Monday, June 17, 2013

Gear Closet: Suunto Ambit GPS Watch

I'm the first one to admit that my gear closet is packed full of far more stuff than the average outdoor enthusiast could ever need. Writing this blog has afforded me the opportunity to test a lot of great equipment and use it on my own personal adventures. But one item that I had been hoping to add to my collection for some time was an Ambit GPS watch from Suunto, a high tech piece of kit that is versatile enough to be used in everyday workouts, weekend treks or excursions to far flung destinations across the globe.

Before I say anything about this watch, it is important to point out that this review is based on the original Ambit, which I was able to grab at REI recently when they gave it a 25% discount following the release of the Ambit2. By most accounts, the Ambit2 takes the winning formula of its processor and refines it nicely, providing more functionality in a slightly slimmed down form factor. Since I haven't tested that model yet, I can only share my thoughts on the Ambit, which I must say lives up to its reputation as an excellent multi-functional watch for all of your outdoor adventures.

In its basic form, the Ambit is a sports watch and as such it has all of the functionality you would expect out of such a device. Obviously it tells time (in two locations no less), and includes day, date and alarm functionality, as you would expect. It also has a stopwatch, interval timers, a countdown timer and more. It is rugged enough to be used at altitudes extending beyond the summit of Everest and as much as 100 meters (328 feet). In short, it is everything you would expect out of an outdoor watch and more.

At the heart of the Ambit is a powerful GPS chip that interfaces with the other functions of the watch, providing all kinds of real time data to the wearer. For instance, when running or cycling, the GPS feed information about your current speed, distance, pace – all of which is helpful when training for an event. While hiking, the watch can mark waypoints and help you navigate back to them using its onboard mapping capabilities. These capabilities put a powerful outdoor computer on your wrist that can help you in a variety of ways, particularly if you're an avid outdoor athlete or your adventures take you regularly into the backcountry.

Of course, GPS watches are nothing new and there have been a number of excellent products from other companies for years. What sets the Ambit apart in my book is that its user interface is super easy to understand, making it a breeze to navigate through the dizzying array of options and put them to use. I was impressed with the UI on this watch and commend Suunto for doing such a great job in making it so simple to operate. The operating system that makes this possible is also easily updatable, which means the watch continues to be refined and improved long after its release. In fact, a new firmware update is due before the end of the month, showing Suunto's commitment to continuing to support this watch even though the Ambit2 is out.

One of the major improvements the new Ambit has over its predecessor is that it has more onboard memory to support more functions. But that said, the original Ambit has free space as well and the user can add functionality to the watch themselves by downloading "apps" of a sort from the App Zone at Movescount.com. That website it he only home for Ambit users, allowing them to upload data from their watch to track performance and improvements over time. It's a nice site and easy to use, but it would be nice if the Ambit data was able to be shared on other fitness sites that are used by more people and allow uploads from a variety of devices from different manufacturers.

Performance of the Ambit has been excellent overall, although it can be slow to connect to the GPS satellites at times. I've found it is best for that initial connection if you have an unobstructed view of the sky and don't move at all until after the watch achieves GPS lock. Once it does find the satellites however, the Ambit seems to hold that connection well and begins to quickly track your movements. It can "ping" the GPS satellites on a 1 second or 1 minute basis. The faster rate provides more accurate readings of course, but it also puts a bigger hit on the battery. There are times when both levels of accuracy are nice to have. For instance, when running you want very accurate readings of your distance but when hiking the 1 minute intervals are probably fine since you're moving a much slower rate.

Speaking of the battery, the Ambit features an internal rechargeable cell that can be powered up by connecting the watch to a USB port on your computer or some other charger. When used strictly as a watch, Suunto says it can go up to 30 days between charges, but since I haven't been using it just as watch, i can't confirm or deny that number. I have been using on almost daily runs with GPS on the entire time. My runs are between 5-10 miles in length and the Ambit was able to survive two weeks without need a recharge. I found that to be pretty solid performance all things considering. We know that GPS always strains a battery, but considering  how small the Ambit is and how much functionality it has packed in, it really is impressive that it can last that long.

This is just scratching the surface of what the Ambit is capable of. It also has built-in automatic GPS time checks, temperature and barometric pressure readings, current altitude and change in altitude recordings and a lot more. In fact, I could go on forever about all of the features of this watch, but the most important things to know is that it is tough, rugged and performs incredibly well. It is also very easy to use, which isn't always the case for a device with this many features in such a small form factor. Suunto has delivered a versatile piece of technology that outdoor athletes will love, and whether your "settle" for the original Ambit (now available for as little as $350) or the more powerful and slightly trimmer Ambit2 ($550), you not only get a great piece of gear to accompany you on all your adventures, you're getting a watch that will last for years as well.

For me, the wait for getting my hands on the Ambit was worth with it. It is a great gadget and performs beyond my expectations. After just a few runs I felt completely comfortable using it without thinking twice and as a result, I can't imagine heading out without it on my wrist.

2 comments:

Ajay Jain said...

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Alex White said...

This looks like something I definitely wouldn't mind adding to my stock of adventure gear. Only in recent years, since my hikes have gotten more extensive, have I adopted tracking by GPS. Having it on a watch like this would just be ultra convenient, and pretty cool.