at home in...

adventuring with the Suunto Traverse. Review (and Manual)

With the Traverse, Suunto is going into a very interesting direction:

Sure, it may show something of the design that an Ambit4 / successor to the Ambit line may end up having, as rumors go.

But, where such rumors have people waiting for a new top-of-the-line model to blow away former Ambits and maybe, for good measure, the current crop of smartwatches, the Traverse is decidedly not that.

[Update: In the meantime, summer/fall 2016, Suunto released the Spartan line. It, too, went in a different direction, which you can read about here.]

Rather, Suunto has gone the route of simplification.

With the Traverse, they are clearly not looking to the dedicated outdoors and sports people who want a high-tech tool for their training analysis and exploration.

Instead, the focus is on average folks who want to enjoy the outdoors more, with a good-looking outdoorsy watch that will add just that touch of security and self-tracking motivation that may have been keeping them from venturing out a little more.

As much as I like to go for ultramarathon distances and advocate sleeping high (in a mountain bivouac), sometimes – oftentimes! – the most important thing for fitness is to just move more, and the most important thing for learning and growth and the life that gets more at home in this world is to explore and ‘adventure’ more, in the everyday.

A gear item that can help with that? A good thing, in my opinion.

In comes the Traverse, which is meant to be just that: easy to use, always with you, and unobtrusively helping with a touch more exploration and (micro)adventure.

The main thing to notice, and to start with, is the different user interface and button logic: Displays and menus are very similar to how they have been on the Ambits, but noticeably different in certain respects, as well.

Time Mode Displays

The basic time display now shows an abbreviation for the day of week plus the date in the top line, the time in the big middle row, and various other data in the bottom row, switched by pushing the (lower left) “view” button:
Seconds; number of steps; battery charge; time of sunrise/sunset; altitude; weather trend.

Other screens in time mode are – as on the Ambits, as always – switched to by pushing the (center right) “next” button.

On the second screen, there is the barometer/altimeter (with the “views” of temperature, sunrise/sunset, reference altitude/pressure, and a graphical display with 24-hour barometric trend or 12-hour altitude change).

The third screen shows the compass (and one can lock in a bearing by pushing the “back/lap” button.

‘Customizing’ Time Mode Displays

As on the recent Ambits, displays can be activated or deactivated in the activity menu (push the “start” button and go to “displays”); aside from compass and alti/baro, that also includes a countdown and a stopwatch display. All four of these displays can be turned on or off.

A Note on the Step Counter

So far, the step counter is only really good  for a personal daily review. Yes, it does count steps, but once midnight is here, the counter resets to zero, and the data is gone.

Movescount does not (yet?) receive and store this data, neither does the Traverse itself, so you would have to review your day and write that down yourself if you wanted a memory of it. A good habit, perhaps, but not what one would expect from an activity tracker.

Admittedly, all wearables are seen as having problems actually motivating the change they purport to help with, but still, Suunto could do more on that front – and they are aware of that.

Ewa Pulkkinen, product manager for the Traverse, told me that Suunto is well-aware that a record of the daily steps will be a much-demanded feature and they are looking into that. (Which isn’t a promise, but good to hear.)

An additional issue is that the step counter uses the accelerometer built into the watch, but when in navigation mode/view, the compass needs to use the same accelerometer. Thus, when in navigation or compass view, steps cannot be counted.

(So, on the day of a 24-24.5 km run, the Traverse told me I took 16564 steps. I.e., since I was almost always on the navigation display, the step counter knew little, or perhaps quite something but far from everything, of that run.)

It’s one of those things I’m very much torn about.

I understand that people could care about it and thus wish this could be exact. At the same time, it would take something that isn’t wrist-worn but on the hip to avoid counting gesticulation as steps – and that’s just the beginning of it.

Even being like that, the number of steps may be an indication of an active lifestyle, yes, but it isn’t the most sensible of measures or motivations. Unless you have a desk job and move just about nothing during the day, in which case a) you probably know that even so, if you are honest with yourself, and b) any step counter will show a strikingly low number.

I used to have a FitBit and found it interesting as an additional data point, but it was never too useful – and I lost it somewhere, so can’t compare how the recordings would have compared.

At the moment, with the step count not being stored on Movescount, it would actually (in my opinion) make more sense to count only those steps being taken outside of a move recording, as just a reminder of how much one has been moving in everyday life. That would actually make sense, alongside the training/moves logbook, even when/once/if step counts are being stored to Movescount…

One last thing you might want to know:

The step counter updates every 60 seconds, not in real time. So, if you walk (or swing your arms) and think it’s broken because it doesn’t constantly increase its step count… that’s not actually it.

