Suunto Ambit3 Peak review

Introduction

For the last month I was a happy owner of Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch. I purchased the device without the Suunto heart rate strap since I have already a Bluetooth Smart strap from other manufacturer (dual band Bluetooth Smart/ANT+ CooSpo H6) and it worked just fine with the watch. In this review I will focus only on running and using Ambit3 as a day to day watch. I was using it together with 920XT with my last phase of preparation for the marathon. As a Garmin watch user I will also try to focus on the part of Suunto’s Movescout platform that it tightly connected with the watch. In fact it’s almost impossible to use the watch without it.

History

The Suunto Ambit3 Peak was first released in September 2014. About 14 months after the release of the Ambit2 model.

In my opinion there were actually 3 main differences between those 2 watches.

First major change was the transmission technology between accessories and the watch. It was changed from ANT+ to Bluetooth Smart (heart rate sensors, foot pods, cyclings speed and cadence sensors, power meters). The reason for this move could be connected with the fact that ANT+ is a technology owned by Garmin. Bluetooth Smart is an open standard and could be used for free. What does this mean for the end user? First of all you have to change all the accessories like food pods, power meters to ANT+ compatible (or use the bridging devices like Viiiiva but the compatibility is rather poor).

The second change was the ability to sync the watch with mobile phone over Bluetooth Smart. Also to display notifications from mobile phone on the watch (simply smartwatch capabilities).

Third change is connected with the heart rate strap sensor. It can now record the heart rate underwater and transmit it to the watch. It cannot transmit it live like Polar H7 but rather have an internal memory and transmit the hr data when both watch and hr sensor goes outside of the water. Sadly I was not able to test this feature without Suunto heart rate strap.

There may be other small differences. Based on my knowledge those are the only one’s that could be crucial.

Ambit Black

Ambit Black

Ambit2 Black

Ambit2 Black

Ambit3 Black

Ambit3 Black

All of the 3 generations of Ambit looks very similar. In my opinion that’s good because I really like it’s design.

About the watch

The design of the watch, despite presence of an external GPS antenna, is very nice. The build quality is excellent. I have the version without sapphire glass so I’ve covered the watch display with protective shield. The watch weight is about 87grams. It’s heaver than 920XT and it’s noticeable. It’s also bigger than 920XT. Using the watch as a daily to day watch was sometimes problematic because of it’s size (was constantly hitting other objects with it or scratching – good that it’s build quality is so good). In my opinion it can be easily worn with a suit. At least I have done this:). But I’m an geek who spends most of the work time in t-shirt and sneakers so I may be wrong

Suunto Ambit3 Peak Black

Suunto Ambit3 Peak Black

So how does it look on a wrist?

20161014_15471220161014_15471620161014_15471920161014_154739 20161014_15473120161014_154727

I also have to write about the screen brightness and backlight. The screen has 2 display modes:

  • Text is black, background is white.

    20161009_132412

    Standard display mode

  • Inverted so the text is white and background is black.
    Inverted display mode

    Inverted display mode

    Inverted display mode with backlight

    Inverted display mode with backlight

The watch is comfortable to use in the first mode. In the second mode the viewing angles are poor. Moreover the inverted mode with backlight is also very hard to read. But the first mode is perfectly readable, also in heavy sun.

Beside the standard watch face we can configure something similar like widgets in the Garmin Connect IQ. The difference is that those by Suunto are build in and cannot be customized. To change the widget, the Next button needs to be pressed.

Those are the widgets that are available:

20161009_133433

The end prefix indicates that the widget is enabled.

That’s how it looks like:

20161009_133458 20161009_133505 20161009_133512 20161009_133524 20161009_133534 20161009_133548 20161009_133555 20161009_133605 20161009_133607 20161009_133615 20161009_133624 20161009_133635

Every widget has a changeable part (with the View button).

If there is one thing I’m missing the most in Ambit3 Peak, that would be the vibration. I was used to vi listen to music on my phone while running so the watch should have either the vibration alert or voice alerts (like Garmin has in newer watches through Garmin app). Suunto doesn’t provide any of them. Resulting in my case in often missing the auto laps alerts and others. Shame.

The watch basic settings can be configured from the watch menu itself. Below some of the photos of available configuration:

20161009_134041 20161009_134050 20161009_134059 20161009_134108 20161009_134131 20161009_134142 20161009_134145 20161009_134156 20161009_134206 20161009_134215 20161009_134226 20161009_134234 20161009_134245 20161009_134258   20161009_134403 20161009_134425 20161009_134438

That’s basically it. In order to configure the activities we need to use the mobile or online Movescout platform.

