Following my review of the Garmin Fenix 2, I contacted Suunto to ask if I could test their Ambit2 GPS watch as a comparison. Happily, they agreed, and for the last month I've been spending some time getting to grips with it.
Readers of the Fenix review will remember my main beef with that watch was the odd functionality attributed to the barometer. I'm happy to say up front that the barometer on the Ambit2 works as expected, in much the same way as the Core. But there is, of course, much more to consider when weighing up the differences between the Ambit2 and the Fenix 2. And so, once again, I will delve into detail about using the Ambit2, following roughly the same structure I used to review the Fenix 2.
I have to say that, off the bat, I really wanted to like the Ambit2. Suunto is a Finnish company, and I felt a little pride in my adopted country. Furthermore, the watch is made in Finland, which is an unusual state of affairs these days. However, I also feel the need to be rigorous in testing, even if the testing period is limited (the watch was loaned to me by Suunto for about six weeks – a little longer than the period I tested the Fenix 2).
SIZE, DISPLAY AND BUILD
The Suunto Ambit2 seems a little larger than the Fenix 2. On paper it is actually not that dissimilar, but the design of the watch somehow makes it feel bigger than it really is. I think this is partially due to the convex base, which makes the watch appear to sit higher on the wrist, and partially due to the GPS sensor which (I assume) is fitted in an odd protrusion jutting out from the bottom of the face, and which looks oddly like the back of Darth Vader's helmet.
When combined with the moulded strap that, at least where it connects to the watch, is quite rigid, the Ambit2 tends to sit above the wrist rather than resting neatly on it, adding to the appearance of additional height. The rigidity of the strap also makes it feel a little tight at first – you definitely feel you are wearing a chunky watch, much more so than the Fenix 2. This feeling disspiated over the weeks, but I did find the sit and feel of the watch to be less comfortable.
Weight wise, the Ambit2 comes in at 82g / 2.9oz – slightly lighter than Fenix 2 (86g / 3 oz), yet, again due to the strap and design, somehow feeling heavier and more "present". The Ambit2, as is the case with Suunto's other watches, comes in a variety of designs to suit the relative contents of your wallet. While there are three models (the Ambit2 ("for explorers and athletes"), the Ambit2 S ("for athletes"), and the Ambit2 R ("for runners"), the only major differences between Ambit2 models (i.e. the ones for "explorers") are the design and the presence or lack of a sapphire screen. The one I received is the Ambit2 Silver, with a metal face, plastic body, and glass screen. The plastic body is fine; at least I don't get the allergic reaction I started to get with the Core. The watch feels very solid, although the metal has some small dents in it already.
Note: While testing the Ambit2, Suunto announced the Ambit3, which is essentially the same watch with a Bluetooth chip, a smartphone app, and consequent additional social sharing. The Ambit3 comes out in September, and I'll add notes throughout the review to highlight areas of difference.
The glass face of the Ambit2 is flatter than the Fenix 2s, and consequently attracts a bit less in the way of reflections. The display itself is by default black on grey (i.e. traditional LCD style), but you can switch it to inverted (grey on black) easily. This is a neat and simple feature that I wish the Fenix 2 had had. Generally, the black-on-grey traditional LCD colours are a lot easier to see in bright sunlight.
The fonts chosen by Suunto are somewhat uninspiring; it's a pretty basic font, there's nothing wrong with it – it's actually quite clear to read – just a little bland and lifeless. Beyond this, some of the icons used to indicate for example, battery life, are incredibly small – maybe 2mm. I've no idea why such a small size was chosen for such a big watch. I also found the intended meaning of some icons initially a little hard to determine, but these too became more familiar over time.
The night light is very bright, and by default the light turns off after a couple of seconds. There is a toggle mode in the settings, but it only toggles; i.e. it will stay on if you leave it on accidentally. It would be nice to if ou were able to press the light switch again in any mode and turn it off, as can be done with the Fenix 2.
The battery, as with the Fenix 2, is non removable, and charges via a USB clip.
I can't find specific information as to the capacity of the Ambit2 battery, but by and large it can be assumed to be fairly similar to the Fenix 2. In watch only mode (no GPS, no activities running, and little use of backlight and compass) battery life is rated at 30 days, and I see no reason to doubt that. The battery drain in watch mode is minimal.
