Friday, 5 July 2013

Suunto Ambit 2 Review

My Garmin 405 running watch has been great for clocking all of my runs despite the fiddly bezel 'swiping' system used to access the watch menus and despite its relatively poor battery life (which I've resolved by carrying a duracell portable charger). That said, particularly after some tricky times navigating (or failing to navigate) in hill fog in the dark on a couple of my Bob Graham attempts last year, I have really wanted to upgrade to something that can also provide me with some proper gps navigation options. 

I looked at the Garmin Fenix and the Suunto Ambit and more recently the Ambit 2 and have also looked at conventional gps's like the Garmin Montana and such like, which also have mapping software, and finally decided on the Ambit 2 Sapphire - it does everything that I want, looks smart in a rock solid sort of way and is hopefully as tough as old boots!

Admittedly when I first bought my Ambit 2 I didn't completely understanding all of its functions but now, having had it a while, I have a really have tried and tested it and know my way around it really well.

Recording tracks, or moves as Suunto calls them, is similar to the garmin. You enter exercise mode on the watch, select running (there are many other exercise modes like cycling, swimming or triathlon but I've taken all but running mode off of my watch), press enter, the watch picks up a gps signal and, when its confirmed, you're ready to go. You can prime the watch to auto record laps (for each mile say) or alternatively you can manually confirm laps on the hoof if you want to and, when you finish the run, you pause the exercise, save it and its job done. Then when you next plug the watch into your computer your 'move' is uploaded to and Bob's your uncle.

Where the watch is especially useful is the number of viewing screens on offer whilst running - my Garmin 405 has 3 pieces of data on view and thats it but on the Ambit 2 just one of my running viewing screens has 3 sets of data displays in view - a smaller display at the top, a main display big and bold in the middle and a further display at the bottom that can be cycled through for 5 separate pieces of running data. So that screen alone offers 7 separate pieces of running data, 4 more than my Garmin 405. I've set my watch up to show my 'current activity duration' at the top, 'distance run so far' in the middle and 'average speed', 'altitude', 'ascent', 'time' and 'battery charge' on the bottom. It looks like this and I press the bottom left 'view' button to cycle through 5 options on the bottom display:

Not exactly hurtling along then!

But it doesn't stop there as, in addition to that display, I can add extra viewing screens too, mainly to make use of the easy to see middle display, with each separate view accessed by pressing the middle right 'next' button on the watch. Somewhat ludicrously I could have as many as 7 additional screens all showing up to 5 pieces of data (in addition to my main screen with its 7 lots of data) but I've exercised a degree of common sense and have set my watch up with just three main running data screens, the first as above with distance shown in the centre, the second showing the duration of the run as the middle display and the third showing my average speed - the secondary displays on these extra screens are less important really but can also be tweeked to show what ever you want (from all the choices available). Luckily I'm not a nerd or anything like that or I'd be fiddling with these all of the time!

Same run as above but with the duration of my run as the central thing to view:

The top reading looks remarkably the same as the middle I know but it is actually my current lap time

This all sounds like you have to spend an absolute age fiddling and fannying about with the settings on the watch but you don't - instead this is all done very easily on-line at Movescount and when next your watch is plugged into your computer the displays all update accordingly. Its a doddle actually:

Part of the on-line control room at records all of my moves and displays them on-line with a shed load of data, graphs and map views available. The feature I particularly like is the ability to view a run track, colour coded to show a certain aspect of the run (i.e. for altitude it would show my line as red when I'm say above 2,000 feet, orange in a height range below that, yellow through to green at lower levels). In the same vein here's the running speed view:

So I spent just over 2 minutes running at less than 2 mph and over 12 minutes running in excess of 7.8 mph etc.

The Movescount page is totally personalised to me and shows all of my runs in far more detail than I'll ever need but, additionally, I can also share my moves with the Movescount community and search for other peoples moves anywhere in the UK or the world for that matter - if I find a route I like in the Lake District for example I can upload the gpx file for that route and use it to then navigate by (see navigation below). I can easily extract my own gpx files too should I want to save them elsewhere (Strava or Garmin Connect where all of my old runs are) or upload them to Bing maps in OS view.

