The Suunto Spartan Ultra is the latest watch in Suunto’s lineup, and represents Suunto’s big leap into colour touchscreens to compete with Garmins 630 and 735XT range. Read on for our initial Suunto Spartan Ultra Review – although as we’ll make clear, coming to final conclusions isn’t fair yet as there’s much that isn’t finished here.
The Suunto Spartan Ultra shoulders out last years ‘Vertical’ moniker, which in turn replaced the ‘Ambit’ line after several iterations. It’s designed to be the all-singing, all-dancing multisport outdoors GPS watch, not only tracking your day to day activity (and recovery), but also your training across a variety of disciplines, thus the ‘multisport’ bit.
So what’s new in the Suunto Spartan Ultra? Well, pretty much everything. Above is a little ‘ascent of man’ evolution of Suuntos – from the Ambit 2 on the left, the Suunto Vertical from 2015 in the middle, and the Suunto Spartan Ultra on the right. Arguably the Spartan looks the best of the bunch, looking much more like a modern consumer smartwatch rather than the more military, rugged look of the Ambit 2 and Vertical.
Suunto Spartan Ultra review continues after this competition!
The entire user interface has changed, the controls are different, even the desktop sync software has been upgraded. The only thing you’ll be able to reuse from your Vertical will be the HR strap – no wrist based HR here, luckily for accuracy. You’ll also notice the two left-hand buttons of the Ambit line have been phased out, and the cumbersome GPS hump of the Ambits – removed for the last iteration, the Suunto Ambit Vertical – is still absent. There’s even a new charging connector, a little magnetic rail-type job that replaces the long series of clothespeg-type devices we’ve had to date.
With change on every front, let’s start with the most obvious – that all new screen. Neatly stashed behind Sapphire glass is a smartwatch-style touchresponsive matrix, backlit LED display, with a 320 x 300 resolution. Suunto may be late to the colour touchscreen game, but this is a cracker – easily swiped while running or cycling, and responsive even in the rain or dowsed in saltwater. It’s clear enough to be readable at a glance, and the new UI means you’ll be within touching distance of your key stats at all times – you can set up to seven different information items per screen, which is pretty hectic, but surprisingly viewable.
That new UI is the real star of the show though. We’ve reviewed a lot of Suuntos, and their major caveat till now was that they were highly competent, but needed configuring to get the best out of them. A bit like the Android vs Apple debate, the Suunto owner was always in the ‘mine does that, I’ll just need to change the settings and sync again’ camp. Now though, that’s all gone – kinda. The configurability is still there, but your initial options are much easier to get on with. Strap this on your wrist, connect an HR band, pick a sport and you’re off. Easy. The graph-style display could be accused of dumbing down key stats, but does make them far easier to read – and engage with – than the raw data which is still available if that’s what you want .
This is brilliant news for Suunto, as they’re perilously close to creating a serious outdoor, multisport GPS HR watch (mouthful eh) but with mass-market appeal because it won’t take 4 weeks and a spreadsheet to get it up and running. Polar has done this very successfully with pure-play running watches such as the M400, but their mapping/waypoint abilities weren’t a key feature.
The GPS unit in the Suunto Spartan Ultra is pretty cutting edge, adding in GLONASS support for better coverage and paired with the new display delivers decent accuracy on the training runs we’ve done with the unit. This accuracy comes in spite of the missing GPS ‘hump’ of the older Ambits, which is a welcome change from a visual and comfort perspective. However, that hump did place the GPS antenna in an ideal position when in motion, which did give the older Ambits an edge in accuracy terms.
The new tracking feature (a swipe or two away from the main readout while in sport mode) is particularly impressive and pointless in equal measure, as it displays your route in a virtual bubble – the best use of this being a ‘get you home’ type function. Otherwise it’s more interesting than essential, at least until you’ve uploaded some routes or waypoints to follow.
Suunto has included a barometer sensor to track altitude changes, and this data is fused with GPS to give an accurate picture of ascent and descent rates. It’ll also output your current altitude to a little ‘complication’ in the analogue watch display, which is a nice thing to look at on a hut balcony. There’s a ‘default’ altitude setting for some reason, which is factory set to minus 49m, so tweaking that to your normal altitude will help accuracy somewhat, unless you’re Jules Verne.
A claimed 18 hours of battery life in Full Power 1sec GPS fix rate, best GPS accuracy mode, 26h in Power Save 1sec GPS fix rate, good GPS accuracy, and 65h in Power Save 60sec GPS fix rate, OK GPS accuracy looks about right from testing so far, although of course this varies with backlight use, etc.
We got an early sample of the Suunto Spartan Ultra, and we’ll be testing it for some time to come, but it’s already clear that Suunto are putting serious development hours into the new platform, with new releases adding genuine improvements and bugfixes. There are still some weird little tics to be ironed out, like if you’re running the more complex sport-style analogue watchface with what Apple would call ‘complications’ showing height, steps, etc, the default view is the standard analogue display, only showing the more complex face when a button is pressed to wake the watch.
One of the things the new UI has to work hard to replace are the two left hand buttons on previous units, which have been deleted. This gives a much slicker, pared down aesthetic, but also loses the ‘back’ button, which was pretty handy. However, the new touchscreen does offset this, as does the simpler navigation. From the time screen, swipe up to view daily step totals, again for training totals and again for recovery time, swipe down to head up into the main menu, accessing ‘Exercise’, ‘Navigation’ and ‘Stopwatch’ as well as ‘Settings’ functions.
This is one of the things that makes reviewing the Suunto Spartan Ultra a little tricky at the moment – we’re clearly so early in the launch process (in spite of the official UK on sale date being August 15) that much of the more in-depth training smarts are only partly delivered. There’s no Android app functionality yet (due September 2016), and Suunto claims an impressive range of functionality including personalised coaching plans, granular planning, Personal best flagging, logging and comparisons ‘soon’. The navigation tools themselves seem a little limited at the moment too, so we’d expect these to be updated soon too. In the meantime the iOS app connects and syncs data, but only seems to offer relatively basic functionality, but at least saves PC syncing of ‘moves’.
Smartwatch-style alerts are also available, but seem to just popup for a short period, then vanish without trace, so currently only a hint that you might want to check your phone. These do seem a bit of an afterthought, but if more advanced filtering is possible could be useful.
Overall then, if Suunto can deliver this functionality arrive without compromising the simple UI then this watch will have both beauty and brains! In the meantime, here’s some more marketing hyperbole for you:
We’ll keep on updating this review with new functionality as it comes available over the coming months, so do check back…
The Suunto Spartan Ultra is on sale in the UK from August 15, RRP £509, or £559 for the titanium model – full list of models here. Best Suunto Spartan Ultra deal we could find was with Outdoor GB for £509, but that’s without the HR belt.