There are four watches available in the Suunto Ambit3 series, the Ambit3 Run, Ambit3 Sport, Ambit3 Peak and now the Ambit3 Vertical which was announced earlier this month.
For the purposes of this review, the Ambit3 Peak and Sport were used. They are very similar to one another with the Peak being the top-end and having a barometric altimeter and much longer battery life. Either watch should fit most multi-sport athletes well, but ultra runners may want to consider the Peak for the barometric altimeter and the added battery since they will often be running over 24 hours and on varied terrain.
Since the Ambit3 watches have been out for a while, it may seem like this review is late. However, the watches when released are not the same as they are today due to updates with firmware and software.
The Suunto Ambit3 series was released in September 2014. The Ambit3 Run then followed in March 2015. The Android App was released in Beta May 2015, and fully August 2015 (nearly a year after the watch came out). Support for Stryd was released in December 2015 though there are still a few issues with app stability as of this review’s publication.
Note: Suunto is not the only company who seems to be struggling with software. Polar’s V800 was released a couple months prior to the Ambit3 in 2014 and had delayed features like notifications added to iOS in April 2015 and Android in October 2015. Open water swimming features (stroke and distance) were added in July of 2015.
The Ambit3 looks nearly identical to the Ambit2. The only differences really very minor. The watch on the left in the photo below is the Ambit2S and the right is the Ambit3 Sport. There are minor differences between the Ambit 3 models as well. The Ambit Sports have a smooth bezel whereas the Ambit3 Peaks have screws in the bezel (as does the Ambit3 Sport Sapphire).
The Ambit3 Peak can be seen with the screws in the bezel below. You can see a couple more differences like the red line at the top, there is no border line inside the bezel around the text and the logo is a bit bolder versus the Ambit2. Again, the differences are very slight. The changes are upgraded hardware and chipsets inside the watches.
The overall build quality of the watches is excellent. They are sturdy and have some weight to them without feeling too heavy. On my wrist, the watch feels very comfortable and overall I like its looks. It resembles a normal watch that most can feel comfortable wearing as an everyday device since it isn’t over-the-top sporty. The only quibble that some may have is the protrusion of the GPS sensor on the bottom of the bezel shown below. It does detract a little from the appearance and limits the availability of different bands. However, I feel that this is a case of function over form. By having the GPS antenna there, the watch has outstanding GPS reception with quick satellite acquisition.
The Suunto Ambit3 series is an update on the Ambit2 with the addition of smartphone and Bluetooth support. Another feature is the ability to track heart rate of swims. A form of activity tracking was added as well – the watch tracks overall activity, but not steps specifically. Through the smartphone connectivity, the Ambit3 adds the ability to both receive smartphone notifications and create workouts on iOS and Android.
Notifications, while available, are not quite fully featured as of now. They do show all notifications that one has configured for a lock screen on an iOS device, but there are some issues. One, there is a noticeable decrease in battery life when using them. Two, you cannot read the full notification on the watch itself. Suunto explains this on a support page. You can see a typical notification below.
When adding the support for Bluetooth, Suunto removed support for Ant+ just as Polar did. This is a very serious consideration. If you have Ant+ sensors, you will have to really consider whether you want to reinvest in new accessories. A good example of this is a power meter – I have a Powertap Ant+ power meter and as such, I am not reviewing any of the cycling features of the watch. I can’t afford to buy a power meter that costs more than the watch itself just to be compatible.
This is a very frustrating thing. I feel it is short-sighted to end all support for a protocol that dominates the market. In Suunto’s case, it’s not only a matter of trying to peel away some Garmin users, but also to retain its own. Right now, many Ambit2 (which has Ant+ on board) users have an incentive to jump ship to Garmin for new technology because they are set up with Ant+ sensors.
All Ambit3 models offer full support for the Stryd running power meter as of December 2015. Running with power offers some intriguing possibilities.
Heart rate has been an invaluable training metric with many systems including Phil Maffetone who worked with Mark Allen to win 6 Ironman World Championships. However, it is not effective in every case. There is something called heart rate drift and a definite lag when tracking it. Heart rate drift occurs over time. As the body heats up and fatigues due to time and distance, the heart has to work harder to generate the same output. Heart rate lag can be seen when doing short bouts of intensity. These can be running an interval on a track or even on the road with a Fartlek (stop giggling!). It can also be a factor when climbing an incline or having a kick to pass someone in a race.
What happens is that the change of effort causing increased heart rate is often delayed until you are well into the activity. And then the heart rate lowering is also delayed. This can really be seen with an interval session. For example, if you are doing 400 meter repeats with 400 meter recoveries, you often will see that the heart rate doesn’t increase until you are well into the interval. Then, when you are doing a recovery, it takes time for the heart rate to decrease. This causes anomalies that make the workout effort difficult to track because the interval average heart rate is recorded too low, and the recovery is too high.
