TomTom is not new to satnav. Nor is it even new to sports watches; its previous GPS watch was a collaboration with Nike, the Nike+ TomTom Sportwatch, and it wasn't a bad device. Big screen, relatively easy to use, even if it had some quirks.
But technology moves on and so must TomTom. This time, the company has decided to strike out alone. The result is the TomTom Runner, an easy to use tracker that will keep all the vital information you need close at hand.
TomTom has kept some of the lessons it learned from its previous effort – the screen is easy to read, the information is clear and simple – but also refined the watch so its easier to use while you’re on the move.
The GPS picks up quicker, for example. There was many a time I stood outside my front door with the Nike+ TomTom watch, waiting for it to pick up the satellite signal so I could start my run, slowly freezing as I wait. And waited. And waited.
The new Quick GPSfix technology that TomTom has built into the Runner means that it beats its predecessor in a side by side test, although it may still not be the quickest when compared to some of its pricier brethren. Still, it means less hanging around in the cold than before, which is a point in its favour, and it even picked up the GPS while still indoors, which the previous version rarely did.
The controls are also easier to use. While the touch screen on the Nike+ version was easy to use while you were standing around, using it on the move wasn’t quite as simple. This time, TomTom has moved the controls to a four-button configuration under the screen, which allows you to open the status screen to see the battery level, move to the settings menu or choose your activity.
Once you’re ready to run, you have a choice of a few options. You can choose to set goals, say a specific distance. Or you can choose to run in laps, allowing the watch to track your time and splits. The zone option gives you the choice to measure by pace or heart rate, ensuring that you stay within a certain goal as you run. If you want to be a bit more ambitious, you can race, trying to beat the time set by the watch.
While you run you can have different stats displayed, whether its calories, distance or time elapsed. You can cycle through these with the buttons, and the backlight is controlled by a simple tap on the right side of the screen. It’s all very simple and straightforward.
But it’s winter, and only the very dedicated run outdoors, right? The rest of us prefer the comfort of a treadmill, out of the elements. The TomTom Runner has it covered. It has a built-in accelerometer to track your movement while you’re out of GPS coverage, and while it’s not the most accurate in the world, it will give you a general idea of your distance and time.
Of course, all this data feeds into TomTom’s online platform MySports, which means you can track it and view trends, keep track of your pace and calories burned. It’s a work in progress at the moment, but you can also use the watch with third party applications like RunKeeper or MapMyFitness.
The system works better if you shell out for the extras– a heart rate monitor that will tell you just how hard you are working and that is best used for the Heart Rate zone mode. But if you just want a general indication of fast and how far you are moving from run to run, the basic watch will do just fine.
One thing that I wish TomTom had kept from the previous iteration is the charging method. With the Nike+ collaboration, there was no need to ever have to hunt down the charger; the USB connection was built into the strap. This time, however, the watch part of the TomTom, the intelligence behind the whole system, must sit in a USB cradle to charge and sync. It’s less convenient than before and can pop out of the strap, meaning you’ll be left hunting for it on a few occasions when you take it off.
But on the plus side, it means you can change the strap if you wish.
Next on the list for TomTom is the app, which will allow you to sync data through your smartphone. You simply connect via Bluetooth and upload the information, which means you may never need to touch your computer again.
The TomTom Runner may not have all the advanced information that the serious runner would like, but for the average runner, it certainly does the job. It’s fast to find a GPS connection, the watch itself is light and unobtrusive, and it’s easy to use on the move. A welcome bit of motivation for runners.