A weekend of watch previews: Suunto Ambit and the Soleus 2.0 GPS

Rewind the clocks to 10:30PM Friday night, which is the time at which I finally managed to secure the not-yet-available Suunto Ambit box from DHL.  Due to a strange series of errors, DHL had decided not to deliver the unit to me Friday, instead opting to retry on Monday.  But, since the kind folks from Finland sprung to overnight it 4,316 miles to me (plus extra for a side trip to Cincinnati), I was determined to get it.  After a bunch of calling (all of which to really surprisingly friendly DHL employees), one of the drivers dropped it by the house on his way home from work.  Well played DHL, props to you!

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So the next morning prior to my run I got it all unboxed and ready to roll.  After some initial software updates to get it current, I was all set and ready for my first run.

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In addition, I also added to my arsenal the new Soleus 2.0 GPS watch, which is the next unit in the series for the bargain priced Soleus GPS watches.  This unit cost me the same price ($95) via a GroupOn deal a few weeks back, but normally it’s about $30-$50 more.  The key difference between the 2.0 and the 1.0 is that the 2.0 has downloadable capability (and intervals), whereas the 1.0 keeps everything in the watch.

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With both watches on (and also a FR910XT, simply in case both crapped out), I headed on out for a 10-mile run.  This weekend is a bit of an easy weekend ahead of a taper week.  Though, I made a small error in underestimating how hard I had run the night prior during a 90+ minute spin-bike/treadmill brick.  It was originally scheduled for Thursday, but 13hrs of work shifted that a bit.  At any rate…onto the road!

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I was very impressed with how spot-on both the Ambit and the FR910XT are with respect to distance.  Throughout the run the furthest they were ever apart was .02 miles – in other words, when one read 9.81 miles, the other would be usually 9.82 or 9.83.  Good stuff!

The Soleus was tracking pretty closely during the run too – though, I had neglected to remember to swap it to miles (instead of kilometers), so I was having to do math in my head.  Post-run evaluation of the data put it at  10.08m.  Nicely done.

Post run I went to upload it to the Movescount site (their online training log site), but ran into a small snag where I can’t get my first run (10-miles) to upload.  All subsequent activities are going up fine though.

I must say, I’m really impressed though with how integrated the Suunto Movescount site is with the watch.  I LOVE that I can change all of the data fields on the site, and have them download to the watch.  It’s sorta like what you can do with the Timex Global Trainer and Timex Run Trainer – except far cleaner than both of those implementations.

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After a weekend’s worth of runs and bikes, here’s a quick bullet-point summary of my thoughts on the Ambit.  A full review will be next week (likely Tuesday or Wednesday), after I’ve had a chance to get a complete week’s worth of running/cycling/swimming in.

- Who this watch is for: Primarily ultra runners and hikers/mountaineering folks.  The 50-hour GPS-enabled battery life is what you want (though, at reduced recording rates), and the high level of attention to the barometric altimeter and 3D compass is sweet for mountainous terrain. If you’re a triathlete though, it’s simply not the watch for you.  Lack of ANT+ support (only proprietary usage of ANT, not ANT+), means it’s not compatible with any ANT+ accessories like power meters or other existing ANT+ accessories you may already have.

- Things I love: It’s feels durable.  It feels metallic, and it feels like I’m not going to break it.  The 3D compass is sweet, I’ve got a little video to show you what it looks like, below.  Additionally, I love the integrated temperature sensor (ideal for telling my why I’m running so slow in the heat) – though, I’m not entirely convinced the value is correct.  I also love the configuration options of the Movescount site – it’s clean, relatively easy to use, and I can then save all my options for each device I have right on their site.  From there, the desktop agent (Moveslink) updates my watch.  It is over PC instead of the little wireless Suunto ANT stick, but, I can deal with that.

