TomTom Runner 3 / Spark 3 GPS sports watch – TitaniumGeek

TomTom has released a few new products this year, whilst polishing and updating their existing Runner/Spark line. This review looks at the updates to the TomTom Runner 3 – a device proclaiming basic multisport function, whilst hiding a great running watch. Running, music and optical HR, what more could you want?

TomTom Runner 3 / Spark 3 GPS sports watch – TitaniumGeek

TomTom Runner 3

To label the TomTom Runner 3, as a whole new model over the previous TomTom Runner2/Spark Cardio might be a little bit of over sell, in the sense that this is more of an update or a refinement of  version 2. Certainly, if you are looking at the two units similarly priced, this is the one to pick up. All of the previous updates are now baked into the TomTom Runner 3 from opening the box, along with the addition of 24×7 HR monitoring, ticking the “activity/lifestyle box” whilst the addition of trail running support gives you guidance on off-road tracks with the GPS unit

TomTom uses two names for this watch line, the Runner and the Spark depending on where the watch is sold. The likes of John Lewis advertise the Spark pushing the activity tracker side of the package, whilst somewhere like RunandRide sell the unit under the Runner brand, promoting the as a multi-sport watch angle.

Frankly, I’m surprised as surely this confuses people, and creates two separate advertising costs?

Either way, the TomTom Runner 3, whilst having multi-sport features is best looked as a running watch, as things like cycling functions are rather basic and feel more of an add-on, rather than core features

Device design

TomTom Runner 3

One slight shame about the strap is that the lime green practically disappears when you wear the watch

TomTom Runner 3

I like the TomTom Runner design, especially with the lime internals on the strap. Although it should be noted whilst the unit looks like a regular watch, it’s more of a device which is then held onto your wrist with a strap.

Thankfully the physical design of the TomTom Runner hasn’t changed, so you have access to several other watch strap colours from the TomTom Runner 2 range if you want to brighten things up

TomTom Runner 3

Don’t mistake me, it’s a nice unit, especially with some of the loud colours you can get from TomTom for the straps, it’s just that without the strap the TomTom Runner 3 looks a little odd when removed from the silicone

TomTom Spark Cardio

You get used to seeing the shape of the actual watch module, as just like the FitBit Blaze you must entirely remove the device from it’s strap in order to charge it.

TomTom Spark Cardio

I’m not particularly a fan of having to keep removing a device from the strap in order to charge, as I get a little concerned about wear and tear over time. Never the less, the charger is a sort of clip/slot type affair, which you plug the sharper end of the TomTom into.

TomTom Spark Cardio

TomTom Spark Cardio

You can get the TomTom/charge combo does stand up a bit like a Pokemon, whilst you are waiting for it to charge. But as the screen will only show you battery percentage, it’s not really worth the balancing effort

TomTom Spark Cardio

Rather than opt for buttons on the side of the watch or a touch screen, TomTom has opted for a joystick style approach to navigation. Frankly, it looks a little odd, and when the watch is out of the strap it’s a little awkward to use

TomTom Spark Cardio

However, when the TomTom Runner 3 is on your wrist it’s a surprisingly effective way of getting around, especially seeing how the software adapts the menu as you do different activities

Sizewise the TomTom Runner 3 comes in at the smaller end of the scale when compared to the Polar M600 and the larger Garmin Fenix 3

TomTom Runner 3

The strap on the TomTom Runner 3 is frankly interesting you have SIX lots of pegs designed to keep the watch in place on your arm. Four in the actual buckle, and two on the end of the strap to keep it tight to your side. An interesting but again very effective way of keeping the watch secure.

TomTom Runner 3

There is nothing about the design of the TomTom Runner 3 which you can say is a simple copy from another manufacturer, this is all original TomTom Design, and quite effective. Perhaps that is one reason for the lack of external changes between the Runner 2 and the new Runner 3?

Optical HR sensor

 TomTom Spark Cardio

TomTom uses a LifeQ optical sensor for the TomTom Runner 3. I’ve mainly been testing the TomTom Runner 3 when running whilst doing a parallel test with the Garmin VivoActive HR, which gives an excellent comparison, price and performance-wise to compare optical HR recordings with.

