Product name: TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music GPS Watch
Basic summary: The TomTom Spark 3 is an updated GPS from TomTom’s general fitness category that has extensive crossover appeal to runners – in fact, the feature set of the Spark 3 includes everything found on the company’s Runner 3 watch. The Spark 3 lineup offers the Cardio version which adds optical HR monitoring, and the Cardio + Music which comes with Bluetooth headphones and allows you to play and control a playlist from your wrist. We tested the Cardio + Music version. This watch supports multiple separate sport options for cross training, but does not have multisport capacity for triathlon. A key update to the Spark 3 is route exploration, which allows you upload unexplored routes from the MySports website onto their watch, and allows backtracking in the event that you get lost. The Spark 3 series is also a full-feature activity tracker that works through the TomTom MySports app.
- Slim design: thickness 0.54 in.
- Weight 50g
- Snap in place strap design
- Strap available in two colors (black or aqua) and two size options
- Display size: .87 x .98 in
- Battery life: 2 weeks with non-GPS use
- Scratch resistant display
- Water resistance: 40m (5ATM)
- Beep and vibrate alerts
- Touchscreen backlight
- Three-item display customizable at wrist
- Laps tracked by time, distance or manually
- Customized and repeatable single interval/rest settings
- Goal setting for time, distance, or calories
- HR monitoring with audible and vibration alerts when out of target zone
- Zone monitoring for pace, speed, and cadence
- QuickFix GPS location
- GPS tracking and route exploration
- Auto rotation option positions the watch map in the direction you are moving
- Route uploading to your watch from MySports website
- Battery life: up to 11 hours with GPS tracking
- Multiple sport modes: outdoor run, cycle, swim, treadmill run, gym, indoor cycle, freestyle
- Accelerometer plus gyroscope motion sensor
- 24/7 heart rate monitoring
- Activity measurements: steps, active minutes, distance, calories burned and sleep
- Activity views: daily and weekly
- Goal tracking: steps, active minutes, distance or calories burned
- 3 GB (500 songs) of built-in music storage
- Upload playlists from your home computer
- Plays MP3 and AAC formats
- Bluetooth over-the-ear headphones provided
- Headphone battery life: 6 hours
- Compatible with any other Bluetooth headphones
- Battery life: 5 hours when using music, heart rate, and GPS
- Bluetooth Smart connectivity
- Uses TomTom MySports website, or MySports app for Android and iPhone
- Auto sync data transfer from watch to MySports
- Automatic data export to Strava
As technology advances in both the GPS and activity tracker spheres, and as the Venn diagram of those spheres overlaps to an ever-increasing degree, we’ve found a somewhat interesting (to us, anyway) quest: finding a device that works as a fully functional activity tracker, provides all the data we want for our training purposes, and comes in a shape and size that’s convenient and comfortable to wear around the clock. The closest we’ve come thus far was the Fitbit Surge device we tested this spring; now this fall the TomTom Spark 3 series presents some tight competition. In some ways, the Spark 3 outshines the Surge, but in others it’s lacking and honestly a bit frustrating. Either way, it’s definitely an option to consider if you’re on a similar “one watch does almost everything you need” search.
One of the most appealing aspects of the Spark 3 is its size and shape: it’s the thinnest and smallest GPS watch we’ve tested, making it barely noticeable when sleeping and easy to slide under the sleeve of a dress shirt after your workout. The watch face is smooth and simple, and the time/date display is clean and easy to read. A nice design innovation is the snap-in-place nature of the wristband instead of the traditional clasp and buckle system; this creates three points of attachment instead of just one, and it’s very easy to fasten or adjust as you need it.
Like other TomTom devices, functionality of the Spark 3 comes through a single four-way joystick-style button that scrolls through different screens and options depending on which way you push it. This structure combined with on-screen cues is generally pretty user friendly to follow, with a couple of notable exceptions. From a runner’s standpoint, the most frustrating example is the method of taking manual laps during a track workout. In order to take a manual split while running, you have to tap the watch face; under normal circumstances, this is the way that you get the backlight to trigger when you’re running in the dark, which is an excellent and much appreciated convenience, but it sometimes requires a few taps or takes a few seconds of lag time to recognize the function. When you’re running laps, you want precise splits – not simply a 2-3 second ballpark. Or if you happen to be doing a track workout in the dark (in the winter, it happens) and tap the watch face, the device gets confused about whether you want the backlight triggered or a lap split taken.
