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TomTom Spark review (Cardio + Music) - A great fitness-focused watch

Lee Bell
4 Mar 2016
TomTom Spark resting
Our Rating 

A great workout buddy for those wanting to focus on fitness

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When the TomTom Runner and TomTom Multi-Sport GPS watches arrived over two years ago, they didn’t exactly trigger a Beatle fan-girl reaction among tech or fitness enthusiasts. As decent as they were, a lack of fresh or innovative features held them back and they failed to make a strong enough case for themselves against the already well-established competition.

That all changed with the arrival of the TomTom Runner Cardio in 2014. Thanks to some unique fitness features, TomTom came into its own and proved it could do the 'smartwatch thing' as well as the 'sat nav thing'. The Runner Cardio was one of the first smartwatches to introduce continuous optical heart rate monitoring (HRM), not just spot measurements like many of its competitors. This made it a far more compelling device for anyone serious about fitness.

Fast forward 18 months and TomTom has upped its game again with the TomTom Spark, a friendlier-looking and slimmer model that builds on the same features that made the Cardio Runner great.

Design

First off, let’s talk about looks. The TomTom Spark has a more subtle design when compared to the company’s previous offerings, especially the garish red and white of the TomTom Cardio that preceded it. Apart from being easier on the eye, the Spark is also much slimmer than its clunky predecessor, so you're more likely to wear it all the time, and not just when you're pounding the tarmac.

As well as being smaller, the Spark’s restrained design means you’re likely to wear it throughout the day, and night as well. Its rubber strap means its super comfortable to wear for long periods and the double prong clasp ensures it never falls off mid-sprint, or swim, or cycle, or…the list goes on.


TomTom Spark wriststrap

Main features

if your idea of exercise extends to more than just a run around the block, you'll be pleased to hear that the Spark boasts multi-sport tracking features. Cycling, swimming, treadmill running, general gym activity, or 'freestyle' activities can be recorded, then synced to a smartphone or PC for analysing and archiving through TomTom’s MySports website (more on this later). The exercise options are fairly easy to navigate through and select, and in my experience, recordings seemed pretty accurate and consistent with previous readings.

TomTom Spark heart rate sensor

Before we go any further: the thing you need to know here is that there are actually four different versions of the Spark available, with slightly different feature sets. All models feature the multi-sport tracking listed above plus GPS monitoring, and that's it for the cheapest Spark model, which costs £109. For £149 you can have a Spark Cardio version which adds heart rate monitoring, or for the same price the Spark Music - a model with Bluetooth music playback. For £189 you can have the whole lot with the snappily titles Spark Cardio + Music. Phew.

As is becoming incresingly popular, there’s no option to sync smartphone notifications to the Spark. The Spark isn’t competing in the Android Wear market then; it’s targeting fitness buffs who want to leave their phone behind and concentrate on burning some serious calories

There’s a lot of choice when it comes to customisation for the Spark, too. There’s two possible strap sizes in a multitude of colours. The larger band re-uses the two-pronged holes from the Runner Cardio, which helps create a more even seal on your wrist for better heart rate monitoring from the optical HRM sensor in the underside of the watch. Pulse tracking was still quick to find a reading with the smaller, one prong strap, however, outpacing the older Runner Cardio by several seconds.

Music playback

One of the Spark’s major selling points (if you have the Music version) is its ability to store and play tunes directly to a pair of Bluetooth headphones so you don’t need to take your phone or MP3 player along with you on your run.

In what is a boon for runners in particular, the music playback system is backed by 3GB of on-board flash storage, which should be enough for around 500 songs. Tracks need to be uploaded via TomTom’s PC software through iTunes or Windows Media Player and those who are picky about what songs they want blasting down their ears and in what order will be happy to hear that playlists are supported.

TomTom Spark music

Bluetooth connectivity was erratic at times, and didn't always connect on first attempt, so you might need to be a little patient when trying to pair devices initially. Unfortunately support for Spotify isn’t going to happen any time soon, as TomTom said there was some technical issues when trying to build in offline playlist licensing algorithms. There is 30 minutes of curated Ministry of Sound tracks pre-loaded onto each watch if that’s any good to you.

Display

With a large mono LCD display and TomTom’s signature One Button four-way remote control underneath it, the Spark is slimmer on the wrist when compared to the firm’s previous devices, meaning it won’t stick out like a sore thumb if you wear it to work.

With the growing number of touch screen smartwatches currently on the market, you’ll find yourself trying to select menus with your finger on the screen, and thus it can be rather frustrating having to use the clunky four bottom remote. In my experience, it can prove temperamental at times, not always registering a button press. It could definitely benefit from a simpler design, for example repositioning the directional buttons.

TomTom Spark treadmill

Battery

Battery life on the Spark can last up to a week if you use it during exercise only. On daily 1-hour visits to the gym, the Spark lasted on average 5-7 days between charges for me. However, this was with the Bluetooth music feature powered off, and expect the battery life to be cut in half if you make use of this feature.

Users will also notice the Spark has no power-off option. This is because when it is in standby, it turns off the radios and despite showing the time, uses a minute amount of battery power, so there is no need for a complete shutdown.

TomTom Runner Cardio web portal

When TomTom launched its GPS watches last year, its web portal was a major weak point. It was something of a work in progress, and couldn’t really compete with offerings from rivals such as Garmin or Polar. Today the TomTom MySports portal is a much better product.

The best thing about TomTom MySports is that you don’t have to use it. You see TomTom makes it really easy to export your data to third party services. In fact, TomTom MySports is based on the Map My Fitness portal, with the two sites even sharing the same login.

If you already have a preferred fitness logging service, such as NikePlus or Jawbone, you don’t even need to look at TomTom MySports unless you really want to.

TomTom MySports dashboard

TomTom Spark conclusion

With a slimmer design, more accurate and faster heart-rate monitoring than previous iterations, and the addition of Bluetooth audio playback if you want it, the TomTom Spark is a sports watch offering a well-rounded feature set that you won’t mind wearing once you’re done with your workout.

At £189, the full blown, all singing and all dancing version of the Spark isn't too pricey given its features, and is a very competent fitness watch for those looking to keep on top of their various exercises and fitness goals.

However, if you’re wanting a fancy-looking smartwatch that could handle all your notifications and rival the Apple Watch, for instance, you’re not going to find it here. The TomTom Spark is a great contender in the wearable market for those that want to focus on fitness and not show off what amazing things they can do with their watch.

Hardware
Wearing modesWrist strap
PedometerYes
Heart-rate monitorYes
GPSYes
DisplayYes (LCD)
WaterproofYes
Smartphone connection
OS supportN/A
WirelessBluetooth
Battery
Battery sizeN/A
Battery lifeActivity tracking: Up to 3 weeks, GPS: up to 11 hours
Buying information
Price including VATFrom £109
Warranty1 year
SupplierAmazon.co.uk
Detailswww.tomtom.com/en_gb/sports/fitness-watches/

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