Suunto Ambit3 Run Review
The Suunto Ambit3 Run is an excellent running watch with good GPS accuracy. The "Run" in the name indicates this is the cheapest of the Ambit3 range and the best value for most runners. It lacks some of the features of the more expensive Ambit3 watches, but these are only likely to be valuable if you're an ultrarunner (longer battery life) or a multi-sport athlete. The Ambit3 Run offers great functionality and reasonable GPS accuracy, and it's only significant flaw is the inability to display Pace From A Footpod while getting distance from GPS. For a simple evaluation of a GPS watch, I look at how well it can answer some basic questions:
- How far did I run? This is the most basic question, and the Ambit3 has great GPS accuracy, so this is one thing it does really well.
- How fast am I running? Knowing how fast you're running can be a nice to know, or it can be vital for your training or race performance. Because of the nature of GPS, watches that rely on GPS signal alone tend to have serious problems with current pace. Without the ability to display current Pace From A Footpod while getting all other data from GPS, the Ambit3 can't answer this question very well. It does better than most watches that rely purely on GPS as it has good accuracy and the Suunto FuseSpeed may help a tiny bit. (That said, I frequently see the Ambit3 out by more than a minute/mile).
- Where am I? The Ambit3 has some basic navigation functions.
- Course Outline. This is an outline of a route that can be downloaded. I've found this useful during ultras or in unfamiliar cities where I've needed to know where to go. Note that there's no "Track Outline" which displays where you've been.
- Back To Start. This is a simple arrow point to your starting point, so it won't help you backtrack.
- Back To Waypoint. You can mark a location and use the arrow to point to it later. Again, this is a simple "as the crow flies" pointer.
- Compass. A magnetic compass can help you orient yourself or the map. Without a magnetic compass you have to be moving for the GPS to give you a sense of direction.
- What's my cadence? Cadence is one of the most critical and often overlooked aspects of running. If you get your Cadence right, many other things naturally fall into place. The Ambit3 supports Cadence via a Footpod or it can estimate Cadence from it's internal accelerometer, though I've found the internal accelerometer can be out quite a bit. Sadly it has no alerts for when your Cadence is too low.
For ultramarathon running the Ambit3 Peak has the extended battery life for runners that expect to be moving during the Second Dawn, though the GPS accuracy is impaired because of the longer GPS polling interval. See Watches for Ultrarunning for more details.
1 Which Version?
The Ambit3 comes in five versions with different functionality. I think the "Run" has the best value for money, but depending on your usage you may want to pay for a more expensive version. If you're a cyclist, the "Sport" might be worthwhile, though I won't comment further as I focus purely on running usage. If you're an ultrarunner, then I think the "Peak" version could be well worth it. The Sapphire is only worthwhile if you're hard on your gear and want the damage resistance. A new version called "Vertical" that is part way between the Peak and the Sport versions. One intriguing difference for the Vertical version is that it can make use of the Russian version of GPS called GLONASS. This suggests a different GPS chipset, so the accuracy could be different to other versions. (They all use SiRFstarV, but that's a family of chipsets. For instance the SiRFstarV 5e version supports GLONASS.)
2 Ambit3 Pros
- The GPS accuracy of the Ambit3 is excellent, coming just behind the best I've tested (Polar V800). Knowing how far you've run is one of the key benefits of using a GPS watch, so accuracy is critical, especially when performing structured training. If you need to run 20 miles at a 9:00 min/mile pace, a GPS error can mean you're either running faster for further or running slower and shorter than you intend. Either will screw up your training.
- The watch is highly configurable, and configuration is via a web site rather than fiddling with the watch. The Ambit3 can display up to 8 different pages of data, including various graphs.
- You can download or create 'Apps' for the Ambit3, which allow for some degree of extensibility. These are not really applications, but small scripts so the functionality is rather limited. It's nothing like the functionality that Garmin has in their Connect IQ. I have developed two apps that calculate Relative Running Economy for the Suunto Ambit. One calculates a moving average and the other a smoothed current value.
