Product review: TomTom Cardio

Product review: TomTom Cardio

For the past few weeks I’ve been busy trying out the TomTom Cardio, a new GPS running watch sent to me by the folks at TomTom. It’s being promoted by my old chums at The Running Bug, who have arranged for the watches to be road-tested by a load of bloggers and running types.

I usually wear a Garmin 610, but earlier this year I had a bit of a play around with the TomTom Runner (which was the predecessor to the TomTom Cardio) and, to be completely honest, I really didn’t get along with it. For the price, I didn’t like the lack of heart rate monitor as standard; but the thing that annoyed me most was the fact that every time you took the watch off, the inner watchy bit would fall out of the strap and make an escape bid by clattering onto whatever hard surface was nearest. The only way to avoid this was to sloooooowly and carefully take the thing off with the nervous precision of someone defusing a highly explosive wrist-bomb1.

Regardless of this, I was keen to give the new version a fair chance. I’d heard some promising whispers on the interweb, including someone saying that they’d addressed the aforementioned “ejector watch” feature. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the thing…

The flagship feature of this watch is the built-in heart rate monitor, which measures heart rate by shining a light into the capillaries in the wrist. I’m guessing it works in a similar way to those pulse oximeter thingies that nurses put on your fingers to check how alive you are. Getting rid of the chest strap was a great move. On the rare occasions I put my “serious runner” hat on2 I tend to base my training on heart rate, but I’m forever forgetting to put the chest strap in my kit bag. Also, I’m not a fan of the way the chest straps push up into my man boobs like some sort of futuristic space-bra. Other than the strapless HRM, the features of the Cardio are pretty similar to those of the TomTom Runner. One thing that has changed is the fit of the main unit into the strap, and I’m pleased to say that the issue I ranted about earlier has been well and truly sorted. The watch now sits snugly in the strap, and there’s no way it’ll come out unless you really want it to.

I’ve not yet decided how I feel about the bold, chunky design of the watch. There’s something a bit 1980’s sci-fi about it, and I can imagine a stormtrooper wearing one on his day off. Perhaps he’d go rock-pooling, or to a nice tea shop.

Anyway, I’ve waffled enough. Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of the TomTom Cardio:

LIKE

  • Although it sometimes took a little while to lock on to my heart rate3, the strapless HRM works well. I compared the results with chest strap monitors and also by taking my pulse manually, and it seems accurate.
  • I loved the tap-to-lap feature when doing fartleks or hill sprints. (I haven’t googled it yet, but I think I might have just invented the phrase “tap-to-lap”).
  • The watch syncs data with a smartphone app via Bluetooth, and this was an absolute breeze to use. Nice looking app too. 
  • It doesn’t seem to throw a wobbly when I run through an underpass or under some trees, like my Garmin sometimes does.
  • Pretty quick to lock on to satellites (around 5-10 seconds).

DISLIKE

  • The display has very little scope for customisation. There are two little fields at the top of the screen which can be set up to display whatever you want (for example, total distance and heart rate), and the main display just shows one data field at a time. This was really restrictive and I found that I was spending a lot of time cycling through the screen to get the information I wanted mid-run. I tried to judge the TomTom on its own merits rather than comparing it directly with my Garmin but this is one area where I couldn’t help it, and the 610 wins hands down. Hopefully this is something that will be improved in a future software update.
  • Once you start recording a run, it seems you can’t go back and change settings without ending the run and starting a new one. I found this a real pain.
  • Although the smartphone app is really nicely presented and easy to use, I was hoping that the TomTom MySports website would add a bit more stuff to satisfy my stat-monkey cravings. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really bring anything extra to the party. For instance, I was hoping it’d allow you to filter and sort your workouts to make it easier to compare data, but that doesn’t seem to be a feature yet.
  • On the website, you can manually input your max HR, rather than simply basing it on your age. This makes the zones much more accurate, but I’d also like to have the option to enter resting HR as I prefer calculating %HR based on the Karvonen method. And yes, I do need to get out more.
  • When you finish a run you’re not automatically shown a summary of how you did, and to get to the history menu you have to go back as if you’re about to start another workout. I found this to be a bit clunky and it didn’t feel intuitive at all. 

SUMMARY

Although they’ve been leaders in the field of GPS for a long time now, TomTom are relative newcomers to the sports watch market, so you can’t expect them to get everything right straight away. Most of my dislikes fall into the category of “annoying gripe” rather than “design flaw” and there’s nothing there that can’t be fixed with a software update at some point in the future (if enough people share my whinges). The TomTom cardio is a fun piece of kit to use, and it’s flagship feature the optical heart rate monitor performs well. I was concerned that it may something of a hastily tacked-on gimmick, but after using it for a few weeks I do feel that this type of HRM is the way forward.

Where this watch really falls down, in my opinion, is in justifying its price tag. It currently retails at £219.99 (inc. shipping) which puts it up against the Garmin 220 and Suunto Ambit. If you take the optical HRM out of the equation, the TomTom Cardio is really quite a basic no frills watch. Obviously, not everyone needs a ton of stats and features they’ll probably never use (I don’t need them, I just like them. They’re shiny and they sometimes go beep), but if someone wants a stripped down watch with just the basic features, they can pick up a decent one for half the price of the Cardio. It’s still early days for TomTom as a running brand, and I don’t think they’ve quite hit their potential with this product. 

FINAL BIT:

I wasn’t paid to review this product, although I was sent one for the purpose of testing. All views are entirely my own, etc. etc. 

If you fancy reading some more (probably more informative) reviews of this watch, pop the hashtag #getsmyheartracing into twitter. This should bring up a whole host of top bloggers and tweeterers who’ve all had a play around with the TomTom Cardio too. Be sure to check out DC Rainmaker’s report on this watch too (http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2014/04/tomtom-cardio.html). As with all of his stuff, it’s a report so detailed and in-depth, you’ll think he spent three years marooned on a desert island with only a GPS watch and a notebook for company. 

 

1 Are wrist-bombs a thing?
2 I feel that I should confess that I don’t have an actual “serious runner” hat. I do have a “stupid runner” hat though; it’s a neon pink sombrero bedecked with tinsel and sparklers, and features a full-size working cuckoo clock.
Not really.
3 Maybe I just have shy blood.

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Twitter’s nice isn’t it? I’m @borntoplodblog

I’ve also got a Facebook thingy here: Facebook.com/borntoplod 

COMING SOON: You’ve read the stupid blog, now wear the stupid shirt. 

 

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