Naturally, once you turn on GPS for activities the drain is significantly higher, however, as with the Fenix 2, careful adjustment of settings will reduce the number of route points recorded, and extend the battery life with GPS to a claimed 50 hours. There is a 10,000 point limit, and oddly even with the watch set to the lowest recording setting, I accumulated over 600 points just on a couple of short walks (around 5km total). The Fenix 2 seemed to offer more control over this, but it's hard to say how much of a limitation this is without extended testing.
As with the Fenix 2, because you plug the Ambit2 in to your computer whenever you want to upload data to Movescount (Suunto's online site to manage the watch and your training), each time you do this the watch battery recharges, so running the battery down completely is unlikely unless you are really inactive or out on a longer trek.
Should you be out in the wilderness for days on end, the watch can be easily charged via a USB powerbank. As it is only a small battery, it charges relatively quickly.
As with any rechargeable battery, questions remain as to longevity over multiple recharge cycles, and the inevitable reduction in capacity that that will eventually cause.
IN USE / USER INTERFACE
Suunto have taken a quite unusual route to simplify the adjustment of the Ambit2's settings. The Ambit2 doesn't offer access to many settings in the watch itself (even though it is slightly less complex in what it aims to be as a device). Instead, watch settings are adjusted online via Suunto's Movescount website, which I will cover in more detail later on, under Software & Firmware. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure I like this system, but I can't complain that it doesn't work.
By way of comparison, Garmin's Fenix 2 is by all accounts a complicated watch, and when I tested it I was impressed that the navigation of the menus and logic of finding the functions you wanted to change in the user interface was astonishingly simple. Withthe Ambit2, though, the options available on the watch are severely limited, and some of the decisions made about what should remain on the watch seem a bit odd. We'll get back to those later.
The Movescount website certainly looks nice, and it is more intuitive and quicker to make changes via a nice, minimal web interface than by navigating through a pile of menus. The usability of the site is sometimes a little counter-intuitive, and finding the particular setting you want to change takes some exploration and clicking around. Once you become familiar with it, it is quite effective – although I have to say I found it impossible to determine whether or not the changes I made had actually been synced to the watch. The Moveslink2 app that installs on your computer (I'm using Mac) doesn't have a manual sync button. To sync any changes made while the watch is connected you have to disconnect and reconnect the watch again – a small annoyance which frequently resulted in me thinking it had synced, only to find out in the field that it hadn't.
This highlights my main problem with online configuration systems: what if you're not near a computer? Or out of internet range? How do you then change a setting? Tough luck, you can't. You'll have to live with what you set at home, so you'd better get it right.
Fortunately, Suunto's user guide for the Ambit is lengthy, but clear. You at least get the feeling that everything has been covered, and in the end it doesn't take that long to read.
The functions that are available via the Ambit2s buttons and menus are also a little user unfriendly. For starters, the main menu is called "Options", which I personally found a little confusing, mainly because the secondary menus are also called Options (which is at least more logical), except on the main screen where the secondary Options menu takes you to a Shortcut menu. Confused? Good. Apparently that's what Suunto was aiming for. The result is that you never quite know what the button you are pressing is going to do, where it is going to take you, and what you will be able to do when you get there. You just have to keep on pressing, cancelling, and hoping to find what you were looking for. It's a little annoying too that you have to press and hold the button for a couple of seconds to enter a menu, meaning you have to look a the watch – you can't simply memorise the button presses needed to do x, y or z.
The Main ("Options") Menu offers just five choices: Personal / Navigation / General / Alti-Baro / Pair.
Personal covers your weight, age etc., and I'm not sure why that is accessible on the watch when most other functions are not: it is the data least likely to need changing (unless you are feeling particularly transgendered this week).
Navigation provides management of GPS-related data, and secondary access to navigation activity (it is also, more usefully, accessibly from the START/TSTOP menu). Here we encounter Suunto's perhaps telling decision to go against all existing logic and call waypoints "POI"s. You can also view a waypoint – but inexplicably only the Lat/Long data, not your position relative to it on a map; an odd decision that belies a certain lack of real user experience.
