TomTom’s sports watch range has been getting progressively better with each subsequent generation (not bad for a company best known for satellite navigation) but the new Spark finally lets you leave your smartphone at home, thanks to built-in Bluetooth for music playback with a paired headset.
Previous TomTom watches weren’t really built for everyday use; the Runner Cardio was rather chunky and it was most likely only used for a workout, then removed while you went to work. The contrasting red and white colour scheme didn’t exactly help it blend in either. The Spark is different, with a much smaller, restrained design that you should be able to wear throughout the day – and through the night as well.
With a large mono LCD display and TomTom’s signature One Button four-way remote control underneath it, the Spark is slightly slimmer on the wrist and won’t stick out as a sports watch if you wear it to work. There’s now a lot more choice when it comes to customisation too, with two possible strap sizes in a multitude of colours. The larger band re-uses the two-pronged holes from the Runner Cardio, which helps create a more even seal on your wrist for better heart rate monitoring from the optical HRM sensor in the underside of the watch. Pulse tracking was still quick to find a reading with the smaller, one prong strap, however, outpacing the older Runner Cardio by several seconds.
The 3GB of on-board flash storage should be enough for 500 songs, with TomTom’s PC software loading tracks via iTunes or Windows Media Player. Playlists are supported, and 30 minutes of curated Ministry of Sound tracks come pre-loaded onto each watch. Unfortunately Spotify isn’t going to happen any time soon, as there are some technical issues with offline playlist licensing algorithms that won’t be resolved in time for launch.
You can cue up a track on the watch, but all other playback controls will need to be done on a paired Bluetooth headset. A forthcoming firmware update should add more on-watch control, but there’s no indication as to when it will arrive.
Anyone that likes to mix up their activities will be pleased to hear TomTom has added multi-sport tracking to the Spark – there’s no basic ‘running only’ model. Cycling, swimming, treadmill running and general gym activity can be recorded, then synced to a smartphone or PC for analysing and archiving through TomTom’s MySports website.
The Spark’s newly found fitness tracking abilities are somewhat basic, however, with step counts available on the watch with a tap to the left. The accompanying MySports smartphone app also gives a daily readout showing how active you’ve been and sleep tracking highlights the points during the night your were active. However, there’s no advice on how to get more sleep, leaving the data rather meaningless without proper context.
There are no smartwatch features at present, but TomTom has said call and message notifications should be coming in a future firmware update. You won’t be able to interact with notifications on the watch, but you will get caller ID so you know who’s trying to contact you.
With a thinner design, more accurate and faster heart rate monitoring, and the addition of Bluetooth audio playback, the TomTom Spark looks like a fully-featured sports watch that you won’t mind wearing once you’re done with your workout. Whether the fitness tracking features will have what it takes to scare FitBit or Jawbone remains to be seen. At £189, the Spark Cardio doesn’t look too expensive given its features, and if TomTom follows through on its promises of more in future firmware updates it could become quite a competent smartwatch as well as a sports watch. Either way, we’ll be taking a closer look in a full review a little closer to launch.