Tech Out: Getting Great Workout Data (And a Spiffy-Looking Watch)

Dana Blouin

I sweat – a lot. Not just slightly above average. When I run, my shoes sometimes get flooded. I sweat so much that I have killed several pairs of bluetooth headphones because they got waterlogged.

For the past few months, I’ve explored options to record biometric data collection beyond the distance and duration of my runs. With an explosion on the market of devices, I’ve been looking for devices that capture that data while withstanding the flood of sweat I produce when I exercise.

While I was researching devices to try, a friend gifted a Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR. Since it was a gift, deciding which device to try first was easy. Neither the friend nor I have any interest in the watchmaker nor was it given with any expectation I would review it.

Running upward of 30,000 baht, the Suunto Spartan does not win on price. A G-Shock Mudmaster runs between 10,000 baht to 20,000 baht, the Apple Watch Nike can be found for about 15,000 and Garmin’s Forerunners can be had for under 10,000 baht.

But the Spartan comes packed with features. More than a device with a cheap clock strapped on,  it has a fabulously stylish aesthetic. The one I got was a deep green with a bronze ring around the face and buttons. It’s something I’ve been wearing all the time because – unlike a lot of the fitness trackers – this actually is a watch on top of its fitness functions and even comes in different faces to fit your style. The watch offers some basic smartwatch features such as notifications. But those are by no means the main focus, which excels instead in health and fitness features.

Accelerometers track each step, a heart rate monitor and GPS activate to track workouts. Its  accuracy is spot on, and when I was out running on a track it hit the distances just right every lap – where my iPhone app had some significant variation.

Another area in which the watch really stands out is its different exercise profiles. It’s got the basis: from running, biking and walking – outside or treadmill – to weightlifting and aerobics. It also has niche activities such as roller skating, adventure racing canoeing and one of my personal favorites: Nordic walking. It even has an “other” feature for unlisted activities.

The watch uses the profile and data to determine your rate of work and how many calories you’ve actually burned more accurately. It’s a great feature for something such as Nordic walking. Before getting this watch I was only able to track it with my app – which tracked it as walking – but because there are poles involved, the caloric burn is much different to that of simply walking.

The user interface on the watch is simple and easy to navigate, both through its buttons and a touch screen that has a nice sensitivity balance. It’s not as sensitive as a phone or tablet – but I don’t think you would want it to be. I have accidently swiped it while exercising and it doesn’t interfere with operations, but I know I’ve taken my phone out to check something when running before and messed up recording the exercise. The battery life is also outstanding. After three days of use without charge, there was still 40 percent capacity.

The Suunto Spartan can also track swimming workouts. I swim from time to time, but that’s not the reason this feature is attractive to me. As mentioned, I’m a sweater. With this sports watch, I don’t have to worry about my fluid output. There are people who wear these scuba diving, which makes me think it can withstand any sweat my body throws at it.

The watch logs all of your exercise, a summary of which can be viewed on the watch itself. But syncing it with the app is where the real fun begins. The app gives a great view of the data and provides a better understanding of how much exercise is done, the impact it’s having and the improvements made. For instance, I was able to see that I wasn’t really pushing my heart rate high enough when I was doing my Nordic walks, being able to view the visualized data let me see that I had to push myself more if I wanted to get better results. I am starting to see the same results with running as I dive into that data. There is also a move count website for watch owners that allows you to get even more detailed visuals and take a deeper dive into your data for those want to get that serious.

However you have to go to the activity mode to see that data. It would be great to be able to see that heart rate number on the face, similar to how you can see your current step count. The lack of this isn’t in any way a deal breaker for me, obviously, but it would be something useful to have. Nice but not necessary. Nothing is perfect though, and the Suunto Spartan falls short in a few areas. Being the Apple fanboy that I am, the biggest is that it doesn’t sync with Apple Health. All of the other fitness apps I use do, and when I record my weight or blood pressure there, it updates my data across all of my other apps.

It’s mostly an issue for me because I am used to using Apple Health. I like some of the visualizations there and I have a lot of history data from activity level, weight and blood pressure – year’s worth of it. Here’s the caveat: since getting this watch I have pretty much stopped using my other fitness apps, the watch and it’s app now covers everything – which is awesome – but I still wish I could tie into my historic weight, activity, and blood pressure data from Apple Health. Personally, and anyone else who has been using Apple Health for an extended period of time, that would add a ton of value.

As mentioned earlier, the watch has a handful of possible watch faces for use, which is great. I like the simple digital time with data and step count because it offers the most data in once glance. However; the watch can do continuous heart rate outside of recording an exercise

This being my first foray into sports watches I am very impressed with the Suunto Spartan. It looks great, is easy to use, is absolutely packed with features, visualizes data exceptionally well and my sweat won’t kill it. I really do wish that it would pull my historic health data from Apple Health, but given how well this watch and app capture and analyze data it’s likely going to be my app of choice for health and fitness data tracking. Overall this watch is fantastic, the bar has been set exceptionally high for fitness watch expectations.