One thing I don’t like straight away with the LifeQ sensor is that it feels very exposed. If you run your finger over the sensor, it almost feels a little rough, making me wonder how thick the protective coating is and what the longevity is likely to be. Minor point, but certainly something to think about!

TomTom Runner 3

A lot of the sensors we’ve seen used on Polar, Garmin and Mio devices use yellow or green LED’s to see the blood in your capillaries. It is very interesting to see the red and LEDS on LifeQ’s unit

Specifications

  • Battery life:
    • Activity tracking: up to 3 weeks,
    • GPS: up to 11 hours,
    • GPS + Heart Rate + Music: up to 5 hours
  • Dimensions:
    • Display size:22×25 mm
    • Display resolution:144×168
    • Weight:50g
    • Thickness: 13.7 mm
  • Communication: Bluetooth Smart
  • Waterproofing: 5ATM – so happy to swim and snorkel down to 40m depth
  • Storage: 3GB
  • Music Playback: Plays MP3 and AAC formats.
  • Activity tracker measurements: Steps, active minutes, distance, calories burnt and sleep

Activities supported:

  • Running outdoors
  • Running Treadmill – i.e. GPS switched off
  • Cycling
  • Indoor cycling
  • Swimming
  • Freestyle
  • Gym

Using the TomTom Runner 3

One thing I found with the TomTom Runner is that the wording of “up to” 5 hours of battery life with GPS and music is crucial to pay attention to.

Basically you need to charge after an activity, otherwise you’ll go back to using it as a watch and find it dead in a couple of days time.

Hence when you first get the TomTom Runner 3, it’s vital to give it a good charge – preferably via the computer as the charge cable also allows you to download the latest firmware and then GPS QuickFix data.

TomTom Runner 3

GPS QuickFix. There is a good one! Now regardless of having uploaded the latest QuickFix data to the TomTom Runner 3, that data is only valid for a few days, and even so requires up to a minute of waiting before the watch realises where it is. However, it is worth noting that I found the TomTom Runner 3 able to pick up a GPS signal faster than it’s predecessors

TomTom Runner 3

If you don’t have access to the internet for a QuickFix data update, though, such as if you are travelling its better to go back to the Days of Yore, where you had better start the TomTom Runner 3 searching for a GPS fix whilst you get yourself ready for the run/activity.

MUSIC!

TomTom Runner 3

I have recently come to realise that devices like the Polar M600, and the TomTom Runner 3,  have the right idea when it comes to having music storage and playback built directly into the device

If you think about it for a second, most people are carrying their phone with the on a run, and frequently that would be used solely as a music playback device. Admittedly many people may also be using their phone as a communications device in case they have a problem, but I’ll confess, I do enjoy going for a run without any attachments at times, and the review period I’ve had with the TomTom Runner 3 has let me do that more easily!

Although it would be interesting to find out exactly how much of the bulk on the TomTom Runner 3 is due to the Mp3 playback? Given the form factor is unchanged from previous models without MP3 payback, that’s either efficient case design, or in reality doesn’t have much impact on the device size

TomTom Spark Cardio

To get your music on the simply plus the watch in, and dump the music into the playlist folders when you open the watch in USB mode TomTom Spark CardioThe benefit of having to plug in to upload the MP3’s is there is no need for additional software if you are using a friends computer, whilst on your own computer it allows chance to ensure that the  TomTom Runner 3 is using the latest firmware.

 TomTom Spark Cardio

Yes pure OTA updates are better, but at least there is an additional reason here you may be plugging the TomTom Runner 3 into a computer more often. When your tunes have been loaded to the TomTom Runner 3, you then need to pair your BlueTooth headphones

TomTom Runner 3

This review unit came with the TomTom Bluetooth in-ear phones, which are surprisingly comfortable when using with TeamSpeak when Zwifting, although the microphone is a little sensitive, picking up more trainer noise, than when I use the normal in-box Apple headphones

Pairing any headphones with the TomTom Runner 3 is a very simple procedure, just park your headphones in pairing mode, and let the TomTom go looking

TomTom Spark Cardio

Once paired you can listen to all of your music, or have the specific playlist for different activities, selected using the joystick to navigate around.

