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Hands-on: Suunto’s Spartan Sport Wrist HR watch

Suunto-Spartan-Wrist-HR-Blue

This week at CES, Suunto has officially unveiled their first optical heart rate capable watch – the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR.  You may remember back this past summer, when news first came out about Suunto’s plans for an optical HR variant of the Suunto Spartan series.  What was most notable about that announcement at the time was Suunto’s decision to go with an optical HR sensor from Valencell.

Valencell is well known as one of the best optical HR sensors on the market, thus raising hopes one might get one of the most accurate multisport GPS watches out there, by way of a combined Suunto/Valencell project.  That project has now arrived here at CES in Las Vegas, and I got a chance for some brief hands-on time to dig into it a bit.

What’s inside and different:

Suunto-Spartan-Wrist-HR-Optical-Sensor2

First up is understanding that Suunto has two major lines of the Suunto Spartan series: The Sport and the Ultra.  The main difference is simply that the Ultra has a barometric altimeter and a bit more battery, while the Sport uses a GPS based altimeter.  As you might expect, Sport is cheaper than Ultra.  This level difference has long been the pattern for Suunto GPS watches – all the way back to the Ambit1 series.  In fact, we often then find a third edition (usually branded as ‘Run’), which takes the ‘Sport’ edition and reduces the features to just running.  But that hasn’t happened here yet.

In any case, the ‘Wrist HR’ that we’re talking about here, is only for the Sport series (sans-barometric altimeter).  Suunto says that they’re certainly watching for whether there is demand for the unit in the Ultra series, but there aren’t any plans for it on the table today.  One concern that both Suunto and Valencell noted with a potential Ultra series is ensuring the optical HR sensor accuracy remains high, despite the higher weight of the Ultra.  Specifically because the increased weight can cause increased bouncing on the wrist, reducing accuracy of the optical HR sensor.

Within the ‘Wrist HR’ series, there are three different colors – blue, black, and pink.

Suunto-Spartan-Wrist-HR-Blue-Pink-Black

But what matters here isn’t the color of the case, but what’s on the inside.  It’s here you’ll find the Valencell optical HR sensor, using two green LED’s and one yellow LED.  That helps it get better accuracy across a broader range of skin tones.

Suunto-Spartan-Wrist-HR-Enabled

This sensor is part of Valencell’s ‘Benchmark’ lineup (seen below), which means that they essentially take the entire reference design as-is from Valencell.  That’s good, as it generally increases accuracy when companies leave it as-is.  Whereas when companies only take portions, or try and do their own thing, it may not lead to the best results.

Suunto-Spartan-Wrist-HR-Valencell

As a bit of backstory, when Valencell licenses their technology, there are differing levels of involvement that the company may assist with. Some companies may just want some of the hardware pieces, while other companies want hardware plus integration assistance, and others yet want all that plus testing/validating assistance.  In the case of Suunto – they’re working very closely with Valencell, more so than most brands.  So hopefully this ends up with a more accurate end-state product.  Yesterday Valencell published some initial data on the Spartan Sport Wrist HR.  But of course any time a company is publishing their own data – you should take it with a grain or box of salt.  That said, I’m largely good with the specific testing protocol they laid out (for running anyway, it omits the more difficult outdoor cycling).

Now it’s important to point out that while the Sport HR measures your heart rate optically, that optical effort is largely focused on workouts.  For example, running, cycling, skiing, etc… It enables the sensor once you enter the workout mode, and disables it afterwards.

Suunto-Spartan-Wrist-HR-WorkoutComplete2

Upon completing a workout (above/below), you’ll get many of the same stats as before, including a HR graph as well.

Suunto-Spartan-Wrist-HR-WorkoutComplete1

Suunto hasn’t implemented a 24×7 HR mode within the unit, meaning that it’s not recording your HR 24×7 like many other wearables do.  Instead, you’ll be able to enter a temporary heart rate screen, that shows your HR and the last 5-minute trend:

Suunto-Spartan-Wrist-HR-Graph

As of present this transient data isn’t saved to Movescount, though coming later this spring they plan to start looking at turning on that optical sensor occasionally throughout the day to look at your HR and then use that data to increase daily calorie burn accuracy.  Meaning, rather than just focusing on displaying your HR graph 24×7, they’re going to leverage the data for better calorie accuracy outside of workouts.  Still, lacking 24×7 HR recording (and thus the value of resting HR), is a fairly big gap compared to virtually every other unit on the market.  Hopefully, they can find some middle-ground by the time they come to market this spring.

