Hot on the heels of the Suunto Traverse, which looked as though Suunto wanted to address a more general outdoors audience and shift away from the Ambit line, they go all-in for a device that is more specialized than any they’ve made so far: the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical.
So, one-and-a-half years after the launch of the Suunto Ambit’s 3rd generation (in summer 2014), there is still (still?) no Ambit4, but the fourth addition to the line-up after the Peak, the Sport, and the Run – with a change in design to the bezel antenna of the Traverse, the addition of the vibration alerts the Traverse also got, and a change in features to focus very much on verticals (ascent and descent).
Hence, also, why it took me a while to get this review up, because I didn’t just want to mention the new altitude features, I wanted to have in-depth (and up-top) experience with them.
Time Mode Functions/Displays
Basic – read: time mode – functions are similar to the rest of the Ambit3 lineup.
Thus, the time mode has displays for
- time and date (and other views: altitude, battery charge, seconds);
- countdown and
- stopwatch (if one activates them);
- summary of “Week ascent”, monthly, annual, and total ascent (of course, those are new);
- recovery time, activity today, week activity, and running performance.
Some people have complained about there not being a step counter, but in keeping with the Ambit3 line’s features, there is the activity/active recovery tracking (and running performance tracking), instead.
Sure, if you’d like a step counter and have seen it on the Traverse, you could argue that every other fitness-related gadget now includes a step counter.
If you think of the rest of the Ambit3 line, consider the shortcomings of step counters (for which Mio has changed to their PAI measure instead), and look at the peculiar target group for the Vertical, this is a pretty silly complaint.
If someone’s obsessed with their weekly ascent numbers, they’re probably not the kind of person who needs to be concerned about the steps they take during an average day…
So, differences between the Ambit3 Vertical, other Ambit3 models, and the Traverse…
All-in for Altitude
That specialization of the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical on, Surprise! the verticals, also shows in the omission of an alti-baro profile and display.
On this device, the assumption is that you go out to go up or down, so the barometric pressure sensor is only used for tracking altitude changes, without a possibility to switch it over to a barometer mode for tracking air pressure and thus weather changes.
Or that’s the positive view of it, anyways.
Not just for tracking possible weather changes in everyday use, but also for getting a storm alarm while out and about in the mountains, having a barometric trend indicator can be rather useful, so this is an omission I’d rather criticize (especially as it’s not exactly difficult to set the alti-baro profile for a sports mode to measure altitude, and as its “auto” mode works rather well).
Instead, you get the above-mentioned, always-available display of your ascent statistics.
Going to the active part, the Ambit3 Vertical shares the other Ambit3’s ability for the user to customize sports modes and their displays (on Movescount or in the app; up to 10 sports modes, of which up to 2 can be multisports modes, and up to 8 displays per mode are available), and it keeps the “multisport” functions (which only the Ambit3 Run loses, anyways).
So, you can still set up your triathlon (mountain Ironman? … Austria X-treme? ;) ) mode to quickly switch from one type of sport to another, see the data for the current activity and/or for the total, and have all the different parts of your activity recorded as one single ‘move’.
Swimming metrics are available, and the watch can connect not only to its heart rate strap but also to other Bluetooth Smart HR straps or PODs such as bike power and cadence sensors, a foot pod, the Stryd power meter, etc.
Running performance is measured (in running mode/s, not e.g. in trail running – read more about that here), and the other Firstbeat-powered measures, i.e. recovery tests, are also available (once you’ve paired your HR belt with the watch).
You can let the watch display your training plan (set up on the Movescount website) and get guidance for it, and you can use interval workouts created in the Movescount app – but that, again, is just like things are on all the other Ambit3 models. (Hence, why I’m not overloading this post with more descriptions and photos but encourage you to follow the links to instructions/explanations.)
When it comes to the navigation, the Vertical parts ways with the prior Ambit3 models to take a slightly different path closer to the Traverse, and with its own new feature in the form of the altitude profile and ascent visualization (more on that, below).
Routes can still be set up on (or imported into) the route planner on Movescount and transferred to the Ambit3 Vertical from there.
As has been possible since Suunto started offering the choice of using Mapbox (OpenStreetMap) as map provider, one can see the altitude profile right below the (Mapbox) map view – and this becomes rather important for the main new feature of the Ambit3 Vertical, the altitude profile display and tracking.
(Notice the blue text on the right, below the map, which is where one can choose to use Mapbox (OpenStreetMap) and get the altitude profile, or use Google Maps which offers map or satellite views, or use Gaode Ditu, which is recommendable for China.)