TomTom’s GPS devices are somewhat unique in that the watchband detaches from the device, which theoretically allows you to switch band colors if you choose to, although at this time there’s only one additional color aside from the one you purchase (TomTom plans to introduce more soon) and additional colors are sold separately. More practically, you have to detach the device from the strap in order to re-charge it, and replacing the device into the strap is frequently more cumbersome than we like.
From the standpoint of a GPS training watch, the Spark 3 is pleasantly convenient, user-friendly, and accurate. On matched runs with high-end Garmin devices, its distance matches within a tenth of a mile per every 5-6 miles. Satellite acquisition usually takes only a few seconds, and we didn’t experience any difficulty with loss of signal when running through tree cover or steep canyons. On the auto-lap setting for distance (our preferred setting), the vibration and beep are both very strong to make sure you notice them. The route loading and mapping features are a key upgrade from the Spark 2, and are possible thanks to an embedded compass feature in the Spark 3. This type of functionality has previously been found only on higher-end GPS devices, so it’s cool for TomTom to provide it in the more affordable fitness tracker category.
Another thing we like about the running functionality is the display of the watch face, which has a large primary display and two smaller displays side by side at the bottom. The large display can show clock time, stopwatch time, distance, laps, current pace, average pace, calories burned, current HR, or HR zone; you can change from one to the other or scroll through all of these on the watch face during the activity. The two side displays are crisp enough to read fairly easily, and can be customized ahead of time to display any of the aforementioned variables in a static display. Elevation data cannot be displayed on the watch, but it is recorded and shows up in route data after your workout (as will be described shortly). When used as just a GPS watch – not playing music – battery life of the Spark 3 with GPS activated is 11 hours, which should be enough to get you through up to a 50-miler without recharging.
Because it’s in TomTom’s fitness category, the Spark 3 is equipped with all of the features that have become standard in that arena: total steps, active minutes, distance, calories burned and sleep are all tracked throughout the day and can be displayed anytime by scrolling with the joystick button. Except for the sleep data, you can compare your current totals in any of these categories to a weekly goal that you’ve set for each. The optical HR feature of the Spark 3 Cardio adds continuous HR monitoring, and superimposes HR data onto your workouts so you can measure your overall efficiency – and less significantly, so Strava can assign you a Suffer Score based on your HR during the activity. Here’s another curious and frustrating wrinkle with the Spark 3, though: even though it tracks HR continuously, you can’t actually see your current HR on the watch unless you’re in an activity mode; if you’re just lounging around and curious about what your HR is, you’re out of luck unless you pretend that you’re starting a run.
All of the data from the Spark 3 flows to TomTom’s MySports app, and from there is sent automatically to Strava if you set up the connection. Syncing is generally reliable, but there are several times we have to manually jumpstart the Bluetooth connection in order for the watch to get discovered … and there were other times when it simply didn’t happen unless it was hardwired via USB. The app itself is fairly bare bones and not very user friendly to navigate; compared to the information-dense and highly intuitive interfaces from Fitbit and Garmin, there is a clear gap between those platforms and the TomTom setup.
Finally, the Spark 3 comes in a Music version, which supplies a pair of Bluetooth headphones that have a battery life of six hours on a full charge. This is a great option for those who like to have tunes at their easy disposal on the run. Music storage is actually fairly robust at 3GB, but the songs have to be downloaded from your computer – there isn’t a capacity for Spotify or other streaming apps to integrate with the watch. Song selection and play/pause can be done from the watch, but volume can only be controlled with the headphones – which is usually tricky to regulate behind your head feeling for the dial, especially with gloves on.
TomTom’s Spark 3 Cardio + Music represents another step in a very positive direction: big feature sets in smaller, user friendly, and affordable devices. The run features are adequate for virtually all of your training runs, and the watch is sleek and comfortable enough to keep on your wrist all day for activity tracking. It has a few quirks, but those are greatly outweighed by its conveniences. The benefits of optical HR tracking are enormous, but we don’t feel as strongly about using music while running – so be sure to consider the Spark 3 Cardio as an even more affordable option.