at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Category: Connecting Tech (Page 3 of 4)

The Suunto Ambit(3) Manual, Part 2: Navigation Functions

In Part 1, we had a look at the basic (time mode) functions of an Ambit3, their use and (limited) customization.
A Suunto Ambit(3) is not just a watch, however, it is also a GPS device…

GPS / Navigation Functions

5: The Ambit as a GPS Device

This time, starting with a little intro to the Ambit’s use as a GPS/navigation device.

6: Navigation by POI

The first way of using an Ambit(3) for navigation: using POIs.

Such Points of Interest can be set up

  • in the device saving the current location as POI
  • n the device using the “define location” function
  • on Movescount (“Add new POI” on the “Gear” page under “Navigation”)

7: Navigation with Route

POIs all well and good, but where the Ambit comes into its own is navigating along a route. So, let’s get one started…

8: Creating Routes

If you want to use routes for navigation, you will first have to get routes.

Two basic possibilities shown here:

  • Find routes already in the Movescount library and save them to your
    routes (similarly to how you can save and publish tracks you recorded
    as routes, by the way)
  • Create (draw) a route in the Route Planner on Movescount

9: Route/Map Problems and Workaround

Having talked about creating routes, it’s necessary to point out that there can be some issues because of the (Google) map quality.
In China, where these videos are made, especially. (There is an offset between the actual position and the one shown on maps.)

Other programs (such as Google Earth) and GPS tracks from other people to import into the Route Planner of Movescount provide one workaround. Quick tip if you ever find yourself in need of some tweaking of a GPS track from someone else (to change its format, simplify it, etc.): Use the features offered by gpsies.com

10: ‘Quick Navigation’

Navigation can also be used when going out exercising. Option 1 for that: To use a custom/sports mode with ‘quick navigation’.

11: Activating Navigation while in a Custom (Sports) Mode

‘Quick navigation’ has a ‘move’ start by choosing a route or POI to follow, but navigation can also be activated while a custom (sports) mode is already active…

12: The Map in the App

Not exactly navigation (as in, to a pre-defined point or along a route), but the Ambit3 line can help in navigating also through its interaction with the map display in the Movescount app

13: Using the Navigation Logbook

As long as you have a ‘move’ (that used GPS tracking) still stored on your Ambit (2 or 3), you also have its track in ‘Navigation’ – ‘Logbook’ and can activate that and use it just like a route.

14: Find Back & Track Back

Of course, just as you can use a track from the navigation logbook, you can first of all turn right around along the track you just were on during a move, and “find back” (to your starting point, POI-like) or “track back” (using the track as a route) immediately.

15: (Workaround) Route in Practice

Out at the Great Wall’s Jiankou section, trying out the route planned using the GPS tracks / Google Earth workaround (as set up in the Manual video number 9, above). And, it works!

If you want to check out the route as it looks on Movescount, I’ve now set it to public so it can be found here; the track recorded while I was (also) using this route is here, but this path out to Zhengbeilou is only a small part of that (the one where the circle connects in the upper right corner, the track goes out and then back…

I am copying in the relevant part below. Please note that the way out was the one using navigation, hence using constant (“best,” 1 sec) GPS fix. The path back again from the Great Wall’s Zhengbeilou tower (which is at the lower right of the image) was recorded only using “good” GPS setting, i.e. a lower fix, which is (mainly) why it looks so jagged (apart, when I was back on the road in the upper left, there was also some GPS error):

Xizhazi to Zhengbeilou track

Xizhazi to Zhengbeilou track

There are also some issues to discuss, though: Setting up/starting the route to not get turned around; finding the exact path/turn when the zoom level is not high enough; (not) missing an ETA/ETE (to the next waypoint) function or altitude profiles for routes.

Next up: Training Programs/Planned Moves and Training Guidance

The Suunto Ambit(3) Manual, Part 1: Basic Functions

How well (I think) the Ambit3 is working is what I talked about in part 1 and part 2 of my review of that device.

Part 3, less of a review than the (missing) manual, has been taking its time, and it will be longer yet until I get finished with it, but I want to get started showing you how to get the most out of this connecting – and now, as Suunto has it, connectedtool.

So, here goes:

Basic Functions as an (Outdoors) Watch

Introduction

1: Time Mode Displays

Note that these are similar all through the Ambit family, but with some differences between Ambit, Ambit2, Ambit2S and Ambit2R, as well as Ambit3 Peak and Ambit3 Sports.

2: Setting Up Time Mode Displays

Especially on the Ambit3 Peak, you are not stuck with having the time mode show exactly those displays/functions seen above. No, you can turn just about all of them on/off individually (except for the time display itself).

You cannot yet customize the single displays, though. (I’m just mentioning that because I have seen people ask about it.)

3: Notifications & User-Defined Shortcuts

The Ambit3 went a step towards being a smartwatch, at least in interacting with a smartphone app and showing the notifications from the smartphone. (Beep and display only, no vibration alarm – also often asked about.)

Set up what notifications you want to get on your smartphone (in general). Or just remember that this is a tool for the outdoors and training, not for any and all notifications ;)

4: Display of Planned Moves

Set up planned moves or training plans on the Movescount website, get training guidance on the Ambit (2 or 3). Here, just a note on what that display looks like, since it gets added to the time mode displays. (More details on how to plan ‘moves’ coming soon.)

Part 2: Navigation Functions

Activity Today

Fitbitten – Places and Practices for Life-Tracking

Lifetracking, in the use of devices to measure and record data about one’s life, has been on the rise for a while, certainly in terms of media reports and sales numbers.

Considering how easily we cheat ourselves into thinking that we are living better or worse than we really are, it seems a great idea to get some concrete numbers.
In all the promise of what it will do for us to measure our everyday activity levels and, if we want to also do that, get support from – or get in competition with – others, though, a lot of the focus is on either marketing-speak or crazy personal stories.