Suunto Ambit 3D Compass Demo

- Things I loath: Easily its the lack of ANT+ support.  Tonight via Amazon I ordered $210US worth of standard accessories – a $89 footpod for indoor running (which I just learned its not compatible with…yet), a $59 bike speed sensor, and a $62 bike cadence sensor.  Seriously (and yes, all to review).  Yet, the same stuff via ANT+ would be less than half that much.  The kicker is the watch’s ANT chip can easily do ANT+, but Suunto likely believes it’ll make more money on accessories this way (via their own proprietary ANT option and accessories).  I’d disagree, I think they lose far more sales for folks that don’t want to re-purchase $200 worth of accessories (i.e. anyone who already has a Garmin, Timex, Cycles, Wahoo, etc… unit).  Heck, even Polar’s stuff isn’t this expensive.  Additionally, they instantly kill sales for really anyone with a power meter.

- Things that are coming: There’s been a bunch of snippets released regarding what’s on the way via firmware updates, including route creation.  It looks like there will be an update in May, as well as one in September.  I’ll be working to get a full list of what’s planned.  I think the cool thing is that with an internal accelerometer, they can do quite a bit in future updates.  Similar to what Motorola has done with the Motoactv, they can add support for activity after activity – quickly gathering quite a bit of steam.  And unlike the Motoactv’s limited waterproofing, the Ambit is fully waterproofed to 100 meters (300ft), and with that internal accelerometer could even do swim stroke recognition. And of course, the optimistic one in me hopes they’ll come around with support for ANT+ accessories…

Of course, as always, feel free to toss in thoughts/questions about the Ambit into the comments section below – I’m happy to try and answer them.  Also, there’s a great thread with a ton of answers posted here.

Now, to move from the most expensive GPS watch ($500) to just about the cheapest ($95-$149)…

As I’ve noted in the past, I think the Soleus series of watches poses a significant challenge to companies like Garmin and Polar.  They’re bringing simplified GPS watches that are accurate and easy to use to the sub-$100 market.  You’re seeing Timex now enter this market with the Timex Marathon GPS, which is also $95.  But with the Soleus 2.0 watch, the company has chosen to add data download capability via their USB charging cable.  Now to clarify, the Soleus 2.0 watch normally costs $149, though, it seems to be on sale a fair bit, and the deal with GroupOn had it down to $95 (when I bought it).

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After my 10-mile run I went about getting the software installed and my workout downloaded.  This turned out to be a slightly more cumbersome process than I expected.  And also one a fair bit less refined.  Here’s the final software installed:

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Now, the software is fairly bare bones, and really, not terribly well put together.  I’ve been trying now for about an hour to get it to both download and open (since those are separate operations).  Most of the time, it just does this:

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Finally, I got it to show me my run:

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Well, ok, sorta.  It tried to show me my run.  But it wouldn’t.  It seemed to think my interwebs had bad signal.  I assure you, the state of my interwebs is strong!

I then decided to click “MapMyRun”, assuming that would take me to…well…MapMyRun.com.  But it doesn’t, it just exports out a .TCX file.  Figuring the assumption was that I’d take it over to MapMyRun.com – I went over there, manually signed it, and then uploaded the run by uploading the file.  Sure enough – it worked!

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Sweet! 

Figuring since it was a .TCX file, I could take it to Garmin Connect, Sport Tracks, Training Peaks…or really anything else.  But, all of them failed as the .TCX is malformed according to them.  Bummer. :(

Thought, interestingly, Golden Cheetah did work and imported it in fine:

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Of course, Golden Cheetah believes it’s a bike ride…but hey, it’s progress.

I suppose in some way, you get what you pay for with the Soleus device.  But, in my mind – at the normal retail price of $149 that’s almost the cost of the Timex Run Trainer, and about $25 more than the cost of the Timex Global Trainer these days, both of which have far better software support via Training Peaks.  Honestly, if I was Soleus I’d throw overboard whichever 3rd party company they outsourced this software to and just partner with someone else that does this today and knows what they’re doing(Note: Depending on the error thrown in the software, you can see it was another company doing the development, not surprising per se).

It’s really too bad, I was really hoping this would be a solid contender in the budget GPS watch arena.  I’ll give them a bit of time to perhaps fix throw away the software some before doing a full review.

