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Preview: Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR, plus Ambit development plans

Suunto had one major product release, the Spartan Sport Wrist HR. And I learned of future development plans (or, more accurately, non-plans) for the Ambit collection.

Spartan Sport Wrist HR

The first GPS sport watch with a wrist-based heart rate monitor was the Garmin Fenix 3 HR, which was announced 12 months ago. But according to research by Valencell, which supplied the sensor technology being used by Suunto, the Spartan Sport Wrist HR is more accurate.

Eighty-nine percent of the time, the accuracy of the Spartan Sport Wrist HR relative to a benchmark chest strap is within 5 percent, on average. Its accuracy and consistency varies with wrist size and shape, hairiness, perspiration, and movement; and it will not work while swimming.

The Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR has an optical wrist-based heart rate monitor. Sorry for the generic image -- I forgot to snag a photo during my press meeting.

The Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR has an optical wrist-based heart rate monitor. Sorry for the generic image — I forgot to snag a photo during my press meeting.

For general HR monitoring, as you might want to do during a spin class or on a hike, this level of accuracy may be sufficient. But wrist-based HR technology is not yet a reliable substitute for a chest strap if, for example, you need to stay at 150 bpm, because 155 bpm will probably result in a bonk and DNF.

Future software updates may improve the accuracy. And I’m certain that the hardware will eventually be reliably precise. But it’s not there yet.

The Spartan Sport Wrist HR will retail for $650. That’s $100 less than the least expensive Suunto Spartan Ultra, but $50 more than the similarly spec’d Garmin Fenix 5, and twice as much as current retail prices for the Suunto Ambit3 Peak.

Speaking of…

Ambit collection

The Ambit3 Run and Ambit3 Sport are being discontinued. My heart is not broken, since they were not spec’d with the features I want as a hybrid runner/hiker.

The Ambit3 Peak and Ambit3 Vertical will thankfully remain in production, and will continue to be supported with occasional software updates (most recently, two weeks ago). If your favorite activities are similar to mine, I recommend the Ambit3 Peak model. Only go with the Vertical if you find offensive the Peak’s bulkier aesthetics.

Development of an Ambit4 series is not certain, one way or the other.

Suunto is cleary more focused with the Spartan collection right now, but they seemed to recognize the void that would be left if the Ambit collection were abandoned. First, the Ambit3 has better battery life than the Spartan watches: the premium Spartan Ultra is spec’d at 18, 26, or 60 hours, depending on the GPS frequency interval, whereas the Ambit3 Peak runs for 20, 30, and 200 hours at 1-, 5-, and 60-second GPS ping intervals.

Second, the Ambit3 models are more accurate, due to its larger and more pronounced GPS antenna.

Finally, Ambit3 prices are much more attainable. Current retail prices for the Ambit3 Peak are at or less than $300 on Amazon, and the Sport and Run models can be found for less than $200. Meanwhile, MSRP for the entry-level Spartan Sport is an astounding $600; the least expensive Spartan Ultra is $750.

I was not given specifics, but was told that more moderately priced Spartan models were on the way.

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14 Responses to Preview: Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR, plus Ambit development plans

  1. Brad R January 13, 2017 at 9:06 am #

    This is interesting to me as I would love to have a do it all device. Currently I use a Fitbit to track my HR throughout the day, a Garmin HR only device (FR60) with chest strap for workouts and a Highgear ABC watch for backpacking. If they just made this with the 200 life of the Ambit 3 Peak.

  2. Sean January 13, 2017 at 10:00 am #

    The latest ambit3 update added step count finally. Sort of.

    It is, to put it mildly, horrendously inaccurate. Which is amusing and a little frustrating. It frequently clocks me at like 12,000 steps when I spent all day at a computer desk.

    Still, I’m appreciative that they’re updating the firmware.

    As for optical HR monitoring, there’s some inherent limitations in the technology that will never be as accurate as a chest strap. It’s nice, but I find myself not needing it these days. If I want an optical heart rate check, my Galaxy 6s has a heart rate and O2 saturation meter in it inexplicably.

  3. Bruce January 13, 2017 at 7:55 pm #

    Thanks for update. Knowing an Ambit 4 is not happening this year puts the Ambit 3 Peak on my buy list now, just wish they would add GLONASS, I think this would improve accuracy. No interest in wrist based HR, my experience with it had HR all over the place, usually way high or way low, sometimes close or the same (based on one month of wearing both a chest HR & wrist HR for running, hiking, biking, weight workouts, walking and RPR).

