Review – TomTom Runner 3 / Spark3 – optical HR, GPS, music and activity tracking

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The improved TomTom Runner 3/SPARK 3 range is available to pre-order now for an imminent September 2016 delivery. Prices starting around £120/US$130.

The Runner 3/SPARK 3 is designed for beginners-to-fairly-serious runners who may also delve into gyms, classes and maybe the odd duathlon/triathlon. It’s focused entirely for RUNNERS but then adds features around what runners also do and like – for example listening to music, exploring routes and NOT wanting to wear a pesky heart rate STRAP… 🙂

ESSENTIAL READING: TomTom runner 3 / Spark 3 – *DETAILED* Review

Positives: The optical Heart Rate module is now HIGHLY ACCURATE, I would even go as far as to say “market leading”. In my experience it will correctly handle my Zone 5 exertions (ie hard stuff). Some models have inbuilt music functionality with a clever ability to pull playlists from selected windows/mac music programs. With music stored ON THE WATCH this is great for those of us who like to train with music and NOT carry an unwieldly smartphone. I would also recommend the optical Heart Rate part of the solution to those of us who don’t like to wear or who can’t comfortably wear chest straps (many women, for example). EDIT: I have performed subsequent tests since the one linked to above – none matched that near perfection but were still very good!

oHRM & Music together: Will still remain two highly distinctive features through into 2017.

For the more serious runner, intervals are supported and the GPS-based pace/speed is new and upgraded hardware from the previous SPARK/Runner 2 model, albeit with the same power needs. My tests have been with a pre-production unit and TomTom are already addressing a GPS issue I identified, I don’t imagine this will be a problem in the retail version.

A note on GPS accuracy (Search: GPS ephemeris) – Using assisted-GPS on the TomTom or similar devices can be quick and accurate. HOWEVER very short-term satellite movements will not be accounted for until your sports watch starts using today’s GPS positional information. If you sync your TomTom with MySports immediately before running or leave it running in the open for 15-20 minutes then you will get super accuracy straight away. This is similarly true of Garmin, Suunto, Polar etc with some caveats in that other brands may ‘secretly’ turn GPS on without asking to get the ‘ephemeris’ stuff. My tests with TomTom showed good accuracy alongside market-leading Suunto/Garmin/Polar devices – seemingly giving near equally as good, if not BETTER, GPS track results.

ACTIVITY TRACKER: There is a motion-based activity tracker for steps and sleep. Not tested.

TomTom Runner 3 / Spark 3

Pretty Colours, Orange one is the Adventurer variant (covered separately)

The SPARK 3/Runner 3 also features new, straightforward but useful ‘routing’ functionality. Routes are super-easily updated through TOMTOM MYSPORTS. When combined with the on-board compass (also new) then the SPARK 3/Runner 3 offers a neat little route following-cum-navigational screen with the ability to retrace your steps back to the start via a digital ‘breadcrumb’ trail. This caters for the growing number of ‘explorer’ runners who like to go off the beaten track or perhaps those who might want to run occasionally whilst on holiday and not get lost. I got lost running in Zurich once for two hours minutes at night, ouch; luckily GPS was invented soon after.

oHRM, MUSIC and ROUTING make this a unique product.

tomtom-mysports-runner-3-spark-route

Bizarrely simple

The free TomTom MySports App updates quick satellite fix data on the Runner 3/SPARK 3 as well as enabling activity uploads to the phone/internet at the end of your session. Equally, like me, you can use the desktop software instead.

The Runner 3/SPARK 3 supports SINGLE Bluetooth SMART sensors of each type – heart rate straps, bike speed sensors, bike cadence sensors and headphones. Not footpods.

As well as cycling and gym/class usage, the Runner 3 also supports pool swimming by recognising the number of strokes and turns. I haven’t tested this on the Runner 3 but when I last used swimming on the Runner 2 it was OK and there have been some improvements since.

The previous version (Runner 2/Spark 1) had some issues with Bluetooth headphone connectivity. TomTom state that this connectivity has also been improved in the new version.

MP3 and AAC format music is supported up to 320bits/sec.

Autolaps can be based on time (yes!) or distance and there are the usual zones.

Negatives: The oHRM is not presently used to assess sleep quality. The oHRM is disabled in water sports, although you could use run mode and change the sport back to swim later. But you would get none of the relatively limited swim ‘metrics’.

