Suunto Ambit3 Run HR Review
Like any coach-athlete relationship, the bond between a runner and their GPS watch is love-hate. The Suunto Ambit3 Run HR watch ($350) tips the scale toward the amorous end, offering a subtly perfect mix accurate information presented in quiet comfort. While the color of the test model I used was a loud and bright lime green, I found the watch to be immensely comfortable, and easily blended into the background of long runs or recovery, when I required statistics less frequently. Whenever I used the watch more, for key workouts or racing, the color was a cheery reminder not to take anything too seriously, and always kept my spirits up.
The simplicity of the exterior of the watch, as well as the interface, are immediately apparent; compared to other GPS watches, the Ambit3 Run suggests a serene, minimalist aesthetic with clean lines. The physical watch has a round face with three buttons on the right side of the face and 2 on the left side, enough to allow the watch to have multiple functions without getting confusing. The watch held up scratch-free after being dropped repeatedly as well as hitting against rock features while scrambling during trail runs. The interface uses no color or high-resolution graphics; while the display seems barebones compared to flashier GPS displays on the market, the Suunto Ambit3 Run covers all of the necessities and keeps things simple and easy to use on the move.
Software and Battery Life
Suunto watches all use the online software Movescount to manage the runner’s athlete profile along with the training recorded with the watch. The watch connects to the computer with a high speed USB cord, which downloads runs and charges the watch very quickly; runs are downloaded in about one minute, and it takes a few hours to fully charge the watch. According to Movescount, the watch battery has a life of 8 hours with “best” accuracy (1 second recording intervals), 12 hours with “good” accuracy (5 second interval), and 25 hours with “OK” accuracy (60 second intervals). These are conservative estimates; on a training run which lasted 6.5 hours, the watch used 53% of its battery life at the most accurate setting.
The Movescount website can also be used to connect with other runners using Suunto devices, create or find routes which can be uploaded to the watch for navigation, and change the settings of the watch. The site supports multiple connections with other fitness tracking sites, including Strava and Training Peaks. A feature unique to Suunto GPS watches is the capability of downloading apps to the watch, which can be used during the recording of runs. Suunto users may create apps from the site, which are available for others to use. As an example, I downloaded the app “Beers Burned Off.” When I switch to that screen during a run, the watch shows how many beers I have burned off while running, as calculated from calorie burn by HR, if wearing the strap, or estimated calorie burn by pace and distance.
Movescount offers an iPhone app, which can pair the phone with the watch through a Bluetooth connection. Anything that comes up in the notification center of the phone will also instantly show up on the watch face, including text messages, phone calls, and social media alerts. This would definitely come in handy on long runs or races where a drop off, pick up, or crew/pacer coordination is needed. The iPhone app offers structured workouts that can be managed from the phone, using voice commands. iPhone users can snap pictures during the run, which will upload to Movescount along with the stats. One may create a movie of their run, which uses a 3D rendering of the terrain to show the path recorded, as well as any pictures taken with the app along the way. A finished run will also upload to Movescount through the Bluetooth connection.
During the Run
While recording a run, the watch has multiple views showing pace, distance, altitude, ascent distance, descent distance, heart rate (if using the heart rate strap), cadence estimated from wrist movement, and the time of day, as well as any info from an app downloaded from Movescount, or information specified in the settings of the watch. The back lap button may be pressed to create laps manually, which is useful for recording certain segments or track workouts; the average pace of the lap may also be viewed during activity recoding; the watch automatically creates a lap every mile. The pace seemed to have a few seconds lag time, but was otherwise very accurate. The distance was accurate as well, measuring about 0.01 miles off from mile markers over a distance of 4.5 miles. The ascent and descent did appear to be inaccurate on the watch. On runs over 1,000 feet in vertical gain, the watch consistently reported several hundred feet less than the Strava elevation correction (free vert!).
A.potentially critical feature of the Suunto Ambit3 Run is the ability to use the recorded GPS data to back track during a run, making running in unfamiliar areas far less risky. The navigation feature of the watch will also guide the runner along a set route downloaded to the watch from Movescount. The navigation accurately led me on the correct path each time I tested the feature. Whether backtracking, or moving along a previously downloaded route, a navigation arrow will point toward the desired path. Points of interest (POI) are automatically recorded at every mile, and when using the backtrack feature, the watch will sound an alert as each POI is approached, even when the view is switched back to show pace or vertical gain,
The heart rate strap supplied by Suunto is the most comfortable I have ever worn; there is one rigid circle in the center, which did not press uncomfortably at any point in time. Otherwise, the strap is very soft, and easily conformed around my ribcage right out of the box. The strap never lost my heart rate during the run, and was within 2 bpm of a manual heart rate.
Ambit3 Run vs. Ambit2 Run
The Ambit3 is only significantly visibly different than the Ambit2 in a few places. The screen is higher resolution, and characters are in a slightly different font. There is no apparent change to the buttons or the watch face other than color. The Ambit3 Run also comes in black and white. The biggest difference physically is the watchstrap, which I cannot say enough about. The watch is the most comfortable I have ever worn; with the Ambit2, if I tightened the watch so it wouldn’t move and chafe, it cut off my circulation at times. The watchstrap of the Ambit3 is more flexible, lighter, and softer than that of the Ambit2, and I was quickly able to forget the watch was on my wrist. I kept the watch on throughout the day often, and never had an issue. The iPhone pairing is also new to the Ambit3, and the potential to tailor workouts as well as stay connected on the run is unique to this Suunto model. Another new feature is the recovery time graph; the watch estimates the amount of hours you need to recover from your previous activity, which can be viewed at any time while the watch is in watch mode, and not recording an activity.
The synthesis of athletic performance enabled by GPS watches is an indispensible training tool, and the Suunto Ambit3 Run seamlessly provides all the necessary information without inciting a feeling of data overload. Ultrarunning in particular often translates to long miles over many hours in backcountry areas, and things can often go awry. The Suunto Ambit3 Run is a great comfort to the mind as well as the wrist in its streamlined construction, and consistently accurate function.
If you’re interested in purchasing an Ambit3 and you can’t find one in your local specialty running store, please consider using this link to Amazon. It’ll drop a few pesos in the URP bucket and we’d be mighty grateful. No more slaving the kids out to sell
beer lemonade on the streets.
This review was written by Julia Millon. Julia is 24, she works at Fleet Feet Davis, and is currently training for Leona Divide 50M and Pine to Palm 100. She last reviewed the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 for me with her boyfriend Lucas.
The Suunto Ambit3 Run was provided to URP and Julia at no cost for review purposes. We reviewed it, then sent it back to the company after four weeks. All words are her own.