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Today Suunto launches its new Spartan Trainer Wrist HR. Introduced three weeks ago, the Spartan Trainer offers the same software features as its big brothers in the Spartan range, but at a fraction of the price.
With a retail price of just £279, Suunto's new model is set to be a success. No triathlon multisport watch with an optical sensor is cheaper. Yes, there are TomTom, Polar or Garmin models that allow you to swim, run and ride a bike, but none of them allow you to do so as part of a single activity, a key feature for considering a watch as a multisport.
Until now Suunto used to reduce performance on their entry-level models so as not to affect sales of their higher-end models. This time they have not eliminated any aspect of it, leaving the experience virtually intact. There are other changes that we will see later, but first let's take it out of the box.
The unpacking of the Spartan Trainer does not hold many surprises. There is not much difference from other models in the Spartan range... or even from older models, such as the Ambit3. The box is identical to the one Suunto has been using for many years, and the only thing that changes is the outer band.
In fact, the presentation when opening the box is no different from what we have seen in the past either.
In the case of the model available for testing, it is the colour "Ocean". The Trainer range is made up of two different finishes to complete a range with a total of five colours.
Within the basic finish, in addition to the new Ocean colour (a light blue-green), we have the classic black and blue "Suunto" colours. There is a superior finish, called "Steel", which offers two different variants: white strap and gold steel bezel or black strap and polished steel bezel.
But let's go back to my Ocean unit. This is the entire contents of the box.
Clock, synchronization and charging cable, quick manual and warranty booklet and a card that incorporates a small novelty, and is that now to make the first start of the clock is necessary to connect it to the computer or charger for it to start.
The charging connection is identical to the one used in the Ambit3, so the cable is the same. Here we already see the first cost reduction compared to the higher range models, as the convenient magnetic charger is no longer present, returning to the clamp system.
The optical sensor does not hold any surprises. It is the same Valencell sensor that equips the Spartan Sport Wrist HR, the only difference is that in the case of the Trainer it is turned 180º and in a separate housing from the watch.
I do not think that these changes make any difference to its operation, but rather are due to the internal location of components and the existing space. I do not expect any improvement in data recording with these changes.
That said, the box doesn't hold any special surprises, so let's get to know the watch.
Suunto Spartan Trainer vs Spartan Sport. Differences
Suunto Spartan Trainer is a new component of the Spartan range, but it clearly reminds us of the Suunto Ambit3. Aesthetics, button layout, GPS antenna in the strap area... All this reminds us of the Ambit3, especially the Ambit3 Run.
But don't let aesthetics confuse you, it's a model from the Spartan range in its own right.
So what are the differences with the rest of the range? Well, here I am to answer those questions.
I will start with the external differences, as they are the easiest to identify with the naked eye and there is no need to have an over-trained eye. The first difference is clearly the size, and that is that the Spartan Trainer is markedly smaller than the others.
Here are the three models together, from left to right: Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR, Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR and Suunto Spartan Ultra.
In this picture I would miss the Spartan Sport or the Trainer Steel, which I don't have, but the first one has the same front as the Sport Wrist HR (only the thickness and weight vary) and the second one is also practically identical.
The Spartan Trainer is a perfect watch for anyone with thinner, smaller wrists.
Compare with the Spartan Sport.
I personally feel more comfortable with the Spartan SportI have more than enough wrist to keep it from looking too big. Spartan Ultra is too big for me in terms of thickness, at least in terms of day-to-day use. But what is most appreciated about the Spartan Trainer is certainly your weight.
At 56 grams, it is a watch that is barely noticeable on the wrist, even though both the Spartan Sport Wrist HR and the Ultra Stealth Titanium shown in the photos are not excessively heavy (for their size) at 74 and 73 grams respectively. But once placed on the wrist, the difference is noticeable.
The basic version of the Spartan Trainer is made entirely of polyamide (plastic), including the lens. In the Spartan Sport and Ultra the bezel is made of steel or titanium (depending on the version) and the mineral glass or sapphire in the case of the Ultra. If we compare it with the Trainer Steel, for example, the weight increases to 66 grams.
These are the differences from the outside. Internally it has hardly any changes compared to the Spartan Sport Wrist HR, which is the model it most resembles. These are the main differences between the two:
- The Spartan Trainer has the smallest screen and is not touch-sensitive, so instead of three buttons it has a total of five, just like the Ambit3. The software is almost identical on both models and has been adapted for use with buttons on the Trainer.
- There is a small difference in the water resistance rating. The Trainer can withstand immersion up to 50 meters, while the Sport and Ultra are able to withstand 100 meters. I do not consider this a difference that has much importance.