Beyond this functionality, the Spartan Sport Wrist HR software is virtually identical to that of the Sport edition.  On the hardware front, you’ll find about a millimeter thicker body, plus another millimeter thicker for the optical HR sensor bump.  Also, the easy way to tell them apart from a distance is the bezel on the regular Sport edition is silver, versus Black on the Wrist HR version.  Of course, that could change down the road with new models.

Suunto-Spartan-Sport-Size-Differences

Last but not least, the watch will set you back $649USD when it starts shipping later this spring (no exact date specified).

A quick video overview:

Want to see the optical HR sensor actually working live? No problem, here’s a quick video I put together talking about the unit and showing a bit of how the HR sensor works:

Don’t forget to subscribe to the channel, as there’s plenty more coming here from CES!

One other Suunto tidbit:

Suunto-Spartan-Wrist-HR-Steps

Finally, eagle-eyed spotters probably noticed the daily steps page shown in the video, right after showing the current HR.  That isn’t new.  But what is new is that starting this spring, that data along with daily calorie data will actually be saved to Movescount online.

See up until this point Suunto hasn’t saved any daily step/calorie data.  It sits on your watch, and then eventually disappears.  This put them at a pretty big disadvantage to competitors who are not only saving that data daily, but also then offering software based recommendations on training, recovery, or life.  In Suunto’s case, they had to do those directly through the device, rather than via the app or websites.  That limited the guidance they could give.

But this spring they’ll roll out an update for both the Suunto Spartan Ultra and Sport series that’ll change that.  It sounds like that’ll be the start of using the Movescount platform for a bit more user guidance and recommendations beyond just scheduling and reviewing workouts.  And that would definitely be good news indeed.

With that – thanks for reading!

Don’t forget to check out all the CES 2017 coverage, as well as continual updates throughout the day on Twitter.  It’s gonna be a crazy busy week.

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53 Comments

  1. Ryan M.

    I’d like to think it was my tweet to you 1:45 ago about the Valencell report that got it’s inclusion in this post, but I know that is just malarkey.

    Will be interesting to the the HR comparisons between the new Valencell reference data and the Polar H10 when it is released.

    Reply
    • It was indeed – last minute add!

      I had talked to them about it yesterday in person, but the tweet sealed the deal! Thanks!

      Reply
  2. Pat

    The price seems a bit high compared to the Fenix. Is the Valencell sensor that much better during workouts to justify the higher price without 24-7 recording?

    Reply
  3. acousticbiker

    Great to see this! Did you hear anything about the Suunto Spartan Trainer? That was also to have wrist HR, was briefly available for pre-order at $269 and may be the ‘Run’ version you allude to in the intro.

    Reply
    • No, nothing about said product here at CES.

      Reply
    • Steve stevenson

      You are correct it’s not at CES, we did gather those facts from all the releases.

      Since you felt like you had to mention CES it seems like you already have more information, possibly a demo model already.

      I’d assume those January updates to the Spartan review, might include a new review on the trainer.

      -love,
      Speculating Steve

      Reply
  4. Josh

    Ray, would you still stay away from this watch based on the state of the spartan series?

    Reply
    • Not necessarily. Suunto has made some good progress on the Spartan series (I’ll be doing some updates to that existing review over the course of January). I think I’d reserve some judgement to see where the Spartan platform sits by time we get to release of this – i.e. April or whenever.

      From my frank discussions with them yesterday, they definitely and readily admit the Spartan was released too early and wasn’t ready for prime time. So their complete focus is largely on getting that Spartan platform up to speed.

      Reply
    • Josh

      Interesting. Let us know when its good enough to replace an ambit 3 peak

      Reply
    • Josh

      Also, there are some really interesting things going on with pricing on amazon on the spartan series. Im seeing the ultra for right around $544 with HR, and the sport for roughly $465. If they have made progress, would you feel confident enough giving a reader the go ahead to buy and if so, sport or ultra?

      Reply
    • Pierre

      Hi Ray,
      THanks for the update on Suunto.
      Should I return back my Garmin Fenix 3 HR and wait tfor the new Suunto in Spring 2017?
      Regards
      Pierre

      Reply
    • You’d have to decide what’s most valuable to you feature-wise.

      I struggle (offhand in a taxi) to think of any specific feature that a Suunto Wrist HR unit would have that the Fenix3 HR doesn’t already have.

      Reply
  5. Peter Wood

    Interesting the HR graph is available in the Sport but not yet available in the Ultra. The Ultra buyers having to wait yet again. Disappointingly slow to get the Ultra up to speed.

    Suunto could sell so many more units if they got their software dev fixed and speeded up. I think they are missing the optimum point of dev heads/numbers vs functionality vs sales of the watch vs BAD PRESS.

