Suunto Ambit3 Sport Review

Pros

  • Tracks GPS, heartrate and daily fitness
  • Tracks heartrate while swimming
  • Multi-sport and navigation features

Cons

  • Very bulky/uncomfortable on wrist
  • Daily fitness summary very limited
  • Pricey compared with new rivals

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £325.00
  • Daily activity fitness tracker
  • GPS activity tracking
  • Wireless heartrate monitoring including while swimming
  • Multisport support including transition times
  • 10 hour minimum battery, 14 day for fitness tracking only
  • 50m water resistant
  • 80g weight, 15.5mm thick x 50mm diameter body
  • Bluetooth Smart foot pod and cycling sensor support

What is the Suunto Ambit 3?

The Suunto Ambit 3 Sport is the

middle of three new Suunto sports watches that offer GPS, heart rate and

general activity tracking simultaneously.

These watches are

powerful, highly configurable and, unlike most on the market, can track

your heart rate not just out on the trails, but in the pool too.

However, all that functionality comes with two rather painful costs –

price and bulk.

SEE ALSO: 8 Best Smartwatches Right Now

Suunto Ambit 3 – Design and screen

The

most obvious thing about the Suunto Ambit 3’s design is its size on the

wrist. It stands 15.5mm proud and weighs 80g. The result is, compared

to even most GPS watch rivals, problematic.

On my large wrist the

GPS module, which extends from the bottom of the watch face, tended to

dig in against my bone. On thinner wrists, the watch’s size meant it was

difficult to get it to sit still comfortably. And it looked ludicrous.

Five

buttons surround the face – start/stop, next, light/lock, view and

back/lap. Several tended to get pressed in too easily – on a gentle run

even. So the ‘lock’ option comes in handy.

On the back are four

small recessed metal dots for the non-standard USB cable to clamp into.

Which does mean carrying yet another cable on tour compared to a

standard socket.

The

screen is a simple 128×128 affair, taking up 29mm diameter – but not

all of that is used. The circular design means there’s some dead space

to the display. The screen is also well-recessed into the watch –

meaning it should get fewer knocks.

The display itself is, like the Polar M400, basic in approach – but does include some nice graph options. And it’s bright enough to be fairly readable in sunlight.

Suunto Ambit 3 – Features

The

Ambit 3 comes in three flavours. The lower-priced Ambit 3 Run drops

swimming heart rate and cycling power support and you can’t change

sports while exercising. The top-of-the-range Ambit 3 Peak doubles

water-resistance and battery life and adds in an air pressure sensor for

better altimeter, temperature and barometer.

The Ambit 3 Sport,

tested here, sits in the middle – combining multi-sport GPS, heart rate

and other sensor support to a decent extent with 24/7 activity tracking.

Unfortunately, that general activity tracking is basic to say the

least. All three models of the Ambit 3 and their associated MovesCount

site and app will not, for instance, kick out daily steps. That could

improve with an update.

For now though, all you get is an overall

rating (e.g. “moderate” or “vigorous”), calorie count, and chart

showing your activity level versus previous days. The Ambit 3 also won’t

currently track your sleep – which is handy seeing as it’s

uncomfortable enough you won’t want to wear it at night if you can help

it.

Fortunately, the Ambit 3 scores far better on actual exercise

and sport than sleep and general movement. Simply hit the start button,

choose your exercise from a list and go. The type of exercise you

choose will set how accurate the GPS sampling rate is (and therefore how

quickly the battery drains), whether the GPS and heart rate are enabled

at all, how laps are set up and more. You can create or modify and

store up to 10 sports in the watch at any time – also setting what data

you’re shown during an activity.

SEE ALSO: Best Fitness and Acitivity Trackers 2015

GPS is done via the rather bulky

nub below the face of the watch, heart rate is measured wirelessly from

a Bluetooth Smart chest strap. And it makes real sense to use Suunto’s

own Smart Sensor that comes as an optional bundle with the Ambit 3. This

is the only strap that will do in-water heart rate with the watch.

Bluetooth doesn’t work through water – so the Smart Sensor stores heart

rate data while you’re swimming. And then syncs the data to the Ambit 3

when you get out. That means no on-screen heart rate while swimming

also.

Of course, the alternative would be to use an optical heart rate monitor, built into the watch – like the TomTom Runner Cardio

does. So far, few higher-end sports watches have gone for optical

sensors – they’ve mostly been used to test resting rate due to accuracy

concerns.

As well as swimming heart rate, the Ambit 3 scores

significantly in its approach to multi-sport events and broader outdoors

use. Turn-by-turn waypoint navigation is available, including while

tracking a sport/activity, as is a digital compass.

More

importantly for multi-sport users, you can switch sport mid-exercise

with only a couple of button presses – or even better, pre-set sport

order and transition periods and do it with only one press per change.

For a triathlon, you set up swim, transition, bike, transition, run. One

button press per change sees the whole event tracked. The Ambit 3 will

also track pool and open water swims differently – using accelerometer

data and preset length to judge pool laps automatically, while using GPS

in open water.

