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Suunto Ambit2 and Ambit2 S Preview

A year after its much-anticipated launch, the Suunto Ambit line is being upgraded through bifurcation, specialization, and adaptation to an unexpected level of user engagement. Launching May 1 around the world are the Suunto Ambit2 and Suunto Ambit2 S. The Ambit2 is geared toward the explorer and ultra-distance endurance athlete with the longer battery life of the pair and the inclusion of barometric sensors. On the other hand, the Ambit2 S is slimmed down to provide a lighter, more nimble option for the vast majority of endurance athletes who don’t need crazy-long battery life or barometric altitude sensors. For those happy with the original Suunto Ambit’s (iRunFar review) feature set, the Ambit will remain in production with the price dropping $100 to $400 with the wrist top unit along and $450 for the Ambit and a heart rate monitor (HRM).

In the following preview, we’ll look at the hallmark features found in the Ambit to Ambit2 upgrade before taking a closer look at each of the devices.

The new Suunto Ambit2 family.

[Editor’s Note: I’ll be updating this preview into a more proper review in the coming days. I’ve been running with the Ambit2 S for the past week, but have not been able to customize the watch interface or play with the data as the update of Suunto’s Movescount platform to Ambit2 compatibility remains imminent.]

Suunto Ambit to Ambit2 Upgrade – It’s “App”ening

Sure, “app” is a buzzword these days, but it can be a very useful one as has been shown to be the case with the Suunto Ambit. Indeed, once users gained the ability to create their own apps and share them on Movescount, there were a flood of new apps. Suunto added some of these functionalities to the original Ambit through software upgrades while users could add other apps of their choice. So successful was the user-based app endeavor that Suunto and users alike bumped into the Ambit’s memory limitations. The desire to allow for future Suunto upgrades and user app-adoption appears to be a or, perhaps, the raison d’être for the new Ambit units.

The Ambit2 and Ambit2 S units themselves will now accept 50 pre-configurable apps whereas the original Ambit could only handle 10 apps with a maximum of one assigned per each sport on the unit. (For those new to the Suunto Ambit, you select which sport you’re about to engage in before you head off.) This means that a trail runner can have up to 50 apps to augment his or her training with the Suunto Ambit2 or Ambit2 S, where as he or she is limited to one app tied to “trail running” running on the original Ambit.

For the multi-sport athlete, apps on the Ambit2 and Ambit 2S can now make use of cycling and swimming data. Perhaps the coolest app or functionality I’ve ever seen on a wrist-top GPS was the cycling drag coefficient app that will be available to Ambit2 and Ambit2 S users.

For the drinkers in the crowd, there’s also a “how much did I drink” app that calculators your blood-alcohol content as it’s ingested and metabolized. If it doesn’t already exist, we can see this being quickly enhanced into a “beer mile” app … although we’d highly suggest that anyone running a beer mile make his or her beer mile “private” in Movescount so as not to … well, let’s just say that’s our suggestion.

Results from two apps per Sport will now be saved following a “move” (i.e., run, ride, or other activity) as opposed to only one app’s data being saved in the past. This data will be accessible via a graph on Movescount.com.

On the programming side, apps can now include rich math and logic functions functions that go beyond the original apps’ limitations of basic math. New variables will also be accessible to the app developer, such as a category of “Tail” variables that refer to the maximum, minimum, and average of that variable over the preceding 30 seconds.

There’s also an advanced code editor for the programmers out there.

Weather data is app accessible on the original Ambit and Ambit2, whereas it’s not accessible on the Ambit2 S, because the Ambit2 S does not record such data.

Suunto Ambit2

Truthfully, I think the Suunto Ambit2 ($500 w/o HRM; $550 w/ HRM) is the new model that’s most likely to appeal to iRunFar’s ultramarathon-leaning audience. Why? Because the Ambit2 maintains the original Ambit’s 15-hour battery life on standard GPS reporting. (Both the Ambit and Ambit2 have up to a 50-hour battery life when recording locations at 60-second intervals, which is bound to underestimate distance anytime you’re on wind-y or switchbacking trails.)

The Suunto Ambit2

The Ambit2 is actually a hair (or two) heavier than the original Ambit, which weighs in at 78 grams. Strangely, the Ambit2’s weight varies by color with the silver version model weighing 82 grams and the black version weighing 89 grams.