    Reply
  6. Steve J

    Enjoying the updates Ray!

    Will be interesting to see which of these high end watches survive when cheaper ones today have the same (or more) of the “key” features…
    The Garmin Vivoactive HR, which I got from Clever Training on the Black Friday sale, has the optical HRM AND the barometric altimeter (it’s a $200 or less product – I paid $170). So, you spend $650 for the Suunto and you don’t get the barometric altimeter…ouch.

    Reply
    • Gunnar

      My thoughts exactly. VIvoactive HR would be choice over the Spartan.

      Reply
  7. CMV

    It seems that Garmin and Suunto are in a race to increase the price of their high-end sports wearables… after the 599$ fenix 5, we get the 649$ Spartan-with-HR.
    My personal feeling is they’re aiming a bit too high, but time will tell.
    In the meantime, on amazon (at least here in Europe) it’s already possible to find the Spartan Ultra at less than 450€, and the Spartan Sport at less than 350€, well below their MSRP.
    Same for the fenix 3 (less than 350€).
    These “older” watches are probably the toughest competitors for the newer models (much more than an Apple Watch 2 or a Samsung Gear S3, which according to me target a completely different audience).

    Reply
  8. giorgitd

    Yup, from my own POV, I’m now thinking ‘trickle-down’ in terms of next HRM GPS watches – I’ll buy the previous gen, maybe as a refurb,to get the price reasonable. I’m not sure how to do a comprehensive comparison of devices/capabilities and prices over time, but the latest gen GPS HRM watches seem – to me – to be WAY overpriced relative to their improved capabilities. Sure F5X mapping is pretty unique and, for those who need/want it – it will cost. But the more ‘mainstream devices’? C’mon. the F3 and 920xt deliver 90% of the functionality for less than 50% of the price.

    There’s always room for those seeking a Ferrari. But maybe this approach enables a new class of devices/companies that offer solid, but not cutting edge, devices for 60% ‘discount ‘underneath’ Garmin’. A parallel with lots of ‘mainstream’ car companies. It’s funny, I think of Garmin as a GM/Honda product, not an Aston Martin… Maybe I’m wrong…

    Reply
    • JR

      I wonder how much of this drive towards more expensive watches is driven by the success of the Fenix 3 and, in turn, how much of the success of the Fenix 3 comes down to the fact that it’s almost the only GPS watch on the market that’s reasonably attractive.

      Reply
  9. Eli W Allen

    Anything on the more advanced functionality that valencell can do now? Is this watch recording any of that? link to youtu.be

    Reply
    • No, not really. Looking at the past demos, we talked a bit about that, and the more they learned in testing, the more they determined there’s more to learn. Said differently, things like legit optical HRV are going to be some ways away still. That’s something that was backed up by some meetings I had today with Firstbeat as well.

      Reply
    • Ze

      Legit HRV? That’s odd as there’s a ppg-based app (HRV4Training) that has had very good results (w/ validation), and my own personal experience (testing on others) shows PPG devices can already do HRV (at least time-domain RMSSD) up to par with ECG.

      Maybe frequency domain metrics less so, but for athletes RMSSD is what is currently used. I wonder what issues they are having.

      Reply
    • Are you talking at rest or workout?

      Workout is a mess, though at rest tends to guess fairly close.

      Reply
    • Ze

      Ah that makes more sense. I was talking about rest. During exercise is indeed not practical with PPG.

      Reply
    • Mike Richie

      Hmm, I thought HRV at rest is what is most important anyways. Isn’t that what is used for stress levels and recovery and training effect? What is exercise based HRV used for that is actually well understood or studied?

      Reply
  10. Hi Dc,

    I tested out a couple Valencell OHRM fuelled devices in the past on my own wrist, my wife’s’ and couple of colleague’s and never found it to be as accurate, stable and usable as other devices like the Ex-Basis or the MIO Alpha. Same with the Garmin Elevate or FitBit.
    I don’t talk about high intensity, more likely MAF training so dialling in the 140 – 145bpm range.

    Is this going to have a new chipset or algorithm that we’ve seen in past devices ?

    Thanks

    Levi

    Reply
    • It’s the same as previous devices. That’s odd though – as in general I hear very good things on Valencell products. Or at least, implemented in the Scosche.

      Reply
  11. Joe

    Thanks Ray! Any comment on the usability and accuracy of OHR for swimming? As pairing up an Ambit3 with the Scosche Rhythm+ seems to show some good results?