The configuration on the mobile phone:

screenshot_20161009-140528screenshot_20161009-140531screenshot_20161009-140518

The online platform contains much richer functionality:

2016-10-09-13_58_07-zdjecia 2016-10-09-13_58_44-zdjecia 2016-10-09-13_59_03-zdjecia 2016-10-09-13_59_23-zdjecia 2016-10-09-13_59_54-zdjecia 2016-10-09-14_00_13-zdjecia 2016-10-09-14_00_28-zdjecia 2016-10-09-14_00_45-zdjecia 2016-10-09-14_01_33-zdjecia 2016-10-09-14_02_09-zdjecia 2016-10-12-21_33_41-movescount-com-powered-by-suunto

So actually only here we can configure every aspect of the watch, configure data screens, GPS recording interval and much much more. Also here we can create the POI’s and routes for our watch.

It’s very comfortable and it’s nice that our settings are stored centrally on Suunto’s servers. This way after factory reset they are restored and we have the watch with the same configuration as before.

The only problem I have with such approach is fear. What if I want to use the watch in several years from now. Will this all be working? The same problem is with Polar and all their watches.

With Garmin I can configure the watch without the need of online platform and once connected through the USB cable the system see it like a standard drive so I will still have access to my activities even without the cloud solutions (ff course here we always have t configure the fields manually and after watch hard reset, but it’s a fair trade off in my opinion).

Battery life

Battery life is one of the biggest advantage of Ambit3 Peak. Battery life declared by Suunto is as follows:

  • 20h in 1 second recording mode.
  • 30h in 5 second recording mode.
  • 200h in 60s recording mode.
  • 30days in watch mode.

In real life tests I have managed to archive 18 hours of GPS recording with connected heart rate strap and foot pod. The model I have is almost 2 years old so the battery life didn’t degraded much.

Using the watch 24/7 with activity tracker, without mobile notifications and doing 5-6 hours GPS based training during the week it managed to last about 1,5-2 weeks. It’s in the best case 2 times better than 920XT.

In my balcony test with following settings:

  • 1sec recording.
  • Notifications disabled.
  • No heart rate sensor or food pod.

The watch last for 19h 5m. In my opinion that’s a great result. It’s not 20 hours declared by Suunto but keep in mind that the watch is 2 years old so the battery could already degraded a little (in 920XT the difference was 8 hours so much more, same 2 years old watch).

Balcony test result

Balcony test result

What’s important. The watch could be used while charging. So with additional battery pack the watch could last much longer – important for ultra runners or bikers.

Battery life is without any doubt a strong point of Ambit3 peak. It’s actually the longest lasting GPS based watch I have ever used. Garmin 920XT offers 24hours in 1 sec recording but I have never go even close to this number.

Running

In running mode the watch allows to configure up to 8 screens. Each screen can contain up to 3 basic data fields. Additionally the lower one data field switch up to 5 fields. It’s very simple. The upper two are always the same, and the lower one can be changed the view button. On the beginning I found 3 fields to be not enough but with the possibility to change the lower one I think the solution is even better than 4 fields from Garmin watches. I tend to configure the same data fields as on my 920XT and switching the lower one was a perfect solution. Keeping in mind that those metrics are not needed on the same time. Also that solution is OK for running but for biking not really since I don’t find switching the fields during ride is comfortable nor safe.

Below the complete flow of an activity. First we need to select from menu the Exercise option, then we select the desired activity type, in that case it’s Running (Run a route is highlighted, but actually it’s running). Then The watch looks for the external sensor and GPS. Usually acquiring the GPS signal is a matter of few seconds. The first data screen is an example of screen with changeable 3rd data fields. On first screen it shows the heart rate but after pressing the View button it changes to distance. The rest of the fields stays unchanged. Then the activity is paused. What’s important, once paused we can still see all the activity screen. I like it very much since it’s not possible on e.g. Polar V800 or 920XT. Then the activity is stopped and we can either save it or not. Afterwards we see the summary and current performance (VO2MAX). Pretty straightforward and easy.

