Garmin has just released the next iteration of their entry level GPS watch for runners, the new Garmin Forerunner 35. This series started with the very basic Forerunner 10, before moving on the Forerunner 15 (activity tracking, HRM strap support, and improved battery), and then the Forerunner 25 (phone notifications, bigger screen).
And now, Garmin improves the experience for runners who prefer a simple device (if we may refer to this device as ‘simple’, with increasing number of features on offer) by bringing in the hottest trend for running watches, a built in optical-HR sensor. No putting on those uncomfortable chest straps anymore. What more, all this is brought to you at an almost entry level price point of USD $200. Ok, that’s not strictly entry level when GPS watches from Garmin itself and other respected brands are available in the market for $100, or even lower in some cases, but, a basic runners watch nevertheless with some advanced features.
With that, let me get to a head on head comparison of the key features of this watch with the one watch I regard as a great value proposition for a basic running watch, the TomTom Spark Cardio.
TomTom Spark Cardio
Garmin Forerunner 35
Racing against time
Zone based training
TomTom Spark Cardio
Running, Cycling, Swimming
TomTom Spark Cardio
Phone notifications, call alerts
No (rumors of late 2016 addition)
Garmin FR 35
Phone music controls
Garmin FR 35
Wireless phone sync
As watch: 3 weeks
GPS: 11 hours
As watch: 9 days
GPS: 13 hours
TomTom Spark Cardio
With the feature comparison covered, lets look at how the two scored. We will award 2 points for a win, and 1 for a draw. Adding up, we get to the following results.
Winner: TomTom Spark Cardio. The Spark Cardio edges the Garmin Forerunner 35 not only in overall feature set, but more importantly, at a price point which is $40 less than the Garmin.
So, there we have it, a nice little comparison of the key features of both these GPS watches, to help you decide based on what’s important for you! From my perspective, TomTom Spark continues to be the king of the runners road with greater features per dollar. One thing to keep in mind though is that unlike Garmin Forerunner 35, Spark comes in a variety of variants, with the one compared here being the Spark Cardio. In fact, with a budget of $200, you get the Spark Cardio + Music which includes 3GB music storage on board and an ability to play music wirelessly to your bluetooth headphones without requiring a phone.
The review TomTom Spark unit used for this review was provided by TomTom India. It was used over a period of a month, and will be returned back to TomTom after the review. Lets begin.
The TomTom Spark GPS running watch was announced in Sept, 2015, and brings in a variety of variants, with the following highlight features:
Lightweight, designed to be worn 24 hours
Bluetooth music with 3GB on board storage
GPS for pace/distance
168 x 144 high-contrast LCD display
Battery life: 11 hours with GPS, 5 hours with everything on including optical HR and Bluetooth music
The highlight feature of the TomTom Spark is of course the on board music, which means you no longer have to carry that bulky phone in your pocket or put inside your waist belt. Upload songs, create playlists, grab your bluetooth headphones and run along!
For people who do heart rate based training, the watch has optical HR to guide you. If you need to know more about how to use your heart rate to train better, check out this article from TomTom.
The watch in running mode has a three field display. One big center field which can be customized on the run to choose any one of those available (via the big scroll button), and the two small ones at bottom left and right, which an be customized from the settings menu of the watch to display the metric of choice. Following data fields are supported on the watch.
Heart Rate Zone
The TomTom Spark comes in the widest combination of models I have seen, ever, in a single watch. Here’s what on offer (current Indian prices from Amazon.in and USD prices from Amazon.com):
TomTom Spark (Rs 11,899 / $129)
TomTom Spark cardio (Rs 17,999)
TomTom Spark Music ($182)
TomTom Spark Music + Headphones (Rs 18,699 / $209)
Now that’s a pretty heady mix of variants to choose from. Basic variant just gets you a GPS watch with the usual pace, distance, time stuff (with a basic intervals feature as well). This is very similar to the older watch from TomTom, the TomTom Runner, which is now being phased out. Beyond that you can decide depending on your personal preferences.
Like to hear music on your runs? Go for one with the music option. You can pair that with your own favorite headphones, or pay some more and go for the bundle which has the headphones included. TomTom people gave me the Plantronics BackBeat FIT wireless headphones, a reasonably costly set of bluetooth headphones specially designed for an active lifestyle. The music bundle comes with TomTom headphones if that’s what you would prefer.
Website and Features
TomTom has a basic website, which offers a neat display of your runs. This data is transferred from your watch either via the TomTom mobile phone app or installing the TomTom MySports app on your computer (Windows or Mac) and connecting your watch to it after the run. The runs are further synced to your app of choice, be it Endomondo, RunKeeper, MapMyFitness, Nike+, TrainingPeaks, Strava, besides a host of other supported apps. As you can see in the images below, TomTom does not display the run cadence through the run, but only the final stride rate figure at the end.
The price range for the TomTom Spark watches ranges from $129 for basic GPS watch to $274 for the highest end all inclusive one. That’s a very wide range. If we consider what’s on offer, particularly in India, in that range, we find the following products:
Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS Smartwatch – a great fit for people interested in optical HR and also smartphone notifications and call alerts, a feature lacking in Spark (Rs 28,000/$249)
Garmin Forerunner 230 – the mid range runner’s special watch with advanced running metrics not found either in Vivoactive series or the Spark, like VO2Max estimator, Recovery advisor, race predictor, custom workouts (Spark has very basic intervals feature) (Rs 22,990/$249)
Garmin Forerunner 220 (and 225 with optical HR) – older versions of the Garmin Forerunner 230/25 series, but very attractively priced. (Rs 14,990/$124) (235 – Rs 22,000/$219)
Choosing your GPS Watch
So, how to choose a GPS watch given all this? It remains quite simple really, and totally defined by the runner. If you are in for a basic GPS watch which gives you accurate time, distance and pace, then my recommendation is the TomTom Spark basi variant. If is much more complete than other entry level variants from Garmin like Forerunner 15, 25, etc) in terms of battery life, ability to do intervals, Quick GPS fix, stride rate, more data fields, etc.
If on the other hand what you want is an advanced runners watch with custom intervals, race prediction, recovery advisor, etc then again, the choice is very clear. Go for the advanced Garmin Forerunner series like FR 220, 225, 230, 235. These options are simply not available on the TomTom Spark.
Finally, for the music fans, this is where the Spark excels. With 3GB of music capacity on board, there is no need for carrying the phone along with, a feature not offered by any other mainstream GPS running watch currently. This is also immensely useful for people like me who are no fans of music while running, but make use of music to run to a fixed cadence. For example, I wanted to try running at 180 spm, and so I searched online for music which has beats at 180 bpm. Running to music for a target Cadence is much easier than running to a monotonous metronome beat, and is easier to pace to it.
So, there it goes. This is my review of the TomTom Spark. You can check it out on the Amazon.in store online and buy it there, or get it shipped from someone coming over from the US if you buy it on Amazon.com.