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Suunto Ambit2S Review – The Ambit2’s Sporty Sister

I got my Ambit2, and I have been (ad)venturing out with it ever since, to the point of forgetting that I had actually started out testing the second generation of Suunto’s Ambit line with the Ambit2S. Hence, I never finished this review.

New things are starting to be on the horizon, though; there still seems to be some confusion as to what the differences between the Ambit2 and the Ambit2S are offering; and after a year of use, there are a few changes and lots of experiences. All reason to return to reviews…

Target Group

Where Suunto’s Ambit (and the newer Ambit2) seemed to be/are aimed at outdoors people – even as they are really made for outdoors sports training and events such as ultramarathons, not so much for the general outdoors – the other member of the Ambit family that has been introduced, the Ambit2S, makes very clear who its audience is: triathletes, Ironman competitors, and other athletes who may end up outdoors in their training, want an all-in-one GPS training device, but don’t care so much about the weather or the verticals.

Ambit2SThe obvious differences: The barometric pressure sensor (for barometer/altimeter) has gone, the battery has shrunk, and with that, the thickness and weight of the watch have been reduced.

On the first unpacking, these differences are not actually all that obvious. If it weren’t for the different, colored, bezel (on the red and lime green versions, especially), the 2S would appear to be just like the Ambit (or Ambit2). Even the reduced thickness isn’t too noticeable, even when holding an Ambit and a 2S next to each other.

Put it on the wrist, though, and it is considerably more comfortable – easier to wear under a shirt, and easier on the wrist, especially on longer training sessions.

Training, that is the key term here. Or triathlon – with which we find that the Ambit2S could just as well have been a t7, delivering the long-awaited successor to Suunto’s t6c/t6d, its hitherto top training model. (Except that the t6c/d still does more analysis, away from a computer and away from an internet connection, and offers more training timers natively.)

With new swimming and expanded bike functions, plus multisport modes and capabilities for easy switching between activities within a single training session (along with the ability to run multiple apps, all made possible by upgraded hardware), the Ambit2S is clearly aimed at people who wanted a version of the Ambit to use in sports training and triathlons, but don’t need the more exact altitude measurement and the longer battery life of the Ambit or Ambit2 (and would rather have reduced thickness and weight).

Let’s get into detail.

Operation

Basic operation remains the same as on the original Ambit, but the change away from the outdoors and towards sports already shows on the main screen(s): here, in time mode, only the time/date screen is ordinarily displayed. Only once compass and/or timers are activated does the “next” button switch from the time screen to this other / these other display(s).

(On the Ambit/Ambit2, in contrast, time mode also shows the barometer/altimeter and compass screens as standard. Since firmware update 1.5.14, the Ambit2 barometer/altimeter display also has a “view” which displays the time of the next sunrise and sunset; on the Ambit and Ambit2S, an app – and therefore, a custom/exercise mode – must be used for that. – Cp. the YouTube video here.)

As on the original Ambit (and since the last firmware update, the Ambit2), a long press on the “view” button (at the lower left) will switch the display between positive and negative (i.e., light display w| black text or black display w| light text).

Long press on “next” still leads into the settings menu; a push on the “start/stop” button, as per the standard, leads to the activity menu, and in particular to the selection and start of exercise/training/sports/custom (whatever you want to call them) modes.

The raison d’etre for the Ambits, of course, are these custom, training, modes. As on the Ambit(2), these can be customized as desired on Movescount; like the Ambit2 (and unlike the Ambit, which is limited to one app per custom mode and single modes/moves), the Ambit 2S can run up to 5 apps per custom mode, log up to two of those, log swimming data and improved bike data (from an ANT+ bike power meter, if present), and switch quickly from one sports mode to the next, creating multisports moves that can be analyzed in their entirety or as separate parts.

These particular capabilities are worth a closer look, especially where they weren’t yet considered in the Ambit2 review.

Multisport Mode(s)

What multisport mode does is basically a) provide an easy and faster way of switching between custom modes and b) record those different sports as legs of a single move.

It is most easily explained, and obviously meant for that, by looking at the triathlon: The old way of doing things (think Ambit, the original) would require you to start the “swimming” section, record that, stop and save it in the transition area, turn on your “running” mode, and so on…

With the Ambit2 and 2S, a triathlon multisport mode can be (and is, in fact, pre-) set up, consisting of the requisite swimming, running, and biking modes.

