Gone of the days of TomTom purely being a car GPS system. Now TomTom is powering the tech behind Apple Maps, and has successfully branched out into sports gear – hence this review of the TomTom Spark Cardio – Running, music and optical HR, what more could you want?
TomTom Spark Cardio + Music GPS Watch Review
To kick off, I think it’s very important to pigeon-hole the TomTom Spark Cardio correctly. TomTom describes the Spark as a multi-sport watch, in fact at it’s core is a great running watch, with a few other tricks. Hence why in some markets it is also listed as the TomTom Runner 2. I say primarily, as like other similar mid-range devices, it does also cover basic cycling functionality, but that is more of an addon, rather than a core features
The TomTom Spark Cardio is an interesting design. Whilst it looks like a regular watch, it’s more of a device which is then held onto your wrist with a strap.
Dont mistake me, it’s a nice unit, especially with some of the loud colours you can get from TomTom for the straps, it’s just that without the strap the TomTom Spark looks a little odd
You get used to seeing the shape of the actual watch module, as just like the FitBit Blaze you must entirely remove the device from it’s strap in order to charge it.
I’m not particularly a fan of having to keep removing a device from the strap in order to charge, as I get a little concerned about wear and tear over time. Never the less, the charger is a sort of clip/slot type affair, which you plug the sharper end of the TomTom into.
You can get the TomTom/charge combo does stand up a bit like a Pokemon whilst you are waiting for it to charge. But as the screen will only show you battery percentage, it’s not really worth the balancing effort
Rather than opt for buttons on the side of the watch, or a touch screen, TomTom has opted for a joystick style approach to navigation. Frankly it looks a little odd, and when the watch is out of the strap its a little awkward to use,
However when the Spark is on your wrist it’s a surprising effective way of getting around, especially how the software adapts the menu as you do different activities
The strap on the TomTom Spark Cardio is frankly interesting you have SIX lots of pegs designed to keep the watch in place on your arm. Four in the actual buckle, and two on the end of the strap to keep it tight to your side. An interesting but again very effective way of keeping the watch secure.
There is nothing about the design of the TomTom Spark Cardio which you can say is a simple copy from another manufacturer, this is all original TomTom Design
Optical HR sensor
TomTom have changed from their previous optical HR sensor manufacturer (Mio) to LifeQ for the TomTom Spark Cardio. I would be very interested to see if there was anything beyond a price saving for the cheaper LifeQ sensor.
So I’ve mainly been testing the TomTom Spark Cardio when running whilst doing a parallel test with the Garmin VivoActive HR, which gives an excellent comparison, price and performance-wise to then compare optical HR recordings with.
One thing I don’t like straight away with the LifeQ sensor is that it feels very exposed. I you run your finger over the sensor, it almost feels a little rough, making me wonder how thick the protective coating is and what the longevity is likely to be. Minor point, but certainly something to think about!
A lot of the sensors we’ve seen used on Polar, Garmin and Mio devices use yellow or green LED’s to see the blood in your capillaries. It is very interesting to see the red and LEDS on LifeQ’s unit
- Battery life:
- Activity tracking: up to 3 weeks,
- GPS: up to 11 hours,
- GPS + Heart Rate + Music: up to 5 hours
- Display size:22×25 mm
- Display resolution:144×168
- Thickness: 13.7 mm
- Communication: Bluetooth Smart
- Waterproofing: 5ATM – so happy to swim and snorkle down to 40m depth
- Storage: 3GB
- Music Playback: Plays MP3 and AAC formats.
- Activity tracker measurements: Steps, active minutes, distance, calories burnt and sleep
Using the TomTom Spark Cardio
One thing I found with the TomTom Spark is that the wording of “up to” 5 hours of battery life with GPS and music is crucial to pay attention to.
Basically you need to charge after an activity, otherwise you’ll go back to using it as a watch and find it dead in a couple of days time.
Hence when you first get the TomTom Spark, it’s vital to give it a good charge – preferable via the computer as the charge cable also allows you to download the latest firm wear and then GPS QuickFix data.
GPS QuickFix. There is a good one! Now regardless of having uploaded the latest QuickFix data to the TomTom Spark, that data is only valid for a few days, and even so requires up to a minute of waiting before the watch realises where it is.
If you dont have access to the internet for a QuickFix data update if you are travelling its better to go back to the Days of Yore, where you start the TomTom Spark Cardio searching for a GPS fix whilst you get yourself ready for the run/activity.
- Running outdoors
- Running Treadmill – i.e. GPS switched off
- Indoor cycling
I initially felt that including music on the TomTom Spark Cardio was gimmicky at best. But when I actually thought about it, it does make so much sense, making me wonder why more companies don’t do it.
If you think about it for a second, most people are carrying their phone with the on a run, and frequently that would be used solely as a music playback device. Admittedly many people may also be using their phone as a communications in case they have a problem, but I’ll confess, I do enjoy going for a run without any attachments at times, and the review period I’ve had with the TomTom Spark Cardio has let me do that more easily!
Although it would be interesting to find out exactly how much of the bulk on the TomTom Spark Cardio is due to the Mp3 playback? Given the form factor is unchanged from models without MP3 payback, that’s either efficient case design, or in reality doesn’t have much impact on the device size
To get your music on the simply plus the watch in, and dump the music into the playlist folders when you open the watch in USB modeThe benefit of having to plug in to upload the MP3’s is there is no need for additional software if you are using a friends computer, whilst on your own computer it allows chance to ensure that the TomTom Spark Cardio is using the latest firmware.