- Data has to be uploaded to the Suunto website movescount.com but it can then be exported in many different formats including TCX and FIT. The Suunto website is one of the best, and offers some nice visualization and analysis options. The Suunto website will also automatically export your workouts to other sites; currently Strava, Training Peaks, and Preva are supported.
- While the standard 10 hour battery life on the Run model good enough for non-ultrarunners, you can configure it so it only checks GPS data periodically. This compromises GPS Accuracy but improves battery life. For some ultrarunners, the Run's 5 second sampling with 15 hours battery life might be okay, but I suspect that in many cases, if 10 hours is not enough, you'll need more than 15. The Ambit3 Run has a 100 hour option, but 60 second recording is not going to give enough accuracy to be of much use except on straight courses. The more expensive Ambit3 Peak has a 20 hour battery life and gives 30 hours in 5 second recording mode, so that upgrade might be well worth it for many ultrarunners. (The Peak will go to 200 hours on 60 second sampling.)
- The Ambit3 will download a list of GPS satellites for quicker GPS acquisition. This seems to work well, and when the cache is stale because the watch has not been connected to the internet for a while, GPS acquisition is still reasonable.
- The Ambit3 displays Training Effect, but unlike the Garmin units you have to explicitly set your 'activity class' rather than have the watch work it out automatically. However, in many ways I prefer having the activity class set explicitly as you know what's going on.
- There is support for " Recovery Time" which is displayed the value at the end of each workout. I don't like the way Suunto display the Recovery Time for that workout alone, but unlike the Ambit2, the Ambit3 makes it easy to find your current recovery level and even displays a graph of it over time.
- The Ambit3 adds a "recovery status" check, which uses data from a Heart Rate Monitor to give an estimate of recovery. This can be done anytime, or after a sleep, with post-sleep testing more reliable. I'm not sure how effective this is, but it's worth considering as one possible input into your training routine.
- I found the materials used for the strap are remarkably soft and comfortable, and it fits even a small wrist like mine nicely.
- The Ambit3 can display a map of a pre-loaded course, which can be useful for navigating an unfamiliar route, but it requires forethought and effort.
- You can use the Ambit3 to navigate back to the start of your run, but it only provides an arrow and compass, not a map. (There's no map of your current route in the way that Garmin watches often provide.)
- Like many modern sports watches, the Ambit3 will estimate your running performance based on pace and heart rate data. The Ambit3 goes a little further and displays a graph of how that estimate is changing over time, which is nice, though I'm not sure how useful it is in practice.
- With the move from Ant+ to Bluetooth (see below), the Ambit3 gains the ability to upload workouts via a phone, which can be handy. It can also use the phone as a remote display, though I'm not sure why you'd want to; if you're running with a smartphone, then use the phone directly. (There's not live tracking either, but again, why bother when you have the phone with you.)
3 Ambit3 Run Cons
- The biggest downside to the Ambit3 compared to the 310XT/910XT/610 is that there is no way of displaying your current pace from the Footpod while using GPS for overall distance and course. You can only use a footpod by turning off GPS, which is pretty useless. GPS alone is not accurate enough to give you a good indication of current pace, while a footpod can do a much better job. Errors in GPS tend to cause the display of current pace to swing wildly, while errors in footpod pace tend to be constant and far easier to allow for.
- For running on a treadmill, the Ambit3 does a poor job of estimating pace from its internal accelerometer, though I've found that even the best watches don't do well enough to be of much use. A bigger issue is that Suunto doesn't make a Bluetooth footpod, so you have to use a third party option such as the Adidas. The Ambit3 also smooths the data from the Footpod, so if the footpod you use also performs smoothing (like the Adidas), then you end up with a rather unresponsive display of pace.
- The Ambit3 does not have a vibration alert, which is something I miss far more than I'd have expected. The vibration is useful for alerts, as you may not hear the beeping in noisy environments or when wearing headphones. The vibration in other watches is also useful as a confirmation you've actually pressed the lap button.
- Like any complex device, the Ambit3 can occasionally need a reboot. Sadly, while you can shut down the Ambit3 from the menu, the only way of waking it up again is to plug it into a USB power source. This should be a very rare issue, but if it happens to you on or just before a race, you're screwed. (To shut down, press the "Back/Lap" and "Start/Stop" buttons pressed to enter the service menu.)
