At one time a phone was a simple tool. It made calls and that was it. There was no such things as texts, web browsing, inbuilt cameras and geo-tagging. The same can be said about watches. When the analogue era made way to the new realm of digital, the most watches could do was include a stop watch and calculator. How times have changed!
The market is now saturated with different options, from diving to running, golf and mountaineering. There is something for everyone, from a simple stop watch, to full OS mapping with plotted routes and navigation.
In the mountain running scene, Suunto have been a strong force, with their Core and Ambit range satisfying consumer for a number of years. We were lucky enough to be sent the new Suunto Ambit 3 Run to test and review. I’ve been wearing a Suunto Ambit 3 Sport (which I bought) since January, so the controls and software are very familiar.
Aimed at runners (clues in the name), the Ambit 3 Run does away with the multi sport functionality, firmly pointing the usability towards out and out running. It still has some use for swimming and cycling, with measurements being GPS based, however you loose swim and cycle dynamics – or in other words detailed information.
Now this isn’t a bad thing, having owned a Ambit 3 Sport, I’ve only used the cycle function 4 times in 6 months and with the price difference of £75, you can get the best of the Sport, whilst saving the extra cash for heart rate monitor, foot pod or a new strap to pimp your wrist.
The Run is slightly lighter at 72g vs 80g, the watch face is slightly smaller and there are aesthetic differences. Battery life’s are the same: 14 days in watch mode, 10 hours updating once a second, 15 hours once every 5 seconds and 100 hours once a minute. This gives the option to take on an ultra or multiday race, knowing recharging will either not be needed or kept to a minimum. If you find the battery sapping quicker than you anticipated, you can charge this on the move using a powerbank, whilst still recording.
But enough of the differences, what does the Suunto Ambit Run 3 have in its arsenal?
Being more than just a stop watch, the Ambit Run allows you to plan your runs. You can either plot or upload a gpx. file using the Movescount software. I uploaded the course to the Clif Bar 10 Peaks Long Course, and it made running on the day simple. Using the map for reference when required, I was able to follow a line displayed on the screen. It may look rudimentary but it’s effective. Keep the arrow on the line and you are on course.
Of course this is only as accurate as the person who plots it, and this won’t take account of the terrain, so if you are following a course plotted by some one else, be prepared to stray off course when required. It’s no excuse not to concentrate and know where you are.
This was the first time I had used this function, despite owning the Ambit 3 Sport, it was intuitive and easy to follow. But remember, if you’re heading into the mountains, this is no replacement for a map.
Charging is surprisingly quick, however the charging cradle can be a little hit and miss as although the cradle attaches easily, the teeth seem to not lock into place every time without a little bit of wiggling. Nit picking, but you want to make sure it charges every time.
Along with planning where you run you can plan how you meet your goals. Movescount offers training programs, as well as customisable options. This means you can plan organize your weeks ahead and have guidance from your own coach. For those who want that next level of motivation, turn on the voice guidance and you can have your own virtual trainer with you. I know some may see the voice guidance as a gimmick, but we all have different needs and many people will find this useful. Just look at the rise of talking running app use on smart phones.
For the serious runners who love their data, the Run has a vast array of areas to collect data. Cadence, pace, average pace in real time, height gains and many more, you can burrow down into the data as thoroughly as you wish. Combine this with the Smart Senor and it takes accuracy to the next level, with heart rate measurements allowing you to stay in select zones and record calorie consumption with greater accuracy.
The smart sensor – an additional £79.99 separately or in the watch and HRM pack for £249.99 is the key to unlocking the potential of the Armbit 3 Run. Able to take readings whilst swimming – aka British weather proof, it is the smallest heart rate monitor on the market. Being small has an advantage, as many are put off by a hrm’s bulky nature. Moisten the electrodes, place it at the base of the pectorals or breasts and it will auto turn on when it picks up your heart beat. Synchronizing to the watch is easy, at the touch of the button you are up and running.
Wear the sensor running and you can track your heart rate and spot when you are pushing too hard or have plenty in reserve. With all other data, this can be assessed on Movescount when back at base, spotting any peaks, dips and how you respond to climbs of any gradient. But you can also wear it when asleep. In doing so, you can find out how you are recovering and you will be shown a percentage score to the level at which you are recovered. Now, if you run once a week, and do not wear the watch on day to day activity, this could be inaccurate. The tip with this, is always wear the watch when you can. The more you do, the greater the size of the database and ultimately the greater the accuracy of such measurements.
