TomTom Spark review

TomTom Spark review

Music playback, heart rate tech and GPS on the wrist. Does the Spark have it all?
TomTom Spark

The TomTom Spark GPS sports watch was unveiled at IFA in Berlin back in September. With GPS, heart rate monitoring and built-in music playback all in one watch, it's aimed at runners, cyclists and gym-goers fed up with taking their smartphones along for the ride.

It's not a new idea – the Adidas MiCoach Smart Run does much the same. But that doesn't mean wrist-based music and GPS run tracking combos are commonplace. There are a just a handful of capable devices out there, which gives TomTom's blending of fairly commonplace tech a chance of success.

At $249.99 for the TomTom Spark GPS + Cardio reviewed here, it represents a good deal against Garmin's new Forerunner 235 that features an optical HR sensor but no music playback. You can also grab versions without heart rate and even devoid of GPS if you want.

But can the Spark set a running watch PB? We strapped up to find out.

TomTom Spark: Design

First impressions count for nothing – which is fortunate as the TomTom Spark hardly blows you away out of the box. It's a chunky old piece of black plastic, with an LCD monochrome screen. There is a backlight, obscurely summoned by placing your hand over the display.

The strap is another hunk of black rubber that lacks the finesse of silicon, which has come into vogue this year, but features a loop with two poppers that click into holes in the band for an extremely secure fit.


Impressions deteriorate further when you come to charge the Spark. You have to pull it out of its strap to reveal the charging points which you click into a the USB cable. It's a proprietary cable, as ever, and it all feels a little agricultural.

As we'll come onto shortly TomTom has added activity tracking smarts to the Spark to count steps, active minutes and calories through your day. That means wearing it all day. Some we know people wear sports watches such as the Polar V800 all day and it's a matter of personal – but for our money the Spark isn't something we'd ever make part of our daily attire.

The Spark isn't touchscreen and all control is done by a four-way button under the screen. It's an extra bulge that does nothing for the aesthetics, but we have to say it's an absolute success in terms of usability. The menu system is really well designed so browsing is logical and easy, and when you're out on a run the big buttons are easy to manage with sweaty hands, making it easy to find the information you want on the big screen.

In fact, the UI is superbly well designed in all aspects of the watch. It's easy to show the desired metric while running by tapping up or down, and you can flick into the music you want to listen to and even change elements of your workout just using forward and back to slide effortlessly through the menus.

TomTom Spark: Activity tracking


The TomTom Spark will track your daily activity as well as sports training sessions, which is an increasing feature on GPS watches to cover off the impending threat from Fitbit and Jawbone.

So long as the Spark is on your wrist it will monitor the amount of steps, the distance you walk (estimated by arm movement, not GPS) and calories burned will be logged. You can check them on the watch by tapping the left button, or sync with your smartphone.

The data is accurate, by and large, and the step counting as in-line with the Jawbone – give or take a few hundred steps in the day.

TomTom also does a good job of presenting the data. You can see daily and weekly totals by hitting left on the watch's control pad and then down through the different metrics, and the also makes it easy to group daily, weekly, monthly and annual totals of steps, runs, or other sports.

It will also track sleep time, although you can do that by noting the time on the clock when you wake up. There's nothing in the way of deep sleep graphs or advanced metrics.

TomTom Spark: Sports tracking

The activity tracking is a neat sideshow to the main event, which is the sports tracking. The TomTom will track running and cycling, as well as swimming, treadmill, gym workouts, indoor cycling (with a cadence sensor) and open training.

We're focusing on running here as without a cadence sensor most training sessions feature the same metrics: heart rate, GPS tracked distance and time. We will update for cycling focused metrics when we get the right sensors.

You swipe right to access the list of sports and right again to start a session. The Spark is one of the quickest watches we've tested in terms of getting a satellite lock, which sounds minor but isn't when you're stood in the cold waiting to start your run.

All the usual metrics are present (distance, pace, heart rate and time) are all displayed on the watch, and you can press the left and right buttons to swap between views mid-run. You can then press down to get advanced analytics on those, too.

