- Convenient phone-free running
- Simple, intuitive interface
- Compass-based trail guidance
- Accurate heart rate monitoring
- Design hasn't changed much
- No smartphone notifications
- TomTom MySports app needs work
- Review Price: £220.00
- Built-in GPS
- Compass for Route Exploration mode
- Optical heart-rate monitor
- Long battery life
- Built-in music player with Bluetooth headphones
Running watches are one of those devices where you only pick up on some of the finer nuances after you’ve put them through countless miles of testing. I’ve been ramping up towards a half marathon recently, which gave me the perfect opportunity to reassess the TomTom Spark 3 from an alternative perspective.
It’s a running watch that I’ve found has largely stood the test of time. Its feature set for the money still makes it great value, with reliable GPS, heart rate monitor and extensive battery life. While its design is probably beginning to look more dated than ever, the four-way controls do work a treat when you’re out running and simultaneously trying to interact with the watch whilst dodging pedestrians. I can see why TomTom has been so averse to giving it a proper design overhaul.
The trails support is also fantastic. I moved house and so didn’t really know the running routes around here, which always makes you a little apprehensive about going out for a longer run. Thanks to the .GPX route support, I just jumped online and used PlotARoute to generate a predetermined distance based on my starting point, which can also be a circuit. You can also use MapsToGPS in conjunction with Google Maps to easily generate a .GPX route to load onto the watch.
Even if you just want to go out and start running, the digital breadcrumbs left by the GPS, combined with the built-in compass, means you can always easily re-trace your route back if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. It’s great if you travel often and still want to get in the miles.
Related: Best running headphones
I have noticed a few annoyances with the Spark 3, though. Mainly around the optional Music element of the higher-end models. First off, loading music onto the watch is a pain, requiring you to create playlists either in Windows Media Player or iTunes, rather than just letting you drag and drop folders as is the case with many integrated MP3 players. Even when creating playlists, occasionally the watch’s built-in player doesn’t seem to want to obey track orders, too.
Then there’s pairing Bluetooth headphones. There’s no volume control on the Spark 3 itself, so you’re reliant on adjusting volume using your headphones. Only problem is, some headphones, more often than not the new wave of ‘truly wireless’ headphones, don’t always have integrated volume controls and thereby rely on you adjusting the volume from your source device.
So with my favourite truly wireless buds, the only option is to have the volume at maximum, ruling them out. In fairness, it’s not a problem if you use the bundled headphones that come with the TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music bundle, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you already have your own favourite running headphones.
Aside from these shortcomings, the TomTom Spark 3 remains a great value runner’s companion.
Related: What is VO2 Max?
TomTom also announced a number of software improvements recently, which should be rolling out this month. These include a new Fitness Age score, which is based on your VO2 Max. It’s great to see VO2 Max estimations finally come to TomTom devices, as it’s historically been a rather strange absence considering all the component pieces required were present. This will compare you against other people in your demographic and is designed as an extra measurement metric and layer of motivation.
You’ll also earn new Fitness Points based on your Fitness Age. The more intense your workouts, the more Fitness Points you’ll accrue. It’s designed to make you want to run more than just walk, as an example. Finally, there will be Personalised Workouts, covering running and cycling, available to follow from your wrist. The updates are expected to roll out in September and look to be welcome improvements.
Our original review continues below.
What is the TomTom Spark 3?
The TomTom Spark 3 is, as the name suggests, the third-generation GPS running watch from maps and satnav specialist, TomTom.
The Spark 3 offers running, cycling and swimming tracking, alongside daily activity and sleep monitoring. It features a built-in optical heart rate monitor and can store music on-board to playback through Bluetooth-connected headphones, which are included in some package options. All this adds up to a complete package that doesn’t require either a chest strap or smartphone for use.
The addition of a compass in this particular model means the Spark 3 is able to offer route tracking, and has the ability to guide you back to your start point or follow uploaded routes. So explorers can head out worry-free, even if without a smartphone.
