Suunto Ambit ABC GPS HRM watch

GearFlogger reviews the Suunto Ambit ABC GPS HRM watchWatch, my fishbelly white ass. The Suunto Ambit is a supercomputer for your wrist, with the TLAs (that's Three Letter Acronyms) to match: it's an altimeter-barometer-compass with global positioning system and a heart rate monitor rolled into a 2.7 ounce slab of rubber, plastic and metal that runs your life from the end of your arm.

Rather than give you a laundry list of the impressive range of features and functions on the Ambit, all of which are exceedingly capable, we'll try here to give you a sense of its usability, which is what will determine at the end of the day whether you actually do use it. Physically, the Ambit is not slim by any means, but it's relatively compact for all its horsepower and rides easily on even a small wrist thanks to its wide strap. The Ambit comes with a soft and comfortable HRM strap and a USB cable with a pinch connector that fastens on to the watch itself to recharge and transfer data to your computer. Battery life without GPS is pretty good, weeks to a month depending on how much you tax it. With GPS logging enabled, endurance shrinks to a couple of days of full-time use. If you're on expedition think about a solar charger.

The physical specs are the easy part. The bottom line on the Ambit is the software: it's a fantastic piece of technology that sets the standard for its category, but like any sophisticated piece of technology the investment does not end with the purchase price. You need to put the time in to understand its dizzying array of features and functions, how to access them and how to customize them to make the limited screen space work effectively for you. You also need to get to know, the online dashboard that will manage all this data for you; think Facebook for fitness, although thankfully you can turn off all the social features if you want.

And here's the rub: the manual for the Ambit is not great. Some might even say it sucks. Just finding the thermometer reading was an exercise in self-control. The Moveslink local software and the Movescount website are better, but certainly could stand to be improved. Just know in advance you're going to want to take at least an hour or two to do the initial setup, and plan on spending significantly more time as you collect and download your data to understand how to work with it.

That said, anything this complex with such a small display is operating within certain usability constraints. The first way the Ambit gets around this is by allowing you to customize the display to work with your sport-specific demands. The second way the Ambit breaks free from its screen real estate limitations is by allowing you to do almost all of this customization online through Set the data you see on screen, as well as the personal fitness data, including heart rate zones, used to calculate your stats. Download data from your usage – called moves here – and then dig into the details. You'll get everything from calories to training effect, with the ability to graph to your heart's content. GPS data is displayed on Google maps.

The social side of things may or may not be your bag, but it's cool to see the beta on someone else's trip up the West Buttress. You can even download apps. Our favorite is the one that lets you figure out how many beers you've earned during your exercise session. There's an app designer if you're really feeling adventurous, although we are still gathering the courage to test that particular feature.

So this is already the longest review we've ever written, but hopefully you get the point: the Ambit does everything it claims to and a lot more, if you are willing to put the time in to get to know the software. If that's the kind of hands-on nuts-and-bolts experience you're looking for, the Suunto Ambit will transport you to data nirvana.

$550.00 at REI


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