    • Clint January 16, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

      Bruce,

      GLONASS isn’t the big deal it’s made out to be. If a device isn’t receiving sufficient signals from the current GPS system, yes, GLONASS may help. In North America, very unlikely.

  4. Dulle February 3, 2017 at 1:07 am #

    Thanks for the update. Any idea what kind of updates could Ambit3 line receive in the future? Do you think they will implement step count into movescount also for Ambit3 line? Thank you for your ideas and thoughts.

    • Andrew Skurka February 3, 2017 at 7:05 am #

      A step count feature was added to the Ambit3 watches in a December 2016 software update.

      I’m uncertain what future updates might be. They said a lot of the improvements are driven by consumer demand, i.e. bloggers, users via customer service, and I think at this point they feel like the Ambit3’s are in pretty good shape.

  5. Bob S. February 17, 2017 at 9:02 pm #

    Do Suunto sport watches have a tracking feature similar to Garmin Live Track so people can track you race progress online?

    • Andrew Skurka February 18, 2017 at 9:09 am #

      No, they do not.

      I think that Live Track requires a smartphone nearby (i.e. on your person). Not sure if you carry one during your races, but I struggle to imagine myself doing that.

      • Bob S. February 18, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

        Yes, Live Track requires Bluetooth and an internet connection through a smartphone. I have a fenix 2 which is not capable of receiving ANT+ and Bluetooth simultaneously so only GPS location is reported on the Live Track map. Judging from the live Track dashboard, I would assume later models of Garmin watches provide more info.

        I’m a cyclist and most jerseys have pockets that a phone can be tucked into so carrying a small smartphone is not an issue. I’m guessing there are apps that do the same thing as Live Track so it’s probably not a game changer for most if they are already carrying a phone.

        I’ve been thinking about upgrading to an Ambit3 or Fenix 3. Thanks for the excellent reviews and prompt response to my question.

  6. kg March 15, 2017 at 11:57 am #

    Any news of release date and technical specifications?

  7. Jan "Mojo" August 5, 2017 at 10:40 am #

    Hey Mr. Skurka,

    I have a question about the Suunto Vertical.
    You mentioned, that the Suunto V has a little less battery power and would be lighter and sleeker in design than the Ambit3Peak.

    I wonder how much less battery power does it actually have?
    It does not appear in your list, where you compare all the battery specs of the different models.

    How long does it take to charge a fully empty battery (~just approximately; a whole night?, an hour?)
    I intend to fully record my next year’s hike on the Continental Devide Trail (CDT) with it.
    I’d like to minimise time in town, therefore that information would be very valuable for me.

    The design and the weight benefit really appeals to me more than the Ambit3’s too.
    Since I am a long-distance-hiker every ounce counts, you know the business.

    Furthermore that GLONASS is receivable
    seems beneficial as well.
    Can the Ambit3Peak receive it too?
    I am from Europe and even if it wouldn’t be as beneficial on my CDT hike it could be an advantage for further trips down in my home continent.

    Last but not least I want to get into ultra running after my thru hike of the CDT.
    Would the watch also be as good for running as the Ambit3Peak apart from battery life?

    Thank you for answering,

    Jan “Mojo”

    • Andrew Skurka August 5, 2017 at 12:13 pm #

      For backpacking, you’ll want to set the watch to a 60-sec GPS ping interval. At that setting, the Ambit3 Peak goes 200 hours; the Ambit3 Vertical, half of that, 100 hours. To me, the battery life of the Peak easily offsets the slightly heavier weight.

      Recharging is quick. When I plug a nearly depleted Ambit2 into an Anker portable charger, it’s topped off within an hour.

  8. Eric August 6, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

    I’m glad the possibility of an Ambit4 hasn’t been completely ruled out. My dream watch is essentially an Ambit3 Peak with the same killer GPS accuracy, even better battery life, and some of the vertical tracking features of the Ambit3 Vertical.

    I want to keep the external antenna for accuracy and prefer the “regular” Ambit watch screen to a fancier color touchscreen that’ll almost certainly be more difficult to read in the sun (and of course be tougher on the battery).

    Suunto, plenty of us want a bulky, accurate GPS watch with a basic display that’ll do 1-sec recording for 50 hours! Optical HR sensors, color touch screens, etc are sort of gimmicky by comparison.

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