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Family tree: Key differences among Suunto GPS watch generations and models

The Suunto Ambit2

The Suunto Ambit2

Last updated: January 11, 2017

Suunto has released twelve distinct GPS sport watches, beginning with the original Ambit in 2012. This number does not include additional bezel, glass, and color configurations.

Because older watches are still being sold, and because new watches will likely be introduced, I thought it would be useful to explain in a single place the major differences between the generations and models — in the product copy and spec pages, these subtleties are often easy to misinterpret or overlook. Plus, this page may prevent the clogging up of any Ambit-related posts of mine in the future.

First generation

The original Suunto Ambit hit the market in 2012. It is no longer in production, and no longer supported by Suunto.

Second generation

The Ambit2 was released in early-2013. The suffix used to distinguish this premium model, Peak, was not used until the third generation. The Ambit2 is no longer in production and it is increasingly difficult to find at retail (try Amazon). The last software update was in June 2016.

The second generation also included two lower cost and less robust versions, the Ambit2 Sport and Ambit2 Run (often shortened to Ambit2 S and Ambit2 R). These models have half the battery capacity, are waterproof to half the depth, and lack two of the Ambit2’s sensors, the barometer and thermometer. If the GPS ping frequency is set to 5 or 60 seconds, it will not record vertical change, although it can be later corrected in Strava.

Additionally, the Ambit2 R does not support multi-sport workouts or offer bicycling- or swimming-specific features. More in-depth comparison. Inventories of the Ambit2 S and Ambit2 R are dwindling.

Third generation

In mid-2014 Suunto introduced its third generation: the Ambit3 Peak, Ambit3 Sport, and Ambit3 Run. These models maintain the good-better-best order from the second generation. The Sport and Run models have been discontinued, and inventory will be sold through in 2017.

Most significantly, the Ambit3’s are bluetooth-enabled, which allows for smartphone connectivity (to receive push notifications and to use the phone as a display), wireless data transmission (instead of needing a USB cable), and compatibility with a wider range of heart rate belts, bike and foot pods, and power meters. Unfortunately, the Ambit2 accessories — which use ANT transmission — won’t communicate with Ambit3 watches.

Lifespan of the Ambit3 models is longer, due to either bigger batteries or more efficient software/hardware. Improvements range from 25 to 400 percent, depending on the GPS tracking interval. More details.

Months after Suunto released the three Ambit3 models, it unveiled the Ambit3 Vertical. Functionally, it sits between the Ambit3 Peak and Ambit3 Sport. For example, like the Peak it has a barometer; but it shares the same battery life as the Sport. The biggest difference is its hardware and design: the GPS antenna was shrunk and integrated into the bezel; and it is 15 grams lighter (0.5 ounces) and 17 percent thinner. This makes it a sleeker watch than the clunky-ish Peak. Also, the Vertical has support for the Russian GPS system, GLONASS, and it has vibration alarms.



Suunto Traverse

The Traverse was unveiled in fall 2015. While it has no Ambit prefix, the Traverse is very similar to the Ambit3 Vertical, with a similar form factor and battery.

The Traverse is a general outdoor watch, not an endurance sports watch. It does not support bike or foot pods, and has limited (or no) functionality for running, biking, and swimming. However, it has a step counter and more navigation programs than the Ambit3’s.

The Traverse Alpha is positioned as a more premium fishing- and hunting-specific model. For example, it has a red backlight that is compatible with night vision goggles, and a moon phase calendar. For $100 it seems like a stretch, but I’m not the product manager.

Suunto Spartan

In summer 2016 Suunto released the Spartan Ultra and Spartan Sport, its first watches with full-color and touch screens. Besides their fanciness, the Spartans seem to offer little value-added over the Ambits, which are less expensive, more accurate, and longer lasting.

A third Spartan model was announced in January 2017, the Spartan Sport Wrist HR. It is the first Suunto model with a wrist-based heart rate monitor. For users unconcerned with precise heart rate monitoring, this feature is a viable substitute for the conventional chest strap.


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16 Responses to Family tree: Key differences among Suunto GPS watch generations and models

  1. NathanT July 7, 2016 at 4:40 pm #

    Have you done a comparison between the Suunto Ambit3 and the Garmin Fenix3 watches? I’m trying to figure out which of those to buy.

    • Andrew Skurka July 7, 2016 at 4:58 pm #

      Not extensively. Sometimes, when you find something you really like, you get married and stop looking elsewhere. That’s been the case with me with the Ambit.

      As far as core functions (i.e. measuring speed and vertical, wireless connectivity, NOT step counters and virtual coaching) I think the Ambit3 Peak and Fenix 3 are pretty comparable. The Ambit3 is much longer-lasting, however, with up to 200 hours at 60-sec GPS tracking intervals, 4x the Fenix3. On a backpacking trip, that’s a big deal — you can record your daily track for almost 3 weeks (10 hours of moving per day) without a recharge.

      I also have a friend who ultimately tossed his Garmin because Garmin Connect was giving him so many issues. Not sure how widespread this is. In comparison, the Moveslink software and Movescount platform has been almost flawless for the last 2.5 years.