TomTom Runner 3

The TomTom Runner 3 comes with 3GB of storage onboard, which is about 750 songs, surely that would cover most people’s workout playlist?! However it’s worthwhile noting that the TomTom Runner 3 doesn’t have to be in a workout mode in order to play songs, so is essentially a small portable MP3 player as well!

Activity tracker

TomTom Spark Cardio

As with every other device today, we’ve an activity tracker on board with the TomTom Runner 3. It will display your activity in terms of active minutes, steps, distance and calories burned. All using the joystick to toggled between the widgets.

You can set yourself goals, which then have positive feedback of little cheers when you hit them

TomTom Spark Cardio

In addition, we also have sleep tracking, and resting HR, all pretty standard stuff today, but vital to round out TomTom’s online portal and the TomTom Runner 3 in general

TomTom Runner 3

As well as looking at your day’s activity on the way, you can also view your week totals, with one extra push over on the joystick . Which rather than displayed on a circle, is shown on a heptagon.

TomTom Runner 3

This is particularly useful with regard to the active minutes that can also be viewed as a week total. Some manufacturers are working on the idea of 150 active minutes a week, although new NHS information is suggestion 60mins a day.

Now TomToisn’tnt automatically setting week goals, which is nice. Personally, I find the ease of  being able to look at my weekly totals, trying to get even slightly close to that 420 target is a nice approach to that challenge

Running

TomTom Runner 3

OK, let’s cut to the chase. The TomTom Runner 3 excels at running. It’s just really good. The GPS sensor seems to take forever to determine your location if you haven’t updated the QuickFix data in while.

TomTom Runner 3

 

I have been really impressed with the running side of things – So why was that?

Simply when you do get out on the run, the TomTom Runner 3 deals with the run really well! All of the screens make sense, they are clear to see (even through my finger smudges) Using the toggle stick makes sense too

On the above picture, you’ll notice the TTomTom Runner 3o says “Please wait” and below a little cog. That is because pressing down on the toggle stick allows you to choose different training types

TomTom Spark Cardio

TomTom Spark Cardio

The intervals being interesting as it allows you to specify what each section of the interval will entail, rather than just giving you a few interval options

TomTom Spark Cardio

So what can it display?

The main display will show clock, duration, distance, pace, average pace, speed average speed, calories, HR and HR zone.

TomTom Runner 3In addition, you can user customise the two smaller fields within the run settings to the following fields

TomTom Runner 3

 

TomTom Runner 3I was quite impressed with the visuals when it came to running against your previous times, which reminded me of TomTom Car GPS imagery for a virtual runner option, with the distance in front or behind, helped by the arrows

 TomTom Spark Cardio

You can delve a little deeper into some of the fields, like the heart rate, when you are on a run you can look to to see what benefit each zone is giving you towards your training

TomTom Runner 3

It’s this sensible use of screens, and displaying data that I really like about the TomTom Runner 3 very much like many devices in the Polar watch line. They have the deep data, but that doesn’t mean it cant be applied in a user-friendly manner

Optical HR on run

Going for a long run in Ostuni, the ground was exceptionally flat, allowing me to try and keep a steady state along the run, for the most part, the TomTom optical HR agreed with the ANT+ chest strap on my Fenix3 and the optical sensor on the Garmin Vivoactive

 TomTom Spark Cardio

Cycling – indoors and outdoors

TomTom Runner 3

As mentioned earlier, cycling in both forms is more of an addon for the TomTom Runner 3. I don’t think that is made any clearer than with the fact the TomTom Runner 3 can detect certain cycling sensors – (specifically Speed/cadence). But you have very little effect on the actual pairing process, and is just a case of toggling the sensor detection on or off

TomTom Spark Cardio

As a result I have found it to be a little sketchy at times actually making a connection.