An additional advantage of Movescount is that runners all around the world can develop their own little running apps and share them so that others can download them to their watch ready to use. I haven't delved into this much but, certainly for serious runners or just serious running geeks, there seems to be thousands of apps available.

Navigation is the real extra that this watch has given me. At its simplest I can be out in the hills in the middle of nowhere and just use the watch to identify my location. I just go into Navigation -> Location, the watch finds a gps signal and then tells me where I am - I've set the watch to BNG (British National Grid) so I get a map grid reference and, providing I have the right map with me, hey presto I know exactly where I am. The watch can also display location in a myriad of other formats, latitude and longitude being the obvious one but also overseas mapping formats too.

I can also save up to 100 POI (points of interest) to my watch either by visiting a location and saving it there and then (eg I'm on top of Blencathra, I save my current position as a POI, name it Blencathra and its stored on the watch, job done) or by pre-programming a series of POI's in Movescount on-line and uploading them to the watch.

Most usefully I can import a gpx file of a route into the watch and then follow this route in the Navigation screen of the watch. When I'm loading the route it asks me which way around/along it I want to go (eg A to B or B to A), I select accordingly and then I have a clear line to follow on the watch. I can also edit a navigation track in Movescount to add POI's to the track - so for instance when I recently attempted the Lakeland 100 race, I downloaded the gpx track of that race from the UTLD website and then edited in all of the race checkpoints as POI's.

The arrow shows my current facing

Mind you If I've downloaded some random guys idea of a particular route from the internet that doesn't mean its the right route and its important to scan over any route you've chosen to ensure its going where you want to go first.

When I'm following a route, my line is automatically set at a scale of 0.25 of a mile but, if I'm off of that track, the view will pan out to a larger scale to suit so as to give me a view of where I ought to be and where the correct line is. In addition to this 'line' navigation view, I can flick to two alternative navigation views (by pressing the 'view' button funnily enough) - one showing the route in its entirety and my position along it and the other showing my distance to the next POI and a pointer of the direction I need to be going in - this last view is especially helpful when you are close to say a peak you want to get to and would like to know how far away you are.

I can also record my current run track and navigate at the same time. So with both my run being tracked and a navigation route loaded, when I press the 'next' button on my watch I can flick through my 3 running mode views and my navigation mode in turn. If I set the compass to be in view too (see 'also tells the time' below) I then have 5 screens that I can easily alternate between. Still with me? ☺

In my latest Bob Graham failure, I was both recording my run track and using the navigation based on a gpx file I uploaded from Movescount. I had excellent navigators with me on each stage too but the watch still came in extremely useful a few times when we were slightly unsure of our line in all the hill fog and pissing rain. Unfortunately I accidentally stopped the recording of the running track of my BG attempt at Rosset Pike and, although I discovered this soon after, the weather was terrible at the time and I didn't want to slow down our BG attempt just to fiddle with the watch and reset it:

I'd also been recording laps at every peak and road stop..... other than Red Pike where I clearly forgot. Doh!

The navigation though worked brilliantly throughout. Here again I'd also added all of the peaks and road stops as POIs on my uploaded BGR route so navigating to each peak was fairly straightforward, even in all of the dire weather.

The Suunto Ambit 2 also tells the time too☺amazingly and, in this time view, if I press the 'next' button a screen shows my current altitude and the air temperature (a barometer alternative view is possible instead) and if I press 'next' again I have a compass view, showing me where north is and my current heading. I can also add this compass screen to my running and navigation viewable screens whilst actually running so, although I usually carry a proper compass with me, the watch compass is always easily accessible. Oh and its water resistant to 100 meters too (whatever resistant means) and certainly is also designed to be used by swimmers and triathletes - it does recommend in the manual though not to use the action buttons while immersed. There are also two timing modes - stopwatch and countdown and I assume they do exactly what it says on the tin although I haven't used either.

