Review of TomTom Spark running watch
It seems these days that everyone is in on the fitness tracking game, from low-end trackers that are essentially just Bluetooth-enabled pedometers, through to the Apple Watch, fancy jewellery that happens to also be able to track your heart beat.
When it comes to running watches though, the reliance on GPS has allowed for brand names usually seen in your car to jump out and onto your wrist. One of these is TomTom, well known makers of SatNavs and increasingly well known makers of running watches. We took TomTom’s new Spark running watch out for a go to see how it stacked up against the competition.
At its core the Spark is an excellent GPS tracking watch, using the technology which TomTom is famous for in your car and bringing repurposing it for use on your run. The GPS was extremely accurate and reliable, much more so than you might get by taking your smartphone running with you for example. All of this is packaged into watch which while too bulky to want to wear all of the time, does sit very comfortably on the wrist while exercising. The black and white screen is clear and easy to read in all conditions and although it lacks any touch controls, it does make up for this with a simple to use four way direction pad which sits beneath the screen.
Other features depend on the model of the Spark running watch which you opt for. We tried out the Cardio + Music model which packs in the most features, including a very effective optical heart rate sensor on the back as well as storage and bluetooth so that you can listen to your music on the go. You can also get the Spark without one of these features, or with neither, so if you want to listen to music but don’t care about heart rate or vice versa then there’s the ability to skip these features and save yourself a bit of cash. However I found both the music playback and the heart rate sensor to be reliable and useful, and meant that you really could head out for your run with this as your only piece of technology. It really is the Swiss Army Knife of running watches.
The most important feature for any running watch is its accuracy and the Spark didn’t disappoint. Although it can take a little while to connect to satellites, particularly the first time you use the watch, it’s not much longer than you would expect your car’s SatNav to take (and forces you to build in stretching time).
In fact I find it very hard to fault the hardware of the Spark. It knows exactly what it is and does it well, not wasting time on features which you either don’t want or which don’t contribute to your run.
My only complaints then are on the software side, both on the watch itself and on the devices you sync it to. For starters, you cannot use the Spark until you plug it into a PC or Mac which has TomTom’s accompanying software installed. This is extremely annoying for those of us who don’t use PCs or Macs any more (I had to go and get my old laptop from storage just to get started). Once installed I didn’t find the software to be particularly intuitive, and it also kept jumping seemingly at random between the software and opening new tabs in my web browser. There are also accompanying apps for your phone or tablet, but bear in mind that these will only work once your watch has gone through initial set up.
The software running on the watch itself is better, but still frustrating to use. There’s no central menu as such, but rather branching paths that follow the four directions of the directional pad. The problem is that it never felt clear where different features were located. For example, it took me a few days before I properly worked out how to get from the heart rate monitoring screen to the music control screen. In most cases I was simply pressing buttons at random in the hope that I would stumble across the feature I wanted.
The great thing about the Spark series of running watches is that instead of throwing in every feature including the kitchen sink, TomTom has created different versions to allow you to essentially pay for the features which you want. The fully featured Cardio + Music which we tested out retails for £189.99, but if you want only heart rate or only want music then that price drops to £149.99. If you care about neither of those then you can pick up a very solid GPS running watch for a reasonable £109.99.
All in all, this is a watch which comfortably and reliably tracks your run and keeps you up to date with your distance and pacing, while also providing the ability to listen to your music and track your heart rate. For all but the very hard core, it provides everything you could want while on a run, and at a price which while not cheap, is reasonable.