Ambit3 Sport – Hands-on review of triathlon functionality

IMG_3426Following on from my first hands-on experience with the Suunto AMBIT 3 a few months ago here is a bit more detail behind the reason you may have bought this watch – its triathlon features.

First thoughts: It’s a pretty watch that feels robust and very well made. It’s the ‘right’ size for a round watch and the visibility of the data on the screen is good and the feel of the buttons is good. The tones are good but can’t be heard underwater and there are no vibrational alerts.

After connecting to MOVESLINK and downloading satellite positional data the GPS fixed really quick…a few seconds.

Summary

Whilst some criticise this watch as an outdoor watch with triathlon features I would disagree. This is a proper, high quality triathlon watch that is more than up to the job or triathlon training and triathlon racing. The MOVESCOUNT interface is highly polished and features many insightful and relatively unique views of your data.

The watch is highly integrated with the online MOVESCOUNT software which worked fine for me with WINDOWS.

Opening up the box and a bit more about the HR Monitor

IMG_3424You get a box, the watch, a HRM and a charging/comms/USB cable.

This review will look at JUST the triathlon functionality. You can read more about other functionality here in the Suunto_Ambit3_Sport_UserGuide.

I’ll talk a bit more about the HR Monitor. As HR monitors go it’s pretty sexy. It exudes quality and is TINY. It produces HRV data which MOVESCOUNT uses for EPOC, VO2 and other exciting analyses. But back to the sexiness, this picture shows just how sexy a HR monitor could be. It’s the Brad Pitt of HR monitors:

IMG_3430

The HR monitor (Suunto SMART Belt) is so special that I wrote a whole review about it. I like the watch a lot and I love the SMART Belt. !

Triathlon Mode:

Well there are two triathlon/multisport ‘modes’ – automatic and manual. The manual mode allows you to switch from one sport to another without stopping and closing and saving the current sport. Of course this is NOT really a triathlon/multisport mode despite having some notable use in that respect.

Setting up Triathlon/Multi-Sport Mode

Turning to the ‘proper’ multi-sport mode.

The watch comes with an inbuilt swim/bike/run triathlon profile. You’re allowed two multisport profiles (ie one more) so you can create another one such as BRICK, INDOOR BRICK, DUATHLON, POOL TRIATHLON, TRIATHLON TRAIN, TRIATHLON RACE – you get the idea. The profile includes all the alerts, features and accessories you want for that profile.

So the first thing I might want to do would be to create a special INDIVIDUAL SPORT PROFILE which I will then add to a new MULTI-SPORT PROFILE; of course I could use one of the pre-existing ones.

Unless you are familiar with MOVESCOUNT it’s not immediately obvious how you get to the screen below. My understanding is that you configure your sports at DEVICE-level (ie for each and every device you own). So you choose your watch from the GEAR ICON in the top right hand corner of MOVESCOUNT to get to this screen:

create-indoorbike-nogps

It’s a nice intuitive interface. Looking at the image tells you what it does without me describing it. Of note is that you can change the GPS accuracy by sport so, in theory, you could maximise the battery in an Ironman, for example by lowering the accuracy for the swim component but making it more accurate in the run component. That’s a neat feature that Garmin can’t do.

AUTOLAP is by distance only. Neither by time nor position. This is a shame but is in line with what the Garmin FENIX3 can also do.

Now you can see that you configure all aspects of your sport ie you could turn off GPS ENTIRELY for an INDOOR TURBO SESSION (handy!) and you can configure what accessories to attach to – you can see the other options in the image. Garmin have a concept of a sensor ‘pool’ where the watch tries to connect to whatever is there and whilst that seems better in principle; in practice the Garmin continually tries to connect to sensors and sometimes loses them altogether. The more old school Suunto way I would suggest is more inclined to work and will be fine for the vast majority of triathletes who do not own an array of multiple sensors of the same type (me for example!).

There are up 8 screens per sport that are configurable and, as you can see, I have briefly shown that you can have a screen for cadences, HRs and power data with 3 individual metrics per screen and you can automatically rotate those screen when in use or do it manually (preferred).

