Tech Review: TomTom Spark Cardio + Music
For the last 30 plus days, I exchanged all other running watches in favor of the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music. This is the latest TomTom GPS watch designed for active folks and runners alike, but it’s also designed to be a lot more than that. In this review, I’ll run through some of the pluses and minuses about the Spark and hopefully give you a better I’ll picture of the device and whether it’s right for you.
In the Box
If the packaging is an indicator of actual device experience, then I think TomTom went a little over the top here. There are several decent size manuals in here (small font, lots of pages) and honestly, I would just throw a link on there with some quick start cards. In terms of the actual items included, there is the watch itself, a USB cable with custom sync connection, bluetooth headphones, and another micro-USB cable to charge those. It came already decently charged and I was off and running in no time.
To give you some context around in-run functionality, it’s probably easiest to talk through the process of getting a run going. There are a few major things that you always have to do with the GPS watch and the TomTom is no different so let’s start there. First off, the watch strap is made of rubber and uses a three point closure system, behind the buckle, on top of the buckle, and at the end of the strap. The closure holds up quite well and the watch stays on quite firmly. The connection points are spaced apart well enough to give you an accurate fit and will support a large variety of resizes. Make sure you get a decent fit because this will ensure a solid heart-rate reading.
So now you’ve got the TomTom on your wrist and you’re ready to go. With a simple tap to the left on the right side of the joystick, you’re presented with a list of activities to start including Walking, Running, Biking, Swimming, etc. Another tap to the right selects your option and you move into GPS triangulation mode. All GPS watches do this and I find that mind takes anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds depending on weather and location which is better than many others I have tested. Basically when you’re in a city surrounded by larger buildings or if it’s really overcast and cloudy, it tends to take longer to triangulate. Once it’s complete, the interface switches to Start and with one more tap, you’re off. You can of course control things like countdown to start and which views you want to use.
Now you are running, the TomTom Spark displays a number of important pieces of data including average pace, current pace, current heart rate, and more. All this is displayed on a very large display screen which for me was very easy-to-read. I did notice some lag when dialing up and down the speed in terms of how long it takes for the visual to get the new reading and adjust, but this isn’t too far off other devices I’ve worn. I find the interface itself was very easy to use and I was never lacking for information.
Just a general note here on the “joystick”, I was a little worried when I first got my hands on it. It actually took me time to even understand how to use it. Once I did however, I became so accustomed to it that I have found it invaluable. The biggest issue is size though because it really increases the overall size of the watch. Don’t be turned off by it because functionality-wise it’s super functional.
So one interesting extra element with the TomTom Spark Cardio is that it includes a pair of Bluetooth headphones. You might be asking yourself how good can they really be. The answer is, honestly not that bad. They are fairly simple, but they hold a charge really well and are somewhat comfortable, and sync seamlessly to the watch. Basically, you get a inexpensive pair of Bluetooth headphones along with your sport watch which is very cool. I was actually quite impressed by their rapid ability to sync with Bluetooth headphones and maintain that connection well and deliver a decent level of audio quality. Honestly, pretty awesome as a freebie.
The better news is once you decide you want to move to a nicer pair of headphones, you have that option and the watch will support it. You can sync other Bluetooth headphones with your watch as well and put the included ones aside, but remember it’s not a requirement and that what they have included is actually pretty decent if you’re looking at trying out Bluetooth headset.
So when using the TomTom Spark, you are also going to be using their app to upload and view your content. On the desktop, this takes the form of a small application that runs in the background and uploaded to the TomTom website. You then visit the website in your browser in order to see statistics. I’m not going to talk about that much here and instead focus on the mobile app. The app itself works pretty much as you’d expect and as most other apps do. It syncs via Bluetooth to the device and downloads the most recent activities and then upload them to the TomTom website. The app then allows you to view detailed information about your run including things like heart rate, splits, elevation, etc. It’s very standard in terms of functionality and provides a solid level of data. If you are only using a single app and have no interest in the larger social fitness community, then it will hit all the key points you need.
That being said, I like those social fitness communities and I don’t really need another one-off fitness app. The good news is that TomTom does a great job of supporting partner networks. When I upload my run from my watch by Bluetooth to the TomTom app, it also update my run across multiple other networks including Strava, Nike+, etc. This to me is actually awesome because you typically have to rely on another third-party tool to do this cross syncing.
The one negative from the mobile app is that you can’t load music content onto the device directly through it. To do this, you need to use the desktop application and drag-and-drop specific pieces of content into the app to sync it. It would be great if you could manage this all from inside the compound. There may be some restrictions here around that, but as that functionality wasn’t usually important to me it was not a huge deal. Loading content is a bit painful, but once you get it on there it is easy to use on the watch and the playback quality is totally fine for a run.
Overall, TomTom has presented us with a really compelling alternative to other GPS watches on the market. I did find it a bit bulky and the joystick navigation model took some time to get used to, but from a data perspective and effectiveness scale, it did its job really well. Heartrate readings were accurate within only a few beats from traditional straps and final GPS readings were dead on with other similar competing products. My biggest callout would be that I find the music functionality practically unnecessary. I don’t know how much it really adds to the size of the watch, but if you want the music feature then great, if not then get the non-music version and save a bit. Overall the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music works well, does what it says it does, and delivers solid tracking, data functionality and reporting.