The really impressive part of the Spark is the amount of training options accessible from the watch itself. Start a run and tap down to access options and you can start an interval session (more of a watch-based bleep test than a carefully managed training programme), choose a pace to run within and even a heart rate zone. The watch will then alert you if you're running outside of those zones.

Another awesome feature is the ability to race against any previous run. If you do a regular route – which let's face it we all do – you can select to race against it from the watch. It will then tell you how far behind or ahead you are against yourself.

None of this stuff is pioneering. The Adidas already has these features. But the ease in which these modes can be initiated from the watch is impressive, and it helped us warm to the TomTom Spark.

Our only complaint about the Spark is when you finish your run. It just dumps you back to the home screen without a summary of your run stats, which is a bit of a kicker when you just busted a gut going for a PB. You can access it – but it took us a while to find. You need to essentially start a new run and then press the up button to find a list of recent activities where you can view your efforts.

Finally, a word on battery life. You'll get around 5 hours of GPS tracking from the TomTom Spark, and it's been designed to ensure marathon runners won't get caught short in a race – and that was borne out in our own training sessions. In terms of daily tracking, you'd easily get a week's battery if you didn't turn on the GPS.

TomTom Spark: Heart rate training

We don't expect much from wrist-based heart rate trackers, especially after our own in-depth comparison of straps vs optical HRMs showed wild disparity – and our hearts initially sank when TomTom announced that it had ditched Mio tech from the Spark. Instead, it's using a sensor supplied by LifeQ, a new company that's making its debut on the Spark.

However, we needn't have worried.

Our testing showed the TomTom Spark to be the most accurate optical heart rate tracker that's been put through Wareable's tests. As you can see from the data below, not only did the average heart rate data match up exactly to Garmin's chest strap, it was never more than 1bpm out. A highly impressive performance.


You can also use on-watch modes to train within heart rate zones, which is great for those who like to train via bpm rather than pace. An even neater touch is that you can tweak your bands on the web portal so they match your personal physiology. If you need help finding those bands, perhaps our guide to heart rate training will help.

The zone based training itself is good, and you get a voice to confirm you're on track. A nice touch is that it doesn't bother you relentlessly if your heart rate soars out of the desired zone, and you can clearly tell from the graph whether you need to up your pace or drop off. That way you can get on with your training in peace.

TomTom Spark: Music playback

The TomTom Spark's headline feature is its ability to play music via a pair of wireless headphones, negating the need for runners to strap up a phone just to play some beats.

We got excited during the announcement that a Spotify friendly watch was on the cards, but alas, the Spark just plays MP3s. The only streaming friendly device so far is the Apple Watch, which hooks up nicely to Apple Music.

You add MP3s via TomTom's software TomTom MySports Connect, which is available for Mac and PC. It's more fiddly than it needs to be, and when using a Mac you're forced to upload iTunes Playlists which is really frustrating. We don't use iTunes for good reason – it's rubbish – so having to a) download MP3s and b) add them in iTunes to get them onto the watch was a real throwback to 2006.

PC users don't even get an easier ride. Again, you have to use the supplied software as dragging and dropping MP3s doesn't work, despite the watch appearing as a drive.

Once you're ready to run you start a session and then hit the settings menu to choose the music. Each playlist appears individually, from where you can play the tunes in order or shuffle them. You can't choose individual tracks. We tended to use hour long mixes to run with as they're readily available online for free, so ended up just setting one mix per playlist. If you have a bunch of songs in a playlist it's unlikely you will want to choose specific ones.

It's not hugely easy to switch music mid-run, so make sure you get your playlist to the right length before you head out.

Pairing headphones is really easy, and TomTom has put the option front-and-centre. Just press the up button to scan for headphones and put your buds in pairing mode. We did find that when we paused a run that the connected dropped which was super annoying.

The music features on the TomTom Spark are a real triumph. It was liberating to listen to music and run without a phone – we loved it. The adding and playing of tracks is a little laborious, as is the lack of controls when running. But all is forgiven when you're listening to your music out on the trail, unencumbered.

TomTom Spark: App

There are two elements to the TomTom Spark ecosystem. The first is the web app, which is connected to the app when you connect to your PC and Mac, and fire up the TomTom MySports Connect app. This is very similar to the way Garmin Connect works.