Veiny or what?

And finally battery life. If the Ambit 2 is just used as a watch to tell the time, the battery will last approximately 30 days without the need for recharging whilst, if I'm recording a run using gps set to obtain a fix every second, the battery will last about 15 hours but I can of extend this by simply carrying my duracell recharger and my watch cable with me and recharging the battery as I run along. Alternatively I can set the watch to obtain a gps fix every 60 seconds the watch battery will last up to 50 hours, although personally I prefer to carry the recharger and be able to record the most accurate track..

The one area I do have to be wary of is just how much running data can be stored on the watch - thus far my longest duration run was circa 22.5 hours for the Lakeland 100 and, when I finished on top of the LL100 data there were runs going back for the previous week with at least another 12 hours of running data. So I think I'm good to go for runs of up to 34.5 hours and others have told me that 40 hours is possible.

In summary a truly brilliant watch and hopefully one that I will get many years of solid use out of...


  1. Nice review Stolly. I've been using the original ambit for about 12 months now and have experimented with a remote charging setup. If I don't use HR, 1sec gps and 1sec recording then I get over 40 hours of data including track. It appears that the HR with R-R data is the thing that takes up the memory. The Ambit 2 has more memory anyway but unsure of how it is allocated compared to Ambit1. I'm sure you'll be experimenting with this anyhow. You won't miss the Garmin I can tell you.

  2. Thats great news Simon. So I could probably record the whole of the Lakeland 100 then which might take me + or - 30 hours so long as I take my portable battery charger with me. I don't use a heart rate monitor so I should be good to go

  3. I've just checked and my watch logbook has just over 50 hours of logged data on it at the moment, with just the very oldest run on it from 12th June only now showing partial data (just the distance). Given that my very first run with the watch was on 11th June its only just started over writing data. I don't think I'll have have to use the 60 second gps fix then ☺

  4. "I can also add this compass screen to my running and navigation viewable screens whilst actually running..." How do you do this? I have the original Ambit and can't figure out how to access compass while in nav mode.

    Great review by the way!

  5. Anonymous - While in excercise mode hold 'next' to enter options
    then 'activate' then 'compass'. simple as that.
    compass will now be one of the display options.

  6. Dude....

    PLEASE can you outline the menu options you used to get a 6 figure OS grid using the Ambit?? I have one and cannot figure it out for the life of me.



    1. James its on-line in in Movescount: -> Gear -> Suunto Ambit2 -> General Settings -> GPS Position Format -> British (BNG)

      Remember to save those settings and, when you next link up the watch, it will upload to it automatically


  7. Hey Stolly,

    From what I read in the internet it seems the Ambit2 or Garmin FR910XT are the ones to get.

    Did you have any experience with the latter?
    Are you fairly satisfied?

    It's a big investment to take, I know what usages I want from this watch (mainly running with an option for trek hopping) so I'm trying to get it right before I invest that much money (because currently, I can do with a good polar but doesn't fit the bill with the GPS)

    any thoughts would be appreciated!!

  8. Hi,
    I don' t have a lot of experience with gps devices and I have never owned a gps watch. I am considering buying a gps device and because I also do a lot of sports, I am interested in ambit 2. I am worried however that navigation features of ambit 2 are far behind those of ordinary gps devices. How much help can ambit 2 offer me at orientation in city? Are there any applications or maps available to download?
    I am well aware of different screen sizes that ambit 2 and normal gps devices offer.
    Thanks for help,

  9. hey, ive just got the ambit 2 but cant figure out how to record my nav and other data while using the pre plotted route. any chance you could tell me how you done it.
    thanks chris

  10. Hi, how do you enter the distance you want to run pre training? In Garmin you can set the watch to stop at 10km for example. IN suunto I can't find a way to do it. Tx!

  11. Hi Stolly, thanks for the review. I read your review and various others too and made my Ambit 2 purchase last week. Have you managed to find a way to show British National Grid while undertaking running? It would be useful to be able to add BNG as a screen while running. Have you any ideas?