The Craziness of (Writing about) Life-Trackers

Sometimes there are statistics, but as such numbers show, a lot of things now classified as life-tracking are actually nothing new and high-tech, but rather such simple practices as stepping on the scale and worrying that one’s weight hasn’t gone down, or writing down one’s blood pressure or glucose levels.
In that area of life-tracking where it is actually needed the most, for people who have to track a chronic concern or run the risk of getting worse, however, new tools are not usually being made…

Craziness and compulsion, instead, seem to be what those life-trackers who get the most play for their writing have come to.

David Sedaris, for example, wrote on the ways his FitBit made him throw the weight of his usual wacky personality behind every step he took, just to have one more step in the machine memory of another day.
A writer and runner for Outside magazine / Outside Online had also gone that route, finding in Nike Fuel an addictive non-substance that seemed to give substance to her life, even as it took control over routines – until it broke and she went from withdrawal to a re-discovery of the joy in running, just for the joy.

Personally, even as someone who runs to run and very much avoids letting measurements dominate the training, I can attest to the same influence: I have used a FitBit off and on for years now, and sometimes I do catch myself wanting to carry it around with me while headed into the shower, for example, for fear of not getting these steps recorded.

It’s the same routine that so many a report on ultramarathoners and fitness enthusiasts gets around to: Focus on the most peculiar outgrowths of such practices, rally the supporters to come to the defense, get the critics to pile on, garner attention.

Meanwhile, a person who is more relaxed in his/her use of life-tracking devices is just too quiet on that front to be of note – but there’s something to learn about the potential of fitness and life-tracking technology in it:

One of the big drivers in the growth of such devices’ adoption is the promise that seeing your daily activity levels will make you move more, thus leading a healthier life. If it’s not enough by itself, use social sharing capabilities to get one or the other kind of feedback.
Promise you’ll be more active and get support and encouragement to reach your goal from others, plus the pressure to reach it because others are watching/checking.
Challenge yourself and others to reach your goals and/or be better – more active – than others in your social circle.

The idea is not bad, and it can work.

Character and Good Technology

We don’t want to overlook that people have different characters, however.

Some are competitive and will be motivated by the competitive aspects. Some of those will go overboard with it and end up the subjects of stories like the above, discussing their ‘addiction’ to ever-higher activity numbers.

Some won’t like that aspect, won’t want to so much as feel slightly pushed around by a device on their wrist or in their pockets and just stop using it. (Or fall into the grip of a gimmick like the Pavlok that promises punishment for failure, going even deeper into the “tough” approach to life we seem to be increasingly in love with – to our detriment, but that’s for another story.)

Some will find a middle way. Or simply a way that works for them. – And that’s the path to look for.

Good technology, by which I mean a technology that works well and fulfills its purpose, has to be noticeable enough to fulfill its purpose, but also invisible enough to disappear and not be a bother. That, I think, is the big challenge for the makers of life-tracking (and other) devices.

It’s the overlooked problem that can be seen with smartphones. They are so noticeable in their over-use because they are communication devices, thus need to send notifications and make themselves, or really, the info, noticeable. At the same time, the more visible they thus make themselves, the more of a burden they can be. Another notification asks for attention, another period of work or relaxation or social time is interrupted and made to lose much of its value.

Interrupted work means that attention went somewhere else, making it take longer to finish the work.
Interrupted relaxation isn’t relaxation at all.
Interrupted time in general means not being truly in the moment, together with others, experiencing something deeply, but getting lost in the maze of virtual and actual contacts, between attention and flow in the experience and attention being given to the technology, neither here nor there.

But then, the technology can be made to be less obtrusive, better at filtering the important from the inessential. And we ourselves can work with it differently.

There is no real need for the vast majority of notifications, and there is little need for an activity tracker to give constant reminders.

The Place for Life-Tracking Devices

All the recent migration they have made, out of the pockets and onto the wrists, is just the wrong step, then. Rather, tracking devices (and notifications) need to disappear, only to be checked at the end of the day to see how things went.

A daily review is a much-recommended step towards a responsible attitude towards your life, anyways – not just for activity levels.
Constant checking and control, however, are the dream of an autocratic regime of social control, but neither the good habits nor the good (flexible and resilient, but not unstructured) freedom of a better life.

Activity Today

Between the Amibit3’s ‘active recovery’/’activity today’ and the FitBit, there are now two devices telling me how active I’ve been… (in somewhat different contexts)

The way activity tracking seems to be moving onto the wrist by disappearing into watches is a very interesting step, in that regard.

Suunto’s Ambit3 line has gone that way, adding activity monitoring to these devices’ stable of tricks. However, their use of it is really for a better recommendation of recovery times, not (yet?) for life tracking – but that may come, and the watches offer greater benefits in the tracking of sports/training activities than lifetracking gadgets.

Withing’s Activité follows a similar notion, and a very different one at the same time, in integrating activity tracking (and further benefits of having app integration via BTLE) into what looks and is for most purposes a nice-looking timepiece, not a gadget.

Apple’s watch will also, of course, offer activity and/or sports tracking capabilities.

FitBit in Pocket

Still the best place for an activity tracker, if not in a watch: Disappearing into a pocket. (And yes, part of the clip has broken off.)

As for my FitBit, that’s in my pocket.

I still like it to get an impression, if and when I want to, of the activity levels (or lack thereof) I have been at, besides dedicated training sessions.
Two of my current Fitbit’s predecessors broke, but the company always replaced it, which was nice.

The iPod touch I got, among other things, for testing the Movescount app that works with the Ambit3 has also proven a good choice for the FitBit, as it allows for direct syncing between the FitBit and its app via BTLE.

That way, it is possible to monitor activity levels easily, as well as quickly adjust the alarm, for example – and the vibration alarm, given that the Ambits don’t have vibration alarms (but rather, alarms for waking one up in the middle of a snowstorm to get out in time for a sunrise on a mountain peak), is a nice thing to have in everday life with a partner who likes to get up later.

