Review: TomTom's Spark (Cardio + Music) fitness tracker brings the tunes
The TomTom Spark (Cardio + Music) is an activity and fitness tracker which could let you cut the number of gadgets you take on a workout. In addition to a full array of sensors including GPS and heart-rate monitoring, it boasts built-in music storage and playback via Bluetooth. Gizmag recently spent a month with the tracker, to see what it's all about.
The latest fitness watches from TomTom are a departure from its previous models which have generally been sport specific. The flagship Spark Cardio + Music we tested brings a lot to the table including all day activity tracking, GPS, heart rate monitoring, multi-sport features … and music. There are also other variations of the watch which don't boast all features.
The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music is aimed at users who want more than basic activity tracking, those who want to use things like heart-rate and GPS data to make the most of their workouts. This makes the Spark a rival for devices like the Fitbit Surge, Basis Peak and Garmin vivoactive, as well as sport specific devices.
The watch comes in two parts, the face and brain unit of the TomTom Spark, and a watch strap which it clicks into. The strap, which features a secure fastening, comes in two lengths so you can get the right one for your wrist size, and a number of colors. This means you can switch them when you fancy a change, or when one gets grubby with sweat (something many fitness watches don't allow). Also included in the box is a proprietary USB charger which clips onto the face section of the watch.
Getting set up with the TomTom Spark is relatively simple, though it will require you to connect the watch to a computer to link to a TomTom MySports account, and set one up if you don't already have one. Once that's done the watch quickly and easily pairs with your smartphone, which for the most part will be where you review training data.
In terms of what the TomTom Spark is capable of measuring, it's a lot. On the general activity front there's the ability to log steps, active minutes, calories burned and distance moved. If you keep it on overnight, you can also log how much sleep you are getting. Goals can be set for reaching targets based on a number of these metrics, again something lacking in many trackers, which means if measuring active minutes makes more sense for you than steps, it's just a couple of button presses away.
Multisport modes also mean the TomTom Spark can be used whether your training involves running, cycling, swimming (yes it's also waterproof) working out in the gym, or using a treadmill or exercise bike. For each of these options the watch will also turn on GPS tracking or built-in heart-rate monitoring depending on what makes sense. Depending on what features you're using, battery life ranges from a solid three weeks (just activity tracking) down to just 5 hours (GPS, heart-rate and music playback).
While the Spark is considerably slimmed down from some previous TomTom devices, it's still by no means a style icon, and you might not fancy wearing it with a suit or on a night out. We found that for general wear it's comfortable and, apart from the knobbly protrusion which houses the GPS unit and the controls buttons, feels like any other full-sized watch. However, we were less convinced about wearing it for sleep tracking, in this situation its size was a constant annoyance … though to be fair we've felt the same about most other trackers we've tested.
The display on the Spark makes it easy to see whether you're checking the time, or looking at your stats mid-run. It's big enough that you won't be squinting or holding it inches from your face, which is a good thing if moving at pace. Despite knowing it wasn't a touchscreen, we spent the first couple of days swiping at the screen before getting used to the physical control buttons under it. Also, while we thought we'd wish the screen was color, the monochrome display was absolutely sufficient, and easy to see in any lighting conditions. If it's dark, quickly covering the screen activates a handy backlight.
For the duration of our test, we used the Spark as an all day activity tracker, and took it along for a number of runs, bike rides, swims, and sessions of gym work. During this we tested its GPS, heart-rate tracking, and its music playback feature whereby users can upload 3 GB of music (around 500 songs) which can then be listened to via Bluetooth headphones.
While we'll get to the more typical activity tracker features shortly, it was this music ability which we were most looking forward to playing with when we heard the Spark was on its way to us. I personally dislike carrying a phone on a run (the ping of notifications is hard to ignore) but it's often the easiest way of giving a workout a soundtrack. As such, it was liberating to leave the phone at home, and we had no problems with the Bluetooth playback and control.