20161009_132444 20161009_13255320161009_132607 20161009_132613 20161009_132619 20161009_132623 20161009_132634 20161009_132714 20161009_132720 20161009_13274020161009_13280120161009_13280920161009_13282020161009_13283520161009_132845

An comprehensive watch for runners would not be complete without the interval training function. The Ambit3 such functionality also. But we cannot do this from the watch itself. We need the mobile Movescout app for that. Creating of the workout is pretty straightforward.

screenshot_20161009-134720 screenshot_20161009-134738 screenshot_20161009-134744 screenshot_20161009-134757 screenshot_20161009-134902 screenshot_20161009-134907 screenshot_20161009-135057

Then we sync the workout and once we select the exercise we can go to options and select the workout. Every step of the workout starts with a summary screen. Then we see a graph that indicates if we are within the selected range (hr, power, speed, pace etc.). The watch also informs us with an sound alert if we are outside the selected range. The problem is, besides the summary screen, we don’t know what’s the range.

20161011_201154 20161011_201156 20161011_201212 20161011_201223

This functionality works fine but I liked much more the solution from Polar and Garmin. There, the trainings could be created in the online platform and added to the calendar. Then there are available in the training calendar of the watch. I find this more comfortable and in fact I have tried the Sunnto workouts only once to test the functionality. Having the choice possibility of Garmin Connect and the Training Calendar… Well it was a no-brainer for me. But of course if Suunto is our only watch you can get used to it.

Also when it comes to the workout screen on the watch while doing the training I liked the Garmin solution better. There we always have clear what the range is and what the time/distance left we have. Here we also see the range but we don’t see the exact values. The duration is also clear since the graph proceeds to the right side but personally I like the numbers better.

Here is a small comparison how it looks like during an interval.

20161011_201223

Ambit3 workout screen

Garmin 920XT workout screen

Garmin 920XT workout screen

Ambit3 Peak offers routing functionality. That is one of the features that it shines. We can create up to 50 routes and up to 250 POI’s. Navigation looks like following breadcrumbs. Additionally if we have a POI created that’s on our route we see it also which is crucial for hiking. During an activity we can also add an POI of many preselected types (house, cave, lake, camping and much more – they have different icons to easily recognize them on the map). I’m not hiking much but I could imagine it’s a functionality that could help much (with addition of the build in magnetic compass you just cannot get lost in the woods:)).

20161009_13435120161009_13290820161009_13301220161009_17324220161009_13290820161009_13292120161009_13292720161009_132946

I was concerned with the instance pace stability. I use foot pod (Adidas Micoach speed_cell) but we cannot use it for the instant pace like on many other watches like Polar V800 or Garmin 920XT or Fenix 3. Instead of the Ambit3 have a clever technology to smooth out the instant pace based on the GPS and wrist movement. They have called it FusedSpeed. In my tests and direct comparison with 920XT (where I have got the pace from foot pod) I must say that it work remarkably well. Most of the time it was the same as on 920XT witch food pod. The pace change was slightly slower (about 5 seconds) but then incredibly stable. I’m impressed on how well it works. And it has one advantage over foot pod pace. When the foot pod is uncalibrated it will show the pace changes very fast but it will be inaccurate. It happens for me when I change the shoes or replace foot pod battery. 1 run and it will calibrate. But it’s always this 1 run that we need.

FusedSpeed

FusedSpeed

Ambit3 can also track indoor runs on a treadmill. This could be done with the use of the watch accelerometer which will detect the pace and distance based on the wrist movement. The watch “learns” our wrist movement with the GPS based runs and based on that is able to do the math. It works but the same as for other watches that use this technique is not very reliable. For runs with steady pace, if the watch detect correctly the treadmill pace, it’s then it’s ok. Any pace change could lead with detecting wrong pace and could be problematic. So yes, it works but it’s not very accurate.

As always running with foot pod is here the most accurate solution. The foot pod can calibrate itself automatically against GPS and then provides very high degree of accuracy on the treadmill.

GPS Accuracy

Ambit3 Peak uses the well known SiRF Star V chipset which is giving it an excellent degree of GPS Accuracy. According to Fellrnr it’s the second most accurate watch on the market. It’s certainly the combination of the chipset and an external GPS antenna. I didn’t done any “scientific” tests like Fellrnr. I’ve run with the watch side by side with my other watch, 920XT, and those are the results + links to the activities on Garmin Connect and Movescout.