- The location of the antenna changes. While the Sport and Ultra integrate the antenna into the bezel, in the Trainer the antenna is in the lower part of the watch, in the area of the strap. This should theoretically have an advantage in terms of satellite signal reception, not only because it is a larger antenna, but also because the placement of the watch when running is oriented directly to the sky.
- The Spartan Trainer does not have a magnetic compass for navigation, only GPS. It does not affect navigation whenever you are on the move, because by the location obtained by satellite the clock can understand in what direction you are moving. It is stopped when you may have problems.
- The screen illumination is worse in the Trainer. There is no possibility to regulate the intensity and a point of higher intensity (where the screen illumination LED is located) is clearly noticed in the 10 o'clock area.
- The Spartan Trainer is only compatible with GPS satellites, while the higher models also support GLONASS.
- There is no colour reduction mode to save energy (automatic screen shutdown is available). test of autonomy that I once performed on the Spartans I hardly noticed any difference in battery life.
- The Trainer declares longer battery life, at least with respect to the Spartan Sport Wrist HR. 10 hours for the Spartan and 8 hours for the Sport.
A quick review of Spartan Trainer
Since I published the full test of the Spartans only a few weeks ago and the Trainer software provides almost the same possibilities, I recommend that you take a look at the full test of Spartan Sport and Spartan Ultra.
However, I will give a quick review of some of the most notable features and details that stand out within the Spartans, as a reminder. Firstly, we can set up two sections for the menus:
Starting from the main screen with the time, we differentiate whether we move up or down. Upwards we have the different options and modes of use: sport profiles, navigation, diary, stopwatch or settings.
Therefore, "up" we have all the functions of the clock.
If we use the bottom scroll button we will find the different measurements it offers us: daily activity, training, recovery time and sleep monitoring (option that is launched with the Trainer and I will talk about it later)
Within these measurement options the way of navigation varies slightly. As we don't have a touch screen that we can use to move around by sliding our finger, the way of seeing the different screens within each of these sub-menus will be done by pressing two buttons. Scrolling to the right with the central right button and to the left with the lower left button (the one we use in the menu to go back).
When it comes to training, the Spartan Trainer offers exactly the same options as its range brothers at a much higher price, leaving behind the days when the lower range models had their software features cut back simply so as not to hinder the rest of the range (as was the case with the Ambit3 Run in relation to the Ambit3 Sport).
What does this mean? Well, we have a watch that supports absolutely all the sports modes that the rest of the range, including multi-sports activities. This makes the Spartan Trainer the most economical triathlon watch on the market - if we stick to its retail price and don't take old models into account.
In the watch we have available 80 pre-set sport modes with pre-configured screens. You can take the watch out of the box and start training with any of them. Additionally we can configure our sport modes with the settings that we believe appropriate. To do this we must go to the website of MovescountYou will find your Suunto clock or clocks and you can access the different settings.
Suunto allows us to configure three data screens completely to our liking, with a fourth one that will be fixed for navigation or intervals, depending on the options we choose for the sport profile. In the predefined profiles there are also graphics that, at the moment, cannot be selected in the profile configuration.
Each of these screens can be configured as follows.
This is where you can set up the different options for each sport mode.
These are just a few options because in the clock, within each activity profile, we have other options that we can configure independently, including the possibility of creating interval training.
It's very easy to create them, but their functionality is also very basic, at least compared to what Polar or Garmin offer, but the information screens while you're training are really good (I'll reuse the Spartan Sport images).
It may be too simple because there is no warning if we are above or below a certain target (power, rhythm, heart rate, etc) or because the intervals will always be the same length in terms of pace or distance, but the truth is that it does not complicate things and it is possible to create an interval session in a matter of seconds and without having to resort to the computer. Everything has its pros and cons.
When you finish a training session and provided the option is selected, the watch will ask you how you feel after the session is over.
You will be able to follow up in Movescount how you feel after each session. If you accumulate many sessions with bad sensations it is clear that you will have to lower the intensity level, because you will not reach a good port.
Once you have marked your sensations we will have a quite detailed summary of the training, including graphics. Without a doubt it is the most complete post-activity summary of all the watches on the market.
And we will also have the details of each lap, both the automatic ones by distance and the manual ones that you mark individually.
All those details and much more will be available both in the mobile app and on the web. In the mobile app with the same level of detail as in the clock, but on the web in a much more detailed way.
In short, everything is exactly the same as in the rest of the Spartan range (full scan).
Sleep monitoring is a function that has been released in the Spartan Trainer but will of course reach the rest of the Spartan range through a software update (which in theory will include some other things).