General provides access to basic settings like time format, map orientation, and compass calibration. You'll be needing that last one, and it's at least considerate of Suunto to add it to the menus rather than hiding it behind an obscure and difficult multi-button-press, as is the case on the Core.
Alti-Baro gives you access to the barometric pressure sensor, allowing you to calibrate it, turn on the storm alarm, or temporarily turn on GPS (FusedAlti) to set the altitude. I was pleased to see the storm alarm, but although it was turned on, I didn't experience any weather dramatic enough to trigger it,
Pair simple allows you to pair the watch with an ANT/ANT+ sensor (for heart rate, cadence etc.).
The START/STOP button allows you to begin Exercises (activities), and offers faster access to the Navigation menu (which leads one to ask why it is also on the Main/Options menu), and also the Timers (stopwatch/countdown) and Logbook (not very attractively presented data about recent activities – no maps either here).
After six weeks of using the Ambit2, I have to say that I find the menus and user interface frustrating and annoying. Every attempt to do something takes an inordinate amount of button pressing and even achieving something simple necesitates time spent hunting through menus. For me, this is the most irritating thing about the Ambit2: the user interface design gets me so frustrated that I start to swear and get agitated whenever I'm outdoors trying to use it. It gets in the way of me enjoying myself and doesn't encourage me to use the watch – quite the opposite in fact. It tried my patience so much I often wished I wasn't wearing it.
Of course, it's possible it's just me, and there is something in the design of the menus and interface that just doesn't click with me. Then again, I'm fairly tech savvy, and experienced in usability testing, and I can't help but think these are design issues that make the watch feel a little outdated for what should be a quite advanced, intuitive device.
TRACKING & ACTIVITIES
Like the Fenix 2, the Ambit2 has a long list of pre-defined activities: Alpine Skiing, Cycling, Hiking, Indoor Training, Mountaineering, Open-water Swim, Pool Swimming, Run a Route, Running, Transition, Trekking, and Triathlon. You can turn off the ones that are not relevant for you in Movescount, and create more as needed. I ended up with Hiking, Trekking, and Cycling. Navigation gets its own submenu (or rather two of them, as previously mentioned).
Each activity has a pre-defined set of data displays and settings which you'll need to explore and optimise on Movescount. Hiking, for example, had "Quick Navigation" activated, which automatically prompts you to choose a route or waypoint (POI) to hike to. This, frankly, was a pain in the ass, as all I wanted to do was hike, so I had to spend a few frustrating minutes trying to figure out how to turn it off, and it wasn't easy.
If you want to navigate anywhere while on your hike, you have to leave the "Exercise" activity and enter "Navigate", but if you want to save the data you need to remember to stop the activity first, which I invariably didn't remember to do, and then lost the data.
When navigating, there is an option named "View". One would think this would provide you with a simple overview map of the route or at the very least a point A to point B line. But no. It simply shows the latitude and longitude data, which is not particularly useful in most circumstances.
Indeed, finding a visual representation of any route is a rare thing. You can only see the map in Navigate mode – not in any of the exercise modes. It's almost as if Suunto don't realy want you to use it, which is odd as it forms a fairly significant part of their marketing imagery.
If you want to record your track and see a visual representation of it or your planned route, you have to have previously added the route or waypoints to the Ambit2, and be in Navigate mode. Hiking or Trekking modes do not confer the option of seeing a map. This, to me, is bizarre. There is a certain "stubborn engineer" logic to this, and as is typical with such things, from a user perspective it is not at all useful. When backpacking, I don't always want to navigate along a route; most of the time I want to record the trail, and see a rough map of it with any waypoint I have defined, so I can travel freely off trail, but return to a known point if needed. This is what I would consider basic GPS functionality, but it is not possible on the Ambit2.
Another usability annoyance of GPS features of the Ambit2 is encountered when starting an "exercise": you must wait for a GPS signal to be found. Fair enough, right? Sometimes this is quick (especially if you have recently located a signal recently, but occasionally (especially when you relocate to adifferent geographical area) the initial search takes a looong time, and the "percentage complete" indicator has a habit of teasing you. 24%, it will read... 25%... 26%... and then it inexplicably drops back to 9%! Over and over again. Slowly the numbers will increase... 54%... 55%... then back to 9%!!! This shouldn't be that hard. It's incredibly frustrating to watch when you just want to get going.
