Suunto Ambit review

When purchasing gear, there is always the dilemna of “want vs need.” Very rarely do I buy “needs” and usually fall victim to the impulse of buying “wants.” But with the new Suunto Ambit, well, let’s just say that anyone who is a serious outdoor adventurer will absolutely NEED this watch. Suunto calls the Ambit a GPS for explorers, but it’s so much more. In fact, this clever wristop computer uses different outdoor and training functions that can be personalized to the activity you’re doing.

The Suunto Ambit. (Image: Suunto)

The Ambit features the following:

  • Full-featured GPS with Waypoint navigation
  • Unique 3D compass
  • Barometric altitude
  • Barometer
  • Temperature
  • Waypoint and route navigation
  • Point of interest creation
  • Location in multiple coordinate systems
  • Highly responsive pace and speed (FusedSpeed™) with accelerometer integrated GPS
  • Vertical speed with barometric altimeter
  • Advanced heart rate monitoring with Peak Training Effect and Recovery Time
  • Online sports diary with planning & analysis tools in Movescount.com
  • Compatible with Suunto Bike, Road Bike, and Cadence PODs
  • Robust BuiltToLast -casing
  • Enhanced battery lifetime; approximate operating time in:
  • Upgradeable with new functionalities through Movescount.com

Okay, that’s a lot of features to take in, but let me tell you, they all work and work well. I’ve had the Ambit on my wrist for about a month and took it trail running, mountain biking, and backcountry skiing, all while testing out its functionality and utility.

The Suunto Ambit has real-time, GPS navigation features. (Photo: Jared Hargrave – UtahOutside.com)

When I first got the Ambit, I was afraid to turn it on as these types of devices are usually hard to operate, have confusing menus, and make me want to throw them across the room in frustration. But Suunto has really come up with a menu system that is so intuitive, easy breezy in fact, that I had it calibrated and set up to my location in under 10 minutes. Excited with my newfound toy, I was out the door for a trail run in Emigration Canyon.

Want easy? You can tell the watch what activity you’re about to do, and it automatically turns on the functions you’ll need.  I was most interested in the watch’s ability to track my movements via GPS that can be downloaded into Google Earth.  After telling the watch I was trail running, the Ambit locked onto the satellite blazingly fast and never lost the signal.  After running my standard 4-mile loop on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, I went home and uploaded the data to Movescount.com, Suunto’s online community where all your data is stored so you can track your progress and experiences. After syncing the Ambit to my account, the route uploaded onto a shareable map and I was able to create a .gpx or .kml file for future use. The Ambit also tracked my speed, altitude, distance, vertical speed, and even the temperature!

GPS track downloaded from Movescount.com after a mountain bike ride with the Suunto Ambit in Corner Canyon.

After completely geeking out, I ravenously took the Ambit out mountain biking where I kept track of and mapped some of my favorite trails. Additionally, I went back for seconds to test out the Ambit’s navigation functionality. I downloaded one of my old tracks to the watch and used the display navigate with. While the black-and-white, small screen won’t be replacing more traditional GPS units complete with full colored, contoured topo maps anytime soon, it did show my real-time location relative to a desired end point.

I’ve also been really impressed with the battery life. Suunto says it will last 50 hours, which is plenty for day-today operation. I can only see this as being an issue if you’re planning epic treks with no access to charging power.

You can view several graphs taken from data the Suunto Ambit collects. Altitude changes are shown here.

Additionally, the Ambit is a full-on training watch when paired with the Suunto ANT Comfort Belt (a fancy way of saying heartrate monitor.) Take it on a training run and you can track your HR, calories burned, training effect, recovery time and VO2… and it has a stopwatch, so there’s that.

What’s really amazing about the Suunto Ambit watch, what’s actually a game changer, is that the watch platform can be upgraded in much the same way you can upgrade your computer. In the past, if you wanted a watch or GPS with new features, you had to buy a new watch. But with the Ambit, updated software is ready to be downloaded directly to the watch when you plug it in to charge on the computer. In the short time I had the Ambit, new software was downloaded twice. The folks at Suunto are always tweaking and improving their products, and you can get those improvements instantly and at no cost. Basically speaking, with the Ambit, you’ll never have to buy a new GPS watch again.

Okay, but everything has drawbacks, right? First off, the Suunto Ambit is huge. This is understandable considering the massive amount of stuff that’s wedged into such a small package, but still, the mass and weight of the device takes some getting used to. Especially when mountain biking, I found the Ambit would slam around on my wrist bones when descending bumpy trails at speed. You want awesomeness on your arm, you have to deal with it I guess.

Another thing (and this is user error) is that every time I would take a break and stop the watch from tracking, I would forget to start it up again when I continued moving. Other GPS watches I’ve used had auto pause, so when the user stops, so would the watch. It would be nice if Suunto would add that feature in a future upgrade.

Happy Suunto Ambit:
The absolute pinnacle of GPS/training watch technology, and it works flawlessly.

Sad Suunto Ambit:
A bit bulky and could use some other features (which is likely given the ability to upgrade)

Final Word:
The Suunto Ambit is the be-all, end-all GPS watch on the market today. It’s a game changer. And (trust me) it’s not a want, but a need. I love this watch.


2 comments for “Suunto Ambit review

  1. Leo Musarra
    November 12, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Great review!! Love the Ambit its the best suunto watch I’ve had over the past 20 years of having suunto watches.

    Highly recommended!! And worth every cent spent.

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