Having a look at the statistics, sometimes, is good for realizing that I’ve been moving way too little in my daily life now, thus would do well to move more in my daily routines – but I also know that Beijing, where I am now, is not the ideal city for outdoor sports (given air pollution).

A day like yesterday, on the other hand, I wanted to go out for a run after I had been walking around in town, and it was good to see that my running around on that “little walk” had actually covered a distance akin to a half-marathon, making further training a not-so-great idea. This time.

Life needs a balance like that; having numbers on life be measured is a good antidote to cheating oneself – but learning how to act on them and using them well is another balancing act to decide on and integrate well into a life. Preferably, before you get fed up with the gadget that promised so much and just end up putting it into the next drawer.

Suunto Ambit3 Recovery Time Display

Suunto Ambit3 Review, Part 2: Performance Matters

Reviews all too often reflect the worst of the superficial living we have fallen into.

We have been conditioned into thinking that the latest product must be the best that will solve all its predecessor’s, if not all our life’s, problems. The first thought when wanting to be better at something is not of the steps to take in order to grow into this better state, but the product to get in hopes of immediate deliverance.

It’s not “I will practice my photography in first this, then that, way so that I will become a better photographer,” it’s “I want that camera, it’s so much better than the one I have, with that I would sure take much better pictures!

It’s not “I will follow this periodized training plan, set an impulse for growth here, have the necessary recovery period and cross-training there,” it’s “If only I had the money and time to train in this amazing place, that latest piece of gear…

And so, when a new product comes out, everyone rushes to be the first to come out with a review and get all the attention – even if it’s only after an extended period of usage that one can really say how well the product serves its purpose.

It’s all the worse because we are, even in the rush of new products that we get to see, also ignorant of the development work that is behind it, all the ideas and concepts that we never get to see…

A Little Product Development Background

One recent case in point: The Apple Watch has just been presented, heated discussions over its likely success or failure, its revolutionary or disappointing nature, the great and healthy or ‘meh’ and constantly-watched future it entails, have ensued. And it looks as if a new product suddenly emerged – but its development was speculated about since at least 2013, and it won’t be out until next year, 2015.

I have had the chance to see something of the Ambit’s development for much of the time it took (as it happened, I interviewed for a social media communications position with Suunto, which was promptly canceled as unnecessary, at just the time the original Ambit was nearing completion). In the case of the Ambit3, it’s especially been since it was ready enough for external testing (by testers outside Suunto) at the end of June.

It was a fascinating journey, for at the beginning of the year, nobody outside of Suunto really thought that a new model would be coming out this year. Of course, it was under development already, but then, there are always new models under development and new ideas being thrown around. Promptly, it was revealed at the OutDoor Friedrichshafen in the middle of July, and marked Suunto’s switch to Bluetooth Smart.

In the lead developer’s words, “we think Bluetooth Smart is the future, and decided to make a clean shift from one ecosystem to the other at this point.”
Regarding PODs, by the way: “We don’t have immediate plans to create Bluetooth Smart pods as there are plenty of them already existing on the market. This is still something we may reconsider at some point.”

I went and used the Ambit3 Sport, for testing purposes, alongside my “trusty old” (read: last year’s) Ambit2 on the Traunsee mountain marathon on July 5, even as it was only in beta and not even officially announced as coming out, by then – and the HR belt just stopped transmitting after about 3 hours, the GPS regularly puts me as having been in the lake itself:

Ambit3 Sport / Movesense still in beta firmware

Ambit3 Sport / Movesense still in beta firmware

Ambit2 vs. Ambit3 in Beta

Ambit2 (greenish track) vs. Ambit3 in early beta (red track)

That was then, however, when the software was still in beta. By now, things look a lot different.

Now, only the Movescount servers seem to be in need of greater care and attention. Or perhaps a complete upgrade. And while we’re at it, a local software would be nice to have, after all, in spite of all the recent infatuation with ‘the cloud’…

GPS Performance

Mid-August, with the release approaching, I took the Ambit3 (connected to the Movescount app on my iPod touch 5G) and the Ambit2 on the Hong Kong Trail, and it all performed flawlessly.

Ambit2 vs. Ambit3 on the Hong Kong Trail

Ambit2 vs. Ambit3 (1.0 firmware) on the Hong Kong Trail. (The Ambit2 was set to mark auto-laps at every 1 km.)

The tracks are, for all intents and purposes, the same (except for the auto-lap markings from the Ambit2, which I had set up to make those). The Movescount app even showed my position on the map, even though I was not aware I had stored the maps for those parts of Hong Kong Island locally – but there they were.

The data recorded was good, too:

The Ambit2 gave 39.99 km,
HR 161 bpm avg. (and in a range between 101 and 212 bpm),
EPOC peak 226 ml/kg,
4.6 km/h avg. speed (not sure why I didn’t see pace on Movescount instead),
65 ‘rpm’ avg. cadence,
4494 kcal, all in 8:38 hours.

Ambit3 Sport: 40.2 km,
HR 167 bpm avg. (and in a range between 101 and 212 bpm),
EPOC peak 190 ml/kg,
4.7 km/h avg. speed,
56 ‘rpm’ avg. cadence,
3981 kcal in 8:38 hours

A difference of 0.5% in recorded distance (200m over a distance of 40 km) could be explainable by the watches having received different data (or even traveled different distances) because they were worn on different wrists and the turns I did account for that difference, perhaps. Which is to say, it’s basically no difference.

The GPS reception continues to be simply astounding. I just tried getting a fix putting the Ambit3 (with recently updated satellite orbit data) at my window, on the ground floor of an apartment building that is six floors high, close by another building that is even taller, with a gingko tree right ouside/above the window…

View from which Ambit3 got GPS reception without problems

View from which Ambit3 got GPS reception without problems

… and it took all of 20 seconds or so to get a fix.

