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Suunto announces new Spartan variant, also firmware update for all Spartan owners

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Over the last few days Suunto has announced another new device this year (beyond the Suunto 3 Fitness from CES), this time adding a further model to the Spartan series.  This new model is in many ways exactly like the previous models, except…well…it’s barely different

But what’s more interesting than this traffic-cone colored variant, is the changes they’re rolling out to all existing Suunto Spartan users, including finally having both displayable and customizable heart rate zones, even per sport.  And while that by itself may sound relatively mundane (since most other platforms have had it for years), where they want to go next with it is more interesting.

First though, let’s talk about that traffic cone.

Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Outdoor

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This new variant can be summed up in exactly one line:

They changed the name from ‘Trainer’ to ‘Outdoor’, and made it look slightly more outdoorsy.

How does one make something look more outdoorsy than the original Suunto Spartan Wrist HR Trainer you ask?  Simple:

– You add time tick marks to the outer edge of the display
– You add a steel bezel
– Which increases the weight slightly to 66g
– You slightly change the band material to be thicker
– You change the display to be legit glass, versus plastic
– Oh, and you increase the price, now $329USD/329EUR

To demonstrate this a bit, here’s the two variants side by side, a non-premium version of the Spartan Trainer, and the more premium Spartan Trainer Outdoor:

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And because I shot a bunch of photos, here’s some more close-ups of the new Outdoor variant. Let no photo go to waste.

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As far as things like accuracy go, I haven’t noticed any GPS issues within my recent runs and rides with it.  Nor have I noticed any changes to the existing optical HR sensor accuracy of the unit, which still maintains a Valencell sensor.  The unit is light and small enough still that it doesn’t share some of the issues I saw with optical HR on the heavier ‘Suunto Spartan Sport’ series.

But talking about this unit would be remiss if I didn’t state the elephant in the room: Suunto’s naming has gotten out of hand.  It’s confusing as fudge.

And I suspect it’s starting to impact sales.  I suspect it’s also starting to impact media coverage.  Even I was confused/struggling to figure out what the heck the difference was on this unit when I received it.  And other media outlets considering covering Suunto’s products are likely in the same boat.

If we look at their Spartan series units, here’s all the potential variants (which also ignores glass/band/etc variants):

Suunto Spartan Ultra
Suunto Spartan Sport
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR/Baro
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Outdoors

I’d struggle to be able to give you the correct differences in terms of things like battery life and quirks between all those units.  Certainly a running shop person would be in the same boat.  Which isn’t to say that Garmin’s ‘throw every model against the wall and hope it sticks’ methodology is much better.  But at least the model numbers are different enough we can figure it out.  With the Spartan Series, it’s become a game of the longer the name the less features it has.

And most of these changes are because Suunto is still differentiating units based on whether it includes a barometric altimeter or not.  The challenge is, tech has moved on.  In 2018 (and even 2017), the baseline is any device over about $150 or so will have a barometric altimeter.  Even $120 Fitbit units do.  That’s because it’s used for counting stairs, thus, it’s included.  Just as optical HR sensors are now considered baseline for anything over about $150.

Variants like the ‘Outdoor’ shouldn’t have a special name.  They should just be color options that you can select.  Garmin, Apple, and Fitbit all operate that way – and it makes it easier to figure out what is what.  By doing that and making barometric standard, Suunto would basically be back to 2-3 models – a manageable naming number.

And fear not, this news isn’t new to them.  I delivered this same message in person during our CES chats.  And in their defense, they noted part of the challenge was clearing new model names for commercial viability globally.  Meaning, making sure they aren’t infringing on someone else.  Which is fair, but also sidesteps when I’m saying: Stop adding more words to your model names.

Just my two cents.

Oh – and again, in case it wasn’t clear above: I have no issues with the accuracy/etc of the new Outdoor version.  I love the existing $279 multisport Trainer variant, so if you want to spend another $50 to get a different looking unit – go forth – it’s all the same software goodness inside.

The New Firmware:

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Speaking of that software, all Suunto owners should now have access to a new firmware version that brings heart rate zones to the unit.  This update started rolling out on January 18th, but should now be available to all Suunto Spartan owners as of January 22nd (yesterday or today, depending on your specific time zone).