Set as a multisport mode, all that is necessary to have the 2/2S change from one mode to the next is a longer press on the (upper left) “back/lap” button. With that, the next mode in the list (as set in Movescount’s “customization”) gets started. The different modes/sports/sections are recorded as part of a single “multisport” “move” which can be analyzed as a single activity or as different sections; the GPS track will be recorded and shown for the whole event.

In order to create a multisport mode and have it on the watch, its individual elements (different sports modes) have to be set up in Movescount and transferred to the watch. This means that they are on the watch as individual modes as well. The downside of this, especially for people who want to record their transitions during a triathlon individually as well (i.e., not record a triathlon as a multisport move with the sections swim-bike-run but rather with swim-transition1-bike-transition2-run), is that it’s easy to get to the maximum number of sports modes quickly. For different sets of activities, then, different modes need to be (de-)activated on Movescount and synced to the watch.

On the upside, all the different custom/sports modes that are synced to the watch can also be used for a manual multisports mode: When not in a pre-set multisports mode, in which that longer press on “back/lap” shifts to the next mode in the list until it has run through it (and then changes to what comes now), that same press will activate the function to change sports mode.

So, if you go out for a bike ride, decide to switch to running somewhere, and then ride the bike back, you don’t need to have a multisports mode (and one for cycling-running-cycling at that) set up. You just “hold to change sport” (that’s what the display will show you when you long-press the “back/lap” button while in a sports mode) where you want to change from using cycling to running mode (and again when changing from the run to the bike). If customized to be like that, activating the running mode will have the watch look for a FootPOD, changing to cycling will have it look for the BikePOD, individual or total time will be shown depending on how the displays of the individual sports modes are set up, and the whole “move” will be displayed as one single big multisports mode with different (sports) sections…

Swimming

Something that the Ambit2 and Ambit2S also share, but that I hadn’t yet addressed so much in my Ambit2 review, is the swimming functionality.

Basically, there are two possible modes, as things are pre-set up: outdoor swimming using the GPS for distance and track recording and indoor swimming which needs pool length to be set up prior to starting the “move,” and recognizes laps based on the rapid change in acceleration occurring at the turning points. That later is a nicety and a weak spot, for these ‘autolaps’ need a fast turn and can also be triggered when changing pace in the middle of the pool. Frankly, though, I’m not big on swimming…

Movescount openwater swim map

Map of an “openwater swim” last summer ;)

Navigation

Navigational capabilities of the Ambit2S are on-par with the Ambit2, and since the last bigger firmware update, they include true track-back (along the previously recorded track) and a navigation logbook which makes it possible to use the tracks that are still in the device memory as routes – but for those, I actually should return to reviewing the Ambit2 (and there are some video attempts at showing how this works). After all, given its additional capabilities with regards to altitude/barometer and sunrise/sunset time plus the double battery runtime, it is clearly the Ambit2 that is made for the longer-term outdoors adventures whereas the 2S is made for the sports and training.

Training Plans and Guidance

Like the Ambit and Ambit2, the Ambit2S also shows peak training effect and recovery time for training guidance.

However, here too the Ambit family remains distinct from Suunto’s fitness device lines (t, m, Quest) in not syncing with training plans (to give reminders of them) or suggesting training plans. The idea – or at least, the way I explain it – is that the Ambits are for people who know what they are doing and just want the data that will tell them they are on track with it, whereas the fitness lines of devices are for people who want (more or less complete) guidance via their training watch.

One suggestion I’d make to people interested in a Suunto training watch but unsure which one to get is to compare looks and features of the Quest (plus the GPS Track POD… which I also never reviewed ;) ) with those of the Ambit2S…

Conclusion

In battery life, the Ambit2S is a step down from the original Ambit, but in pretty much all other aspects, it is a step up. Compared to the Ambit2, however, it is more “outdoors athlete”/triathlete than “explorer,” for the battery runtime is half, barometer/altimeter has gone missing, and sunrise/sunset are not natively displayed.

If you are looking for a companion device for your outdoors training, don’t need the longest battery run time but would rather go for something a little less thick and heavy (and therefore, more comfortable on many a wrist), though, the Ambit2S is well-worth a look.

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