Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: GPS, crazy amount of features and options, nice display options.
Cons: Low battery life, expensive, a little overwelming at first as a result of so many features.
Best Uses: Mountaineering, backpacking, trekking, ski touring, running, training.
The Suunto Ambit is the best altimeter watch on the market and our Editors' Choice winner. It is stacked with an unbelievable number of useable features, has the best display, and one of the best user interfaces of any of the watches we tested. The ability to transfer and view data along with managing some of the more complex features on the watch via your computer is quick and easy. The only bummer is the price: $500 for the standard or $550 for the HR (heart rate version) that at almost double the cost of all the other altimeter watches we tested. On the flip side, it's around the same price as buying an altimeter watch and a hand held GPS but here it's in one cool little package. Plus you get even more features, like a heart rate monitor, rechargeable battery, and Suunto's 3D Compass. If you are on a budget, check out the Suunto Vector, our Best Buy winner. It is half the cost and has most of the key features minus GPS.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Ambit has three alarms, which is the same as the Suunto Vector or Core and fewer than both the Casio Pathfinder PAG240-1 and the Pathfinder PAG240T-7, which have five. Besides having fewer alarms, what we thought was the bigger deal was that the Suunto alarms weren't very loud and we had to put either watch close to our head to make sure it woke us up. The Ambit has a stopwatch and a timer and during either of these functions you can see the current time and whatever your stopwatch/timer is measuring. The Ambit also features calendar alarms, GPS time keeping and, can you believe it, a snooze feature.
Altimeter and Barometer
The Ambit measures elevation in three-foot or one-meter intervals compared with the Pathfinder's 20 feet or 5 meters and the Vector's 10 feet or 3 meters.
The Ambit, like many of the other altimeter watches we tested, can tell you your real time ascent/descent rate along with your total vertical gain and loss. The altimeter on the Ambit was excellent; we thought it was the best in our review. Beside having a barometrically based altimeter, the Ambit featured a built-in GPS to help determine location that further helps give it our top score for altitude accuracy.
The Ambit, similar to the Core, has a graph on its screen for showing both altitude and barometric pressure trends that was excellent and likely the best in the review. As with the Core, it took several menu pages to pull it up, but once we did get the hang of it we could pull it up pretty quickly.
With the Ambit you can later pull up this information on your computer and graph your entire trip. Also, on your computer you can combine the elevation changes with times and GPS locations.
Similar to its competition, the Ambit has a compass with adjustable declination. You can set it to help you record and follow compass bearings. Where the Ambit is really above the rest is their 3D compass technology. With a traditional compass, you need to hold the compass level to get an accurate reading, but with the Ambit’s 3D compass it compensates for any tilt, allowing you to get an accurate reading regardless of the angle of your wrist. The 3D compass combined with the built-in GPS and the altimeter make the Ambit a power-house navigator.
The Ambit, Core and Vector have thermometers good from -5F to 140F compared with both Pathfinder models, which range from 14F to 140F. With all of these watches, to get an accurate reading the watch must be off your wrist for some time in order for your body heat to completely dissipate from the device.
Ease of Use and Interface
This watch has a ridiculous number of features that make it initially overwhelming to use. But once you get hang of it the menu on the Ambit, which is similar to that on the Core, is easier to use than other watches we tested. After a few days of use the Ambit was easier to use than the Vector or Pathfinder, but it will take most users a while to get the Ambit completely dialed.
Probably the best interface feature of the Ambit is the fact that you can also manage the device from your computer. While this is a little tricky at first, it quickly became our go-to way to adjust more complex settings in the device. We liked the "button lock" feature that keeps users from accidentally scrolling to the compass features that drain battery, a premium on this watch.
Other Cool Features
This is where the Ambit excels over all the other watches. With a fully functional built-in GPS that can store up to 100 way points, show simple graphs of routes and help navigate, the Ambit is a power-house. You can also attach a heart rate monitor available in the HR version ($550) or sold separately for the standard version for training focused users. The Ambit's very short 15-hour, 30-day battery life is somewhat offset by the quick rechargeable battery that plugs in to a USB connector, making charging of solar panels a breeze. See our Portable Solar Review for our top picks.
The battery is the only semi-drawback to the Ambit. Suunto offers a Training Mode that lasts 15 hours and uses a shorter GPS tracking interval (every second). There is also Outdoor Mode that is 50 hours and uses a longer GPS tracking interval (every minute) and Watch Mode of 30 days that uses all the features except the GPS and compass.
The Ambit easily had the best display of any of the watches we tested. Unlike any other watch we tested, you can have a white background with black numbers or the opposite of that, depending on your involvement and light conditions. This doesn't seem like a big deal but in real world use on bright glaciers while wearing dark sunglasses we loved the ability to change; it was one of our favorite features. We also loved how they made all the visible numbers just a little bit bigger.
One of the best parts of the Ambit is how easily it connects and allows you to view data on your computer. Once on your computer you can view where you went, times of where you were when, GPS way points, distance, total ascent, ascent rate, etc. Plus being of the social media generation, you can easily share or follow other people's data. For runners it could display your splits for whatever distances – mile, half mile, quarter mile etc. It can also can graph your vertical gains and losses.
The Suunto Ambit along with the Suunto Core display elevation in three-foot (one-meter) intervals while most competitors show elevation in ten-foot intervals. The accuracy on the Ambit was the best in our review because it uses a very sensitive barometer to help measure altitude accompanied with a GPS. This was a big step up from even our next most accurate watch, the Suunto Core.
— Ian Nicholson
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Most recent review: August 2, 2013
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