Garmin fenix 3 vs. Suunto Ambit3 – Which is Better?

After so much time with Suunto watches, it was high time to try out the major competition among sports and outdoor devices, those made by Garmin.

In particular, that applies to the battle royale of the Garmin fenix 3 versus the Suunto Ambit3, the perhaps most-discussed two devices in the area of devices with GPS meant for outdoors use and sports training, the devices the merits of which keep being weighed.

The usual way the question goes, it’s all about which of the two is better, the fenix 3 or the Ambit3.

Wrong question.

I finally had a chance, spring to summer of 2015, to try out the fenix 3 parallel to the Ambit3, and I feel that my testing had the result that was to be expected: Both aren’t bad.

The real question is what you want from your GPS / sports device:

You may notice that I’m not having much to say about crashes or inconsistencies of the fenix3.

I simply did not see any performance I would call terrible, let alone any crashes.

The worst thing that happened during my testing of the fenix3 was that one time I went out for a mid-length tour and took the fenix3 when it was only 35% charged, which is no problem for a tour like it was with the Ambit3, and it turned off the GPS and stopped recording anything but the elapsed time when it had reached a 25% charge.

Not anything I liked to see, not the way I think this should be handled, but also something that I could have avoided simply by checking battery charge before going out…

In the end, I’m sticking with what I’ve argued for a while:

If you want (need?) a device that is more of a navigational tool and a stand-alone device (e.g. where customization is concerned), then a fenix3 has a good chance of being better for you. It also offers more smartwatch features and the rather nicer display, if you are after that.

If you want more of an outdoors watch that will help you in your outdoor pursuits as well as your sports training, but be made to do its job more quietly and unobtrusively, without errors or interruptions, then the Ambit3 has a good chance of being the better choice.

(By now, of course, there’s also the Garmin epix if you need even more of a maps-oriented tool on your wrist; and the news about the forthcoming Suunto I alluded to in the video, the Traverse, has started to break, too.)

Let’s also see what next year brings – but frankly, it continues to make the most sense to be less concerned with the technology on your wrist and more with your training and technique 😉

If you don’t yet have an Ambit3 or fenix3 and wouldn’t mind getting it from REI or, consider following these links and I’ll get a commission if you buy there:

Thank you!

7 responses

  1. […] in new cases. (“Old electronics” isn’t meant to say they’re bad. I stand by my review‘s conclusions that you just need to know what you want, There isn’t much of an upgrade […]

  2. Seval Avatar

    I am about to buy of these watches through your website but I would only like to know which one you would recommend for backpacking/hiking purposes. I admire simplicity and comfort on a given product and so far I could only try how they feel on my wrist but didn’t get the chance to browse through their menus. Liked the Suunto’s comfort. Is the Suunto Ambit3 peak the top of the line watch for overall use from Suunto watches?
    Do you think I can order both, see how their menus are like and just keep the one I like most? Do those websites have good returning policies?
    Thank you very much,

    1. Re. the “top of the line”, of course there’s also the Spartan (Ultra) from Suunto and the fenix5 lineup from Garmin, by now.

      fenix5 is quite similar to fenix3, from what I can tell (except for the 5X adding map display on the watch, the 5S being smaller and thus perhaps more comfortable).
      The Suunto Spartan is at quite a strange position as it is getting quite nice, offers some things the Ambit3 can’t do (like the route display zoom), but still lacks a bit in stability and some of the features that the Ambit3 Peak offers.

      Between fenix and Ambit/Spartan, I still think it mainly comes down to whether you want a watch more focused on sports and not bothering (or being able to) change much when outside = Suunto or on also being a smartwatch and a replacement for a handheld GPS = Garmin.

      Don’t know where you’re located, so can’t say much re. stores. The ones I link to have good return policies, but those don’t help if you aren’t in the USA (unless it’s local Amazon you use 😉 )

      1. David A. Avatar
        David A.

        Hi Gerald, I have question based on a comment on your answer: “being a smartwatch and a replacement for a handheld GPS = Garmin”. Does this mean that if you look to avoid bringing a GPS with you Garmin would work better than suunto? I am asking this as I have been reading reviews for a month and I am still hesitating between Ambit3 Peak and Fenix 3. The more I read the more confused I got, I was sure about Suunto, then Garmin and now Suunto again hahahaha

        Mainly I will be using it for outdoor in order to follow and record tracks in the mountains. I am not a runner nor a triathlete but more a mountaineer/climber so main important features are following/recording tracks, trackback, elevation plot, battery life, precision, robust,… and probably some training but per now I am not a number/statistic geek

        I thought that the Ambit was a little bit older than the Fenix 3 but it looks more precise and robust, I think the only pain point could be vibration and the fancy display which I can live without but the lack of zoom in the track could be annoying no? Or it is sufficient enough to follow correctly the tracks? My idea would be to avoid manual GS if I follow a track and use only the watch.

        My main reason for Fenix would be the zoom on the tracks + it is more up to date and fancy and in the F5 you can directly upload tracks from wikiloc to the device and the mas in the 5x but I am not sure if it deserve the price (double)…. Also the Peak has a huge battery life which can be really useful in the outdoors.

        What would be your recommendation (I know you are a big Suunto user by the way hahahaha). Does the Peak worth it (price is unbeatable) or will it get old soon if not already? I have looked other options like the Traverse or the Vertical but battery life is much slower and the Peak is still way more cheaper! Spartans look too much like a smartwatch for me.

        Thanks in advance and please continue posting video reviews those are really useful 🙂

        And sorry for the huge post!

        1. Yeah, it’s a pretty difficult decision.

          The one thing that would be a definite factor is if you want a display of maps on the watch (good or not as that would be in practice). If you want that, your only choice right now is the fenix5X.

          For the other uses you suggest, it’s a toss-up exactly as you say.

          The zoom on tracks/routes could help, but I find that usually, when there is insecurity about the path to follow, the uncertainty already comes from how well the path was visible on Google Maps, recorded in a gps file used to create the route, or a similar problem like that. So, sometimes the zoom can help, but usually a map or a marker on the actual trail will be more helpful.

          Otherwise, to me, it’s just a matter of feel and implementation of features.

          If you want to set the watch up differently on the move, have more reminders from it, get vibration: Garmin.
          If you want to just use the watch when you are out there, set everything up beforehand, don’t need vibration, let alone too many reminders from the watch: Suunto.

          What I can say (but that’s something you also concluded) is that I would get the Ambit3 Peak over the Vertical or Traverse. Looking at price, features and reliability, it’s still great.

          Ambit3 Peak or Garmin fenix3 (or fenix5) is really difficult to say; I’ll not be able to push you one way or another there (and I haven’t yet had a fenix5 to try out).

          Nice to hear you like the reviews; now if only the companies were better in supporting them 😉

      2. David A. Avatar
        David A.

        Thanks for the quick reply Gerald, you are a star! I think I will I will come back to my inicial choice and go for an Ambit Peak as it covers all my needs and looks more robust! There is a good promo for the Sapphire HR and it covers all my needs!

        PS: @Garmin, if you are sniffing this thread give this guy a Fenix 5 so he can write a proper review hahahahaha

        1. Thank you. Hmm, how to point to a comment on (via) social media…

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