For a few weeks I have been using a friend’s Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro. I am a longtime user of Suunto’s original GPS watch family, the Ambit, but this is the first Spartan series model that I have worn. It has a few nice features, but my recommendation is to stay away from this watch: it’s overpriced for what it does, and it has several annoying (or fatal) flaws.
Review: Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro GPS watch
Suunto released the Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro — which I will shorthand to “Baro” for the remainder of this review — in September 2017, making it the fifth Spartan family member and the third Sport-level model. Its most notable features include:
- Color touchscreen,
- Bluetooth connectivity,
- GPS and GLONASS compatibility,
- 10 to 40 hours of battery life depending on the GPS accuracy setting, and
- Some activity tracking and smartwatch functionality, such as steps, calories, push notifications, a customizeable watch face, and sleep tracking.
The Baro is different from its two predecessors — the original Spartan Sport and the Spartan Sport Wrist HR — in that it has both a wrist-based heart rate sensor and a barometer. The former enables heart rate monitoring without a chest strap (more on this later), and the latter creates additional functionality, including altitude readings in watch-only mode, weather forecasting, and vertical change tracking when the GPS interval is set at 5- and 60-seconds (not only when at 1-second intervals).
At the time of publishing, it’s $550 price point seems to be holding. It costs $50 more than the Spartan Sport Wrist HR (which does not have a barometer) and $230 more than the now-discounted Sportan Sport (which does not have wrist HR or a barometer).
Product line clean-up
Before diving into details, I feel compelled to criticize the big picture. The Baro is the third Spartan watch that has been released individually. The collection started with the Spartan Ultra and Spartan Sport. Then Suunto released the:
- Spartan Sport Wrist HR, which is a Spartan Sport with a wrist HRM;
- Spartan Trainer Wrist HR, which offers most of the Spartan Sport Wrist HR features (notably, not the touchscreen) but for a $280 price tag and in a smaller size; and, now the,
- Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro, the subject of this review.
These standalone launches have filled gaps in the original series, but they’ve come at a cost to the overall product line architecture:
- Suunto can no longer tell a good-better-best story, because two of its mid-tier Sport models have a significant feature (wrist-based HRM) that its flagship model, the Ultra, does not.
- Its latest model requires a 6-word name to differentiate it from existing models. And,
- The minor functionality difference between the Spartan Sport Wrist HR and Baro makes it more difficult for most customers to make a decision, not less.
I think Suunto would be well served by restructuring its product line. Create a three-model Spartan2 family that shares wrist HR. Make tweaks to the Spartan Trainer and carry it forward. Drop the Spartan Sport Wrist HR. And outfit the Ultra with a wrist HR.
Okay, let’s move on.
I don’t recommend the Baro, but it does have a few praiseworthy features:
1. The color watch face is easy to read, even in low light. Its graphics are pleasant. And I appreciated the size of its display — even though the Baro and Ambit3 Peak have 50-mm watch faces, the Baro’s display is a little bit bigger, which affords room for additional display arrangements (e.g. 4-field views).
2. The buttons have good action and are responsive.
3. The magnetic USB charger/data cable snaps immediately into place. It’s as user-friendly as the male/female cable on the Garmin Fenix 5 series, and much better than the Ambit’s fussy pronged clamp.
4. After every workout the watch immediately asks me, “How was it?” and gives me the option to rate it as Excellent, Very Good, Good, Average, or Poor. If this feature is consistently used, it could establish quantitative training trends. With the Ambit, I only have qualitative narrative assessments that I must add later.
5. When I’m wearing warm clothing, running in crunchy snow, or surrounded by loud vehicles, the vibration alarms are very helpful in confirming start/stop/lap.
Why do I not recommend the Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro?
1. At least on this this watch, I don’t think the touchscreen offers any value. The technology cost is reflected in the price, but it doesn’t give you anything in return. The menu system is simple, and it can be navigated quickly and efficiently with the buttons. In fact, I prefer the buttons — I don’t have sausage fingers, but I still find that my fingertips lack the precision necessary to navigate such a small screen.
2. The stretchy silicone strap is comfortable. But it makes the watch irritatingly difficult to put on — the silicone is slightly tacky and very pliable, so the excess strap material does not feed easily through the slider loops. The end also grabs clothing while running (especially when wearing looser-fitting shirts/jackets or in strong cross winds), and the entire band collects lint. I do not have hairy arms, but I would be scared for those who do.
3. The wrist-based HRM is unacceptably inaccurate. Its behavior on this 8-mile run (different than the run shown in the graph below) is representative of my experience with it. Supposedly, my average HR was 160 bpm, max was 188 bpm, and minimum while running was 148 bpm. I have religiously worn a chest strap for years, and can say with 100 percent certainty that the HR was NEVER accurate during this run. My average HR was probably around 140 bpm, and it probably never went above 150. At 188 bpm, I would be dead. And 160 bpm is my 50K race effort.
4. The lap button’s lower-left position is a poor place for it. Pressing it with the right-hand index finger or thumb is awkward while on the move — go ahead, try it at home. I would strongly prefer that this button be in the upper-left corner.
5. When set to the “Best” GPS accuracy (1-second pings), the battery lasts just 10 hours. When set to 5- or 60-second pings, it will last 20 and 40 hours, respectively. For ultra endurance athletes like myself, this spec is a deal-breaker, because it wouldn’t last through most of my races. But even for the majority of users, the short battery life is annoying — it has to be charged too regularly.
Don’t buy the Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro.
If you have a $550 budget, consider the Garmin Fenix 5 instead. Like the Baro, it has a color screen (no touch), wrist HR sensor, and barometer. It also has a longer-lasting battery, fuss-free wrist strap, and more activity tracking and smartphone features. I also find the Garmin ecosystem to be more visually welcoming.
But, personally, I would buy the Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR, about which I recently wrote a long-term review. You’d give up the larger color touchscreen, magnetic USB cable, some activity tracking, and the unreliable wrist HRM. But you’d get much better battery life and a strap that doesn’t annoy you — and you’d save $225!
Questions about the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro, or have an experience with it? Leave a comment.
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