Running Watch Review: TomTom Runner Cardio

TomTom Runner Cardio Review

From £190 on Amazon and also at Wiggle

With the imminent launch of the Apple iWatch, as well as other so called smartwatches, is the end of the running specific watch near? As smartphones and other technology have slowly replaced everything from MP3 players to the humble book; are running watches next on the list? To maintain their existence, the current crop of GPS running watches will need to up their game and deliver a product and an experience that is truly useful – or drop their prices to compete against the new smartwatches. After all, why would you want to spend money on a product that has one purpose, when another product can do an infinite number of tasks? Answer: because it does that one thing far, far better than the multi purpose product.

Official Unboxing

So it was against this background that I began testing the TomTom Runner Cardio…

Aesthetics

TomTom Runner Cardio

Well it comes in a nice box… and first impressions count! I’ll say now that although I’ve taken my own images to share here (as above), a lot are from the amazing DC Rainmaker blog as he goes into painstakingly detailed descriptions of this watch, with excellent photos.

The design and feel of this watch is very similar to the Nike running watches, which were created by TomTom for Nike. There’s a big flexible strap with bright red colouring and easy snap fastening. The watch unit itself appears sleek at first, but this can be detached and become a stand alone part for easy charging.

TomTom Runner Cardio - watch detaches from strap

TomTom Runner Cardio – watch detaches from strap

This watch is not a touch screen and other than the on/off button for the light, all controls are executed using the toggle button underneath which allows you to click up, down, left and right to navigate your way around the watch’s features. Most people who have seen the watch on my wrist presume that in this day and age, the watch is touch screen and so they ask what the bit underneath does. They sound a bit disappointed to hear that it’s not the ‘run faster’ button but just the watch’s controller.

It’s a very comfortable watch to wear and the rectangular shape of the watch fits the contours of my wrist better than my previous round watch. The soft strap and grippers make for a snug fit too (see below).

 

Ease of Use

Having used only Garmin running watches previously, I found the TomTom navigation very intuitive and easy to go from feature to feature. Obviously the easiest thing here compared to other watches is not having to strap on and pair a chest mounted heart monitor. The integrated heart monitor on the TomTom can be activated at the touch of a button and reads your heart rate from your radial artery pulse. I have to admit that the green glow emitted once the heart monitor is engaged looks pretty cool in the dark…

TomTom Runner Cardio

TomTom Runner Cardio

 

Battery & Charging

The charger clips in easily using the module on the underside of the watch. I had endless problems with the magnetic charging device on my Garmin and it’s nice to be able to physically just slide the charger in to connect, rather than relying on magnets holding in the right place. Battery life seems good too and I can do a decent amount of training sessions or races before even having to think about plugging it in. This tallies with the manufacturers guide of an 8-10 hour battery life. The only negative is that it doesn’t come with an actual plug, just the USB cable meaning it can only be charged when connected to a computer. This isn’t great when you don’t own a laptop like me and do everything on your tablet! I got round this by plugging the USB into the plug of my old Garmin which works fine.

Features

The full feature list is:

  • Heart rate monitor with zones
  • Race against previous times
  • Set time, distance or calorie goals
  • Laps; time distance or manual
  • Set up interval sessions including warm up, work, rest and warm down times/distances.
  • Quickfix GPS. This means that when you plug the watch into a computer it records the upcoming satellite positions and so knows exactly where to look in the sky when you want to run. The quick GPS connection is one of the best things about the TomTom Runner Cardio.

The features are all easy to find and select using the controller. Two gripes I have:

– To pause a session you have to hold down the left button for three secconds and this is not easy to do when you’re racing across a finish line. another push left actually stops the session. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to pause the session with a quick tap and, once you’re sure you want to end it – then hold down the button for however many seconds? Additionally, when the watch is paused you can’t see any of the data! Just a big pause icon!Really annoying when you’re running repeats or just want to see what time you finished the race in! To see your finish time you have to:

1) Hold left for three seconds to pause
2) Tap left again to stop and exit the ‘run’ mode.
3) Tap right to get back into the ‘run’ mode
4) Hit ‘up’ until you reach your most recent session/workout
5) Hit right to open this up and finally see your time

Several times I’ve finished a race a people have run up to me and asked how I did, only for my reply that I don’t know yet. When you’ve just finished a race you’re really not in the frame of mind to be following the above process.

So in the next software update, please do away with the pointless ‘pause’ icon TomTom and show runners their time and distance!

I also had a couple of occasions where my hard fought workout refused to upload to Tomtom’s My Sports software. Very frustrating for a running geek like me that needs to analyse every last stat of every run! This hasn’t happened in a while though, so I’m hoping it was teething problems.

Connectivity & Run Analysis

Connectivity is excellent in the TomTom Runner Cardio with built in Blutooth Smart technology. One of the major bugbears I had with previous watches was the need to connect to a laptop or computer to upload and analyse run data. Even using a USB ANT+ adapter the process was slow.

Pace during intervals session

Heart rate zones during intervals session

With the TomTom I just had to download the My Sports iPhone app, make sure the Bluetooth on my phone was switched on and hey presto! All my run data gets automatically uploaded to My Sports. Even better, this can then be connected to 3rd party apps like Runkeeper and Strava. So within seconds of coming in the door from a training run all your stats are uploaded to whichever suite of tools you choose to use, before you’ve had time to pour a drink!

