Suunto Spartan Ultra: First Impressions

Our Seattle store just received the new Suunto Spartan Ultra watches! Over the last week we sent one out in the field to gather some top-level beta on this new multisport GPS watch from Suunto.  Keep your eyes out over the next few months for more in-depth reviews of specific features. 

Suunto Spartan Ultra

Over the last week I got to take Suunto’s Spartan Ultra HR on a few field tests. Here are my initial impressions. Keep your eyes out for subsequent follow-up reviews after I have gotten it on some backpacking trips, tracked data longer, and explored the upcoming software updates.

Out of the box

The Spartan looks and feels great. I got my hands on the All-black HR with the steel bezel, and it looks clean, sharp, and streamlined. In the box is a very simplified instruction manual, a connector cable, a HR monitor, and a sticker (I am a sucker for stickers).

Putting the watch on was a pleasant surprise. The first thing I noticed was how light it felt. As a woman with quite small wrists, I have tried on most GPS watches on the market and disliked the feel of all of them. All of them looked huge on me and would not wrap properly around my wrist; at best they would flop around when I ran, and worst would press on my lower arm bone quite uncomfortably. While the Spartan does look big on me, it is actually comfortable for a long day of hiking. A big part of the comfort for me is the slightly curved back face of the watch and the siliconized straps that hold the watch in place without having to be tightened uncomfortably.

While the watch is likely too big to be my all-day every-day wearer, I can easily see it meeting this need for someone with larger wrists or someone who is used to a larger device.

A view of the Spartan Ultra in action below Mount Rainier. Picture by Grace Giordano (@ordinaryextraordinair). A view of the Spartan Ultra in action below Mount Rainier. Picture by Grace Giordano (@ordinaryextraordinair).

Screen

Take it outside. Seriously. When I first took the Spartan out of the box in my office I was surprised at how dim it looked. The backlight remedied this for the most part, but the colors didn't pop and it was not what I expected. Once I got it outside on my bike ride home, however, I looked down and was really impressed. As soon as the watch was in natural light, the text and colors stood out much more brilliantly. In full sun the colors are almost as bright as those seen in the marketing pictures, and it is easy to read at a glance. Just like any device it can get a little glare going, but was still easily readable. So, I recommend avoiding judgement until you have it out in full sun.

spartan-ultra-3

Usability

As a first-time GPS-wearable-computer owner, ease of use is a huge deal. I hate having to read long manuals before I can use something, so I was very happy with how intuitive the Spartan is. Out of the box I did not have to look up any manuals, and within ten minutes I had the watch set-up and had explored all the major functionalities and options. The watch can be navigated two ways; via touchscreen or via the three buttons on the right side. The middle button selects, and the other two navigate menus (although all three are contextual, so functions can change slightly depending on what you are currently doing in the watch). The buttons are easy to use and have a pleasant level of responsiveness and decent pressure required, so I am not worried about activating them unintentionally. With the three buttons I could easily navigate the simple menu of the watch and within ten minutes felt comfortable that I had explored all the options. With such nice buttons and simple software the touchscreen is not really needed, but is awfully nice to have. It is probably also one of the reasons the watch it so intuitive; the touch screen mirrors the other technology that already permeates my life.

Data and Displays

The Spartan has a huge list of activities to choose from and add to the watch, and each of them will have specific data collected and displayed on the screen of the watch. So far, I have spent the most time with the “Cycling; basic” and “hiking” modes. In both, the default displays presented what I was looking for, and easy to read and recognize. With the next update some measure of customizability of the various displays should be enabled. With so many activities to choose from customizabilty is not a huge deal for me personally yet, but I know a lot of people who are looking forward to it.

Software

As I mentioned, the Spartan will be getting some pretty substantial software updates in the upcoming months. The update at the end of September will address many of the current issues identified by other users, including Android compatibility, an alarm clock, updated training functions, and peer-to-peer coaching on Movescount.com. While some are frustrated that they have to wait for these features, I am ok with the gradual rollout because it means that over time the watch will get even better, and will not become obsolete because of outdated software. I plan to keep using it for a long time, and I like knowing that Suunto will be always striving to make it better. It is also fun to have a tiny computer on my wrist that gets updates… the gadgets I read about in SciFi books as a kid are actually a reality, and it is pretty fun!

Current Limitations

The major things I am missing are altitude and barometric trends. The ultra version of the watch has a barometer, but currently none of that data is displayed. Fortunately, this will be addressed in an update in November. I am hoping this will also activate storm warning capabilities (like there are on the Traverse watches). In addition, the default sport modes are currently set and cannot be changed, but customization should be enabled in October.

I highly recommend taking a look at Suunto’s page on the planned software updates (click here).

Movescount

Movescount.com is Suunto’s online platform to interact with your data, and it is a lot of fun. It is also the place to go to customize some of the settings on the watch. After an activity I connect the watch to my computer and my recent activities are synced with Movescount, at which point a wealth of information is available. From summary stats to graphs, there is so much here and I am very excited to integrate it into my training regime this winter. I especially enjoy seeing my GPS track on a map, and with the heart rate monitor it is color coded by how hard I worked. My other favorite feature is the bar chart that shows how long I spent in each of my heart rate zones. With these two visual aids, I can easily see that I worked twice as hard when there was a strong headwind, and that 30 minutes of interval training on my bike commute home drastically increases my workout intensity. In the upcoming months I plan to share a more in-depth exploration of Movescount as some new features are enabled, so keep your eyes out.

Screen shot of my Movescount.com page with information on a bike ride. Screen shot of my Movescount.com page with information on a bike ride.
Graphs of heart rate over my bike ride home. Today was interval training with my mountain bike... quite effective! Graphs of heart rate over my bike ride home. Today was interval training with my mountain bike... quite effective!

If you are in the Seattle area, feel free to come by the store to ask questions about the watch and check out some of the other new gear we have gotten in for the fall and winter season.

All words and pictures by Claire Giordano (@claireswanderings) and Grace Giordano (@ordinaryextraordinair).