Ever since my review of the Garmin Fenix 3, I’ve been getting requests to do a review and comparison with the Suunto Ambit3. Well, I finally got my hands on their latest and greatest edition, the Ambit3 Vertical, or Ambit3V for short. Like pretty much every watch over $400, it boasts an incredible battery life and supreme durability, but Suunto claims this watch is a must have for high altitude enthusiasts and want-to-be mountain goats. Is it really all that special? Compared to the Fenix 3, there are a lot of things that I really prefer with the Suunto, but it’s not without shortcomings. So which watch is right for you? It depends. Garmin vs. Suunto is kind of like iPhone vs. Android.
Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Features
GPS – With Suunto, you can choose between three different ping rates for GPS. 1s, 10s, or 100s. Ping rate refers to how frequently the watch updates your position; the more frequent the updates, the more accurate the watch is going to be. Unlike Garmin, there is no “smart recording” or variable rate. A large majority of the power used by the watch goes to the GPS chip, so your battery life is going to be hugely affected by the setting you choose here.
On 1s recording, accuracy is really quite remarkable. No GPS watch is going to be perfect, but the Ambit3V does a surprisingly good job even under a tree canopy. I did a few different tests here to determine it’s accuracy.
For my first test, I evaluated GPS drift. If you start an activity but remain stationary, the watch will keep racking up miles (very slowly) since there is still some uncertainty in terms of your position. Measuring the total amount of distance accumulated while stationary can be a good indicator of overall accuracy. With 1s recording intervals, I got an astonishingly low GPS drift of only 0.03 miles over the course of 10 hours. This means that, at rest, it was only incorrect by about 15ft/hr. That’s pretty solid! The accuracy wasn’t as good with the other GPS settings, but if you’re looking for precision, this setting does a fantastic job.
For my next test, I took the watch out to a local trail that has notoriously bad satellite reception due to a combination of topography and tree canopy. For the 2.50 mile route (measured with a wheel), I’ll typically see values around 2.25-2.35 miles with my Garmin. With the Suunto Ambit3V, I recorded 2.4 miles for the loop, the highest value I’ve ever seen for the run. Still not up to the actual 2.5, but definitely an improvement. I repeated this test on 3 occasions all with similar results.
For my final test, I ran a certified 5k loop on a cloudy day. Depending on weather conditions and tree cover, I often see anywhere from 2.95 to 3.05 miles for the route with my Garmin. On the day of the test, I expected a lower reading due to the poor visibility. Garmin came in with a respectable 2.99 on but Suunto wins this contest with 3.08 on 1s-recording. I complete the test again on a sunny day with good satellite reception and recorded 3.05 on Garmin and 3.07 on Suunto (pictured below) – the Garmin seemed to improve on the sunny day but the Suunto was not phased by the weather.
Now, it sounds like Suunto is the clear winner with accuracy here, but this only comparing the watches on a 1s recording interval! Suunto doesn’t have variable recording or any intermediate settings (2s, 5s, etc) like Garmin, so if you want battery life over 10 hours, you instantly lose considerable accuracy by increasing to a 10s refresh rate. With this recording interval, I accumulated a GPS drift of over 3 miles in the same 10 hour period as before, only increasing battery life to 20 hours. Suunto also has a 100s rate option, although unless you’re doing a multi-day hike, this option isn’t practical or accurate. However, it is nice to have the option since a 100 hour battery life would be very useful for multi day events where precision isn’t necessary (think SISU Iron, Spartan Agoge, etc).
Battery Life – Battery life on the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical can be highly variable depening on the setting you have it on. As mentioned above, I get about 10 hours on the most accurate GPS setting, 20 hours on 10s recording intervals, and 50 hours on the 100s recording intervals. While 50 hours sounds extremely impressive, this comes at the expense of significant accuracy, so if you want flawless data for your 100 miler or multi day event, you’ll have to look elsewhere. It is worth noting that my personal tests were very consistent with what Suunto advertised on their website for the watch, so I figure it’s safe to trust whatever the say in terms of battery life for other watches / configurations as well.
Also worth noting is the battery life in storage. One great future of the Ambit3V is that it “sleeps” when not being used, turning the display off and conserving battery life. You can keep this in a drawer for weeks and still have a nearly full battery for your run. Garmin is pretty good at this too, but not like Suunto.
Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Usage
I had the pleasure of using the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical for a couple of races and a handful of super long training runs with lots of vertical gain. The watch initially seems a bit less user friendly than Garmin, but after I got used to the menu options and controls, I began to like it quite a lot. It was very reliable, had extraordinary battery life and durability, and quite frankly, looked awesome. One thing that I quickly appreciated was the quick satellite lock. While my Fenix 3 locks onto GPS reasonably quickly, there are days where it will take several minutes. The Ambit3 is AMAZING here, finding satellites within a few seconds every time.
One cool feature that Garmin simply can’t compete with is Suunto Movies. Basically, they take your GPS data and create a short “movie” showing your run (drawing a red line across the topography) while displaying some key stats from the run. It’s cool to be able to share these videos along with some humble bragging on your most recent workout. While cool, it’s limited. I think that this would be way better if they allowed you to customize the video and choose what stats to display, add photos, text, etc… Still, it’s a pretty neat feature of Movescount, their online data analysis software.
Speaking of Movescount, I really like Movescount a lot more than Garmin Connect. It doesn’t quite compete with TrainingPeaks in my opinion, but I think it’s easier to analyze data on Movescount and looks much more visually appealing. They also show some metrics like energy consumption that Garmin does not show, and they allow for zooming and scrolling across the various charts. The running heatmap is also pretty cool, showing you where other people often run around your route.
Despite my love for the watch, I’m not sold that it’s a must-have for people that love climbing. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical compared to the standard Ambit3, and I think that Garmin’s “auto-climb” feature far outperforms Suunto in this area. While it is nice to see your daily/weekly vertical gain on the watch face itself, it’s just as easy to track this with a 3rd party app like Strava or TrainingPeaks.
I actually find it somewhat ironic that Suunto chooses to display your vertical stats on the watch itself, but limits so much configurability to the phone app. Want to change the displays? Better have your iPhone handy. Basically any sort of configuration changes you want to make, you must do on your phone or computer and sync it wirelessly with the watch. This is extremely frustrating if you find yourself walking to the start line of a race trying to add a display field or modify the settings. Don’t get me wrong – it’s very easy and simple to do it on the phone and I love that this feature exists, but it’s very frustrating that you can’t also adjust these settings directly on the watch if you wanted to. This is honestly my biggest frustration. This aside, I really loved my experience!
Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Durability
The Suunto Ambit3 Vertical, just like the Garmin Fenix 3, is built like a tank. There’s virtually nothing they could do to make it any more durable than it already is, nor is there a need to. The silicon strap is thick enough and seems quite sturdy, so I don’t imagine that it will tear or break even after extended usage. That being said, if something was going to break, that would be it… I just don’t see it happening any time soon.
Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Pros and Cons
- Extremely good accuracy (on 1s recording setting)
- Supreme battery life, up to 50 hours
- Durability. Nearly indestructible.
- Easy configuration via phone app.
- High contrast, scratch resistant display.
- Semi-stylish and not “overly rugged” for day to day wear.
- “Instant” satellite lock
- Suunto Movies
- The buttons / controls aren’t super intuitive
- Poor accuracy when you need battery life over 20 hours (rarely)
- Inability to adjust some settings without smartphone or computer
- No wifi data uploading. Bluetooth only.
Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Garmin 235 Garmin Fenix 3 Battery Life 2 weeks as watch, 15 hours with GPS 9 days as activity monitor, 11 hours with GPS 5 weeks as watch, 20 hours with GPS GPS Yes Yes Yes Heart Rate Monitor Yes, with additional chest strap Optical Yes, with additional chest strap Waterproof 100 Meters 5 ATM (50 Meters) 100 Meters Weight 2.62 oz. 1.5 oz 2.9 oz. Phone Compatibility Android, iOS Android, iOS Android, iOS Price $325.00 $329.99 $499.99 ORM Review Amazon Yes Yes Buy Amazon Amazon Amazon
Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Conclusion
Overall, the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical is an amazing watch. Many people ask me whether the Ambit3 or the Fenix 3 is better. It’s really a personal preference and depends on which features are important to you. If you run 100 milers, I think you’ll most likely prefer the Suunto because of the battery life if nothing else. If you often run mountainous trails or other areas where GPS performs poorly, Suunto has the potential to be more accurate. Suunto Movies are also super cool! I prefer the latest edition of the Fenix 3 that has a built in heart rate monitor and think that Garmin is more user friendly overall, but neither watch is downright superior. If you’ve never tried a Suunto watch, I encourage you to give it a try! I was definitely impressed and am excited to try more Suunto products in the future.
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