The Watch that Slayed the Ambit3 Peak?
The Ambit3 series watches have had a helluva a great run. The amazing GPS reception, durability, battery life, reliability, and all-around performance has been stellar. The Ambit3 has captured the hearts of many ultrarunners who swear by it as the best piece of gear they own. And I have to agree with them until MAYBE now. Finally, after a few years of the Spartan line aging like a fine wine, the Suunto 9 has been released. And in my opinion, it is going to replace the Ambit3 as the best watch Suunto has ever made.
Many who replaced their Ambit3 with the new Suunto Spartan Ultra probably were fairly content with their new high-tech upgrade. I, however, was not. The Spartan didn’t seem to function nearly as good for GPS tracking as the Ambit3. Then the Spartan added small GPS antennae to the Spartan Trainer to help with the issue. But the battery life of the Spartan Trainer was lacking, and the watch itself was just too small. All along I was really longing for a modern Ambit3, with built-in heart rate, and the massive battery life of the Spartan Ultra. I always said that if the Ultra had added optical HR then it would be superb. So Suunto released a Spartan Sport Wrist HR, with no altimeter. This was a no go for me since I love to track my vertical gain on the trail. Then the Spartan Sport HR Baro came out and I bought it! What a great watch! Gorgeous large face and bezel, super light, great GPS, and HR tracking. However, the battery was terrible, only giving about 8 hours max with all the bells and whistles turned on. The HR Baro also lacked a sapphire screen to keep it scratch-free. I will say the HR Baro HAD been my favorite Suunto of all time until…..SUUNTO 9!
I believe Suunto nailed it when they created the Suunto 9. It has a light 80-gram weight, beautiful bezel, super comfortable strap, and excellent GPS and battery performance. It has everything the HR Baro includes, but added a new and better GPS chipset from Sony, an upgraded HR sensor, sapphire glass, and an amazing battery. Plus some magic inertial navigation sensor that I’ll discuss later.
I pre-ordered the Suunto 9 and received it the first week it came out. It is a very clean and beautiful watch with a sharply designed bezel. Suunto made the buttons a tiny bit longer as well to make the button push feel better I suppose. The inner part of the bezel has 4 notches on it and some shiny surface that make it look extremely nice. The watch definitely has the feel and look of an expensive and rugged sports watch. The strap is super soft and comfortable, even cinched tight on the wrist while running. The weight is at 80 grams, so about the weight of the Garmin Fenix 3. The watch face is the same large size as the HR Baro version and easy to read. I have already had a few people ask me about the watch while I was wearing it, because of its good looks.
The watch really keeps all the EXACT same functionality as the Spartan series so there isn’t a ton to discuss with its software. Listed below are some of the highlights:
- All-day optical heart rate with last 12 hours displayed
- Step Tracking and history
- Sleep Tracking and history
- Baro Altimeter and Temp displayed and history
- Watch faces from the Spartan family and one new one just for the 9
- Calorie burn tracker
- Training Goal Tracker in Hours per Week
- Text message and alerts, now saved and reviewable
- Route Navigation and Waypoint Navigation
- Logbook for your activities
- Stopwatch and Timer
I will emphasize this watch is not for everyone. It doesn’t have tons of gadgetry and apps like a high-end Garmin device. It doesn’t play music or track your stress levels, or tell you your run was “unproductive”. This is a watch that is strictly athlete-focused. And it does that perfectly. The new battery software and inertial navigation are where the watch really shines.
Suunto allows you to now edit the battery mode while in an activity to help stretch the battery to its limits. In BEST mode, the GPS is always on and gives you the best track. I am seeing 20-24 hours on this mode. This keeps the display on, records GPS every second, optical HR on, etc. When you change the battery to ENDURANCE mode, the watch takes a GPS snap every 60 seconds. The mode will get you 50-60 hours of battery life! Usually, you get very ugly tracking and poor distance in this mode with other watches, but NOT the 9. Suunto has created some “magic” internal sensor that tracks your run in-between 60 sec GPS hits with precision. Both times I have tried this mode I have got distance readings within a few hundredths of a mile to actual distance! And the GPS track stays extremely close to where I actually walked/ran! Then there is ULTRA mode, where the watch takes a GPS snap every 120 secs. I have not tested this mode but reviews show it’s also extremely accurate. This mode stretches the battery to an incredible 120 hours! Other reviews have shown the same result. The Suunto 9 somehow creates an accurate track when GPS is OFF. Gps tracking WITHOUT GPS! Brilliant!!
The great thing about the Suunto 9 is that it will recommend which mode you switch to if it notices you are running out of battery. You can also hold down the center button while on a run and select the ENDURANCE or ULTRA mode to make your battery last. This is awesome. Especially because it’s almost like normal mode in its GPS performance! The watch also will learn the way you train and what days you go “long” and recommend you charge it the day before. Cool!
Suunto 9 has also incorporated a new Sony GPS chip which is extremely low power. So far I have seen excellent results. I have tested it in town and in heavy tree cover of the Northwest, and the tracks come out extremely close to actual distance. I tested it against my Ambit3 Peak in heavy trees and the 9 nailed the distance, while the Ambit3 was .20 miles off after 2.2 miles.
I have noticed the Sunnto 9 GPS tracks are a bit “wiggly” but nothing like I have seen from the Garmin Fenix devices. And during slow walks, the Suunto 9 seems to track well, even in trees and around houses and buildings. I have only had the watch for about 10 days now, but I have been very impressed with it and it does what it advertises! Strong GPS tracking, huge battery life, and rugged as hell.
The Suunto 9 also incorporates the latest Valencell optical HR sensor. I have not noticed it is any better than my HR Baro model. The HR reads very high, capturing your running cadence initially. After a warm-up, roughly 4-5 minutes, the HR seems to lock on to your pulse and delivers excellent results.
Suunto has also created a new app to replace Movescount on your mobile device. It’s definitely more high tech and can track your steps, sleep, etc. However, the new Suunto App does not sync with Strava yet and lists incorrect elevation data for your runs. Thus, until the bugs are worked out, I recommend not using the new Suunto App. Your Movescount runs WILL show up in the Suunto App though, so if you want to install it to look at your data, then go for it. It’s basically an exact copy of Sportstracker.
So in summary, I think the Suunto 9, so far, has been as good or better than my Ambit3 for GPS performance. When you add on the optical HR sensor, touch screen, amazing ENDURANCE and ULTRA modes that really work, and connectivity, the 9 beats the Ambit3 and any other Spartan watch hands down. But like I said, I have only had the watch for about 10 days, and my testing will continue. With the Suunto 9’s ability to track your run/walk/hike with just a few GPS hits, it is something EXTREMELY exciting for ultra runners. It means you will have zero worries in any race under 5 days long! I have had no GPS issues, reboots, unpairing from my phone, or GPS glitches. The only thing I have seen is the optical HR fails to lock on to your heart rate until you are warmed up, usually taking about a half mile for me. So in conclusion, I absolutely love the new Suunto 9, and with future firmware upgrades and the new Suunto app, it’s going to be a solid choice for any ultra runner, especially those that do 100 milers or multi-day events.