When I reviewed the TomTom Runner Cardio last summer I declared it my favourite running watch, and it remained that way for over a year. Now, however, you won’t see my bright red Runner Cardio on my wrist when I’m running, instead you’ll see a smaller, slimmer, yet even more feature packed watch.
The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music doesn’t just have an impressively long name; it’s also a great GPS sports watch that raises the bar once again. While the Runner Cardio brought wrist-based heart rate monitoring to the table, the Spark also delivers something new and welcome – but more about that later.
Design & Layout
The Spark is instantly recognisable as a TomTom watch, sharing the same design and layout as the original TomTom Runner from 2013. What’s particularly surprising, though, is how small the Spark is – despite being the most feature packed watch TomTom has ever produced, it’s significantly smaller than the Runner Cardio, and even more svelte than the original TomTom Runner and Multi-Sport watches.
The reduced dimensions of the Spark mean that TomTom has had to change the display layout. The time-of-day is now displayed in an offset manner, with the hours positioned above the minutes, while the date is squeezed into the top right hand corner. While this new screen layout is different to the previous TomTom watches, it’s actually the same as the Nike+ SportWatch, which itself was designed and manufactured by TomTom.
Left to right: TomTom Runner Cardio, TomTom Spark, TomTom Runner
The rest of the Spark’s design is the same as previous TomTom watches, with all the navigation and control handled by a four-way rocket button mounted below the screen. I’m a big fan of this design, since using that four-way rocker is much easier than trying to fiddle with buttons positioned around the watch casing, especially when you’re running!
TomTom has redesigned the strap for the Spark with no fewer than three securing lugs keeping it in place! There are notches along the entire length of the strap ensuring that you can find a comfortable fit. My review sample was a small size, but the large version comes with a more conventional strap design, but like the Runner Cardio.
As with previous TomTom watches the Spark can be completely removed from the strap. Not only does this allow you to change the colour (or even the size) of the strap to suit, but it also makes it easier to plug the watch into the charging cable. It’s slightly annoying that TomTom uses a proprietary charging cable, but it’s far from alone in doing so.
Features & Function
At its heart the Spark is a GPS sports watch, and thanks to TomTom’s expertise in GPS technology it’s a very good one. As with every TomTom sports watch I’ve tested, the GPS is very accurate and extremely quick to lock onto satellites.
That GPS receiver allows the Spark to track your route as well as measure speed, distance and pace. But the Spark can also pull in data from other sensors, making it an attractive proposition for anyone that does more than just running.
The Spark will pair with any Bluetooth Smart sensors, so if you already have the TomTom speed and cadence sensor on your bike, the Spark can pull in data from that. Likewise, if you’re using the Wahoo Fitness cadence sensor that straps to your bike’s crank, the Spark will pair with it nicely.
The Spark has a plethora of activity profiles to use, including running, cycling and swimming. Unfortunately the GPS doesn’t work when swimming, so if you’re looking to track open water swims, you’ll need to look at a more triathlon specific watch like the Garmin Forerunner 920XT. However, if you just tend to swim laps in a pool, then the Spark will happily count strokes and laps for you.
Like the TomTom Runner Cardio before it, the Spark Cardio + Music also has a heart rate monitor built into it. There’s an optical sensor mounted in the rear of the watch casing, which measures your pulse through your skin. The result is pretty much as accurate as using a chest strap HRM, and saves you that bit of extra hassle when getting ready for your training session.
It’s worth mentioning that the optical heart rate monitor won’t work while you’re swimming, but you can pair with a Bluetooth Smart chest strap HRM and still measure your beats while you’re swimming.
An interesting addition to the Spark is its activity tracking functionality, and considering that so many fitness trackers are starting to step on the toes of sports watches, it’s not a surprising inclusion.
As with previous TomTom watches, pressing the four-way rocker switch to the right will bring up the menus for starting your training session, but with the Spark you can also click left from the time-of-day screen and view how many steps you’ve taken that day, while pressing left a second time will show you how many steps you’ve taken that week.
Of course if you want to use the Spark as your activity tracker you’ll need to be wearing it all day, every day, whether you’re training or not. But since the Spark is quite small and understated it won’t be a problem for you to wear it as a regular watch.
Tunes to train to
The real standout feature, however, has nothing to do with GPS, heart rate or activity tracking, it’s about music. You see TomTom has squeezed 3GB of storage space into the Spark, which you can fill up with your favourite tunes. Those tunes can then be streamed wirelessly to a set of Bluetooth headphones, completely negating the need to strap your phone to your arm.
With our phones getting larger every year, having to carry a handset with you when you’re running is a chore at best. So the potential to leave your phone at home, while still carrying all your favourite music with you while you run is quite compelling.
Most regular runners have already switched to Bluetooth headphones to avoid the cable slap and tangles that come with wires, so using the Spark as a music source won’t be a problem at all.
TomTom offers a bundle which includes a set of Bluetooth headphones, but I found that the Spark played nicely with all the Bluetooth headphones I had lying around. Pairing is simple, and once connected you can fire up your favourite playlist.
The Spark can playback MP3 and AAC files and I simply copied over iTunes playlists to the device. You can then choose to play specific playlists or shuffle through all the music on the watch. The audio controls on your Bluetooth headphones will work with the Spark, so there’s no need to go into the music menu on the watch while training.
One thing to be aware of, though, is the position of the watch in relation to the headphones. Some Bluetooth headphones have the receiver on the right, and others have it on the left. Ideally you should wear the Spark on the same side as the Bluetooth receiver for the strongest signal. Unfortunately there’s no way to tell which side the receiver is on your headphones, so it’s a case of trial and error – if your music drops out while running, switch the Spark to your other wrist and you should be rewarded with rock solid music streaming.
When TomTom first launched its MySports web portal and app it was far from perfect, but it has come a long way since then. MySports is now far easier to use, and far quicker to sync with, but to be perfectly honest, none of that really matters.
When you sync the Spark to MySports you can also choose to export your data to a plethora of other platforms. So, if you’re a long-term Strava user, you can carry on doing so since the Spark’s data will automatically export to your Strava account. Likewise if you use Nike+ Running, or Runkeeper, the Spark will synchronise with those platforms seamlessly.
One criticism I had of the of the Runner Cardio was that it took ages to sync with the smartphone app. Thankfully TomTom has resolved this issue with the Spark, which syncs its data wirelessly to your phone in no time at all, before exporting it to your platform of choice.
There’s no denying that the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music is a pricey GPS sports watch, with an RRP of £189.99, but the class leading feature set make it worth every penny.
It really is a relief not having to drag my phone out with me when I go for a run, and the built-in heart rate monitor is as handy now as it was when it debuted in the TomTom Runner Cardio.
The new design makes this watch smaller than its predecessor, and most other GPS sports watches out there, which in itself makes the activity tracking functionality all the more useful.
Hardcore triathletes may find the lack of GPS tracking when swimming a limiting factor, but for pretty much everyone else, the Spark is as versatile as you’d ever need a sports watch to be.
I’ve been using the TomTom Runner Cardio as my regular GPS sports watch since I reviewed it last year, but from now on it’ll be the Spark on my wrist when I head out for a run.
- Slim and understated design
- Multi-sport functionality
- Built-in heart rate monitor
- Built-in storage for music
- Wireless music streaming
- Activity tracking functionality
- Pairs with Bluetooth Smart sensors
- Simple navigation via four-way rocker
- Data exported to your favourite platform
- No GPS tracking when swimming