Watching as/if/when Suunto Spartan Gets Stronger 1

The Suunto Spartan (Ultra) has been one of the strangest product releases of the year, at least for people into such outdoor sports tech.

(And chances are, if you have found this blog, it is because you are interested in that…)

There have been lots of complaints about the Spartan, to the point of DC Rainmaker “not wish[ing] that on anyone“, and many of them are very understandable.

Here, however, let’s look at how the Spartan is performing, mention that Suunto is working on it (What am I a tester for, even if I’m not allowed to share any details?…), and show what has come when there is a new public firmware release…

Scene 1: My Italian Marathons

You may have noticed that I went to three marathons in Italy this year.

The one in Rome was in spring, before the Spartan was even announced. There’s a look at the Kailash from this trip, but that’s a very different device.

More recently, and with a Spartan Ultra, were the Venice Marathon (end of October) and the Firenze Marathon (end of November).

Venice Marathon / Maratona di Venezia

You can view what this run looked like (and read about my experience with it) in this earlier post.

Venice Marathon, Running on St. Mark's Square
Finally running on St. Mark’s Square – and filming ;)

Just for details of the watches’ performance, look here:

Ambit3 Peak Spartan Ultra
 Distance  42.49 km  42.46 km
 Speed  10.8 km/h  10.8 km/h
 Pace  5’32 min/km   5’32 min/km
 Cadence  79 rpm (max 103)  79 rpm (max 151)
 Ascent  31 m  87 m
 Descent  36 m  98 m
 Highest Point  17 m  13 m
 Lowest Point  2 m  -7 m
 EPOC Peak 171 ml/kg  173 ml/kg
 PTE  4.7  4.6

Not sure what gives with the altitude (ascent/descent, especially) difference, but given that the GPS has been the main concern…

… there is little concern. You can even, ahem, see where I had to head for the bushes.

Firenze Marathon

The race report video will follow shortly, finally, but here I also produced a video just for the Spartan (vs. Ambit3) performance, to give you an impression of what that looked like for me:

Ambit3 Peak Spartan Ultra
 Distance  42.59 km  42.56 km
 Speed  11.0 km/h  11.0 km/h
 Pace  5’28 min/km   5’28 min/km
 Ascent  69 m  92 m
 Descent  72 m  85 m

(No HR data here; had some issues with the pairing. Turned out they were probably due to my having used an old Movesense POD and not having bothered to check what was connected where quite well enough.)

Again, somewhat more difference than I’d have expected with regards to altitude, but as good as no difference in speed and distance.

Looking at the track, there are a few things to notice:

The tunnels/underpasses towards the beginning (in the Northwest, before the loops through a park) caused hardly any difference in distance between the watches.

However, at the tunnel under Firenze Santa Maria Novella railway station, the track shows the Spartan jumping a bit to the side upon entering and back after leaving.

All the narrow roads were definitely a bit of an issue, worse for the Spartan, but neither ideal for the Ambit3.

There are instances of either watch meandering a bit… and this time, I wore them on the same arm to avoid the influence of that.

The bridge we passed in the farthest southeast of the track (Ponte San Nicoló) is an interesting lesson for issues of track vs. map: In the map view, one could think that I must have swum – but then, that would have been the case according to both watches.
Switch to satellite view, however, and it’s clearly an issue of the map drawing.

At the very end, the Spartan produced a bit of a strange track, there it must have lost the signal somewhat, but overall, if performance were always like that for everyone everywhere, I could definitely live with that.

Scene 2: The Sonnsteine Mountain Trail

Just a week after Florence, I finally took the time to head into the mountains.

The trail there is an easy one at the Traunsee lake, where I have spent quite a bit of time, but it is also varied.

There are meandering paths, trails through forest and in open space, a bit of road at the beginning and end, and especially, a section on the foot of a rock face.

That last bit is particularly interesting, as it is rather challenging for GPS…

The verdict from that, really, has to be that it’s hard to tell.

The Ambit3 Peak meandered around a bit more, but since the trails also do, but not quite that much, and aren’t really visible on online maps (and not always where I would have gone, necessarily) who’s to tell if that was a better or worse track?

The comparison with the route, as mentioned in the video, showed the Spartan Ultra a bit off at times, but mainly just in a way that is easy to explain as an artifact of the way the route was created.

The last section on the road, however, does show that the Spartan Ultra continues to have issues; this part of the track really should have been closer to where the Ambit3 Peak showed me.

Ambit3 Peak Spartan Ultra
 HR  153 bpm (90-188)   153 bpm (87-188)
 Distance  7.17 km  6.86 km
 Speed  3.0 km/h  2.8 km/h
 Pace  20’12 min/km   21’10 min/km
 Cadence  54 rpm (max 181)   58 rpm (max 254)
 Ascent  827 m  839 m
 Descent  800 m  817 m
 Highest Point  1043 m  1048 m
 Lowest Point  418 m  402 m
 Est. VO2  38 ml/kg/min  38 ml/kg/min
 EPOC Peak  144 ml/kg  147 ml/kg
 PTE  4.8  4.7

Still some work to do – it could always be better – but not bad… and all that, very strangely if you read (and see…) the complaints that are easily found online, with the same GPS software version that is out in public, if I am not mistaken.

Next up (2016-12-16)

Suunto have just announced that there is an update to Suuntolink, in preparation for a new Suunto Spartan firmware release.

So, in that update, a first step into sports mode customization by the user. And more…

7 Comments

  1. John

    Nice side by side comparison.

    I am seeing similar results to yours. Not getting major differences compared to my Ambit. The only situations where it is not as accurate is in really twisty trails, where you can see how the Ambit nails it. Still, even though the tracks sometimes don’t show as accurate, but the final distances are still extremely close. Fusespeed does a good job, I guess.

    Also, the hike where you got the most difference. I wonder if the low speed contributed to that. I’ve not seen any difference bigger than 100m for a 15k ish run. Even if the tracks are slightly different, the actual avg pace and final distance is always darn close.

    1. Hi John,
      thank you for contributing; good to not only hear of problems and disappointments.

      Good point about the low speed on that hike, too. Twisting trails plus low speed don’t make for good GPS measurements. (If I’d had autopause on, I bet it would have regularly thought I was stopped – and that, too, is something I’ve seen from the Ambit3 before…)

  2. nice work. couple of points

    1. I still think it’s a wii controller ;-)
    2. Yes there is something strange going on. Excuse my own link https://the5krunner.com/2016/11/26/gps-accuracy-test-spartan-ultra-vs-polar-m600/ in my GPS tracking tests of LOTS of devices the SPORT just about comes out top and the ULTRA comes out just about last. Why on earth is that?

    is it my interpretation of the data or maybe there are hardware component differences.

    1. Two things:

      1. Mine is a Spartan Ultra, not a Sport. Not that that says anything much, but anyways.
      2. The last km of the Firenze Marathon, I felt like I could have used a controller, as long as it inputs to my legs… Maybe I should tell people my legs are bionic, controlled by a Wii controller? I’m sure that would get me some more readers :-p

  3. […] look at the Suunto Spartan Ultra at firmware 1.6 (released Dec. 19, 2016); after entry #1 which looked at performance during […]

  4. […] as you may have seen from my earlier updates on this sports watch, I have been getting pretty good results from it already. This only continued […]

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