Traverse Button Shortcuts

Where it becomes noticeable, again, that the Traverse is a different beast (than an Ambit) is in some of the button logic, i.e. in which button does what…

One-Button POI

Long press the (lower left) “view” button, and you active the one-button “Save location” feature.

So, GPS gets activated (if it isn’t already), your location determined, and you get asked to save that location as a POI (point of interest).

No more fumbling around in the navigation menu to just quickly set your home or hotel as a POI – but if you want to change the display between positive and negative, you will have to go deep into the menu for that now ;)

Flashlight

Long press the (lower right) “light” button, and you turn on the “flashlight” feature of the Traverse, which gives a screen that is blank except for a flashlight symbol  and set to highest brightness.

People had been joking that the backlight of the Ambit displays is bright enough that, if you forget to turn it down to around 20% of maximum brightness, you could use it as a flashlight; here you go…

Normal backlight, at your desired (i.e., previously set up) brightness level is activated by a short press of the same “light” button, and it can be customized for normal or night modes or to be toggled on/off.

Button Lock

Since it has changed which button does what, the button lock has moved, too: Long pressing the (upper left) “back/lap” button now locks the buttons (again, either completely or just for “actions” such as turning off a recording).

Alti-Baro & Navigation Shortcuts

Not entirely shortcuts, but pushing the (upper right) “start” button while on the alti/baro display immediately leads into the alti-baro menu, and pushing the same button while on the compass display leads into the navigation menu.

Button Shortcuts for/in Recording Mode

While we’re at it: There’s also a shortcut, holding the (upper right) start button, to start a recording (or the activity / sports mode selection if more than one mode is active) immediately.

In a sports mode / recording or time display (everything but navigation, compass, or alti/baro, in other words), i.e. when recording a track, holding the “start” button is also a shortcut to stop and save the recording immediately.

And finally, most of the standard buton shortcuts also work in recording mode…

How to Invert the Display

Just because it’s quite fitting here, and now more hidden… One can invert the display between positive and negative, but with all the new button shortcuts / button logic, this option is now somewhat hidden in the menu:

Getting Active: Record & Sports Modes

What the Ambits call “Exercise” has, on the Traverse, become simply a “Record” entry in the menu.

The way the Traverse is initially delivered, that’s exactly what it does, too: Activate it, the GPS gets started, and once that signal is found, the recording of the track you’re on has automatically started. (As you can also see in the video just above.)

Running in the background, so to speak, is a sports mode just like on the Ambits, just a single initial one for “hiking.” You could leave it at that if all you do (and want your Traverse for) is walking around, but you can also customize a Suunto Traverse with (up to 5) sports modes.

Simplification is the name of the game here, too, so aside from the R-R based training analytics (e.g. PTE and EPOC), such things as cadence or multisports modes or the analytics of swimming modes are not available on the Traverse.

Still, you can go into “Gear” -> “Customization” and to “Sports Modes” on Movescount to set up (up to) five different modes to sync with and use on the Traverse, with different GPS usage, using or not using a HR belt (if you pair a Bluetooth Smart / BTLE HR belt with your Traverse), and the different data fields and display types offered (which is still a pretty wide selection).
(Also, to be exact, you can actually set up just about as many modes as you’d like to, but you can only activate up to five to be used in the Traverse.)

Every mode can have up to four different (customized) displays, and one Suunto (Ambit) app can also be used (if it receives the data it needs from the Traverse, I assume).

I can just imagine the people who are coming from the Ambits describe everything as a limitation of the Traverse, and it is tempting to just see/interpret the Traverse as a dumbed-down Ambit in a different case, indeed.
It wouldn’t do it justice, though, it’s just that it is meant for a different kind of user.

Anyways, if you set up more than one sports mode / activity on your Traverse, then selecting “Record” (in the Start menu or via the shortcut) adds another step where you choose what type of activity you want to do, picking the mode you have set up and transferring it to Movescount, later, as this type. One can also start navigation (in different ways), and that will also ask for the type of activity and start a record(ing)…

Displays when Recording a Move

Perhaps the biggest update of the Traverse comes with the displays shown when in recording mode.

The displays set up for the mode in question are there, of course.

However, not only the compass display can be (and is normally) shown, but also the alti/baro and, above all, the time display (with all its “views” in the bottom row) is there.