There’s also the option of setting up interval

workouts with alarms – so you can jog for a warmup, sprint at a certain

minimum pace or heart-rate zone for a specified time or distance, then

recover, go again, cool down etc. This is only doable via app currently

(website option coming soon, according to Suunto).

On top of that

already long list of features, there’s support for other Bluetooth

Smart sensors beyond heart rate. This includes foot pods, although the

Ambit 3 uses wrist movement to cover cadence already and wireless bike

speed, power and cadence sensor support too.

Tested alongside

common Bluetooth Smart products, such as a Polar heart rate belt and

Adidas foot pod, all seemed fine. But be warned, there are complaints

online of patchy functionality between the Ambit 3 and more esoteric

Bluetooth Smart sensors.

You can also connect the Ambit 3 to

phone via Bluetooth for data sync, but also to get notifications

on-screen. Apple Watch users may smile at the basic data available – but

if you want an icon when you get a Twitter mention or email, you can

have it.

Suunto Ambit 3 – App

Suunto, like its arch rivals Polar and

Garmin, need to look at what fitness band manufacturers such as Fitbit

are doing with apps and social connections. By comparison, the outdoor

activity specialists’ apps are very basic.

MovesCount – the

Suunto app – basically replicates the desktop MovesCount website, with

the only addition the ability to program interval workouts. The app is

also currently iPhone-only. Android support is promised imminently, from

4.3 onwards –  so most Android phone owners will be able to use the

app.

As for the app and desktop site itself, it allows you to

track and analyse “Moves” (activities) in serious detail. Maps,

heart-rate charts and zones and training effect are all there. Plus

calories, VO2, recovery time and other more esoteric data.

What’s

missing is the general fitness information – steps per day, and any

goal to work towards. But also there’s not much over-time tracking of

value, or encouragement to social interaction.

You can see other

MovesCount members in your area, see their “Moves” and join shared

interest groups. But there’s little community spirit or friendly

competition. As an example, there is currently no Birmingham group and

even London’s biggest group features a rather unlucky 13 people. As an

event, the London Marathon manages a mere 15.

At least an

automatic sync to Strava is one option you can easily set up. And for

other fitness communities, multiple export formats including GPX and TCX

are available.

One app element does work to Suunto’s credit

though – it has opened up its watches to third party developers. A

growing range of apps can be downloaded via Suunto and installed into

the Ambit 3 – to, for instance, display your heart rate as a percentage

of max or give your estimated remaining time to 10k.

Suunto Ambit 3 – Setup

Setting

up and operating the Ambit 3 is easy. There’s a fairly simple sign-in

procedure on the watch, with more data inputtable on app or website, to

generate your heart-rate zones. Then you’re away.

Until you want

to get into the more complex issues of interval workouts, custom

exercise and display types, that is. Although even here the desktop

software, while perhaps not as well designed or as clear as some, is

fairly simple to wade into and get modifying.

In the same vein, belt setup and pairing with other sensors works without hitch. And menus on the watch are simple and clear.

Suunto Ambit 3 – Performance

As

you might expect with Suunto’s long heritage in GPS and heart rate

monitoring, everything worked well. The GPS was slightly slower to get a

fix than the Polar M400 – but only by a few seconds. Meanwhile, the heart rate belt seemed to get a fix quicker and more reliably.

There

have been online complaints about the heart rate strap shifting during

swimming turns in races, but try as I might, I couldn’t get this to

happen. The solution could be to push off a bit less hard, wear a tri

top or just cinch the belt in harder.

In water, the GPS

performance was far less accurate – but that’s due to GPS signals not

working well underwater. Diving obviously won’t work at all for GPS.

Generally,

performance was excellent. The real problem for the Ambit 3 wasn’t its

ability, but its size and shape. The Ambit 3 is so bulky that as a

fitness band it’s a failure – it simply wasn’t forgettable when worn

constantly.

SEE ALSO: Best Android Apps – Nike Plus Running

Suunto Ambit 3 – Battery life

The

Ambit 3 is rated as having a 14 day general use battery life, or 15

hour battery life with five second GPS fix intervals. This squares up

well to the real-world testing.

The watch didn’t require

recharging across multiple days with heavy sports use in – such as three

days with a run, row and two bike rides in totalling three hours of

activity.

Should I buy the Suunto Ambit 3?

If

you’re a multi-sport maniac, then arguably yes. If you want to combine

more accurate tracking of your sporty activities with a general fitness

band, no.

For the latter job, wearing the Ambit 3 constantly

quickly gets annoying and tiring. And the general activity data

available is currently far too poor. For this kind of approach, the Polar M400 scores far better.

However,

for tracking multiple sports – particularly if any of them are

water-based – the Ambit 3 could be a good purchase. It is good value for

the feature list and performs well.

However, the Polar V800 is a

fairly similar price, with similar swimming and multi-sport support and

succeeds on the general activity tracking front where the Ambit 3

fails. Plus it’s slimmer and less obtrusive. For those reasons it may

prove a better purchase.

SEE ALSO: Which Running Headphones Should You Buy?

Verdict

Good multi-sport GPS and

heart-rate monitoring sports watch. But for general activity

tracking, rival fitness bands and sports watches do better.

Score


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