GPS Squiggles

Squiggles GPS gives just lying somewhere

(In five hours of the watch lying there, GPS reflections did make it believe that it had traveled 2.28 km, but the track recorded makes it obvious that there were no truly outlying positions recorded.

Had there been any recording of a position far away from the actual, it would be a bad sign; the ‘jittering’ is a normal GPS issue and not much of a problem when on the move.)

The different average cadence recorded is the one value that truly has me puzzled…

HR Recording/Analysis

Suunto HR belts

Strapped in to get data for comparison

The difference in (average) heart rate data (of 6 bpm) speaks to the different HR belts getting somewhat different readings.

The analysis given by Firstbeat Athlete still finds artifacts (heart rates recorded but likely to be wrong according to this software’s algorithms); I have also seen different readings and what looks like a different rate at which the heart rate displayed is updated on the different Ambit generations…

The question would be how much of that is due to differences inherent in the technology and how much of it due to e.g. the different position that the HR belts had to have on my chest, plus chest hair, plus the amount of sweating,… maybe making one less well capable of picking up the heart rate.
(Also, I frankly think that my old ANT belt may once again be a bit worn out. Its fabric part needs to be regularly replaced – and the battery in the pod replaced, too – to make sure the ‘reception’ of the heart rate is as good as possible.)

Same with EPOC peak and energy expenditure (kcal), which is largely dependent on heart rate measurement but also influenced strongly by the algorithms through which they are calculated. It’s not that large a difference, and I’m not even sure I had the two watches set up with exactly the same parameters, so I don’t see much of a problem here, either.

Calorie ‘measurement’, in particular, is a good example of  a value that people like to obsess over, just like weight, when that’s not really what it’s about (and notoriously difficult to calculate).

What was a lot more interesting was the experience, which was a great one – and relived and relivable in yet another fashion, thanks to the “Suunto Movie” produced by the app, which I promptly used in a mash-up with the videos I had taken on this tour along the Hong Kong Trail:

Altitude Measurement

Altitude measurements are the one thing which has to be taken with a grain of salt – or a pint of caution – here and now, because we are comparing apples and oranges: An Ambit2 with barometric altitude measurement (and FusedAlti) and an Ambit3 Sport that measures altitude via GPS alone, which is well-known to be rather inexact.

On the HK Trail, the Ambit2 gave readings of: ascent 1528 m, descent 1165 m, lowest point 15 m, highest point 430 m;
the Ambit3 Sport, in contrast, recorded an ascent 1286 m, descent 1033 m, lowest point 11 m, highest point 436 m

Ambit2 vs. 3 Sport, Altitude

Ambit2 vs. Ambit3 Sport altitude recording on a recent run. Most of the problems with the GPS altitude recording (apart from some aberrations in it) are actually from the very beginning of the recording, when GPS fix was probably not yet all that good. (Click for larger view.)

Considering the problems with GPS altitude, the high and low points given by the two devices are positive surprises, but I’ve seen worse.

On a recent run on my Beijing Trail #1, the Ambit3 Sport’s GPS put it at a much-too-high altitude at the beginning; the correction which later set in put me at the appropriate altitude, but that shift then messed up the descent recorded.

This is a problem inherent in the technology, though, and it’s a problem which exists in the same way with the Ambit2S (and Ambit2R) – or any other device that gives a GPS-based altitude reading.

If you want altitude/ascent/descent readings that are as good as they get, you’ll need to go for the Ambit2 or Ambit3 Peak, not the 2S / 3 Sport.

I should have an Ambit3 Peak ready to roll in a few weeks and will get back then, but it can be expected to have the same accuracy as the Ambit2, if not a slightly better one as its GPS chipset is the latest.

(Other differences between the Ambit3 Peak and the Ambit3 Sport should be the same as with the Ambit2 vs. Ambit2S, as well, i.e. that only the former provide the “weather functions” showing barometric trend or altitude display, storm warning, and next sunrise/sunset times for the present location – and, of course, they have the larger battery.)

Battery Life

Talking of battery: The batteries/runtimes in the Ambit3 line look to be the same as in the Ambit2 line.

With activity tracking/active recovery and Bluetooth connection active, that makes for a slightly shorter runtime of the Ambit3, but the effect of BT appears to be close to negligible (on the Ambit3 as well as on iOS devices with which it is connected, as it were).

So, the Ambit3 Peak’s battery still lasts up to 30 days in time mode, up to 50 hours with GPS on and set to 60 sec GPS fix rate; for the Ambit3 Sport, it’s 14 days or 25 hours, respectively.

Constant GPS fix, then, as also used when using the navigation functions (route display or trackback/findback) gives around 16 hours max. on the Ambit3 Peak and 8 hours on the Ambit3 Sport. In real-world use, these runtimes can well be a bit shorter as GPS reception is difficult, the use of Ambit apps draws additional power, etc. – though on the Hong Kong Trail action, I still had battery left after more than 8 hours.

Connectivity

With the Movescount app for storage of moves, to work as an extended display for the Ambit3, and all that, connectivity is the big story – and question. (See part 1 of the review for a more detailed look.)

As already mentioned, the Ambit3 connects via Bluetooth (4.0, Smart, BTLE), and the effect of this connection on battery lifetime seems to be very low. If one constantly gets notifications, it will probably reduce the runtime more noticeably, but it’s nowhere near as bad as GPS reception.

Suunto Movescount app

Suunto Movescount app

Something of the opposite is worth pointing out in detail, now that people are wondering if one would need a watch like an Ambit when a smartphone can display (GPS) location all by itself and a smartwatch / Apple Watch will also give fitness/sports features:

The current breed of smartwatches does not have GPS built in, but rather uses the phone’s GPS. But while a phone’s battery will typically be run down in about 3 hours of continuous GPS use, even the “small” Ambit3 Sport will last for 8 hours (on “best / 1 sec” GPS fix, i.e. continuous GPS use).