The standout feature of the Ambit2 is its inclusion of both barometric and GPS-based altitude settings, which the unit combines in a FusedAlti measurement that’s sure to stoke the vertical monsters in the crowd.

Like the original Ambit, the Ambit2 retains a barometric pressure reading and graph as well as temperature readings. However, the Ambit2 gives the explorer even more info on his or her surroundings via a series of Suunto apps that provide sunrise/sunset times, tidal info, and a storm warning. Sounds like it’s time explore some fjords!

For the fashionistas among the endurance crowd, there’s the Suunto Ambit2 Sapphire, which has an identical feature set to the standard Ambit2, but with a cosmetically tweaked bezel, sapphire crystal, 3 to 10 extra grams (at 92 grams), and a $100 larger price tag than the standard model ($600 w/o HRM; $650 w/ HRM).

Suunto Ambit2 S

On the hardware side, the Suunto Ambit2 S ($400 w/o HRM; $450 w/ HRM) is primarily an upgrade through subtraction and specialization.

The Suunto Ambit2 S is available in three colors.

Gone is the original Ambit’s barometric-based altitude measurements in favor of GPS-altitude readings commonly used by most other sports-targeted wrist-top computers. While this may not please the some vert-seekers out there, I think most endurance runners will find this to be an upgrade. Why? Two reasons. First, there’s no need to calibrate the unit’s starting elevation by inputting a known elevation as required by the original Ambit. In theory, this provides more accurate/smoother elevation data; however, it required accurate knowledge of precise elevations and the inputting thereof. Not quite grab and go for folks who start at a variety of trailheads. Second, even if one correctly inputs a correct elevation to calibrate a barometric altimeter, over many hours there can be significant weather-based barometric drift that throws off the accuracy and/or requires intermittent recalibration. Me, I prefer grab and go!

Another subtraction is the halving of the battery capacity on the Ambit2 S versus the identical capacities of the Ambit and Ambit2. With the smaller battery, Suunto rates the Ambit2 S as having 8 hours of battery life on the default one-second GPS recording and 25 hours on the less trail running friendly 60-second mode. The result? A unit that at 72 grams, is 6 grams lighter than the original Ambit. Of perhaps more import, the Ambit2 S is 14% thinner at 15.5 mm versus the Ambit’s and Ambit2’s 18 mm. (Note: The Ambit2 Sapphire is 17.5 mm thick.)

Call for Comments

What are your thoughts on the new Suunto Ambit2 and Ambit2 S?

Bryon Powell: is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar.com, which he founded more than 10 years ago. Having spent more than 15 years as an ultrarunner and 25 years as a trail runner, he's also written Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and co-wrote Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running. These days he calls Moab, Utah and its trails home.

View Comments (73)

  • Great review! But I don't understand why the barometric altometer would be all or nothing. With the GPS, you could take advanotage of the short term accuracy of the barometric measurement while keeping it in check with the lack of meteological sensitivity of the GPS.

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    • DJC, that's what Suunto has done with the FusedAlti feature in the Ambit2... at least as far as I can tell!

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  • Thanks for the review Bryon. I've had my eye on an Ambit for a while now so good to know about the new models hitting the market (could of had some serious buyers remorse). Agree that it really looks like the Ambit2 is the way to go out of both the models. Not really seeing the advantages of the 'S' model given that a Garmin 310XT is half the price and has double the battery life.

    How easy is it to set the elevation on the Ambit? Is it really 'clicky' with lots of sub-menus or quick and easy pre-workout?

    Cheers

    BG

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    • you need 6 clicks to start changing elevation

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      • Garmin is a much larger and clunky watch.

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    • The Ambit2 will (if nothing suddenly changes) have the "view" button used as a shortcut to get into the altitude reference setting. So, long press, land at "manual altitude" or go one down to "FusedAlti", set.

      The advantage of the S is that the reduced weight and thickness really is noticeable.

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    • Run down hill, slip on rocky terrain and you'll learn all about the benefits of a sapphire crystal face...run in conditions with massive weather shifts and you'll find out all the benefits of having a barometer...not for the gimmicks of altitude but for managing the threat of changing weather!

      I own a T6c and an X9i and have test driven this beauty...stunning, now to buy one!

