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Hands-on Gear Review

Suunto Ambit 3 Sport Review

Editors' Choice Award
Price:   $469 List | $229.95 at Amazon
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Pros:  Comprehensive, compact, and easy to use
Cons:  A little dumbed down from its sibling the Ambit 3 Peak
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Suunto

Our Verdict

The GPS watch category is a good example of a market where biggest isn't always the best. Across the board we are examining small electronics doing big tasks. Manufacturers must balance criteria that are inherently at odds. Instrumentation, batteries, and screens take up space and mass. Athletes on the go have limited tolerance for bulk and have limited capacity for carrying or wearing a readily viewable device. For hundreds of years people have carried information on their wrists. Other than in your eyewear (Prediction: OutdoorGearLab smart sunglasses review, coming 2018) this is definitely the best place to collect data on your training. Whether you are running, skiing, swimming, or hiking, you don't want your wrist too weighed down. Suunto and Garmin have both shown that they can fit full-function, long-lived devices onto most wrists. With their initial Ambit and Fenix watch series, respectively, these companies offer state-of-the-art equipment. However, for most users, the full-size top of the line devices are simply too big. Suunto answers this concern with their Ambit 3 Sport. Finally, in compact electronics, we are approaching feature maximum. That a second string, but definitely more compact, piece of equipment like the Ambit 3 sport wins our Editors' Choice award speaks to the depth and maturity of the category. The Ambit 3 Sport keeps the solid user-interface and data processing of its big sibling and cousins but omits some battery life, the temperature sensor, and the barometric sensor. These decreased or omitted features are hardly missed, while the more diminutive stature is much appreciated. This is the sweet spot of training watches and as such, earns our Editors' Choice award.

Update -Winter 2016/17
The software and aesthetic of the Ambit 3 have been updated, along with the price point. Keep reading to find out more!


RELATED REVIEW: The Best GPS Watch for Running and Training

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$469
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80
$400
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$149
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Jediah Porter
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Wednesday
January 11, 2017

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Update -Winter 2016/17


Here's a summary of the updates to the Suunto Ambit 3:
  • Software Update — From the manufacturer's website: "The 2.2.16 software update enables energy consumption estimation from speed when exercising without heart rate belt as well as several other smaller fixes and general performance improvements."
  • Aesthetic Design — the Ambit 3 now sports a more geometric shape than the model we tested, with the area framing the watch face being black instead of the color of the band.
  • Price — The new version of the Ambit 3 retails for $469, compared to the $400 version we tested.

Check out the new version of the Ambit 3 on the left below, next to the version we tested on the right!
Suunto Ambit 3 Sport
 

Hands-On Review


The Suunto Ambit 3 Sport is a full-featured training device for athletes of all kinds. Its big brother, the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak, includes all the same features with longer battery life and a barometric altimeter built in. The catch with the upgrade to the Peak model is size. The next step up seems to cross the threshold into too much wrist bulk for most users.

Performance Comparison


Not all the watches we tested have navigational function. The entire Ambit family  as well as the Garmin Fenix  can point the way to a predetermined point. This can replace  for rudimentary off-trail navigation  one's hand-held GPS.
Not all the watches we tested have navigational function. The entire Ambit family, as well as the Garmin Fenix, can point the way to a predetermined point. This can replace, for rudimentary off-trail navigation, one's hand-held GPS.

Ease of Use


Suunto has been making compact, wrist-mounted electronics for a long time. This and the company's Scandinavian attention to detail make for a very easy-to use package. The user interface is inherently limited to a combination of button pushes, which can be very cumbersome (like in the case of the New Balance GPS Trainer) or elegant and intuitive. The Ambit 3 Sport falls into this latter category. All the Ambits we've tested (and we have used each generation over the years) share the same on-device and pc interface. Suunto does an excellent job of triaging tasks. Most of the pre- and post-trip device interaction requires syncing to your computer. This allows for keyboard, mouse, and web-based communication with the Ambit. Only the bare minimum of tasks (starting and stopping recording, adjusting time zones, toggling between sports, navigating pre-ordained routes) are conducted on the device itself. Everything else (setting up units and user information, customizing screen views, reviewing graphed data, creating routes to follow, etc.) is done through Suunto's MovesCount website. The site is easy to use and reliable. The tasks that require direct interaction with the watch are similarly intuitive and clear. A small user's manual helps get you started, but is hardly necessary.

Suunto's MovesCount graphical display of data is clear and useful for comparing various performance and geographic metrics.
Suunto's MovesCount graphical display of data is clear and useful for comparing various performance and geographic metrics.

