Ambit2 Redux – Suunto Ambit2 R Review

The “Ambit family” is growing again, this time with the Ambit2 R “for runners” being added to the current lineup of Ambit2 (“for athletes and explorers” and Ambit2 S “for athletes”).

Suunto Ambit2R

Suunto Ambit2R

Basically, what the 2R does is dumb down the 2S to only those features most useful for runners, ditch even the aluminum bezel in favor of an all-plastic construction – but also offer a lower price point for all those who haven’t yet bought into Suunto because their other training watches didn’t have GPS, and the Ambits had too many features and too high a price.

But, it’s also interesting to existing owners of second-generation Ambits, for the 2R’s new features will be coming to those as well, later this spring.

So, what do you get?

The Ambit2 R is basically the same watch as the Ambit2 S, except that it only comes in black or white (at the current time, anyways) and has a plastic bezel. (On the 2S, the bezel is aluminum; on the Ambit2, it is steel.)

When it comes to functions, it offers the same possibility to customize sports profiles and use Ambit apps in them (and a slew of new apps made for runners, such as “ghost runners” and interval training guidance has been introduced with it), the same recording of heart rate (via HR belt), speed and distance and ascent/descent/altitude (from GPS only, of course).

It would still be possible to pair a 2R to a FootPOD, but it would only make sense for indoors training. Outside, the GPS is good at tracking speed and distance, anyways, and the in-built accelerometer, which has so far mainly just worked to provide FusedSpeed (pairing GPS and accelerometer data to provide more accurate speed/pace and distance information), is now also used to give cadence.

Of course, the GPS also records the track taken. Routes can be uploaded and navigated along same as on the Ambit2 S (or 2), “find back” pointing to the starting point along line-of-sight and “track back” leading back along the track formerly taken is also functional.

Navigation, however, is not a menu item of itself in the 2R anymore. Rather, one chooses to “run a POI” or “run a route” in the exercise menu. (Activating navigation and starting to follow a pre-planned/-synced route or using find/track back while out on a run, however, is possible just as with the other models – or it can be set up as “quick navigation” that is part of the customization of displays/exercise modes so as to have a custom mode that is made for runs along routes previously created in Movescount and synced to the watch).

What is missing from the 2R is the following:

  • navigation (as a separate menu and function outside of “moves”)
  • multi-sports features (no more switching between / combining activities within a move)
  • swimming (no recognition of indoor swimming distance, strokes, etc.)
  • biking (it would be possible to set up a custom mode for it, but not to pair the 2R with bike sensors)

New Features

The two big novelties of the Suunto Ambit2 R are, for one, the wrist-based cadence that is being introduced to the Ambit2 family.

Here, for all those already wondering, my results from the Ambit2 paired with a FootPOD Mini vs. the Ambit2 R:

31.36 km in 5:19’09 with a speed of 5.9 km/h average (16.2 max), 63 rpm average cadence (max 127), ascent 1478 m, descent 1450 m, lowest point 418 m, highest point 1578 m according to Ambit2 R,
30.56 km in 5:19’02 with a speed of 5.7 km/h average (15.8 max), 66 rpm average cadence (max 100), ascent 1370 m, descent 1386 m, lowest point 409 m, highest point 1596 m according to Ambit2 and FootPOD Mini on a recent road + mountain trail tour.

In normal flat running:

Distance 11.06 km in 57 minutes, speed 11.6 km/h avg (17.6 max), cadence 75 avg, 88 max according to Ambit2 R, or
distance 11.39 km in 57 minutes, speed 12.0 km/h avg (18 max), cadence 76 avg, 87 max according to Ambit2 w| FootPOD

10.04 km in 48 minutes, speed 12.6 km/h (max 16.6), cadence 78 (max 123 (?)) – Ambit2 R;
10.28 km in 48 minutes, speed 12.8 km/h (max 15.8), cadence 80 (max 84) – Ambit2 w| FootPOD

7.88 km in 0:43, 11.1 km/h (max 16.6), cadence 74, max 125 – Ambit2 R;
7.95 km in 0:43, 11.2 km/h (max 17.3), cadence 74, max 100 – Ambit2 w| FootPOD

I think the takeaway conclusion from all those comparisons is that

a) the cadence from the wrist works surprisingly well, if perhaps even a bit too sensitive – but the extra-high value in the third run listed above most likely came when I played around to see how quickly the cadence measurement of the 2R reacts – which is very quick and no matter if the arm is swung or held high to look at the watch.

b) I think my FootPOD needs calibrating (which the 2R / Ambit2’s upcoming firmware should make easier, too).

