Running without a watch monitoring your heart rate and your performance in real-time seems to be a past tense permanently. However, when I discovered the TomTom Spark 3 Cardio watch, I’ve gotten much more than that – I’ve gotten a watch with an embedded GPS feature which will never let me get lost. As a passionate runner who travels all around the world, I’ve actually acquired a best friend. I just put the watch on my wrist and get into a flow, without a need to worry about how to get back to the hotel.
Things to Consider Before Buying a GPS Fitness Watch
Before you decide to buy a GPS fitness watch, you need to know what you really want from a device. There is so many GPS fitness watches on the market, with so many features that look cool and fancy to carry around. But if you will not use these features – why pay extra money for something that you don’t need? If you want to show off, there are so many better ways to spend money, but a GPS fitness watch is certainly not one of them. What you really want from a GPS fitness watch is the functionality which you will be using extensively.
The first thing that runners, cyclists, hikers, and serious athletes want to have, is a wrist-based heart monitor. They want to monitor their heart rate in real time in order to manage their training intensity.
Besides the heart rate, you want to track your performance including time, distance, speed, pace, routes… You want to have live statistics on the go. If this is what you need – you should go for a GPS fitness watch.
However, since GPS relies on satellite signals to work, it may take longer to lock onto a signal in inclement weather. Plus, having GPS tracking activated reduces the device’s battery life. These are the downsides of GPS watches that you need to be aware of upfront.
On the other side, if you’re not a sports person but you’re keen to move your body out of the armchair, a GPS fitness watch will help you motivate yourself. Let’s be frank, it will not sweat and lift weights for you, but it will measure each mile you pass, and it will motivate you to do more and more every day.
TomTom Spark 3 Cardio, GPS Fitness Watch + Heart Rate Monitor
The TomTom Spark 3 is a successor to the TomTom Spark, so it keeps the same formula while bringing some design and functionality changes. You still get a GPS, multi-sport tracking, 24/7 activity tracking and a heart rate sensor. This is still the only dedicated GPS running watch that lets you stream music without your phone.
TomTom Spark 3 brings route exploration for the first time. Building in a compass sensor in it makes it easier to find your way home or to discover a new running trail.
There are four different versions of the Spark 3: from the basic GPS version to the Cardio + Music, which includes heart rate monitoring and storage space for 500 songs. In between these two, there is the Spark 3 with just music or just heart rate tracking. Our focus is the GPS version with heart rate tracking.
- GPS exploration features allow you to upload and follow a route, or freestyle it and let the watch show you the way home
- Excellent running features, including interval training and the option of built-in memory for your music library
- Long battery life – 11 hours with GPS enabled, three weeks without it
- Waterproof with decent swimming features, namely SWOLF (Swim Golf) scores
- Heart rate tracking proved to be accurate during training
- The app is slow to sync
- Poor sleep tracking
Features and Benefits
Design: Typical TomTom Spark watch
For a sports watch, the Spark’s design is pleasingly unobtrusive. TomTom Spark 3 is a fitness watch comfortable to wear. It’s designed very similarly to the original Spark model. It still has the same removable watch module and screen with the optical heart-rate sensor built into the back. It also uses the same charger.
TomTom has significantly improved the band though. The look is the same, but now the inner side of the band is softer and more textured to help wick away sweat. If you plan to wear it 24/7 for activity and sleep tracking, then this is really beneficial.
Wearing the Spark all day, it can get quite sticky underneath the band. TomTom Spark 3 brings noticeable improvement in that area. You’ll also get less of a band imprint on your wrist as well.
The Spark 3’s band is removable, and TomTom sells a number of bands in different colors. It’s nice that you can personalize your watch’s look.
Heart rate tracking
Wrist-based optical heart rate trackers do not have a good reputation regarding their accuracy. However, the Spark 3 seems to be an exception to this. I tested it against the chest heart tracker and they gave me the same results.
With TomTom Spark 3, not only can you see your heart rate, but you can also see the zone that it puts you in, rated from “1 Easy” to “5 Sprint”. If you wish, you can set the zone that you’d like to be in during your exercise and your Spark will help you stay in that zone. It will buzz on your wrist when you don’t put enough effort.
The Spark 3 will also check your heart rate throughout the day and give you a resting heart rate reading in the app. It’s useful to get a notification if your activity is paying off in the long term.
Important to note is that the heart rate tracker doesn’t come with the basic version of the Spark 3, so you need to get an upgraded version. In my opinion – it’s worth the investment.
