TomTom Spark 3 review

TomTom’s GPS watch becomes an even better running partner
TomTom Spark 3

The TomTom Spark 3 is the successor to our current top running watch pick, the TomTom Spark. With the arrival of the Spark 3 (also known as the TomTom Runner 3), the sat nav expert is sticking largely with the same formula while making some changes in the design and tracking departments.

You still get GPS, multiple sport tracking (when you need a break from the running), 24/7 activity tracking and a heart rate sensor when you need to add in some interval sessions to your training. Crucially, it's still the only dedicated GPS running watch that lets you stream music without your phone.

Essential reading: TomTom Touch review

TomTom is adding route exploration for the first time, building in a compass sensor to make it easier to find your way home or discover a new running trail.

While the Spark might not get the same attention as Garmin and Polar's running watches as a relative newcomer to this world, it's steadily becoming a serious rival. We've put the new Spark 3 through its paces to see if TomTom is evolving the Spark into the ultimate running watch.

TomTom Spark 3: Design

TomTom Spark 3 review

We won't dwell too much on what the Spark 3 looks like because there's not a lot to report if you're familiar with the first Spark. It still has the same removable watch module and screen with the optical heart-rate sensor built into the back. That does mean you can slip it easily into any other Spark straps you already own. It also uses the same charger, which we're not the greatest fans off, but it's not going to budge from that cradle when you need to power it up.

TomTom has changed the strap though. The look is the same with a few colours thrown into the mix, but now the inner side of the strap is softer and more textured to help wick away sweat. If you're planning to wear it 24/7 for activity and sleep tracking, then that's a good thing. Having worn the Spark all day, we know that it can get quite sticky underneath the strap and there's been a noticeable difference on that front. You'll also get a less of a strap imprint on your wrist as well.

The strap design tweak along with a few more colours to choose from still makes this every bit a sports watch, but it certainly feels a lot more svelte than what you can get from Garmin or Polar. It doesn't try to masquerade as something more stylish, and that's fine with us. For now. It's light, comfortable, still has a really intuitive user interface and is very easy to use.

TomTom Spark 3: Sports tracking

TomTom Spark 3 review

As far as tracking is concerned, it's more of the same. There are seven sports modes along with a stopwatch option offering the very same metrics as its predecessor. There's also activity and sleep tracking although it still feels very secondary to the whole experience and very easy to ignore. Press left on the big physical button and you can see a daily or weekly breakdown of steps, calories, distance covered and active minutes. Data is in the same ballpark as the Jawbone UP3 we've worn alongside it for the past few weeks. But as we've said, it still feels very much of an afterthought.

TomTom Spark 3 review

GPS tracking compared: TomTom MySport v Runkeeper

In terms of sports tracking, we focused our attention on outdoor running, but also put treadmill running, swimming and gym modes through their paces as well. For running, it's still a fantastic performer. From the training modes to the quick GPS signal pick-up, it still impresses. That GPS pick-up on average takes about a minute to a minute and half on average, and while it's not as rapid as most Garmin running watches, it was quicker than the Polar V800.

Crucially, it's still just very easy to set up and get out running. If there's one slight niggle we still have, it's that inability to view a workout summary without having to jump into tracking mode again. It's worse still if the battery is low and you're only using it in watch mode and can't check in on your last run.

There are notable improvements for treadmill run tracking, something that wasn't all that great on the first Spark. It's still accelerometer based but on the few runs we put it to the test, it's a lot more consistent with tracking distance covered on the treadmill. It makes a great swimming companion too, once you correctly configure the pool size. The original Spark won silver in our big swim tracking test, and it's more of the same from the Spark 3.

TomTom Spark 3: Route exploration

TomTom Spark 3 review

The main reason you'd consider upgrading from the Spark to the Spark 3 is the new route exploration feature. This basically means you can now go out on a big run and the route will be mapped out on the watch screen, helping you navigate your way home a little easier. You can now add routes to the watch as well, which is handy if you want to run an approximate distance or just freshen up your running routes. It's a feature that usually crops up on more expensive sports watches, so it's definitely a positive to see it appear on the Spark 3.

The reason you can do this on the Spark 3 is because TomTom has now included a compass, which means unfortunately you're not going to see this feature crop up on the older Spark.

If you just want to get out running and view your route, you'll need to calibrate the compass first, which is done in the sensors section inside the watch settings. It requires rotating the module in different directions, and we'd suggest taking the module out of the strap to do this as it didn't calibrate when we left it in. Then you can start tracking a run as normal and you'll now be able to skip to a screen where you can an overview screen and a zoomed-in screen to view your route. After a few runs and doing my best to get lost, it did get me back to my starting point.