And it will do so even when sharing the location data with the Movescount app on the iPhone, which can display the position on a (Google) map and record the track.

(Not to mention that a Suunto Ambit is 100m waterproof while the presentation of the Apple Watch didn’t even include any mention of it even being water-resistant. Heart rate measurement from the wrist may sound more comfortable than a HR strap, too, but the optical sensors used for that cannot record R-R values / heart rate variability, and thus data such as training effect and recovery time cannot be calculated by such devices – as far as I know, anyways.)

The BTLE connection between Ambit3 and iOS appears to be rather stable; I do typically have to keep the Movescount app running in the background to get notifications, but turning it off and on again, or having moved out of range and returning, the connection is almost always resumed again automatically.

If not, turning the BT connectivity of the iOS device off and on again and/or closing and re-starting the app seems to help; I have only had to do re-pairings between Ambit3 and iPod at times, when there were new versions of the Movescount app (for testing).

As mentioned (and seen) in part 1 of the review, when/if both the Ambit3 and the Movescount app try to communicate with the Smart Sensor / Movesense, some connectivity problems can result, e.g. ending with the HR sensor not being found by the Ambit3.

A Note on Android

The Android version of the Movescount app is still in the state of “will follow.”

Android devices have only supported the Bluetooth 4.0 standard since the second iteration of Jelly Bean, Android 4.3, making iOS devices (and even here, only starting with the iPhone 4S, iPad 3rd gen and iPod touch 5G – but Apple acolytes are rather more likely to just have to have the latest…) the easier starting point.

Especially thinking of the sports/outdoor use, I’m also very much waiting for it, though. Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Z2/Z3, for example… they are all even IPX7-certified and could thus be immersed in water for a while, which is a lot better for outdoor use; drop your iPhone 6 (or Apple Watch?) in water, and there goes your money…

Sports/Training/Navigation

All that should really count the most, since that’s what the Ambit line is made for – and why these here pages talk about it, even though they aren’t about gear reviews – is how the Ambit3 performs as an outdoors and/or training device.

In one word – well, sentence: Same as the Ambit2, very well.

Except for the new recovery / activity tracking feature that was already presented in part 1 of the review, there is nothing new here – except to add that I asked whether it would be developed further, towards a real activity tracking that also uploads its data, to which the reply was “we most probably will continue developing the activity monitoring feature, as we do with all our features” – though.

Better topic, then: How do you use your Ambit (2 or 3) to its fullest potential… And, the manual to that is now coming online.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to write them in the comments.

Suunto Ambit3 Sport Sapphire

Suunto Ambit3 Review, Part 1: It’s all Connected, but Is It Smart Enough Yet?

There’s no wifi in the forest, but you’ll find a better connection” goes the sentiment, but we sure like our technological connections, too.

The Suunto Ambit has, from its start, been a connecting device:
From the heart inside you to your position on this Earth as calculated via GPS satellite signal, from your speed/pace across the surface of the land to the differences in altitude you climb and descend, it connects many a data point speaking to many a connection between a person and the world.

It is for this reason, as a tool that supports the everyday adventure, an exploratory lifestyle, and the thinking about connections that make one at home in a place, as a body, in this world, that it features on these pages.

Ambit3 Sport BacksideIt’s all connected, and now so much more so, in a way we often talk about as such, that Suunto speaks of the “connected family“. In that product line, BTLE/Bluetooth Smart provides the link between the heart rate sensor, the watch, and the Movescount mobile app.
But, it also comes out just as smart watches are beginning to emerge and rumors about a forthcoming iWatch circulate again, raising the question whether we and/or the Ambits are smart enough to stand their/our own…

This review will spare you the nice but ultimately useless things like unboxing pictures to focus on the value in the device and its best use, instead.
First, here and now, we’ll have a look at what’s new about the Ambit3 line (also for those who already know the Ambits).
Later, we’ll compare how the Ambit3 performs, before it’s time to re-visit what the current Ambit models offer for training, sports, and navigation. That latter part will be for those who haven’t used an Ambit before, but should also include a few tricks which may well come in handy for those who have.

The information given is based on and shows a white Ambit3 Sport Sapphire, which I had the opportunity to test for Suunto since the end of June (and which, I should mention, will probably come out with a somewhat different look from this pre-production model).

The videos are not always in the proper place in the text, given that they talk about a few things each, but follow a logical sequence from introductory thoughts to a run to the syncing and review of the ‘move’ afterwards.

Little Change to See

Suunto Ambit3 Sport Sapphire

Suunto Ambit3 Sport Sapphire (Note that the design is likely to change; this is a pre-release version)

The Ambit3 generation is both another merely incremental update, meaning that there is not much of a need to upgrade from an Ambit2 to an Ambit3, and a very different hardware, making for a completely different foundation.

If one just looks at the outdoors and/or training-related functions on the watch, there is very little change.

FusedSpeed (and FusedAlti on the Peak models) are still there, meaning that both GPS and accelerometer (or GPS and barometric altimeter) are used to determine speed/pace (or altitude, respectively) more accurately than either alone could.

Heart rate measurement and calculations based on R-R values are there, mainly meaning heart rate in beats per minute or percent of the (user-set) maximum HR, peak training effect and recovery time.

GPS is used for distance and speed/pace measurement, track recording, and navigation (with routes to create on Movescount, Suunto’s online platform, or with find back or track back).

Training plans can be created in Movescount and synced to the device to get reminders and (heart rate or speed/pace) guidance, too, same as the second generation Ambits have been offering since their last firmware upgrade.

And, of course, the various sports modes can be set up to work with the GPS fix and recording rate, and to give the data fields, the user decides to be the most useful for him/her.