    Reply
  12. gk

    Any further details about battery?
    What material is the black bezel or and the whole case, titanium as in Spartan Ultra; if not won’t that add weight together with oHR?
    The best with oHR would be to offer various choices to select, 24/7 hr with recording or as you pre-mentioned occasionally for a few minutes and of course under training modes.

    Reply
  13. Trent

    Does the watch feel solid? Looking at the pictures of the blue unit it just looks like a hunk of plastic. I expected it to look as sleek and refined as the other Spartan models.

    Reply
  14. Tim Grose

    I recall with GPS accuracy is it not so much the name of the company that makes the chipset but more the antennae design. I say this because OHR at the wrist has never been done great by anybody has it? The Scosche with the Valencell “works” partly because you don’t wear it on your wrist and is more optimally positioned for OHR although never liked the idea of wearing something high up on my arm. Still will be interesting to see if how this one does.

    Reply
    • tfk

      re: GPS accuracy: TomTom once said to me that one of their main concerns was the electrical interference between the chips/components within the watch.

      Reply
  15. Victor Hooi

    Will optical heart-rate work during swimming? (This was one of the things holding me back from the Garmin 735XT – the Mio Link works underwater).

    And will there be a quick-release kit? (Not sure how it’d work with optical heart-rate).

    Reply
  16. Tanel

    Hi Ray,

    any news on when are you going to have the watch for testing and reviewing ?
    Really looking for your opinion and results on how accurate the Valencell sensor is.

    Reply
  17. Larry

    I returned my Spartan Ultra after your candid review…I seriously wanted to like it. With all the recent updates do u feel things have improved enough to repurchase! Also, if things have improved will it be worth waiting for this new wrist heart sensor? I currently have no watch to train with…I’m addicted to these watches I guess. I don’t care for the looks of a Fenix….

    Reply
  18. Is there an option to display in black/white instead of colors ?
    I’m not sure to like the current trends of watches with all those fancy colors. As I’m all about the battery life, I’d rather have everything in black/white like my Ambit2.
    Unless Suunto tells us that colors doesn’t significantly increase the battery usage ?

    Reply
  19. I forgot to ask, does the optical HR allow to measure R-R ? or is that measured only with a HR belt ?

    Reply
    • Ze

      PPG shows blood volume changes which relate to timing of heart contractions.

      Reply
  20. Mirko Surf&Run

    Hallo Ray,
    I would like to know in with position the garmin fenix 3 and the garmin forerunner 235 are in the Valencell test result link to valencell.com.
    I hope that they are in 7 and 8 position (device *4 and device *5 with 87% and 82% of data within +-5% of chest strap), otherwise I would say that they are inaccurate (device *6 have a test result of only 79%, device *9 only 65%).

    Reply
    • Valencell isn’t releasing that information unfortunately.

      Reply
    • Zoltan

      I guess their numbers should be very close to each other like no 8 and 9.

      Reply
    • Mirko Surf&Run

      I think that the accuracy of device 9, device 10 and device 11 (under 70% accuracy) is embarassing and that this optical heart rate monitor shouldn’t arrive in the market. I really hope that they are not Garmin devices because I just bought a garmin forerunner 35 with the garmin elevate optical heart rate sensor.

      Reply
    • rickNP

      One thing’s for certain, if it’s wrist-based, don’t expect anything better than 89% accuracy per their testing methods.

      Given DC’s Apple Watch review I’m going to guess that Device #11 is likely an Apple Watch (unless Series 2 is vastly improved). So for most readers in this thread our wrist-based devices are somewhere between 64-87% accurate to their reference chest strap; a huge variance.

      Sadly, I’m guessing my Fenix3 HR is probably closer to 64 than 87.

      Reply
    • Mirko Surf&Run

      89% accuracy would be good enough for running, I don’t need medical precision because I just use the heart rate monitor to evaluate my effort. I read other DCRainmaker reviews of the other watches in the Valencell test, and I think that there are other wathces with the Apple worse than the Garmin 235 and Fenix3HR, so I would say that device 9 and 10 shouldn’t be Garmin devices. I think that Garmin devices should be between the 6 and 8 position, so accuracy of Garmin 235 and Fenix3HR should be between 77% and 79%. I think this is acceptable for the running purpose. I have a Garmin Forerunner 35 and I’m using it two weeks: I find it quite accurate, the only problem is the consistency: some run are good , in other runs it loses my heart rate and gives for long period of times totally wrong values. But in these occasion I understand it is wrong, because if I’m in the cool down it’s impossibile that heart rate continues to be 170 beats/minutes like in the tempo run.

      Reply
    • tfk

      I sort of agree.
      1. During running: If you are using HR as a guide to effort/pacing then that might be accurate enough most of the time
      2. Post Running: If you use HR as a measure for TRAINING LOAD then I would guestimate that you need something like 95% accuracy. But ther eis also the worry of ‘losing’ HR for 5 minutes of your run, for example, that would make a big difference to TL figures (I use TRIMP for TL, FWIW)

      Although I’m not quite sure what ‘accuracy’ actually means in this context. Maybe I should read the original test report. eg being exactly 1bpm out is 100% inaccurate but that would be perfect for me.

      Even one *chest strap* compared to another of the same make/model wold likely show differences (Source Valencell 😉 )

      Reply
    • MirkoSurf&Run

      Hi TFK,
      I don’t know TRIMP, I will try to learn how it works and if it fits my needs.
      Even if they are very accurate, optical heart rate producer till now say that optical heart rate monitor can’t be used to calculate training effect because they can’t read heart rate variability (Valencell is trying to do it).
      Yes, I just use heart rate as a guide to effort/pacing. Today I run 11 miles, 6 miles easy run and 5 miles tempo run. I had forerunner 35 with optical heart rate and forerunner 610 with chest strap for comparison.
      The chest strap was always right. The optical heart rate showed the same values of the chest strap most of the time. But in some occasions it lost the correct heart rate and for two or three minutes showed wrong values (for example if the correct heart rate was 150, for three minutes showed 170). Then it found the correct heart rate of 150 again and all was good for another 10 minutes, then again it showed wrong values for 1-2 minutes (for example 120). Then again good for other 10 minutes and so on.
      At the end of the run I was quite happy, because for the most of the run the optical heart rate showed correct values, and you can really use it as a guide for effort/pace.
      With the optical heart rate garmin connect shows wrong values of training effect. But I don’t take care of training effect of garmin any more. Firstable because it depends on the activity class of a runner and garminconnect asks you to decide in which group you are. So if you choose the wrong activity class, you get a wrong training effect that is not useful to organize your training. Secondly, I found that the training effect values that my forerunner610 showed me wasn’t always the same level of fatigue that I perceived after a run. I find that it is correct for interval training, but with long slow run often it showed low values, but at the end of the run I was really tired. Thirdly, there is very little literature about training effect and the way you can use it for your training. Garmin just say 1 minor, 2 mantaining, 3 improving, 4 highly improving, 5 overreaching. But it is too little to plan a training plan with this number. So I decided to not rely on the training effect of garmin, and after a run I write a number of the perceveid effort that I had of that run. I don’t try to plan a training plan with training effect any more, because I found that often it gave me wrong information. Now when I plan my training, I try to feel how I feel after the run and how I feel the day after the run. If the day after I’m still tired, I know I have to be cautious. If the day after I feel good, I know I can push a bit harder.
      What do you think? Do you fink Training Effect is useful? Do you use the Training Effect of Garmin or of Trimp? Or are they the same value?

      Reply
    • See my comment bellow.

      Reply
  21. As a developer, I am really disappointed that they wont have apps in the Spartan watches. The apps were one of the best things about Suunto watches! I guess I should stock up on Ambit3’s while they are still for sale!

    Reply
    • Brad

      Not sure this is true. It was heavily requested and Suunto is looking into this the last I knew. That may have changed though. As of now apps are not available.

      Reply
  22. Ray, I suspect in general all the optical sensor has a sampling frequency, as you can see the light flashing. If the frequency is too low, it is possible for sampling errors to occur, which might explain why the errors seem to occur at the start of the run, as the heart rate is rising rapidly. Sampling error has to do with Nyquist frequency. I think all the optical HR sensors shouldn’t be used for interval training no matter if Suunto Spartan uses HR sensor from Vancell technology or not.

    Reply
    • Lock errors at the start of a run have to do with separating running cadence from HR. It’s a core reason why it’s super critical to get a HR lock before you start running, since if it doesn’t lock before you start – it’s nearly impossible to find that lock.

      That said, sometimes (rarely) it’ll still trip-up then, until it can see enough separation between run cadence and HR. However, on the whole, I’d say that optical sensors almost always beat chest straps in this area (first 5 minutes of a run), as folks so often forget how problematic chest straps really are in the first few minutes of a run, especially dry ones.

      Reply
    • Mirko Surf&Run

      Can you explain why running cadence can influence or disturb optical heart rate reading?
      Is it possibile that hr reading are calculated by the firmware of the watch as function of optical sensor values and cadence values? Another question: how you can get a HR lock before you start running? Do you mean to wait start running until hr values are stabilized?

      Reply