Sadé Powell details her first run at using a sports watch

TomTom sees no competition when it comes to the company’s Spark GPS watch. The navigation company’s fourth round of sport timepieces has undergone four major upgrades to ensure that TomTom stays ahead of running, cycling and swimming technology. Spearheading this evolution is the watch’s music playing feature, followed in tow by an activity tracker, slimmer wristband and an optical sensor enhancement.

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Writer Sadé Powell takes a run with her new TomTom Spark GPS sports watch. // Photos By. Janelle Scott-Johnson © Urbanology Magazine

SETTING UP

Retrieving the watch from its packaging was easier than unwrapping a gift on Christmas day. It came in a basic box with a bottom and lid sealed together by easily removable clear tape. Inside were three components: a user guide, charger and, of course, my brand new Spark watch.

Although quite small, the guide seemed overwhelming at first because it was pretty plump with pages, but there were only five printed in English, while the rest had the same information in 20 other languages. The guide detailed how to use and wear the device, play music, operate it on my first activity and connect to my computer (where I would receive further instructions and guidelines).

Removing the strap to plug the device into its USB cord is a lot easier than trying to do it with it on.

This may or may not seem obvious, but removing the strap to plug the device into its USB cord is a lot easier than trying to do it with it on. This advice would have saved me a few minutes of fiddling and having the plug continually fall out.

After downloading the TomTom MySports app onto my MacBook Pro and connecting the device, I was able to clearly follow the instructions on how to import music, set goals and more. Though the watch is compatible with most running apps, I also went ahead and downloaded the MySports app to my iPhone 6s, where activity data can be uploaded via Bluetooth.

DESIGN

Being a big fan of colour and patterns, at first glance the Spark GPS seemed bland and boring in comparison to other multipurpose watches I’ve seen.

It is black from strap to display, though when in areas with low light, the backlight turns blue. In either case the text is a variation of two dull shades of grey. However, TomTom does offer straps in several colours, designs and sizes that can be purchased separately. I later realized that the simple display would add to the length of the device’s battery life though.

The wristband is much slimmer than the third generation Runner Cardio watch and caters to those with smaller wrists. While active and performing daily activities, the watch sat comfortably on my wrist for most of the day.

The knobs below the screen selects up, down, left and right. The centre does nothing, refrain from pressing it and expecting it to do something like I did before reading the guide. It does, however, help separate the knobs so that it’s easy to operate while in motion.

This is a progressive upgrade from the previous model that only measured heart rate.

Flipping the device to the back you’ll find the optical sensor designed to measure heart rate and deduce how many hours slept, steps taken, calories burned and the distance, pace and time travelled during an activity. This is a progressive upgrade from the previous model that only measured heart rate.

PERFORMANCE

Having received the watch in the later weeks of a Canadian October I only ran outdoors with it three times, despite our uncharacteristically warm fall weather. With a click to the right, the activity options available include running, cycling (outdoor and indoor), swimming, freestyle, treadmill and gym.

I used the latter two the most at a nearby fitness gym. During workouts I was able to track how long I’d been active, my average heart rate and how many calories I’ve burnt, then compare the results with my set goals on the phone app for the day and week.

While running, whether on the treadmill or outdoors, the Spark provides several training options such as:

None – for freestyle running
Goals – set a specific distance, time or calorie objective
Intervals – for measuring progress during warm ups, heavy activity, rest, number of sets and cool down
Laps – set the time, distance or standard for running laps
Zones – choose the minimum and maximum range for speed, pace or heart rate
Race – choose to race against a given/set distance or a previous activity

Generally, I used the None/Intervals mode; once I used the Goals option. However, because of the limited time I usually have at the gym, and personal preference, I didn’t perform runs longer than 45 minutes.

The Spark was also able to track my location using its GPS feature and after runs I was able to see how far I’d travelled from start to finish on my phone or computer.

MUSIC PLAYING

Coupled with the TomTom Spark GPS watch, I received a pair of Plantronics BackBeat FIT Bluetooth headphones to test out the new music-playing feature.

Using the computer app, I was able to transfer the “Work Out” playlist from my iTunes Library onto the watch. Holding down the raised knob on the right side of the headphones while it was ‘off’ and clicking ‘up’ on the watch begins the pairing process connecting the two devices in seconds. The music starts automatically and kicks off the workout.

Using the button on the left side of the headphones I could pause, play, skip songs or replay the previous song with ease. If I were running below or above my set goal, the music would be interrupted by a voice automation to prompt me to stay within my range.

The Plantronics BackBeat FIT headphones are sweat proof and very comfortable to wear, though it took some adjusting at times. As a bonus they also come equipped with a built-in mic doubling as a wireless headset so I was able to answer calls with the click of a button on the right earpiece. Alongside the BackBeat FIT headphones came a reflective armband case for smartphones that could also be used to store the device when not in use.

OVERALL

The TomTom Spark GPS Watch is an excellent product for men and women who are avid runners, swimmers and cyclists looking to reach specific goals.

In my case, however, I used the Spark largely during weightlifting and it was nice to know details of the workout like calories burned and heart rate. Though it was my first time using a sports watch I found it easy to use and that it helped enhance my cardio workouts by motivating me to reach the goals I set.

Photos of Sadé Powell By. Janelle Scott-Johnson © Urbanology Magazine

Product images supplied by TomTom’s public relations firm