Moving onto more positive things – my Sunday bike ride. 

I went out for a big old loop around the Mt. Vernon area.  It wasn’t quite as nice as the 80*F Saturday weather, but it was still pretty warm.  I had just passed Fort Hunt heading southbound on the Mt. Vernon Train when I stumbled through a whole slew of folks with signs and balloons.  I was pretty excited that someone was throwing a surprise party for me!

But as I was going slowly cycling through them, someone noted that “she was just behind this guy here, the third cyclist in the group”.

I had just passed about half a mile back three girls leisurely making their down the path together.  Then it clicked – the last of those three girls was about to be proposed to.  Each of the signs with balloons had individual words on them “Will. You. Marry. Me. ?”.  Her name was in there too, but I forgot it.  About 90 seconds later, they strolled on by.  Her approach and landing was a bit rocky due to her apparent excitement, but thankfully she made the flying dismount without hitting the tree (just barely).

Based on how excited she was, I’m going to assume that somewhere in her jumping around she said yes.  The lucky groom to be is standing there in the blue shirt, with his bride-to-be.

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Congrats!

With that, hope everyone has a great week ahead! And thanks for reading!

24 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Thanks for the Ambit preview. Please be sure to compare barometric altimeter accuracy with the 910XT. Can't wait to read the full review! You rock.

    Reply
  2. Ray,

    Thanks for the preview. As a climber, I've been looking forward to the Ambit for a while. I'm excited to see your review.

    Would you happen to know if the Suunto ANT accessories are compatible with ANT+ watches? If the Suunto stuff works with ANT+ receivers, at least you don't have to buy two completely separate systems going forward, which takes some of the sting out of it for those of us that already have Garmin equipment.

    Not that this really excuses what they've done. They're supposed to be part of the ANT+ alliance, along with everyone else.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Hi Ray,
    this doesn't have anything to do with the suunto watch. but lately i am experiencing speed errors with my garmin 610. like yesterday when i was riding my bike it told me my max speed was 2595 kph. do you have the same problems? and if so how can it be fixed.

    Reply
  4. Hey Ray, I read somewhere that you can grab the xml file of a workout from the PC without needing to use Movescount. Can you take a look and let us see an example output xml file? I'm going to try and write a script to convert it to gpx to use in other programs when I get my Ambit. Files should be somewhere like c:\users\\AppData\Roaming\Suunto\Moveslink2\

    Would be good to have a simple method of uploading the file straight to Training Peaks etc.

    Reply
  5. That's (the proposal, not the watches) adorable!

    I appreciate the preview, as I had been waiting for the Soleus 2.0 with HR. Now that you've pointed out the Timex options (I wasn't aware that they had any GPS devices aside from the $400 plate that you strap to your arm, ha ha!) I'll explore in that direction. Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Ray - you may already know this but the new style Suunto Footpod Mini transmits both ANT and ANT+ signals according to their website FAQs. I came across this tidbit while researching the difference between the old & new style footpods. So, at least you could use the Suunto footpod w/ your Garmin watches :-) instead of wearing two while testing. See here for the footpod FAQ: link to bit.ly

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    Thank you for the Ambit review. (And all the others, they are incredibly valuable). I'm looking forward to anything more you have to say, e.g. let us know you opinion of the FusedSpeed feature - is it noticeably better, especially under the circumstances of a bad GPS signal for which it's intended.

    Reply
  8. Hey Ray, great preview and looking forward to more on the Ambit. I've done some reading on it too, and thought I'd share a post that has some Q+A about the Ambit.

    They mention that ANT+ will be assessed as it seems the most useful upgrade in the future, and hopefully making it compatible with power meters.

    Here's the link: link to ultra168.com

    Reply
  9. Tks for the preview! What about the Suunto X10? Should be interesting to compare with the Ambit. Waiting for the full review!

    Reply
  10. Will your full review include a comparison of the data quality during a run with the GPS settings set to 50 hour battery life compared to the normal GPS settings? As your initial review states, this is the key reason I would buy the watch.

