TomTom Spark 3 review: A fitness watch for all

Price when reviewed

The TomTom Spark 3 is a great fitness watch, but the dizzying array of models (explained in detail on page 2) make it a little difficult to figure out when you’re getting a bargain. So when Currys knocks £20 off one of the TomTom Spark 3s, but not the others, it’s worth doing a quick sensecheck of what you’re getting. 

The model in question is the TomTom Spark 3 Cardio for £149.99. That means you’re getting the watch with built-in GPS as standard along with a heart-rate sensor. You’re not getting storage for music or earbuds for listening to it with, so if you want to ditch the phone and run with music, you’re out of luck. That said, this still represents a pretty good deal. The cheapest wearable with both GPS and heart-rate tracking I can think of is the Garmin Vivosmart HR+, which comes in at £20 more, so if music isn’t important to you, this is a good product at a good price. 

The original review continues below.

TomTom used to be a company synonymous with add-on satellite-navigation systems for cars. Gradually, as GPS technology became more affordable and included in even the most budget of smartphones, satnav systems became less popular and TomTom needed a new plan. Its answer: scale down from cars to people, and enter the fitness market.

The company has some catching up to do, and the name will be associated more with “cars” than “athletes” for many, but its fitness watches have been solid performers. While I was distinctly unimpressed with the TomTom Touch for all kinds of reasons, its latest Spark watch continues the previous model’s good work. It’s a fitness tracker I’ve been all too happy to wear for the past few weeks, during which time it has taken in a number of 5km+ runs and a handful of disappointing but predictable five-a-side defeats.

The model I’ve been wearing is the TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music, which retails at £220, but there are various configurations ranging from £120 to £250. While they all have GPS built in for phone-free running, each of the following features adds a little to the price: heart-rate tracking (“Cardio”), internal storage (“Music”) and headphones. The customisation is good, but it sure does make things confusing.

TomTom Spark 3: Design

Glance at the pictures of the TomTom Spark 3 above, and you may wonder whether you’ve seen this before. That’s because it looks identical to the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music we reviewed back in February. It got five stars, but that was despite – not because of – its looks, unfortunately. Jon charitably described it as “functional” back then, and I’m definitely not going to give that assessment an upgrade here.[gallery:2]

The square watch face is slightly rounded at the edges, and the whole unit is controlled by a rectangular four-way button that protrudes through the strap from underneath the screen. The whole watch face pops out of the strap for charging, but don’t imagine that means you can get a more fashionable strap for it. There are a number of third-party straps available, but I wouldn’t call any of them stylish. They still need to house its heft, after all. The screen is quite dark, but it uses power-saving reflective LCD tech, so it’s always on.

It is, however, reasonably comfortable. The strap has plenty of holes, meaning you can adjust it to a strong fit, although I found wearing it continuously tended to cause some skin irritation. I’ve found that with some fitness trackers before, though, so I think that’s my dermatological makeup rather than anything inherently wrong with the device.

It takes a little while to figure out how everything works. There’s no touchscreen, and there’s a bit of a learning curve as you get to grips with how the menus work. The four-way navigation button lets you move up, down, left or right from any screen. It’s up to you to memorise the map, because there are limited indicators to tell you that, say, to find an exercise summary you need to go right twice and then up. Fortunately, there aren’t too many of these to remember, and you should have it licked in a few days.

TomTom Spark 3: Performance

So if it looks and feels the same, why should you upgrade? Well, TomTom is hoping that you’re the kind of runner who likes exploring.

In short, with the Spark 3 you can set off on a run and the watch will track the route onscreen for you, meaning you can retrace your steps and find your way back home. It’s able to do this because it contains a compass, which is a bit of a pain to calibrate (it involves a lot of twisting and turning without the watch acknowledging whether what you’re doing is working), but works fine once you have.

So what this means in practice is that as soon as you start your run, a little icon appears on a blank screen saying “home” on it. A line is then drawn covering the directions you run in, with each twist and turn being shown on the screen like an etch-a-sketch drawing taking shape.[gallery:3]

There are a couple of side benefits here. Routes you’ve recorded can be exported in GPX format, and you can also import routes from websites such as MapMyRun. That’s handy if you’re visiting somewhere new or you’re dead set on running a set distance – if you’re training for a race, for instance.

It’s a great feature, and makes it that bit easier to let go, and stop running with your phone – which is an invigorating experience on its own. Add in the ability to go off-piste and run wherever you feel like going, while knowing it’s that bit harder to get irredeemably lost, and you’re in a whole new territory.

And you don’t even need your MP3 player or phone for music, either: assuming you buy the model labeled “Music”, the TomTom Spark 3 will stream music straight to Bluetooth headphones.

They have to be Bluetooth – there’s no 3.5mm jack on account of the TomTom Spark 3 being swimproof, and it can be a little fussy about non-TomTom earbuds – but assuming you pass these hurdles, the watch’s 3GB of internal storage can store around 500 songs. That should cover you for all but the most masochistic of Forrest Gump runs. In any case, the watch’s 11-hour battery is likely to die before you run out of tunes to play.

Continues on page 2

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