When I am running a marathon these days, I’m also using it for GPS testing – and to the WACHAUmarathon, I went with a very full complement of (Suunto, at least) devices: Suunto 9 Baro, Suunto Spartan Ultra, Suunto Ambit 3 Peak, Suunto GPS TrackPOD, and Suunto 3 Fitness.

Let’s have a look at how they all performed, GPS-wise…

It was all quitefascinating:

Ambit 3 Peak

As usual, the Ambit 3 Peak delivered a pretty solid GPS track. Even that took some slight detours, however, if one looks closely at certain sections.

It eventually recorded 42.37 km of distance.

(The Ambit 3 Peak track in the video and map is in orange; that watch was on my left wrist, up from the Suunto 9.)

Wachau-Marathon, loop at Dürnstein GPS tracks
The loop at Dürnstein is a nice example of the good performance of Ambit and Suunto 9 (and GPS TrackPOD) as opposed to Spartan Ultra and Suunto 3 Fitness

Suunto 9

Also on my left wrist, in normal watch position, the Suunto 9 Baro showed some of the wobble in its GPS track which it has had for a while. Sony does have some work to do with its chipset.

All in all, though, it is a pretty solid track very similar to that from the Ambit 3 Peak. The eventual distance measured came in at 42.68 km, just 300 meters longer than the Ambit 3 Peak recording.

(The Suunto 9 track is in green.)

Suunto Spartan Ultra

The Spartan Ultra had a bad day of it.

It was on my right wrist, a bit up on the arm (to leave room for the Suunto 3 Fitness below it on my wrist) – and it took some decisive detours.

Just one small example of the jumps the Spartan Ultra recorded
Just one small example of the jumps the Spartan Ultra (strangely) recorded

If it were only the usual offset from it having been on the other wrist from the other watches, that would not be an issue. But, it shows some definite errors where it suddenly sways to the side… and even the total distance, though not horrible, shows that, coming in at 43.08 km.

Suunto 3 Fitness

The Suunto 3 Fitness, of course, got its GPS track from connected GPS, i.e. from my smartphone (a Sony Xperia X Performance, in one of my running vest’s chest/strap pockets).

Usually, such a phone’s GPS is pretty good – and it was not bad. It did also take some “side trips”, swerving a bit every now and then.

That was, by far, not as bad as it was with the Spartan Ultra, but it did happen. It’s a nice pointer, actually, to how all GPS technology is far from perfect…

(That track is shown in violet.) The distance recorded here was 42.74 km, in the end.

Suunto GPS TrackPOD

The TrackPOD tends to be interesting because it’s basically an Ambit’s GPS system, but in a POD format to stick on one’s shoulder strap. Thus, it should have the least-disturbed view to the sky… but it tends to have some issues, like all GPS.

For the most part, the track recorded this way is quite clean, very similar to those from the Ambit 3 Peak and the Suunto 9. The GPS TrackPOD definitely did not like the (entrance to the) tunnel we had to go through, though; it is the one device that got the most disturbed there.

GPS tracks, running through the tunnel in Dürnstein
GPS tracks, running through the tunnel in Dürnstein (with the GPS TrackPOD having had issues at its entrance, in the Northwest)

Having been on my shoulder, the GPS TrackPOD was the one device I didn’t think to turn off after crossing the finish line; I only realized it was still on after I had gone through the aid and refreshment area after the finish.

Thus, it ran for a whole 20 minutes longer than all the watches, recorded that post-run track as well… and still ended up at only 42.69 km total distance.

You could count it as probably the closest to the marathon distance, but it probably undercounted it a bit.

Wachau-Marathon: Road and Rain
Wachau-Marathon: Road and Rain

Conclusions

What I find quite interesting here is that the Spartan Ultra had such a bad time of it while the Suunto 9 performed so nicely.

Now, just for some knowledge of where the track was, all devices worked. For a road run, the Spartan Ultra would have disappointed me, but I’d chalk it up to a one-time, not a general, issue (without more data from more runs; it hasn’t usually delivered such a bad track for me and I’ve used it at several marathons, from its first release).

Rather nicer, of course, is the great performance of the Suunto 9 – all the more so considering that quite a bit of work on its new Sony GPS chipset is still being done.

You can read more about the WACHAUmarathon experience over on www.zhangschmidt.com