Back in January 2011 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nike launched its first GPS sports watch. I was at the show and got some hands on time with the Nike+ SportWatch, and was generally impressed with its design and feature list. But the stand-out feature of the SportWatch, was that Nike had partnered with TomTom to ensure that the GPS technology was cutting edge.
Two years on from that unveiling in the Nevada dessert, TomTom has decided to go it alone and produce its own GPS sports watch, without the Nike+ branding. Does that lack of Nike affiliation make this new watch less desirable? I guess that depends on whether you consider technology to be more important than a logo – and I certainly do.
TomTom is actually launching two watches – the Runner and the Multis-Sport. As the names suggest, the Runner is aimed specifically at runners, while the Multi-Sport will happily track your progress when running, cycling or even swimming. I recently attended the UK press launch for the TomTom Runner, where I had to go for a run with Team GB ultra-runner Robbie Britton before I got my review sample. So, think about what I had to go through to bring you this review while you’re reading it!
What’s in the box?
Don’t get too excited about unboxing the TomTom Runner, because there’s not a whole lot hiding underneath the watch itself. In fact, apart from the charge/sync cable and a very brief manual, there’s nothing.
Most surprising is that there’s no heart rate sensor bundled with the TomTom Runner, but there is some method to that particular state of madness. You see TomTom hasn’t employed its own, closed wireless system to connect peripherals to its new sports watches, instead opting for low-power Bluetooth 4.0 technology. And that makes a lot of sense.
First up, despite the fact that TomTom does have its own heart rate sensor, which you can buy as an accessory, because the watches use Bluetooth, you’re not limited to TomTom’s own device. Second, many customers may already own a Bluetooth heart rate sensor, so bundling one in the box would be an unwanted expense for potential users.
As it happens I have two Bluetooth heart rate sensors – a Polar H7 and a Wahoo Fitness Blue HR – both of which paired and worked flawlessly with the TomTom Runner. So, for anyone who’s been training using a smartphone app and a Bluetooth HRM, a switch up to a TomTom Runner could be a cost effective move.
There’s no doubt that TomTom has raised the bar when it comes to size and design – this is far and away the slimmest, lightest and most unobtrusive integrated GPS watch I’ve used. TomTom has kept the watch casing so slim by actually placing the GPS receiver underneath the navigation button below the watch itself. What’s clever is that this extension to the watch casing is curved, allowing it to follow the contour of your wrist so that it never feels bulky or awkward.
Another clever feature is that the watch simply clips out of the strap, so you can have different colour straps to match outfits – if you’re really that fashionable and colour coordinated. The real advantage of separating the watch from the strap is that it allows you to clip it into the dock/sync cradle.
That cradle is well designed and heavy enough to ensure that the TomTom Runner sits safely on your desk while it charges or syncs with your computer. The screen is even perfectly angled for viewing, although all you’ll see on it is the battery-charging symbol.
Not so clever is the proprietary nature of the cradle and the connector on the watch itself. One of the best features of the Nike+ SportWatch was its integrated USB port, making it easy to charge and sync without the need to search for a cable. With the TomTom Runner, not only do you need a cable to sync and charge, but it has to be the cable that comes in the box. Given the choice, I’d rather my gadgets use standard micro-USB cables, since they’re plentiful and cheap.
As with most sports watches you need to enter some basic information before you can get going – you’ll need to log your gender, age, weight and height. You’ll also need to pair your Bluetooth heart rate sensor if you have one, which means strapping it to your chest and switching on the HRM option under the settings menu.
Obviously you need to set the time and date – although the watch can be configured to pull the current time and date info from your computer when it’s hooked up. You’ll also need to choose your preferred units – metric or imperial.
All of that will take you a matter of minutes, after which you’re ready to get a satellite lock and head off for a run. And that’s where another one of TomTom’s unique features comes into play – QuickGPSFix.
If you use a TomTom sat-nav device in your car, you’ll be well aware of QuickGPSFix and how it can get it enables very fast satellite lock. TomTom has used that same technology in its sports watches, meaning that you wont be hanging around waiting for the GPS to lock onto satellites before you run.
It’s actually quite remarkable how quickly the TomTom Runner GPS locks on, although you do need to use it regularly for that speed to be maintained.
Fit and function
The TomTom Runner is one of the most comfortable sports watches I’ve worn. I’ve got pretty small wrists, so many GPS sports watches look comically huge on me, but the TomTom Runner is, as Goldilocks might say, just right.
That slim and unobtrusive design also means that you can wear it all day without feeling self-conscious. I found myself wearing the Runner every day so I could track the two mile walk from the station to my office and back – I’ve now managed to find the optimal route in terms of both time and distance.
TomTom claims that the Runner has a one-button navigation system, but that’s not really true. What you actually have is a four-way navigation system that looks like a big square button.
Navigating the menus and settings on the watch is very simple, much like it was on the Nike+ SportWatch. That’s not to say that the Runner is short on features, just that TomTom has made those features very accessible and easy to configure.
Obviously the GPS tracking is the showcase feature in the Runner, but TomTom has spared a thought for indoor runners too. The watch features a built-in accelerometer so that it can measure distance travelled on a treadmill.