Type of run Ambit 3 Peak distance + link 920XT distance + link
City + woods 30.01 km

29.42 km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1352565383

City + park

15.03 km

http://www.movescount.com/moves/move123340668

15.01 km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1364989990

Village 30.01 km

30.01 km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1334700707

City + park

12.12 km

http://www.movescount.com/moves/move121991592

12.01 km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1345764504

Village + woods

5.05 km

http://www.movescount.com/moves/move121857305

5.01 km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1344257459

City + park

10.02 km

http://www.movescount.com/moves/move123581455

10.11 km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1367660280

Village

14.97 km

http://www.movescount.com/moves/move124511286

 15.01 km

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1377447492

Under heavy tree cover and in the city with tall buildings the Ambit3 shines in terms of GPS accuracy. I often saw that once under tree cover the 920XT struggles with measuring the distance and showing correct average pace (after a time it catches up but sometimes it’s very annoying). In my runs Ambit3 was always solid stable.

Activity tracking

Ambit3 has got very basic activity tracker features. It shows daily, weekly and average calories burned. It didn’t measure steps and sleep. Also the metrics measured on the watch are not synced back to Movescout so it cannot be viewed and analyzed in the future. It’s very basic and limited once compared to Polar or Garmin.

20161009_133605 20161009_133607 20161009_133615

Additionally in the activity tracker screens we can see the running performance (so the VO2MAX) and recovery advisor. The VO2MAX compared to my other watch was always in in tact (920XT and 735XT). I don’t know if the number calculated by the watch is correct but I’m sure that when it was higher I’ve got much more power in legs and I was running faster and longer. Once it decreased it was much worse.

20161009_133624

When it comes to recovery advisor the number usually were higher than the ones generates by Garmin watches usually by 10-20%.

20161009_133635

The recovery is calculated automatically after an activity. Additionally it could be calculated with 2 special options from the menu:

  • Sleep test.
  • Quick test.

20161009_132502

In sleep test the heart rate strap needs to be required during the sleep and the options from the watch needs to be triggered. Then in the morning we need to stop manually the test and the results are provided. I never went through it since it was too uncomfortable for me to wear the hr belt.

The quick test does the same as the sleep test but can be done within few minutes. We just need to be calmed and relaxed, wear the hr belt and trigger the test. After it will calculate the recovery time and show the lowest hr recorded.

The 2 options are important because what was odd for me, if we turn off the watch, all data regarding VO2MAX, recovery and activity are deleted. If we rely on those metrics it’s an option to at least get the recovery data.

Detailed instruction how to perform the tests are available here.

Apps

Suunto has got it’s own custom application system which available is available in all Ambit series watches. It’s called Suunto Apps. Now, when we already know the Connect IQ, it’s not so impressive but back in 2012 it was a big deal.

2016-10-17-22_11_21-overview-movescount-com

Suunto Apps are basically data fields that we can assign to an activity. We can choose from many apps like:

  • Marathon time predictors
  • Ghost racers (something like virtual pacer)
  • Storm alerts
  • and much much more
2016-10-17-22_28_19-explore-suunto-apps-movescount-com

Sample Apps

 

2016-10-17-22_27_43-filmy-i-tv

Assigned app as data field

2016-10-17-22_27_28-movescount-com-powered-by-suunto

There are an enormous amount of apps available. Additionally we can create our own apps.

So what can we do in an app? There is an creator in which we can give an app a name and select the destination activity.

2016-10-17-22_30_48-movescount-com-powered-by-suunto

 

Declare some variables and select what will be outputted on the watch (0,1,2 decimals or time).

2016-10-17-22_34_02-movescount-com-powered-by-suunto

2016-10-17-22_33_55-movescount-com-powered-by-suunto

The most important is of course the the create tab when we can choose the parameter and operation that we want to apply to the parameter. Or if we don’t want the designer we can enable advanced mode where we just code. Then we also can use some build in function that allows us to perform watch to trigger beep alert or light up the watch backlight.

2016-10-17-22_38_00-movescount-com-powered-by-suunto

Apps designer

2016-10-17-22_38_25-movescount-com-powered-by-suunto

Apps advanced mode

Additionally there are methods that calculates distance based on latitude and longitude or calculates heading + standard trigonometrical functions (sin, cos etc) and other mathematical functions (log, pow etc).

2016-10-17-22_38_45-movescount-com-powered-by-suunto

At the end we can verify the app and test it with a sample simulator where we can assign the parameter values. Additionally we have the compatibility info. Here is my “million dollar app” that shows the current lap.

