For a very long time I was a TomTom running watch user. I remember the first time I got to try out the company's collaborative effort with Nike, before deciding the Runner and then the Spark would be my go-to watch for pounding the pavement and the trails.
In a world dominated by Garmin, Polar and Suunto it was refreshing to see a rank outsider – one that will forever be associated with sat-navs – taking on the big three and doing a great job of it. It was a brave decision and others have tried and failed. Epson is a name that springs to mind – our advice, stick to the printers, yeah?
What I really liked about the Runner and then the Spark was that they were just really easy to use. For someone like me who was only just starting to think more seriously about running and entering races, using a TomTom sports watch never felt daunting but it didn't feel too basic either. It gave me the data I needed to know if I was making improvements or falling off the pace.
TomTom has delivered the best performance from a wrist-based heart rate monitor yet
Its QuickGPSFix tech didn't leave me standing out in the cold forever waiting for a signal and I still stand firm that TomTom has delivered the best performance from a wrist-based heart rate monitor yet, something it should be applauded for. The opportunity to race against your previous time wasn't exactly a groundbreaking addition to the running watch world, but it was the way TomTom presented this feature on the watch along with its interval training support that made it such a great tool to offer that motivational push as well.
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I'm not saying that TomTom's running watches were perfect. Far from it actually. Both myself and our executive editor James used to regularly moan about the bugginess of the companion smartphone app and the annoyance of having to initiate a run session just to be able to see previously logged sessions. We were promised smartwatch notifications support as well but that never materialised.
With every running watch instalment there were improvements, whether it was the slimmer design, the route exploration or the ability to store music, a feature that can only be rivalled by true smartwatches like the Apple Watch or the Fitbit Ionic and remains a feature notably missing from its more established rivals. Then the TomTom Adventurer arrived on the scene for outdoor adventurers and trail running lovers and for the price, there wasn't really a watch that could really touch it for value.
The software changes eventually filtered through and we got the new app we craved, but then TomTom decided it also wanted a piece of the fitness tracker action and launched the Touch. Despite its unique ability to rate your body fat from your wrist, it didn't do enough to impress James in his review and at a time when fitness trackers features were being swallowed up by sports watches, it felt like an odd move.
It was back in July when we first heard about the rumours that TomTom was backing away from wearables, and in the past week those rumours have been confirmed by TomTom. There will no doubt have been questions about how much the company believed in its wearable tech business when it was such a large player in the navigation space. The likely reason behind this decision is the increase in competition, namely Garmin.
Once the sports watch brand for serious running, cycling and adventurer enthusiasts, Garmin has seized the opportunity to build wearables for beginners all the way up to aspiring athletes. The Garmin Forerunner 935 is now my running watch of choice and fellow TomTom user James is more likely to be seen with a Fenix 5 on his wrist these days.
Garmin has been making wearables for much longer than TomTom, but it's also adapted quicker than most to the new tech that's now available as well as recognising the demands of what features people want from their sporty wearables. Price has always been a stumbling block for Garmin; the Forerunner 935 and the Fenix 5 are two of its most expensive watches. But those core features are beginning to filter down to its cheaper watches and trackers.
TomTom will probably never admit that it is because of the likes of Garmin, Polar and maybe even Apple that it's leaving the wearable tech space, but it has become glaringly obvious that these are just three companies that have made life more difficult for TomTom to proceed.
The Spark 3 now spends more time on the bedside table than it does on my wrist but I don't have the heart to relegate it to the drawer of doomed wearables that just didn't cut it. That's because it will always be associated with a time when I wanted to become a better (and faster) runner. I'll forever be grateful to TomTom for the part its watches played in making that happen.
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