Sleep recording is done automatically. Within the settings menu there is a sleep menu where you can define different parameters, for example, your usual hours of rest.
It is necessary to indicate this to improve the record, in that selected section will be where I will analyze the movements.
In my case I have selected from 23:30 to 8:00, as a normal average between the week and the weekend. In many occasions I go to sleep later than that and during the week I usually get up before (or quite early) 8:00. And if I wake up later than 8:00 on a Sunday there is no problem either, because everything will be recorded.
In addition, we have another option that allows you to activate a "do not disturb" mode for the phone notifications. Within the time period marked, the clock will not vibrate with the phone notifications.
When you are in night mode you will see that the clock display only shows the time in digital format. Pressing any button will ask you if you want to exit the mode.
It will present you with your sleep statistics, the time you fell asleep and the time you woke up, along with the total number of hours and what you have missed to reach your goal.
You will also see the estimated times of deep sleep and when you have been awake.
If we have heart rate monitoring activated throughout the day, the average heart rate during sleep will also be displayed.
Finally, you will see a graph with the summary of weekly sleep and the average, although if you have left the clock running one night it will be altered.
In the menu we also have that graph along with the time you've been asleep (but without all the details seen before). This data is not synchronized with Movescount (or at least not shown).
For the moment, the operation is quite basic, but it is a first approach to this type of information by Suunto, so it is expected that later on more options will be offered, especially thinking about displaying the information after synchronizing the clock with its online platform.
Optical heart rate sensor
Suunto continues to rely on Valencell's technology to equip its optical sensor watches, and it is a very good decision because they have traditionally always shown impeccable performance.
The first Suunto model to equip this sensor was the Spartan Sport Wrist HR. In the Spartan Trainer there are slight changes, but more than for operational reasons I think they are simply design and internal placement of components.
In the case of the Spartan Trainer, the sensor rotates 180º with respect to how it is placed in the Spartan Sport.
There are also differences in the packaging, but this is simply for aesthetic reasons.
Although Valencell's sensor is very good at measuring during training, it is also true that it is a few years old and does not offer the same performance as other sensors today. For example, it records pulses constantly throughout the day, which although the watch is capable of taking, it does not do so with the same recording rate as the competition.
With this option activated through the menu, the clock activates the sensor every 10 minutes to take a record, although this data is not recorded anywhere and is not synchronized (or at least not displayed) with Movescount. It is possible to access data from the last 12 hours on the clock, but after that time... poof! they disappear.
On that same activity screen you can also see your current heart rate and while you are on it, the sensor will be in operation, to display the data and make the graph.
Let's focus on the training. The way I have to perform the different tests is by comparing the records of different sensors during my training, and the truth is that these last days I have been noticing strange things, but not only in the case of the Spartan Trainer, but with any other watch with an optical sensor that I have tried to use.
Slightly erratic behaviour or not being able to register pulses at all during the session (as has happened to me on several occasions with the Garmin FR935 over the last few weeks). Changes from the past? It's been very hot these days with high humidity, so the sweating has been much greater; but the biggest change I've noticed is when I shaved the hair on my arms in anticipation of the race this weekend.
Can hair affect the measurement in any way? No, especially if instead of putting it on, which is what could hinder it, we remove it. In my opinion, it is a combination of all aspects. More sweating makes the watch slippery and there is no hair that can help "hold" it, added to the change in sensations that having shaved arms can cause.
But don't forget that with so much moisture, the sensors on your chest can also show strange things for the same reason. Sweat makes it easier for the sensor to move or slip on your body.
First of all I will start with a gentle recovery training of about 30 minutes, something easy and without changes of intensity, at a relatively low frequency.
In this case the Spartan Trainer was compared with its "brother" the Spartan Sport Wrist HR and with a Garmin 935 connected to the HRM-Tri sensor.
Both the chest sensor and the Spartan Trainer mark the same graph right from the start. It takes a couple of minutes for the Spartan Sport Wrist HR to find the correct frequency, but it is common for all sensors to see these discrepancies at the beginning of the activity, when the heart rate is still low.
In general everything has worked perfectly during the whole training. There are small peaks in the Spartan Trainer graph but without importance, there are no differences of more than 1 or 2 beats per minute.
Next, we're going to do a similar workout, but longer and with some change in intensity. Five little fartleks where I raise the pace slightly. Here we're already entering the terrain of changes in intensity, which is one of the things to look out for when testing an optical sensor.
The first thing you see in the graph is the above mentioned with respect to the 935. At no time during the training does it manage to establish the correct heart rate. Just a curiosity.