The more interesting application is the ability to upload routes. TomTom supports the ability to upload GPX files, the most common GPS data file format. To get one uploaded to the Spark 3, a quick Google search will quickly find you what you need, but a good place to start is MapMyRun. Here you can easily create routes or search routes and download them to your computer. Then you'll need to upload them through the TomTom MySport web app. It's a pretty painless process and then you're good to go exploring. When you start to track a run, you can now select a trail. It's as easy as that and it's worked perfectly fine for us on the few runs we've tried it with.

According to TomTom, you're not required to calibrate the compass before activity but the Spark 3 will offer to calibrate if it considers it's needed. You can still calibrate whenever you wish as well.

Will it be enough to convince Spark owners to upgrade? That really depends on how much you value the option to mix up your running routes. We certainly enjoyed having it and it'd definitely come in handy taking the watch abroad or into unknown territory. We think it's a great addition, and it works well.

TomTom Spark 3: Heart rate training

TomTom Spark 3 review

Optical heart rate sensors get a rough ride (especially from us) and we think rightfully so. We've seen a handful of devices that provide accurate date. An exception to that rule was the TomTom Spark. Since the company moved from using the same technology used in the Mio Alpha 2 and Fuse, it's proved to us that optical heart rate tracking can be good.

Heart rate tracking compared: TomTom MySport v Polar H7

Thankfully it's more of the same with the Spark 3. Heart rate data is recorded as you're tracking but you can also take part in heart rate zone based training, letting you work in Sprint, Speed, Endure, Fat Burn, Easy or Custom zones. It's a nice addition to the overall setup, but crucially, accuracy is still great.

We put it up against a Polar H7 heart rate monitor chest strap for several runs and the sample below of the data compared to the H7 paired with Runkeeper shows it's still a reliable monitor. Mixing things up with some high intensity training yields similarly good results. The Spark 3, like the original Spark, houses one of the best optical heart rate monitors we've tested.

It's not 100% perfect. You will see the odd outage, perhaps twice in a two hour run, but this is absolutely a problem with chest straps as well. What you get with Spark 3 is a responsive and relatively lag-free experience that means you can effectively and reliably manipulate your heart rate to the right zone during your training – and that's what it's there for.

TomTom Spark 3: Music playback

TomTom Spark 3 review

The ability to stream music from your watch without your phone continues to be a feature that gets overlooked by the likes of Garmin and Polar (although that has been remedied with the new Polar M600 Android Wear running watch). The Apple Watch Series 2 and Android Wear watches let you do it, but nobody has really nailed the concept on a GPS running watch yet.

TomTom introduced the feature with the first Spark and not a whole lot has changed, which is both good and bad. There's still 3GB of storage but you are still strewn to uploading iTunes playlists to the watch via TomTom MySports Connect (Mac or PC). It's a little more slick now, scanning available playlists on your computer, but we wish there was an easier and less fiddly way to cram your tunes onto the Spark 3.

Once the tracks are on, you'll need to pair some Bluetooth headphones to the watch. But again, it's seamless sometimes and at other times not. I've tried numerous pairs of wireless sports headphones including TomTom's new ones, and I've had mixed results trying to get them to connect. Getting non-TomTom headphones to connect requires a bit of a knack.

When it does work, you can simply select playlists from within the settings menu on the watch, but you still can't select individual tracks.

The key takeaway is that running with music without carrying your smartphone along for the ride is awesome. We relish the freedom every time we hit the roads for our training runs, and along with the top heart rate performance, is why we recommend the TomTom Spark again and again. But there's still definitely some work to be done to make music support more seamless – and our dream of a Spotify enabled running watch is yet to be realised.

TomTom Spark 3: App

TomTom Spark 3 review

Another area that is desperate from some improvement is when it's time to review your data. There's still a MySport web app, which offers the same data as the smartphone app along with a couple of extras. You can drill into all of your activities to see aspects like splits, heart rate graphs, mapped running routes and details on pace and stride rate.

The web app is also the place where you can upload trails to the watch. You can't do this on the mobile app. You can also upload a collection of races like nailing a 10k in 50 minutes or running 26 minute 5ks. The overall experience is a lot more streamlined than Garmin Connect or what you get in Polar Flow. Our issue here is the clunky presentation of data.

TomTom Spark 3
Wareable may get a commission
Amazon

The good news is that you can still pull your data into third party apps including Strava, Runkeeper and MapMyRun so that's TomTom's saving grace. But we were hoping for more on the app front in the future.

If you're hoping the Spark can step up and entirely replace a smartwatch, sadly you're out of luck. There's no notification support here, which was promised with the original Spark. Hopefully it's just a software update away from making it a reality, but don't hold your breath.

TomTom Spark 3: Battery life

TomTom promised up to 11 hours battery life in tracking mode on the last Spark and with the Spark 3, you can expect to get a similar performance. It's well equipped for a long marathon and running an hour or so a day for an entire week.