In short: All the displays (normally) active in time mode – I’m saying it like that as alti/baro and compass are active out of the box, countdown and stopwatch can be activated or turned off by the user in time mode, but are not available while ‘recording’ – are also shown in recording/sports mode.

So, turning on the ‘recording’ basically just adds the displays for the sports mode (as customized) in front of these time mode displays.

(In the video, I used the “running” sports mode I set up on Movescount; of course, what exactly you see on how many of the sports mode displays depends on how you’ve set them up and what mode you’re using, except when it comes to the above-mentioned displays that are always shown.)

Sports mode – in the Traverse diction: a record(ing) – also shows the navigation breadcrumb display that is the hallmark of the Traverse, and of course navigation (to a POI or along a route previously created via the Movescount website) can also be activated.

Navigation

As long (or should I say, as soon?) as a recording is being done (or navigation is activated), a GPS track is recorded – and not just recorded now, but also shown as real-time breadcrumb track directly on the watch.

If you are using a route to navigate, both the route and the breadcrumb track are shown, unless they are directly above each other anyways, of course; POI navigation and the breadcrumb track can also be combined.

The Traverse can store up to  250 POI, 100 waypoints, 50 routes, and 10000 route points in all.

Should be enough to lead quite a few ways ;)

Trackback

Given the always-on breadcrumb track, there is no trackback. After all, if you need to head back, just simply follow in your (digital) footsteps.

I should mention, though, that the (navigation) logbook on the Traverse can also be used for route navigation/trackback, (re-)activating a track recently moved along and recorded (and still stored in the Traverse’s memory).

This is useful a) for checking out a trail, recording it, and then using that recorded track to navigate there (which is more of a thing for an ultramarathon and using an Ambit) and/or b) when heading up a trail, staying overnight and wanting to turn off the recording or even do other tracks up there, to still be able to track back along that route later.

Find Back

The start location is still recorded as the starting point, however, so if it looks as if tracking back along the breadcrumb track is not the best option, one can also activate “find back” to get the (additional) navigation view that shows the direct (as-the-crow-flies) direction and distance to the starting point.

Routes

Routes can be created in Movescount, which now supports Google Maps, a Chinese map provider (Gaode Ditu, necessary for China) and – introduced with the Traverse – Mapbox, which uses the maps from the Openstreetmap project.

The latter is important to note because these maps are often more detailed, especially when it comes to small trails and the like, and because they include altitude data. This makes it now possible to see an altitude profile of the route while planning it, rather than being stuck with only the 2D view on the map.

Activate for the route to be used in the Traverse, and there it is, as known from the Ambit line, in a full overview or a zoomed-in view (automatically adjusting to different scales depending on distance from the track or on whether the track is just going straight or taking a turn).

Route navigation has, at the moment at least, been simplified rather too much, though (at least, in the view from the Ambit):
You can set up waypoints along your route when you are planning it, but they are not being used in the Traverse. Neither the route shows them, nor is there a screen with the direct heading and distance to the next waypoint.

(This is something that the Ambit line does.

It has been useful at times when it was unclear what path to take or when going off path, and some people used it to alert them when they approach a waypoint or intersection, some even by setting it up so that it will not show them a name but the instructions for which way to turn next.

But, it also caused some confusion and headaches because the waypoint view shows the heading as the crow flies, and because missed waypoints require manually “skipping” over them.

Here, there was also some input I got from Ewa Pulkkinen, which is that Suunto is looking into ways to make the navigation work better and yet be simpler in future. Just look at the POI navigation for some ideas, I’d say…)

 

POI

Same as the starting point, POIs can also be navigated to.

First of all, these can either be stored directly on the watch via the “save location” shortcut (see above), one can “define” a “location” somewhere else (with known coordinates) directly on the Traverse, or they can be set up on the Movescount website.

And, the Traverse can hold up to 250 POIs.

POI Navigation

One of the interesting things about the Traverse is its ability to help navigate to a POI.

What makes it so interesting is the data being shown, which includes not just the general direction of and distance to the POI in question, but also (switching displays by pushing the “view” button) the distance to the POI and the estimated time to arrive there, as well as the altitude difference between current and POI altitude.

Navigation Setup in Movescount

Most of the navigation options are best, if not only, to be set up on Suunto’s Movescount website: POI (if not a location stored or defined directly on the Traverse), and especially routes.