What can be extracted from this image? From the beginning to almost the end of the training, both the Spartan Trainer and the HRM-Tri chest sensors recorded the same heart rate. In the first interval, the Suunto reads about 3 or 4 heart rates, but there was no delay in the heart rate increase or in the start of the rest.
Where you do see discrepancies (logically ignoring the 935 graph) is from minute 46:33, where the HRM-Tri reading is stable while the Suunto has rising peaks. Has the Suunto made a bad reading?
Well, no, on the contrary, because if we look at the graph of pulses compared to the rhythm we can clearly see how the rhythm continues to rise, so the heart rate should also do so.
Mini point for Suunto's optical sensor.
In short, when it comes to running training I continue to see results similar to those left by the Spartan Sport Wrist HR. Good performance both in smooth training and on series and interval days. With slight faults that any optical sensor can suffer, but overall it passes the test with a good score.
Now let's see how it behaves in cycling, another aspect where the optical sensors must improve. In theory the Spartan Trainer may perform better than the Spartan Sport due to its lower weight. However, weight is not everything, and the size of the watch may also come into play, since being smaller it is possible that light enters the sensor area making it difficult to read.
This training is quite good for performing the analysis because it contains all kinds of sections:
- An initial stretch of pure time trial on the flat trying to maintain a stable power (250W), until approximately 30 minutes.
- Rises and falls in intensity when crossing urban areas, between 30 and 1:24.
- Power intervals between 1:50 and 2:30.
Three details: The Suunto was kind enough to restart at the beginning of the activity, so there are two files that correspond to its reading. In blue at the beginning and in purple later on. And around 1:15 you'll see that all three graphs have a strange behavior, it's just a stop on the way where I paused both the Garmin 935 and the Edge 520... but the Suunto kept recording. And finally... I ran out of battery in the Suunto. Yes, it happens to all of us.
First time trial section. 9 minutes of considerable variation from all the sensors until I warm up and hit the road. From then on everything is perfectly stable.
The same goes for the second part, as soon as there are traffic or city crossing areas and the intensity varies, the problems begin. Only when there is continuous pedalling is when all three sensors coincide.
Finally, the interval section with variable result. The first two intervals are regular, too much variation in the pulse. The third interval does it more or less correctly making the recovery perfectly, but then it has a totally irregular fall. Precisely in that same interval the 935 is lost when starting the recovery.
Whether by relocation or any other reason, both the Spartan Trainer and the 935 perform well from then on, at least until the Suunto runs out of battery.
There are no new features to highlight with respect to what has already been seen with this same sensor in Suunto. The record is erratic, as was already the case with the Spartan Sport, and is something that I have been able to verify not only in this training but also in the other bike trainings that I have been doing these days (and there have been a few).
For cycling training I still recommend (and the manufacturer does too) the use of a chest sensor. Spartans are compatible with any Bluetooth sensor, so when training on the bike the best option is to use the traditional sensor.
Finally, it is important to remember that the Spartan Trainer allows you to use the optical sensor during swimming, not only to be able to see on screen the pulses while you are swimming but also to record them in the file after synchronizing it. However, it is important to note that this is not the most accurate way to do it, since as in cycling the manufacturer recommends using the sensor on the chest (the Suunto Smart Sensor has memory, synchronizing the data when saving the activity). But it is also important to note that it offers the possibility of swimming only with the optical sensor, we will have less eyes in the pool.
As you know, for my GPS analysis I don't do any special tests of any kind, I just carry the different watches I'm using with me in my training, which contributes to receive strange looks from those I come across, but if I'm honest, it's been years since I've been ashamed.
In these trainings I compare the Spartan Trainer (or the one that I am testing at that moment) with other models, trying to give importance also to those, that can represent an interesting comparison with the analyzed model. In the case of this Suunto it can't be other than the Spartan Sport Wrist HR, and this way I can compare how the new Spartan Trainer behaves when returning to the external antenna design.
I'm not boring you anymore. During these weeks that I've been testing the Spartan Trainer thoroughly I've done multiple trainings - at least one per day, but two when it was time to double session. Everything to prepare the Ironman Cascais 70.3 of this Sunday-, in which he has always accompanied me along with other models.
I'll start with a training run on one of my most common routes. The advantage of always using the same one is that, despite not having many turns, I know perfectly well where the problems appear.
Seen from afar we have no problem.
That's why it's important to get "close to the action". This area of Puerto Banus,The street is not excessively wide and the entire route runs under a wooded area, which makes it difficult to receive the clocks, making it a good test case.