With the customizable nature of the Ambit, plus MovesCount, the watch can be configured to show as much or as little information as you like during your training or event. Beyond that, you can even create special sport modes. For instance, you can set up your running mode to show distance and pace per mile, your cycling mode to show elapsed time, distance, and speed in miles per hour, with your swimming mode showing strokes per minute, distance, and elapsed time. Further customizability is virtually infinite with Suunto's smartphone app style platform. You and thousands of users around the world can develop custom applications to use on your Ambit. The sky is the limit.

Another view of MovesCount.com. This interface is clean and clear.
Another view of MovesCount.com. This interface is clean and clear.

With all this functionality, it must be reiterated that the simple utility of the entire Ambit family is remarkable. Even in its most basic, default configuration, the Suunto Ambit 3 Sport beats out the competition. Dive in deeper and you have a training tool that is unprecedented.

Features


This is not the most feature-rich watch we tested. Notably, the Garmin Fenix offer more functionality. Interestingly, this compromised and nuanced feature set makes the Ambit 3 Sport more appealing. The features omitted from the 3 Sport are those that very few users will actually need. Like a swiss army knife, more tools doesn't always make it better. You want the right tools. The 3 Sport, for most outdoor athletes, offers all the right features and nothing more. The GPS and time instrumentation combine in a number of ways to communicate distance, speed, laps, time, and overall performance. Again, it must be said that the Ambit 3 Sport, in its basic, default orientation is a high-end, comprehensive device.

On top of that, the customized apps offer an infinite array of algorithms to interpret this raw data, while a built in Bluetooth antenna allows for wireless communication with a whole host of aftermarket sensors. (Yes, owners of previous Ambit devices take note! For generation three, Suunto has switched from "Ant+" wireless protocol to Bluetooth. For new Suunto customers this means that your Ambit 3 will communicate with your smartphone and aftermarket sensors. For existing Ambit users, your accessories compatible with Ambit or Ambit 2 devices will not work with the Ambit 3 family.) The Ambit 3 Sport will collect, display, and save data from heart rate bands, bicycle speed and power sensors, and running step counters.

Because the Ambit 3 Sport syncs to your smartphone  it can also be configured to show a summary of phone notifications. What's more motivating than words of affirmation on your wrist?
Because the Ambit 3 Sport syncs to your smartphone, it can also be configured to show a summary of phone notifications. What's more motivating than words of affirmation on your wrist?

If you are looking for barometric altitude data (The Ambit 3 Sport will display altitude as a function of inherently compromised GPS data) or weather information, or require battery life for extended efforts (beyond 10 hours or so of precise data, or beyond 25 hours of more coarse information collection), the upgrade to the Ambit 3 Peak will serve you better. We have not done in-depth testing of the 3 Peak, but we do have enough experience to be able to recommend it for anyone traveling and training in steep environments or for ridiculously long times. See a full analysis of other Ambit versions at the end of this article.

In steep environments  like ski mountaineering  GPS position alone is not usually enough. We recommend devices with barometric sensor as well.
In steep environments, like ski mountaineering, GPS position alone is not usually enough. We recommend devices with barometric sensor as well.

Accuracy


In our testing over a known distance, the Ambit fared near the top of the heap. Like the Nike+ Sportwatch GPS and its accessory foot pod, the Suunto uses a motion sensor to, in effect, monitor the GPS data. GPS satellite data is inherently flawed. Especially in these small devices with small antennae, occasional outlying data points will pop up. The wrist-mounted, accelerometer-equipped Ambit 3 Sport can compare these occasional errors to the rhythm of a walking or running wrist. If it doesn't add up, that particular gps point is ignored and the distance and rate is calculated using those that make more sense on either side in space and time. However, if arm and wrist motion is irregular, and a gps error occurs, the watch won't catch it. Most accurate is putting the motion sensor on your foot. This is what the Nike watch does, and what a Suunto user can do with an aftermarket foot pod. In the end, the Ambit on its own as tested is accurate and useful, especially as compared to the competition.

Testing accuracy against trail signs is virtually useless. In fact  carry a GPS device on trails and you will quickly find how inaccurate the signs are.
Testing accuracy against trail signs is virtually useless. In fact, carry a GPS device on trails and you will quickly find how inaccurate the signs are.

Ease of Set-up


It is not perfect, but the Ambit 3 Sport is as easy to set-up as any of our top-performing GPS watches. The Strava App was certainly easier to set-up, and if you're a long-time Garmin user, the Fenix or Garmin Forerunner 210 may be more intuitive for you. However, all else equal, you'll have no problem taking a little time, plugging into your computer, and getting the Ambit dialed in for your needs. It has virtually infinite functionality and customizability. However, the beauty is that the default, out-of-the-box function is high-end and comprehensive.

