Apple Watch vs Suunto Ambit3

Apple Watch Melon Color Suunto Ambit3 Sport Blue

Runners will find this review useful if considering a sports watch purchase in the near future. Here I compare the Apple Apple Watch vs. Suunto’s latest, the Ambit3.

I don’t think there is any doubt that the Suunto Ambit2 and Ambit3 are the most popular watches for ultra-runners and many other serious amateur and professional athletes across the globe. I see the watches on the wrists of ultra-runners, explorers, triathletes, and cyclists all over the world. Suunto makes great watches. No doubt.

Enter the new Apple Watch, due for release in early 2015 but revealed yesterday at the latest Apple Event. The Apple Watch is not strictly an athlete’s watch, but it contains many of the functions top-level and amateur athletes appreciate in a watch – HR monitor, accelerometer, caloric expenditure, GPS when paired with iPhone, etc. It is also customizable and the functions will expand with time as Apple developers write amazing applications for it. Over a short time Apple will also refine the watch to meet the needs of more users – hopefully athletes like us.

This post compares the Apple Watch to the latest Suunto Ambit3 in specifications and I give an opinion on which watch might be best for you and me, since I am in the market for a sports watch that can do what these two watches offer. I compare each watch on major issues related to running, trail running, ultra-running. This comparison will not be helpful for cyclists, swimmers, or other sports – just running.

The Ambit3 has these models:

  • Ambit3 Peak Sapphire and Peak (both in black)
  • Ambit3 Sport Sapphire and Sport (black, blue, white)

The difference between the watches is that the Sapphire versions have a Sapphire quartz bezel that is more scratch resistant than the other versions.

The Apple Watch has these models:

  • Apple Watch
  • Apple Watch Sport
  • Apple Watch Edition (solid gold case)

Honestly, I wouldn’t get the Apple Watch, or any Suunto Watch. The next watch for me is Garmin…


1. Durability. Without having experimented with the Watch, I’m going to say that the Suunto watches are going to last much longer with rugged use than the Apple Watch. The band, the watch frame and face, are all just considerably more rugged than Apple’s Watch, which is as much geared toward fashion as it is the sports functions. Apple’s Watch is so much more than a sports-watch, and this is reflected in its design. If you are rough on watches – don’t even bother with the Apple Watch unless you have deep pockets and don’t mind continually breaking them. The Suunto is of course waterproof, but I cannot say that for the new Apple Watch, as they didn’t mention that at all yesterday.

2. GPS. The Suunto Ambit3 has an accurate GPS and has three ping levels that help extend battery life: 1 sec, 5 sec, 60 sec. You can buy the “Ambit3 Peak” and get the barometric / altimeter sensor that will give you elevation and atmospheric pressure which fuses with map data for elevations to give you a supposedly more accurate reading. The Apple Watch doesn’t have any GPS at all, you’re supposed to pair it with an iPhone for that function. The Apple Watch and the Ambit3’s other than the Peak use GPS to match up with elevation records of maps in a database.

3. Elevation Gain. The Ambit2 was shown to have a very marginal accuracy regarding gain by one Youtuber (Bush Channel Ambit2 Error). He performed a detailed test including calibrating the unit and climbing to different peaks that had their official elevations noted. Sometimes the Ambit2 was off by 50 meters after just having calibrated it. That’s ridiculously poor accuracy. Better accuracy was had by a Garmin GPS device he was comparing it to, which wasn’t a watch, but still. I wouldn’t rely on the Ambit2 elevation gain or maximum readings. I’d love to see a new test of the Ambit3 in this regard. Hopefully they’ve solved the problem because without accurate elevation readings, a run up and down the mountain will be off considerably by hundreds of meters over the hours. You’d be better off to use the maps online. The Apple Watch has an altimeter, but it has yet to be tested for accuracy.

4. Readability and Customization. I ran for years with a crummy display on my Timex Triathlon watch. If I’m not in direct sun, I have a hard time reading the display fast enough. I want to see it instantly, whatever the ambient lighting conditions, not spend seconds trying to see what lap I’m on and what my time is. Both the Apple Watch and the Suunto Ambit3 series watches have excellent readability, though in bright sunshine the Suunto Ambit3 is going to reign supreme due to the superior contrasty screen.

