When it comes to the best outdoors watches, Garmin has had the market sewn up. Its GPS sports watches have set the gold standard, but for our money, it's TomTom that's offered the best response with the new TomTom Adventurer.
The problem with Garmin's outdoor watches is that they're eye-wateringly expensive. Despite the Fenix 3 about to be superseded by the Fenix 5, many models still cost in excess of $500.
TomTom has seen an opportunity, and prices its watch at an attractive $349. But can it compete in terms of data and performance? We put the two head-to-head to find out.
Update: A word to the wise. We've based the above prices on the RRPs. The Fenix 3 is currently being treated to a range of discounts because of the impending Fenix 5. Check Amazon for the latest offers.
TomTom Adventurer vs Garmin Fenix 3: Design
For our money the Fenix 3 wins in the design stakes, but it's not that clear cut for everyone. First, it's absolutely massive, with a 47mm body that dominates even above average-sized wrists. What's more, if you plump for the Fenix 3 Sapphire or Chronos version (just $599) it gets ludicrously heavy to wear.
The watch is controlled by five chunky buttons which surround the watch's case. The user interface is pretty easy to navigate on the colour display. But don't expect HD visuals, colour is sparingly used and washed out, but it's nicely splashed about for things like heart rate zones. There's a blacklight for night-time use, accessed by pressing the button at 10 o'clock.
The TomTom takes a different approach, using plastic to keep the Adventurer impressively lightweight. It comes with a bright orange strap which is pretty bright and borders garish. That kind of eliminates all-day wearability for those who don't make sports a part of their lifestyle, but we were happy to wear it on weekend jaunts to the countryside.
The screen is a low-res monochrome LCD panel, which is easier to read but not as versatile as the Fenix 3. There's also a backlight which is summoned by covering the screen with your palm and lasts about five seconds.
The software is pretty easy to navigate – you get used to it quickly. It's controlled by the four-way control under the screen, which is fairly easy to use with sweaty hands. The two devices are pretty much even stevens in terms of usability.
TomTom Adventurer vs Garmin Fenix 3: Features
For the extra money, it's not surprising that the Garmin Fenix 3 offers more complete features. There are modes for running, cycling, swimming, hiking and skiing – and obscure modes for paddleboarding, golf, rowing, hunting, fishing, the gym and more. What's more, more sports can be added using the Garmin Connect IQ feature.
The TomTom Adventurer covers off the key sports here, with running, trail running, cycling, swimming, hiking and skiing all catered for. Obviously the versatility offered by Garmin and its app store of additions is preferable, but for most people, the cheaper Adventurer offers everything they need.
The TomTom Adventurer boasts heart rate sensing from the wrist, which is also available if you plump for the Garmin Fenix 3 HR. The TomTom Adventurer fared better in our accuracy tests, although the Garmin uses heart rate data for all-day tracking.
But the Adventurer bundles in two features that leaves the Garmin reeling. The first is music playback and you can add MP3s to its 3GB memory, and listen with a pair of Bluetooth headphones while you work out. It's a bit old school adding music to your watch via your PC/Mac, but it's liberating working out without a phone for tunes.
The second is perhaps even more powerful. The trail exploration feature means you can add GPX files for routes to the watch, and fire these up when you start a session. That could mean grabbing GPX files for hikes from the web or creating running routes in apps like Strava. The routes are then displayed on the watch and you can ensure you're staying on track. It's hard to emphasise how much we loved this feature, both for getting out in the wilds of Scotland and completing cross-London runs in uncharted territory.
Garmin does manage to land one punch on the TomTom's, however. Its smartwatch functionality will show pretty much any notification from your phone on the display. And while both make a good fist of activity tracking, the Fenix 3 HR will keep tabs on your resting heart rate, making it a much better fitness tracker replacement.
TomTom Adventurer vs Garmin Fenix 3: Sports tracking
So what do you get out of every activity?
Well, the Fenix 3 is probably the gold standard when it comes to running. You get all the usual metrics, and the addition of heart rate via the Fenix 3 HR or the chest strap yields impressive metrics: VO2 Max, race predictor, stress scores, heart rate zones. But when you pair it with a chest strap, things get seriously in-depth. Aside from heart rate, it adds vertical oscillation, cadence, stride length, to name but a few top end data sets. It's a runner's dream.
The TomTom Adventurer does a good job too, offering pace, distance and the usual stuff, along with heart rate and zones. But it can't match the Fenix 3's sports science metrics.
Hiking is similar on both devices, with distance, speed, elevation and time all tracked. You can also get a map of your progress on both devices and a live compass which is pretty handy. While the Garmin edges the battery life – about 20 hours of GPS versus around 10 hours from the TomTom – the GPX route uploading feature on the Adventurer is one of the highlights.
Cycling is similar. Out of the box the two offer similar metrics of distance, speed, elevation, time and laps. Again, the Fenix will access stress scores and heart rate data and will plug into Garmin's array of additional bike sensors for cadence, power, intensity and torque if you want to max out your stats.
Swimming is well catered for on both watches with lengths, speed, distance, calories all recorded, as well as the number of strokes. Again, the Fenix trumps here by recognising the main four stroke types. It just takes things up a level in terms of data every time.
The final big metric is skiing. Both are pretty similar here, offering heart rate, descent, run count, distance, duration and speed. Both will also give you a summary of your run at the bottom and pause until you get started back at the top. However, the TomTom will display your run data when it detects your safely on the lift.
TomTom Adventurer vs Garmin Fenix 3: App and ecosystem
TomTom has improved its app experience markedly in the past few months, but it's still no match for Garmin.
TomTom MySports is well-laid out and syncs much more easily than the previous iteration. It's also much at blending your all-day activity stats and workout data much more pleasingly than before. Dive into a workout and you get a host of in-depth information and graphs – and crucially, anything can be exported to Strava, Runkeeper or any app you can think of. It's a perfectly decent app now, but not quite at Garmin levels.
Garmin's ecosystem is similarly open, and plays nicely with most fitness services. If there's one criticism that can be levied at Garmin is that the app is too complex and data can be a little hard to find.
However, hit the web app and you get a tonne of features that just blows the opposition out of the water. You can access training plans for races, plan routes, workouts, access challenges, a calendar of workouts – it's immense.
There is work to be done in each of these areas to up the usefulness, but as a repository for a host of multisport data, which is exactly what the Fenix 3 offers, it's a winner.
TomTom Adventurer vs Garmin Fenix 3: Verdict
If you want the best outdoor and multisport watch, the Fenix 3 is still a market leader. The detail and metrics offered – particularly for runners and cyclists – is second to none. However, you have to be totally committed, to pay the huge outlay and to make the most of those metrics and wear the appropriate chest straps and attach the right sensors to get them.
The TomTom Adventurer is a more complete out-of-the-box experience, that's suited to serious amateur athletes who realise that the most complex data is beyond their needs. The price is superb for the array of tracked sports, it works fantastically well and the built in GPX routes is something everyone should explore and enjoy. We're huge fans, and for most people, the TomTom is the best choice out there.
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