The GPS watch market is becoming quite busy with most manufacturers offering a watch for all occasions, making it difficult for consumers to choose which is the best for their needs. However with specialist models available for running, cycling, swimming, triathlon, and various other sports, is there any one product which covers ‘all of the above’ and if so, is it good enough to cover all sports effectively, as well as functioning as an actual watch?
In October 2016, alongside a refresh of their Spark and Runner watches, TomTom launched the new ‘Adventurer GPS Outdoor Watch’ and as we love a good trail event at Trek and Run, we decided to put it through its paces during two trail marathons (one of which is dubbed ‘the toughest off-road trail marathon in the UK’) and through my winter training as I work towards my first full-distance Iron triathlon next year. Here’s how I got on…
Using the TomTom Adventurer while running…
TomTom’s history with sports watches comes from their running devices, and without a doubt it’s clear they’ve got this area down to a T. In November 2015 I reviewed TomTom’s Cardio Multisport GPS watch (http://product-reviews.trekandrun.com/2015/11/14/tomtom-cardio-multisport-gps-watch/) and while reviewing I’d been disappointed at times when the distance shown had been inaccurate which can throw out the pace calculation – not good news when you’re training or racing to a set pace – however this time the distance measured were much more accurate, and I found the displayed pace was much more stable, offering much greater reliability.
TomTom’s FastGPS has also improved and I was often picking up GPS signal before I’d even left my house, and on the odd occasion when I didn’t, it would connect within 30 seconds of leaving my front door. While there haven’t been any major changes to the Mysports app and website, it continues to offer a great summary of activities with enough information to satisfy any data geeks, as well as the ability to share data with other popular applications such as Strava, Runkeeper and TrainingPeaks. As someone who has previously tracked my steps on Fitbit I was disappointed not to see their app on the list, however I found it was possible to gain Fitbit credit for steps indirectly by linking both apps to Myfitnesspal, although through this method only steps taken during activities were tracked, which in some cases only counted for a fraction of my daily steps.
One of the big features setting the Adventurer apart from TomTom’s other GPS offerings are the ‘Trail running’ features which make use of a built-in Barometer to track altitude and 3D distance (offering the ability for much more realistic distance tracking), alongside features for tracking your route and setting up either a breadcrumb trail (to find your way home following the same route) or the ability to pre-load your own routes. I’ll admit that at first I was wondering whether the trail features would be gimmicky – more of a Unique Selling Point rather than anything of use during a trail race – however during the Beachy Head Marathon I found knowing the gradient of each hill meant I could judge the effort I should expend on each climb – i.e. walking when the gradient showed it would be inefficient to keep running – plus post-event, having that extra level of detail with the elevation data offered a further way to analyse my performance.
Using the TomTom adventurer while swimming…
Again, looking back to my 2015 review of the Multisport Cardio one of the things I’d complained about was the inaccuracy of the swimming feature, however this has been addressed and I was much happier with the results from the Adventurer watch. As GPS mode isn’t enabled during swimming the watch instead relies on sensing both the change in direction and push-off from a wall to measure the start and finish of each lap with user input is required to tell the watch the length of the pool, however the watch was incredibly accurate (even sensing the end of a final lap when I stopped swimming – something lacking on other watches I’ve tested) and I found this led to much more accurate feedback with reliable distances quoted.
Although I didn’t complete any open water swimming over the winter, one feature still missing from TomTom’s watches is an open-water swim setting utilising GPS while swimming. Understandably this can be an awkward function to provide as GPS doesn’t work in water so I’d imagine some pretty smart computing power is required to make this function effective, however as it’s a function other manufacturers offer, it’s one I’d love to see built into TomTom’s next model as the lack of this ability alongside the lack of a true multisport function (i.e the ability to switch sports during activities) is something I feel is still holding back TomTom’s watches from being considered ‘Triathlon-suitable’ and while this won’t be an issue for most athletes, it does rule out a number of potential customers in the fast-growing Triathlon market. Bring on the TomTom Tri-sport in 2018!
Using the TomTom Adventurer while cycling…
While I found the Adventurer’s elevation features useful during trail running activities, they really came into play when looking back over cycles as they offered a chance to check out pace and heart-rate against elevation (very useful for judging efficiency) as well as the much more important ability to brag and/or justify that extra slice of cake when highlighting how many feet you climbed throughout your ‘gentle Sunday-morning 50 miler’! Alongside outdoor mode, the watch also features an ‘Indoor cycling’ setting where GPS is disabled so the watch can be used in a spin class or on a turbo trainer. In this mode the Heart Rate monitor felt very accurate, allowing me to monitor my zones effectively as I completed spin workouts.
