Fitness tracking has really picked up in India over the last year and half. Products from FitBit, JawBone, Xiaomi to smartwatches with fitness tracking features to GPS watches which go beyond just step tracking, have flooded the market over the last couple of years.
Earlier this year, TomTom announced a series of GPS watches starting from Rs 13,999. It announced the Spark series of watches which had the added functionality of storing music on your watch to listen to while on your run or when out cycling, instead of lugging around your smartphone or portable media player for the same task. So how much of an improvement is the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music GPS fitness watch over the older TomTom Multi-sport cardio watch ? Let's take a look
Build and Design: 7.5/10
TomTom watches are not generally meant to be used as a fashion accessory and that is evident with its chunky design, which also is a function of the components it holds within it. The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music GPS fitness watch however, does tend to concentrate on the aesthetics to some extent.
It is certainly a tad bit slimmer than the TomTom multi-sport cardio, and comparatively lighter as well. Unlike the TomTom multi-sport cardio, the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music watch is meant to be used even after your workout, as it tends to track your daily activities, much like any other modern day tracker. It also comes in two strap variants - small (121-175mm diameter), which has a single hole to take in the buckle and large (143-206mm diameter), which has two holes for buckles. We got the large strap variant which is every bit as sturdy and sweat resistant as the three hole one we had seen with the TomTom Multi-sport Cardio. Between the two, you can easily wear the Spark as your regular watch, even after your workout.
TomTom has thoughtfully added semi circular protrusions on the edge of the attaching strap to fix the strap, so that it is not left hanging. It is a much better implementation than having a
velcro strap. The optical heart rate monitor under the watch can work only when the watch is worn
facing upwards and not under the wrist as some people prefer. It weighs just 47 grams so it's quite light and it is around 12.7m thick.
The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music GPS watch offers pretty much most of the features that you expect from a high end fitness tracking device. The watch apart from showing time (duh!) offers to calculate the distance you ran or walked or cycled or swam, calories burnt, the GPS on the watch is able to track your running route which you can later view on the desktop or mobile app overlaid on a map, active heart rate monitoring and more. Since it offers to track your swimming as well, the watch is water-proof up to 50 metres.
In addition to this, it also lets you store music - there's 3GB of storage which can hold 100s of songs. You will need bluetooth headphones / earphones though to connect with your watch to listen to music. TomTom has already pre-loaded a 30-min Running Trax set which is an upbeat playlist curated by none other than the Ministry of Sound. Additionally, you can add playlists from Windows Media Player and iTunes as well.
There's a single navigational button to operate the watch since it is not a touch sensitive display. The monochrome display measures 22 x 25mm with the same resolution as the multi-sport Cardio - 144 x 168.
It houses an optical heart rate monitor which monitors your heart rate by using light to measure the changes in your blood flow. There are two green-coloured LEDs which are constantly illuminated when your activity and heart rate monitoring is on. This is done by shining light through the skin on to your capillary veins just under the skin and then detecting the changing light reflections.
There are multiple heart-rate training zones on offer such as Sprint (most intensive), Speed, Endure, Fat Burn and Easy (least intensive) which can be selected according to your preference. As is the case with most fitness devices, the TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio also comes with a companion app called the TomTom MySports mobile app which can sync your watch data to the app via Bluetooth connections. This is in addition to the desktop app which you will need to connect your Multi-Sport with before you can proceed with the mobile app.
Software and Usability: 7.5/10
If you are a new GPS watch user, then there is definitely a learning curve involved with the watch and app setup. The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music comes with a proprietary connector, which you can attach your watch to from the underside with the strap on, or you can just take apart the watch module and connect it - which is a much convenient way.
After downloading the desktop utility for the TomTom you will need to create a login ID and sync your watch with the utility. This is a one time process, after which you just need to connect your watch to your PC and the details will be synced automatically. The desktop utility is also the only way to add music to the Spark, it is not a simple drag and drop process on Windows PCs. Apple users need to go via iTunes to add music to the Spark watch.
The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music watch can also be connected to your smartwatch via the TomTom MySports app via Bluetooth and it can give you a quick glance at your fitness updates. The amount of data at your disposal is immense. For instance, while running, you can get a kilometer wise breakdown on your activity in terms of pace, speed, average heart rate. On the desktop, you can even get nice graphs based on speed against heart rate or pace against heart rate, map layout of your running/cycling route and so on. The Heart Rate zones give you a breakdown of your workout based on your effective heart rate - Sprint, Speed being the high end zones followed by Endure, Fat Burn and Easy zones.
