I’ve been wondering for a while now whether I need a fitness watch. So many people seem to have them and they seem to be great at encouraging people to exercise. But I don’t need encouragement to exercise. I’ve been running with apps on my phone for the last couple of years and they seem to do a pretty good job. I use Moves app to count my steps and RunKeeper to record my runs – it keeps track of my pace and distance. Would a fitness watch do any more than this? And, if it did, which watch would I choose?
But then I read a review by Natalie at Plutonium Sox of the TomTom Spark Cardio & Fitness and knew EXACTLY which watch I would choose! So I was very happy when they got in touch and asked me if I’d like to try one for myself.
The TomTom Spark Cardio & Music is a thing of great beauty and I love it. It is supposed to be easy to set up, but how easy is it for a total technophobe? Surprisingly easy, actually. I did have to call on my 12 year old son once or twice, but I didn’t get in a flap, so that’s always a bonus. Although initially I couldn’t actually work out how to use the essential button that controls everything! There are loads of useful videos online to help with every aspect of the watch, but I guess they presumed people might be able to use the button. I couldn’t! (Tip – you have to push it at the sides, rather than press it.)
The watch will record loads of activities – running, cycling, swimming, treadmill, gym and indoor exercise bike. Needless to say, I’ve mainly used mine for running, but I did dabble with a couple of very short bike rides too. It also has a built-in step counter, which runs at all times and makes a satisfactory sound and flashes up a star when you hit 10,000 steps. You can adjust your target to higher or lower. I hit my 10,000 every day, but I’m happy to stick with that as a target!
Starting to run is a little bit slower than with my phone as the watch has to pick up your GPS signal. It’s only a few seconds, though. There is a knack to stopping and starting and I must say I still don’t have the stopping nailed! (And if I had a £ for every time I went to start a run when I just wanted to check the step counter, I would be a rich woman.)
As you’re running, it constantly monitors your pace, your heart rate, calories burned, and distance covered. You can easily scroll up and down as you run to check the different functions.
The heart rate monitor is something I’d never considered until recently, but my husband has taken up cycling and a friend of his who is a very serious cyclist told him it is an essential. Sadly, a small, but significant number of cyclists die of heart attacks while cycling every year. A heart rate monitor could alert them to when their heart rate is getting too high. Most heart rate monitors involve a sweaty strap around the chest. A watch is far easier and more comfortable to use!
I must admit I was pretty shocked when I saw that my heart rate while running was around 170 and even rose to 180 and higher. According to advice online, my maximum heart rate should be 178 and you should exercise at between 50 and 75% of your maximum. However, a quick discussion with blogger, runner and doctor, Dr Juliet McGrattan, reassured me that I have nothing to be concerned about!
The watch includes ‘heart rate zones’, which you can set to match your training goal and either increase or reduce. I would have guessed my long distance running would have fallen into category 3 – endure, but it turns out I’m in 5 – sprint. In fact, it has got as high as 5.9, which was a surprise.
Throughout the day, the watch records the distance you’ve covered and how long you’ve been moving, the calories you’ve burned and how much sleep you’ve had. A couple of times, I’ve felt the sleep counter has been a little bit inaccurate – like the time it said I had 1 hour 28 minutes sleep, but on the whole it seems about right – and I seem to sleep between 5 hours 40 and 6 hours 20 a night.
If the watch itself doesn’t give you enough stats, link it up to your computer or the app for even more. Here you will see the exact detail of your activity, including strides per minute and the elevation of your run. There is also a graph in which you can track speed against heart rate, heart rate against elevation, etc. You can hover your mouse at any point on this graph and it will give you exact statistics for that point in the run – pace, heart rate, distance covered and elevation. You should connect your watch to your computer or the app every two to three days. I tend to use the computer rather than the app, just because I can charge the watch at the same time.
I always run with music, apart from when I’m doing Parkrun with my daughter, and often get my hair, belt, drink bottle or jacket tangled in my headphones. The TomTom Spark Cardio & Music is right up my street as you can load up to 500 songs to it and it has wireless headphones.
Loading up the music was possibly the easiest thing of all, although you only load playlists, not individual songs. Anyone else have any really embarrassing songs they bought for their kids five years ago on their playlists? Really must get rid of Gangnam Style soon… Once they’re in, the wireless headphones really do fit like a glove, but I’m still getting to grips with them and have to use a mirror to put them in. Getting your music started is another extra few seconds at the start of a run, as you need to sync your headphones.
I haven’t worn a watch for many years, so I’m pleased to say that, although chunky, the watch is very comfortable and is a smooth and sleek design. It is well-fitting – with pins in three separate points on the strap to ensure it stays secure. I also like actually being able to tell the time in the night, after months of having my phone plugged in on the other side of the room (due to no sockets by my bed).
The TomTom Spark Cardio & Music is a really great fitness watch. If you’re serious about fitness – and you like listening to music while you exercise – I would definitely recommend it.
I was sent the TomTom Spark Cardio & Music, plus wireless headphones for the purposes of this review. All opinions, technophobia and terrible songs are my own.