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  • On a purely superficial level the original Ambit is a far better looking watch IMO. Why get rid of the little markers around the bezel?

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  • Have to agree with Bob Graham - when are GPS manufacturers going to wake up to the idea that the ONE thing we all want more than anything is a decent battery life. Yes, 15 hours is an improvement - but unless you're Timmy Olsen you're still nowhere near the finish line at that time!

    I just got a Garmin 310XT - I know it's only 20 hours of battery, but it's also one huge lump cheaper than the Ambit...

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    • I think the thing that you're overlooking here is exactly who the "all" is in your "ONE thing we all want" statement... is that you're talking about at most a few thousand people that want that feature worldwide and that comes with a cost. There are reasons that manufacturers haven't gone to battery capacities over 15-20 hours at normal sampling (for the record, I never got 20 hours of my 310XT - it died around 19:20-30) while actually lowering the capacities on their models targeted toward the masses.

      As I wrote on Facebook last night:

      I think the two biggest issues with what you're looking for are:

      (1) That it's a feature that requires three big drawbacks to implement. The limiter is battery life, so you'd need a (a) heavier, (b) bulkier, (c) more expensive battery; and

      (2) There's such a small user set that demands more than 15 or 20 hours of single-charge use.

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      • Funnily enough - I don't think I am overlooking the "all" - because I don't just mean ultrarunners. Let's be honest, the Ambit (or the Fenix for that matter) is never going to be a mass market product per se - it has a very limited target audience worldwide. If I were using it for backpacking, long days in the hills, etc etc then I'd still want a longer battery life. I understand that they're only buying in GPS chips and batteries from third party suppliers, and that they have limitations - but until those limitations are overcome then I'm not sure how a "wristop wonder device" that I can use for less than 16 hours is actually that useful?

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        • Yes, but even outside ultrarunning, how many people are out there for more than 16 hours at a shot? There are plenty of workable solutions for those on multi-day outings with nightly breaks.

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      • It's too bad Suunto hasn't given the user more options besides recording at 1 sec or 60 sec intervals. That seems to be the factor which influences battery life the most so why not have a 15 sec, 30sec, 45sec, etc option? It seems to me that this would allow for data recording for periods longer than 16 but shorter than 50 and help mitigate the ultra battery argument .... I've seen the suggestion before on the original Ambit and it's too bad Suunto hasn't incorporated it on the original or these variants as it seems like a simple additon to the software.

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    • I think the watch you want then is the Magellan Switch Up. It is truly the most flexible option out there for non-hacked battery life extension (ala some of the modified AA battery pack clips for Garmins). While the mail Switch/Switch Up has a paltry 8 hour runtime, it separates from the band, and you can insert a secondary battery pack that adds 16 hours of runtime.... for each small Li-Ion pack! This means that as long as you have an aid station at least every 12 hours or so, you'll never run out of battery power. The detachable watch head is also super awesome as it just clips easily to the bike mount.

      The only reason I haven't gotten that instead of an Ambit (I'm leaning towards the Ambit) is because to date you cannot load a track or waypoints INTO a Switch, so if the ultra course you're about to run provides GPS tracks (ala Lakeland 100, FatDog 120, Mogollon Monster 100, etc), you can't actually use it during the race. In contrast, a Garmin or the Ambit can load those tracks, and thus tell you if you're off course at 3:30am....

      As an aside, the only thing I find mildly annoying about the Ambit (other than the price) is that there's not TrainingPeaks compatibility. But whatever.

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  • "However, the Ambit2 gives the explorer even more info on his or her surroundings via a series of Suunto apps that provide sunrise/sunset times, tidal info, and a storm warning. Sounds like it’s time explore some fjords!"

    Will these be apps you can install on an "old" Ambit? It is really the only functionality missing to cover everything from that piece-of-crap fenix. I can't believe they are just abandoning watches that are only a few months old.

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    • John, the three apps you note are not compatible with the original Ambit.

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      • Unbelievable... This is why people love Apple and all other companies pretty much suck. They roll out new hardware, but still support their old customers. I purchased an Ambit only a few months ago (after returning that piece of junk fenix that Garmin released with too many flaws) - and I will NEVER buy their stuff again. Even Garmin still supports my 310XT and it continues to work fine for races. Ugh...