The Spark 3 is available in four variations: the standard model (£119.99); Music+Headphones (includes built-in MP3 player, £149.99); TomTom Spark 3 Cardio (includes optical HRM, £169.99); and Cardio+Music (includes MP3 player and optical HRM, £219.99). I reviewed the top-end model.
Like the previous generation, there’s also the identically featured TomTom Runner 3 range, which has a slightly different strap design but is available in the same variations and provides the same level of functionality.
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TomTom Spark 3 – Design and Setup
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – right? That appears to be TomTom’s thinking with the Spark 3, which hasn’t changed significantly in the looks department since the first version.
The current Spark 3 is sleek, slim, comfortable and features a four-way control pad that works perfectly. The monochrome screen is clear and helps with light or dark viewing at a glance, which is ideal for running. It’s also possible to turn on a backlight by covering the screen with your hand.
The strap, which can be swapped out for different colours, is also super simple to clip into place. Offering some elasticity, it sits comfortably in position while remaining tight enough for wrist-based optical heart rate tracking. I barely noticed the watch was on, found it fitted under most sleeves and was even fine to wear it in bed without any discomfort.
TomTom has done well to deliver a no-frills design that just works. Some might argue that the design is becoming a little stale – or that it isn’t the best-looking watch out there – but it’s a functional finish that works well for a technical training device such as this. The Garmin Fenix 3 offers far more data and smarts, but it’s so large and heavy that wearing it day-to-day can become a hassle; there’s no such issue with the Spark 3.
TomTom Spark 3 – Activity Tracking
When it comes to GPS tracking, TomTom is a veteran. The Spark 3 is a great example of this with super-accurate and consistent tracking of routes and, on the whole, quick acquisition of GPS signal. The only time this wasn’t the case was when I went abroad; finding a signal took up to 10 minutes. That said, I didn’t have a phone connected that offers QuickGPSfix, which uses the phone’s location to help triangulate the watch faster.
Related: Best Fitness Trackers
New to the Spark 3 is the addition of a compass, which allows it to offer a route-tracking feature. This means you can go out, get lost, and still find your way back to the start using an on-screen trail line. Think of it like digital breadcrumbs.
The watch lets you zoom in and out, so you can stay on track back to the start point. Crucially, it isn’t too pushy, so you can take the route of your choosing back to the start point – a great way to make you feel free and secure at the same time.
The routes go beyond finding your way home; you can also upload trails. This is achieved by saving previous routes that you want to do again, or even by downloading .GPX files from the internet and putting them on the watch.
This means it will be possible to plan routes online, or use those already shared by others through services such as Strava, in order to get out and run a specific route. The integration could be simpler, though, perhaps using TomTom’s MyDrive route planner, which allows you to plan and easily upload .GPX routes for cars to TomTom’s satnavs.
Heart rate tracking comes built into the watch by way of an optical HR monitor. Say what you will about wrist-worn heart rate accuracy, but I found this to be one of the better examples.
When compared with a chest strap on a competitor device, the Spark 3 held its own. Heart rate was accurate, but I did notice a little lag when out. Doing hill runs, for example, meant spikes in heart rate that the watch struggled to display immediately.
That said, on looking at the data when synced afterwards, it appeared to have recorded accurately. In fact, since most people are likely to train in zones, rather than looking at tiny heart rate detail variations, this shouldn’t be an issue; zone movements appeared to keep up.
As you might expect, heart rate tracking doesn’t work for swimming. Also, you’re limited to indoor tracking only where you set the pool length. While this was accurate, it won’t help open water swimmers – but since they’re likely triathletes, who aren’t really the target market of such a watch, it’s no big deal. That said, open water swimming and heart rate monitoring while swimming are both features found on the admittedly more expensive Apple Watch Series 2.
