The release of the Suunto Spartan Ultra having gone as it has been, lots of people have found lots of reasons to complain.
They aren’t entirely wrong, for the Spartan Ultra promises a lot, but right now delivers a 700 to 850 Euro/dollar watch that is definitely a new hardware platform (color touch screen and all), but doesn’t even have an alarm function.
There is also potential, however – and I want to give Suunto the benefit of the doubt.
Looking back and complaining, after all, is cheap.
Looking at what is there now is better, and where it offers reason to complain, we’ll also have reason to look at what has been introduced, shortly. What is here already doesn’t look half as bad as the usual online discussions may make you think.
Then, September will already bring an update that improves the Spartan’s functionality a lot, and going by the features Suunto mentions in its update note and customer/user survey on how the Spartan gets stronger, this platform may well have even more potential than we realize now.
So, as I said, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Or rather, the benefit of decades-long experience in which they have never failed to bring things forward quite a bit. On that note…
I have some-one-and-a-half decades of experience with Suunto, know people (from) there I’d consider friends, and have regularly been supported with watches for review/testing and/or supported them in watch development as a beta tester.
This also applies here with the Spartan Ultra: I have received it from Suunto, to work on it as a beta-tester.
Thus, I have seen a few of their devices in early stages and beyond, and this makes it look like the release of the Spartan was a bit rushed compared to Suunto’s usual approach, but it will be in a much better state soon.
In my review(s), I will tell things as they are, anyways, if a bit more focused on how things work (hence, the Ambit3 Manual series).
After all, my work here is about living with the reality of the world, not in this popular fairy-tale land where every device works and makes a person much better without effort.
Like I said, I may give them the benefit of the doubt, but I also have enough good experience with them to do so – and only too many people online are only too fond of providing more than enough kvetching and moaning (or just type up PR material), anyways. No need to contribute to that.
That said, here goes:
Suunto Spartan Ultra Unboxing
So, if you decide to get a Suunto Spartan Ultra already, this is what you get:
The type of box Suunto introduced with the release of the Ambit family, with the Suunto Spartan Ultra, its (new) charging cable, a Movesense HR belt (if you got an HR version), and the “essential” info material, i.e. Quick Guide and warranty.
And a Suunto sticker; let’s not forget that ;)
The Movesense HR belt is the same it has been ever since Suunto updated their HR belts and went BTLE-only (rather than ANT+). So, if you have such an HR belt from an Ambit3, you don’t have to get an HR version Spartan – though you should remember that the belt part needs regular replacement; it degrades with use and then stops giving reliable results.
[Thank you to Goran – see comments – for reminding me that the switch to the new, BTLE-only, Movesense HR belts only came with the Ambit3!]
The charging cable is entirely new.
It is still a USB cable for charging as well as the connection with a PC or Mac, now using the program/utility “Suuntolink,” a version of which has only been used with the Suunto Kailash before, rather than the “Moveslink” used with Ambits and other Suunto watches.
However, it no longer is a “datasnake”-style cable “biting” onto the side of the watch, but rather attaches to the watch via a magnet. Thus, there are no more moving parts which might fail (but you should take care not to get the magnet anywhere it shouldn’t be).
Quick guide and warranty aren’t the most interesting things, as usual, but it should be noted that Suunto recently changed/expanded their warranty to that international one…
The most interesting thing, of course, is the watch…
Suunto Spartan Ultra Start-Up
The Spartan Ultra itself comes ‘asleep’, like all recent Suunto watches. Here, the quick guide may come in handy, to know to hold the top button for a few seconds in order to awaken the watch.
After the first booting, the watch goes straight into the setup, asking about some basic data it needs to function properly, which you can also see in the unboxing video above…
… and more than likely, you’ll want to connect it to your computer to charge, update, and sync it.
Spartan Ultra and Suuntolink
It’s no longer “Moveslink” which is used to sync the Spartan watches, it is “Suuntolink”. So, download that, install it on your PC or Mac, hook up the watch and see what it does.
For example, it updates the firmware:
Suuntolink also, of course, sync the GPS data to make reception quicker and better, syncs the settings between watch and Movescount, syncs moves data, downloads routes, and so on.
(There are still some connectivity issues, but they are being worked on.)
A First Close-Up
Just to give you some impressions of how the watch’s touchscreen works and what customization options (and modes) there currently are, especially of the watch face, let’s browse a bit:
My first run, I still had the Spartan Ultra at the very first firmware with which it was ever made available outside of Suunto.
That wasn’t even the worst problem, it was – Surprise, surprise! – that some things about its use have changed quite a bit: You do not get the Ambits’ “GPS Searching” with the progress bar anymore, the Spartans just show their readiness for use with the GPS (and HR, and Start? – it was all still a question) symbols turning from mere outline to being filled when they are (somewhat) ready.
Not knowing about that, I started the recording when the watch was not yet ready, and it started recording the GPS track only after quite some time.