Especially noteworthy:

GPS reception comparison

Funny thing that. I’m pretty sure that I know a few people who will look at the difference between the Ambit3 Peak and the Traverse I found in taking both out on ~20 km runs and be shocked.
It looks like the Traverse was off, away from the roads, quite a bit; it also recorded quite a bit less of a distance one of the two times (24 km versus the 24.5 km recorded by the Ambit).

And, this doesn’t even show that there were instances where the Traverse updated the position display only after I’d already gone around a bend in the road, lagging behind the Ambit.

That lag is something that I do hope can and will get corrected, if it was due to a problem and not just a glitch that only happened then and there. Either way, it did not disturb too much, and especially not when moving at a slower pace, which is what the Traverse is predominantly meant for.

That difference in distance, on the other hand, is a mere 2% if you actually calculate it.
Those bits off the road are maybe 2 meters, and they were not noticeable while out there.

So, it doesn’t look that good, but isn’t that bad, either.

(Tracks are from Ambit3 Peak (yellow; worn on left wrist) and Traverse (orange, worn on right wrist). Data from that run in the first table below: Long Run 1)

That tour was also in rather more difficult conditions, under quite a bit of forest canopy (which actually shows; the two tracks are typically closer together whenever the trail I took was an agricultural road through open fields).

On an earlier tour, just in the open, there was just about zero difference between the tracks (and distances, etc.) recorded by Ambit3 and Traverse.

In addition, silly as that sounds, it turned out that it makes quite a difference that I wore the Ambit3 Peak on my left wrist and the Traverse on the right!

Case in point, this second long run where I wore both Ambit3 Peak (track in yellow) and Traverse (track in orange) on my left wrist, just a little – but some – distance apart:

(The blue line is the route I had set up in Movescount’s Route Planner using Mapbox – OpenStreetMap. Comparison data is in the table below: Long Run 2)

As one can see, there, the tracks usually overlap. There are some differences, some of them somewhat noticeable, but as they occur with both tracks (notice the way the Ambit3 went off course towards the very end…), under open or more-closed view to the sky, at different points, they are likely to be abnormalities rather than true errors.

Frankly, what I notice more about the two tracks are the instances where the route followed the center of the road, and it is clearly visible that I ran on the pedestrian walkway off the road on the east side of it. Or the part, shortly after the point where I finally remembered to restart the recordings, where I went from the one side of the road to a tree on the other side…

Comparison Data

Long Run 1

(GPS track comparison in video 10a above)

Traverse Ambit3 Peak
time 2:33’48.4 hours 2:33’48.3
distance 24.00 km 24.50 km
avg speed 9.4 km/h (max 24.1) 9.6 km/h (max 21.2)
calories 1975 kcal 1977 kcal
ascent 375 m 395 m
descent 382 m 403 m
ascent time 1:09’45 1:14’47
descent time 1:00’50 1:05’27
flat time 0:23’13.4 0:13’34.3
highest point 307 m 311 m
lowest point 163 m 169 m
temperature 13.3C (11.7 – 25.8) 12.3C (10.4 – 24.5)
battery decline 32% 17%
(LINK) Traverse ‘Move’ Ambit3 Peak ‘Move’

Long Run 2

(GPS track comparison in video 10b above)

Traverse Ambit3 Peak
time 2:13’21.5 2:13’21.7
distance 18.39 km 18.40 km
avg speed 8.3 km/h (pace 7’15 min/km; max 15.5 km/h) 8.3 km/h (pace 7’14 min/km; max 13.0 km/h)
calories 1495 kcal 1507 kcal
ascent 58 m 48 m
descent 56 m 39 m
ascent time 0:23’21 0:27’37
descent time 0:23’56 0:17’20
flat time 1:26’04.5 1:28’24.7
highest point 192 m 192 m
lowest point 148 m 153 m
temperature 21.2C (17.5 – 25.5) 19.5C (16.6 – 25.5)
battery decline 29% 11%
(LINK) Traverse ‘Move’ Ambit3 Peak ‘Move’

Setting GPS Fix Rate

A new, little but useful, trick of the Traverse is that GPS fix can be adjusted on the watch, even while on the go.

So, you can set up a running mode to use 1 second (“best”) GPS fix, but if you find yourself only hiking and/or running low on battery, you can go into the options menu (long press “next”), go to “Navigation” -> “GPS Accuracy” and turn it down to “Good” (5 sec. fix) or “OK” (60 sec fix) or even, if you’ve made camp but didn’t want to stop the recording, to “Off”.

(Just don’t forget to turn it back up/on if you want your track recorded again ;) )

This works both while recording a move and while navigating; and in navigation or compass views, you can even access the navigation menu directly by pressing the “start” button.