Apart from running, you can track cycling, swimming, treadmill, gym, indoor activities, freestyle as
well as stopwatch. Each of these activities lets you set your own personal goals as well. The GPS will work only with outdoor activities such as running, cycling and will not work with indoor, freestyle or swimming modes. The activities such as freestyle, gym, treadmill are tracked by hand movements using the 3-axis accelerometer present inside the watch.
The navigation of the device will take some getting used to. We liked the idea of using a four-way
navigational pad just under the watch in place of a touchscreen, as it is easier to use the physical
buttons when working out to check your progress. The display is sharp and legible outdoors. It also has a backlight for viewing in the dark.
Tapping to the left most screen will give you a general overview of the clock. You go right to see the various activities and use up/down buttons to select the right activity and click again on the right hand side to get into the activity. When out of the activity, you can press up to get like an activity log of your previous runs/swims/cycling activities. To pause the workout, you need to hit down navigation key and then you can go left to finish it. I tested this watch primarily for running.
Getting a lock on GPS was still an issue though. There were many instances where I was done with the warm up and ready to run, but had to keep walking till the GPS lock was acquired. I tested the watch on the roads on Mumbai in areas where there were no distractions in the form of buildings or trees in at least a 50-100 metre radius, but getting a GPS lock still took at least 30-40 seconds on most occassions. However, once the lock was acquired there were barely any instances when the GPS would disconnect.
For marathon training, one of the best features of the watch is the training zones. While running, one can hit the down button and get options to start an interval run which will keep you informed
everytime your heart rate is too fast or too slow for a particular run. Unlike the TomTom multi-sport
Cardio where you only had a visual cue (as well as haptic feedback) in the form of an arrow pointing up or down to indicate speeding up or slowing down, the Spark Cardio + Music gives you an audio feedback of the same, which is much more convenient.
Coming to the stand out feature - Music - I have to say it was a pleasure to not bother taking the
smartphone along for the run. Not only does it spare your taking another device for a run,
smartphones also tend to distract you a lot in the form of messages or calls coming in while running. Without a smartphone, you can give your 100 percent attention to your activity.
Syncing the bluetooth headphones requires you to click on the up arrow key from the home screen. Once synced, the music streams seamlessly while you are running. I did not face any instances of dropped connections. The only issue is that you cannot change songs mid-run, so ensure your playlist has the absolute best songs. You need to understand and strategically place highly motivational songs at the right time interval when you need them. Personally, I place Eminem's 'Lose Yourself' somewhere at the 5 km (30 mins) and then at the 10 km (1 hour) time marks.
Battery life: 7/10
Now you can use the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music watch in two ways - just for indoor training or performing your outdoor activities such as running or cycling or as an everyday fitness tracker. With long distance running, I could easily use the GPS and heart rate monitor together for close to 4.5 hours. It is geared more at a marathon distance and stays powered if you are planning to do long runs (under 45km). It will need charging after that. If you are using it as a regular activity tracker and listening to music once in a while, then it will last you for around 5-6 days depending on your usage and then require charging. If you are training for the marathon, you will be more than satisfied with the battery life. And most days I ended up using it only during my activities. So say if you run 10 km, then you can use the watch for three or four training sessions.
Verdict and Price in India
TomTom Spark Cardio + Music is priced at Rs 21,999. There are other variants of the Spark such as the TomTom Spark GPS priced at Rs 13,999, TomTom Spark Cardio GPS priced at Rs 17,999 (with optical heart rate sensor) and TomTom Spark Music GPS priced at Rs 17,999 (without optical heart rate sensor).
So if you just want some music to listen to when running, then the Spark Music GPS makes more sense, if you can do without the optical heart rate monitor. The Spark Cardio + Music watch makes sense only for those who are serious about running, cycling and other activities and want to improve their performance over the long distances - be it by heart rate training or goal-setting and like listening to music while performing their chosen activities. Zone training is certainly a strong aspect of the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music watch.
Also, since there is no assistance in the form of what’s to be done with the data, it is you the user who will have to interpret the data at your disposal and take corrective measures to see improvements. In an age where a lot of fitness tracking companies are using human and artificial intelligence to give a feedback received from trackers, this is one feature we think TomTom should start looking at implementing sooner rather than later.
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