One minor complaint here would be the fact a bike mount isn’t included in the pack so there will be an extra expense if you’d rather the screen was easily viewable on your handlebars rather than on your wrist, however the amount of information viewable by flicking through the screens is more than adequate for most cyclists, and the Adventurer’s ‘Trails’ mapping features could be especially useful for cyclists who may have previously relied on a bike computer to monitor performance stats and route mapping at the same time.
Using the TomTom Adventurer as a lifestyle tool…
While early multi-sport GPS watches would typically be bulky and used during sports then swapped out for a normal watch at other times, consumers are increasingly wearing their devices 24/7 so I thought it would be also worth looking at how the Adventurer fares as a daily timekeeper as well as a sports device.
At first glance some might be unsure about wearing the Adventurer all the time as the bright orange strap isn’t exactly subtle, however I received a few positive comments when people noticed it, with one person even stating ”I can tell you’re sporty by your flashy watch”. It’s also worth noting the device can be easily popped out of the strap (for use with a bike mount or a different coloured/style strap), although at time of writing there aren’t any other straps available just yet despite the fact the device is shown in a plain black strap on TomTom’s site, but I imagine they will be available eventually.
While the watch is slightly bulkier than a standard watch or other fitness devices, I found the size didn’t cause too much grief unless I was wearing a jumper or jacket with tight sleeves, although I did feel uncomfortable wearing it during the night, which obviously affected my ability to use the device to track sleep. As with most fitness trackers and sports watches the Adventurer also features the ability to track daily and weekly steps, alongside daily and weekly measurements for ‘calories burned’, ‘distance travelled’ and ‘time active’, all of which can also be monitored within the MySports app.
Another great lifestyle feature is the ability to load the device with music (upto 3gb of space is available so plenty of room for a few albums) and stream the music wirelessly to a set of Bluetooth headphones, either during day-to-day use or during exercise activities. I tested this during one of my longer training runs and although I found the initial setup slightly awkward as you need to ensure music is playing before starting your activity, the sound quality was great and it offered a great way to store and play music without running your phone battery down. However it’s worth noting this feature currently only works with actual physical music (i.e. mp3 files), so if you typically stream using services such as Deezer or Spotify rather than purchase tracks, you may find yourself needing to buy some music to use with the Adventurer.
Using the TomTom adventurer overall…
I’ve tested the TomTom Adventurer over a period of around 3 months and although l did find a few small items to complain about, I’ve absolutely loved using this device! Admittedly there are a few features you’ll find you need to get used to such as the fact you need to cover the device completely to activate the backlight rather than just tapping the screen as with most other devices, however the extra functions TomTom have added into this product makes it ideal for the sports I love to take part in, and a huge improvement on the last TomTom product I tested. It’s also worth pointing out that in addition to the sports I covered, the Adventurer also features Hiking, Ski and Snowboard modes (with the last two able to determine when you’re using a ski-lift and adjust your settings accordingly) making it a great all-rounder for adventure sports.
One minor complaint would be regarding the device’s battery life as I often found myself panicking during longer events and heavy training days as the battery indicator would head towards empty while running/cycling/swimming, although thankfully it never died on me. TomTom quotes a battery life of 5 hours when using GPS, HR monitor and music, 9 hours for GPS and HR and 11 for GPS usage only (extended to over 20 hours in ‘hiking mode’ by only taking GPS readings every 2 seconds) and while this should be generally ok, it’s worth noting if you’re travelling for a long period of time or aren’t able to charge the device, you may need to keep the HR and music switched off to conserve battery.
The accuracy of wrist-based Heart Rate monitors are still an area of contention with many athletes, however I feel this is one area TomTom have improved drastically since their last product I tested. This time round the reading felt much more accurate, meaning I was much more confident while using it for Heart Rate training – i.e. keeping my heart rate in ‘zone two’ for sustainable endurance activities such as distance runs or long turbo sessions. TomTom also provide a setting where 5 heart-rate zones can be identified and indicated according to the classic HR equation ‘220 – age’, and while it’s a shame these zones can’t be manually adjusted as a number of exercise professional agree this is a very rough estimate and not ideal for everybody, they offer a rough idea which someone new to Heart Rate training could find useful.
In summary, the TomTom Adventurer is an excellent all-round device and a great indicator of how TomTom’s dedication to runners and athletes in general is strong, as their products continue to improve in this market. Better still, the price tag (currently around £250) makes this device a lot more affordable than similar offerings, and a great way to step up from a basic fitness tracking device or sports watch.
To find out more about the TomTom Adventurer, visit: www.tomtom.com/en_gb/sports/outdoor-watches