No running footpod support, so running pace can only come from GPS.

Does not support pre-planned, structured and more complex workouts. But intervals, goal orientated workouts (distance/calories) and other workout types ARE supported. That is probably sufficient for the needs of the target market in most cases.

Whilst the Runner 3/Spark 3 could be used in a triathlon it does not have a multiple consecutive sports mode – ie it can be used for multiple sports, singly, creating 3 exercise files. Fine for a bucket-list tri, I suppose.

5 hours official battery life for GPS+HR+Music, 9 hours for GPS/HR, 11 for GPS usage only.

The Android app seemed to work fine for me but I couldn’t find any notifications.

Comments: In the TomTom Runner 3/SPARK 3 we have a unique product that, AT THE SAME TIME, will appeal to quite a lot of people with its full feature set. This is quite remarkable that no-one else in offering products in the same space.

So whilst the Runner 3 clearly targets other sports watches with its good optical HR offering it ALSO targets the smartphone market with the inclusion of music. The introduction of routing to this level of watch somewhat democratises route following in what previosuly was the domain of higher end watches like Garmin’s Fenix 3.It ticks a lot of boxes and the SPARK/RUNNER series should continue to do well.

In the USA there is only the SPARK version. In the UK the SPARK has a few more band colours…that’s about the only difference. It sounds a bit mad but TomTom DO say that there IS a correlation between the type of activities that SPARK vs RUNNER users perform. Now you know.

Alternatives: If you went for the top-end Runner 3/Spark 3 option that included MUSIC and OPTICAL HR then you probably would struggle to find anything else that could do that same job other than the adidas miCoach (2013) which does not properly support cycling and is ‘a bit chunky’.

Regardless of whichever model you choose you will receive a competent running watch. The Apple Watch/WATCH 2 may be considered to have similar functionality, in the HR/music respect, but the two products clearly sit in different spaces as a whole package.

Note: An optical HRM is incorporated into several other products such as the Epson SF-810 and Garmin 235 and other activity bands/watches but none of these have on-board music. Music obviously can come from a smartphone and some sports watches can even control your smartphone. BUT, for a smartphone-only solution to match the SPARK3/RUNNER3, an additional running app and an additional HRM such as a wrist-based optical MIO Link is required….MORE more things to charge up and go wrong.

Similarly you can’t compare the TomTom’s navigation to that of the Epix, Fenix 3 or SPARTAN. It doesn’t include, for example, saved locations or maps or waypoints or turn-by-turn instructions or back-to-start as the crow files. I would expect that the navigation functionality will be expanded BY TOMTOM SOMEWHAT IN 2017.

Detailed Review: Is <here>.

Price: Good starting price for a quality GPS watch especially if you already have a HRM. If not buy the CARDIO Version with the quality inbuilt oHRM!

Order now for delivery in September:

SPARK/Runner 3 Eu129 £120 $130
SPARK/Runner 3 Cardio Eu199 £170 $190
SPARK/Runner 3 Cardio + Music + Headphones Eu299 £250 $250
SPARK/Runner 3 Cardio + Music Eu249 £220 $200
SPARK/Runner 3 Music + Headphones Eu179 £150 $170

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0 thoughts on “Review – TomTom Runner 3 / Spark3 – optical HR, GPS, music and activity tracking

  1. great review

    can you clarify this?, your are writing:
    The Runner 3/SPARK 3 supports SINGLE Bluetooth SMART sensors of each type – heart rate straps, bike speed sensors, bike cadence sensors and headphones. Not footpods.

    “sensor of each type”? f.e. does it support HR and cadence sensor at once?

    • oops! ty. but which link tho??? ones that are there now I replaced and extended last night. they look ok. there were other ones there before, maybe ti was those??? I was unaware either way so ty

  2. Don’t you think the Polar M600 will be superior to this? The Polar would appear to have a new fancy optical monitor? Also, I find dragging and dropping music so old school now with streaming services, doesn’t Android Wear 2.0 look like the superior OS for functionality?

    • functionality, yes, it will be superior either now or eventually. just like the apple watch I suppose. however will all the hardware bits work to a level of sporting rigour required by many/some of us…I suspect not, at least not for a while, and that in reality the M600 will be awesome BUT awesome as a fitness watch rather than a running watch. The TomTom runner is a running watch – hence the name.

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