It's easy to transfer music files to the Spark via a computer using the MySports Connect app, and tunes can be organized in different playlists. This means you can have different playlists for different types of workout. While this isn't up there with a tempo based Spotify music selection, it's a nice feature to have.
In addition to music playback, the TomTom Spark can also deliver audio performance feedback during training modes via the Bluetooth headphones. This includes things like telling you to pick up pace or slow down to get your heart-rate in the right training zone, or how close you are to reaching your goal. Again, while not up to the standard or usefulness of the Moov Now, it's a great feature to have.
When taking the Spark for a run we were able to keep an eye on metrics including steps, speed, distance and heart-rate, which were easy to see on the big screen. Indeed, we were able to scroll through a selection of metrics which would be more than enough to keep our data-needs satisfied on a run. And once you've finished working out and have synced with a smartphone, you can also see more detailed feedback such as stride rate and a map of the GPS data. On that last one, the Spark is relatively quick to lock onto GPS compared to other GPS watches. In our experience it took about 20-40 seconds to get there after using QuickGPSfix.
When taking part in other sporting activities the information provided by the Spark is just as comprehensive. For example Cycling can track speed and pace along with distance and GPS location as well as heart-rate, while Swimming can measure metrics including pace, stroke rate and number of laps (there's no heart-rate monitoring in the water). There are also modes for Treadmill, Indoor Cycling, as well as Gym which can be used for a number of activities where you might want to log heart-rate and active time; we used this when doing yoga and workouts with weights. Freestyle can be used for general activities where you want GPS data, and there's also a more basic Stopwatch mode.
During our time with the Spark we frequently took it out alongside other trackers to see how its tracking compared, and the good news is that it was very close to our trusted devices. For example, on a 15,000 step day the Spark was within 100 steps of our Fitbit Charge HR, and during strenuous exercise the heart-rate data was comparable to that of the Wahoo Tickr X, though the Spark typically took a bit longer to respond to changes.
Other functions worth noting include the daily activity goal motivation, which comes in the form of a progress wheel counting towards your daily target. This can be steps, calories, distance or active minutes, all of which can be checked on the watch for either the day or week. This flexibility of target metric is something we wish more activity trackers would adopt, and having this info available on the wrist can give you that extra motivation.
Indeed the ability to change so many settings on the watch itself is a simple but great feature, and something that's lacking on many trackers which force you towards the apps if you want to change anything. Here you can adjust personal settings for things like weight and height (which is admittedly less likely to change) along with inputting settings like the size of bike wheel, or the length of the swimming pool. You can also set a recurring timed alarm for the watch, though unfortunately there's no idle alert to prompt you out of periods of inactivity.
That said, you are still going to use the TomTom MySports app when you want to review data in more detail. While the app is now much improved on previous generations, with a clean interface and simple access to information, it's still a ways behind the offerings from Fitbit or Garmin. It's also a disappointment that sharing to other services can feel limited and convoluted compared to rival devices, though you can export data to Endomondo, Strava, MapMyFitness, RunKeeper, Jawbone and Nike+.
There are a lot of things to like about the TomTom Spark. It has solid all-day activity tracking, an impressive array of sensors with GPS and heart-rate monitoring and the built-in music storage means you get the chance to leave the other gadgets at home. As such, this could-well be the watch to get for people who want the best in activity and multi-sport tracking.
The only things holding us back from saying this is the best activity and multi-sport tracker on the market at the moment are the app, which lacks polish and some features, and the lack of smart notification features available on the Spark. That said, the company tells us that smart notifications are due to be rolled out imminently, and if implemented as well as some Garmin activity watches, this could really make the Spark something special. Equally TomTom appears to be focused on improving the app and ecosystem, so we could also see improvement there.
The TomTom Spark Cardio + Music is available now for £190, or US$250.
Product page: TomTom Spark Cardio + Music
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