Active Recovery

Suunto Ambit3 Recovery Time Display

Suunto Ambit3 Recovery Time Display

The only truly new functionality directly visible on the watch is the “active recovery” monitoring whereby the accelerometer (otherwise used for putting the watch into its power-saving mode and waking it, to measure cadence, and to provide FusedSpeed) works like an activity tracker.

It does not, however, count steps or distance covered in daily activity, but rather uses the data on daily activity to adjust the recovery time calculated via heart rate monitoring during activities, based on whether one has really been recovering/relaxing or moving around a lot.

On a side note, two ‘upgrade’ pathways to this functionality come to mind, but these are just my personal thoughts.

The one, obvious-seeming possibility, is that Suunto could give activity trackers a run for their money by making the active recovery feature also work like the various FitBit, Jawbone, etc. bracelets. It would only need to count the movement as steps, calculate a probable distance – or maybe be more exact and just use it as a a measure of activity(?) given in a number, like it is done with NikeFuel – do sleep monitoring, and sync that data with Movescount.

So far, though, Suunto has rather gone the way of making it possible to turn off that activity monitoring in case one does not feel a need for it, keeping with how they are about real training and outdoor activities rather than the couch potato’s need to see data on his/her having moved at least a bit.

The other idea around active recovery monitoring is that R-R values may actually be rather more indicative of one’s state of stress or recovery, and this could also be used. There is an (attempt at doing so via an) app for that, actually, in the form of the “orthostatic HR test” app, but it could probably be improved.

A Different Platform: Bluetooth Smart

While the outdoor and training functions and, even more so, the design may look pretty much the same, the hardware that underlies it all has changed quite a bit.

There is (or should be, Suunto is never very forthcoming with these details) the latest Sirf GPS sensor and double the memory. Most noticeably, however, the communication protocol used is now Bluetooth Smart instead of ANT+.

Suunto Movesense

Suunto Movesense

With that change in connection technology, old HR belts or Suunto PODs will not work with any Ambit3 anymore. If you have used an ANT or “Dual” HR belt, a Suunto FootPOD or BikePOD, therefore, you may want to give them away. It may be a bit confusing, then, that the menu to pair the Ambit3 with such PODs is still there, but it makes sense because it should be possible to use (any) other Bluetooth sensor with it (and perhaps Suunto will start producing new BT-equipped ones).

Suunto’s own heart rate belt provided with the Ambit3 models packaged as “HR” versions (they can also be bought without the HR belt, saving some money but missing out on major functionality) has naturally been changed to run Bluetooth Smart.

Not only that, but it also introduces a new concept and sensor, Movesense.

Movesense

Right now, it is only noticeable that this heart rate sensor comes in a slightly different form factor from the earlier heart rate sensors/belts, as it is smaller and lighter and gets clipped onto rather than into the heart rate belt. The battery, too, changes from the earlier (larger) CR2032 to the smaller CR2025.

There are indications, though, that this is part of a new concept where the Movesense sensor could either, perhaps, also record data other than the heart rate or, definitely, be used for measuring data not just on this breast strap, but utilizing sensor-equipped clothing as well. (This has been mentioned by Suunto in the press release, so something on this front is to be expected, probably from Salomon.)

Where one can see the greater smartness of the Movesense pod already: Its software can now be user-updated, and the remaining battery charge is visible, via the new Movescount app.

Not to forget that it can continue to record heart rate data by itself and sync it with the Ambit (or app) later, meaning that it can be used to record HR data while swimming.

One should note, though, that it is not like the earlier “Memory Belt” because it cannot start recording data and download it by itself; it still needs to be connected to an Ambit3 or the Movescount app for a move / HR recording to be started and stopped. In between, however, the connection can be lost (e.g. being in water) and the HR data will still be stored and then synced when the connection is re-established.

It is here where a, if not the, major reason for the changed communication protocol becomes visible. New and interesting things become possible with BTLE/Bluetooth Smart, chief of all the interaction between the watch and the (new) Movescount app.

Movescount in Your Pocket

A Suunto Movescount app for iOS had been around for a while, and it had been rather badly received. Stand-alone as it was, it just did not provide much of any value. It was just another way of recording a move to have it show up in Movescount, but there were other and better apps for recording one’s training – and if you had an Ambit or other Suunto watch, you didn’t really need to lug your iPhone around while training.

Suunto Movescount app

Suunto Movescount app

You still don’t need to do that, but the all-new Suunto Movescount app offers quite a few improvements.

One simple and basic, but rather nicely implemented, feature is the display of the training summary.

Start the Movescount app, and it gives you an overview of the last ‘moves’ that you recorded and uploaded to Movescount (or didn’t upload yet; see next section). Usually, this is done for the last 30 days, but more moves can be loaded for display.

The topmost section of this “Me” display just gives your Movescount account name, profile picture, and a background picture (if there are photos associated with moves).

Below that, there is a visual summary with total training/’move’ time recorded, calories expended, and distance covered. This is shown for all activity types at first, but slide it to the right and you can select individual training categories and get the summary for just that category.

Moves, shown below with the symbol for the type of move and a summary of the time, distance, average heart rate, and how long ago that move was done, are also shown according to whether “all” or individual types of activity are selected in the visual summary.

Touching one of the moves in the list, provided it is synced to Movescount (and you’re online, of course), opens the individual move display where more detailed data can be seen, in a summary table at the top and graphically at the bottom. In between, there is a ‘media’ display where photos are or can be added to that move and where the Suunto Movie (see video) can be started and the map display where the recorded track is displayed.

Syncing on the Move

An oft-heard complaint about the Ambits had been that one would require a PC (or at least notebook) with Moveslink running on it and preferably an internet connection in order to download (and view) the recorded data.

Especially on long tours away from it all, which are just the ones you’d want to have a record of, and just the ones most in danger of getting an older log deleted before it has been synced, this would be a problem. (The Ambits run a looping memory: rather than make the user delete old logs – and not get a new log stored if there isn’t enough free memory available, the oldest memory gets overwritten automatically as new logs are stored.) Try finding an internet café that lets you install software somewhere in the Andes or Himalayas – or Alps or Appalachians, for that matter…

The Ambit3 has obviously been designed with these users in mind – with more or less success.