The update allows you to define a single set of heart rate zones that’s applicable across all sports.  You can then define custom zones for running or cycling.  All of which is set via the watch itself (Settings > Training > Intensity Zones ).

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When looking at the custom zones for ‘Running’, that technically covers ‘Running, Trail Running, Treadmill’, and for ‘Cycling’, that technically covers the sports of ‘Cycling, MTB, Indoor Cycling’.

I appreciate that you can set them on the watch itself, since many of the sport-specific settings on Suunto’s watches have to be done via the website.  So this is a good change.  To adjust these zones you’re basically setting the minimum of a given zone, and then it automatically adjusts the adjacent zone:

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Suunto offers 5 specific zones, so if you use more zones than that, or a different naming scheme (I.e. Zone 4A/4B/etc…), then you’re in a bit of a pickle.  Though I think you’ll find that no one device out there is perfect for all the various training methodologies that exist.

While working out you can see your specific zone, which also shows a color-coded zone indicator.  And then afterwards in the activity summary you’ll see a little chart of those same zones:

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You’ll find the same online as well in your activity summary:

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And that also carries through to your dashboard view (see right side):

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Of course, in many ways (all ways), this is playing catch-up with what others already have done for a long-long time.  But Suunto’s goal is twofold here.  First, they want to start expanding the zones beyond just these two bike/run modes.  And that’s something that most of their competitors don’t support either.  So if you can define a different zone for Cross Country skiing or Yoga, that would be largely unique within the Suunto realm.

Additionally, they see this as a precursor to defining areas such as power zones, including for running (running power).  As most know, running with power today is tricky because it’s treated as the red-headed step-child in terms of power zones, whereby most devices can’t handle/display anything like that.  So that too would be quite unique if implemented natively.

Finally, beyond that, the firmware update fixes Thai fonts in Android notifications, along with fixing some bugs related to paired heart rate sensors at startup, mobile app connectivity bugs, and some undefined bugs were squished.

With that – go forth and get your update and report back below.  Thanks for reading!

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43 Comments

  1. Maikkeli

    Hi!

    “So if you can define a different zone for Cross Country skiing or Yoga, that would be largely unique.”

    Pls correct me if I’m wrong, but Polar has had sport specific zones as long as I remember – been using them already in polarpersonaltrainer 🤔

    Good development from Suunto 👍

  2. The product name on my Trainer “Outdoor” box is: Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR….not outdoor? ie name is unchanged on the box. Yours says outdoors? Sure they told me it wa the OUTDOORS version…but the box disagrees as far as the naming goes.
    sport zones: I think running covers ALL *YOUR* running profiles not just the three you have shown (I’m sure you meant that)

    Differentiation
    Suunto also differentiate based on a real compass vs gps compass/heading
    Suunto’s trainers are also GPS-only not the GPS+GLONASS of other models

    Power Zones
    Did they tell you that? Or are you deducing it (a sensible deduction of course).
    My deduction from parallel announcements was that we might get zone based adaptive training based on zone-duration accomplishments per session (new Firstbeat clever stuff that is derived from the good old Firstbeat Athlete I used to use)

    • Naming: Mine says same as yours, I just assumed I got an beta box cover (which is pretty common there). At CES in various meetings it was referred to as the Outdoors name, so I’ll see what the final official name is.

      Sport Zones: That’s the specific list I got from the Suunto devs as to which ones it covers. I haven’t tried creating wonky zones for some offset beyond the list to see what happens.

      Differentiation: Yeah, the challenge there is still consumer confusion, without any tangible upside. Suunto is known in the space for things in that hiking realm, so removing those features on still expensive models seems a bit risky.

      Power Zones: Yes, a conversation with them about it from a futures standpoint. There was actually zero discussion about adaptive training. They really didn’t seem to have answer yet on whether Suunto 3 Fitness features would carry over.

    • I think this has been a misunderstanding with PR material.

      My press release only talks about “outdoor inspired”, but the name Outdoor is never implied to be “Trainer Outdoor”.

      But if you go into Suunto’s website they are all Spartan Trainer with different color options. There is no “Outdoor” version as well as the “Premium” ones are all under the same umbrella.