Secondly, and, finally, the Ambit2 R introduces the ability to not only plan ‘moves’ (training sessions) on Movescount and have them shown in the calendar there, online. Rather, the 2R (and Ambit2 and 2S after a firmware update coming later this spring) can sync planned moves to show reminders and provide guidance for them – rather like the Quest, as it were.

Getting Training Guidance

One important thing to know about the new reminders and guidance for training plans / planned moves: To actually be guided as you’ve set it up, you need to enter the exercise menu and start the training session via its reminder display.

First reminder: It's a training day

First reminder: It’s a training day

If you just push “start/stop” from the main (time) display to get to the exercise menu (as it was always done to date), then you’re just starting *an* exercise, for which you can get guidance via the HR limits if you’ve set them up to be used (or activate them), but you’re not actually following the plan.

If you push “next” (the middle button on the right) to go from the time display to the reminder display which shows you what you’ve planned to do, and then push “start/stop”, then you’ll get into the exercise menu where you choose your activity (highly recommended: the one you’ve planned, with the custom/exercise mode you’ve set up the way you want it for the kind of training you’re planning to do).

Second reminder: the training plan

Second reminder: the training plan (in this case, showing that it’s plan 1 of 2 for this day; #2 is shown when pushing the “view” button). Start the planned move by pushing “start/stop” while on this display!

Next, the sports display. Pick yours!

sports display

Note that this display also includes “run a POI” and “run a route”…

Next, then, you’re shown another reminder of what your plan is. This may sound silly at first, but it means that a planned move first shown as being 60 minutes of running at “moderate” HR levels, for example, is then displayed as 60 minutes of running at a heart rate of 146-168 bpm (in my case, as this is how my moderate HR zone is set up – see below).

 

Second reminder, here and now with HR values

Second reminder, here and now with HR values

Out on that run, then, there is guidance as set up (also see below) and there are displays for when 50% and 100% of the planned program (move) are completed.

First, of course, you will want to actually plan your training.

Two ways, as there has been: 1) enter individual “planned moves” or 2) find or create a training program/plan to follow and active that in your own “planned moves”.

Remember that using a training plan will overwrite individually planned moves, and remember to check the button in the window above the training (plan) calendar to “Always synchronize my planned Moves to my Suunto Ambit2 R. See gear settings for more options.” (which is checked by default, anyways).

Then, there isn’t only the time display on the 2 R, there is also the aforementioned reminder display. (And at the start of a day, the main time display’s bottom line will display “training day,” as seen above, until you have looked at the reminder display for that. Then, it switches back to showing weekday/seconds/second time zone/battery status, as usual.)

Two things to know and remember about setting up training guidance:

1) Set up your individual HR zones in “Settings” -> “Body metrics” on Movescount. The zones set there (also shown as “easy,” “moderate,” “hard,” etc. when hovering over the, also differently colored, HR ranges) are the same used in the guidance when you set up a move to be for a certain time and intensity (again, “easy,” “moderate,” etc.).

Movescount heart rate zones

Movescount heart rate zones

planned move using HR

Planned Move using HR zone limits

A move set up like that will display guidance based on the set HR zone, using up/down arrows to show when the HR should be higher/lower and acoustic signals after about a minute outside of the zone and immediately when re-entering the right zone after having been outside it long enough for the acoustic signal to speed up/slow down to have gone off.

2) When you set up a planned move with a time, *a distance*, and an intensity, then the guidance will not be by heart rate, as in the above (with only time and intensity), but by pace. Set up for a pace of 5’00 min/km, for example, a pace slower than 5’00/km will get an up arrow (and after a while, the acoustic signal to speed up), a pace faster than 4’20 (if I remember correctly) will get the down arrow (and signal) to slow down.

planned move using pace

Planned Move using Pace

As always, remember to set up (customize) the displays/sports you want to use the way you want to use them, e.g. showing heart rate and/or pace (or speed) for guided training based on those criteria.

Conclusions?