- One of the big changes from the Ambit2 is the move from using Ant+ sensors to Bluetooth. Currently the Bluetooth sensors are not as widely available as Ant+, and Suunto does not even make a Footpod for the Ambit3. Unlike Ant+, the current version of Bluetooth won't allow a sensor to be connected to multiple devices at the same time. I think the situation will change over time, but right now I prefer Ant+ over Bluetooth.
4 Changes from the Suunto Ambit2 R
With the announcement of the Ambit3, the price of the Suunto Ambit2 R had dropped, making it well worth considering. The main changes are:
- The Ambit3 uses Bluetooth rather than Ant+ as noted above.
- GPS accuracy has improved with the Ambit3.
- Battery life is now a little better.
- There are a few minor user interface changes, such as the cross of recovery time.
5 Visual Comparison
6 What's Missing
While I don't consider these missing features as 'cons', it's worth understanding the features that are missing compared with other watches.
- Altimeter. GPS is far less accurate vertically than horizontally, so a barometric altimeter can provide a much better idea of your ascent and descent. It can also be useful for navigation if you're ascending or descending a mountain. In some races I've been far more interested in how much ascent is left rather than the distance to the top. (The more expensive versions of the Ambit3 add in an Altimeter.)
- Running Dynamics. Some of the newer Garmin watches can show and record Vertical Oscillation (VO) and Ground Contact Time (GCT).
- Alerts. Some watches will alert you when a metric is out of range. The alert for Cadence is really useful and one of my favorite features.
This review was made possible by readers like you buying products via my links. I buy all the products I review through normal retail channels, which allows me to create unbiased reviews free from the influence of reciprocity, or the need to keep vendors happy. It also ensures I don't get "reviewer specials" that are better than the retail versions.
7 GPS Accuracy
8 Comparison Table
I evaluate running watches in three distinct ways. Firstly, you can use a watch on its own, without any kind of Footpod. This is probably the most common way runners use their watch, but you miss out on a lot. The second rating is with a standard Footpod that is available quite cheaply. These Footpod's can be reasonably accurate once the calibrated, but calibration is a little tedious. The final evaluation is with the Stryd Footpod, which is vastly more accurate than any other type of Footpod, or and more accurate than GPS. The table below looks at the score, and the value for money of each watch for each of the three conditions. (I’ve also tested the Apple Watch 3, but I’ve not included it in these tables as it’s not really a running watch.)
The score is the sum of how well each watch can answer the four basic questions (how far, how fast, where are you, what's your cadence), plus some bonus points.
- The "How far you've run" will be based on GPS only for "without Footpod" and "with Standard Footpod", but based on Stryd if supported in the "with Stryd Footpod" table..
- How fast you're running assumes you're using a Footpod if it's supported, otherwise the rating is 0-2 based on GPS accuracy.
- The "Where are you?" is based on various navigation features such as back to start, breadcrumbs, and preloaded maps. For some watches, you have to turn GPS off to get the benefit of Stryd, so those watches have worse "where are you scores" with Stryd than without.
- The cadence score uses 1 point for an internal cadence sensor, 2 points for footpod support, 1 point for support from chest strap cadence, and 1 point for cadence alerts.
- I give 1-2 bonus points for application support, 1-2 bonus points for data upload, 1-2 bonus points for Optical Heart Rate Monitoring, and 0-1 bonus points for battery life.
- Value for money is the score divided by the price (at the time I last updated the table.) Your needs may be different, so you might weight the different aspects of the watches differently, or be basing your decision on different criteria totally. Hopefully this table will give you a good starting point for your decision.