  3. jonjonjon3

    I wish they would fix the Running Race mode so you can actually set a target distance (like it states in Movescount). Currently you can only set a target duration.

    • VeSt79

      Yes! Lots of us would like that and they have stated in run mode you could choose time or distance…but you can’t.
      Like the small size but will change trainer for garmin…

  4. Aleksander H

    On their norwegian website they are simply marketing them as more expensive Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR devices.

  5. Hopjesvla

    Huh, they call it “outdoor” but it lacks the barometer? Wut?
    strange..very strange..

  6. Janne

    Hi Ray! What kind of method have you used to define your training zones?

  7. How about Glonass? Did they fix offset which sometimes occured while glonass turned on?

  8. Richard G

    Off topic, but I’m hoping someone can confirm…

    Am I right in thinking that you can’t currently get any dual sided power meters for mountain bikes?

    I’m assuming that my best (non wheel) option is just going with a 4iii or Stages crank arm based meter?

  9. Thounee

    Hmm,

    The product strategy is strangely familiar to that of another Finland based company back 10 years ago. Multiple variants of same basic product differentiated only by their name, presumably meant for different demographics.

    I wonder how many of those product planning wizards from that company are now working in Suunto? Answer: many… :)

    ps. Fully agree, this is already impacting sales. How on earth can any consumer figure these out if even likes of Ray struggle.

    • Jaka

      Agreed, they should hire more software engineers, not marketing people. We all see where more marketing is leading them. :(

    • Alistair

      OMG. I should have thought of that myself. I worked at Nokia so experienced first hand how proud they were of their segmentation and how they couldn’t grasp how the iPhone was only one model.

      I too have complained that as a consumer I can’t figure out the differences between their models so being faced with too many choices I don’t make a choice and they lose out. I guess they are not very good at listening to feedback.

  10. gingerneil

    What a pig ugly watch 🐷⌚!
    Seriously though, for the size of the device, there must be only about 50% usable screen!? Imagine a smartphone with a bezel taking up that much space!

    • Vinicius Batista

      I would say this model and the Phoenix series are not sooo much different. By the end of the day, they are only “rugged” watches.

  11. jobehr

    Hope to see a “Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR Outdoor Music” soon :)

    Any hint at CES?

    • Nothing at all hinted at that direction. But, I made it clear that I think for any price point over about $250-$299, the baseline by the end of the year will be:

      A) Barometric altimeter
      B) Music
      C) Contactless payments

      They could get away with something maybe this fall that hits that price point but lacks some of those, but realistically with Fitbit/Garmin/Apple/Samsung all headed that way already, the headwinds are strong.

  12. Korbel

    Thank you for the detailed background informations – as always!

  13. Rouleur

    I’m waiting for the Wahoo ELEMNT Rival HRM watch, hopefully it will be out soon.

    link to fccid.io

  14. bijak

    2 cents update IMHO.

  15. AW

    I believe that this update fixed a bug on my Sport WHR Baro. Let me describe.

    I’ve had my Baro for about 3 weeks, and twice now it has burned to ~35% battery and then shut down. When I plugged it in, it showed 35%. However, the burn time was consistent with the watch’s specs – I would get ~9 hours of actual activity recording time. So I think the watch was operating as it should but the battery indicator was incorrect.

    I think this update fixed that issue – I plugged it in to install the firmware with the battery indicator at 65% (approx half of the battery burn time with the incorrect indicator) and after the install it was at 44%.

    I’ll report back later if this is true.

    • AW

      Yep, this issue is now resolved on my watch. It seems likely that it was the firmware update, or I guess it could have been some other form of black magic.

      Also – love the watch!

  16. Thijs Rieken

    It does look much better than the… first version… whatchamacallit… eh well, than the one you are comparing it to.
    Especially that metal edge makes it look way more like a nice watch, and glass is a nice addition.

    Sounds like a Suunto version of the Sapphire editions Garmin makes.