No review without conclusions… and it’s something of a mixed bag, but for different reasons from the usual: The only “problem” with the Ambit2 R is that most of the people particularly interested in Suunto’s Ambit family probably have an Ambit already or want more, not fewer, features. If you have an Ambit2 or 2S, there is no reason at all to check out the 2R, except that its new features will be coming to your device.

The most necessary of features, they are not, but it will certainly be nice to have them if one wants to use them. (My personal ambivalence about my watch telling me what to do surfaces here: I like getting guidance to stay within certain HR zones, I will probably combine that with one of the new “ghost runner” apps to balance desired fast pace and exertion/HR, I don’t mind having the opportunity to set up a training plan and see what I’ve planned on the watch – but I also enjoy running when and how the fancy strikes me rather too much.)

Getting cadence-on-the-wrist is a nice addition making good use of the accelerometer (and taking away the last reason for the FootPOD Mini in outdoors use), but now that the accelerometer is used for more, I wonder why/when it will be used to also let the Ambits compete against the FitBits of the world and the Polar V800 and measure everyday activity as well.

Clearly, all these are not the real considerations for the 2R. The real audience are people who need neither the more-exact barometric altimeter and ultramarathon-long battery runtime of the Ambit2, nor even the multisports capabilities of the Ambit2 and 2S, but simply want a GPS runner’s watch. In that market, the Suunto Ambit2 R will be another worthy contender. For all the fanatics, the wait for news about an Ambit3 is on ;)

8 thoughts on “Ambit2 Redux – Suunto Ambit2 R Review”

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  3. Ronald Strasser says:

    Hi. Gerald. A short question. Is it possible to navigate a 100k course with a battery life of 17+ hours?

    1. Gerald says:

      Well… Recording it, yes, if you set up the GPS fix (in the “advanced settings” on Movescount’s “Gear” settings pages) to be 5 sec or 60 sec.
      Using navigation, however, changes the GPS fix to 1 sec, no matter how you’ve set it up, and even the Ambit2 (or now, Ambit3)’s battery doesn’t last that long.

      There are two ways around that:
      1) If you do not always need navigation, you can turn it on only when you need it, otherwise use a sports mode with 5 sec or 60 sec GPS fix. That way, you get the (good-enough, but not as good) track recording and longer battery life when you are just running, and navigation (with 1sec GPS fix, more drain on the battery) when you need it. For that, though, you need to set your track up so that it’s easy to tell which waypoint you should be reaching next, so you can turn on navigation to that point. Even so, it’s quite a bit of a navigation through the Ambit’s menu.
      2) The easier option is to simply bring some USB battery/recharger and hook that up to the Ambit you are using when it’s running low on battery. May be a bit strange to have a cable routed from your running pack to your wrist, but you can recharge while you continue to navigate/run, that way.
      Either way, an Ambit2 or Ambit3 Peak model is recommendable for the long events because it has the longer battery runtime and larger memory.

      1. Ronald Strasser says:

        Thanks a lot, Gerald.
        That´s what I thought. I´m using the Ambit 2 and now I know, that the navigation overrules the manually set GPS interval.

  4. Andrew Ward says:

    Hi Gerald,
    Does the cadence on the wrist watch using the accelerometer need to be multiplied by 2? I am a born again runner and I am getting between 70 and 80 on a good day on the Suunto. The “experts” are saying 180 is the optimum this seems to be too far off and a little unrealistic. I am slow but this does not make sense to me.
    Thanks in advance for any comments.
    Regards
    Andrew

    1. Gerald says:

      Yep. There are two ways that (running) cadence can be measured, with footfalls no matter what foot or with strides, always counting the same foot.
      Most publications seem to use the steps per minute-system when they recommend a certain cadence, Suunto has gone for the other count… So, aim for 90 “rpm” as per Suunto to get the 180 cadence so often recommended.

  5. ross phillips says:

    Hi,
    Many thanks, you have saved me a lot of frustration. I cannot believe how user unfriendly Movescount is. Sometimes I think it might as well be in Chinese. How did you find out for example that you need to leave the distance blank if you want guidance based on heart rate zones? I´m ver glad in any case that you did.
    Many thanks again
    Ross

    1. Gerald says:

      How I learned that? Tried and true method of trial and error ;)

      One more point, the one you mention, that I must not forget to put into the Ambit3 review (part 3) I should already have finished but haven’t been able to get to yet. A “review” which will basically end up being the missing manual…

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