(Just don’t forget, also, that an “OK” GPS fix would certainly cause some issues when using the Traverse for navigating, just like the lag I described above: you may get to (and past) intersections in the road where you need to make a turn while your watch still shows you a ways away from them. That was not the issue I had, though.)

Interactions with Movescount

A high-tech tool like the Traverse, coming from an Amer Sports company, of course interacts with their digital platform, Movescount.

So, recordings made on and saved to the Traverse get synced to Movescount (either via the Moveslink software on a PC or Mac, using a Suunto Datasnake USB cable that comes with the Traverse, same as with Ambits, or via the Movescount app).

Of course, the data is limited to that which the Traverse can and could record and/or can be used in analysis.

If you have a heart rate belt connected and active, for example, heart rate will be recorded and transferred, and Movescount’s summary of the respective move will even separate it out into times spent in your different heart rate zones (which is something the Traverse itself doesn’t do, except through an app).

(Note, again, that a navigation session counts as a recording. After all, if you navigate somewhere, you’ll probably want to know where you have been going, while on the move, and be able to check which way you went, afterwards.)

What I should mention about the Movescount app and the Traverse: For this combination, too, one can not only check out one’s ‘scoreboard’ of ‘moves’ on the go now, and transfer/sync new moves, but also create a “Suunto Movie” touring the track.

Movescount App and Notifications

The Movescount app continues to be a bit of a sore point.

Suunto has recently established its own Mobile Competence Center in order to have a separate entity focused on the development of their digital solutions/accompaniments to their devices, and development cycles have accelerated quite a bit – but they are still struggling to get everything up and running half as consistently as one would expect it, and they are not very good at communicating what they are working on.

The iOS app is still considerably more stable than the Android one. (To me, this continues to be one of the best advertisements and reasons for getting an iPod touch…)

Still, both iOS and Android Movescount apps can now also be paired with the Traverse and thus used to upload (sync) moves and settings and to change settings and sports modes.

At the time of my writing, shortly after the release of the Traverse, however, there are lots of complaints about notifications not working with the Android app.

Some problem seems to have arisen there, as tends to happen with Android devices, unfortunately, and Suunto are scrambling to find out what’s at fault.
(One of their main problems continues to be that, being Finnish as they are, they don’t like to talk publicly about such things even as it leaves customers wondering if anybody is listening, let alone doing, anything…)

So, if this daily use case is important for you, you should expect it to be fixed – and you should probably expect notifications to remain something of a problem, not just because of the way they work (or don’t), but also because they are a problem, anyways… But then, I’m on record as not being a big fan of notifications.

Then, forgive me if these problems don’t play too big a – or indeed, any – role in my final verdict.

Final Thoughts (For Now)

All in all, I personally like what I’ve seen from the Traverse so far.

Aside from the lag in navigation – and even that is noticeable for the most part only in direct comparison with an Ambit3, not when sensibly* using a Traverse by itself – basic operation seems solid and made well for the target users.

(*By “sensibly”, I mean with some idea of where one needs to go. Blindly trusting a GPS is never a good idea.)

That may be where the real problem is, at the moment: As the latest tool/toy from Suunto, the Traverse has been getting a lot of attention from dedicated customers of Suunto, many of them users of the Ambit2 or Ambit3.

If you are among those, I’d honestly recommend sticking with your Ambit if you are into outdoors adventures, ultramarathons, triathlons, training via a training program, and similar.

It was clear even from the Traverse’s beginnings, though, that it would be intended not for these people, but for those who may have been put off by the slew of functions on the Ambit line that they would all not need.

The performance of the bezel antenna is promising, the new-ish (no more antenna bulge) design is nice, POI navigation screens are enticing – all that (hopefully) promises good things for a successor to the Ambit line.

And for those not looking for the ultimate training and outdoors, everything-but-espresso, tool for ultramarathons and worldwide expeditions (which the Suunto fans hope the Ambit4 will be), but for a watch that wears well and delivers solid help in recording a little training, going on soft hikes, and doing some more exploration beyond that, whether out onto a trail or through a foreign city, the Traverse will deliver.

Weak Points:

Pluses:

Of course, it remains to be seen how the Traverse holds up over longer time, but what’s been shown so far has been promising.

Update: There’s else a first update to the Traverse’s software; see new data/results here.

And, if you’d like to get a Traverse from REI and get me a commission in the process, follow this link:
Suunto Traverse on REI.com