When your training consists of a mixture of outdoor and indoor running, it can be a bit of a pain tracking your runs – you usually need a GPS watch that also has a foot-pod accessory to cover both disciplines. But with the TomTom Runner, there’s no need to strap a foot-pod to your shoe, since the pedometer functionality is built into the watch itself.
In theory this is a great feature, but in reality it’s not particularly accurate. I bashed out a couple of 5km runs on my NordicTrack T14.2 treadmill, and in both instances that TomTom Runner reported that I’d only travelled around 4.2km. Of course you can manually calibrate your runs, but that kind of defeats the purpose of being able to track treadmill miles in the first place.
All that said, it’s still easier to calibrate your distance after a run than it is to manually enter the data into whatever fitness app you happen to use post treadmill session.
Hitting the trails
While you’re running you can configure the main display window to show a multitude of information including the time of day, duration of run, distance run, current pace, average pace, stride length, calories burned and heart rate.
Above the main display window are two smaller info windows. These can display any of the above metrics all of which is configurable within the Display menu. To switch between info screens on the main display window you simple press the four-way navigation button up or down. Pushing the button left will pause your run, while pushing it right will resume it again – pushing left twice will end your session.
You can also customise your training when you run too. You can set yourself goals based on key metrics like time and distance. You can also assign auto lapping based on time or distance – so if you set the TomTom to start a new lap after each kilometre is completed, it will create a split, and log your lap time. TomTom has also been smart enough to equip the runner with vibrating alerts, so every time you complete a lap the watch will vibrate and you’ll instantly know every time you complete a lap even if you’ve got headphones on.
TomTom has also included a Race mode, which lets you race against set distances and times. So, if you wanted to beat a 25min 5km time, you can set that as your race goal, and then the TomTom Runner will display how far ahead or behind you are during your run. As you complete the Race disciplines you can choose to race against your previous time rather than an arbitrary one.
The problem with the Race feature is that it takes nothing else into account other than time and distance. There’s no factoring of terrain or elevation into the equation, and you don’t have to be running the same route in order to race a previous time. That means that you could be running 10km uphill today, but racing against your previous 10km time, which was around a flat track.
Also slightly disappointing is that you can’t race against friends’ times, although TomTom did say that sharing results could become a feature as the TomTom MySports portal evolves over time.
Capturing data while you run is only half the battle, you also need to be able to upload that data somewhere so you can track and analyse it. Again TomTom has been quite smart when it comes to synchronising data from its new sports watches, since it has kept things pretty open.
TomTom has created its own online portal called MySports, but the synchronising app also allows you to export data to a number of third party services, which is handy if you already have extensive historical data logged somewhere
The TomTom MySports portal is still in Beta at the moment, and it’s pretty basic. Although you can sync all your runs with it, there’s not much data to paw over. Assuming you’ve run outdoors with a heart rate monitor paired, MySports will show you the duration of your run, the overall distance, average pace, average heart rate and calories burned. What you won’t get is any minimum or maximum values for Pace and heart rate, or any lap breakdowns. MySports will map out your route for you though.
TomTom MySports is actually based on the MapMyFitness platform, so if you’ve got a MapMyFitness account, you can use that to log into MySports. Unsurprisingly, you can also export your training data to MapMyFitness, and here you’ll have far more granular data at your fingertips. That said, to really get the full picture, you’ll have to upgrade to a premium version of MapMyFitness.
The TomTom sync app will allow you to export your data to various file types too, so even if you can’t upload directly to your preferred online portal, you should be able to import a data file. You can every just export your data in a basic format and drop it into a spreadsheet if you just want a rolling record of your stats.
It’s great that TomTom is happy to work with third parties for its data export, but I would like to see the MySports portal developed a bit more. I have no doubt that will happen, and hopefully when it moves out of its beta phase, it will provide the kind of functionality that Garmin Connect and Polar Personal Trainer users enjoy.
There’s a lot to like about the TomTom Runner, and if you want a slim and unobtrusive sports watch that you can wear every day, it makes a very good case for itself. At £149.99 it’s around the same cost as the Nike+ SportWatch, but a fair bit cheaper than the likes of the Polar RC3 GPS. That said, if you want a heart rate sensor bundled with the TomTom Runner, the price goes up to £199.99.
If you already have a compatible Bluetooth heart rate sensor, then the TomTom Runner looks like something of a bargain. And if you’re just looking to track your speed, distance and training time without heart rate data, it’s also an attractive option.
The TomTom Runner can’t grow with you the way the Polar RC3 GPS or Polar RCX5 can, but then it’s not really meant to. This is a sports watch aimed specifically at runners, and if you’re looking for something that can be used for multiple pursuits, the TomTom Multi-Sport is clearly a better option.
It’s great that you can synchronise your data with a number of online portals and training services, but TomTom really does need to get its own MySports portal fully up to speed as soon as possible too.
I’m still not completely happy about the proprietary charging/sync cable and feel that TomTom should have gone with a standard micro-USB port instead. But on the whole, I like the TomTom Runner and I’m looking forward to testing the Multi-Sport watch soon.
- Slim and sleek design
- Very easy to use
- Extremely fast satellite lock
- Can be used on a treadmill
- Data can be exported to numerous portals
- Reasonably priced
- Interchangeable strap
- Vibrating alerts
- Race setting is fun
- Proprietary connector
- TomTom MySports isn’t quite ready yet
- Treadmill tracking inaccurate
- No bundled heart rate sensor