Longer-term with the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical

Continued from here.

A while back, Suunto announced a new iteration of their GPS/GLONASS line, called the Vertical. Like a good technologist, I pre-ordered, and embraced its smaller feature set (compared with the Peak) with delight. I endured Suunto’s decision that people who ‘chase the Vertical’ don’t need to know about upcoming weather (BS) or sunrise/sunset (further BS), and enjoyed the funny little graph that should me cumulative ascent data from tracked activities.

My tolerance at trading shortcomings for newness (and vibrating alert, that’s not a shortcoming) was not rewarded, however, by the device strapped to my wrist. I noticed one evening it was suddenly very warm , and sluggish to respond. The battery, which should have been enough to last a week of normal use, went to just making it through a day. The altimeter was convinced I was at 20km up, when I was closer to 64m AMSL.

With a sinking feeling, and two weeks to a holiday in the Alps where I was planning to use every feature I could in the watch, I phoned Suunto, and arranged a return. In their usual efficient way, on description of the symptoms, they sent out a new watch, and all was well for about a month.

After a swim one evening, I noticed that the ‘activity today’ screen that shows both recorded calorific burn and estimated from background movement was totally level. Dead level. I’d cycled back from the pool, and been up and down the stairs a few times, which would have been enough to produce an upwards tremble in the graph. Like a good technologist, I turned it off, and on again. This wipes some data from the watch, and is a bit annoying, but service as usual resumed, until I went swimming again and the symptoms repeated. The watch then stopped showing cadence while running, and finally repeated the symptoms of its predecessor, although this time it thought I was 8166m below sea level (I was about 105m AMSL). “Hullo Suunto, me again…” Here’s a total list of symptoms my Vertical(s) exhibited:

  1. Watch noticeably warm on my wrist
  2. Short battery life (down to about 12h)
  3. Slowness to respond to button presses
  4. Altimeter not updating/displaying — (m|ft)
  5. Altimeter stuck at what I think is either the maximum, or minimum it can register
  6. Accelerometer related problems: failure to display cadence and inability to update the activity today screen after swimming without a reboot
  7. Screen losing contrast/unable to tune contrast to compensate
NB: to get a speedy resolution, instead of emailing Suunto or using the web contact form, I picked up the phone, described my symptoms and stated I wanted to replace the hardware. I’ve had several emails since apologising for slow reply times, which suggests that their support team has been a lot busier than usual.

Two watches failing, in essentially the same way, was the nail in my good technologist coffin. Suunto would have replaced the watch again, but by this point I was suspecting a bad batch, and, with the watching being so new, a lot of watches in that bad batch. Cotswold Outdoors, where I originally bought the watch from gave me a refund so I decided to re-invest.

Instead of switching to Garmin, I stuck with Suunto and went back to a Peak, this time in powder blue. Why stick with Suunto? My last two Ambits have been excellent with the kind of accuracy and streamlined feature set that I like, rather than the kitchen sink approach that Garmin take. Their customer service is excellent, with them paying for UPS both ways. I’ve decided that they’ve had a rough patch with the Vertical, for reasons that I don’t care about (although I sincerely hope it’s not the arrogance and internal blindness to technological problems the engineers know about and senior management ignore as it’s contrary to The Vision). This is my last hope that Suunto can pull their finger out, and return to the peak from which they have been sliding: a sincere hope that they won’t be the next Nokia (for all those that remember their peak with the N95, and then constant failure and demise due to a failure to innovate stable products).

General thoughts on the Vertical

To the end user, the Traverse and Vertical are effectively the same watch, just with different firmware. While there may be hardware differences inside, I would be surprised. They all feature satellite connectivity for positioning, ability to interpret changes in pressure, Blueooth, and a magnetometer. As an end user, it’s very frustrating that while the Traverse shipped with GPS, and GLONASS support enabled in a later firmware update, the Vertical was the same, when it feels very much like it should have had GLONASS out of the box. Suunto behave like Apple in this respect, and are effectively a closed wall to the end user.

The Vertical’s lack of weather data is annoying: in order for it to accurately track altitude, it has to be able to interpret a pressure change as either weather or altitude, and by extension, it programmatically ‘knows’ as well as the Peak what the weather is likely to do, and has been doing. Now, if a Suunto rep commented, and stated categorically this was due to the limitations of the CPU and memory in the watch (it is, after all, ever so busy tracking vertical change), I’d be delighted, but until they do, I am certain that this lack of a feature, and the lack of display of sunrise/sunset times, is a marketing and not a technological choice, which leaves an aftertaste like a bad espresso an hour on.

Until the replacement for the Amit3 Peak has been out for a while, I’ll be happily wearing my powder blue Peak, and lamenting the lack of vibrating alert.