There’s storage for up to 50 routes with up to a total of 10,000 route points and 100 waypoints, as well as 250 POI.
As on the Traverse, the waypoints on a route are used for an “approaching waypoint” notification but not with a waypoint navigation display.
(Whereas the other Ambits can show the direct – as the crow flies – distance and heading to the next waypoint along the route, but also require that one passes them in order or manually skips them.)
So, on the Ambit3 Vertical, when you activate a route for navigation, the first view is the overview of the complete route, and the second view there (switching by hitting the lower left “view” button) is the zoomed-in view (with either 500 m or 100 m zoom level, adjusted automatically – same as in the other models of the range).
The third view of the navigation function, however, is no longer the waypoint navigation.
Rather, the Ambit3 Vertical shows the altitude profile of the route and one’s place along that (at least as long as you’ve used Mapbox for setting up the route*).
(*I used routes which I’d previously set up using the Google Maps view or exported from a previously recorded track to use as a new route, as well as set up a new route, checked that the altitude profile looked alright in the Mapbox view, and it worked without a glitch.)
Of course, one *is* dependent on Mapbox giving the correct topography of the terrain. – I’m curious to see how well this will work when I get back to China in the summer, where GPS things can be a bit of an issue… and even where I am now, I found an issue where Mapbox thinks that the autobahn is at sea level while the rest of the terrain is shown as the correct ~180m above sea level.
Thus, a route crossing the autobahn is wrongly shown as having quite the ascent/descent…
Altitude Profile Navigation
That new third view on the Ambit3 Vertical has a top line showing the ascent covered so far, a bottom line showing the total ascent remaining along the route, and the graph showing the altitude profile in the middle. There, your position is marked with the vertical dotted line, and the part of the profile already covered is shown with the area below the profile line filled in rather than left empty:
There is no zoom level for this view, so comparatively small elevation differences (especially over short distances) can become all but invisible in that altitude profile, but the main changes in elevation can be seen and are being tracked rather well.
On mountain ultramarathons with serious changes in elevation (and preferably not too many small ups-and-downs in between those), this feature is going to come in handy for pacing and planning ahead.
Over those distances and with the many comparatively small elevation changes that commonly happen between major peaks, there will also be some surprises, however.
Going off the route is handled rather well.
Get lost or otherwise off track…
…and the top line will still count your cumulative ascent, the graph will not update, and the bottom line will tell you that you are off route.
Get back close enough to the route…
…and the graph updates again.
(You just can’t really see that the altitude graph got updated because the distance and altitude difference was too little, compared to the totals of that route, for it to be visible there. Again.)
I’m sorry to have to say that, but there still seem to be some bugs with the navigation.
“Find back” is available during navigation but seems to just turn the navigation screen off.
Selecting POI navigation while in a sports mode has just been reported as not doing anything, either.
Strangest of all, activating track back calculates the route back correctly, but asks whether you want to navigate it forwards or backwards (Uhm, hello, isn’t there a reason it’s called “track *back*”?). Then, it still shows the altitude profile display, but it doesn’t show the actual profile, only a flat line.
So, either it doesn’t work, or it cannot work and that altitude visualization shouldn’t be shown.
Also, even as I just had someone ask me if his Ambit3 wasn’t working right because the POI display didn’t function as he’d expected (which was a problem just of the expectation, not a bug, having misunderstood the switch between compass and GPS use there), I have to mention that I still miss the “next waypoint” display from the other Ambit models.
Yes, it can be confusing, being as-the-crow-flies and all (and this confusion seems to be the reason why Suunto has switched both the Traverse and the Vertical to not use it) but if you get off course far enough that you can’t see your route anymore in the zoomed-in view, I find that waypoint navigation display very helpful.
I’d rather just have had that updated to include the altitude difference between the current position and that next waypoint (as the Traverse, but strangely not the Vertical, does it for the navigation to a POI).
That would have also helped know when the next waypoint is still a bit further up, but too close for that to be visible well in the altitude profile visualization.
(The altitude graph that is also available for the other Ambit models, showing the up and down one has already covered, is still available, by the way – and its kinda zoomed-in character makes the last altitude differences covered much more visible. You can see that in one of the above videos.)
A big concern with the new (or returned, the X9 back around 2004-6 also had it) bezel antenna has been how well it will work, and it continues to be a bit of a sore spot.
If you have/had problems with the fit of the Ambits because of their antenna bump, the new design will be good for you. And there had been many complaints about that fit and look.