But that's not the end of it. When a GPS fix is found, you get an alert with a friendly beep (there is no vibration function on the Ambit) and the distance travelled display appears.
For some reason, at this point, on nearly every hike I've done, I assume the Ambit2 is recording. Finally, after minutes of fiddling, I can ignore the watch and start enjoying my hike. Then, after say 3km, I decide to check my progress and find that it hasn't started recording the hike! Expletives ensue, and only partly to myself at my own stupidity for not remembering I didn't hit the "START/STOP" button again.
Why does this happen? It's simple: as I said, after getting a fix, you need to manually press START to start recording. OK, this is logical enough. Indeed, the Garmin Fenix 2 works the same way - so what's the problem?
Well, the Fenix 2 displays a big "PRESS START" alert that fills the screen, so you can't miss it. The Ambit2 just has a tiny, tiny, 1.5mm indicator pointing to the START/STOP button that is far, far too easy to miss (and in fact, it is pointing directly at the word STOP). I have forgotten to press the button so many times it really isn't funny. There is nothing more infuriating than standing in a forest fuming at a stupid watch when all you want to do is enjoy your walk.
When you do try to navigate , you must choose a POI to start navigating to. Choose one at the start of the route and you navigate forwards. Choose the last one, and you navigate backwards. Sounds simple, until you exit navigation during a hike, and then want to continue to the last point, and the watch starts to navigate you back to the beginning, and not to the end of the trail because you stupidly forgot to set a waypoint at the end because it's the END of the trail and you thought you didn't need one. Seriously. Argh.
Furthermore, if you don't have a POI pre-loaded on the watch, and you select an activity with "Quick Navigation" enabled, you cannot then use that mode. The watch insists on you choosing a POI – but if there isn't one stored on the watch it kicks you back to the main menu and won't allow you to track the hike. This is extremely frustrating if you are in the field and unable to turn off quick navigation because you don't have a handy computer around with internet access.
Note: The Ambit3 will address this via the smartphone app, which will allow you to change settings in the field via Bluetooth. An internet connection on the phone is still a requirement
As with the Fenix 2, there is an Auto Pause function that, wait for it, automatically pauses tracking if you stop. I found it to be way too sensitive, and the chirpy little beeps it emitted all the time became quite irritating, so I turned it off.
On the plus side, GPS accuracy is good, and the navigation bearing indicators function effectively (although their appearance seemed somewhat erratic). There is a kind of proximity alert, but you have to be looking at the watch to see it (as mentioned, there is no vibration function to draw your attention, so blink and you'll miss it, which is why there are not photos, sorry).
There are no specific Geocaching options, but there is no reason why you can't "simply" add a POI in Movescount and navigate to it. One navigation feature I liked on the Fenix 2 – Project Waypoint – is sadly lacking from the Ambit2.
EXTERNAL (ANT+) SENSORS
As with the Fenix 2, the Ambit2 supports a wide range of external sensors from Suunto and third parties. I read somewhere that Garmin's tempe temperature sensor does not work with it, and this doesn't surprise me as there are no options for more unusual sensors anywhere.
The temperature sensor in the Ambit2 requires the removal of the watch for accurate readings. This, too, is nothing surprising, and is par for the course with all wrist-top devices.
Suunto sent me a heart rate monitor, which I usually don't have much interest in. However I gave it a go and found it to be easy to pair, hassle-free to use, and it provided some interesting additional statistics about my surprising lack of fitness when hiking around the shockingly high mountains of Rovaniemi. I would now consider investing in one, just as a means of increasing health, stamina, and ability. Naturally, if you're an athlete, you'd be interested in getting one, and the Ambit2 has a wealth of biometric measurements, recovery features, multisport activities etc., that I am not in the least bit interested in. If you want more info on that, you're reading the wrong blog.
