The shiny new Suunto Spartan Ultra has just hit the shelves, and I’m stoked to have the opportunity to do some pre release testing for Paddy Pallin.

Suunto is marketing the Spartan Ultra (and the rest of the new Spartan range) as a whole new kind of beast, a total integration solution which not only tracks training sessions (like its previous models) but your overall lifestyle, so you can train smarter and make progress towards your goals.


As a long time personal Suunto watch user – I’ve owned the T4, T6c and Ambit 2 (plus a Core for Adventure Races when GPS devices are not allowed) – I’m keen to see how the hype about the Spartan Ultra stacks up.

I’m currently training for the 2016 World Adventure Racing Championships (a week long endurance event trail running, mountain biking and kayaking while navigating through the wilderness) so have plenty of opportunities to put it to the test.

For now, this is my ‘First Look’ after a few weeks getting acquainted.

The Hardware

The new Spartan Ultra is sleek, black and minimalist.  It’s got a decent sized screen without being too chunky (easily passing the ‘is it wider than my wrist?’ test)

The whole unit weighs in at just 73g.  While is only 13g less than my Ambit 2, it feels more like 13kg lighter on my lanky endurance athlete arm. As per the Traverse and Ambit3 Vertical, the Spartan has the GPS antenna integrated into the body, rather than the bulky protruding style on the earlier Ambits. I think this is another reason it just feels so much more comfortable than my old Ambit 2. Sorry, Ambie, I’ll find you a new home.


This baby is designed to be tough.  The watch body is constructed of polyamide with a space grade titanium bezel, and a scratchproof sapphire crystal screen. It’s Silicone strap is super grippy so doesn’t slide around – great when running or mountain biking on rough trails.   The only downside is the strap is so grippy it takes a little wriggling to do up.

You can get the Spartan Ultra with a heart rate strap or without.  Note that it has Bluetooth only connectivity (no ANT+) which seems to be the way fitness tech is heading in general.  The small sensor on the heart rate strap makes it a bit lighter and more comfortable to wear than previous generations I’ve owned.

The Software

The Spartan Ultra is Suunto’s first entry into the world of touchscreen technology.  This feature seems pretty handy, especially while exercising.  You can swipe between screens or tap to zoom in and out of the ‘breadcrumb view’ (a view of the track you’ve done so far).

Because it needs quite a definite swiping action, I didn’t have any problems with accidentally activating it by brushing against things, e.g. while getting stuff out of my pack.

However as always with touchscreens it doesn’t go so well underwater.  While there isn’t much swimming to be had in central Australia where I’ve been testing it, I tried using the touchscreen in the shower with no luck.


But it still seems to cope well with a few drops of moisture on it e.g. while kayaking down the Katherine gorge, or sweating buckets on a desert run.  And of course you can always revert to the three buttons (or as Suunto calls them, ‘action pushers’), which do all the same functions as the touchscreen.

The colour screen will probably be handy highlighting a route when I’m navigating, and yeah, it makes for some pretty displays, but I see it as more of a ‘nice to have’ than essential feature. The higher resolution (320×300), on the other hand, is just great.  Features like the breadcrumb view – which I am a big fan of – just wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

There are also a bunch of options for customising your watch face, e.g. an analog look, digital, or daily summaries like your step count (my wife asked why I wear a watch if I hardly ever have the time displayed!).

Another big new feature is Notifications.  Once paired with your smartphone through the Suunto Movescount app, any notifications that would usually pop up on your phone e.g. messages, reminders and incoming calls, will show up on your watch screen, along with an accompanying vibration. (You still have to have your phone nearby, but notifications don’t need the Movescount app to be running).


This is great for those times when you’re running home, your phone goes off in your bag, and you can see at a glance whether it’s someone you want to interrupt your run to talk to or not. It’s easy to turn notifications on and off, which is good as there are definitely times when I just want to switch off and get into the zone.

In terms of training tools, as well as tracking your training load you can use the step counter to take into account your total movement over the course of the day.  Then in conjunction with Suunto’s online Movescount platform, you’re able to calculate your needed rest and recovery, track progress, and plan your training.  I’ll be taking an in-depth look at using these tools to track and plan your training in my long term test review.

Using the Spartan 

So far I’ve taken the Sparta Ultra mountain biking, trail running, trekking and paddling in unfamiliar wilderness terrain around the Central Australian Outback.

Starting the activity

I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the watch gets GPS signal after turning on – just a few seconds.  In comparison, my Ambit 2 takes up to a few minutes, even when recently synced with satellite data.  It does mean you’ve got no excuses to get out the door and start exercising though!

Then you’ve got over 80 built in activity types to choose from.  The popular ones, like cycling and running, have a range of pre-created modes to select from, like interval training, race, track, training with a power meter etc. Each activity and mode have the displays and fields set up, with up to 7 fields displayed at once. These are a good size font, and I found them easy to read while on the move.

There are also some activities, like Cheerleading and Roller Skiing, which I’m probably less likely to use, and luckily these are easily turned off via the Movescount website, and the watch is updated during the next sync.



One of my favourite new features is the breadcrumb view.  This is a trail of dots showing the route you’ve done so far.  While this doesn’t replace a proper compass and topographical map, if you’ve got a basic map of the trail you’re following, you can match up the shape of your route and keep track of roughly where you are at a glance.  This would also be handy if you’re out on a run in a new city and want to do an out and back route, retracing your own steps.