So. That’s OK. But maybe 4 metrics per screen would be a slight improvement albeit not a game-changer. You can access all the common metrics you will need with the exception of some of the power measures (NP/TSS)

So once you’ve created your individual sports (if necessary) then you also need to make sure that TRANSITION is enabled as a sport if you want that as well. Suunto see TRANSITION as a ‘sport’ in this respect.

You can then create a new multisport profile as shown in the example below – which further illustrates how you can build up the sports in your multi-sport profile.

create-brick-transition

So the constraints here are that you can only have 6 ‘sports’ per multisport activity with TRANSITION counting as a sport. The Garmin 920XT and FENIX3 allow only 5 sports but they do not count TRANSITION as a sport. So ‘it depends’ on your intended usage as to which one is marginally better in this particular respect.

To be honest none of these scenarios, Garmin or Suunto, are ideal. They all fall short of what I want. I would prefer the ability to have an indeterminate number of ‘sports’ in a multi-sport profile. At least 20. The old and near-retired Garmin 310XT could do more than 5 so I don’t know why no product on the market now can do this. Strange.

The reasons for a multisport session having more components are twofold.

  1. Because some brick sessions can have many multiple sport-repeats
  2. To handle inadvertent button-presses to then scroll through to the correct sport.

HOWEVER the second of these scenarios is NOT a problem for the Suunto. The Suunto requires a definite and sustained press of the top left button to move to the next sport. That won’t happen by accident like it can with the Garmin.

Anyway both Garmin and Suunto are obviously both more than sufficient for completing a triathlon/duathlon or basic brick session.

Using the multisport triathlon profile

IMG_3429

So your new sport profile gets synchronised to your watch and on the right you can see how you can select the new sport profile when its automatically synchronised to your watch.

It searches for the HR monitor, other relevant accessories and GPS and then you are off.

Pressing the top left button ONCE adds a lap (within the sport) and pressing and HOLDING the same button moves to the transition or next sport. This is a nice feature, probably more suited to BRICK training.

You eventually stop and save the exercise and any unsynchronised/cached HR data is saved to the watch (this can take a minute or so, be patient). That data is then synchronised to the mobile app and then to MOVESCOUNT or you skip the mobile app part and attach the watch directly to the cable.

Features and Foibles

IMG_3428Unlike the AMBIT2, the AMBIT3 will only work with Bluetooth Low Energy BTLE devices.

So if you have ANT+ devices you either need to buy some new ones or go down the route of a signal bridging device such as the MIO VELO or 4iiii Viiiiva heart rate monitor/bridges. I’m yet to look at those in any detail, however the practical issues that spring to mind are:

  1. You have another device’s battery to worry about
  2. You would not get the Suunto-compatible HR swim data from the SMART Belt as you would be using a different caching HR belt. AFAIK all cached HR data only goes back to proprietary apps. ie NOT MOVESCOUNT.
  3. There will most likely be monstrous issues with precise compatibility with various forms of Bluetooth…tread carefully. But these bridges are not Suunto’s products.

IMG_3427Anyway, for those of you for which HR data is important for the swim then Suunto offers the immediate advantage over the Garmin. Indeed if you are looking at your overall triathlon training load (based on HR) then Suunto supports this now – March 2015. (Garmin will probably offer it in the future in reality). Others may argue that the main component of training load is the weight bearing disciplines of running and cycling – and there is some truth in that argument but I’m not fully convinced. NB IF you train more than 7/8 hours a week then IMHO you should be looking at your training load and recovery in some detail.

Native Data Analysis

You get a very nice graph where you can overlay at speed/pace, cadence/stroke rate, EPOC/VO2/RR, calories and altitude. Nice.

AnalysisThere’s more detail there as well that I won’t go into. Suffice to say it’s enough for the majority of people’s half-serious needs, allowing you to delve a little deeper into the analysis of what you’ve done and how you performed. It’s easy enough to get your data from MOVESCOUNT to other more-analytical packages if that’s your thing.