5. Heart Rate Monitors. Both the Apple Watch and the Suunto Ambit3 use bluetooth connectivity to pair the units with heart rate monitors (HRM). I am assuming the Apple Watch does because again, it wasn’t mentioned in the “reveal” which really, revealed little. Though it isn’t known which HRM is more accurate, they are probably going to both be acceptable. One highlight of the Apple Watch is that it has a built-in HRM that takes a reading while it is on the wrist – chest strap is unnecessary. Now, you’re going to want to use a chest strap for your runs because I think the wrist monitor is going to be a bit flaky and not nearly as accurate, but let’s see how it plays out with future iterations.

6. Battery Life. I don’t think battery life even matters until one watch has so much capacity that I don’t even think about it any more. As it is – 1 to 3 days of battery life using the GPS function means I have to think about it. That’s not ideal. I don’t want to plan for a run and think for a minute about whether or not I’ll be able to use the watch or not because it isn’t fully charged. That’s the sad state of battery technology right now, but it will improve over the next few years. I consider the battery life on both these watches to be marginal and unacceptable, but then what choice do I have? Other than using the GPS constantly, both the Apple Watch and Suunto Ambit3 give decent battery life for simple functions. Funny enough, the 9/9/2014 Apple Event which introduced the Apple Watch – didn’t mention battery life at all.

Just as important as battery life is the time it takes to charge the watches. I haven’t seen any good data on that yet. It would be significant if either one could charge substantially faster than the other, or, offered easy to exchange batteries for extended (superhuman) athletic efforts over the course of days or weeks. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 boasts this new technology that allows it to charge to 50% in just half-an-hour. An ultra-runners watch with that would be nice!

7. Apps. The Apple Watch will have many more amazing applications developed for it than the Suunto just because the apps can not only collect data, but they can run on the watch itself in graphical form. The difference between the displays of the Apple Watch and Suunto Ambit3 series is night and day. Again, no mention of resolution on the upcoming Apple Watch. There is no comparison as far as the potential for cool applications.

The other functions are generally the same, as far as my needs go. Some of you will want to have a detailed look at hardcore reviews of the Ambit3, like the one by DC Rainmaker (Suunto Ambit3 review). There will undoubtedly be thousands of reviews of the new Apple Watch coming out at the turn of the year. If you want to compare things like which watch will allow you to run against a virtual competitor, or help you attempt to predict the weather based on atmospheric conditions, etc. you can check out those reviews. As new apps are released functionality of both units will change, but the watch by Apple will have (by far) the more advanced and more useful apps.

Apple would probably do well to come up with a very rugged device, and quickly. Their sport model looks the same as their basic model and probably isn’t reinforced at all – it just has a different band. They’ve never done so, with all their products, but it’s an area that, at least in the athletic arena, would help them crank sales considerably. Imagine an Apple Watch functionality and nice screen paired with the rugged durability of the Suunto watches? Makes me sweat just thinking about it. I’d buy a watch like that for $600. Maybe considerably more.

My Ultimate List of Sports Watch Functions:

  • always on GPS, altimeter, accelerometer, screen
  • monitors blood glucose, electrolyte levels, vitamin levels
  • alerts me to cancer or some other major issue
  • monitors white blood cell levels
  • no HRM chest strap needed
  • 1080p video – at least 720p
  • takes a mobile SIM card
  • one month battery
  • waterproof

A watch like this, I would spend $1,000 to own.

Would you buy the ULTIMATE WATCH for $1,000 USD?

What features would you need for that price?


2 thoughts on “Apple Watch vs Suunto Ambit3”

  1. A series word on the HRM chest strap: It is yet the best way to monitor HR while you wear the watch above the gloves / jacket / long sleeves…

    I agree re apple watch down’s for serious sport: No integrated GPS, battery live likely <6h. Still I gonna buy it as smart phone extension making me feel cool and chique.

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