2016-10-17-22_38_07-movescount-com-powered-by-suunto

Suunto App is a nice feature but now it feels, especially when compared to Connect IQ, outdated. It covers only the data fields (Connect IQ got in addition to that separate apps, watchfaces and widgets). And even then the functionality is limited since the output can be only numeric (in Connect IQ we can draw graphs or do cool things like hear rate gauges). Additionally it cannot use any external data (not possible to write an weather app based on an e.g. google weather api) or be configurable on the watch (e.g. we cannot configure the virtual pacer app on the watch, we need separate app for each pace).

The nice though is that the development of the app is straight forward and if we want something that is achievable on the platform, we can relatively fast create it ourselwes without any programming skills (only basic mathematics).

What’s missing, bugs

Ambit3 Peak is very capable with lots of features. But during my usage of it I have noticed few lacks or bugs:

  • The watch doesn’t contain an activity tracker that measures steps. Only calories burned. That’s a shame in my opinion.
  • The activity tracker data + things like performance (VO2MAX) and recovery time is wiped out when the watch is turned off. Additionally this data is not synced to Movescout. Probably because this functionality is lacking in the Movescout now.
  • In order to turn on the device the charger is needed. It didn’t happen to me but I could imagine the watch freezes just before a important run and we are left with a small brick on the wrist.
  • Lack of vibration.
  • Very quiet sound notifications. It happened to me many times that I didn’t hear the beeps that were coming from Ambit3. At the same time I never miss any notification from 920XT (but I think it’s mainly connected with the additional vibration)
  • Lack of route altitude graph. I wanted to run the marathon and have the route and see also the altitude graph. As I found later, this functionality was introduced in the Ambit3 Vertical and was not ported to Peak. Shame Suunto, shame!
  • Only 3 data fields per screen. The lower screen can contain up to 5 data fields that can be switched with the back key but anyway, I like to have those 4 fields. But maybe it’s just me because I’m used to my configuration that I’ve had since Forerunner 305.
  • Lack of WiFi. It’s much faster and any top watch should have it now. After my balcony test (19hours GPS activity) the watch synchronizes for like 10 minutes.
  • Limited configuration capabilities on the watch. All data fields and screens needs to be configured online. The online configuration itself is of course a great feature but I have the feeling that without the online platform it’s kinda useless.

Some nice features

Besides the standard fitness watch features, Ambit3 Peak got also some nice features like:

  • Magnetic compass.

  • VO2MAX estimation (performance)

20161009_133624

  • Smart notifications

20161011_205559

  • Storm alerts. Sadly I cannot confirm this works correctly, but in theory the watch has everything needed in order to predict that (it can be predicted by observing the changes in the air pressure over time)

20161009_134131

  • Barometric-altimeter
  • Sunset/Sunrise information

20161009_133512 20161009_133517

Summary

Ambit3 Peak is a very solid piece of hardware. It has some small flaws and lacks but it shines in the most important aspect of an fitness watch: the battery life and GPS accuracy. Additionally it’s build quality is excellent! 2 years old watch looked still very good and the battery didn’t degraded much. Somebody could say it’s design is bulky with the external antenna. It didn’t bothered me at all and the GPS signal quality it provides is excellent.

This place the watch in the top of high end fitness watches, in my opinion equally with Polar V800 and Garmin 920XT.

And which one is the best? That depends on many aspects that are more personal and needs to be answered by the end user itself. Questions like:

  • What ecosystem I like the most (Garmin Connect, Movescout, Polar Flow).
  • What battery life do I need?
  • Do I have some old ANT+ accessories? Can I afford to buy new ones (Bluetooth Smart)?
  • Do I need proper activity tracking?
  • Which watch design I like the most?
  • For what activities I need the watch (running, tri, mountains etc.)

Personally I have choose Garmin and 920XT after I answered on the above questions. But I will keep an eye on Suunto’s new watches and Movescout platform. Who knows, maybe I will come back to it after a while.

20161014_154525

Just to close the review. Ambit3 Peak is a triathlon watch so I didn’t used it’s features in that matter. I only used it for running so please keep in mind that it’s a review only from this standpoint.

Btw. it’s not a sponsored review, I bought the watch myself, tested it and posted my honest review. After the review I will get rid of it to buy new hardware for new reviews.

 

3 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *