TomTom has come a long way in just a few years. It wasn’t that long ago that people only thought of TomTom as a manufacturer of aftermarket sat-nav devices. But three years ago TomTom started to make fitness products – okay, it had manufactured the Nike+ SportWatch back in 2011, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that the first TomTom branded running watch arrived.
While the original TomTom Runner watch was a decent device, it didn’t set the world on fire, but that didn’t stop TomTom from building on that foundation and creating better and better products. The TomTom Runner Cardio was the first running watch with a built-in optical heart rate monitor – we take this tech for granted these days, but TomTom was the pioneer.
The reason I’m reminiscing about TomTom’s entry into the running watch market is because the company is breaking new ground once more. The TomTom Touch that I’m reviewing today is the first fitness tracker that TomTom has ever made, and like the original TomTom Runner, it’s certainly not perfect, but it does show promise.
What’s so special?
With the ever-growing number of fitness trackers on the market, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate one from another. However, TomTom is a company that has always tried to bring something different to the table and the Touch follows that theme.
While most fitness trackers do the same thing to a greater or lesser extent, the TomTom Touch has a very clear USP – body composition measurement. While this technology isn’t new – we’ve seen it built into smartscales like the Withings Smart Body Analyzer for years – this is the first time that a wrist-based fitness tracker has sported such a feature.
If you’re serious about your health and fitness, body composition is very important. Many of us put so much emphasis on our weight, but judging body weight without understanding what that weight is made up of is somewhat futile.
If you’re trying to lose weight it’s very easy to get demoralised if you’re working hard but your weight isn’t dropping – even more so if your weight is actually climbing! But body composition measurement will give you a greater understanding of your weight and make you realise that sometimes when weight is static, or even when it climbs, it can be a good thing.
So what is body composition? Just like it says on the tin, it’s a measurement of what your body is made of – essentially telling you how much of your body weight is made up of good, solid muscle, and how much is made up of fat. What isn’t muscle and fat will be a mixture of bone, water, etc.
Body composition is so important because it gives you a far greater understanding of what your body is doing and how it’s reacting to the nutrition and exercise you’re feeding it. So, if you step on your scales after a week of eating well and training regularly only to see that you haven’t lost any weight, you could feel demoralised. But if you then check your body composition and find that although your weight is static, your body fat percentage has dropped and your muscle percentage has risen, you’ll know you’re doing well.
Checking your body composition is pretty simple with the TomTom Touch – once in the body composition menu, you just touch your finger to the button and hold it there until a tick is displayed.
Unfortunately you won’t get any kind of result displayed on the Touch itself – if you want to find out what your body fat percentage is you’ll have to get your phone out of your pocket and fire up the TomTom MySports app. Only when the Touch has synced with the app can you find out your body composition result.
Given that the Touch has a pretty good display built into it, it’s slightly disappointing that you cant just read your body composition result on the device itself, but that’s not the only frustration with the Touch.
Now that we’ve got that big USP out of the way, what else is there to say about the TomTom Touch? The device itself is a small lozenge with a bright, OLED screen built into it. The supplied rubber strap is both comfortable and secure, but it’s also quite fiddly to get fastened.
The first slight frustration I encountered was that getting the Touch in and out of the strap can be something of a struggle – it’s quite a tight fit, and requires a degree of stretching and pushing. This issue is compounded by the fact that the Touch must be removed from its strap when you charge it – this is quite the contrast to the array of magnetic and clip-on charging cables we’ve seen with other fitness trackers.
On the plus side, the Touch does use a completely standard micro-USB cable for charging, so it’s unlikely that you’ll ever find yourself caught short when your Touch battery starts running low. TomTom estimates that you’ll get around five days of tracking on a full charge, which is pretty much what I saw while testing.
A far more significant frustration is that you can’t pair the Touch with your phone unless it’s connected to your computer – the Bluetooth pairing option on the Touch only appears when the device is hooked up to your PC or Mac via USB.
On the surface that’s no big deal, since you’ll only need to pair it once, right? Wrong! You see the TomTom MySports app isn’t as smart you’d expect it to be. So if you happen to use more than one TomTom device – a Touch for your daily fitness tracking and a Spark for your running, say – then switching between those devices is difficult to say the least.
Whereas Garmin Connect will allow you to pair any number of Garmin devices and then simply select the one you’re using at the time, TomTom MySports will only allow one device to be paired with the app at any one time, and switching between devices means getting rid of the current one and pairing the new one all over again.
Now, with the Spark you can pair it on the fly – as you can with almost any device I’ve encountered – but as mentioned above, you can only pair the Touch when it’s connected to your computer, so if you want to swap devices while you’re out in the field, you’re out of luck.
I have no idea why TomTom has designed the Touch to only pair with your phone while it’s connected to your computer – it seems counterintuitive considering that most wearable devices don’t need to go near a computer these days, unless you’re using one as a charging point!