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        • The same with me. I think suunto sees us as wallets with legs, which will gladly open every time suunto tells us.

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          • I just bought an Ambit 2 weeks ago and this is very fustrating! I totaly agree with John G. this is BS

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          • I fail to see how a company upgrading a product is BS. It happens across all technologies. We buy a product if we find the current value proposition to be worthwhile knowing that another product (from the same company or another) could come along at any time or that the same product could be cheaper the next day. If I happily buy an iPhone 5 today and two months from now Apple releases the iPhone 5s with a wallet system that only works on the iPhone 5s (or later product), I've got to decide whether that's enough for me to buy the new product. I can't be pissed that my iPhone 5 doesn't have a new, incompatible feature.

            Give how a primary driver in the Ambit2 and Ambit2 S is increased access to apps, it seems pretty darn likely that the only reason the original Ambit can't host these apps is because of a technological constraint.

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          • Yeah, I'll have to agree with Bryon on this one. BS would be totally dropping any support for a product soon after a new one is released. Like, say, if you bought an Ambit last week, and once the Ambit2 comes out, you can no longer sync to Movescount. Or they no longer carry replacement wrist straps (which would actually be a problem if it were a Gamin!). Or all the original Ambit apps get updated to a version that won't work as they used to on your Ambit.

            So an upgrade in features with a new model doesn't count as hosing customers, but dropping support or bug fixes (if applicable) over a reasonable amount of time, I'm guessing at least one or two years since purchase date, would be. I think Suunto's on the up and up on this one.

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          • It is not at all like Apple... They have a very regular schedule of mid-level, then full-featured updates with good communication & full support. Hardware updates are one thing (better camera, longer-lasting battery, etc.), but these Ambit 2 changes appear to be almost entirely software. You cannot tell me that coding is so complicated 12 months later that the original unit couldn't handle most of it. (GPS altitude, sunrise/sunset - 10 yr old Garmins would show that info!) Someone quoted "Moore's Law" - this cycle is far short of that - the original is 12 months old & the App Store is only 4 months old!

            They are also screwing any dealer who stocked their units w/ the 20% retail price cut. I know wholesale is still slightly below that, but who will buy the "old" one for that small a difference? Look at Garmin - the 310XT is a deal now at $200, but when they first cut it after the 910XT came out, nobody bought the old one.

            Finally, word is they are not supporting the original Ambit - no more software updates, period. Nobody should buy their crap...

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          • You didn't buy an Ambit 2 because they're not on the market yet. Just sayin...

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    • John, the three apps you note are not compatible with the original Ambit.

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  • I bought an original ambit w/ HR 8 months ago --- very disappointed. For a ultra trail runner -- things I wished I known, and I don't see them mentioned/fixed about the Ambit 2. I also recoginize we all value different features. (Those mentioned below were important to me and drove me back to Garmin and the 901XT.)

    1-- NO vibrate function. If you don't hear the 2 little 'beeps' and look down at your watch within only a few seconds, you miss the mile "split" time. For some of us that is important to help monitor our effort and pace.

    2 -- When it comes to downloading the watch and doing "post-analysis", the app lives on the web and not on your computer. I could not do post run stuff unless I had internet access. Grrrrr

    3 -- Much has been said about the battery. I bought the watch because the sales guy told me how I could get 50 hrs -- but didn't mention only one update a minute. Also didn't mention that when battery ran out I lost all the data from that run. So if you run it to 14 hrs. you have to stop and save everything before it goes dead. Not sure I am always thinking about the nerdy stuff of watch upkeep at 50+ miles of running.

    4 -- finally, disappointed that when I took watch back after a week, I got the, "too bad-so sad" from store and Suunto - they would not take it back or give me credit. Store guy said he would help me sell it on eBay for $250 grrrr.

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    • about your #3 -- I forgot to charge my ambit once and it died mid run, but it did NOT erase my data, so I'm not sure if this is always the case or i just got lucky, etc. Has this happened often for you?

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      • Has happened to me twice. Last time on a 100K race. I was disappointed not to have a record of my effort ... Although I do have one in my heart : ) , -- I haven't used the watch since then. Just too much of a hassle for me. I end up fighting the watch and not enjoying the run. Glad it is working for you! We are all in different places with different needs.

