This month Suunto released their long-awaited successor of the Ambit3 watches – The Spartan Ultra. This is the new top of the line multi-sport GPS watch from Suunto for outdoor adventures.
The Spartan Ultra is available with two models: with or without titanium in the basel, but both are with sapphire crystal glass. In the upcoming months Suunto will release another model – Spartan Sport – cheaper modification without barometric altimeter. We are waiting for a model with built in optical heart rate sensor too.
I had the opportunity to use one All black titanium unit from day 1 of the official release of the watch. I used it for cycling, running including one ultra-marathon race and for all day activity tracking. Keep in mind that this is a review of the watch in mid august of 2016, if you are watching this in spring 2017 for example many things will be improved (or at least I hope they will be). I used a pre-release unit, the final release of the watch that is in the shops now is with minor corrections of the barometer. The unit from this review had a chance to be affected by static electricity, from clothes with synthetic materials for example.
The big change in Spartan Ultra compared with previous models is the presence of color touch screen. It is big with big resolution, wide viewing angles and good visibility in direct sunlight. Backlight is also available for usage during the night. It is much better than monochrome displays from the past years but I am a little skeptical about using a touch screen in high end outdoor watch. Yes, it is optimized to withstand disturbances from the environment but working with hardware buttons is much, much faster. Sometimes the touch screen doesn’t recognize my gesture from first or second time, it is not as sensitive as modern smartphone screens that we are used to. When I am in a race for example it is more difficult for me to use the touch screen and I don’t like the sweaty fingerprints that I leave. The good news is that the watch can be used with the three hardware buttons on the right. So if you like touch screen – use the touch screen, if you like the dedicated buttons – use them, it’s all up to you. Keep in mind that the touch screen doesn’t work underwater when you are swimming.
The Spartan Ultra All Black Titanium is made of plastic case with Space grade titanium for the basel and Sapphire crystal for the glass. All that means one thing – the screen is very strong and durable, you have to put a lot of efforts to crack it. The strap is silicone and the watch is waterproof up to 100 m. The Spartan Ultra watches are all hand-built in Finland, Europe, homeland of Suunto.
Let’s talk about the capabilities of the watch. The Sunnto Spartan Ultra is a GPS multi-sport watch, it provides specific metrics and displays them while you are training for sports like running, cycling, swimming, triathlon and various adventure sports such as hiking or ski. According to Suunto with the watch you have 80 sports to choose from, unfortunately I couldn’t try them all. Via the Movescount website you can add or remove different sport modes, but it’s not possible to do the same from the watch itself. During activity several data fields with information are available like running pace, distance, duration, heart-rate or cycling speed. At the moment it’s not possible to edit the data fields but in the near future it will be, again via the Movescount website. Unlike the previous watches, the Spartan Ultra has a vibration. When you are running at every kilometer the watch will vibrate. This small feature was a big miss on the Ambit3 watches but finally it is present.
Like the previous Ambit watches you can use the Spartan Ultra for navigation. You can upload or create routes in the website and then sync them with the watch. When you are in a ultra-marathon race for example the navigation features are very handy, you can upload the official GPX track of the race and follow it. Another example is to create route for big cycling tours.
The Spartan Ultra works with good old Suunto Smart Sensor for heart-rate tracking. The connection is via Bluetooth, so you can use the strap with a smartphone too if you want. The Suunto Smart Sensor is the most comfortable HR strap I have worn – small and light. After a workout you can check your VO2, how long the workload was easy, moderate, hard or very hard, recovery time, total distance, pace, speed, estimated calories burn, cadence, ascent, descent and others.
I used the watch for running and cycling. During a 50k ultra-marathon race the watch showеd a total elevation of 2900 m which is way more than the official 2200 m. For comparison the Garmin Fenix 3 that I used too showed me 2200 m. I have an unofficial information that the GPS and chipset of the Spartan are the same as Fenix 3, they are from the same manufacturer, so probably the problem is with my pre-release unit or Suunto are still working on the optimization of the software.
On a 5k running course in a city park with bad weather conditions such as clouds after heavy raining the Spartan showed me 4.88 km. It is not a perfect 5 km but in my opinion the result are normal. We are talking about consumer grade electronics, not military ones. The weather conditions are a big factor too. On my cycling test in the city the Spartan Ultra showed me 9.51 km versus 9.56 on the Fenix 3.
About the battery life, on my ultra-marathon race for a little bit more than 7 hours the watch needed 38% of battery, with the best GPS settings and HR strap. So after basic calculations the battery will last about 18 hours with the same usage.
As I talked earlier the Spartan Ultra is with brand new interface. I like it, it’s easier for me than previous Ambit3 watches but the software is unfinished. You can’t delete activities from the watch for example. You have to sync with Movescount and then delete them from the web. There is no simple alarm for wake up or reverse chronometer. You can’t configure the data screens during workout, there are different built-in watch faces, but you cant install new ones.
Daily step tracking is available but you can see only counted steps and estimated calories burn, there is no estimated distance, climbed floors, notification for long period of inactivity or sleep tracking.
The Spartan Ultra can connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone but the full potential is not used. Yes you can sync with Movescount and you can see who is calling you, but you can’t control your music player for example or see weather forecast for the next days. You can use the app with iPhone only at the moment. Android app is coming in late September.
Price and verdict
At the moment Spartan Ultra retails for $700 for the non titanium model and $800 for the titanium one. If you add a HR strap this will cost you $50 more. This is expensive especially for unfinished version of the watch and the huge competition from Garmin and others. The good news is that Suunto are working continuously to improve the Spartan. They are releasing firmware updates and announcing what is coming next with the next one.
If you are a Fenix 3 user I don’t see a reason to switch to Spartan Ultra at the moment. If you are looking for a replacement for your good old Suunto watch consider the Spartan but keep in mind that you will be an early adopter. You can find some bugs and missing features but you will help Suunto to develop the watch.