/Ant+|
|Garmin Vivoactive Review||10||10||10||Yes (with USB=Garmin)||No||No||Yes||Ant+|
|Suunto Spartan Trainer Review||10||11||30||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Bluetooth|
|Suunto Ambit2 Review||15||50||Yes||Yes||Record||Yes||Ant+|
|Suunto Ambit3 Peak Review||20||100||Yes||Yes||Record||Yes||Bluetooth|
|Suunto Spartan Ultra Review||18||17||26||Yes, but can't be worn||Yes||Record||Yes||Bluetooth|
|Garmin Fenix 2 Review||15||50||Yes (with USB=Garmin)||Yes||No||Yes||Ant+|
|Suunto Ambit3 Run Review||10||10.5||100||Yes||Yes||Record||Yes||Bluetooth|
|Suunto Ambit2 R Review||8||7.3||25||Yes||Yes||Record||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin 235 Review||11||11||Yes, but no optical HR||Yes||No||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin 620 Review||10||10||No (resets)||Yes||Record||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin 910XT Review||20||20||Yes, but no display||Yes||Record||No||Ant+|
|Garmin 310XT Review||20||20||Yes, but no display||No||No||No||Ant+|
|Garmin 225 Review||10||11||10||No (resets)||No||No||Yes||Ant+|
|TomTom Cardio Runner Review||8||6.3||8||No (resets)||No||No||Yes||Bluetooth HR|
|Polar V800 Review||13||24||50||No (terminates)||Yes||Display||Predictive||Bluetooth|
|Polar M430 Review||8||8||8||No||No||No||Yes||Bluetooth|
|Polar M400 Review||8||8||Yes, but can't be worn||No||No||No||Bluetooth|
|Garmin 610 Review||8||8||Yes, but no display||Yes||Record||No||Ant+|
|Leikr Review||5||6.5||5||Yes, but can't be worn||No||No||Yes (few hours)||Ant+|
|Epson SF-510 Review||30||30||30||No||No||No||Yes (few hours)||Bluetooth HR|
|Epson SF-810 Review||20||26||20||No||No||No||Yes (few hours)||None|
|Garmin 10 Review||5||5||No||No||No||No||None|
|Color Maps||Breadcrumbs||Courses||To Waypoint||Compass||Reverse course||Beeline to start||Connect IQ||Altimeter|
|Garmin Epix Review||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 5X Review||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 3 Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin 935 Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Garmin Vivoactive HR Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin 920XT Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Garmin Vivoactive Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Suunto Spartan Trainer Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Suunto Ambit2 Review||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit3 Peak Review||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Suunto Spartan Ultra Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 2 Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit3 Run Review||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Suunto Ambit2 R Review||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Garmin 235 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Garmin 620 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Garmin 910XT Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Garmin 310XT Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||No||No|
|Garmin 225 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|TomTom Cardio Runner Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Polar V800 Review||No||No||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||No||Yes|
|Polar M430 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Polar M400 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Garmin 610 Review||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Epson SF-510 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Epson SF-810 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Garmin 10 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
- Color Maps gives you full color maps, rather like a smart phone, with roads and paths marked out.
- Track Outline is a display of where you've run, rather like a breadcrumb trail. If there are maps, the outline is superimposed otherwise this is just the outline on its own without any context.
- Course Outline is an outline of a route that can be downloaded. I've found this useful during ultras or in unfamiliar cities where I've needed to know where to go.
- Back To Start is a simple arrow point to your starting point, so it won't help you backtrack.
- Back To Waypoint returns you to a previously marked location using a simple arrow to point.
- Compass. A magnetic compass can help you orient yourself or the map. Without a magnetic compass you have to be moving for the GPS to give you a sense of direction.