The Ambit2s barometric pressure sensor works as expected. As in the the Core, you can calibrate the altitude or sea level air pressure, and the watch will follow changes in pressure based on it's knowledge of your activity (stationary/level or moving/ascending/descending). The "auto" function works well, and can assess via the accelerometer whether or not you are moving, and adjust automatically as necessary. In use, I found it to very accurately make corrections, and, even after two or three weeks without calibration, if I check it now it shows I am at 81 meters, which is close enough (I'm actually at 84m). This is very impressive, and the complete opposite of the Fenix 2s utterly inadequate implementation (I noticed some updates to the barometer in a recent Fenix software update, but cannot confirm whether or not this issue has been addressed).
The digital compass is another kettle of fish. It needs to be calibrated when you set up the watch: the process is a bit bizarre, and the rather unhelpful instructions will have you waving and turning in circles several times. The first few times I tried it, it didn't work. My frustration levels began to rise, but I eventually found that the more ridiculous I allowed myself to look while calibrting helped enormously. By doing a little dance and swinging my arms around like an idiot I finally got it to work. However...
Long-term readers will remember I had problems with the accuracy of the Suunto Core's digital compass; after some time it would lose its sense of direction entirely, and point in all sorts of completely wrong places. I'm sorry to say that I had a similar experience with the Ambit2.
After two days, "North" had relocated itself some 80 or so degrees to the west. At least Suunto have made it easy to recalibrate the compass from the menus. However, when I looked again while writing the first draft of this, the compass was again giving totally inaccurate readings (and yes, I moved away from the computer). And now, when taking the photographs for this article, the compass was again giving an inaccurate reading, almost 180º out.
I mean, I don't know what to think. It's a shame Suunto can't calibrate it in the factory, but in any case, even after self-calibration, the compass cannot be trusted, so always carry a traditional compass.
SOFTWARE & FIRMWARE
While Suunto do not update the Ambit2 quite as regularly as Garmin do the Fenix 2 (and their other devices), there have been several updates since the watch was launched. When you connect the watch to your computer, Moveslink2 opens and automatically syncs any data with Movescount, and updates the watch with new settings or firmware as needed. It's an almost invisible process, and so far has been painless and effective.
As I've already mentioned, successful syncing is largely dependent on having access to the internet, and any changes you make on Movescount to the settings of the watch requires a resync, achieved via disconnecting and reconnecting the watch. It's a bit clunky, and easy to forget in the cloud-driven-always-updated world we live in today, but at least it works, and at least there is only one app to deal with, rather than the three or four that Garmin use. Simple, in this case, is better – but there is a limit to how simple you might want things to be...
Movescount – Suunto's do-it-all web app – has been well designed to handle administering the Ambit2. For a site that has to do so much, it dies a pretty good job. It looks clean and is relatively easy to use. There are some odd choices for the names of some menus – for example, I don't think hiding the watch settings under a menu option titled "Gear" (and in a smaller font) is particularly helpful – especially when "Gear" is located right next to "Settings" – and I often have to spend some time hunting around trying to remember where all the settings are located. At least when you do find it, the layout is logical and makes adjusting the watch easy. (I'm trying to be positive here.)
However, there is one huge caveat: the mapping/navigation functionality sucks.
Why? Take a look:
Yep. You're looking at Google Maps. While Google Maps is great for city navigation, it's pretty much useless for anything that isn't a road. They have virtually no useful topographical information, so planning a route or placing an accurately-located waypoint is, frankly, impossible.
Even if it were possible, the clunky interface for doing so is so frustrating and annoying I was once again left shouting at the screen, my blood pressure rising, steam venting from my ears. If I'd had the heart rate monitor on it would probably have started to sound an alert. It is simply one of the worst attempts at creating route planning/waypointing functionality I have ever seen.
As an example: you can create a route, or you can create a POI. One or the other. There is an option when creating a route to also create waypoints, but then every single point on the route becomes a waypoint. It's insane. It astounds me that anyone could think this is adequate for a device designed for outdoor activities. Has nobody at Suunto actually used any other route planning apps?
Fortunately, there is an option to import a track that you create in another piece of software that can actually do the job well. Unfortunately, the import functionality is not very good – you can only import the route; waypoints on it are discarded, and there is no other option to import waypoints. Again: who came up with this?