  17. Hopjesvla

    Agree, I also like this design..now they only have to make the hardware on par or even better as a Fenix 5x and I will buy it. I really want to keep supporting Suunto, but it’s though not to switch to to Garmin side…

  18. Primoz Presinger

    After latest update (owner of Spartan Sport WHR), slep tracking is sorta confused. After observing last 3 nights, I get sleep tracking only after midnight. The sleep sumarry of the actual day says, I fell asleep exactly at midnight and counts sleep time untill I woke up. There’s no sleep time from previous evening. Do not disturb set from 21.00-7.00, as well prefered sleep times (21.00-7.00). Anyone else?

    Thanks, P.

  19. Robbie Lawless

    Is it possible to broadcast HR with the SUUNTO Spartan like the Garmin 735XT/935?

  20. Vinicius Batista

    Sometime ago I was considering to buy a suunto watch instead of replace my Garmin Fenix by a newer model. However, after some research, I wasn’t able to identify the correct model for my needs. Really annoying! I even started to compile a spreadsheet with all models vs features in order to make a choice. After some hours compiling that, I thought “wth I’m doing here? Not my problem if they just sucks with naming their products!”. Just quit and still with my F3

    • bijak

      Good decision. Still on F3 and Ambit3, looking into F3HR right now. Only thinking to update due to Firstbeat, but I am no athlete.

  21. Sören

    Hm. I have a problem with these specific hr zones. Nice to change them in the watch. But why is there no transmission to movescount??

    You wrote that you can see the SAME zones in the training summary. But this is not true. Zones in movescount are based on the main settings in movescount. The summary doesn´t show the specific zones.

    If you compare the picture from the watch and the summary you will see what i mean.

    Having zones in the watch is nice, but really poor that they did not connect it with movescount!!!

    • P

      Agree, the ability to set them on the watch directly is good, but why it doesn’t sync with Movescount settings with doesn’t make sense. Like a lot of the Spartan releases it’s seems only partly thought through and implemented. for a 3 month wait it’s not an overwhelming update, maybe a little less time on creating/releasing new variants and a bit more on fixing the core product would be good idea

      Sleep tracking can correctly identify that say I fell asleep at 2am and woke at 6am, but still claim I slept for 7 hours there’s something fundamentally wrong

  22. skyrun

    I like seeing them focus on smaller units and still eagerly waiting for a smaller watch (think size of a Garmin 220/235) but with Suunto’s superb build quality. Will it ever happen?

  23. dale jayne

    Will Suunto ever get where you can pair more than one HR sensor to their device at the same time and also allow you to name it and it show up as being connected?? I really like there stuff but it seems so far behind Garmin. I have a multitude of Bluetooth HR devices that I like to use.

    Dale

  24. Andrew

    Nice fix to add a sorely missing feature for my Suunto SWHR (trademark pending), and for a small fee, I can simplify the ridiculous naming convention :)

    A few items I appreciate about Suunto’s strategy for the firmware.
    – Common firmware across the new model range.
    – 2 months since the last update, so I hope this is a portent of ongoing fine tuning of the firmware. Because the base hardware is really well made and attractively styled.

    • Andrew

      OK, so first run with new firmware, in basic run mode.
      Observations:
      1. There is a dial indicator around the very edge of the screen indicating your HRM, potential a nice additional to a future bezel design.
      2. Now includes a zone number next the HRM and the colour changes as you move in and out of zones.
      3. Time in each zone is displayed whilst you run.
      So minor upgrade but cleanly executed.

  25. RG

    1. I’m still super very happy with the Suunto Trainer in its basic model. I tried it in many sports now (running, swimming, biking, football (indoors: futsal, it’s winter-sport season here in Canada), skating, treadmill, etc., and I find the info very useful for my needs.
    2. Until I read this post, I only noticed in the new firmware the HR zones indicator around the edges when I exercise, and I find it a nice and useful addition.
    3. My feeling is that I need to adjust the zones for when I’m biking, but being a total amateur I’m not sure what would be the right readings for me. Any suggestions for literature in this respect?

    • RG

      I’m answering myself: googling a bit, I found this interesting article (with interesting comments at the bottom):

      link to runworks.com

      Now, what I’d like to see is some guidelines how to adjust zones from running to biking (and swimming, perhaps). While the zones that came with the watch seem correct for running (I guess, adjusted to my age), they don’t seem appropriate for biking (I bike at a lower HR for a longer time, and my guess that’s the case with most people, but I’m not sure).

      Any suggestions?