Please note that I have updated and re-posted this review following the recent release of the 2.0 Software update which included some major changes and upgrades! Full details of the update can be found here.
I was lucky enough to receive a Suunto Ambit2 for my Birthday a little while back and I thought it deserved a review!
The Ambit 2’s vast range of functions have been described and reviewed in great detail elsewhere so rather than re-cover this ground, I thought I’d focus on the features that make it stand out from a typical GPS running watch, namely it’s navigational capabilities.
A detailed breakdown of the functions and comparison with other models can be found here at the Suunto website
The Ambit 2 is aimed at those who wish to participate in mountain sports, ultra distance events, triathlons and activities which take advantage of it’s navigational capabilities…..or for those who like to have a gadget that does pretty much everything. The Ambit2 also has a couple of siblings, the ‘2 S’ and the new ‘2 R’, both of which are cheaper than the standard Ambit 2. The main differences are that the S version lacks the barometric altimeter and instead relies upon GPS altitude calculation whereas the R also lacks the multi-sport functions and some of the navigational features.
I decided to go for the ‘standard’ Ambit2 because the navigation and altitude measurement are important to me but if you don’t think you need them, there are many other (cheaper) options on the market that might suit your needs better and I’ve mentioned some at the end of the review.
Out of the box, the ambit 2 immediately feels like a quality product. It’s robust, reassuringly weighty (although not heavy) and beautifully finished. There are three colours, Silver, Black and the higher-priced Sapphire model which features a stainless steel bezel. I decided to go for the black one as I wear it every day for work and it’s a bit more understated than the others.
I’ve used Suunto watches before but even so , it took me a couple of hours or reading the manual and playing around to familiarise myself with all of the features. This was a bit daunting to start with but the manual (available here) is actually very good and the watch is logical to operate once you get your head around the main principles. There is almost endless scope to customise the features by connecting the watch to the Movescount website and it’s definitely worth taking the time to do this.
I’ve found the general performance of the Ambit2 whilst running to be excellent. It offers all of the functions you would expect from a product at this level and they are well thought-out and easy to use…..simple as that. In fact, it almost reminds me a bit of the old Nokia mobile phones from the late 90’s in that it is logical and sequential (I mean that as a compliment). It finds satellites faster than any other watch I’ve seen and the GPS tracking has proven very accurate.
I was really excited when Suunto announced that they were adding a cadence feature, measured by the internal accelerometer and it doesn’t disappoint! I’ve tested accuracy by running with a metronome and have found it to be excellent. I was especially impressed by how well it works when running off-road because my arms are often all over the place as I try to keep my balance or when driving up hills over uneven surfaces but this didn’t seem to make much difference to the accuracy.
I purchased one of Suuntos’ handle bar mounts for cycling purposes and again, the performance is generally very good. I have a slight niggle in that the display is a bit on the small side and two out of the three of the data fields can be a tricky to read when travelling at speed but I suppose it wouldn’t be possible for the Ambit2 to have a larger display whilst still being practical as a watch. It’s also worth noting that the unit can be paired with ANT+ cadence and power meters, I haven’t tried this yet but the feature is there if you need it.
In my opinion, the main reason that you would choose to spend the extra money on the Ambit2 rather than a more ‘standard’ GPS sports watch is the inclusion of the navigation features so I’m going to cover this in a bit more depth. The Ambit2 allows you to program in routes via the movescount portal using three different map formats which appear to be based upon the same data as google maps, namely Satellite, Road and Terrain
This is great for road cycling and running but it is less well suited to off road activities because footpaths and bridleways are generally not shown on the maps. The easiest way of overcoming this is to import a GPX file from another online mapping service (I use viewranger). This works fine but it’s a bit of a faff, especially seeing as you need to re-input waypoints once you have imported the route. This is unfortunate as I would imagine that the majority of Ambit2 users will be mostly interested in off-road activities. It would be fantastic Movescount incorporated proper topographic mapping in the future.
Once you have uploaded a route into the watch, guidance is provided via several different displays that you can scroll through with the ‘view’ button as per the images below. The overview map provides an indication of your progress around the route whereas the close-scale map and compass views are used to indicate direction and distance to the next waypoint.
For road cycling and running, I found the navigation functions to be excellent and very easy to use. You are able to simply relax and enjoy the journey, confident in the knowledge that you will reach your intended destination. For off-road activities, I found that the Ambit2 becomes more of a navigational aid than a complete replacement for a map, compass, or a handheld GPS device. It’s still very useful but it doesn’t offer enough detail to cope with complex mountain navigation or junctions with multiple paths.
What it does do however is provide something to keep you generally on the right track so that you don’t need to continuously slow-down to navigate until you get to a complex feature or direction change. I found that a safe and sensible approach is to carry and use a map / compass when you really need it but you can rely on the watch when you don’t. This is common sense really and it’s important to remember that the Ambit2 is designed to be a multi-function watch with navigational capabilities and not a not a dedicated GPS unit.
