Today we are going to take a look at the newest GPS sports watch from Suunto, the Spartan Trainer Wrist HR. Now, there are plenty of other reviews out there, and if you really want to take a deep dive into all the different modes and options we’d recommend heading over to the DC Rainmaker Review of the Spartan Trainer. They go over every little thing in extreme detail including comparing GPS and HR accuracy against multiple other watches.
Before picking up the Spartan Trainer I was using a Garmin Forerunner 220 with HR Strap. For the most part I was perfectly happy with the 220. It’s battery easily lasted longer than my longest workouts, and it provided all of the stats I actually use. Those stats include HR, distance, elapsed time, and pace. The 220 is also light, comfortable to wear, and provided trustworthy HR info on the run.
However, when watches started coming to market with wrist HR sensors built in I started wondering if maybe it was time to get a new watch. Initially I looked at options from Garmin, but found that they were either more expensive than I was willing to pay, or just not attractive enough to switch from my FR220. Then Suunto released the Spartan Sport Wrist HR, but the initial reviews weren’t great and it was also quite expensive.
Eventually, after a a series of updates, Suunto improved the performance of the Spartan series and the reviews starting improving. People even started recommending them. But, they were still expensive.
Enter the Spartan Trainer Wrist HR. The Trainer has been billed as smaller, lighter Spartan Sport at a much more reasonable price. It has all of the functional capabilities of the more expensive Spartan Sport, including the HR at the wrist, but saves money by using a smaller screen and cheaper construction.
Now were talking! At $279 the Spartan Trainer Wrist HR has all of the features one could need, good enough battery life for 95% of runners, and wrist HR all at a very reasonable price. So… I picked one up in blue!
Below, I want share some of my own thoughts and comparisons against the Garmin FR 220 after using the Spartan Trainer for a number of weeks. But first… Some specs.
- Battery life up to 10 hours with best GPS accuracy (up to 30h with power saving options)
- 14 days battery life in time mode
- Wrist heart rate measurement
- Compact size
- 50 m water resistant
- Multiple sport support including swimming, running, cycling, gym, hiking and more
- GPS tracking with speed, pace and distance
- Create intervals on watch and follow on-screen guidance
- Find back safely with breadcrumb view of traveled route
- 24/7 tracking of your daily steps, calories and sleep
- Track your daily rest-HR value to know if you are stressed or over-trained
- Get incoming calls, text and calendar notifications to your watch
- Measurements: 46 x 46 x 15.7 mm/14.9 mm – 1.81 x 1.81 x 0.59″/0.62″
- Weight: 56 g / 66 g – 1.98 oz/2.33 oz
- Bezel material: Polyamide/Stainless steel
- Glass material: Polyamide/Mineral crystal
- Case material: Polyamide
- Strap material: Silicone
Comfort & Style
I’ve found both the Garmin 220 and the Spartan Trainer comfortable to wear, but there are some differences. The 220 is lighter and lacks the GPS bump of the Suunto. Fortunately, I have relatively skinny wrists and the GPS bump hasn’t bothered me. Also, the strap on the Trainer is more elastic than that on the 220 which allows you to snug it up nicely without cutting off circulation to your hand.
Both are comfortable to wear. The Garmin’s light weight means it stays put pretty well despite the less elastic strap. The Trainer is heavier, but the strap does a great job comfortably holding it in place despite the added weight. For me it’s a wash. Both disappear on my wrist in use which is all I can ask for.
As far as style goes… Here I think the Sunnto wins hands down. The blue color is very “sporty”, but I feel it suits me and doesn’t feel inappropriate when wearing around as a regular timepiece. The Garmin on the other hand, just looks cheap. It’s plasticy and the red and black doesn’t look very refined. None of this bothers me when out for a run, but I have never considered wearing the Garmin during my regular day-to-day.
Also, the Spartan Trainer has some additional features that can only be taken advantage of if you wear the watch 24/7. These include HR tracking, activity tracking, sleep tracking, and displaying call/text/other notifications. I’ve found the sleep tracking and HR tracking of limited use. With a young child I didn’t need a watch to tell me I wasn’t getting enough sleep, and the HR tracking always seems to be missing large chunks of data. Supposedly it samples your HR every 10 minutes, but it only tries for 1 minute and if it can’t lock on you see a gap. This failure to get a good HR read is probably due to me loosening the strap for daily wear. The watch is most comfortable this way, but it means that the HR sensor isn’t making maximum contact with my wrist hence the poor performance. As for the activity tracking feature, I’ve actually found it pretty motivating. Having a goal and being able to look at your progress over the day has definitely encouraged me to take more walk breaks at work on days when I don’t have a run scheduled. Anything that encourages more activity gets a thumbs up from me. Lastly, the ability to receive notifications on my watch has been of limited use, but has had a positive effect on me personally. In real life I’m a communications manager and I receive a constant stream of notifications throughout the day. Being able to check these on my watch has reduced my obsession with looking at my phone… Yeah!
On The Run
The real reason for getting picking up the Spartan Trainer was for use while running… So how does it perform? The short answer is, quite well. The GPS is accurate. It’s comfortable to wear. It displays all of the metrics that I find useful, and having the ability to monitor HR built in has been great. It basically does everything I want it to do. But, was it worth the switch from my Garmin?
Here my answer is a definitive, I think so. Comfort seems equal. GPS accuracy also equal. HR Accuracy… It’s complicated. With the FR 220 I wear a HR strap and I feel that the info it provides is relatively accurate, but more importantly it’s consistent. With the Spartan Trainer HR is measured at the wrist and you have to be extra careful about how you watch is secured to ensure a good lock. First and foremost the Spartan Trainer HR sensor has to make solid, consistent contact with the skin to get a good reading. The strap that Suunto provides does a great job of holding the watch securely against the skin while still being comfortable, but if you’re not careful where you position the watch on your wrist or if the strap isn’t tight enough you’re going to get inconsistent info. In use, if I take a second to double check strap tightness the Spartan Trainer seems to work just fine. What does this all mean? For me it means I’m perfectly content using the Spartan Trainer. So far it’s proven accurate and consistent enough to help me gauge my effort on long runs. However, if you’re someone who really relies on HR info during races or training and requires the utmost accuracy I’d still recommend using a chest strap. Fortunately, the Spartan Trainer is compatible with Suunto’s wireless HR chest strap so you can have it both ways.
Some other things to note… Have you ever stood around waiting to start your run while your watch struggles to find a GPS lock? With my Garmin 220 this was a pretty common occurrence. With the Spartan Trainer I have found that it locks on to GPS quite quickly and have not had to wait for it once. Also, I have constantly struggled to get my FR 220 to consistently connect with connect to my phone. I’ve gone weeks without syncing my data because it just wouldn’t work. So far with the Spartan Trainer I haven’t had any of these issues. Since pairing with my phone it has connected easily and consistently ever since. Occasionally the connection does drop during a sync, but it always eventually syncs which is more than I can say for my Garmin.
In the end I am happy that I purchased the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR. It’s comfortable. It has the features I need. It has features I didn’t know I wanted. It’s easy to use and works well. For the price I think the Spartan Trainer is one of the best values out there, and is a watch almost every runner out there would be happy owning and using. Having HR built in and measured at the wrist is convenient and works well enough. If you need a more accurate HR solution you can always purchase a chest strap.
If you’re interested in purchasing this shoe, please first check availability at your local, independently owned running specialty store. They need your business and are a great resource for the community.