Review: Suunto Spartan Ultra
There are plenty of in-depth technical reviews of the Suunto Spartan out there. Some of you will have probably read them. You may have even got lost in the detail just after the drawn-out unboxing video! While you’ve been busy deciphering the technicals in a sea of blog, Project Ultra has been putting this watch through its paces – using it on training runs, relying on it during races and even visiting Suunto HQ to see how it’s made. We’ve done all of this so you don’t have to. And, to make things even easier, instead of reassessing altimeters and compass types, we have boiled all of that down to a nutshell-like ‘5 Things We Liked, 5 Things We’d Like To See’ review. So here it is…
5 Things We Liked
- Looks: finally a grown-up sports watch you’ll want to be seen with. It’s big, with the bezel designed to the same scale as the one on Suunto’s first ever compass. That means the screen is large and exceptionally clear, making data checking and route following easy.
- GPS: we had no problems with the watch picking up a signal and it rarely lost it. The navigation feature is particularly good and we have loved using this function as a sense check during races. The breadcrumb feature is also a massive bonus for the navigationally challenged (something we found very useful in the thick forests of Finland during the Suunto Summit)!
- Customisation: The possibilities are almost limitless. You can configure your own data screens and input workouts for over 80 sports including cheerleading, snow shoeing and standup paddling. There’s a new kind of triathlon right there!
- Features: The more you get to know the watch, the more little details you find. For example, just tap the middle of the screen during a workout and the time appears. Just hold the middle button and you shortcut straight to the settings. We are still discovering things after 6 months of use.
- Quality: when we visited Suunto, we realised that this is a company that designs and builds its products in Helsinki with a team of inspiring outdoorsy types at the helm. They are passionate about their products and care about quality and design. Their support staff are also renowned for being responsive and receptive to feedback.
5 Things We’d Like To See
- Plug and play: because there is so much to learn about the watch, it doesn’t have the out-of-the-box ease of use that some of the less well featured competitors in the market offer. Stick with it and you’ll find it’s worth the extra effort but the endless permutations can be a bit daunting at the start. Do cheerleaders need to check sea level pressure? Does anyone? There’s definitely room for a simpler default mode for different sports.
- Heart Rate Zones: all of the ingredients are there but, at the moment, there is no easy way to see your heart rate zones on the watch. We’d very much like to see this in a future update.
- Maps: If there was a possibility of adding increased map detail to the navigation screen, we think it would be a huge addition to the watch.
- Less Waving: Waving your arm like an air traffic controller is an awkward look to pull off well. To lock down the compass on the watch, it is sometimes necessary to trace a figure of eight with your arm. You’ll notice runners doing it on start lines. Sometimes even mid race. It works, but you do look like a bit of a doofus.
- Better synchronisation: the link between the watch and the app can be frustrating. It has massively improved with recent updates but it could still be quicker and we would like to see an automatic link with the app rather than having to open up the app each time you want to upload data from the watch.
Despite the frustrations from those that bought the watch when it was first released, we think the numerous firmware updates since its release last year have made it a formidable contender. It’s obviously expensive and may not be the choice of those that just want a simple watch to track the odd run: but then those people are unlikely to be looking at the Spartan anyway. It’s a quality product used by a host of inspiring elite athletes and we have really enjoyed using it. The only other thing we found missing (that is present in a number of competitor models) is the wrist based HRM but that is now available in the Suunto Spartan Sport HRM. The worst thing about this watch, though, is that we received it for test purposes, which means it has to go back now we’ve finished reviewing it. On second thoughts, then, maybe a drawn out unboxing video wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all!!