In Summary

Tomtom runner sessions

The TomTom Runner Cardio is a great watch with loads of useful features for the price (around £220). I was never a fan of wearing a strap around my chest, so the built-in heart rate monitor is of great benefit. Now during club training sessions, coach Ross will check what my heart rate is, to ensure we’re pushing ourselves hard enough! As I say it’s very comfortable and you forget you’re wearing it. The GPS is exceptional – I’ve never known a watch find GPS signal as quickly as this one does! As a runner this is probably the single most important thing to me. I want to know that when I line up at the start line of a race, or head out the door for a training session, the watch will be able to record all my data from the start. I had so many issues with previous watches, either realising 1 mile into a race that the GPS still hadn’t locked or standing in the freezing cold at the top of my road, desperately waving my wrist in the air to get signal. It’s nice to have a watch that I can rely on. This, I feel will be where Garmin, TomTom etc can beat Apple. That and the fact that I don’t want my day to day watch to be covered in the sweat of last night’s intense training session!

As mentioned earlier, you can find an even more in depth review on DC Rainmaker and buy from Amazon or Wiggle

Training: Interval Session (Using New @Tomtom Watch)

Tomtom runner sessions

I can’t have worked myself hard enough at Wednesday’s 1k repeats speed session as last night I had the need…for speed! It was probably to do with the fact that I’d been sat down indoors at a conference all day – my legs were like tightly wound elastic bands by the time I got home and I couldn’t get my trainers on fast enough.

Watch Led Interval Session

Looking at my new Tomtom Runner Cardio watch, I’d noticed that it has the option to run different sessions such as running laps, running to set goals (distance/time/calories), intervals or within different heart rate zones (using the in-built heart monitor). As I felt in the mood for speed, I selected the ‘intervals’ option including a 1k warm up, 4x 400m sprints with a three minute rest between each, followed by a 2k warm down.

It worked really well! Which surprised me as I’ve never really got along with setting sessions on a GPS watch. It took me just 20 seconds to set the session up, with the hardest part being deciding how much of a rest period to give myself between each! With each change or section/pace the watch buzzed on my wrist and signalled that the fast/slow parts had started/finished.

The Run

The run itself was a tale of two halves along country lanes. I failed to take into account the fact that the first 4k of my route was largely downhill, with a killer hill at 4k, which happened to coincide with the start of one of my 400 metre efforts! Well there was no way I could sprint 400 metres up that hill so I opted for just a slightly faster pace. The 400 metre sprints combined with the previous night’s session must have taken their effect, as it was all I could do just to jog around the remainder of the 8k route!

Total distance: 8km
Total time: 35:19

Workout on Strava (blue line pace, red line heart rate)

Run Strava

Next Training

5k tonight very slow then a 5k race on Saturday.

Training: Early Morning 10k & New @Tomtom GPS Watch! #GetsMyHeartRacing

It’s great being married to a runner as we love nothing better than to talk running, go to races and sit there of an evening reading Runner’s World. However, conflicts in our running diaries often mean that one or other of us has to postpone or adapt our plans. Both our speed sessions are with different clubs every Tuesday and we both like to do a long run on a Sunday – but not together as we run different paces.

All this is by way of explaining how I came to be standing on my doorstep, blinking groggily into a newly risen sun at 6am this morning! Luckily, I had some motivation in a newly delivered running watch. More on that in a minute…

The Run

This morning’s run really made me realise how much I enjoy going out early (in the summer at least). The temperature was perfect, the sky to the east was blue but to the west filled with mile high, rolling black clouds threatening to precipitate imminently. I stretched with my palms held flat against the car and headed off on my regular countryside route. This is an undulating 10k along country lanes with a killer hill at the end which I try to sprint up! I was scared absolutely shirtless when, approaching the brow of a particularly quiet hill, a flock of at least 30-40 pheasants and grouse sprung up in surprise. That took my heart rate up into a training zone I didn’t know I had! I chided myself the whole run for not taking my camera, as the light cast by the duel between sun and rain clouds not created a double rainbow, but made everything look like someone put an Instagram filter over everything.

Distance: 10k
Time: 44 minutes

New Watch – TomTom Runner Cardio!

TomTom My Sports screen

TomTom My Sports screen

Part of the reason I even like running is the gear! That’s why I have a whole page here dedicated to Equipment and why I’ve done a lot of research into trainers and then reviewed them. Gear’s important to me and I’ll use anything (legal) that helps me take even a second off my times.

So when TomTom asked me if wanted to test out their new Runner Cardio watch, I jumped at the chance. My Garmin’s unreliable freezing (seconds before races) and charging issues (sometimes ends charging with less battery than when it started) had been bugging me anyway, and I’d been doing a bit of research into training with a heart monitor. The Runner Cardio, as the name suggests comes with an in-built heart rate monitor which for starters looks AWESOME when switched on, as it emits a ghostly green glow:

I took it out for a quick go on my 10k training run earlier but haven’t had a chance to test it properly but first impressions:

TomTom Runner Cardio

TomTom Runner Cardio Heart Monitor

Pros

– Looks great!
– Connected very quickly to GPS, whilst I was still inside tying up my shoe laces. With my Garmin I always have to run to the top of the road and pretend to be stretching whilst waiting for it to find a satellite!
– Nice big screen shows you your current pace.
– The fit is very comfortable.
– It’s compatible with both Strava and Runkeeper, so you can upload to both automatically.
– The app is easy to use and connects via bluetooth to the watch to upload runs.

Cons

– I’ve gotten used to swiping the touch screen of my Garmin so the lack of a touch screen threw me.
– It doesn’t come with a plug, only a USB cable to connect to a laptop. Who owns a laptop these days?!
– My run that I recorded this morning has completely disappeared. Annoying but probably more to do with me not reading the instruction manual properly than the watch itself!

Full review in a week or two…

 

Next Training

Club run with Purbeck Runners tomorrow night, I’ve just checked in the club forum and it’s one kilometre repeats – nice!