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Ethan Rambacher | 11.29.2018


  • Weight: 56g / 1.98oz
  • Water resistance: 50m
  • HR monitor: Valencell technology
  • Battery life:
    • Time mode: 14 days
    • GPS: 10h / 16h / 30h (Best/Good/OK accuracy)
    • With 24/7 tracking and mobile notifications: 7 days
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart
  • GPS recording rate: Best/Good/OK

Where to get it

The bottom line: The Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR is a multisport GPS watch with an optical heart rate monitor. At its price point of around $220, it offers many features not found on its competitors - including an altimeter, waypoint navigation, breadcrumb maps, and of course a HR monitor. It also includes three GPS modes - but two of them are so inaccurate they are useless. If you only need one high-accuracy mode and want the full set of features, then you'll like this watch.

When I think of Suunto, I usually think of the gigantic $600+ watches like the Suunto Spartan Ultra that have over 100 hours of battery life and look like they weigh as much as a brick. But when I lost my previous GPS watch, an old Polar M400, I found the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR (a mouthful) at a reasonable price with an impressive feature set, decent battery life, and a more realistic size and weight. I bought one with the intent of using it both as an everyday watch and as a running watch - for everything from short road runs to 50 mile ultras (and hopefully someday a 100-miler). In this review I'll talk about the watch from the perspective of a runner/hiker. However, the Spartan Trainer is a very versatile multisport watch, with about 80 different sport profiles to choose from, and a dedicated triathlon mode as well.

The Spartan Trainer has worked quite well for me running. It is able to show lots of information - duration, pace, distance, heart rate, etc. - on different screens during exercise, which is customizable through the Movescount app and website. One of the cool features is that the watch can display a table of lap times (or autolaps) with average heart rate. It can also display a graph of heart rate, elevation, or pace for the exercise so far, which is pretty cool and is much easier to read than a table is when running. However, I don't believe you can use graphs in custom training modes, unfortunately.

The watch is quite compact. It has five buttons, including a backlight. The HR monitor built-in is comfortable and unnoticeable. The materials are quite durable - after 6 months, the glass face has only one minor scrape, and the watch bands show no sign of wear (a problem with other watches I've had). The band is also replaceable.

The watch has several navigation features that don't appear on most other watches in the same price range. When running, you can view a breadcrumb trace showing your path so far - it's not a streetmap or topo or anything, but it can be useful when seeing how far you have left to complete your loop. You can also do a back-to-home or waypoint navigation. You can save waypoints onto the watch using the mobile app, or you can save them on the watch itself when you are there. The watch can also direct you towards a waypoint, telling you distance and direction. Overall there are some pretty neat features, though it takes some learning to use them. And as I said, these features are more advanced than those found on most $200-250 watches at this point in time.

Another nice feature is sunrise/sunset times, which you can display directly on the watch face. As a photographer, it's especially useful for planning. You can even set alarms for "x minutes before sunrise/set."

The Spartan Trainer has a built-in optical heart rate monitor. There's always lots of debate about the accuracy of these things, so I'll leave it to others to do a detailed analysis of it. What I can say based on my experience is that it fluctuates (and sometimes simply cuts out) if it isn't making good contact with the skin, and sometimes it is noticeably off. The majority of the time, though, as long as it sits well on your wrist, it works great.

Next comes GPS accuracy. There are three accuracy modes - "Best," "Good," and "OK." Normal operation is in "Best" mode. Again, I won't present any charts or maps, but after using the watch for half a year I can say with confidence that the accuracy in "Best" mode is completely normal. Distance measurements are normal, and the GPS tracks look good. The GPS lasts around 10 hours in "Best" mode, and improves in the low power modes. Although 10 hours is enough for marathons and longer runs, it's near the limit for day hiking, which limits it somewhat. Two day hikes are not possible in "Best" accuracy mode.

Sadly, this watch has a major flaw: the two low accuracy GPS modes record extremely poor data. I have had numerous activities recorded horribly wrong, including a 5 mile hike recorded as over 10 miles, and a 3 mile run recorded as nearly 6 miles. The accuracy is so bad that when standing still for about 30 minutes, the watch added 3 miles to one of my hikes. I know GPS is never perfect, but I think everyone can agree that this accuracy is unacceptable. I contacted Suunto about a month ago thinking this could be a hardware issue with the unit I received. Unfortunately, they simply attributed the GPS problems to poor reception and recommended syncing the watch more often to get up-to-date orbital data. Despite my persistence they did not seem to think this was an issue. As a result, if you need low power modes, I cannot recommend this watch to you.

If, on the other hand, you don't ever need to stretch your GPS usage out to over 10 hours, you won't need low-power modes, and you can get a lot of use out of this watch. The features are all there, in a compact and reasonably stylish package. I enjoy using it, and you will too - just don't expect anything from the low-power modes.

There are too many features on this watch to talk about - most of them pretty standard on GPS watches nowadays. If you don't like the wrist HR monitor, you can pair your own via Bluetooth Smart. You can also pair power meters, foot pods, etc. You can get mobile notifications on the watch via Bluetooth, which you can dismiss - though unfortunately you can't perform any actions with them. You can, however, view a list of recent notifications.

Overall, I can't find any watches for the same price that match the feature set of this watch. If you're willing to spend slightly more for a watch, you may also consider at the Garmin Forerunner series (a very popular watch), which are also known for great GPS accuracy and share many features with the Spartan Trainer. Otherwise, low power accuracy aside, the Spartan Trainer is a great watch that will work great for many athletes.


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