It’s by no means the most advanced or visually appealing fitness watch on the market, but if you want to track the basics of running—and listen to music!—the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music watch is a great option.
I was able to get my hands on a cheap previous generation TomTom Spark Cardio + Music. The watch has now been updated to the Spark 3, which I’ll talk more about at the end of this review. The model I’ve used (apparently now the “Spark 2”, or just “Spark”) and the Spark 3 have quite a bit in common, though.
What It Looks Like
This is what the Spark looks like:
Unlike Garmin models, you can’t install (or even select pre-installed) alternative watch faces. More options would have been nice. But the watch looks pretty good:
The watch band clips together in three different spots, using a clasp mechanism I haven’t seen in any watch (fitness or otherwise) before. (The green in the photo below is the light from the wrist-based heart rate sensor.) At first I didn’t like the clasps, but the security of the band (and ease of putting it on and taking it off) caused the mechanism to grow on me.
Let’s jump right in with an activity. You can select one from the watch’s profile:
You can select various kinds of runs.
The TomTom does great with these options—I tried goals (distance, pace, etc.) and intervals, where it really shines. You can set up the intervals how you want: warm-up, work, recovery (“rest”), number of sets, and cooldown.
With your workout selected (use “none” to just get going), you wait for the watch to acquire a GPS signal. It’s not as quick as a Garmin on this front, but it’s still pretty fast (less than 30 seconds), with rare exceptions. Once you’ve got a signal, it tells you to get going. If you’ve got Bluetooth earbuds in, you’ll get an audio cue, too.
As you can see in the photos above, underneath the watch is a big plastic square, around which is a button that you press (up, right, down, or left) to make your way through the various watch menus. The TomTom is not a touch screen, and unlike other non-touch watches, its buttons are not on the side.
This looks awkward, but I got used to it fairly quickly. Not having a touch screen is actually really nice mid-sweaty run, where touch screens are harder to operate.
During an activity you can view three metrics at a time, and press up or down to see more. There is some customizability here, but the bottom two fields (the font of which is a little too small) remain the same while only the larger data field adjusts. It would be nice if TomTom would allow all three data fields to change at a time.
After an activity you can see your results, though getting to results is not immediately evident—you finish your activity by pressing left twice (once to pause, once to stop), then have to go into the new activity screen and press up to see past results. Results look like this:
The basics are there, but a big miss is the inability to see splits or interval time as soon as you finish a run. You can find this on the accompanying mobile app (which looks great; more below), but most of us will want this info right away before we get home to sync with phones.
The TomTom tracks steps:
You have to press left to see your steps, and there’s an animation to wait through. This would be good to streamline in future versions, or even put steps on the first screen.
The battery life is pretty good, even using GPS and listening to music, though I was bummed that a nearly fully-charged TomTom died mid-run when I went out 10+ miles in the woods—maybe because the GPS signal was working extra hard?
Treadmill workouts are possible—like the Garmins I’ve tried the distance and pace are inaccurate, but unlike the Garmin watches, TomTom allows you to adjust the distance after you finish a workout. This is great!
The “Cardio” version also adds wrist-based heart tracking, which others have noted is especially accurate (as wrist-based HR goes) with TomTom.
The TomTom Mobile App
TomTom’s mobile app (“TomTom Sports”) looks much better than Garmin’s Connect app.
There are two frustrating pieces to it, though: (1) A “Waiting for watch” message greets you every time you open the app. Unlike Garmin’s app, there is no syncing until you press down on the watch. Every time. (2) Every single time I open the app I have to dismiss (and dismiss again… and again…) a box that asks me to share anonymous data with TomTom. I like TomTom, but really don’t want to share that data… and would like to not be asked every time I’m in the app.
Other than that the Sports app is pretty good. There’s even an accompanying Website that shows you more watch-generated info.
You can see tracked sleep, steps, and activities. TomTom is very near to rolling out an update that gives you “fitness age” and VO2 max—a serious upgrade even to the older model watches! This is a generous move on TomTom’s part.
Here’s what the mobile Sports app looks like:
(The sleep tracking is not always accurate, as you can see.)
Music, Music, Music!
It is hard to adequately describe how awesome it is to use Bluetooth-enabled earbuds to sync to the watch and listen to music. That’s right—no phone. Just wireless earbuds, the watch, music, and the open road. That alone makes the TomTom Spark worth considering as one’s go-to running watch.
Syncing with earbuds is easy. Others have described the music upload system as clunky, but it’s not so bad. Once you’ve got mp3s in iTunes, you just create a playlist, which you then move over to the watch through the desktop app. You can control the music through the watch buttons or whatever controls are on your Bluetooth earbuds.
As I mentioned, for this review, TomTom did not provide me with a sample—I purchased one, though I ended up returning it because of a slow-to-respond (or sometimes unresponsive) menu button that led me to believe I’d received a defective unit. I have been using a cheap, used Garmin in the meantime, but I miss the TomTom’s music already! It’s beyond me why more fitness watches don’t also include music.
What’s New in the Spark3
If I can get my hands on a Spark 3, I’ll write about it again here. In the meantime, here’s what the Spark 3 adds that the above model doesn’t have:
- route exploration (you can see where you are and how to get back to your starting point)
- capacity to upload pre-set routes and follow them on the watch
- slight tweak to the wristband
See this Amazon review for more (including TomTom’s response).
Whether you go with a discounted Spark 2 or the newer Spark 3 with its “bread crumb” navigation, the TomTom watch is a solid option for runners, especially ones who want music on their runs.
You can check out the Spark 2 here at Amazon (sale units are at TomTom). Find the Spark 3 options here (TomTom) and here (Amazon).