You know you’ve made it as a runner when you start craving the data. It starts slow, but before you know it, you’re wearing a GPS running watch and obsessing about pace and distance and calories and other data we can’t even understand. Rest easy, though. In our TomTom runner GPS watch review, you won’t need to worry about that “other” category.
The company, based in Amsterdam, is probably best-known as a provider of GPS navigation units for cars, motorcycles and large fleets.
But it also produces a line of consumer products, including the Spark 3 GPS fitness watch, multisport watch, golfing watch, and activity tracker. And those products focus on keeping it simple. And for runners, that’s not a bad thing.
Sure, you might find yourself someday hungering to know about your VO2 max levels, or how much your stride varies from top to bottom or right to left. But sometimes all this data can take the joy out of running, and all you want to know is how fast and how far you’ve gone.
Let us reassure you as part of the TomTom runner GPS watch review: It can definitely do that.
That’s not to suggest that TomTom isn’t a high-tech company with sophisticated products. It’s just that there’s something to be said for the basics.
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Do You Really Need One?
Basics aside, you might wonder if you really need a GPS running watch. What does it do for your experience?
The main answer is that this technology can help you improve as a runner. What do we mean by improve?
GPS watches will help you set and keep a pace, measure your distance, record your route on a map, and measure your heart rate, among other variables. The more data you have, the more informed you become about areas to work on for improvement, depending on your goals.
Keeping a consistent pace will enable you to hit the distances required by your training program, whether you're going from couch to 5K or all the way to the marathon. Route tracking will allow you to see how you've improved when running some of the same routes again and again.
You can even train by heart rate. Keep your heart rate within specific zones at various points of your run and you will be master of your own running experience.
Whether you’re all about the data, though, is somewhat secondary to the motivation a GPS watch can provide.
Not only does it give you accountability — there’s no hiding from idle days on the calendar — but you can also use it to compete against friends and family. And become the master of all!
Watch the Watch
Now that we’ve made a compelling case for using a GPS running watch, let’s talk about some of the things to consider when looking for the perfect fit.
Like most products, GPS running watches generally fall into the categories of “good, better, and best.” Or, you might think of it this way, for purposes of this TomTom runner GPS watch review: basic features, intermediate, and lots of bells-and-whistles.
The first matter to decide is just how you expect to use your watch. Is it only for running, or will you want to time and pace your bike rides, swims, or other activities?
Knowing this will help you determine whether to go for “just” a running watch or to invest in a multisport device.
Another factor for you to consider: The types of data collected. Most average runners will be satisfied by a meat-and-potatoes diet.
By this, we mean the basics of running data, which are the time elapsed on your run, distance covered, and pace metrics. (Many watches allow you to see your current pace or you cumulative pace for the run. We prefer the cumulative pace.)
More advanced watches will provide data such as “VO2 Max” — essentially a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can utilize during exertion.
Many watches also offer sleep-tracking, but this feature should not be a make-or-break factor in deciding on the right fitness watch for you.
How We Reviewed the TomTom GPS Running Watch
Running watches draw plenty of attention, especially in the age of the quantified self. To prepare this review, we did a lot of reading. We started, of course, at the TomTom website itself, to understand the watches available and which runners they target.
Each of these organizations added a bit more to our understanding of the market for GPS watches. We supplemented all this with our own knowledge, from running many miles guided by interactions with our own GPS watch.
TomTom Runner GPS Watch Review
From all that input, we’ve developed this TomTom runner GPS watch review. Before we get into the heart of the matter, we must provide an important note that we turned up in our research.
In late 2017, TomTom announced that it was exiting the market for wearable consumer technology, de-emphasizing the segment in favor of the vehicle and fleet navigation systems.
TomTom continues to list GPS running and multisport watches on its website. Various models are also available at sites such as Amazon and eBay. But the availability may be spotty, and the prices may fluctuate significantly.
The company did say in its earlier announcement that it would still support its GPS sport watch customers. Just be a smart shopper. We found two models for you to consider.
TomTom Spark 3
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The first option in our TomTom runner GPS watch review is the TomTom Spark 3, which is available for both men and women. We zeroed in on the Spark 3 Cardio, which is available both individually and as part of a bundle with a heart rate monitor.
The Spark 3 has all the basics covered. It measures time, distance, speed, and pace. It also calculates the calories you burn and will deliver live statistics to you as your run is underway.
The watch includes a sleep tracker. It also offers 50 pre-programmed workouts to help you along in your fitness journey. It’s lightweight on your wrist, at about 2-1/2 ounces. You can use the Spark 3 indoors as well using run, bicycle, swim, and gym settings. It’s waterproof up to 40 meters of submersion.
Available on Amazon, the Spark 3 earns a rating of 3.4 out of 5 stars, based on more than 600 reviews. A five-star reviewer describes it as a “great watch” with a very intuitive user interface for easy navigation. He also praises the long battery life.
A two-star reviewer notes that he had trouble getting the watch to pair with the TomTom phone app. He says he was disappointed and recommends against a purchase.