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    • 3. Suunto fixed the data loss issue, so when the watch dies it does not lose the data. It has not for me when the watch died.

      4. There are 3rd party apps that let you store all data locally, both for mac and windows. Your files are retained locally for some time so you can save them all, I do. You do not have to be connected to the internet for these to work, they read the local files that the watch drops in your library.

      Know this probably does not help, sorry. I am happy with mine, can't wear a 910XT as a watch and the battery is simply not long enough.

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  • I don't understand your argument about GPS elevation being better than barometric pressure. It's true that you should calibrate if you need an absolute elevation but most people just want to know the total elevation gain and loss. In that case there is absolutely no need to calibrate. I've used both extensively and barometric pressure provides far more consistent and accurate results in my experience. There are a lot of sources of error in GPS elevation measurements that make it less accurate in general.

    I would never want a watch without barometric elevation measurement.

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    • I'm pretty sure that I didn't say GPS-based altitude was better. In fact, I say that vert seekers (such as yourself) would prefer the barometric sensor. For me, I've got more instances when I want to know my current absolute elevation rather than a hyper acccurate log of my total elevation. When I want cumulative elevation totals, there are algorithms that smooth out the tracks for data that's accurate enough for me.

      It's a good thing there are different feature sets for different users. :-)

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  • Bryon,

    Thanks for the review. Do you know if the strap on either of the new Ambits will replaceable? I recently returned an original Ambit because I found the strap uncomfortable and not adjustable enough (one notch was too loose; the next too tight). It seems like a small thing but it was annoying. I went with the Fenix where I can replace the watch band but I'd go back to the Suunto if I could.

    fh

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    • It's not the watch that's annoying (it's the user).

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  • Thanks so much for your comments, guys! I've been waiting for the Ambit 2 for quite a while and am now quite sure that I will NOT be buying one. The two complaints I have a about my current Polar RCX5 are, one, it does not load tracks or waypoints and, two, no altitude info whatsoever. On the plus side, the external GPS is good for 20 hours, and it can be charged during operation if need be (I use a cheap charger that uses 2 AA batteries). Plus, the watch itself has one-year battery life, so it won't die on me mid-race. It's also light and easy to wear as an everyday watch. Finally, it has a gorgeous screen with really large digits that are actually viewable by middle-aged eyes on the run :)

    If you're prepared to give up tracks and altitude (or carry small Etrex when you really need it, like I do), this is an alternative everyone should consider.

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  • Does anyone (non-elites) ever use their Ambit for 100 milers? If so, how? Do you have a 2nd one? Just record some of the race? I say non-elietes, cause they could finish within the battery life of 16 hours. I've never run a 100, but probably won't get near anything that fast. Thanks for the review! I pretty much love my Ambit -- it's perfect for what I need it for.

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    • I use the first Ambit for 100's. At 60 sec recording for the GPS it will go 50h, that should be long enough for most if not all cut offs. The altitude and HR are recorded at 10s intervals with GPS at 60s. The 1s fix time will give you about 15h recording. My longest recording is about 14h and I had 7% of the charge left. Hope this helps.

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  • Anon (April 30, 2013 at 12:17 am),

    From the context of this thread I'm guessing the previous Anon was trying to say, "Two weeks ago, I bought an Ambit"

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  • Barometric altitude is more accurate than GPS-based altitude as long as atmospheric pressure remains stable. Unfortunately, mountain weather is changing all the time. So in the end you're safer with GPS altitude.

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  • Hi Bryon,

    great review. I got Ambit and i think is enought for my activity... we dont need more long batt for only 2 or 3 long races... I think the race day is to enjoy and dont check for technology.

    Nice option Ambit2 S... i really like.

    Best regards amigo,

    Oscar.

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    • Yeah, on race day... or at least long races, I turn off the GPS and at most use my wrist-top computer as a heart rate monitor and watch.

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  • Nice review, thanks. I only think that you ignored Suunto's broken promises at the introduction of the Ambit (1) one year ago. Discontinuing service to a $500 watch stinks.

    A petition to Suunto has been started to continue updating Ambit 1. Join and spread The initiative on your forums…

    http://www.movescount.com/groups/group5269-AMBIT_...

    Ambit2 interestees, think again. Suunto promised a year ago a watch with ongoing development. History usually repeats itself.