      I’ve been using the Ambit2 since August 2013. An upgrade is in the foreseeable future, and I definitely will stick with Suunto. If an Ambit4 arrives with an accurate wrist HRM and an even bigger battery, I could imagine splurging for that. Otherwise, I think the Ambit3 Peak would be fine.

      • Paul D Jesse July 8, 2016 at 8:32 am #

        I’m in the same boat. I’ve been using the Ambit2 for a couple years now and was thinking about the Ambit3 upgrade but I’m gonna wait until the 4 comes out and hope for the battery improvement before making a change.

        Nathan, check out DCRainMaker for in depth reviews of the Fenix (and other watches) and how it compares to the Ambit.

        • NathanT July 8, 2016 at 9:14 am #

          Thanks for the link recommendation, Paul. I’ll check that out.

        • Andrew Skurka July 8, 2016 at 9:21 am #

          I’m going to visit their booth next month at OR. Maybe I can get some details about the Ambit4, in terms of release and/or features.

          DC RainMaker is an excellent resource. But, ironically, his comprehensiveness inspired this page: you really have to dig to find the critical differences between devices, and the important differences (like battery life) are obscured by features that don’t drive buying decisions (like its packaging and virtual training partner features).

          • Max October 2, 2016 at 1:04 am #

            Andrew, any news on future updates to the Peak?

          • Andrew Skurka October 2, 2016 at 6:26 am #

            Given the source, that sounds like a leading question.

            Publicly, at least, there is no update.

  2. Shawn K. September 25, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

    Two non-trail topics related to the Ambit3. I don’t care for giant, chunky watches, so I was a little concerned about the size Ambit3 annoying me. Even with my smallish wrists, it fits well worn on top or facing down. The rounded back of the case and the flexibility of the silicone band works well for me.

    Also, I didn’t think having BT integration with my phone would matter much for daily use, but I find the text & voice call notifications to be helpful. I work in a noisy, busy environment, and I can’t always hear my phone in my pocket, or have time to fish it out. Being able to quickly check my wrist to see the importance of the call or text is pretty nice.

    • Andrew Skurka September 25, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

      I have very small wrists, too. The Ambit is big but not awful, very familair to anyone with an altimeter watch or a large dress watch.

  3. Marta January 15, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

    I do a lot of trail running and hiking, which watch would you say would be better for those?
    I Def need the Bluetooth and quick GPS locking and long battery life but I don’t care for cycling or swimming features. Is traverse better than peak for those purposes and where does the vertical fits in all of that?

    • Andrew Skurka January 15, 2017 at 2:37 pm #

      If you were a pure trail runner, you could go with the Ambit3 Peak, Vertical, Sport, or Run. The Traverse can be used for running, but the Ambits are more capable running watches.

      But, as a hiker, you want a barometer, so that your altitude is accurate and so that it can be tracked even if the watch is set to GPS pings every 5 or 60 seconds (which will greatly extend the battery). That narrows you to Peak and Vertical.

      There are three primary differences between the Peak and Vertical:

      * Peak has a longer lasting battery.
      * Vertical has a more integrated GPS antenna, so it has a cleaner look.
      * Peak sells for less.

      In your case, which mirrors my own uses, I would go with the Peak, no questions about it.

  4. Marta January 15, 2017 at 3:05 pm #

    Thanks for fast response,
    I don’t care much about the looks so the less integrated antenna doesn’t bother me if that’s the only flaw. Longer lasting battery always is a good thing to have. And no comment for the money aspect 🙂

    I guess Peak it is then!
    It’s gonna be huge improvement from my forerunner 305 which o got for $10 at a yard sale!!
    Happy trails!!

  5. Daus January 18, 2017 at 9:56 pm #

    Im looking for ambit2 for its ant+ capable. Is it worth looking for discontinued model?

    Currently using m5 and quest.

    • Andrew Skurka January 19, 2017 at 3:19 am #

      What is behind your preference for ANT+?

      If you could find a used Ambit2 in good condition and for a good price, I would consider. The Ambit3 Peak is a better watch, but it’s incremental.

  6. primipare January 30, 2017 at 3:37 pm #

    Hey, thanks for this. I liked what you said about this site focusing on the features driving purchase decision – I don’t take the time to go thru pages of description.

    I’m (no longer) a huge practitioner of sports but continue to do cycling as a sport and hiking/trekking as leisure activity. Also, I want one watch only, one that I can also use daily, so no flashy colours, please :).
    What watch do you think?

    Also, the Sunnto models, are they exclusively sport-y or do they also have stuff such as calendars, timezones etc? Sorry if the question sounds stupid lol

    • Andrew Skurka January 30, 2017 at 3:53 pm #

      If you can afford one, the Suunto Spartan (Sport or Ultra) is a very nice-looking watch (customizable face when not in sport modes) when not in sport mode.

      The least sport-y looking Ambit is the Ambit3 Vertical. It does not have the pronounced GPS antenna that the Ambit3 Peak has. Not sure my wife would categorize it as a dress watch, however.

      If you need a dual-purpose sport and dress watch, you might also want to look at the Garmin Fenix 5 (three versions) and its predecessor, the Fenix 3.

      When not recording an activity, these watches all have day and date, and timezone options.

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