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Garmin fenix 3 vs. Suunto Ambit3 – Which is Better?

After so much time with Suunto watches, it was high time to try out the major competition among sports and outdoor devices, those made by Garmin.

In particular, that applies to the battle royale of the Garmin fenix 3 versus the Suunto Ambit3, the perhaps most-discussed two devices in the area of devices with GPS meant for outdoors use and sports training, the devices the merits of which keep being weighed.

The usual way the question goes, it’s all about which of the two is better, the fenix 3 or the Ambit3.

Wrong question.

I finally had a chance, spring to summer of 2015, to try out the fenix 3 parallel to the Ambit3, and I feel that my testing had the result that was to be expected: Both aren’t bad.

The real question is what you want from your GPS / sports device:

You may notice that I’m not having much to say about crashes or inconsistencies of the fenix3.

I simply did not see any performance I would call terrible, let alone any crashes.

The worst thing that happened during my testing of the fenix3 was that one time I went out for a mid-length tour and took the fenix3 when it was only 35% charged, which is no problem for a tour like it was with the Ambit3, and it turned off the GPS and stopped recording anything but the elapsed time when it had reached a 25% charge.

Not anything I liked to see, not the way I think this should be handled, but also something that I could have avoided simply by checking battery charge before going out…

In the end, I’m sticking with what I’ve argued for a while:

If you want (need?) a device that is more of a navigational tool and a stand-alone device (e.g. where customization is concerned), then a fenix3 has a good chance of being better for you. It also offers more smartwatch features and the rather nicer display, if you are after that.

If you want more of an outdoors watch that will help you in your outdoor pursuits as well as your sports training, but be made to do its job more quietly and unobtrusively, without errors or interruptions, then the Ambit3 has a good chance of being the better choice.

(By now, of course, there’s also the Garmin epix if you need even more of a maps-oriented tool on your wrist; and the news about the forthcoming Suunto I alluded to in the video, the Traverse, has started to break, too.)

Let’s also see what next year brings – but frankly, it continues to make the most sense to be less concerned with the technology on your wrist and more with your training and technique ;)

If you don’t yet have an Ambit3 or fenix3 and wouldn’t mind getting it from REI or Backcountry.com, consider following these links and I’ll get a commission if you buy there:

Thank you!

2 comments

    • Seval on 2017/05/10 at 15:03

    Reply

    Hello,
    I am about to buy of these watches through your website but I would only like to know which one you would recommend for backpacking/hiking purposes. I admire simplicity and comfort on a given product and so far I could only try how they feel on my wrist but didn’t get the chance to browse through their menus. Liked the Suunto’s comfort. Is the Suunto Ambit3 peak the top of the line watch for overall use from Suunto watches?
    Do you think I can order both, see how their menus are like and just keep the one I like most? Do those websites have good returning policies?
    Thank you very much,
    Seval

      • Gerald on 2017/05/10 at 17:55
      • Author

      Reply

      Re. the “top of the line”, of course there’s also the Spartan (Ultra) from Suunto and the fenix5 lineup from Garmin, by now.

      fenix5 is quite similar to fenix3, from what I can tell (except for the 5X adding map display on the watch, the 5S being smaller and thus perhaps more comfortable).
      The Suunto Spartan is at quite a strange position as it is getting quite nice, offers some things the Ambit3 can’t do (like the route display zoom), but still lacks a bit in stability and some of the features that the Ambit3 Peak offers.

      Between fenix and Ambit/Spartan, I still think it mainly comes down to whether you want a watch more focused on sports and not bothering (or being able to) change much when outside = Suunto or on also being a smartwatch and a replacement for a handheld GPS = Garmin.

      Don’t know where you’re located, so can’t say much re. stores. The ones I link to have good return policies, but those don’t help if you aren’t in the USA (unless it’s local Amazon you use ;) )

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