A little over a year ago the hoopla surrounding the launch of the new Suunto Ambit was to be honest a little crazy. For the first time the all conquering Garmin brand finally had a genuine challenger. As an ultra runner we always wanted a watch that could outlast our crazy running adventures and do it efficiently, accurately, reliably and in style.
The Ambit started to answer all those questions and quickly became our favourite gadget.
But knowing the heritage of the Finnish company, they were not going to rest on their laurels. We saw a couple of decent firmware upgrades extend the gap on the Garmin Fenix and the launch of the new App Zone in Movescount giving us a heap of new workout options. But there were still a couple of things missing and our readers told us this in droves.
Firstly, a lot of us ultrarunners also participate in other sports including multisport disciplines like Triathlon and Ironman so jumping between the bike and jumping in the pool are often all part of one workout. Secondly, the introduction of Apps via a Movescount App Zone was OK, but not really living up to the communities expectations.
So what have they done this time round and are we likely to see the same level of hoopla ?
Well approximately 5 months ago I was approached in my capacity as a member of the Suunto Expert Advisory Panel* to start field trials of the new Ambit 2 and Ambit 2 S. I was also sworn to secrecy!
Now we love an exclusive here at Ultra168 and wearing a new watch out on training runs was always going to turn heads and start a conversation I couldn’t have.
So I had to be careful where and when I would and could use it knowing that come the launch I needed to be able to give a very honest review of what the new family members have to offer over and above the original Ambit.
So while the world wakes up today to a media blitz from Suunto, you can be confident that we have had a significant amount of time with the watches in question and we are happy to share our thoughts.
So what is new ?
Firstly Suunto have not just upgraded the the Ambit, they have actually launched 2 completely new watches. The new Suunto Ambit 2 and the Suunto Ambit 2 S. And secondly, they have completely redesigned the Movescount interface by enhancing the look and feel and also increasing the role that the apps now play in every day exercise.
Why have they done this ? Well in feedback we received at Ultra168 and universally shared across forums it was clear that a lot of the features of the original Ambit met the needs of the outdoor adventurer more suited to climbing, trekking and hiking and spoke less to the multisport athlete.
As ultra runners we loved the long battery life and the robust build, but as an everyday watch some of these features were superfluous. Also even though the watch is smaller and more stylish than say a Garmin 910XT it was still pretty bulky.
So has Suunto addressed these needs by releasing two different Ambit’s? We think so and we look at both watches in detail below.
The original Ambit is replaced by the Ambit 2 and for those after a lighter more sleek multisport watch you now have the choice of the Ambit 2S
The Ambit 2 S is where we see the most changes from the original watch. It is up to 20 grams lighter than the new Ambit 2 Sapphire tipping the scales at 79 grams and is aimed fairly and squarely at the multi sport athlete and ultra runner who doesnt need all the bells and whistles of the more expensive Ambit 2 (reviewed below)
On the outside, there is a more simple design, it is sleeker, and lighter to look at. Slightly thinner in its depth when compared to the Ambit 2 but the display stays the same size. It now comes in 3 new colours – Red, Lime and Graphite and each colour choice will undoubtedly prove to be popular with a wider population of Suunto fans as this has been a successful ploy with their wider range of sports watches in the past.
The watch utilises the full power of the GPS chip by using this feature throughout its new interface.
I gave this watch a pretty good hammering over the last few months as I was spending more time on the bike during a little sabbatical from racing ultras and so having the ability to test it against the more mainstream multisport watches was what I was after.
If you are wedded to the Garmin 910XT and its bike and swim functions then this watch will make you think again. Not only is it smaller, lighter and better looking, it now has the ability to support the various power meters (ANT+) often found on bikes such as those measuring wattage. Finally, I was able to combine HR, speed, climb rate and wattage (Maximum and average) all in the one display and delve into the data in more detail on Movescount by showing a nice power curve graph.
For the swimmers, the Ambit 2S utilises the FusedSpeed chip and accelerometer to capture every aspect of your swim workout. For the first time you can now measure pace, distance, intervals and stroke rate regardless of pool length. The watch is supposed to start recognising your different stroke styles so if you change mid work out you can analyse the difference post workout in Movescount. As someone limited to the doggy paddle I will have to take their word for it ! Suunto assured us that you can press any of the function buttons when the watch is submerged, ideal for those starting and stopping sets.
Now the feature that really made this watch standout from the crowd for me was the ability to switch effortlessly between different sports within the same workout. On a number of occasions I would road ride, trail run and then jump on a Stand Up Paddle Board. Each of these disciplines was only a button press away and I was then able to break down my splits and performance across the entire workout.
Battery life is cut in half and this reduction is due to a smaller battery pack and so now you get 8 hours on full 1 second GPS and HR recording and up to 25 hours on 1 minute intervals for the GPS. The Ambit 2S will last for 15 days in normal watch function compared to 30 days for the Ambit 2.