The second element is a phone app that you can pair with the watch directly.

The TomTom MySports web app is the nicest way of looking at your post workout data, and you get a full breakdown of all the metrics you'd expect: distance, duration, pace, calories, heart rate and cadence are all listed, and you get a graph on which you can plot different elements. You also get a map of your route as well.

However, it's all a bit limited. Compared to Garmin Connect where you can download training plans, get social, plot running routes and really dive into your data the TomTom web app feels a little underwhelming. It's a good review of your last workout, but there's nothing to get you outside again tomorrow.

TomTom Spark
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The phone app offers much the same, albeit in a less luxuriously large format. The syncing here is also a tad tiresome, and it takes a while for phone and watch to pair. There's actually no process to do it, just hold them nearby and wait for them to get connected.

The only saving grace of the TomTom MySports ecosystem – and it's a biggie – is that you don't actually need to use it at all. When you set up your Spark you can opt to connect your account with a number of apps including RunKeeper and Strava. As long-time users of both apps it's brilliant to have runs seamlessly uploaded to those services, so you keep your run history without requiring your phone. It's particularly great for Strava users, who can still see their Segments.


TomTom Spark
By TomTom
The TomTom Spark does nothing revolutionary, but bringing music to your wrist is liberating. Yes it's limited to old-school MP3s and not Spotify, but the feeling of smartphone freedom for music-loving runners is tangible. We also loved being able to hook up Strava and RunKeeper to our workouts, and it's easily the most accurate heart rate system we've tested. The slightly underwhelming ecosystem does is a slight downside, but the TomTom Spark but still comes heartily recommended.

Hit
  • Play MP3s without a phone
  • Top notch heart rate tech
  • Lots of training modes from the watch
  • Plugs into RunKeeper and Strava
Miss
  • Ecosystem lacks training plans
  • Tough to choose music mid-run
  • Hardly high fashion
  • Adding music is a bit of a chore

61 Comments

  • Elfsiren says:

    Hey. I'd like to known if it does vibration for alarms and if you've been sitting for too long. Also, it competes with the Forerunner 225 not the Forerunner 220. The 225 is the one with the heart rate sensor and activity tracking. 

    • TomTom says:

      Hi Elfsiren, to answer your question, the watch does vibrate as an alarm. It will not vibrate when you have been sitting for a certain amount of time, though you will be able to check your activity stats on your watch, in the smartphone app and on your computer. The TomTom Spark will monitor - in addition to tracking start-stop activities like running and cycling - steps, distance, active time and calories.

      • SS76 says:

        Thats too bad.  Idle alerts is a deal breaker for me since I need the activity tracker to remind me to get up and move around from my desk job.   I have the Jawbone UP3 which does many great things, including enhanced sleep tracking, smart alarms, and idle alerts, but this watch does things my UP3 does not.   I'll be returning my UP3 and looking for something as a replacement, which I hoped this watch would be, but the activity tracking features and sleep features need to be improved.  I assume offering all day activity tracking is trying to appeal to a different client than simply your runner, so this is something you need to consider.

        • mgitlin says:

          When I purchased the TomTom Runner a few years ago, their on-watch firmware/software left a lot to be desired, but eventually got to be great.

          I think one benefit to TomTom is their development team seems to be open to consumer input and then puts it into their upgrade schedules.  I wouldn't hesitate to reach out to their CS and shoot them that idea.

  • dawnda says:

    Does it track your ru

  • dawnda says:

    Does this track your treadmill runs?

    • TomTom says:

      Hi Dawnda, yes, it can track your treadmill runs. One of the multi-sport modes of the TomTom Spark is treadmill, which calculates distance and pace.

  • icecreamw says:

    James, unless I missed it in your review, it is possible to read the screen in the dark: put your palm over the display to active the backlight.  Perhaps change your review? Thanks!

    • j.stables says:

      Amended, thanks.

  • JeffR says:

    How does the lap function work? On the previous version you had to slap the face of the watch, but it was very finicky. Sometimes it wouldn't register laps at all, but in the rain, every drop would trigger a lap.