In this first image you can see how two of the three devices are quite stable, being the FR230 the one that gets a little lost on the way back. The Spartan Trainer has some small detours on the way out (which are the tracks at the top), but nothing too noticeable.
Both the FR230 and the FR935 mark the route more or less correctly, with the Spartan having a detour. You can see perfectly well that at the beginning, as the street turns, the Spartan continues straight, as it lacks positioning points. The same thing has happened with the FR935.
But while the first one continues straight to correct the trajectory when it recovers more signals from the satellite, the 935 is more erratic in the same area. Different ways to solve the same problem.
This is an area that is always very problematic, something like the Bermuda Triangle of GPS's. You get to an open area, without trees and with no excessively high adjacent buildings, because always, regardless of the clock you are testing, GPS rhythm measurement does strange things.
I wouldn't judge FR230 too much by these images, as I took it more to collect FC data than by its satellite reception data. Between 935 and Spartan the representation of Suunto is slightly better as it is more in line with the area I actually went through.
Next, let's compare with its range brother, the Spartan Sport Wrist HR. In clear areas everyone behaves quite well, although in this case it's the Spartan Sport that slightly misses the line by a matter of a metre.
Both the way to and from Spartan Trainer is perfect.
This is another point that I like quite a lot, because it comes out of a wooded area. Again, although the Spartan Sport's track is good (within what I consider a correct range for a GPS), the Trainer's is better.
Now let's take a quick look at a bike tour, where usually there are not many problems, which is normal, because the higher speed and distance traveled between points helps filter out possible location errors.
The same goes for roundabouts and turns, that extra speed helps to make beautiful images.
Remember what I just told you about speed? That's just what happens with open water swimming. As with both Spartan Sport and Spartan Ultra, the open water swimming record can certainly be improved. As proof, you only have to look at this training, where the target was 2,000m (doing a little more in total, about 2,100m).
However, according to the Spartan, I've covered almost 3,000m. And with a track, let's say... "regulator".
If a watch tells you that you swam 3,000m in open water at a rate of 1:06 min/100m you don't rule it out, do you? The bad thing is that in competition these results are not what you count on.
In short, there is no problem with GPS reception, just a few detours, but the usual for any GPS watch.
In a direct comparison with the Spartan Sport and its bezel-integrated antenna, you can see better reception on the Trainer thanks to the external antenna, but it's not a noticeable difference that should make you decide between one model or another.
Suunto Spartan Trainer, like the rest of the range, is compatible with any Bluetooth Smart sensor. Bluetooth only, no ANT+. But within the supported sensors it includes all, especially notable being compatible with power meters or Stryd, something that not many other watches in this price range offer.
Specifically, these are the supported sensors.
- Heart rate sensor, and in the case of the Suunto Smart Sensor, storing HR data for swimming
- Cadence sensor, both for cycling and running
- Speed sensor.
- Cadence/speed sensor
- Power Meter
- Stryd (stroke power meter)
One problem that remains is that it only allows you to connect one sensor of each type. Therefore, you cannot have two paired heart rate sensors, but must replace one to add the other.
For example, in the case of Stryd and the bike power meters, both are connected under the same profile, so in a triathlon we could not use both, because if the bike power meter is paired up in the clock at the time of the race you will not find the Stryd, because we should look for it again.
There are also problems with double-sided power meters (like pedals, for example), because at the moment they only connect to one of them and double the power, instead of collecting the total power from each of them.
I know these are cases that will affect a minority, and I'm far from being the usual type of user, but they're there and they need to be taken into account. It's something Garmin solved a long time ago by implementing synchronisation with a multitude of sensors. It simply stores them all and will connect to whichever one is in range. And if there are two, it asks which one you should connect to. Something that would be necessary in other watches, especially if they are intended for multisport use or are range stops.
Opinion Suunto Spartan Trainer
Suunto is back on track. After the difficult start of the Spartan range, Suunto has not only caught up (for lack of any details) with the year and little they have been on the market, but has created a watch that will undoubtedly become a bestseller.
Firstly, because Suunto, this time, has been patient. The hardware was ready many months ago, but they were still adapting parts of the software that should be considered fundamental.
But what will make this watch a bestseller is its price. For 279 ? Suunto is offering a lot. That price makes it the most economical triathlon and multisport watch in the market (talking about current models), and it also has a quite reliable optical sensor.
The 90% users will be able to find in this Spartan Trainer everything they need from a training watch and even much more. Not cutting back on software features by incorporating a lower range model than the current one seems to me a wise move, especially thinking about the end user.
It is a watch that works really well and that I do not hesitate to recommend to anyone who is considering it and does not need a barometric altimeter or a longer range.
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