That is the end of the world when you are doing an outside ride, as you’re going to be getting all of the GPS data on speed and distance, whilst the optical HR covers the heart rate. But you are not going to get any power meter data, and separate speed and cadence information as mentioned above can be variable as to whether you’ll make the pairing

Going out for a spin, I found that the optical HR tracked quite nicely on a gentle spin to the shops

TomTom Spark Cardio

Then there is an indoor cycling mode

TomTom Spark Cardio

Unfortunately this turned out to be useless for recording rides on Zwift, as my speed sensor is on the front wheel, and I was not able to detect the speed sensor on either the KICKR, Drivo or Flux which in spite of them being able to send out Bluetooth speed data, I was unable to get the TomTom Runner 3 to register. But hey at least I had the optical HR :/

In another device this might be more of an issue, but the TomTom Runner 3parks itself very much in the running camp, and other watches of this grade – such as my favourite Polar M600, similarly have just rudimentary cycling functions

Swimming

On the TomTom Runner 3 we’ve pool swims only, no outdoor swims using the built-in GPS. Reinforcing my opinion, it’s a great running watch with some additional features.

As with the Garmin Fenix 3 the optical HR sensor isnt activated, and there is no option to connect a separate bluetooth swimming HR sensor

 TomTom Spark Cardio

 TomTom Spark Cardio

It’s vital before you jump in the pool you’ve set the actual pool length, which can be as short at 15meters,

But really reinforcing my opinion that the TomTom Runner 3 is a great running watch with a few bits added on, see the 0.08 in the pool picture? That’s my distance in KM’s. At that point I sort of gave up on the swimming features!

Trail Running/Navigation

This is one of the new features on the TomTom Runner 3 and is exceptionally easy to set up, especially if you are using Strava or have the .GPX file of the place you want to run.

Using Strava as the example, find the activity and export the associated .GPX file

TomTom Runner 3

Literally, drag and drop the .GPX file onto the Trails (or races for that matter) part fo TomTom’s MySports page

TomTom Runner 3

This then syncs your uploaded routes to the TomTom Runner 3 when you connect you TomTom Runner 3 next, or sync with your phone

TomTom Runner 3

On the TomTom Runner 3, you select the trail from within training,

TomTom Runner 3

Select your particular trail, and head out

TomTom Runner 3

The screen routeing is relatively simple, initially giving an overview of the route,

TomTom Runner 3

The trail function in the TomTom Runner 3 is not a turn by turn system, but a heading is a good start and will direct you to the waypoints if you decided to begin your route before you have reached the actual start

TomTom Runner 3

Conclusion

I’ve championed the Polar M600 as a reliable running watch. Given the HR, detailed screen graphics, and gorgeous user interface – but the day-to-day battery life is terrible. The TomTom Runner 3 as a focused running watch of choice is also a great bet, you get a simpler approach to running, but a longer day-to-day battery, if slightly marred by poor battery life when doing workouts, basically needing to charge after each one.

Based on this, I feel it’s appropriate to deploy the TitaniumGeek stamp once again, even if TomTom might be over egging the pudding by calling this version 3, perhaps Runner 2.1 didnt have the right ring to it!!

TomTom Runner 3

DISCOUNT OFFER FOR TITANIUMGEEK READERS

TomTom Runner 3

After the success of ZwiftCon at RunandRide, Matt and myself had a chat. We are going to trial the idea of a TitaniumGeek reader discount at Run and Ride, starting with the TomTom Runner 3 review.

This IS NOT A COMMISSION SOURCE FOR TITANIUMGEEK, BUT AN OFFER FOR READERS INITIALLY

We’ll develop things over the next few weeks/months, but currently, we’re looking at discounts with each review.

So to kick off if you enter the following code, all lower case:

tigeek

This will stack with existing offers on the site, giving you 15% of any TomTom products – take a look here

TomTom Runner 3

Drop us feedback on this idea to @goRunandRide twitter feed, or directly in the comments below

About James Gill

A runner first, a cyclist second, and when pushed a swimmer. Working as a GP registrar, I found that I went from walking 12miles a day on the hospital corridors to sitting in a chair. Whilst at medical school, I'd run 10km in an evening just for fun, but having lost the general activity required to be a hospital SHO, consciously being active has now become more important - well until I broke myself!

  • if you want absolute accuracy, Drivo, for an all round package – Hammer. It is one of the most stable units I have tested

  • Don

    So Hammer or Drivo for Zwift?