If you ever go running in a city you’re unfamiliar with, it’s a good idea to know where you are and how to get back home. TomTom Spark 3 has that clever feature that shows you the route you have just run and how to get back home. It has a digital compass as well, so you know the direction you’re heading.
If you’re an advanced user, you can also upload trails to your device and then follow them on your watch; a small arrow shows your location relative to the path.
TomTom Spark 3 has seven sports modes: running and cycling (with indoor and out modes for both), swimming, gym, and freestyle.
The built-in GPS means you can be sure that all your outdoor activities are tracked accurately. Spark 3 takes a bit more time to sync your activities, especially with GPS. It’s not a big deal for me, but some people can find it annoying.
Spark 3 picks up GPS satellites pretty quickly (45-90 seconds, generally), so you don’t stand around for ages waiting to start your run. Once you start running, you can see all your stats easily – distance, time, current pace, average pace, heart rate.
There are many different modes you can use to guide your run. You can plan interval sessions or set the Spark 3 to buzz every time you stop running at a certain pace or exit a given heart rate zone.
The Spark is pretty good for treadmill training as well. It offers the same workout options as when outdoors, so you can set up interval sessions or keep running in a given heart rate. You can also compare the results with a treadmill to test the accuracy of your Spark.
Spark 3 is not good only for running, it’s also very useful for cycling. You won’t get cycling-specific stats like cadence or power, but the GPS ensures you get distance, elevation, speed, splits, and calories. Bear in mind that the Spark 3 has 11 hours of battery life with the GPS on. While this is more than sufficient for running, it may not be enough if you plan to spend a whole day cycling.
Spark 3 is water resistant up to 40m, which makes it great for swimming. Once you set the length of the pool, Spark 3 will measure lengths, strokes, strokes per minute, total distance and calories. Similarly to other sports modes, you can set targets for your pool sessions and your watch will tell you how far you are from your goal. Spark 3 won’t pick out your stroke type, but it will give you some other swim-specific data like your Swim Golf – aka SWOLF – score (the total of your strokes per length and time for the length).
It’s worth mentioning that although the Spark 3 tracks running, cycling, and swimming individually, there’s no dedicated triathlon mode.
Although Spark 3 is designed for dedicated sports rather than to be an activity tracker, it’s comfortable and stylish enough to do both. It does a solid job of logging steps. It also counts your daily and weekly spent calories – you just have to press sideways and down from the home screen.
The TomTom App
Once you get home, you can review all the details in the TomTom Sports App. However, you might find yourself pretty disappointed with it.
TomTom has definitely put some effort into its app over the past years and no doubt it’s been improved. Now, you can get a decent breakdown of your activities, with splits, a map, and an adjustable graph that can show your heart rate, elevation, and pace.
However, it’s still behind with its presentation and capabilities when compared to the other apps. It partners with Strava, Nike+, and Runkeeper, so most users will probably prefer to dive into the details of their activities there, rather than on the TomTom Sports app.
With GPS on, the Spark 3 reaches a solid 11 hours of battery life. Without GPS enabled, it lasts for three weeks, so even frequent runners should find it enough to get them through a full week.
If you’re cycling to work and back every day with the GPS running, it might need a midweek pick-me-up, but generally, the battery is good enough that you won’t have to worry about it. However, if you plan to spend a day cycling with GPS on, that the battery might be too short.
Battery life also depends on how many sensors you keep turned on, like the heart rate sensor, which is an obvious drain on the battery.
Thinking about batteries, I can only recommend TomTom and other manufacturers of smartwatches to start using solar power technology, similar to the one that is used for Seiko solar powered watches. It would eliminate any discussion on this topic.
Tomtom Spark 3 Cardio, GPS Fitness Watch + Heart Rate Monitor (Black, Large)
- Heart Rate Monitor: No chest strap needed with a built-in heart rate monitor, which allows you to easily see your heart rate at all times throughout the day or while working out.
- GPS Running Watch: Measures time, distance, speed, pace, calories burned, heart rate and live stats on the go. Use the new Fitness Age function to discover how fit you really are and how to get fitter faster. Know which activities matter most by earning Fitness Points with every workout.
- GPS Running Watch and Activity Tracker: Measures time, distance, speed, pace, calories burned and sleep. Coming soon, pick from over 50 workouts and get step by step guidance on the watch to help you achieve your goals.
- Waterproof Sport Watch: Multisport Mode tracks all your indoor and outdoor sports, including every run, cycle, swim and gym workout.