  • Rajib says:

    hi

  • everydayfella says:

    I've fallen for this trap one too many times declaring an accuracy victory before a full validation test. Repeat your running test with interval training, and see if the optical HRM fails. Steady runs are easy, but only optical HRMs that can withstand interval training can fall in the range of chest-strap replacements. I've seen the Scosche Rhythm+ manage intervals quite well, but not the Mio. Since the TomTom is quite new, it'll be a while before I can test it out as well.

    • capzfelix says:

      Did anyone comes back on this interval training testing?

  • revans says:

    What metrics will the swim mode measure?

    • j.stables says:

      It's fairly impressive for swimming: strokes, swolf (number of strokes per length which is an efficiency measure), length and distance and time. It doesn't do HR or GPS in swim mode. We will update for a proper swimming review shortly.

      • Jeffers2015 says:

        If I recall, the Multi-sport has a minimum swimming pool length of 15 metres before it starts to measure any stats! - Is this the same?

  • danielstone says:

    Hi,
    The Spark looks impressive, but can you confirm if it comes with options for cycling/mountainbiking and an altimeter (for hiking)?

    Thanks

  • jillpetterson says:

    i was slightly disappointed to discover that indoor cycling sessions cannot be tracked, unless you have a speed/cadence sensor attached to the bike. Which I'm assuming is hardly possibly when using spinning bikes at the gym, as you would constantly be attaching an removing it. Am I mistaken? I'm currently using they gym activity feature for indoor cycling.

    • reklawj says:

      A new update allows you to track indoor cycling without a sensor.

  • mjc_edwards says:

    One comment - this review fails to mention the Motorola MotoActv watch.  I have one and love it.  Not only does it have a built in MP3 player (and 8 GB of storage), but I can also set up and load training plans that come with coaching.  The MotoActv is no longer made - it was released in 2012 but I have yet to find its equal.  I only hope that mine lasts a long time.

  • Angelglass says:

    It says battery life with Gps is 5 hours. Is this using music also

  • Jeffers2015 says:

    Great review so far - If remember the Multi-sport has a minimum swimming pool length of 15 metres before it starts to measure any stats! - Is this the same?

  • Markg1408 says:

    Hi,

    Is it possible to add podcasts to the watch? And if so how easy is this?

    Thanks,

    Mark

    • alsfrog says:

      If you put them in a playlist on your itunes it should be very easy. I found transferring playlists from itunes very simple and convenient.

  • MAC says:

    I want to known if the mps 3 works while you are swimming?

    • alsfrog says:

      Everything I've read says no.

  • hugogtr says:

    hello, 

    i had read this review two times i have to ask to make shore.  

    I do not like very much the integrated HRM. does the cheaper model has the option to chest HRM?

    Thanks

  • Surfwareble says:

    Hi,

    Is it safe to surf with it? I know it is waterproof but i am afraid that it will come out of the strap easily...

  • Minotauro says:

    It is possible to use in soccer? The GPS can follow the areas of the football field where the player played, and view those locations on a map?

  • Minotauro says:

    What is the best fitness tracker to use in the soccer? After the game I need to analyse the player position in the field during the game and the heart rate.

  • Gymtechnerd says:

    Pros- nice to leave phone behind, quick GPS pick up, heart rate monitor pretty spot on, waterproof, streams music (kind of), status are accurate

    Cons- Bluetooth interface is spotty, depends where you are but Bluetooth will drop headset quickly, battery life drained in 2 hours after run and lift session, loading music from PC, app is not great compared to Fitbit etc, no phone notification available when in range,

  • capzfelix says:

    Does it support continuous HR monitoring like Fitbit Charge HR?

    • j.stables says:

      No, it doesn't.

  • Oliver says:

    DO NOT lose the charging cord or you will end up with $249.00 worth of plastic junk. The charging cord and accessories are not available in the USA and after NUMEROUS phone calls to customer service, which is down right horrible and sounds like it's based in India, there has been no resolution and no cord provided. Just a "I'M SORRY"

  • MelissaJo says:

    lI want clarification around the water resistant rating - how can you swim if it is only water resistant? How deep can you go with it?