  12. I too am coming from a beloved 405, which has a rudimentary but functional course/route navigation capability, that garmin saw fit to delete from all of their newer running watches like the 610, 620, 220. They do still have it on the 310xt and 910xt but from what you just described, the Ambit2 takes it to a much higher level. This was just the description I was looking for that even the venerable DCRainmaker didn't cover well. I'm training for my first trail 50miler and love gadgets. I think you made a sale. Plus, I'm a fellow hang glider and paraglider pilot, so- loved your image.

  13. Loved your review, many thanks for posting it.

    Just wondering if you've cracked a nav problem that I can't. I've got plenty of manually created POIs in my Ambit2, but can't work out how to string them together into a route in Movescount. Any ideas?


  14. Iain, It's somewhere in the page: start a run or any exercise, hold 'next' button and then choose navigation or compass.
    Good runs!

  15. Apologies for not replying to they queries. Let me know if anyone is still confused about anything and I'll do my best to get straight back.

  16. Hey Brian,

    A quick query that I think I already know the answer too but just want to double check. I have a Garmin 405cx and am looking to upgrade in the not too distant future. I've read many good things about Suunto Ambit 2 but is it possible to upload runs to the Garmin website with it or do you have to use I ask since I initially used nike+ (1300 miles) then Garmin (700 miles) and I am about to maybe change again. I did find a work around for Nike with a clever TCX converter, but to be quite honest the Nike+ website just gets worse and worse so I can't be bothered to upload to that any more. I guess I just want all my runs in one place in stead of two or maybe three. Many thanks for your time.


    1. Once you sync and upload your runs "moves" to Movescount, you can export the .gpx file and upload them into Garmin Connect. However- once you get used to it, Movescount is a much better site and display of your running metrics than Garmin's. funny tho- if I upload the .gpx file directly into Garmin, they HR data doesn't come along. However, if I upload it into Strava, then export, and upload that new .gpx data into Garmin- it grabs all the fields. There may be a better way to do it than my manual process- but yes, you can export and own all of your workout data, and do what you want with it. There's also a bulk file transfer app "MXActivityMover" that will move all your files from Garmin to Movescount.

    2. Thanks morey. I worked that out about a day after posting this, thanks for taking the time to reply though. I agree with you I think movescount is a much better site that garmin connect, even though I don't understand half the graphs and charts and terms. I have literally only just started logging runs though, two to be precise.
      That is funny, now you mention it my HR data hasn't uploaded, I've only just noticed. Thanks for info on how to up the HR data. I don't think I can be bothered though, as long as the GPS mapping is there and pace etc I'm not too fussed. Thanks also for the info on the app, just downloaded it.

  17. Hi Stolly,

    I'm looking to buy a watch with nav on it and am down to the Ambit 2 and Garmin Fenix 2. The one thing worrying me about the Ambit 2 is the limitation on navigation points on the watch (as opposed to waymarks/POI). You mention "Most usefully I can import a gpx file of a route into the watch and then follow this route in the Navigation screen of the watch." Have you had any problems in doing this (I've heard Movescount is limited to 500 points?) and how long is the longest rote you've imported?



  18. Hi Stolly, ive just found your blog and review of the Ambit2 im a big fan of mine and have used it to stop myself from thrashing myself on every run which has allowed me to build up bigger distances and reduce injury. im competing in a 50 miler on sat and still havent figured out how to get into the navigation mode whilst im using the watch as a HR monitor/pace monitor. I dont want to stop the running mode as i need to be able to see how far ive run (how far have i got left) and the time taken but dont know how to switch between the modes. Ive managed to upload the GPX file very easily but cant use it. Any thoughts, cheers Rachel

  19. Hi. Good review. I have this Ambit 2r and love how it helps me track progress on my different running routes. Forgive me for saying this, but with my old eyes this squiggly shaped blog font is hard for me to read. To solve the issue I copy the text into a Word doc and just read it in a bigger and easier to read font.