The new Movescount app now functions as another tool, aside from Moveslink running on a PC or Mac (and still needed to update the watch firmware when there are updates – and of course, the watch still needs to be recharged via the cable, from USB), with which the logs of saved exercises can be stored on Movescount.

So far, there is one potential wrench in the gears of that system, at least for the power-users:

The Ambit3 can be synced with the app even when there is no internet connection, and the app will then show that there is an unsynced move (displaying duration and distance, if that data was gathered, and how long ago that ‘move’ had been started, but no average heart rate and no detailed view); such a move/moves are shown in grey rather than color in the list of moves.

As it also works on a computer, moves are only synced to Movescount when the watch is synced while a connection to Movescount is active. Whether this also works, especially via the app, when a move that would still need to be synced has been overwritten on the Ambit, however, is still a bit of a question.

On a computer, it seems to work (frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever faced that problem, but Moveslink certainly tells when there are unsynced moves, keeps locally stored files for them, and asks the user to reconnect the device so that they get synced).
When the Movescount app showing unsynced moves gets closed down, however, the unsynced moves are not displayed anymore in the app (until the watch gets synced with it again, anyways) upon re-starting it. This makes it look likely that a move has to still be in the watch memory/logbook in order for it to get synced to Movescount via the app…

[Update! Answer from Suunto is:

The app can show as-yet unsynced Moves on the Ambit – this is indicated by a grey Move row in the iPhone app interface. Moves are not marked synced until they have been verified to exist on Movescount by the app. 

If the Ambit3 has been synced to an iPhone the moves are physically synced to the iPhone. When the iPhone app has Internet access the app will then sync the moves to Movescount on next sync. The move, once synced to iPhone, will not disappear. ]

Here, too, I have to be frank: I also don’t see myself running out of memory on the Ambit before getting a chance to bring it online and sync moves any time soon… especially now that all it requires is a data connection on an iOS device; an iPhone is rather easier to carry than a laptop, a phone is not the worst thing to have with you when you go out, and mobile internet or wifi are competing with food and water as the essentials of daily life.

Syncing, by the way, can be set up to either run automatically or not, in the main menu’s “Connectivity” settings, reached by holding the “Next” button for a few seconds. The manual “sync now” is accessible in the sports menu, reached by pushing “start/stop” and going to “MobileApp”, where new notifications can also be looked at and leaved through.

(One thing to note: The Ambit3 cannot multitask. While a sync is running, a ‘move’ can only be started by pausing the sync. So, if you want to go for a run, newly turned on the app, and thus have a sync running, when you push “start/stop” to go into the sports menu, the Ambit will ask if you want to pause the sync. Similarly, when Movesense is used by the app, it can happen that it is not discoverable by the watch – which seems to be what happened when I went out for the run, as you can see in one of the videos.)

Notifications

In the connectivity settings (in the main menu), one can also turn on or off the notifications.

Having them turned on, an Ambit3 performs one of the, until now main, functions of a smartwatch, which is to show when there is a call or new e-mail or other event for which the iOS device gives a notification.

Depending on how you’ve set up your notifications and how busy that is, it can be a godsend or a nuisance, especially with such an outdoor device. Sometimes, seeing quick info about messages on one’s wrist is a really nice thing to have, especially when it gives the added feeling of security from knowing one’s still in touch with the world. On the other hand, it can be quite the nuisance to get reminders of work while out for some training or fun.

The smarter thing may well be to sometimes turn it off or even leave the phone at home…

If you really want to use notifications and get more than one per hour, I suggest setting the “view” button as shortcut into the “notifications” display: From the main time display, push “start/stop” to get into the sports menu, go into the “MobileApp” menu, highlight the “Notifications” menu item (which is only shown when you do have at least one notification!), and hold the “view” button to define that menu item as shortcut.

Then, provided there are notifications, long-pressing “view” in the time display will lead you straight to the notifications. (If there are none, it will only tell you “Shortcut inaccessible,” though.)

The reason I suggest doing this is because notifications will be shown for a while on the main display, but then disappear – and if there were two and/or you just quickly got rid of it, you will need to get into the notifications display, which is quite a tour through the menu without the shortcut. The lowest line in the time display will default to showing the number of notifications (when there are some), but there’s no fast way of reaching them – as far as I’ve seen yet – natively built in otherwise.

This way of defining a shortcut can be done for all but a few of the menu items and from/for all the different normal (time mode) displays (and also on the Ambit2 models), by the way.

New “Ambit3” Move in the Movescount App

One of the more-interesting interactions between Ambit3 and Movescount app is the possibility of using the iOS device as an extended display for the Ambit3.

To do that, one goes into the “(new) move” menu of the app (in the lower right), selects “Ambit3”, and hits “Next”.

Then, when you start your move on the Ambit3 (with active bluetooth connection between Ambit3 and Movescount app, of course), it is also started in the app, and the app’s data display shows data straight from the Ambit3, its map display shows the position according to the Ambit3’s GPS, overlaid on a (Google) map.

(The third display/function of the “(new) move” section of the app, the one for taking photos, is also active but does not – currently? – offer data overlay and thus not save photos taken here to the move.)

[Update! Data overlays will be available for 2nd screen/Ambit3 mode. Combining photos taken in 2nd screen mode with the eventual Ambit move is under development. ]

(Right now, I’m also seeing a bug here where the map view on the app seems to think that all my moves start and stop in Helsinki; while doing the move, the position is shown correctly, though, all data is recorded correctly, and it is all shown correctly once the move has been synced with Movescount, too.)