There are two breadcrumb views to choose from; default is zoomed in, or you can tap the screen to show your whole route from the start of activity, with the scale shown to help with navigation.

Your route is oriented with the direction of travel towards the top of the watch, and North arrow shown when moving.  When you stop, the compass mode activates, and the route moves as you rotate the watch.  This is handy when you’re following either a loaded route or your own breadcrumb trail back and you need to check which way to go, say at a trail junction.

You can plan and sync Routes and Waypoints onto the Spartan Ultra to navigate new areas.  I’ll test out and break these options down in my long term test.


There are 3 different GPS modes – Best, Good, and OK.   ‘Best’ has the shortest battery life and ‘OK’ the longest.  The watch default selects the ‘Best’ mode for most sports, while Hiking uses the ‘Good’ mode as it tends to be a longer activity.  Claimed battery life is 18hr in Best and 26hr in Good, both with 1 second GPS fix, or 65 hr in OK with the Spartan getting a GPS fix every 60 seconds. I’ll be doing some longer training sessions as part of my adventure race training, so will let you know how these values stack up in the real world in the long term test.

The Spartan Ultra features a tilt-corrected compass, and barometric altimeter.   If I’m doing real wilderness navigation I’ll always use an old-fashioned base plate compass, but the watch’s inbuilt compass makes other features such as breadcrumb view possible.  It also means you can check direction in a glance without worrying about having to hold your wrist level.

As for the barometric altimeter, these are much more accurate than just a GPS altimeter, and is invaluable while navigating with a topographic map, or for accurate climbing and descending activity stats.

Finally, I’m still to use the watch road cycling to test it out with my power meter, so watch this space.


Movescount Integration and Synching

So what exactly is Movescount? It’s Suunto’s online platform and app for syncing your activities (which you can set up to automatically sync with Strava, social media etc as well). Movescount is designed to be a total training log of all your sessions, recovery, step count and so on, as well as an online community where you can track your performance against other members.

Syncing is automatic with the app on your phone, or you can do it with the provided cable with your computer.  I found the wireless phone syncing super easy and straightforward, relegating the cable to charging and software updates only.

My only issue was as I’m still using the beta (pre-release) software version, every time I synched it would reset to Finland time to keep me in sync with Suunto HQ (So I’m currently writing this review at 2am…)

Other Movescount features include making your activities into 3D movies, heatmaps of the most popular routes in an area, downloading other member’s recorded routes and more.

Suunto has recently done a big update of their Movescount platform, with plenty of new tools coming soon which I look forward to checking out for my long term test report.

The Wrap (for now)

After my first few weeks with the Spartan Ultra I can say the package is looking very promising, and should be a great training tool.

Watch this space for my long term Spartan Ultra test.  I’ll be reporting back on how it works as a fully integrated platform for tracking my overall training progress and performance up to the 2016 Adventure Racing World Championships, including using Sunnto’s online training diary and community and other features.




About The Author

Ben & Alice

Ben is a landscape and adventure photographer and long time outdoorsman. He has a passion for capturing people challenging the elements. Coming from a background of climbing and mountaineering, Ben now enjoys competing in expedition length adventure races - because nothing spices up your trail running, mountain biking and kayaking like adding wilderness navigation and intense sleep deprivation. Alice owns more bicycles than she has fingers (the legacy of a misspent youth racing competitively), but now rounds out her two wheeled exploits with trail running, yoga, and the odd adventure race. She is always counting down the hours to her next outside 'fix'. With over a decade spent working in the outdoor industry, Alice has loved helping more and more women to discover their passion for adventure. This husband and wife team think adventures are even better shared.

9 Responses

  1. Robert

    I love this watch and a great review. I’m debating on purchasing it and need the HR feature. Is this only via the chest strap or is there a way to do via watch?

    Thank you

    • Paddy

      Hi Robert

      Glad that you found the review informative.

      The Suunto Spartan Ultra only uses a HR strap as this has been proven to give the most accurate HR compared to the optical sensor found in the watch based HR.

      There is talk that the Spartan Sport which is being marketed at the less serious user and is being release towards the end of the year will feature an optical HR sensor. However its release is still to be 100% confirmed.


  2. norbert

    please make the spartan ultra at least so editable as the screen customization of the ambit 3 peak. i don´t need 5 running modi, i need just one. and i want to edit the different pages exact for my needs.

    it is perfect, when it is etitable the same way as i can choose the ambit 3 peak screen contents. this is not what i expected when i bought the spartan ultra. at least the same funktionality as the ambit 3 peak, this was what i expected. 🙁 thanks.

    • Paddy

      Thanks for your feedback Norbet!

      The Suunto Spartan will get stronger with each new update – make sure to update to the latest version as Suuntolink proposes them. Sport mode customization will be available in September. To see what else is coming up next, visit

      Thanks Dave

  3. Cyn

    What a brilliant review and out of this world ‘watch’ ! This occasional hiker and recreational outdoorswoman now feels something special’s missing on her wrist! I must fix that 😉

    • Paddy

      Hi Jan

      I have now been using the Spartan Ultra now for around a month now and the screen is actually really easy to read. Moving in and out of bright sun doesn’t effect it its clarity and when the watch is at an angle (when riding or other activities) its clear when you are having a quick glance at the watch.



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