    • m.sawh says:

      Hi, the Spark has a 5ATM rating, which means you can use it in the water up to 50 metres deep. I've used it in the pool quite and out in the sea a few times and it's absolutely fine. Hope that helps.

    • Saborio says:

      You can go 50 meters deep with the watch,, according to other reviews Ive read.

  • sem says:

    Will this watch measure the distance when kayaking?

  • sem says:

    Does the watch measure distance when kayaking?

    • j.stables says:

      It would, but battery life isn't that great for a day's kayaking. A couple of hours, sure. 

  • alsfrog says:

    I just completed my second workout with the Spark yesterday. I'm very disappointed in the accuracy of the heart rate monitor. The first workout seemed to read much better. Yesterday's workout it read my heart rate terribly. I would be doing high intensity exercise and it would say my HR was in the 90's when I know it had to have been 150-160 bpm. I took it off several times to dry the sensor, to dry my wrist, to tighten the band, to loosen the band all in an attempt to get an accurate read. If I can't get this function to work, the watch will have to go back. This is a non-negotiable for me. Any solutions out there? Or do I settle for highly inaccurate HR data for the other features of the watch? It looks like I may be headed back to the chest strap... :(

    • j.stables says:

      I found my heart rate performance to be spot on, but I have spoken to other reviewers who had issues. I'm not really sure what to suggest, I haven't been able to replicate the problems. It's a real shame if you can't get the heart rate accurate, as the features on the watch are great. 

  • Kata says:

    Does the watch measure karate movements such as punching and kicking. I also do a lot of heavy bag training in the gym as well as HIIT training, push-ups, crunches, weights, etc. How accurate does the watch measure these activities.

  • sheruns says:

    I purchased a TomTom Spark yesterday along with a pair of Jabra wireless headphones.. Needless to say I found out quite quickly that another area of let down for TomTom is its inability to pair with just any wireless headphone, including Jabra.  Definitely something worth considering in the review. 

    On the whole the device has been quite surprising. I tested the HR accuracy yesterday against a chest strap and it provided similar results. I find the buttons much better than trying to touch a screen with slimy hands, and the function of cupping the face of the watch to turn the back light on momentarily in the dark is super nifty. 

    I am still working my way through the other functions but on the most part it seems to fit my requirements quite nicely. It would probably rate the device even higher if TomTom could supply a pair of wireless headphones to go with the device! 

  • twitchec says:

    I bought this product after reading several reviews, including this one. However, I would stay away from this product if I were you, there are many persistent errors when trying to sync and a failure to sync results in the activity being lost altogether, there is no mechanism for retrieving a failed upload so all the HRM and GPS data you wanted is gone forever.

    Hope this helps somebody who is debating whether it is worth the price, personally I don't think it is fit for purpose.

    • Th4d0S says:

      You should be able to retrieve the data file through the desktop app. 

  • Th4d0S says:

    I've owned this watch for three weeks now and am very happy with it. HR and GPS tracking have been on par with a Garmin Edge 500 with Garmin HR strap when doing cycling and also compared to run tracking with the Strava iPhone app.

    I have had no sync issues with iPhone 5S and the TomTom app. Syncing to Strava works perfectly so far even for stationary bike workouts (normally when doing a manual activity on Strava for stationary you have to edit the activity after putting it in). 

    Please note that the review says you have to take the watch out of the band to charge. This is not correct. The charger slides under the strap and slots into place without having to take it out. 

  • wbromfield says:

    Having been given this watch for Christmas and using if for the last 10 days for a number of runs and a cycle, I have found the following:

    1. no auto-pause function - impossible to get a view of how your run is going when you have to stop and start a couple times

    2. no km/mile notifications (pace etc)  - you have to keep checking your watch while running to see your distance are and what your pace is rather than it just telling you, plus it is impossible to know what your average over the last km/mile was

    3. the lack of a post-exercise summary screen is very annoying, and when you track back to the event there is very little info, you have to sync it to your phone to get the details

    4. the steps per minute count is way off - on two runs over a couple days I recorded 225 steps per minute on one run and 180 steps per minute on the next despite running the same sort of pace and distance

    5. the unit doesn't sit firmly in the strap. when pushing the navigation button it clicks in and out making it feel cheap. 