8.1 Score Breakdown without a Footpod
8.2 Score Breakdown with a Standard Footpod
8.3 Score Breakdown with a Stryd Footpod
8.4 Basic Features
|Weight (oz)||Size (CM3)||Display (mm)||Resolution (Pixels)||Waterproofing||Heart Rate
|Garmin Epix Review||2015||6.2||3.0||48||29 x 21 (609mm2)||205 x 148 (30.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 5X Review||2017||5.6||3.5||36||30.5 (round) (731mm2)||240 diameter (45.2K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 3 Review||2015||6.2||2.9||33||30 (round) (726mm2)||218 diameter (37.3K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin 935 Review||2017||5.6||1.7||24||30.5 (round) (731mm2)||240 diameter (45.2K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin Vivoactive HR Review||2016||4.9||1.7||19||21 x 29 (609mm2)||148 x 205 (30.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin 920XT Review||2014||6.6||2.2||35||29 x 21 (609mm2)||205 x 148 (30.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3 Review||2017||1.5||17||30.5 (round) (731mm2)||240 diameter (45.2K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Garmin Vivoactive Review||2015||5.4||1.3||13||29 x 21 (592mm2)||205 x 148 (30.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Suunto Spartan Trainer Review||2017||7.8||2.0||25||24 x 23 (529mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit2 Review||2013||7.6||3.1||30||29 (round) (661mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit3 Peak Review||2014||7.9||2.9||30||29 (round) (661mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Suunto Spartan Ultra Review||2016||7.1||2.7||38||32 (round) (804mm2)||320 diameter (80.4K total)||Good (100m)||Yes||Internal (Limited Footpod)||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 2 Review||2014||5.7||3.2||32||31 (round) (755mm2)||70 diameter (3.8K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit3 Run Review||2014||7.9||2.5||30||29 (round) (661mm2)||128 x 128 (16.4K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit2 R Review||2013||7.6||2.5||30||29 (round) (661mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Garmin 235 Review||2015||4.9||1.5||19||31 (round) (755mm2)||215 diameter (36.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Garmin 620 Review||2013||7.1||1.5||20||25.4 (round) (507mm2)||180 diameter (25.4K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin 910XT Review||2011||7.5||2.5||49||33 x 20 (660mm2)||160 x 100 (16K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Footpod/Alert||Yes|
|Garmin 310XT Review||2009||7.5||2.5||63||33 x 20 (660mm2)||160 x 100 (16K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Footpod||Yes|
|Garmin 225 Review||2015||6.2||1.5||24||25.4 (round) (507mm2)||180 diameter (25.4K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|TomTom Cardio Runner Review||2015||6.0||2.2||30||22 x 25 (550mm2)||144 x 168 (24.2K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Polar V800 Review||2014||8.0||2.8||31||23 x 23 (529mm2)||128 x 128 (16.4K total)||Good (30m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Polar M430 Review||2017||7.2||2.0||24||23 x 23 (529mm2)||128 x 128 (16.4K total)||Good (50m)||Yes (+OHRM)||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Polar M400 Review||2014||6.6||2.0||24||23 x 23 (529mm2)||128 x 128 (16.4K total)||Good (30m)||Yes||Internal/Footpod||Yes|
|Garmin 610 Review||2011||7.3||2.5||41||25.4 (round) (507mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Fair (IPX7)||Yes||Footpod/Alert||Yes|
|Leikr Review||2013||7.3||2.4||25||41 x 31 (1271mm2)||206 x 148 (76.8K total)||Fair (IPX6)||Yes||Footpod||Limited|
|Epson SF-510 Review||2015||4.4||1.7||24||28 x 22 (616mm2)||128 x 96 (12.3K total)||Good (50m)||Yes||Limited Internal||Limited|
|Epson SF-810 Review||2015||5.5||1.8||28||28 (round) (616mm2)||128 diameter (12.9K total)||Good (50m)||OHRM Only)||Limited Internal||Limited|
|Garmin 10 Review||2012||3.8||1.3||33||25 x 24 (600mm2)||55 x 32 (1.8K total)||Good (50m)||No||No||Yes|
|Charge On The Run?||Training
|Garmin Epix Review||24||17.6||50||Yes (with USB=Garmin)||Yes||Record||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin Fenix 5X Review||20||23||35||Yes, but can't be worn||Yes||Record||Yes||Bluetooth/Ant+|
|Garmin Fenix 3 Review||20||22||50||Yes (with USB=Garmin)||Yes||No||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin 935 Review||24||24.5||60||Yes, but can't be worn||Yes||Record||Yes||Bluetooth/Ant+|
|Garmin Vivoactive HR Review||13||13||Yes (with USB=Garmin)||No||No||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin 920XT Review||24||19||40||No (terminates)||Yes||Record||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3 Review||13||13||No||Yes||Bluetooth/Ant+|
