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TomTom Spark 3 review: TomTom’s last running watch is still worth a look

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
120
inc VAT

It’s not exactly a thing of beauty, but the TomTom Spark is a very likeable running companion

Pros 
Plenty of functions
Neat Route Exploration feature
Cons 
Future support looks doubtful
All the grace of a prison ankle tag
Confusing range of variants
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The TomTom Spark 3 has been out for more than a year – and its future doesn’t look bright, as the manufacturer has now quit the wearables market, at least for the time being.

But if you’re looking for a wrist-borne fitness tracker, it’s still well worth considering. It comes with some lovely software extras, and the prices of the various models are falling. So what do you get for your money?

TomTom Spark 3 review: What you need to know

With a heritage like TomTom’s, it’s no surprise that the Spark 3 features a built-in GPS receiver, allowing it to track your pace, speed and time.

As for other features... well, here things gets a bit confusing. The Spark 3 comes in four different flavours; they all have the same looks, the same 144x168 display and the same 300mAh battery, but the variants come with a selection of additional features, depending on how much you’re prepared to spend.

TomTom Spark 3 review: Price and competition

The baseline TomTom Spark 3 retails for £120, but this model lacks the ability to stream music or track your heart rate.

If you want tunes on the go (and don’t want to carry your phone with you), then you can step up to the TomTom Spark 3 with Music and Bluetooth headphones, which retails for £170.

Alternatively, for the same RRP (or currently slightly less on TomTom’s own store) you can get the TomTom Spark 3 Cardio. Instead of the music capabilities, this adds heart-rate monitoring to the mix.

Finally, for those who want both heart rate tracking and music capabilities, the fully loaded model will set you back £220.

In these various forms, the Spark 3 competes with a whole range of alternatives. At £120, the base model is a great value way to get GPS on your wrist – although the Garmin Forerunner 30 is a tempting alternative. If you want the very cheapest GPS watch there is, the amazing Amazfit Bip has you covered, though it’s hardly the most stylish or accurate fitness tracker you can buy.

The Cardio model meanwhile is a close rival to the £170 Polar M430, while the all-singing, all-dancing high-end model is best compared to the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro – which also includes the option to stream Spotify.

TomTom Spark 3 review: Design and specifications

The TomTom Spark 3 is not a good-looking wristwatch. At best you might say it offers “prisoner on day-release chic”. A large 22x25mm LCD face dominates the device, while a chunky control rectangle pokes out from underneath, which you use to navigate around the menus. On the positive side, this means that you don’t have the frustration of trying to navigate a touchscreen with wet or sweaty hands, but on the negative... well, just look at it.

The whole unit pops out of the strap for charging, so there’s scope for a degree of customisation, but you’ll have your work cut out making it look like a stylish everyday accessory. Still, it’s comfortable to wear, with plenty of strap holes, so you should be able to get a good fit for your wrist.

TomTom Spark 3 review: Performance

The Spark 3’s unusual control rectangle is a mixed experience. It’s pretty intuitive once you get your head round it, and it’s very hard to slip and go wrong with, which is great if you want to quickly bring up some information mid-run. But navigation isn’t exactly intuitive: it’s largely up to you to remember how to get anywhere in the labyrinth of menus. Want to find an exercise summary? That’ll be right, right, up. There’s not too many of these routes to remember, but it’s hardly a user-friendly system.

To test the TomTom Spark 3, I wore it over a period of three weeks, with a Fitbit Charge 2 on the opposite wrist for comparison. In that time, I took in a handful of 5km races courtesy of parkrun, and played in a number of five-a-side football matches (although in one of these I was ordered to take the thing off my wrist by the referee, which tells you something about how conspicuous it is.)

Frankly, neither watch proved particularly accurate when it came to distance. Parkruns are measured to 5km, and neither the Fitbit nor the TomTom Spark 3 managed to get the figure on the nose. For example, when I took on the Beckton course, the TomTom said I’d covered 4.81km, while the Fitbit said 4.87km. I didn’t expect perfect accuracy from the Fitbit, since it lacks a GPS unit; I’m not sure what the TomTom’s excuse is.

Still, I'm more inclined to trust the heart-rate readings from the TomTom, which showed a high of 174bpm and an average of 153bpm. The Fitbit, monitoring the same period, came up with a rather dubious-sounding high of 146bpm, and an average: 135bpm.

While the TomTom’s distance tracking is a little disappointing, it has an ace up its sleeve. As you run, its Route Exploration feature uses the watch’s compass to trace out your route, Etch a Sketch-style, on the screen.

If you’re one of those people who just like to run where the wind takes them, this is brilliant: it ensures you’ll never get lost again, as you can easily retrace your steps home. And if you find a route you like, you can export it as a GPX file to share with others or set as your next run. You can download other peoples’ routes too – handy if, for example, you find yourself in a strange city and want to run a set distance.

And although I came at the Spark 3 from a runner’s perspective, it also has plenty to offer treadmill warriors, cyclists and swimmers – in the case of the latter, it’ll measure strokes, lengths and speeds, with waterproofing to 40 metres. It’s Bluetooth-compatible too, so you can add extra accessories like a chest belt for better heart rate accuracy, though sadly there’s no room for ANT+. And with a recent software update the versions with heart-rate monitors can also calculate your Fitness Age, a simple metric showing how your hard work and exercise is paying off.

A final plus point is the Spark 3’s excellent battery life: it’ll get you through 25 days of standard watch duties, or 11 hours with GPS enabled. If you’ve splashed out on the top-end model then using the GPS, heart-rate and music streaming features all at once will cut that down to around five hours, but that should still be enough to get you through a marathon if that’s your masochistic bag.

TomTom Spark 3 review: Verdict

It’s a shame that TomTom is moving away from wearables, because the Spark 3 shows a lot of promise. The key features are all present and correct, and Route Explorer mode isn’t just fun – it could literally genuinely be a lifesaver for types who like to go off the beaten path.

Some of the models are less compelling than others: if you’re willing to pay £170 or more for a sports watch with heart-rate monitoring capabilities, you’ll have to weigh the Spark 3 against excellent alternatives from Garmin, Samsung and Polar.

But the basic model is a very appealing proposition, especially now the price has come down. It may be the last of its breed, and far from the prettiest fitness tracker out there, but it’s a fine device that’s still well worth a look.