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  4. Suunto Spartan Ultra Review

I have had my new Suunto Spartan Ultra (HR) a few weeks now, and thought I would give a quick run down on how I’m finding it so far, and a few comparisons between my old watch and new.

Who am I?

Michelle Stark, originally from the Shetland Islands in Scotland I moved to NZ in 2011. After a little travelling around I decided to settle in Queenstown for a bit… now I never want to leave! I work at Torpedo7 full time and also do occasional work with Ultimate Hikes. I am passionate about mountain biking and trail running with almost every other sport squeezed between the gaps!

By no means am I an elite athlete, but after my first mountain bike race in 2014, I got the bug and have competed in many different events since! I am progressing; becoming stronger, fitter and faster each year, I love it! The atmosphere, the pain, the reward. Then doing it all over again…

My goals for the future are to compete in longer distance and multi-discipline events. The next dates scribbled on my calendar are Peak to Peak which is a mid-winter multi-discipline race in Queenstown, starting at the Remarkable’s ski field and finishing at the top of Coronet Peak ski field. Then in September, the Torpedo7 9hr Spring Challenge event, a ladies only team multi-sport adventure race!

Watches

I have used a variety of sports watches over the last 10+ years, the Suunto Ambit3 Sport HR being the most recent. The Ambit has been a big part of my riding, running and general everyday life the past two and a half years. The new Spartan Ultra has pretty big boots to fill!

Spartan Ultra – I’m pretty pleased to be wearing this new piece of kit on my wrist! Opening the box when it arrived, felt like Christmas! My first impression however when it was released into NZ last year was slightly different. While the watch looked the part, I was hearing rumours that the software wasn’t 100% ready, was it possible the new Spartan range was dropped into the market a little too early? I had concerns on how it would be better than my Ambit 3 Sport.

Since its release in August 2016 there has been continual improvements from Suunto behind the scenes on the Spartan range, and monthly software updates to improve the customisation of the watch, settings and features. I believe in the coming months we will see the watch excel and go above and beyond what we have previously seen from Suunto.

Design and appearance 

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It looks sleek. Smooth lines, less in the ‘look’ of a sports watch and more a ‘smart’ watch. The GPS pod on the front (Ambit3 and models below) has been removed and embedded into the bezel which is nice. Featuring a touch screen with colour displays, also multiple options to choose the watch face style which I never had before.

It is big! I have had countless comments from people on the size of this watch! I do have slim wrists and probably does look a little out of proportion. In my opinion with this considered, I would have preferred if the watch was slightly smaller in size, or having two size options. However, in the market right now there is nothing I have seen smaller in size with the same watch capabilities…and its easy if you have bad eyesight!

Customisation of screen displays in Movescount means I can see all of these stats on one screen, or over multiple – which is awesome. I can also vary them sport to sport and in order of importance to me. For example: Pace and heart rate information is more valuable to me while running, so I will have that as the main focus on screen. While biking, I prefer to see duration, heart rate and then distance.

I like the new vibration setting on the watch (in ‘auto-lap’) – if training with headphones in, I can still feel the lap time pings. However, I haven’t found the option to create heart rate limits in my settings yet, which is useful for training to help ensure you’re within certain intensity levels, maybe this will appear on a future update.

Being a multi-sport watch, with a long push of the top button I can switch discipline part way through the activity. One important thing for me is how easy it is to use the watch on the move, and visibility of data – both of which I think Suunto do very well.

Battery life

An important feature for me buying any new technology these days, looking for the longest possible battery life! It is quite hard to monitor as I’m frequently uploading the data onto a computer which charges at the same time. The Ultra is the top end model and the battery lasts as long as I would expect. I have heard whispers with future updates this may even improve. In the first week, I was actually away from home and left with it at 100% battery. I exercised with the HR belt twice in that time (around 2.5hrs @ 1sec GPS) and after the week still had 12% battery left. Suunto suggests there would be a 15day battery life in ‘Time of Day’ mode, and I think that would be pretty accurate. In comparison, it is very similar to my Ambit 3 Sport. One way I have found to further the battery life on the watch is to reduce the frequency of GPS sending signal. If I’m out training for a few hours it’s good to have setting at best, this means I get real time speed and distance on my riding. If I am heading out in the mountains for a few days hiking I can use a lower setting which still gives me a reasonable tracking, but increases battery for longer activity duration. Another feature that is good to note is as soon as the navigation mode is activated, it automatically springs back to ‘best’ GPS setting.

In certain light conditions, I have found the screen can be harder to read the time as it goes into a lower battery use mode. I find this only in time mode – the watch is clear when training as the screen becomes active. I know this can be changed to full power all the time but I imagine the battery life will be considerably compromised doing this.

Accuracy

My most used features on the mountain bike are distance, duration, heart rate, elevation gain, and speed. Accuracy of the stats coming from the watch is pretty important when I’m out riding. I look back at the end of a ride, and previous rides to compare and to create a plan for the following weeks. I am very happy with the Spartan and it seems consistent from what the Ambit sport results provided. Both I feel have been very accurate.

The Spartan Ultra uses a Fused-Alti which is a combined altitude reading of GPS and barometric altitude to give an overall more accurate reading. The Ambit3 Sport and new Spartan Sport use the more basic GPS-based altitude.

Connections

On starting an ‘activity’ GPS connection normally only takes a few seconds to connect, and similar with the heart rate connection to chest belt – leading to a very swift start!

The link between watch and Suunto activity log program Movescount is easy via the phone app, or computer. Sync the phone via Bluetooth and you get ‘smart’ watch features activated; such as text messages and phone call notifications etc. The time taken to sync is similar in both Ambit and Spartan models, keeping in mind it will take longer to download the activity ‘moves’ the more data there is.

Robustness and Durability

The watch feels like a good solid build, robust enough to be taken from mountain bike to mountain tops. Featuring a sapphire crystal glass which is best in resistance to scratches, and a nice titanium bezel, the silicone strap is soft and doesn’t dig into the wrist. Just for comparison the Ambit3 and new Spartan Sport both have a steel bezel with mineral crystal glass.

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Conclusion

I am very impressed with the quality of products that Suunto build and believe they make some of the best watches in the market. They are committed to continually improve their products, even once they have arrived on the retail shelf. My Ambit3 Sport, which I have owned since the day it was released in 2014 actually had the most recent software update in December 2016 – which added a number of new features including a route map on the activity screen, and a daily activity tracker in watch mode! So even on a watch that is a number of years old there are still adjustments and updates being made.

I have been exceptionally happy with my watches from Suunto, and I have no doubt that the Spartan series will become the best sports watch in the market very soon, with a little more time to perfect the software. Two small additions I would like to see: an invert option on the display screen in time mode (like on the Ambit series) and a multi-sport option in sport mode, with the ability to build your own layout and transitions. Then for me, the watch will be there at the top!!

I look forward to continuing the journey with my new Suunto Spartan Ultra watch and to push my own boundaries in racing and competing too! 🙂

The Spartan ultra can be found here

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