A nice addition to the display is that you can now see % battery life as part of the normal functionality allowing you to top off your charging prior to a workout if required.
Review of the Ambit 2
The first thing you will notice about the new Ambit 2 is on the outside. It now comes in Black, Silver and a very high quality Sapphire design. The Sapphire look is the top of the range in terms of pricing and is the last word in style. It features a brushed steel bezel and has sapphire crystal glass on a black strap.
Definitely a watch you can wear for work as well as pleasure. It is heavier, tipping the scales at 92 grams compared to 89 g for the black and 82 g for the silver. To some this adds to the quality feel and to others makes it a little heavy for smaller wrists. The sapphire also has nice recessed black anodised quarter markers cut into the bezel again making it look impressive against the steel.
On the inside they have upgraded both the CPU and GPS chips, based on the same original design, but now offering more accurate and extended functionality. Battery life and GPS fix times remain the same as the original with up to 50 hours battery life on 1 min record intervals.
The newest features that sets the Ambit 2 apart from the original is focussed around the aspects of measuring where you are positioned relevant to your altitude. The altitude measure utilises the barometer to ensure an accurate elevation reading but on start up it counts on the GPS to gain an initial fix using the new FusedAlti technology
Why the change ? – This overcomes the annoying issue we all discovered where we often measured negative elevation above sea level. This was very obvious for someone like me that lives on Sydney harbour and I would just grab my watch and run from home only to discover my starting elevation was down below where the fishes live!
Another great feature and something we have come to enjoy reading from Kilian Jornet’s training log is the ability to see on-the-fly total ascent and descent and vertical speed. If you can get the screen to show a climb rate of 1000m/hr then you are up there with the great Catalan’s feats.
For those of us who end up doing the big overnight ultras you can now dial-up Sunrise and Sunset times, tide times and even storm warnings utilising the barometric pressure apps. These features became really useful when working out my headtorch battery burntime based on where I was likely to be on the mountain and at what time the light would disappear and for how long allowing me to decide on how many batteries to take with me.
The Ambit 2 still comes with the option to include a HR strap and the design of the belt has not changed and we are glad they have not messed with this unit as it is very comfortable to wear.
All of the features reviewed for the Ambit 2 S are also available on the Ambit 2
Movescount Redesign and App Zone
I love my gadgets and always ensure I have the latest iPhone or iPad. But what makes me such a fan of the Apple world was cemented a couple of years ago with the introduction of Apps. For me, this was the true marketing genius of Steve Jobs. Build a device that allowed the community to use in any way they wanted. One simple device and a million ways of using it.
This is the same philosophy at play at Suunto. They have enhanced the hardware in the new Ambit 2 but the really exciting advance for me is only just beginning and yet to reach its full potential. Suunto have redesigned and upgraded the Suunto App Zone – the community forum where users can find and create free Apps for their Ambit’s. The upgrade now gives developers more advanced features to add to their apps and coupled with the new technology gives unlimited applications. So while we all got excited last year when they launched a number of useful apps such as the one I use most often on training runs – The predicted marathon time App which is based on your current running speed and it then project forward the time you will cross the 42.2km threshold.
For those racing trail ultras with limited course markings, you could create an App that has detailed route markings and once you step more than say 15m off course the watch will politely remind you to get back on track. One I came up with in testing was to measure my ideal calorie burn rate based on my size, weight, estimated calorie expenditure for the course conditions and then the App would prompt me when to eat and drink at set intervals with alarms built in if my effort exceeded my available calorie intake based on the terrain covered.
You can see that the possibilities are endless and once other brands get on board such as footwear and nutrition and the community grows the number of apps flooding Movescount will be growing by the day.
And finally, Suunto have redesigned the graphics packages for their propriety Movescount portal making it visually more striking and now enabling it to converse with other social media platforms such as Flikr easier.
Conclusions and Summary.
Suunto have gone to great lengths to clarify the positioning of their new range and this is backed up by their new pricing strategy. It is now a simple descending scale in price from the top of the range Ambit 2 Sapphire with HR belt at $699.99 AUD down to the Ambit 2 S in the 3 colours at $449.99 AUD.
Which do you choose ? Well it depends if you are more multi sport focussed or outdoor adventure focussed. The Ambit2S is ideal for triathletes and Ironmen who may get into ultras over the shorter distances while the Ambit 2 will be found on those engaged in long overnight 100 milers where navigation is required. For me, I love the Ambit 2S for everyday training use but will ensure I have one of the Sapphire beauties on my wrist as soon as my lotto ticket comes up.
A couple of things we are not happy about – Firstly there is still no Bluetooth Smart chip within the unit and no known timeframe to resolve this.
And for those of you who own the original Ambit might be thinking that this new functionality will be available to your watch with a simple firmware upgrade ? Unfortunately not, new chips inside negate the ability to change up but you will be able to utilise the Appstore features.
The full Ambit 2 and Ambit 2S will be available in May 2013 from your local stores including our favourite Footpoint Shoe Clinic.