UPDATE: You can check out my comparison of the Garmin fenix 3 and Suunto Ambit3 Peak here.
Well, the “grass is always greener” part of me finally won out in late November when I broke down and purchased the Suunto Ambit3 Peak Sapphire.
I’ve been running with the Garmin fenix 3, a main competitor to the Suunto Ambit3 Peak, since this past March. Overall, I’ve been happy with the fenix 3. However, it has frustrated me a few times (most recent being the JFK 50 Mile).
So during the Thanksgiving / Black Friday sales, I saw a good deal on the Suunto Ambit3 Peak Sapphire and decided to finally pick one up and put my curiosity to rest.
The Ambit3 Peak was first released in September 2014, so it has been out for well over a year. However, over the past few months, Suunto has been revitalizing the Ambit3 Peak with new limited editions (Nepal), new colors (blue/black), and most recently, a way to fully customize the look of the watch. Due to these recent releases, I would expect we’re still a good 3 or 4 months away, at least, from the release of the Suunto Ambit4.
This review will focus on the Suunto Ambit3 Peak Sapphire. However, there are several variants of the Ambit3, so to avoid confusion, I’ll briefly explain the differences below.
There is the most expensive Peak model, which has the longer battery life and barometric altimeter. Even within the Peak model, there are also several variants such as the Sapphire, Black, and limited edition Nepal. The main difference between these are the bezel, lens, and band. The Sapphire has a silicone band and sapphire crystal lens, which is supposed to be tougher and more resistant to scratches. The Black has a elastomer band and mineral crystal lens. Both the Peak and Black have a steel bezel. However, the Nepal is the same as the Black version, but has an aluminum bezel. When not on sale, the Sapphire is the most expensive, followed by the Black, and lastly the Nepal.
Outside the Suunto Ambit3 Peak model, there is also the Ambit3 Sport. The Ambit3 Sport maintains the multi-sport ability of the Peak, but with reduced battery life and lack of barometric altimeter.
Lastly, there is the Ambit3 Run, which starts with the Ambit3 Sport features and removes most non-running related features. As you would expect, the Ambit3 Run is the least expensive model.
Again, in this review, I’ll focus on the Suunto Ambit3 Peak Sapphire since that is what I have used. However, many of my comments will apply to the other versions as well. I also primarily use the Ambit3 Peak Sapphire as a running watch, so that is mainly how my review is oriented.
For runners, the main advantage of the Peak is the increased battery life. For hiking or trail running, the barometric altimeter is also a nice feature to get an instant picture of your elevation. For ultramarathons of 50 miles and above, the Peak is a popular choice. However, if you don’t need the increased battery life or don’t plan on using the watch for hiking, you’re probably best sticking with the Ambit3 Sport or Run models.
With that out of the way, onto the review.
What I like about the Suunto Ambit3 Peak Sapphire
(1) GPS Acquisition and Accuracy
This is where the Suunto watches, including the Ambit3 shine. The GPS acquisition and accuracy has been great so far.
Acquiring satellites or locking on the GPS signal usually only takes a few seconds. When it acquires satellites, it gives a short tone. A few times, it seemed I heard the tone just as I released my finger from the button. I thought maybe that I had held the button to long and accidentally started the activity. But no, it found satellites that fast.
Accuracy has also been similarly good. I’ve used it running around my neighborhood (which has several tall buildings), on trails around Great Falls Park, and in a marathon in Rehoboth Beach, DE. In all cases, the GPS tracks have been very good. There are some minor “hiccups” in the tracks where it goes wider than normal, but nothing out of the ordinary.
(2) Battery Life
The battery life on the Ambit3 Peak is also simply outstanding. According to the specifications, in 1 second GPS mode (one GPS update per second), the battery will last 20 hours. In 5 second mode, the battery will last 30 hours. In 60 second mode, it will last 200 hours.
When running with lots of twists and turns, 1 second GPS mode will obviously get you the best tracks since it won’t cut corners. In the 5 or 60 second mode, your tracks and distance will be less accurate due to the cut corners. However, 20 hours in 1 second mode should be enough for most long runs and ultramarathons outside maybe a 100 miler. The other modes would be more useful for hiking when you are not moving as fast.
However, if you find that you need even more battery life, the Ambit3 Peak can be charged while in activity recording mode. So with a portable USB charger, you can charge and extend the battery life without stopping your activity.
To be honest, this surprised me just a bit. I didn’t expect the Ambit3 to be as comfortable as some other watches due to how the band is designed. The band’s connection points to the watch are fixed. They aren’t as flexible as some other watches.
However, the fixed curve works great on my wrist. It fits snuggly and doesn’t shake around when secured. The result is that even though the watch is on the heavier side, it doesn’t feel that way when running. It simply becomes a part of your wrist. However, for larger or smaller wrist sizes, the fixed band may not work as well.
Furthermore, the silicone band on the Peak Sapphire is very smooth and comfortable. The bands for the different models are made out of different material, so there could be some difference to the feel. However, the silicone in the Sapphire is excellent and feels like silk against the wrist.
Overall, the Ambit3 Peak has a ton of features. Many of these features I won’t use that often, but it is nice to know that they are there.
For example, the Ambit3 Peak can measure barometric pressure, temperature, and has a digital compass. In addition, it supports multiple different activities or sports modes such as running, running indoors, running a specific route, cycling, open water swimming, pool swimming, hiking, mountaineering, skiing, and multi-sport activities such as a triathlon.
(5) Ability to use Movescount website and phone app to configure the watch.
The ability to use the Movescount website and phone app to configure the watch makes it very easy to set up each activity or sports mode exactly how you like. You can easily configure the data fields and screens for the activity and which sensors to search for.