[Update! Suunto confirms:

This is under development – Helsinki was chosen as the default location to display until the Ambit starts sending GPS data. The actual Move will have the correct track as recorded by the Ambit.  ]

This has its limits where maps are not the most exact (such as many places in the mountains) or where maps don’t agree with actual coordinates (the problem I’m having here in China now, as street maps have an offset from the real positions) and when no internet connection is available.

It’s been working quite well even with maps that have only been saved locally, though (as on the iPhone touch 5G I’ve been using with my Ambit3).

After a fashion, it may well be the best of two worlds:

The Ambit3 still shows nothing but a route for navigation, with views giving the distance and heading to the next waypoint as the bird flies, the overview of the whole route, or a zoomed-in view with zoom level set automatically (and still no closer than 200 m).

But then, showing a map with any more detail on such a small display does not appear particularly useful – and now, one can always check the map, plus the position as given by GPS, on the phone. There, given the possibility to zoom in or out and get the view updated, it makes a lot more sense.

Moves, With the App Alone

This “(new) move” section of the Movescount app also makes it possible to use the app as a stand-alone training recorder, without an Ambit3.

To do that, you just need to select the type of activity you will be doing; data such as speed/pace and location are taken from the iOS device’s sensors, and data overlays (for heart rate, speed,…) are offered when taking photos in the app.

One new thing here is that the Movesense sensor/heart rate belt can be directly connected to the Movescount app, so that heart rate can also be displayed and recorded using the app alone rather than an Ambit3.

[Addendum/Update: Creating a Move on the app by choosing an activity (Running, Cycling etc) is always a new and independent Move, except with the Ambit3 mode.  ]

Movesense and the Movescount App

Talking of using the Movesense sensor with the app: Not only can it be connected to it to record one’s heart rate; the “Heart Rate” display in the app (accessed via the settings wheel symbol in the upper right corner) also shows the firmware version running on Movesense, checks for updates and offers to update the Movesense firmware when there is an updated version of the software, and displays the charge status of the (CR2025) battery in the Movesense pod.

So, no more guesswork on when it’s time for a new battery for the heart rate belt.

(One thing to note, though: There can be problems when/if both the Ambit3 and the Movescount app try to connect to the Movesense sensor. This, I think, is what happened when I started the move in the video and the heart rate sensor could not be found. If something like this happens, try turning off your iPhone’s Bluetooth, connecting Ambit3 and Movesense, then re-starting Bluetooth on the phone.)

Ambit3 Settings and the Movescount App

Another way that the Movescount app provides a link to Movescount in one’s pocket – well, on one’s phone – concerns settings and customization of the Ambit3.

The same settings that can be changed on the watch, via the options menu (hold “next” to enter into that), can now also be changed via the app – and it’s rather more comfortable to change them there. These are available whether there is an internet connection or not.

With an internet connection to Movescount, sports modes can now also be customized via the app rather than just on the Movescount website. This mainly applies to the sports mode displays, which already offer a lot of customization options, but it does not (yet?) extend to the advanced settings such as GPS fix rates. To change things like these, one still has to head to the Movescount website (settings done there get updated to the Ambit3 whether it gets synced via Moveslink and cable or Movescount app and Bluetooth, though).

[Update: Advanced sport mode settings are under development. ]

To be frank here, too: It is nice to have this additional option for changing exercise displays on the go; many people will still end up complaining that a) not every setting can be changed via the app and, even more so, b) the sports modes cannot be changed without a connection to the internet/Movescount; yet, it remains as it has been ever since the t6c running watch from Suunto started giving the opportunity to customize data fields to be displayed – the best thing to do about sports mode customization is to figure out what data field one wants, set one’s modes up accordingly, and then run with them, not constantly change things around.

Smart Enough?

Like I say in my introduction video, the big question for the near future may be just how smart watches are and get, and how smart we ourselves are and will be about it all.

The Ambit3 line is connected in a way that the earlier models hadn’t been, and this enables it to offer some possibilities that we haven’t had before and that are nice to have. Essential, however, they are not.

On the other hand, the smart watches that we have been seeing so far, even as they offer more possibilities as long as they are connected, fall short on their own. The Ambit3, just as the Ambit2, shines there exactly because its “connected” abilities are not strictly necessary.

For the user – and first of all, the potential customer – the question is what they want, as always.

If you are usually at home at your own PC and hardly ever anywhere where you couldn’t plug in your Ambit to sync it, then an Ambit3’s expanded connectivity may just be another source of techno-frustrations that could just as well be avoided. (Sorry, but the more connections there are, the more potential for trouble there is.)

If you like your tools/toys to sync automatically, use the latest in software (well, apps) and hardware, but also be able to hold their own without constantly needing all the connections, giving training advice and guidance as well as offering navigation capabilities that are great for city (and) trail exploring, as I have set out to do in Beijing, then the Ambit3 is well-worth considering.

 

So much for this look at the new capabilities of the Ambit3 line.

Next up: a look at the evolution and state of the Ambit3’s capabilities as compared to the Ambit2.
Later still [now getting online]: a guide to using an Ambit2 or Ambit3 to its full potential.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to put them in the comments…

First reminder: It's a training day

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 ;)

Ambit2S

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.

The Power and Paralysis in the Smartphone

The power of smartphones and computers? It’s not in their processors, it’s in your brain. Use it!

IT (information technology) had already been talked about as a revolution when it mainly just meant computerization of offices. Then

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Route display on Ambit2

Suunto Ambit2 Review – Lessons in Tech-Psychology…

As much as I write about various ways of getting and making oneself (more) at home in this world, it is definitely my Suunto reviews and similar posts that are garnering the most attention.

New additions to what has now become the Ambit family have just recently been released, so it’s definitely time for new reviews… and after the nice 100k on the Alpannonia, some 25-30 km training runs, bike-run-bike combos, and even a few swimming sessions (which aren’t normally my thing, but since there are new swimming functions…), I feel quite ready for them.

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