For many this could be surprising, as it may break you from bad habits of carrying on with training cycles, despite running a marathon or ultra two days previously. This is powered by First Beat.
So its got some pretty high tech gadgetry inside, which can guide you through the wilderness, a gym session or where things went wrong when sat at home nursing your ego. There are some cool off watch features, which we will come to shortly.
But first, the watch itself.
Constructed from polyamide, with a silicone strap, the plastics are pleasant to touch, though they don’t have the psychological hug that metal brings. It keeps the watch light and despite knocks, it remained unmarked. Appearances can be deceptive. A mineral crystal lens covers the 128×128 matrix display. The graphics are black and white, functional and to the point. With the competition sporting higher resolution colour screens, this could be seen as lacking, but when you are on the fell, this is the last of your worries.
The screen is clear and has ample room to display the data you need. The buttons have a rounded convex edge, which doesn’t press into fingers, despite how cold your pinkies may get.
One issue I found with the buttons was when adjusting the watch on the move. The watch sets off a tone when you start the stopwatch, however it doesn’t when you pause it. Given the start/stop button sits beside the screen options button, it is easy for your finger to depress it enough to pause your move. On several occasions I discovered a mile or two down the road I had paused the run. An audible note would really help prevent this. If it has one, I couldn’t find it.
The GPS antenna under the watch face doesn’t get in the way. It may look a little obtrusive, but its not noticeable when pulling long sleeves or shells over it. One small detail which I really like is the twin strap retainers, which stop the excess strap from flapping around. One is good, two is perfect.
The menu’s are relatively simple to navigate, with a dedicated back button making the flow through menus straightforward.
Now every brand has their USPs, their special feature that makes the crowd go “ooooooo”. As much as runners are about athletic performance and achieving personal goals, the majority of us love to share it with others, whether they like it or not.
Suunto Movie creates a film with a 3D map, showing your route with key metrics. On top of this, if you take photos, they can be synced up and placed at key moments. Upload this to YouTube for all your friends to show what you got up to. This may sound secondary to the watch, but all the users of other brands I showed were jealous! They wanted this and were pretty bummed when they found it was Suunto only. Better switch loyalties.
Movescount is a community of its own, storing all of your moves and allows friends to view what you have done. Create a network and this can be your running base. Movescount can also be linked up to Strava and Training Peaks, allowing you to share your data on the biggest training network out there. As they say, if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen.
With the app, you can change all of your settings on the fly. Get onto the hill and realise the GPS is tracking too often, you can switch the mode with the swipe of your screen and preserve battery life. For those that can’t get away from their phone, you can also opt to pick up smart phone notifications via Bluetooth. Now this is a reporting function, you can not respond on the watch like an out and out smart device, but if you are expecting a call and deep in a gym session, this could make the difference between seeing and missing the call.
The Suunto Ambit 3 Run. It’s bold (if you pick lime green), packed with tech and comfortable to wear all the time, rather than only for sporting sessions. Now other than the buttons, I did have issues with software which failed on one run, as it was updated the night before. This happens with every brand so I don’t hold this as an only Suunto issue, I’ve had the same experiences with other brands following a firmware update.
On top of that Movescount has only just been released for Android devices and is still in a Beta phase. It is improving, however this has caused real issues when firmware updates have been released. Now part of this is because of the varying OS Android devices can be run on and this does cause a challenge for developers, however their main rival has been able to maintain a fully functioning app. As someone who switched over to Android for the first time in October, this is frustrating as it feels like you missing out. However, the Android App does exisit and as I said it is improving, but they need to get things into gear and have it operating fully, as with most functionality when out of the house only changeable on the app, this could put people of a purchase. For iOS users, there is no issue as the iPhone app works great.
If you don’t need the additional multi sport functions of the Sport, the Ambit 3 run is the watch for you. It can accompany you on a 5km sprint or 100 mile ultra and give you ongoing in-depth analysis of your performances. The navigation is brilliant, yet if you are in the clag, get that map out or you may well miss that trig point. Ultimately a map is always your primary source, but for getting you into the right direction the nav option is perfect. Buy keeping it simple, anyone can follow it without any prior experience.
The sharing options on social media and YouTube add an exciting element, as for many it’s the only time they will see a 3D representation of where they have been. It really helps explaining to your non running parents what you put yourself too.
And last but by no means least, the Salomon teams wear them. Yes, this is marketing, but if they are able to rely on them for pacing, training and navigation, us elite midpakers shouldn’t have any issues making our way around the course.