120K of Thinking about Suunto Ambit3 Peak vs. Spartan

As the 24 Hours Burgenland Extreme were coming up again – a ~120 km tour around the Neusiedler See lake – I thought that would be a great opportunity to check what the battery runtimes of Suunto Spartan models and the Ambit3 Peak would be.

The tour eventually turned out a bit less good for this test than I had hoped it would be, but got me thinking more clearly about whether I would, by now, prefer the Ambit3 Peak or a Suunto Spartan.

The Tour

First, a necessary comment about the event:

This year, I decided to participate again but to do things a bit differently.

So, I set out from my front steps to take a different path from the ordinary route to the start in Oggau. There, I waited for the start, then went on the normal route and with the participants to Neusiedl, where I finished.

I was a bit concerned about making it in time to the start, and as a result I arrived quite a bit early there. During the 1.5 hours I had to wait for the start, I kept the watches running but paused the activity recordings.
Whether this really saved much battery or not, I can’t tell; GPS apparently stayed active, anyways, but it made for a somewhat unusual recording.

Battery Runtimes, Ambit3 Peak vs. Suunto Spartan Models

I wish I could just simply tell you how long the various watches lasted, until they stopped recording:

  • Suunto Spartan Sport WHR Baro: 7:03 hours of active recording (for 51,86 km) + 1.5 hours of paused recording
  • Ambit3 Peak: 11:12 hours recording (79.75 km?), 1.5 hours on pause (or so it seemed, see below)
  • Spartan Ultra: 12:25 hours of recording (87.42 km), 1.5 hours on pause

But, it was all actually quite a bit more complicated…

The Complications

Suunto Spartan Sport WHR Baro

The Baro from Suunto recorded forĀ 51.86 km, 7:03 hours plus the 1:30 hours of paused recording.

GPS was at best, the oHR was used for recording heart rate, autolaps were active (every 1 km) and no energy saving options were used.

I wore that watch against my wrist, underneath my jacket. So, there came a point when I uncovered it and found that it had switched itself into the “please recharge” screen – and that was that. Had I missed a “low battery” warning?

Suunto Ambit3 Peak

The A3P lasted for what seemed like 79.75 km of recording in 11:12 hours… except there was a problem.

I had not just paused it in Oggau for the 1:30 hours of waiting for the start, it had somehow been paused for another three hours, later on.

Navigation remained active, the GPS remained functional (and I used it with best GPS, navigation, HR recording via chest strap, but without autolaps) – only there was no recording.

The Ambit at least shows the small battery indicator all the time. And, when it has fallen below 4% battery, it beeps and shows that the recording was saved, the watch needs a recharge. Plug it into a portable charger – which works relatively well as long as one’s arms don’t swing too wildly and there isn’t any branches to catch the cable on – and you can get right back to starting a new recording.

That’s how I did it, recorded another 3 hours and 18.5 km – and when that had led me to my finish, the watch was almost fully recharged again.

I’m miffed about the gap in the recording all the more. This has happened to me before, one could always say that it’s my fault (for not checking that the recording is active, only looking at the navigation working) but it makes me happy with the Spartan pause screen that makes it obvious when a recording has been paused (at the cost of not showing all the data, but that is improving).

Suunto Spartan Ultra

The Spartan Ultra recorded for 87.42 km, 12:25 hours plus the 1:30 hours of the paused activity. I used it without energy saving options, with constant navigation, best GPS (naturally, given navigation was active), autolaps every 1 km, HR recording from a chest strap.

 

Did you notice? The SSU actually lasted longer than the A3P!

I’m not sure if this is how it should have been, how much of a role it plays that the Spartan Ultra is newer – but it is also its 1.5 years old, the A3P should be 1-2 years older only…

The problem with the Spartans:

They only give a “warning” about the low battery when they’re so low they can’t do anything but show the warning screen. The one with the “Empty battery, plug in!” graphic on it.

Even if you plug a charger in, they need to get recharged for a bit before they start displaying a watchface again, meaning that you cannot immediately start a new recording.

The Non-Problem of the Missing Recharge Warning

The lack of a low battery warning isn’t actually such a big problem, though: On an ordinary ultra(-long run), if you knew you’d take longer than your watch would last, you probably wouldn’t want to wait until the battery is exhausted (as I did because I wanted to test their time-to-shutoff) but plug a charger in sooner, anyways.

And if you needed to check if now or later is the better time for it, you’d just have to do the double-tap on the screen to get the percentage of battery in the popup display (if you don’t have the touchscreen disabled – unfortunately, there is no “battery %” data field you could add to a custom sports mode).

(If anyone’s wondering how I still managed to get a full recording of the whole tour: I was actually wearing a fourth watch, and I did plug that one into a charger well before its battery was drawn down too far.)

I had no problem wearing and using the Spartan while recharging it, by the way.

Getting the magnet to sit properly does mean loosening the watch, then re-tightening it, oHR wouldn’t be usable like that anymore (and I forgot to check if navigation would still have worked while the charger plugs magnet is on the watch), but I had no issues wearing the watch on my wrist with the charger attached.

So, Suunto Spartan or Ambit3 Peak?

What I only realized fully after I was back home and thinking back was just how clear this event had made my current stance on the question of which watch I prefer, by now:

The Ambit3 Peak is still more stable when in doubt, still offers some features that the Spartans have not (yet) received – but by now, I prefer the Spartan line.

One still hears of some nagging issues with some Spartans, but I personally haven’t encountered terrible failures from them.

The navigation is a big step up from that on the Ambit.

I wish it showed the names of the waypoints, which it still doesn’t. But then, the Ambit 3 Peak might be getting bug fixes if anything bad turned up (very unlikely by now); the Spartan line is certain to get further improvements.

Navigation on it is just prettier, for one, but also offers the zoom feature, the ETA/ETE to the next waypoint, further details about the route…

Troubled as the battery issue was or might appear to have been, I only (would have) needed to double-tap on the Spartan display to see battery percentage and current time, and I did repeatedly want to do that with the Ambit, too…

Then, HR zones have recently been added to the Spartan line, and they promise more features for training guidance to come.

So, sure, it’s easy for me as an external tester for Suunto to say, but even when I’m not “working” as that but just grabbing a watch to go out for fun, it’s a Spartan by now.

Whenever I take the Ambit instead (because I need the running performance index? nah), it has started to feel like a bit of a step backwards.

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2 Comments

  1. Marilyn

    Hey thanks for the review.. im currently looking for an ultra watch minus the fancy thing aside. Id probably go with peak

    • Depending on what you mean by “fancy”, you’re probably on a good track looking at Suunto watches. The Ambit3 Peak is still a good watch, even if it’s getting to be old; the Ultra has got a lot better than initially… and if you’re someone who really goes for ultras, the Suunto9 has only just been announced…

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