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    Ray,

    Footpod? You ordered a footpod? I hope that means that you have been advised that the footpod will pair with the ambit and provide indoor distance!!! Everything I have heard so far indicates that it will not, but may be enabled in downstream software updates.

    Reply
  12. I definitely think it would be useful to Garmin to have some more competition in this sector to keep them on their toes in terms of price, quality and features.

    Does the Suunto have GPS inbuilt into the watch of do you need their separate GPS pod? When I was having a quick look at Suunto's recently they all seemed to need a separate GPS pod which put me off.

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

    It would be nice if you could include in tests some sections with challenging tree cover and sufficient shadow from buildings. I have seen some early reports from users that Ambit could be better choice in such areas than Garmin 910 unit.

    Some stuff for Google Earth
    link to dl.dropbox.com

    Reply
  14. Personally, I never buy anything from Suunto ever again. I had a misfortune to get myself Suunto Core "wristcomputer". Being shiny and catchy it however as for extreme sport extremely unreliable. Buttons stopped working after about 6 month of mild usage, i send it back - the repair case handling back in th days was quite pleasant, free of charge and fast. The one I received back has the same issues, so i send that back as well. Over a period of for years i kept sending back this device. It was a frustrating experience, Now they started to charge for shipping of repair cases. And I see no sense to do so as I definitely get back another failure.

    My wife has a T1, which as well got "frozen" and need to be send back.

    Reply
  15. Hey Ray,

    In order that Suunto Ambit will work with ANT+ , does it only require a firmware updates? or hardware changes?

    Reply
  16. Hello, Thanks for the preview on the Ambit, I can't wait to read your in depth review.

    I am very interested in purchasing this watch but I am not convinced it will be very useful to me, so if you could test the Ambit in the following areas that would be great:

    1. Uploading run and/or ride data to Training Peaks Online, WKO+ and Golden Cheetah.

    2. How the Pace responds to changes in running speeds (how much time does it take the watch to catch up during walk/run intervals and jog/sprint intervals)

    3. Interval training features (lap timing, average lap time/pace etc.

    4. Your thoughts of the usefulness of this watch for a pure runner AND a triathlete who already has a dedicated bike computer

    5. Auto Pause functions, run alerts PLUS any other functions from competing watches like the Garmin 910xt.

    Thanks, I can't wait to read your full review, I'm sure it will be great.
    Cheers

    Reply
  17. Ray, thanks for the preview! One question about the Ambit: Where are the temperature/pressure sensors located? Is it on the bottom of the watch casing?

    Reply
  18. It's on the underside, upper edge - along the top, but against your skin.

    Reply
  19. Ray, LOVE your reviews, sometimes they overwhelm me, lol. Question;
    I run, I'm now delving into swimming and biking.Quick, down, and dirty, best watch for all around use, and daily wear. I'm not into super specific data, just general pace time mileage, whats the watch for me. Currently wearing the Soleus 1.o daily, but my running will be on the shelf for the spring, maybe some of the summer, From my exploring the site it seems I might belong in one of the Timex watches, but which one? the global looks like the answer but would/or/can/or/do you find it an everyday wear watch?

    Reply
  20. Anonymous

    Nice review of the Suunto Ambit and am looking forward to a more in-depth review. I would like to get your impression of how it compares to the Garmin Forerunner 610. Thank you.

    Reply
  21. Anonymous

    Ray ,
    So the suunto ambit depth review will post in here soon ? Just can't wait to know more about this watch.

    Thank

    Reply
  22. At the moment I'm targetting either Thursday, or next Tuesday. I'd really like to get a few longer runs/bikes on it this weekend that I have scheduled - hence my only reasoning for delaying it a couple days. Thanks for hanging in there!

    Reply
  23. Anonymous

    Ray,
    it would be so helpful if in your review there will be a in depth comparison with 910XT also, expecially for the altimeter features.

    Thanks from Italy!

    Reply
  24. Warren

    Thanks Ray.
    Can you create a route in mapmyrun, upload it onto the Ambit, and then follow the route using the watch as a "guide"?

    Reply

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