That performance really depends on how many of those sensors you keep turned on though, like the heart rate sensor, which is an obvious drain on battery. It'll comfortably get you through a week, but when you compare it to what you can get from a similarly priced Garmin or a Polar watch, it still lacking a little in the stamina department in tracking and standby modes.


TomTom Spark 3
By TomTom
TomTom hasn’t made radical changes with the Spark 3, which might disappoint some. What it has done is made it more appealing for runners. It’s done that by adding a feature that is commonly associated with more expensive running watches. And it works. It also remains one of the easiest running watches to get out of the box and start using as well. GPS and heart rate accuracy is still great too. It’s not the perfect package yet though, particularly from a software perspective. But if you’re looking for a feature-packed running watch that delivers where it matters most, the Spark 3 remains our top choice.

Hit
  • Still really easy to use
  • Accurate GPS and HR data
  • Nice addition of route exploration
Miss
  • Music support still a little clunky
  • MySports app needs a makeover
  • Activity tracking still a secondary feature


Shop for recommended running watches on Amazon

Garmin Forerunner 235
Garmin Forerunner 235
$329.99
TomTom Spark 3
TomTom Spark 3
$225.00
Polar M600
Polar M600
$251.08
Fitbit Surge
Fitbit Surge
$249.95

Wareable may get a commission


10 Comments

  • alehel says:

    I've hiked many times with my Spark using freestyle mode. Do you know if TomTom plans to lett us change these activities from freestyle to hiking on the MySports website now that they support hiking on their other watch?

    • chefboyct says:

      It will never happen... you should have browsed through the forum.. this route planning was one of the feature promised to the old spark customers! 

  • chefboyct says:

    TomTom has lost me as a customer forever. I will never buy any of their product (any line of product) ... The most outrageous to introduce product line (I own a TomTom Spark 2) with endless issues (basic functionalities) and instead of fixing them, they release another watch... ? How does that work? and instead of offering customer their money back for their faulty product? endless connectivity issues (hence no phone notification via bluetooth as it simply can't even sync with your phone for uploading data). They wanted us to give them feedback (the route was one of them) and instead of implement into the Spark 2 and fixing issues, they now want to make quick buck from unaware customers. STEER AWAY FROM TomTom Product... Period. You are welcome to check the forum and see it for yourself!

  • fitness60 says:

    From the review. "The ability to stream music from your watch without your phone continues to be a feature that gets overlooked by the likes of Garmin and Polar"

    This you can read the same day as Wearable has this article

    http://www.wareable.com/trending/trending-hiding-from-android-wear-3270

    The author write about the Polar M600 that has music on board! Even more strange when u consider that MS had an intervju with the boss of Polar mid august and a big part was about the Polar M600!  

    I think Spark is a great watch but it still lack the same thing as it did when James S wrote the review for Spark 2.

  • overstim says:

    I want to be excited for this- my Spark2 was a great watch, but Tomtom's customer support has been TERRIBLE. First I had no watch for 6 weeks because I broke the proprietary charging cable and TomTom had none in stock. Then the band broke after 6 months, and yup, again, no bands in stock. that took 3 weeks. And I had to settle for a different color.

  • crayzyyy says:

    "That GPS pick-up on average takes about a minute to a minute and half on average, and while it's not as rapid as most Garmin running watches, it was quicker than the Polar V800"

    V800 usually takes a lot less than a minute to get GPS signal. How did you test this? Had all the devices been used and synchronised recently? Seems like something wasn't right.

  • preddington says:

    I am reading a lot of negative things about the BT Headphones failing to pair, or dropping out during runs. I'm not sure if these reviews are for the runner 2 or the runner 3. Did you have any such issues with the spark/runner 3?

    • Anominus says:

      Look at the tomtom site itself they tested several headphones even on left or right wrist position. Other brands that are not mentioned had no steady results.

  • mangusti says:

    Over 60 seconds for GPS fix is horribly slow for a device that is in active daily use. I would also like to know how you tested this. 

    "The reason you can do [route exploration] on the Spark 3 is because TomTom has now included a compass, which means unfortunately you're not going to see this feature crop up on the older Spark." 

    Umm... This statement is simply not correct. A compass sensor is not required for navigation. For example Garmin eTrex 10 doesn't have one and works fine for following preloaded routes. And I bet most car GPS systems don't have a compass. What the compass does is allow instant orientation of map screen when you turn on a spot without moving in any direction.

  • Robster says:

    My experience of the spark is that Bluetooth connectivity to a phone is poor, and app updates often require re-pairing, which is generally a nightmare. Also the app notifications are a mess, I can only get rid of them by shutting down the app in the Android app settings. The app itself is horrendous, I just auto forward the data to strava, which is a great feature. Other than that the watch is excellent for what it does. The only extra feature I'd like to see is to display altitude, and real time altitude gain, which would be very useful for my training.

What do you think?

Connect with Facebook, Twitter, or just enter your email to sign in and comment.