Power on the other hand displays immediate change. As soon as the effort is increased, the power number reflects this. And as soon as it is lowered, it also reflects this. What makes this invaluable is you have the ability to get exact information as to the amount of effort expended during bouts of effort. This can be a game changer in race situations as well.
Imagine when you are running in a race and have to tackle inclines or need to overtake another runner. If you are running by heart rate in an attempt to keep your effort down, you may not get a true reading on how much effort you are expending until you are well into the activity. Then it’s too late. You just burned a match. With power, you know as you are doing the activity how much effort you are expending immediately. So you have the potential to keep the effort down enough to last longer.
Your power is available while you are running on all Ambit3 watches. It also is displayed on the Movescount Website. At this point, sadly it is not available in the Movescount App. Hopefully that will change over time. Auto syncing with the Stryd site should be available in the future, but is not ready at this point.
As of the firmware 2.0 update, a new feature was added called Running Performance. It is a measurement combining physical fitness and running efficiency and it can be used during a run as well as afterward to see a trend. There is a tutorial by Suunto that breaks down examples of results and what they can mean. It also has a chart correlating to Running Performance and VO2 Max which is similar to the VO2Max race prediction available on Garmin devices, but you can see it dynamically. They link to a white paper on Firstbeat, who is the source for most of this kind of data (Garmin uses them as well).
There is a nice breakdown of the feature in this blog post. Do keep in mind that the chart on Suunto and in the blog post shown for race prediction is likely off. In my case, it is woefully optimistic. If only I could race with my predictions as a result… I have the same issue with Garmin race predictions. I also know at least one other whose prediction is too conservative.
For another look at Firstbeat data related to different watches, you may want to visit this page http://fellrnr.com/wiki/Firstbeat.
Like Garmin and Polar, Suunto keeps a training log of your workouts. It calls them “Moves” and the log is “Movescount.” Movescount is available both as an app on iPhone and Android in addition to the already available web app used with earlier Ambit models.
There are differences between the web version of Movescount. The Web shows more data by default including Power from runs than the App as seen above, but the App has a workout creation tool. Both the Web and the app can be used to adjust settings on the watch.
The Workout creation tool is very capable for creating customized workouts. You have options to create steps and/or repeats. Each duration of a workout step or interval can be based on time, distance or both. The target of each can be based on pace, speed, heart rate, power, or even cadence. You can have steps be different targets as well. Pace for some, heart rate for others as an example. This can be useful if you want to hold to a certain pace for an interval, but want to target a heart rate for a cool down.
Workouts are an invaluable addition to the Ambit3 family. They are incredibly helpful for allowing an athlete to just perform an activity without having to constantly look at a watch. For example, a workout can be set with fartlek intervals put in at varied points. The athlete then can just start running. When the watch alerts, run faster. When it alerts again, slow down. That is very liberating.
While the workout creation tool is incredibly flexible and powerful, it is a bit challenging to actually build the workouts. I find the interface to be a little bit fiddly. Fortunately, once you build a workout, you are likely to just keep using it, so you shouldn’t have to keep repeating the process. Another issue with the Ambit3 is no vibration alerts. This is a serious oversight for when you want to do workouts. Having a vibration option works really well to alert you to a condition during a workout. Are you going too fast or too slow? Its your heart rate too high? This can be useful information when you are trying to govern yourself. The reasons for vibrating alerts are to not disturb other runners, be able feel an alert even when there are many atmospheric noises, and to be able to wear headphones and still get prompted. Vibrating alerts are an option Ambit3 Vertical announced earlier this month.
The Movescount app also can make a movie of your workout. It is a 3d map with your track superimposed as shown below. Any pictures that you take with the phone can be imported to the movie as well based on the time and geotag. Very clever stuff.
Suunto has solved the problem of tracking heart rate in swims by using a store and forward model that over a year later, Garmin has implemented. Sadly though, there are some issues with the strap not staying in place. Brandon, editor of Gearist and a strong swimmer had issues with the strap not staying on when pushing off walls, even at slow speeds. To be completely fair though, this is something he’s experienced in all chest HR straps while swimming and is hardly a Suunto issue.
The Ambit3 watches are top of the line watches that are well made and a viable choice for any athlete.
I’ve found that the Suunto Ambit3 Peak is the most accurate GPS watch I have used – especially under a thick canopy. This is against other watches with GLONAS enabled along with GPS. It also acquires satellites very rapidly. I can see why it is a popular choice for trail runners and would have no hesitation recommending it to anyone on the basis of the watch alone.
However, I do hold back a little with the caveat of if you already are invested in Ant+ sensors and are not ready to buy more equipment, you have a difficult choice. If you currently are using an Ambit2, you may be better off staying with the device.