The Suunto Ambit3 is an outstanding all-around GPS training watch with well-designed, if slightly limited, cycling functions. It’s relatively compact design makes it desirable for those who want to wear it daily, but without compromising its substantial feel or technical abilities. And with full route-guidance, and outstanding navigation functions, it’s best suited for the serious cyclists and multi-sport junkies who like to explore on their bikes (or in water, or hiking, etc), but may not demand every bit of training data at their fingertips.
I consider myself a fairly serious cyclist, and a bit of a tech and data geek, but there are some things I just don’t “need” to know about my training—or just plain don’t understand! The Ambit3’s cycling features cover almost all I’d ever want to see, except for a few power readings, climbing grade and heart rate analysis. For instance dual-pedal power readings are not possible, nor is a percentage of left-to-right power. But for the vast majority of cyclist, it’s got plenty of features.
And with its outstanding GPS and navigation abilities, it more than makes up for what’s lacking, especially if you want to explore a new area on a road or mountain bike—even in seriously dense forests. Download existing courses from the wealth of online users of Suunto’s Movescount.com social media-like training website—or any of a host of other mapping sites—and receive turn-by-turn directions on the device. Or you can plan a course by yourself using similar mapping tools.
Along with the excellent navigation features explained above, the overall GPS function is the best we tested. From its almost instantaneous acquisition of satellite signal (assuming the device has located satellites in that area previously), to strong consistency over repeated routes, to its pinpoint turn-by-turn directions, and almost never losing a signal, the Ambit3 excelled in all things GPS related. It would definitely be my computer of choice if exploring or following an unknown route, etc.
Ease of Use and Display
While there are a few too many press-and-hold tricks you’ll need to learn, overall the Ambit3 is intuitive and flowing in its operation. The buttons are the most ergonomic in the category, and work fine even with heavy gloves. And pairing with sensors and connecting—a problem on previous Suunto models—seems to be dialed now. The major problem with the user interface is the watch won’t allow much customization—you need to do most of it online and then sync. For instance, you can’t change screen views during a workout, something I do regularly on other watches.
While we’d like to see an option for four lines of readout, rather than three, Suunto makes up for it allowing users to click through the lower line, which toggles between four other customizable readouts. Plus each sport offers five customizable 3-line screens to toggle through. And overall the data was highly reliable, compared to our benchmark, and among the quickest to adjust to changes in speed, altitude, etc. The screen is bright enough to see easily from the bike, but while the middle readout is plenty large, the top and bottom are a bit small to see clearly—especially considering the screens mediocre resolution.
There are three GPS modes, and Suunto claims 25 hours of battery life at the lowest quality, 12 in the middle, and eight at the best, with a watch-mode life of up to 125 hours. With the excellent accuracy overall, all modes worked adequately for general use, but you might not want to rely on the lowest mode if following a route. We found the charging time to be generally around two hours or so, maybe three if using USB instead of wall plug.
Online Training Support
The Suunto training program is Moves Count (www.movescount.com) and while it’s more like a social-media site, it still offers plenty of training and data features. It’s quite colorful with a fun overall feel, and functions intuitively and reliably. You can plan training sessions and programs, chart your own and/or download other users’ routes, etc. The hardcore training data is still there, and well laid out, with smooth, detailed graphs, at-a-glance figures with easily discernable icons—but like with the watch’s features, some of the more in-depth, analytical data is missing. It’s all editable and downloadable in most of the popular formats, so it can be shared easily with other training programs.
At $550 (with a waterproof HR sensor) this is tied for the most expensive unit in our testing, and for cycling-specific features it’s definitely the better value. Still it lacks some of the in-depth training data of some cheaper options out there. Overall it’s a strong value, especially if GPS and navigation functions and multisport compatibility are key—but you’re committed to Bluetooth technology. If you’re more concerned about getting every cycling stat imaginable, it may not be the best buy.