It seems clear to me that the failure of Movescount to offer any kind of realistically useful route planning functionality belies the core targetting and purpose of the Suunto Ambit2. Planning a simple running route around a city is one thing, and Movescount, with Google Maps, is quite capable at doing that. But planning a 7 day hike in the wilderness with Google Maps and using the Ambit2 to navigate around it?
Rather you than me.
The Ambit2 does not have Bluetooth, so connections to smartphones are not possible.
The recently announced Ambit3 Peak does have Bluetooth, and will be released simultaneously with movescount Mobile. This will give similar funtionality to the Fenix with BaseCamp Mobile and Garmin Connect Mobile. There are some cool movie sharing features planned, and the phone can act as a "second screen" for the watch (I'm not convinced about the usefulness of that yet). However, the rest of the watch seems largely the same, and as I found that I turned off the battery-draining Bluetooth functionality on the Fenix 2, I suspect that the Ambit3 is again aimed at the city-dwelling athlete more than at the backpacker. Indeed, the marketing spiel has some suspiciously conniving use of English, saying that the Ambit3 Peak will help you reach "your personal summit", and not any actual summit.
One feature that is potentially useful is the ability to change settings on teh watch in the field via the smartphone app – however, an internet (3G or otherwise) connection is still a requirement, so if you're out of range, you're out of luck.
As such, I'm tending toward seeing the Ambit3 as an Ambit2 with Bluetooth, which isn't exactly a major selling point for me.
The Ambit2 comes with a sunrise/sunset calculator, but lacks the bells and whistles of the Fenix 2. I would have liked to see something along the lines of the Fenix's Project Waypoint function, and the Hunt and Fish info - additional functionality that really show that Garmin know how to use the GPS data for real world use.
Note: I saw the Ambit3 has a "Tides" function, so there's some hope there.
Suunto, however, have equipped the Ambit2 with the potential for a wide variety of additional features by allowing the watch to support Apps, and providing a method for users to install them on the Ambit2 via Movescount, or even crete their own. Currently there are almost 6000 apps available, however most of them appear to repeat existing functionality, many are variations on the same theme, and some appear to be only relevant to the person who created them.
The current top ten most used apps are:
Sunrise/Sunset Storm Alarm Current Incline How Hard Half-Marathon Time Beers Burned Off Marathon Time Sleeping HR Oxygen Level Fat Burner
Of those, the two pole position apps (Sunrise/Sunset and Storm Alarm) mirror functions already in the watch. Switching to most liked, the same apps appear. I can see the novelty value of Beers Burned Off, but of course the data for that is going to be highly unscientific.
Logically, this would be the place to find a user-created "Hunt and Fish" app, but a quick search for "fish" and "fishing" yielded no results.
I installed Beers Burned Off (it didn't seem to work), Sunrise/Sunset (it showed the time to sunset; potentially useful), Storm Alarm (seemed to repeat existing functionality), and a few others that repeated already existing functions.
The fact that most of the apps that have been created are geared towards athletes is, I think, indicative of Ambit2 target group. I love the idea of Apps – it opens up a huge amount of possibilities for anyone with some programming skill. I don't know how broad the Suunto API is, but it appears at least to be somewhat limited. Clearly it is only able to present data, and not receive input, thus preventing the creation of a "project waypoint" app. So while I applaud Suunto for facilitating this, it's a shame the implementation has resulted in the most popular apps duplicating existing functionality. All-in-all is was a bit of a let down.
IN COMBINATION WITH OTHER GEAR
One of the main reasons I wanted to test Garmin's Fenix 2 was to see how it complemented the Dakota 20. Because the Suunto Ambit2 uses Movescount, and the maps leave more than a little to be desired, it is very unlikely that I would use it in combination with the Dakota, or indeed any other gear (apart from, perhaps, a battery charger).
Theoretically, I could use the Ambit with Basecamp, Google Earth, or any other more fully-functional route-planning app, but the way that Movescount imports GPS routes and waypoints is so poor that I don't really feel any desire to do this.
As such, the Ambit2 works better as a stand alone unit, and is better suited to people who don't venture out into the untamed wilderness (or indeed anywhere away from Google Maps' road coverage).