    Suunto, when will Ambit3 be introduced?

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  • I managed to record nearly 40h on Garmin 901 (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/305473412)...but I was injured and slow, so I did not mind spending time charging from portable USB charger. Otherwise when in a hurry it is not easy. I am not looking beyond Garmin (just get used to the brand), and lack of upload via ANT+ stops me from getting Fenix. I do not understand why they have ANT interface but not an ability to upload to Garmin connect via it like 901.

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  • Just to be clear then- suunto are not dropping support for the original ambit- just bought one a few weeks ago and i think its great

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    • They are not dropping support for units that have problems. What they said is they are no longer going to be upgrading the firmware, which I must say really is contrary to their promise (everyone understands that upgrades that are incompatible with the hardware are not on the table). There are still some things that they could upgrade in firmware, that I really wish they would, but now they say they are done. I love my Ambit, but I am disappointed. OTOH I see absolutely no advantage in replacing it with any other unit, including an AMBIT 2. #1 on my want list: let us change the GPS sampling rate to something between 1s and 60s (5s?) to bump up battery life without losing reliable pace and track data.

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      • I, for one, would love an algorithm that modulated the sampling frequency based on recent variation in path. Less frequent on straight lines and more frequent on variable routes. If I recall correctly, others have used such an algorithm; however, either the concept or the algorithm may be protected.

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        • Yes, Garmin does that for data recording and calls it smart recording. That saves memory, but I don't know if they do it for sampling too. Smart sampling would save battery. I guess the chicken-and-egg problem is that without sampling you don't know how frequently you need to sample.

          The other thing I REALLY wish Suunto would do with the Ambit is something that every basic GPS unit I have does (I'm talking handheld GPS not wrist mounted) - lay down a breadcrumb trail for a visualization of your route as you run (or bike or whatever it). The only navigation visualization that Ambit currently does is display a route that you have uploaded to the Ambit before your outing. You can see where you are on that pre-defined route in that case, but you cannot track your route real-time otherwise. I think that is ironic in a device marketed as for explorers! If I want to explore, run a route I have not run before, the only thing I can see is a map afterwards. I'd actually like this feature even before more flexible GPS sampling, but I want both. If Suunto does that, I will have nothing to be frustrated about as far as potential future firmware upgrades. Ya here that Suunto!! (probably not :( )

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          • I'd not yet tried digging for it, but good to know about the lack of a breadcrumb trail. I certainly use that on other devices both as added security, but also to gauge location on, say, a loop course. "How far am I from the finish? Ah, looks like 2 or 3 miles as the crow flies."

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  • If it doesn't readily work on Strava, then it doesn't work for me. So I'm still on Garmin (and can't use on long days).

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    • Write Strava and encourage them to get on that. It's open data, Strava needs to implement the capacity for importation, translation, or whatever. Hopefully, this happens in the short term. It'd surely help if Strava heard from interested users. :-)

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  • How is the heart rate monitor works?

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    • The HRM has worked fantastically well for me whereas I've had frustrating experiences with other companies' monitors. I'll offer get a falsely high reading somewhere in the first few minutes, but that's probably my fault for not wetting the contact pints well enough. After that, it's flawless. Oh, and the algorithm is quite smooth while feeling precise.

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      • Same for me - very high and incorrect readings for several minutes then works great with no dropouts. It isn't just wetting the contacts either. I have tried every method I know about (spit, gel, water, non-synthetic shirts, etc) and this routinely happens. But it also happens with my Garmin straps.

        I also saw that even the top experts have not solved this problem Check out DCRainmakers (google him) recent posts (I don't remember which one). He tests everything with extreme attention to detail (best on the web, no contest) and he still has this problem.

        Solution: filter those spikes in software afterwards, if you care about it (I don't as long as it works after the warmup period).

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  • Oh a perfect review - but have you also tested do import a track in movescount and to navigate with this pice of wonder??

    (it is not working anymore - and this feature was also removed in the description not very honnest??)

    Very bad Policy they ride nowadays!

    cheap is to much for this watch!

    better wait until it works like specification - if ever??

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  • To see how far away you are from your start/finish on a loop course, you'd just need to turn on "find back" and it would show you the direction and the distance, as the crow flies...

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