For example, I use SPORTTRACKS. Once I sync the watch directly with MOVESCOUNT then on that same PC the data is stored locally and I can import the SML files directly into the PC version of SPORTTRACKS.

Sharing Data

You can share MOVES on the MOVESCOUNT site with people or you can link MOVESCOUNT to many places including STRAVA, FIRSTBEAT and TAPIRIIK. You can get your data into TRAINGPEAKS or SPORTTRACKS.

Other Noteworthy Points

Suunto also offer VO2max and recovery estimates. Suunto pool sizes can be set as low as 15 metres. Useful battery life is over 20 hours. MOVESCOUNT offers very many training plans and routes you can follow or create your own.

Edit: June 2015’s new v2.0 firmware offers significant improvement in this area with market-leading capability.

Conclusions and other thoughts

Suunto arguably offers a more robust hardware and software solution/platform than other vendors. It exudes quality and on the whole works really well. The downside would be fewer (but better implemented) features – for example the vibrating alert and detailed swim metrics are lacking. Every feature, that I tried to use, worked.

There are probably more ANT+ accessories out there than BTLE. However the BTLE ‘market’ seems to be aligning with the growth of SMART phones so I would expect the balance to swing towards BTLE in the medium term. The BTLE-only ‘call’ by Suunto is a brave one that might pay off big time.

If you are an Apple person then the Ambit3 may well ‘feel’ more natural for you. For example, MOVESCOUNT is not yet available on Android (although is imminent for Q1.Q2.2015).

If you own an AMBIT2 and have BTLE accessories then the AMBIT3 upgrade is a no-brainer.

If, for example, you own an old running watch and are considering a new triathlon watch then you will be torn between Suunto, TomTom, Garmin and Polar.

If you are looking at non-triathlon sports as well then you will be actively considering the AMBIT3 vs. the FENIX3. Both look similar/great.

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Price Comparison

Watches Comparison July 7th 2015 Amazon UK Amazon2 USA
Adidas MiCoach Smart Run £209.99 Link $188.00 Link
BRYTON 60H / S430 £174.90 Link $199.00 Link
Epson SF-810 £201.08 Link $506.06 Link
Epson SF-710 £151.14 Link $297.91 Link
Epson SF-510 £140.63 Link $269.10 Link
Epson SF-310 £109.99 Link $208.11 Link
Fitbit Charge HR £105.00 Link $149.95 Link
Garmin Edge 1000 £390.84 Link $599.99 Link
Garmin Edge 520 TBC TBC
Garmin Edge 510 £249.36 Link $304.95 Link
Garmin Edge 810 £223.33 Link $394.95 Link
Garmin Edge 25 £139.99 Link $169.99 Link
Garmin Edge 20 £109.99 Link $129.99 Link
Garmin Epix £344.45 Link $549.99 Link
Garmin Fenix3 (Sapphire) £385.00 Link $589.95 Link
Garmin Forerunner 220 £158.09 Link $236.99 Link
Garmin Forerunner 620 £248.24 Link $388.28 Link
Garmin Forerunner 630 TBC
Garmin 910 XT £232.49 Link $318.11 Link
Garmin 920 XT £302.65 Link $483.00 Link
Garmin VivoActive £199.10 Link $244.95 Link
Mio Alpha 2 £117.71 Link $199.00 Link
Nike+ SportWatch £179.99 Link $149.89 Link
Polar M400 £119.95 Link $229.95 Link
Polar V800 £266.95 Link $308.49 Link
Suunto Ambit 3 PEAK £277.51 Link $381.10 Link
Suunto Ambit 3 Sport £194.95 Link $319.95 Link
Suunto Ambit 2R £151.64 Link $167.16 Link
TomTom MultiSport £148.58 Link $148.44 Link
TomTom MultiSport Cardio £179.99 Link $246.99 Link
TomTom Runner £89.99 Link $99.99 Link
TomTom Runner Cardio £161.99 Link $199.99 Link

 

Overall score: 88 out of 100

 

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