- GPS Watch with Advanced Features: 24/7 activity tracking, phone notifications, waterproof up to 40M and customizable straps
Social Proof of TomTom Spark 3 Cardio, GPS Fitness Watch + Heart Rate Monitor
If you want to know what other people think about this watch, you should read comments on the internet. This is a real proof of the popularity of this product.
I found that people are generally satisfied with this watch and it is considered one of the best sports watches in its category. People find it user-friendly and most people simply stopped wearing other watches. People also liked that the display is large enough, so you can easily read while being active.
Alternatives to Consider
If we are talking about alternatives to the TomTom Spark 3, we cannot ignore the Polar M400. This watch is in the same price category and it has similar features. Polar M400 is extremely slim and light. This is probably the least visible fitness watch. It tracks GPS, heart rate, and daily fitness, but there is no route navigation, which Spark 3 does have. This watch is not water-resistant, which is again a downside when compared to the Spark 3. The users of Polar M400 have complained about the accuracy of its heart rate tracking.
Polar M400 GPS Smart Sports Watch
- GPS WATCH: Built-in GPS technology keeps track of your pace, distance and altitude
- FITNESS TRACKER: Tracks your workouts, steps, distance, calories burned, sleep quality, and activity 24/7
- WATERPROOF FITNESS TRAINER: Use the fitness tracking watch to keep an eye on your running cadence to improve your running efficiency and avoid injuries in all weather conditions
- ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY: Compatible with H7 Heart Rate sensor to train at the right intensity with target heart rate zones
- SOCIAL SMARTWATCH: Plan, sync and share your training using the Polar Flow app and web service
Garmin Forerunner 630
Garmin is another brand that should not be missed when we talk about fitness watches. Garmin Forerunner 630 is a powerful tool for experienced runners. Besides tracking the stats that most sports watches track, such as step count, burned calories and covered distance, the Forerunner also records a number of in-depth measurements, like heart-rate patterns, running cadence, VO2 max, and many others. It has a long battery life – in idle mode, the battery would last for 4 weeks. As a downside, it’s designed only for runners. If you plan to use the watch in any other sport, then it’s not for you. Additionally, the forerunner 630 doesn’t have a built-in heart rate monitor, so you can only purchase a chest strap if you want to monitor your heart rate.
Garmin Forerunner 630 – Black/White
- 2ND GENERATION RUNNING DYNAMICS -Calculates 6 advanced running dynamics: stride length, ground contact time balance, vertical ratio, cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time
- PHYSIOLOGICAL MEASUREMENTS -Supports advanced physiological measurements: stress score, performance condition, lactate threshold, recovery time, VO2 max, predicted race times
- BATTERY LIFE – Long-lasting, Rechargeable lithium-ion
- WIRELESS – Wirelessly transmits accurate heart rate to your compatible device
- SMART NOTIFICATIONS – See incoming email, text messages, call alerts, calendar reminders and more from your compatible smartphone.
Garmin Forerunner 935
Garmin Forerunner 935 is probably one of the best smartwatches on the market. Among many other types of sports, the Forerunner 935 lets you track running, biking and swimming. Furthermore, you can combine the whole triathlon training session under a single workout – you don’t even have to press a button to get accurate data from each activity. It has a long battery life (24 hours with GPS on), so it’s perfect for hikers and cyclists. However, its advantages have a high price. You can get a decent sports watch for half of the price of the Forerunner 935.
Garmin Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit (Black)
- Premium GPS running/triathlon watch with wrist-based heart rate;Strap material : silicone ; Smartphone compatibility : iPhone, Android, Windows; designed for sale and support in North America only.
- Offers advanced running and multisport Features in a comfortable watch you can wear all day, and it only weighs 49 grams
- Provides elevation changes with a built-in barometer; altimeter and electronic compass help you keep your bearings
- Evaluates your training status to indicate if you’re undertraining or overdoing it and offers additional performance monitoring Features
- Provides advanced dynamics for running, cycling and swimming, including ground contact time balance, stride length and more
All in all, TomTom Spark 3 would be my personal choice when it comes to fitness watches. I actually first bought it to satisfy my fitness needs, but since then it became much more than that. Its lightness on my wrist and its functions that I use made it my intimate friend. I wear it day and night and even its casual design fits perfectly for any occasion. If you want to leave the classical look of, for example, Fossil watches for men, while keeping your health under control, then this watch might be the perfect fit for you as well.