Now, however, there are many voices unhappy with the move towards a bezel antenna.
On Flat Ground
Accuracy on rather open and flat ground is very good.
Somewhat more hilly and covered terrain is still quite alright.
Here, the Ambit3 Vertical measured 23.36 km, ascent 475m, descent 475m, flat time 6’47.7 minutes.
The Ambit3 Peak measured 23.27 km, ascent 478m, descent 476m, flat time 10’38.9 minutes, all on the same track (just from my right wrist).
90 meters of difference over a total of ~23300 meters. That’s not even 0.4% difference, if I remember my maths. Hardly bad.
Real-Life vs. Mapbox
The track above can also be used for some interesting insight into the accuracy of Mapbox/OpenStreetMap (and its altitude profile)…
Exporting the track to the route planner and then seeing how it gets displayed, Mapbox thinks the distance is the same (well, much to be hoped) as that originally recorded, but it is quite a bit less exact when it comes to the altitude profile and ascent.
At least, there’s no autobahn at zero altitude here (even though I do cross over an autobahn…), but Mapbox thinks the highest point is at only 285 m and the total ascent is only 426 m (as opposed to the actual 304 m of altitude and ~475 m of ascent).
We may have mapped much of the Earth, but it’s still not all that exact, or available quite that exactly in public maps and for sports devices…
On Forested Mountain Slopes
Move into mountains but below the tree line, onto slopes and into forests, and the Ambit3 Vertical’s GPS reception seems to suffer a bit, just like that of the Traverse.
It’s still not entirely terrible, and another Ambit(3) with the antenna bump can also get confused, but the reception of the ‘bumpy’ Ambits is definitely a bit better than that of the ‘bezeled’ ones.
If you want to get an impression, here are comparison tracks of the Ambit3 Vertical, the Ambit3 Peak, as well as the Traverse, all used at the same time (Ambit 3 Peak on the right wrist, the others on the left – as visible in the videos ;) ) in just such terrain…
The move in the north was in coniferous forest, on a trail that always causes all the GPS devices some problems. The results:
The Ambit3 Vertical measured 4.64 km, ascent 351m, descent 353m, flat time 49.8 seconds.
The Traverse measured 4.59 km, ascent 350m, descent 352m, flat time 39 seconds.
Ambit3 Peak: 4.86 km, ascent 350m, descent 352m, flat time 46.8 seconds.
There is a recognizable part of the track, around the turning-around point, where both the Ambit3 Vertical and the Traverse failed to log points (making the track straight) when the Ambit3 Peak did, but it also still looks as though there is a simple difference in algorithm between the older (Peak) and the newer models, as well.
The ‘move’ in the south was up to the Sonnsteine at the Traunsee, fast becoming a favorite trail of mine, from Traunkirchen to Ebensee. So, it’s usually in forest, sometimes on rather open terrain, and quite often on a slope. And:
The Ambit3 Vertical measured 7.40 km, ascent 800m, descent 839m, flat time 18’10 minutes.
The Traverse measured 7.06 km, ascent 793m, descent 837m, flat time 24’09 minutes.
Ambit3 Peak: 7.37 km, ascent 790m, descent 836m, flat time 14’26 minutes.
Again, if you look at the tracks on the map too closely, you could think that all the devices are off quite a bit at times. However, if you look at the results, let alone if you’d seen the track and route shown versus the actual trail on the ground, it’s all more than usable.
Well, again, anyone who just wants to get the latest product from Suunto because it is the latest should reconsider.
If you just wished Suunto came out with an Ambit3 successor already, the Vertical isn’t the watch to get.
If you don’t yet have an Ambit (2 or 3, depending on what features and price you want), aren’t constantly in the mountains and need a bit longer for your races, sure you’ll sometimes wish you had the altitude profile visualization on your Ambit, too, but you’re likely better off getting an Ambit3 (or perhaps even an Ambit2) – or to wait for what comes next.
Or look at the Traverse, which had some reviewers strangely confused as to what target group it was supposed to be for, though it seems positioned clearly enough.
That confusion will certainly not happen with the Vertical:
If you do most of your running (and/or other sports) up and down mountains and define yourself through your ‘verticals’; if you are going to be running in the next skyrunning race series or – and especially – shorter Vertical K races; let alone if you are another Kilian Jornet… then the Ambit3 Vertical is made for you.
Whatever you choose, make yourself at home!
If you’d like to get a Vertical, follow the link; it will get me a commission and allow me to do more, including for you!