TomTom GPS Multisport Watch
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The second option as part of our TomTom runner GPS watch review caters to the multisport enthusiast. The TomTom GPS Multisport watch comes with a heart-rate monitor.
It also allows you to track swimming and cycling performance in addition to running. This means that the watch includes a swim sensor, for when you hit the water, and a speed sensor when you are on two wheels.
One nice feature of the multisport watch is the extra-large display, which enables you to see how your workout is progressing without squinting to monitor your progress (like we have to do).
This model of TomTom watch is waterproof down to 50 meters and it has up to 10 hours of battery life in GPS mode. That’s decent, but not extraordinary for GPS watches.
The TomTom GPS Multisport has earned an Amazon’s Choice rating. Reviewers give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. One reviewer found the watch easy to set up and put into use right away.
Less enthused was a two-star reviewer who bought the watch for use in interval training, but was disappointed to find it only allowed for two settings.
MoreMore than TomTom
The wearable device category has plenty of competition, triggered as it was by the introduction of the Apple Watch several years ago.
We took a look at some of the leading competitors to the TomTom watch, both in the running and multisport categories, to give you some choices to consider.
We kept our focus squarely on fitness watches, leaving the fully-featured smartwatches for another time and place. It's hard for us to think about sweating all over a fancy Apple Watch.
Garmin Forerunner 35
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Garmin arguably offers the best-known name in GPS running watches — certainly the most recognizable name featured in our TomTom runner GPS watch review.
Weighing just 1.6 ounces, you may barely remember that the Garmin Forerunner 35 is attached to your wrist. It has two interesting features that will get your attention. First, you can track your heart rate based on the embedded sensor in the watch — no need for an external heart rate strap.
But the Forerunner 35 also offers a high-resolution display that makes the data easy to read, both inside and out. The watch includes all the basic data, helping you track, as it says, “how far, how fast and where you run.”
To sweeten the deal, the watch includes a step counter so on your off days you can keep driving to the ever important 10,000 steps.
Amazon reviewers rank the Forerunner 35 at 4.1 out of 5 stars. One reviewer from 2018 raved about the watch being “sleek and sporty” and described it as very easy to use.
A different reviewer felt more bearish on the watch, writing that it was disappointing for the length of time it takes to sync with the GPS satellites.
Polar Vantage M430
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It won't keep you as cool as you would be in the Polar Regions. But the Polar Vantage M430 is another alternative to consider.
This watch, too, earns an Amazon’s choice award and offers the added benefit of wrist-based heart rate monitoring. No straps required for Polar Vantage customers. A built-in accelerometer allows you to continue to capture your running data even on days when you run indoors.
The Polar M430 is a bit bigger than any of the other watches we cover in our TomTom runner GPS watch review. But it is still light enough to forget you are wearing it, weighing only 51 grams or just less than 2 ounces.
The watch does offer some additional metrics to consider. Polar will calculate a “running index score,” which the company says is an evaluation of your aerobic capabilities.
The Polar Vantage M430 gets 3.9 out of 5 stars from users on Amazon. A very pleased reviewer described it as a perfect running companion that is lightweight and very feature rich.
A reviewer who gave the watch only two stars experienced watch failures from sweat soaking into the device. The reviewer also had problems with the strap.
Suunto Ambit 3
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The final watch in our TomTom runner GPS watch review has a fitting name for the types of activities it supports: the Suunto Ambit 3. This is the most fully featured watch on our list. We wanted to give you a taste of what extras you could grab by simply investing a few extra dollars.
The Ambit3 is a watch you can use for running to capture your time, distance, and pace. But it also has modes for other activities such as swimming and bicycling.
You’ll notice the profile of this watch is very different. In addition to all those fitness metrics, the watch also includes a compass and an altimeter. This is the watch you want if you’re climbing mountains (or, running them for that matter.)
Here’s the coolest part — the watch comes with a built-in camera. So you’ll be able to capture the scenery of your runs without having to lug your phone along.
It is big, and rather bulky, weighing an estimated 5 ounces. But that’s to be expected considering how much technology it contains.
The watch earns a ranking of 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon and it's also an Amazon’s Choice product. A reviewer who gave the watch five stars praised the design despite its size.
Less enthused was a two-star reviewer who felt let down by the watch software. Glitches in the software, the reviewer wrote, made it difficult to keep track of his progress.
Time out: Choosing the Best GPS Watch for Your Running Needs
Knowing what we do about GPS watches, it’s hard for us to recommend a model on its way out. So our choice at the end of this TomTom runner GPS watch review is one you might not expect. And it’s not that the TomTom watches won’t deliver for you.
It’s just, for the money, we think it's a better idea to stick with a company that’s continuing to explore the category.
With this factored in, there's no choice: the Garmin Forerunner 35 is a great buy for the money. (Also, who can resist the watch in Amazon's No. 1 slot?) And who knows? After a period of time, you might decide to trade up to one of the company's higher-end watches.
Our choice is the Forerunner 35. What is your choice? Let us know in the comments below.
Featured Image via Pixabay