It certainly does not replace a dedicated GPS unit by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, I would be hesitant to even consider using it on a trip where I felt some form of GPS location might be needed.
I really wanted to like the Suunto Ambit2. As I've said, I like my Core, and value the barometric functionality on it when hiking, so it was great to have that working as expected.
However, after a month using the Ambit2, I'm left underwhelmed. The Fenix 2 made me want to use it; its ease of use, good GPS implementation, and non-intrusiveness made me want to go outdoors and try more activities. The Ambit, sadly, has the opposite effect. I found the interface to be such an infernal mess of logic and naming that resulted in poor usability and left me frustrated and annoyed before I'd even started hiking. It was irritating to have to spend five minutes trying to find the right function and then find out later that information was not being recorded. The lack of an active map in anything other than "Navigate" mode was disappointing, and a critical omission: sometimes it can be helpful when hiking to see proximate waypoints. The time it took to get an initial GPS fix, moreover the false progress information given on the screen was infuriating. Whereas the Fenix 2 disappeared into the background, allowing me to enjoy myself in the outdoors, the Ambit2 got in my face like an irritating mosquito, and I ended up wishing I didn't have it on.
The most maddening thing by was that after finally getting a GPS fix, I would often forget to hit the "Start" button, and my trail would not get recorded until I eventually noticed. Now, to be sure there is a certain amount of user error here: admittedly I'm pretty tired these days, and over time I would become more familiar with the interface. However this is also an interface design failure. Garmin's very obvious "PRESS START" sign cannot be missed. A tiny, unobtrusive, blinking arrow is easy to miss.
The online integration with Movescount has a nice visual design, but a nice visual design can't mask a lack of functionality for serious outdoor GPS related activities. One cannot plot an accurate backcounty route using Google Maps, and while it's possible to use, for example, Garmin BaseCamp to plan a route, export it, import it into MovesCount, and then sync it with the Ambit2, that's a lot of loops to jump through, especially when you have to go through the reverse process if you want to see your track on a decent map.
In the end, the Ambit2 feels like a very good watch for sporting activities such as running, cycling, triathlon etc. There are certain design choices (i.e. the naming waypoints POIs, the lack of map in non-navigation modes) that seem to indicate the focus of the watch was athletes. And to be fair, for basic sport functionality it works fine. But for navigation beyond the well mapped areas of the city, Suunto's lack of experience in GPS – and more importantly in GPS management of tracks, waypoints, navigation – leaves the Ambit2 sadly lacking. Sadly, even though the watch is squarely marketed at "explorers and athletes" it is simply not a very useful tool for the backpacker, and in no way can it be said to replace or even complement a dedicated GPS unit. For me, ultimately, the Ambit2 was a source of frustration, and simply wasn't much fun to use.
If I could create a perfect watch, it would combine the design and interface of the Fenix2, with the option of web-based settings adjustments. It would have the alti-baro of the Ambit2 and the compass of the Fenix 2. It would have the bells and whistles (fishing times!) of the Garmin, and the Apps of the Suunto. It would have the maps and waypoints of the Fenix 2, and the black on grey screen of the Ambit2. It would draw on Garmin's navigation expertise and utilise a decent topo map to plan routes that would be free. What I would give for such a watch.
Would I wait for the Ambit3? No – I don't see anything in the specs that indicates improvements over the areas in the Ambit2 I have issues with – most significantly, the lack of decent mapping options (i.e. not Google!) for planning routes – and adding Bluetooth is not attractive, as I turned it off almost immediately on the Fenix: what use is a watch that lasts one day and constantly annoys you with alerts from Facebook?
At the moment, if I had to choose one watch for backpacking, it would unequivocally be the Fenix 2. Even with the dodgy alti-baro functions, it is far better suited to actual backpacking requirements in off trail areas.
WHERE YOU CAN GET AN AMBIT2
With the Ambit3 announced, you'll probably find some bargains from the links below. Backcountry, for example, currenly have the Ambit2 on sale.
The Suunto Ambit2 was loaned to me for testing for six weeks, and it has now been returned to the vendor.