The Bluetooth data transfer from Ambit 3 Sport to smartphone app isn't instantaneous. It takes up to 4 or 5 minutes  and is seemingly dependent on the length of your workout. Longer endeavors take longer to transfer.
The Bluetooth data transfer from Ambit 3 Sport to smartphone app isn't instantaneous. It takes up to 4 or 5 minutes, and is seemingly dependent on the length of your workout. Longer endeavors take longer to transfer.

Durability


We had no problems whatsoever with the design, construction, or data integrity of the Ambit 3 Sport.

Portability


The Ambit 3 Sport is not a compact watch. However, it is smaller than the full-featured devices, with only minimal compromise in features. While the 3 Sport scores exactly in the middle of the pack for portability, it is this criteria that sets it apart from the otherwise superior cousin Ambit 3 Peak. The Ambit 3 Peak and 3 Sport are only a few percentage points different in mass and dimensions, but the difference seems to straddle a critical threshold. While both are larger than your standard wrist-watch, across the board our testing team found the 3 Sport to be manageable, while the bulk of the 3 Peak ruled it out for use by a handful of users.

Size comparison of the Editors' Choice Suunto Ambit 3 Sport (left) and the ultra compact Garmin Forerunner 210.
Size comparison of the Editors' Choice Suunto Ambit 3 Sport (left) and the ultra compact Garmin Forerunner 210.

Best Applications


This is an excellent watch for basically every outdoor athlete. It can be configured and used to monitor and navigate in everything from a local 5k, to an Ironman Triathlon, to a trailless backpacking expedition. If you tromp around in steep mountains you'll want the barometric altimetry of the Ambit 3 Peak. You might also want the upgrade if you need more than a day of high-precision data collection between charges.

Testing the Ambit 3 Sport on a trail run in Peru's Cordillera Blanca.
Testing the Ambit 3 Sport on a trail run in Peru's Cordillera Blanca.

Value


This is a price point piece of equipment scoring at the top of our charts. It is endlessly customizable and Suunto appears committed to providing software updates periodically. It is not an inexpensive piece of equipment, but it is less expensive than many of its competitors and the devoted athlete will reap the rewards of the investment for a long time.

Conclusion


For years and years, manufacturers of small electronic devices have been cramming more and more technology into wrist-mounted athletic monitors. With the early offerings of the Ambit family and its direct competitor the Garmin Fenix, the market finally found out where enough is enough. Suunto pulled out the stops with its renowned Ambit, and then stepped back to create the polished and near-perfect Ambit 3 Sport. This process of overshooting and pulling back in refinement gives us, and should give you, confidence in the product and in our decision to award it the Editors' Choice. Rarely does a product go through this sort of development. We appreciate Suunto and their Ambit 3 Sport for this!

Other Versions


Suunto has been making an ever increasingly useful and ever increasingly varied line of Ambit watches for years. We have used all the generations, and most of the versions of each generation. The original Ambit was pioneering in that it included lengthy battery life, GPS technology, and barometric altimetry into a relatively compact wrist-top device.

In the second generation, Suunto added much greater user customizability and two smaller form factors. The Ambit 2 was a direct upgrade of the original, keeping all the same sensors and adding, among other things, incredible user customizability. The Ambit 2S (our previous Editors' Choice winner and closest predecessor to the 3 Sport) and 2R were smaller devices that removed some battery power and the barometric sensor to make a more compact form that served a wider population.

With the third generation of Ambit watches, Suunto's greatest change is in the wireless protocol they use for device-to-accessory communications. The Ambit 3 family uses Bluetooth technology to interact with things like heart rate bands and bicycle sensors. Notably, this now allows the Ambit 3 watches to also communicate with virtually all modern smart phones. The user can now use Suunto's iPhone and Android apps to sync data to Suunto's MovesCount database, as well as receive rudimentary notifications of text messages and other mobile phone updates on their watch. There are, of course, other upgrades in each generation of Ambit watches, but this details the biggest changes.

In the Ambit 3 line, Suunto now has three models. Tested and reviewed here, we feel the 3 Sport is the sweet spot among Suunto's devices, and the best product on the market for tracking most athlete's training efforts. On either side of the 3 Sport are other specialized devices.

Suunto Ambit 2
Suunto Ambit2
  • Older model
  • Tried and true multipurpose GPS altimeter watch for mountain sports
  • Barometric altimeter, GPS, and Heart Rate Monitor
  • $500

Ambit 3 Peak
  • Direct descendant of the original Ambit
  • Huge battery life, full-purpose GPS, and barometric sensors
  • We recommend the 3 Peak for any athlete practicing his or her craft in steeper terrain
  • $500

Ambit 3 Run
  • Very similar in size to the 3 Sport
  • Omits some of the multi-sport functionality
  • If you only exercise on foot, the 3 Run can serve you well
  • $300
Jediah Porter

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Most recent review: January 11, 2017
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