Considering that, the total distance measurement was not bad – and this very first run was in Hong Kong, where even the Ambit3 Peak had tremendous problems with the GPS reception, as you can see on the track for the move…
So, you don’t get to see much of the Spartan Ultra in the following video, but I want to include it here, anyways. It was still fun, gives some impressions of Hong Kong – and I’m about more than just sports watches, after all! ;)
Fun as it was, it is still highly recommended to first connect, charge, and sync the watch to ready it. And to update the firmware, if there is an update. Not to just go out…
So, now, since I couldn’t record quite so much of how all that looks like for the video above, what should you do for starting a run (or other exercise / “move”), having done all the syncing and updating? How does it look?
Recording a Run
First off, don’t forget to pair your HR belt to the watch!
Unsurprisingly, to start recording an exercise, you go to “Exercise”, pick the sports mode you want to use/do, set options if you want to do that (those are still limited to setting a target, which is still limited to a duration only, and/or to activating a route – more on routes/navigation below).
Just know that the Spartan Ultra no longer shows dedicated startup screens for the HR belt and the GPS, it just shows a location icon and a heart icon, which turn from outlined to full when GPS and HR belt, respectively, have been found.
Ready like that, the “Start” button on the display also turns from an outlined to a filled icon.
Hit Start and you’re ready to go…
You can, of course, scroll through different displays (currently, as pre-set by Suunto, but the customizability of sports modes is already in the list of updates that will come soon) to get different data.
You can pause the recording (to resume or to stop it), and it’s no longer likely that one forgets to unpause, as that is now a dedicated screen showing either total time elapsed or time of day (switch via tap or middle button), with big “resume” and “stop” icons at the bottom and top, respectively.
To avoid accidental button presses, these icons don’t serve as touch buttons; the actual buttons have to be pushed to resume or stop.
At the end of a recording, a summary is still/again displayed, with one screen for the various items of data and another for laps (or actually, one for autolaps and one for manual laps, if both were used).
Logbook and Training Overview
Judging by the ads for the Spartan Ultra, there is still quite a bit more to come on the watch and on Movescount when it comes to training (progress) overviews.
Definitely, one can already go into the logbook to see data of recent training sessions or swipe down from the time display to get to the overviews of (first step counter, then) recent training times or distances and then recovery time.
More than likely, there will be more – if it’s not all just coming to Movescount (the website).
I just so happened to have to hike to Arche Noah in Lower Austria again, one of my places for a little ‘adventuring’ – so I took the Spartan Ultra, pre-loaded with the necessary route, as navigation tool:
Night hike GPS tracks (from Ambit3 Peak, worn on right wrist and set to “trekking” mode with “best” GPS, and Suunto Spartan Ultra, worn on left wrist, and apparently, going by the options/setup for the “hiking” mode, set to “good” GPS only) can be viewed and compared here:
(The route I had set up to follow, just using the “follow roads walking” option, is also shown, in blue.)
Still some issues to work on, but overall, the navigation worked at least as well as it does on the Ambits (except for waypoints not really being used yet) and the data/tracks recorded are quite alright here, too.
Suuntolink was already mentioned, but this spot seems good to also mention the sync between the Spartan Ultra and Movescount via Suuntolink…
It “optimizes GPS” (i.e., downloads the GPS satellite SGEE data which helps get a faster and better fix), syncs settings, syncs moves, and (though you don’t see that unless there is a new one) checks for firmware updates.
The way this looks now is really nice, but of course it’s more important that it works… and there are some connectivity issues which Suunto has acknowledged and is working to get them fixed.
Thoughts Right Now
People didn’t much like that video (especially with it coming first), but I think there are some things you need to hear and consider: From what can be seen so far, the Spartan is a very promising platform, but it does not yet fulfill too many of those promises.
As I said in my introductory words, going by my experience with Suunto, they will more than likely deliver – but that will take time.
At the current time and state, if you are happy with your Ambit, I would recommend sticking with it. If you need a serious and reliable (in terms of both function and accuracy) training and outdoors device, it will still serve you better than the Spartan Ultra in its current state.
If you want to be an early adopter and see how far Suunto gets in how (comparatively) little time, you could do worse than to get a Spartan Ultra already, though.
Some hiccups still occur, even some things that already work still need improving (which wasn’t how Suunto has usually released its watches, though not everything was quite as good as it is now with the Traverse when it first came out, either) – but it will get there and beyond.
The watch already looks good, is starting to perform well, and shows enough potential.
Like I did with the Ambits, I’ll return with a new post when there is another jump in the firmware version, i.e. a serious software update – and then we’ll also take a deeper look at the data provided by the Spartan, at Movescount’s new features, at the way the Movescount app works together with the Spartan, and all that.
Later this year, I’ll even head to Suunto HQ for talks and interviews…
Ask and you shall get answers – and also ask if you have (serious ;) ) questions for potential interview partners of mine at Suunto later this year…
If you’re interested in a purchase – and in supporting my work here (i.e., yes, those are affiliate links) – the Suunto Spartan Ultra is available here, for example:
Or, you can get it on Amazon (also with affiliate links):