TomTom Adventurer review: A great fitness watch for skiing and hiking (and everything else)
TomTom’s Spark lineup of fitness watches is one of the best around for the more serious fitness geek. Packing in GPS, music playback and multi-sport tracking, including swimming, they’re great all-rounders.
The latest member of the range is the TomTom Adventurer, a version of the Spark 3 that’s more closely focused on outdoor pursuits such as hiking and snow sports. You can get it now on Amazon UK for £210 (on Amazon US it’s $296).
TomTom Adventurer review: Design
Aside from an orange strap, there doesn’t look to be much that’s physically different between the two, and indeed there isn’t. In fact, aside from a slightly chunkier strap surround, the Adventurer looks as if it has rolled off precisely the same production line.
Look closely at the rear of the watch module and you will see one small difference, however: a couple of small holes in the bottom-left-hand corner. These betray the presence of a barometric altimeter, which allows the watch to track your altitude far more accurately than GPS is able to.
Otherwise, it’s largely identical. It charges using the same USB clip as the TomTom Spark and TomTom Runner watches, so if you’ve owned a TomTom fitness watch from a previous generation, you should be able to reuse the charger here. And you’ll feel instantly at home with the way the watch works, as there’s nothing at all different about that either.[gallery:3]
The watch module houses the same old, slightly drab monochrome 22 x 25mm LCD display, which snaps neatly out of the watch housing for charging, and it’s controlled not via touchscreen, but a four-way button that sits on the strap below the screen.
This is an ideal setup for active pursuits of the kind the TomTom Adventurer is aimed at. Touchscreens are all well and good, but they tend not to function particularly well when pool water, rain or sweat are involved. And the Adventurer’s navigation button is large enough that it’s possible to use it without cursing too much while you’re running, hiking or working out in the gym.
I haven’t tested it out on the slopes, unfortunately, but I have tried it out on a few hikes and walks and while wearing gloves and it still works well. Although a tad more fiddly with mittens on, it’s still possible to operate with a bit of practice, something that would be impossible with a touchscreen.
I’m considerably less impressed with the wristband that’s provided in the box, however. It’s comfy enough, but that isn’t my gripe. The problem is that the largest strap, which fits wrists 130 to 206mm in circumference, simply isn’t big enough to wear outside a thick ski jacket.
Considering one of the principle reasons to buy the Adventurer is to track piste-related stats – speed, rate of descent and so on – this is somewhat disappointing. Having to wear the watch on your wrist underneath your jacket means you’ll need to (potentially) dig through several layers of clothing to get at it.
Alas, TomTom doesn’t make a strap larger than 206mm, so there’s no prospect of being able to do this, beyond bodging something yourself, which I wouldn’t recommend in case it pings off mid-run and you lose it in deep powder.[gallery:2]
TomTom Adventurer: Features and performance
We’ve discussed at some length how much we like the fitness-based bits of the TomTom range. You can read about that in our TomTom Spark 3 review; I don’t need to bang on about it here.
Suffice to say it’s excellent, offering specific modes for running, generic gym, exercise bike and treadmill sessions, plus outdoor cycling and swimming. There’s also a “freestyle” mode that enables all sensors for activities that might not be in the above list. The watch also offers all-day activity tracking, including steps, sleep and resting heart rate.
Like the Spark 3, the Adventurer has onboard GPS, an optical heart-rate monitor, accelerometer and gyroscopes for motion sensing, plus a digital compass, and like the Spark 3, you can sync the watch directly to your smartphone and access all your stats and progress there or on an online dashboard.
I like TomTom’s software, it’s clearly presented and easy to digest, but this is nothing particularly new. What the Adventurer brings to the table is its barometric altimeter, which unlocks a selection of extra modes aimed at outdoor pursuits.
TomTom Adventurer review: Hiking mode
The hiking mode is the one I tested most extensively during my time with the TomTom Adventurer (not having instant access to snowy mountains in sunny London), and it appeared to work extremely well.
In this mode, the watch tracks average heart rate, altitude, total descent and ascent, slope gradient, distance, speed, average pace, calories burned and the duration of the activity. A “breadcrumb” trail tracks where you’ve been so you can retrace your steps if you get lost, and just like the Spark 3, you can load in GPX tracks you’ve previously planned (you can do this with Google Maps and the help of https://mapstogpx.com) or downloaded, and subsequently go exploring phone-free.
The trail-running mode, meanwhile, does all this with the addition of an “instantaneous pace” readout; otherwise, it’s pretty much the same.[gallery:9]
So, how does it work? The answer is it’s very good, with one or two minor caveats. I compared a handful of my walks with data gleaned from the OS map of the same area, and found that the overall altitude change tracked (the total ascent and descent) to be pretty accurate. Absolute altitude was slightly off when I first ventured out, but this improved steadily the longer I spent outdoors.
This slight inaccuracy is due to the fact that initial altitude calibration is set using GPS, and it can take some time before GPS becomes accurate enough to provide a pinpoint altitude reading. You can’t rely on a barometer to set absolute altitude because readings vary with the weather, but it’s much more accurate at measuring small changes in height.
However, after half an hour or so, the inaccuracies were reduced to only one to two metres from ten metres initially. That’s pretty decent all told and certainly good enough for keeping tabs on your hiking and trail-running activities.
TomTom Adventurer review: Skiing and snowboarding
As I’ve mentioned above, I haven’t yet been able to try the Adventurer out on the slopes, so I can’t speak to the day-long accuracy of its automatic lift and run detection. However, I did attempt to simulate this in a couple of different ways. First, I run down the stairs at our five-storey office building, then got the lift back up – and repeated that process a few times for good measure. TomTom’s detection algorithms are clearly sophisticated enough that they need some kind of horizontal distance and altitude gain to occur before logging a run.[gallery:7]
Next, I got into the car and attempted to simulate a ski run along the A406. This isn’t as mad as it sounds. Driving up and down the same long, straight gentle stretch of hill is quite close to skiing a short blue run at speed, and this seemed to trigger the run-detection mode successfully. It detected on the drive back up the hill that I wasn’t “skiing” anymore, popped up a short summary of my “run” and logged the next two runs in the same way.
Aside from this clever piece of software trickery, ski mode delivers a number of specialist metrics (snowboard mode does the same; the two seem to be identical): distance, duration, calories burned, total descent, average heart rate, maximum gradient, run count and maximum speed. How it copes with ski lifts that stop halfway up and descend for a period before climbing again will be interesting to see. I’ll update this review when I do get the chance to test it out in the Alps.[gallery:10]
TomTom Adventurer review: Verdict
We gave the TomTom Spark 3 the thumbs up, so it would be remiss of me not to be as positive with the Adventurer, given that it does even more. Whether you want to spend £50 more to get those features depends on what you want from your fitness watch.
I’d prefer if the price premium wasn’t quite so high, especially as all you’re getting is a couple of extra modes and an altimeter, and I’d like TomTom to offer a longer strap so the watch can be attached around the outside of a bulky coat. But despite those caveats, this is an excellent multi-sport watch for the outdoor enthusiast and comes warmly recommended.