    The HR feature is a nice add, but in my opinion, I would not recommend this watch at all. For someone who exercises a lot and has owned several devices over the years, i am not impressed.

  • RJM says:

    I got one for Christmas but am very concerned with the charging mechanism/design.  It looks like (a) it will not last; and (b) can very easily get broken if you can't "slide" it in exactly right.  I have been having a hard time getting it to actually "nest".  Also, despite having charged it both through the computer and directly plugged in, the battery only shows 1/2 charged.  Is that normal?/

  • Saborio says:

    Hi, I bought my Spark  GPS watch in the US. When I tested it in the US and Mexico it worked perfect with accurate distance, pace and HR readings. Nevertheless when I came to the Philippines the watch cant find a GPS signal which makes it impossible to start my workouts for Bike, Hike or Run. Can anyone guide/help with this issue? Is the tomtom signal is limited to certain countries?

    • SamL says:

      Hi the watch will work in the Philippines, but since you have traveled thousands of miles since you last used it - it may take 10-20minutes to acquire a signal on first use here.  I'm interested in buying one if you're selling it.

  • Roy_Gala says:

    Tom Tom CS is a let down.  Asked about update for phone notifications as I believed it has them and was told "We are going to launch devices which will support phone notification functionality but for which we don't have any dead line when they will be launched."  I'm yet to find a company that functions without deadlines.

    Subsequent to mentioning that I am thinking to exchange it for a Garmin, TomTom told me "Hope you have got the refund by now."

    Overall, product is great.

    Pros:

    - nice styling
    - comfortable wrist band
    - good battery life
    - syncs with run keeper and others
    - music storage means you can run phone less
    - indoor mode
    - progress prompts during activity
    - clever back-light function
    - decent in-app stats, graphs & maps

    Cons:
    - cumbersome to load music but how often do you do it?
    - HR is during activity only (improving battery life) so lacks info about recovery time
    - only one alarm and no silent alarm option
    - no interface appearance nor function customisation
    - apparently TomTom don't care if you get the Garmin

    Worth noting:
    - running phone-less means no phone in the event of an emergency and no post-workout analysis till you get to your phone.
    - requires Bluetooth earphones

    - GPS effectively needs "quick GPS" updates from your phone before a run

  • Brad says:

    can anybody tell me if the TomTom music spark sync's with all wireless earbuds.   I have a Flexion (Flex Tech) wireless earbud device and would like to use them with the TomTom.   

    I am interested in the TomTom primarily to play music and track runs via GPS ( get rid of my phone) so the other things mentioned are of less importance to me.  

  • myrxa says:

    Can anyone tell me if the tom-tom music spark's Audio performance feedback will tell me my current pace, kms, interval etc through my headphones?

  • viktordite says:

    Did anybody has tried the new 24/7 HR mode in depth, so far?

    • capzfelix says:

      so far, it's prefer good actually but i really not quite sure what you are trying to ask. If the watch is took out from the wrist, the 24/7 HR will not record anything (the reading just empty in the chart).

  • capzfelix says:

    Does anyone know if the inability of streaming out the HR reading from the watch externally through BT LE is a hardware limiting factor or it's a software issue? If it's hardware, then pretty much nothing much to say but if it's software, I bet all the Spark user here would love to have this as a feature. If that day comes, I can truely leave my chest strap at home during my exercise session.

  • M67 says:

    my Spark Cardio HR reading at start of run is way too high (186) for my age (67) but after 1 km settles back to training bpm 120. This affects average bpm for the run. Is this normal for the watch to do this?

  • Qoelet says:

    How bad is the sleep tracker? I mean does it provide any valuable info except for the sleep time? I'm still debating whether I should get a fitbit charge hr or this one. I'd like something to track my soccer performance such as distance covered and heart rate plus a gym buddy. Not really interested about music playback

    • m.sawh says:

      I've found the sleep tracker fine in terms of accuracy, but the data is pretty basic and it doesn't appear to get uploaded to the MySports app at all. I find the heart rate monitoring accurate though. Hope that helps!

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