TomTom Spark 3 – App and Guidance
The TomTom MySport app is okay, but it still has some work to do. While the app can be connected via a smartphone for quick syncing of data to analyse training, it can be glitchy to connect. In addition, you still have to connect to a PC to save or upload routes and to transfer music across to the device.
All that said, the app is clean, easy to use and works well for the sports for which it is tailored.
It’s a shame you can’t link up sports for triathlon training, however. There are workouts you can activate to work on targets, such as running a 26-minute 5K pace or a 3-mile run in under 25 minutes, for example. These have you racing against a virtual partner, with the screen showing if you’re ahead or behind and by how far – a really great motivator to keep your pace up.
But when compared to the competition from Garmin and Polar, however, there’s a lack of training programs on offer and any guidance from the data collected. That said, the price point and simplicity of the Spark 3 do position it as a device that’s more for beginners.
Thankfully, the TomTom Spark 3 does play nice with other platforms. That means you can share you exercise information with platforms such as Strava, MapMyRun, Runkeeper, Endomondo, MyFitnessPal and more, helping to mitigate the lackluster MySports experience.
Related: Best Headphones for Running
While the TomTom Spark 3 can track daily activity and is super-easy to use and read while training, it won’t offer smartphone notifications.
However, with the Spark 3, TomTom isn’t going after the smartwatch market, but rather staying focused on being a GPS watch. As such, the inclusion of a built-in music player and Bluetooth headphone connectivity means that there’s no need to take out a phone with you when you’re training.
TomTom Spark 3 – Battery Life and Charging
TomTom says you should be able to get a good five hours of GPS, HR and music on the go. Alternatively, using GPS, the watch should last for around 11 hours on a charge.
In reality, TomTom’s figures are pretty accurate. In fact, I was impressed by how long the music player worked and found myself using the watch and Bluetooth headphones as my go-to music player when out and about since it’s so easy to use.
Charging requires a dedicated cradle that has a USB cable end. That means it can be easily plugged into your other USB plugs, wall sockets, a laptop or anything else that has a USB port. The clip also fits and locks well, so you know it’s charging, and it won’t come loose in the way of some of the magnetic options used by rival running watches.
The included Bluetooth headphones are good for four hours of playback according to TomTom. I found this to be an underestimate, if anything. These beauties kept going even when blasting out music at a decent volume – loud enough to drown out cars when running on busy roads, so be sure to stay aware of your surroundings. The bass is slightly lacking, though, so it’s likely battery savings are made that way. But we’d prefer longevity over bass any day for headphones used just for running.
Should I buy the TomTom Spark 3?
The Spark 3 is an ideal GPS watch for those looking to start out in running, cycling or swimming as well as regular exercisers. It lacks some of the more intricate metrics that rival devices offer that are likely to appeal to more hardcore exercisers, but the price and clear layout make the Spark 3 an attractive proposition.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find another watch that offers GPS tracking, optical heart rate monitoring, on-board music plus that track-back compass-powered feature all in one – the fact that TomTom offers all of this for £220 is amazing.
This watch is comfortable, well-sized for day-to-day use and offers activity tracking. Those who are after smartwatch functions such as phone alerts will be disappointed, though – this is very much an exercise-focused device.
The TomTom Spark 3 really does pack in a lot for the price. Despite being cheaper than a lot of the competition, this watch allows the wearer to get out minus a connected smartphone. That freedom is something lots of people seek when exercising, but in the past has meant sacrificing music.
While tracking of position via GPS and optical heart rate monitoring are both impressive and work well, there’s little to be done with that data. More after-training analysis, pre-training plans and a general tweak of the app to work without a PC would be welcome additions to perfect this otherwise excellent GPS watch.
Battery life, even with HR tracking and Bluetooth music playing while in GPS mode, will be more than adequate for daily users and charging is a simple process.
The TomTom Spark 3 is a comprehensive offering that works well and is offered at an affordable price, which makes for a very compelling GPS sports watch indeed.
The TomTom Spark 3 is an all-encompassing GPS sports watch that means you can leave your smartphone behind.