As well as allowing you to navigate through a route, the Ambit2 also has a number of other useful navigational functions. It will tell you your current grid reference for cross-referencing with a map. It allows you to input waypoints and points of interest directly from the watch and then navigate there using an ‘as the crow flies’ bearing. It also has an excellent trackback feature which enables you to re-trace your exact steps back to your start point which could be really useful if you get lost or encounter bad weather.
One thing I find a little bit annoying is that exercise data, such as time, pace and heart rate is not visible from within the navigational display so you have to scroll between the navigation and exercise screens to see them. This is again due to the limitations of the size of the screen but it would be good to be able to see at least one piece of data whilst navigating.
Another small complaint would be the memory capacity. The Ambit 2 allows the storage of up to 100 waypoints or points of interest. This may sound like a lot but lets say you wanted to take it on a multi-day trip in the wilderness and you wanted to store several days worth of routes on the device. In this instance, you could easily run out of storage and the only way of solving it is to connect to movescount and delete completed routes from the device and upload new ones which may well not possible if you are in the middle of nowhere.
I stand by what I’ve said above about how the Ambit2 is no replacement for a map and compass but the following features that have been included with the 2.0 software update are significant improvements:
The Ambit2 calculates altitude using a combination of barometric pressure and GPS data via a function Suunto calls ‘FuesdAlti’. This is said to be more accurate that GPS alone and does not require constant re-calibration, unlike devices which rely solely on a barometer. I’ve found the FuesedAlti function to be accurate to within +/- 5m or so which is pretty impressive. It is also possible (and easy) to manually calibrate the altimeter based upon a topographical map. I haven’t found this to be necessary but it could be useful if you were to experience fast changes in weather during a long day out in the hills.
As stated above, detailed activity statistics and major settings changes are access via the Movescount website.
I really like using Movescount. The website is generally well thought out, easy to use and doubles up as an online community where you can share your exploits with others and also download their routes to your device. There are however a small number of flaws:
Usability As A Watch – I’ve been using the Ambit2 as my every day watch since I got it and it’s performed flawlessly. I have wrists like a 9 year old girl and it’s a big watch but it fits me fine and I don’t think it looks too silly. The understated design of the black version also blends in nicely for most work or social scenarios.
Battery Life and Charge Time – I’ve found the battery life of the Ambit2 to be remarkably good although I’m yet to use it for activities lasting longer than about 4hrs. Almost more impressive is the short charge time. I access movescount almost every day and usually find that the unit is almost full by the time I have uploaded my latest activity and spend a few minutes looking at the stats. This means that I hardly ever have to consciously think about charging the device.
Back light – The back light features adjustable brightness and it’s awesome. It also makes the watch look like Iron Man’s Arc Reactor and can double up as an emergency torch when you’ve dropped your keys in the dark.
Heart Rate Monitor – I’m a long-term fan of Suunto’s heart rate straps and the unit supplied with the Ambit 2 is no exception. They are comfortable, reliable units.
Auto Pause Function – I’ve found that the auto pause function on the ambit2 is excellent and a big improvement over my previous experience with GPS devices. It quickly and correctly judges when I have ceased moving and stops / starts in a completely unobtrusive manner
No Vibrating Alert – Unlike some products on the market, the Ambit 2 does not have a vibrating alert. This isn’t a problem for me as I think that the audible alerts are plenty loud-enough but it could be worth considering if you regularly listen to music whilst exercising.
The Ambit2 is an excellent piece of kit and I’d have no hesitation in recommending it to others. Most of the niggles I have relate to the way that data is uploaded and received from Movescount but they are pretty minor. The 2.0 software update has produced some major improvements and it’s great to see that Suunto are committed to refining an already-excellent watch! The Ambit2 a very solid product that will last a looooong time and I think it’s good value despite the premium price tag.
Following the recent announcement of the release of the Ambit3, many retailers are offering the Ambit2 at discounted prices. So if you are in the market for an Ambit but feel you can manage without the new features, now is the time to pay a visit to Wiggle here, Millet Sports here or Amazon
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Suunto Ambit2 S – Shares most of the features of the standard Ambit2, it lacks the barometric altimeter but is also cheaper. Available here
Ambit2 R – Running-specific model which includes a cadence feature but lacks the barometric altimeter, multi sport functions and some of the navigational features. Cheaper still. Available here
Garmin Fenix 2 – The most direct competitor to the ambit which shares many of it’s features and also offers wireless connectivity. Available here
Garmin Forerunner 620 – Probably the most advanced running-specific watch on the market which offers wireless connectivity and clever features like cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time. Lacks navigational features and is perhaps best suited to those who do most of their running on the road. Available here
Garmin 910XT – The 910Xt is getting a bit long in the tooth but I’ve given it a mention here because it’s still considered the best triathlon-specific watch on the market and the rectangular display can show up to 4 data fields at a time (the ambit offers 3) and they are larger and clearer than the Suunto. Again, it lacks navigational features. Available here
Got any thoughts or questions about the Ambit2? Please leave your thoughts below!