Last updated: March 2018
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.
The original Suunto Ambit hit the market in 2012. It is no longer in production, and no longer supported by Suunto.
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 (long-term review) is no longer in production and has been cleared out of retail inventory; used models are around. 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.
In mid-2014 Suunto introduced its third generation: the Ambit3 Peak (long-term review), 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.
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.
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. The Spartan series have more activity tracking and smartwatch features, but the functionality and user-friendliness does not rival a true activity tracker or smartwatch, or even the Garmin Fenix models.
Three other Spartan models have been released since the original Ultra and Sport. The Spartan Sport Wrist HR (preview) was the first Suunto model with a wrist-based heart rate monitor. This watch served as the basis for the newer Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro (my review), which has a barometer. Finally, there is a budget-friendly Spartan Trainer Wrist HR.
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