For example, I sometimes run with a heart rate monitor and sometimes don’t. On the Movescount website, I set up one running activity to use a heart rate monitor and one not too. For the one with the heart rate monitor, I included specific heart rate fields and screens to display. This makes it so that when I don’t run with the sensor, I can avoid it searching for it and not have to scroll through the heart rate displays that wouldn’t be used.
Below are a few screen shots of the Movescount iPhone app.
What I don’t like about the Suunto Ambit3 Peak Sapphire
(1) Lack of vibration alerts
The Ambit3 does have audio tone alerts, but no vibration alerts. I knew this when I purchased the watch, but it is still a feature that I really wished it had.
I do occasionally run listening to music on long runs. So hearing the one mile auto-lap alert is not always easy, which makes it easy to miss a turn-around point.
The new Suunto Traverse does have vibration alerts, so I would be surprised if the future Ambit4 doesn’t have it as well.
(2) Limited to 3 data fields per screen
The Ambit3 can only show 3 data fields per screen. However, there is the ability to set up the bottom field on each screen to have several fields. Then you can use the View button to just toggle the bottom field and keep the top two fields constant. I don’t really see the difference in this versus configuring multiple screens with the same top two data fields and changing the bottom one. You still have to press a button to toggle (unless you select auto-scroll).
(3) Running Cadence Issues
Like many newer watches, the Ambit3 has an internal accelerometer that can measure your running cadence. However, as soon as I started using the watch, I noticed that the running cadence measurement wasn’t very good. As you can see in the screenshot below, there would be periodic drop-outs where, for sometimes a minute or more, the watch would measure a cadence of zero when I was running at a consistent pace.
I reached out to Suunto support and apparently my watch was defective. Suunto requested that I send it back for repair.
So this “don’t like” doesn’t apply to all of the Ambit3 Peak watches, but I thought I would mention it since it appears that this is not an isolated case. Searching online, I have found others who have experienced similar issues. So while some may not have any issues, this may be a weak spot for the Ambit3 Peak in general.
(4) Must have connectivity to Suunto Movescount website to configure the watch
Don’t get me wrong, I like the ability to use the Movescount website and phone app to configure the device as I mentioned above. This actually makes it very easy to set up activities with the menus, fields, and sensors, that you want to see and use.
However, it would be nice if you could also do this on the watch itself. There are some settings you HAVE to use the website or phone app for and some that can be done on both the website and watch.
For example, tones, display, and personal details can all be set on both the website and watch. But anything to do with a specific activity or sports mode must be configured on the website or phone app. This includes activity screen setup, sensors, recording interval, GPS accuracy, etc.
The worst part is that even if you have your phone, besides having bluetooth enabled, it appears that you also need to have connectivity to the Movescount website to configure the watch. I tested this by disabling cellular data and wifi and my phone was unable to sync with the watch even with Bluetooth enabled.
So basically if you are out on an activity and either without your phone or if you have your phone but have no data signal, then you are plain out of luck if you want to change one of these types of settings. For example, say you are on a long run or hike and didn’t have your phone or any data signal and you decide you want to see a new data field or change the GPS accuracy to increase battery life. As far as I can tell, this wouldn’t be possible.
Granted, this may be a rare occurrence, but the limitation is slightly annoying nonetheless.
Maybe others have figured out a way to do this differently. If so, let me know in the comments and I will update the post.
(5) Requires multiple separate button presses to start an activity.
This is a minor annoyance that I am sure I would get used to.
As I mentioned above, I have two running activities configured — one with a heart rate monitor and one without. One annoyance is that doesn’t seem to remember the last activity I used. You have to push the middle button to go into the menu mode. Select exercise, navigate up to the right activity, then push a different button to start.
For example, below are the steps to start an activity.
- Press Start/Stop Button (Top Right)
- Press Next Button (Center Right) (assuming Exercise is highlighted, which it is by default)
- Press Next Button (Center Right) (assuming the activity you want is highlighted; it always defaults to the same activity).
- Press Start Button (Top Right) to start activity (after satellites and sensors are found)
There is an option to set up a short-cut using the bottom right button. But I do like this shortcut being the ability to invert the display due to sun and glare conditions. But if you wanted to, you could set this up so that holding the bottom left button (shortcut) takes you right into a specific activity. Then you would just need to push the Start/Stop Button (Top Right) to start the activity. So even with this method, it is still two separate button pushes.
For comparison, in the fenix 3, you can push the same Start/Stop button twice to start searching for satellites and then a third time to start the timer. Since it is the same button, you can do this without even looking at the watch.
(6) Price, unless you can get it on sale.
In general, the watch would be much more enticing if it was cheaper. But with that said, you can occasionally find it on sale. I was able to get what I thought was a great deal online during the Thanksgiving shopping sales. However, now that those sales are over, the price has gone back up. I also imagine that as we get closer to the release of the Suunto Ambit4, the price of the Ambit3 will drop further.
Would I recommend this to a friend?
Definitely recommended. Despite the cadence issue and other minor annoyances, it is still a very good watch. The GPS accuracy and battery are unmatched. It is also very comfortable and just disappears on the wrist when I am running. While I would like vibration alerts and four data-fields per screen, that is not a deal breaker for me.
Bottom line, if you’re looking for a GPS watch for trail running or ultramarathons, you can’t go wrong with the Suunto Ambit3 Peak.
However, I would recommend you try to find it on sale before paying full price. There is also a good chance that the Ambit4 will be released sometime next year, so another option is to wait.
As always, comments are appreciated. Let me know of any thoughts or questions below. I hope you found this review useful. Thanks for reading.