The Touch will also alert you when you’ve received a notification on your phone. But unlike other trackers, it won’t actually relay messages or calendar entries it will just alert you, leaving you to still get your phone out of your pocket to check what’s actually going on.
This kind of basic phone alert feature makes sense on trackers that have no built-in display, but since the Touch has a pretty decent screen, I can’t help but be disappointed that actual information isn’t relayed from your phone.
The Touch covers most of the bases you’d expect from a modern fitness tracker. It will count each step you take, and from that data it will estimate distance travelled and calories burned. It will also ascertain when you’re being active during the day, even if you’re not embarking on a specific workout.
There’s also a built-in optical heart rate monitor, which is no big surprise given that TomTom pioneered this technology in wearable devices. The Touch will measure your heart rate throughout the day, as well as log your resting heart rate – a stat that’s always worth keeping an eye on.
Although the screen built into the Touch is a good one, it’s not always on and doesn’t automatically turn on as you raise your wrist like the screen on a Fitbit Alta or Apple Watch 2. You have to physically press the button on the Touch to wake up the display, making it less suited to wristwatch duties than other trackers.
Once you’ve woken up the screen you can swipe up through various info displays, showing you how many steps you’ve taken, how many calories you’ve burned, distance travelled, etc. You can also swipe down to reveal your heart rate measurement, body composition activation and the workout option.
The workout option is slightly curious, given the lack of options you’re presented with at the start and the relatively meagre level of data you get at the end. Unlike many fitness trackers, the Touch doesn’t allow you to tell it what kind of activity you’re about to embark on – it essentially just starts a stopwatch.
At the end of your workout your activity is automatically shared to TomTom MySports – and any other platforms you may have paired like Strava, Nike+, etc. – but still with no indication of what you’ve actually done.
When I ran with the Touch I had to physically edit the activity within TomTom MySports to identify it as a run, but by that time it had already exported a completely anonymous activity to my other platforms. And even once I’d identified the activity as a run, I still wasn’t given any indication of distance, or steps taken, which the Touch surely would have measured.
The Touch will also track your sleep patterns, although as always, it’s questionable how much action you can actually take based on such data. That said, apps like the one from Jawbone will recommend sleep goals for you, and if it looks like you’re not getting enough sleep, you’ll be challenged to an early bedtime.
Talking of goals, TomTom has baked in the ability to set yourself goals based on metrics like steps, active minutes, workouts and body composition. Working towards something tangible is always a good thing, and can be very motivating, so it’s good to see that TomTom has baked this into the Touch ecosystem.
The MySports app and web portal have long been a chink in TomTom’s otherwise sturdy armour. But with TomTom’s excellent GPS sports watches it’s pretty easy to ignore this shortcoming since you can export your data to your platform of choice – Strava, Nike+, RunKeeper, etc.
But with a fitness tracker, the app on your phone is very much part of its feature set and in some ways can be even more important than the device itself. Jawbone is a fine example of this – while the UP trackers are far from ground-breaking in terms of features, the Jawbone app is exceptionally good and thus elevates the whole experience.
Unfortunately the TomTom MySports app simply isn’t good enough to elevate the Touch, and actually drags it down to a degree. Compared to best of breed fitness tracker apps from the likes of Jawbone, Fitbit and even Misfit, the MySports app feels basic, unintuitive and clunky.
As already mentioned, the app doesn’t make it easy to use multiple TomTom devices, which seems odd given that anyone already using and happy with a TomTom GPS watch would probably be interested in a TomTom fitness tracker.
While the important data is there, it’s not presented in a particularly compelling way, and there’s nothing to really motivate you bar the goals that you set yourself. There are no trophies or badges to earn, and there’s no easy way to rank yourself against other TomTom users – all the stuff that seems pretty much bread and butter with other fitness tracker apps.
If TomTom is planning to build on the fitness tracking foundation laid by the Touch, then it needs to significantly improve the MySports app to support this and future devices.
There’s no doubt that the body composition measurement aspect of the TomTom Touch is impressive. This is something that’s very useful for anyone looking to lose weight, and more importantly, to lose body fat. Having this feature built into a fitness tracker also negates the need to invest in a set of body composition scales, which can save you a decent wad of cash.
Body composition aside, however, the Touch doesn’t really make a compelling case for itself. The heart rate monitor is nice to see, but it’s hardly unusual these days. And the phone notification feature is so basic that it doesn’t really seem worth having in the first place.
And then there’s the price – at £129.99 the Touch sits at the upper end of the fitness tracker price spectrum. In fact it’s a fair bit more expensive than the excellent Garmin Vivosmart HR, which may not measure body composition, but has the Touch beaten on pretty much every other metric.
The real question you need to ask yourself is how badly you want to have body composition measurement built into your fitness tracker, because if you do, your choice is limited to one device right now – this one.
I also have absolutely no doubt that TomTom will continue to develop its fitness tracker range and hit gold at some point, just like it did with its running watches. For now though, the Touch has an intriguing USP, but that’s not really enough to elevate it above the competition.