|Garmin Vivoactive Review||10||10||10||Yes (with USB=Garmin)||No||No||Yes||Ant+|
|Suunto Spartan Trainer Review||10||11||30||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Bluetooth|
|Suunto Ambit2 Review||15||50||Yes||Yes||Record||Yes||Ant+|
|Suunto Ambit3 Peak Review||20||100||Yes||Yes||Record||Yes||Bluetooth|
|Suunto Spartan Ultra Review||18||17||26||Yes, but can't be worn||Yes||Record||Yes||Bluetooth|
|Garmin Fenix 2 Review||15||50||Yes (with USB=Garmin)||Yes||No||Yes||Ant+|
|Suunto Ambit3 Run Review||10||10.5||100||Yes||Yes||Record||Yes||Bluetooth|
|Suunto Ambit2 R Review||8||7.3||25||Yes||Yes||Record||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin 235 Review||11||11||Yes, but no optical HR||Yes||No||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin 620 Review||10||10||No (resets)||Yes||Record||Yes||Ant+|
|Garmin 910XT Review||20||20||Yes, but no display||Yes||Record||No||Ant+|
|Garmin 310XT Review||20||20||Yes, but no display||No||No||No||Ant+|
|Garmin 225 Review||10||11||10||No (resets)||No||No||Yes||Ant+|
|TomTom Cardio Runner Review||8||6.3||8||No (resets)||No||No||Yes||Bluetooth HR|
|Polar V800 Review||13||24||50||No (terminates)||Yes||Display||Predictive||Bluetooth|
|Polar M430 Review||8||8||8||No||No||No||Yes||Bluetooth|
|Polar M400 Review||8||8||Yes, but can't be worn||No||No||No||Bluetooth|
|Garmin 610 Review||8||8||Yes, but no display||Yes||Record||No||Ant+|
|Leikr Review||5||6.5||5||Yes, but can't be worn||No||No||Yes (few hours)||Ant+|
|Epson SF-510 Review||30||30||30||No||No||No||Yes (few hours)||Bluetooth HR|
|Epson SF-810 Review||20||26||20||No||No||No||Yes (few hours)||None|
|Garmin 10 Review||5||5||No||No||No||No||None|
|Color Maps||Breadcrumbs||Courses||To Waypoint||Compass||Reverse course||Beeline to start||Connect IQ||Altimeter|
|Garmin Epix Review||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 5X Review||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 3 Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin 935 Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Garmin Vivoactive HR Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin 920XT Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Garmin Vivoactive Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Suunto Spartan Trainer Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Suunto Ambit2 Review||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit3 Peak Review||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Suunto Spartan Ultra Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Garmin Fenix 2 Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Suunto Ambit3 Run Review||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Suunto Ambit2 R Review||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Garmin 235 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Garmin 620 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Garmin 910XT Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Garmin 310XT Review||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||No||No|
|Garmin 225 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|TomTom Cardio Runner Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Polar V800 Review||No||No||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||No||Yes|
|Polar M430 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Polar M400 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Garmin 610 Review||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Epson SF-510 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Epson SF-810 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Garmin 10 Review||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
- Color Maps gives you full color maps, rather like a smart phone, with roads and paths marked out.
- Track Outline is a display of where you've run, rather like a breadcrumb trail. If there are maps, the outline is superimposed otherwise this is just the outline on its own without any context.
- Course Outline is an outline of a route that can be downloaded. I've found this useful during ultras or in unfamiliar cities where I've needed to know where to go.
- Back To Start is a simple arrow point to your starting point, so it won't help you backtrack.
- Back To Waypoint returns you to a previously marked location using a simple arrow to point.
- Compass. A magnetic compass can help you orient yourself or the map. Without a magnetic compass you have to be moving for the GPS to give you a sense of direction.