Yes pure OTA updates are better, but at least there is an additional reason here you may be plugging your TomTom Spark Cardio into a computer more often. When your tunes have been loaded to the Spark, you then need to pair your BlueTooth headphones (Which if you dont already have, TomTom will happily sell you a branded pair!) Thankfully this is a very simple procedure, just park your headphones in pairing mode, and let the TomTom go looking
Once paired you can listen to all of your music, or have specific playlist for different activities, using the joystick to navigate around.
The TomTom Spark Cardio comes with 3GB of storage onboard, which is about 750 songs, surely that would cover most people’s work out play list?! However it’s worth while noting that the TomTom Spark Cardio doesnt have to be in a work out mode in order to play songs, so is essentially a small portable MP3 player as well!
As with every other device today, we’ve an activity tracker on board with the TomTom Spark Cardio. It will display your activity in terms of active minutes, steps, distance and calories burned. All using the joystick to toggled between the widgets.
You can set yourself goals, which then have postive feedback of little cheers when you hit them
In addition though, we also have sleep tracking, all pretty standard
But there are also you week totals, one extra push over. Which rather than displayed on a circle, is shown on a heptagon.
This is particularly useful with regard to the active minutes. Some manufacturers are working on the idea of 150 active minutes a week, although new NHS information is suggestion 60mins a day.
Now TomTom isnt automatically setting week goals, which is nice. Personally I find the ease of being able to look at my weekly totals, trying to get even slightly close to that 420 target is a nice approach to that challenge
OK, let’s cut to the chase. The TomTom Spark Cardio excels at running. It’s just really good. The GPS sensor seems to take forever to determine your location if you havtn updated the QuickFix data in while.
Be prepared to see this screen, a lot, if you havn’t run for a bit. It almost feels like punishment, as you can’t start the run until you have GPS fix. Well you can, but you wont get any data from TomTom that part of the run.
Just to clarify, I was running in Ostuni in Italy, where I was also testing the Garmin VivoActive HR, and there was NO excuse for having to wait over a minute for the GPS fix. Buildings etc blocking signal was NOT a problem!
So save for this niggle, I was really impressed with the running side of things – So why was that?
Simply when you do get out on the run, the TomTom Spark Cardio deals with the run really well! All of the screens make sense, they are clear to see (even through my finger smudges) Using the toggle stick makes sense
On the above picture, you’ll notice the TomTom Spark Cardio says “Please wait, RACE”. That is because pressing down on the toggle stick allows you to choose different training types
The intervals being interesting as it allows you to specify what each section of the interval will entail, rather than just giving you a few interval options
So what can it display?
The main display will show clock, duration, distance, pace, average pace, speed average speed, calories, HR and HR zone.
In addition, you can user customise the two smaller fields for when you are using the clock function, and when you change from the main screen, these fields will remain fixed
I was quite impressed with the visualsl, which reminded me of TomTom Car GPS imagery for a virtual runner option, with the distance in front or behind, helped by the arrows
You can delve a little deeper into some of the fields, like the heart rate, when you are on a run you can look to to see what benefit each zone is giving you towards your training
It’s this sensible use of screens, and displaying data that I really like about the TomTom Spark Cardio, very much like many devices on the Polar watch line. They have the deep data, but that doesn’t mean it cant be applied in a user-friendly manner
Optical HR on run
Going for a long run in Ostuni, the ground was exceptionally flat, allowing me to try and keep a steady state along the run, for the most part, the TomTom optical HR agreed with the ANT+ chest strap on my Fenix3 and the optical sensor on the Garmin Vivoactive
As mentioned earlier, cycling is more of an addon for the TomTom Spark Cardio. I don’t think that is made any clearer than with the fact the TomTom Spark Cardio can detect certain cycling sensors – (specifically Speed/cadence). But you have very little effect on the actual pairing process, and is just a case of toggling the sensor detection on or off
As a result I have found it to be a little sketchy at times actually making a connection.
That is the end of the world when you are doing an outside ride, as you’re going to be getting all of the GPS data on speed and distance, whilst the optical HR covers the heart rate. But you are not going to get any power meter data, and separate speed and cadence information as mentioned above can be variable as to whether you’ll make the pairing
Going out for a spin, I found that the optical HR tracked quite nicely on a gentle spin to the shops
Then there is an indoor cycling mode
Unfortunately this turned out to be useless for recording rides on Zwift, as my speed sensor is on the front wheel and I’m using a KICKR, which in spite of being able to send out Bluetooth speed data, I was unable to get the TomTom Spark Cardio to register. But hey at least I had the optical HR :/
In another device this might be more of an issue, but the TomTom Spark Cardio parks itself very much in the running camp, and other watches of this grade – such as my favourite Polar M400, similarly have just rudimentary cycling functions
On the TomTom Spark Cardio we’ve pool swims only, no outdoor swims using the built-in GPS. Reinforcing my opinion, it’s a great running watch with some additional features.
As with the Garmin Fenix 3 the optical HR sensor isnt activated, and there is no option to connect a separate bluetooth swimming HR sensor
It’s vital before you jump in the pool you’ve set the actual pool length, which can be as short at 15meters,
But really reinforcing my opinion that the TomTom Spark Cardio is a great running watch with a few bits added on, see the 0.08 in the pool picture? That’s my distance in KM’s. At that point I sort of gave up on the swimming features!
I’ve always championed the Polar M400 if people wanted to no-nonsense, reliable running watch. Given the optical HR, detailed screen graphics, and relatively simple user interface. However with the inclusion of optical HR, I’d actually recommend the TomTom Spark Cardio as the focused running watch of choice. Save for that one wrinkle of battery life. With slightly newer TomTom watches rumoured to be on the way, which sound only like small upgrades, if you can find a steal of a sale price on a TomTom Spark Cardio, I’d go for it!