TomTom Runner GPS Watch Review

TomTom-RUNNER_RANGE_FRONT_MIThere comes a time in every runner’s life when they have to learn about the GPS.

The runner has to decide if and when it is right for them to take that step, and what they are most attracted to once they’re ready.

If they rush it, the runner might make an impulse decision which feels more like a mistake the next morning.  Alternatively, they may enjoy a model for awhile, but long for an upgrade once it no longer feels exciting.

Other times the runner finds just the right GPS, which they can enjoy for years to come.

And occasionally you’ll meet someone who has decided to abstain from having a GPS all together.  This is usually for personal reasons, but also possibly because they just aren’t interested.

Regardless of the runner’s status, choosing a GPS shouldn’t be made lightly.  In many ways, it’s a life changing decision.

Let’s Talk About GPS

Alright, that was starting to get a little awkward…

I purchased my first GPS running watch, the Garmin Forerunner 305, after testing out an old roommate’s watch during a few trail runs.  I couldn’t believe I had trained for two marathons without it.  Pacing, distance, tracking data, all on my wrist.  It felt amazing.

When I started running ultras and spending more time on the trail than the road, mapping wasn’t as available, and the GPS became key to planning routes.

I loved that watch.  It freed me to run where I wanted and pushed me to faster paces when I was slowing.

But the Forerunner wasn’t perfect.  It was bulky, slow to find signal, and the interface wasn’t always easy to manage.

So a few weeks ago when I was approached by TomTom to check out their new GPS watch, the TomTom Runner, I didn’t hesitate to give it a shot.

Below you’ll find my completely unbiased review of the watch.  While the device was given to me for review, TomTom had no influence on my opinion.   All words below are from the author.

TomTom_Runner_Watch-001The TomTom Runner

A few years ago TomTom teamed up with Nike to create the Nike+ SportWatch, which, after a few bugs became unbugged, found its place along side the big names in sport watches.  It became a great option for many runners looking for basic GPS functionality.

This year TomTom has decided to go off on their own and create an independent watch, the TomTom Runner.  If you compare the two visually, you’ll notice a very similar look and feel.

Having used the TomTom Runner for several weeks, TomTom’s team seems to have taken the best parts of the Nike+ SportWatch and developed a rival watch worthy of its own spot alongside comparable GPS watches.

THE LOOK

DSC01571-002One thing I love about this watch is how it could almost pass for a regular athletic watch.  The slim and sexy face doesn’t scream “Look at me!” like a giant Garmin or Timex.  It lays flat on the wrist and curves naturally like a watch.

They’ve also done something unique by designing the face to pop out of the band, a feature that allows for easy charging, and lets users swap out the bands to the color/size of your choice.  I generally like this feature, but as I’ll mention later, I have my reservations about its execution.

They have designed the watch to stay on at all times, but only search for signal when in “Run” mode.  When not connected to a satellite, it displays the time like a regular watch, and gives you the option set a single, snoozable, alarm.  Snoozable being the key feature.

Functions

TomTom has designed two main functions into the TomTom Runner:  Run and Treadmill.

1) Treadmill

Before I go any further, because I haven’t actually been on a treadmill in over 6 months, I never tested this function.

Apparently the watch has an internal accelerometer which can indicate pace and distance without a footpad.  Seem like a neat feature.

Judging from other reviews, this accelerometer appears to be fairly accurate.  I believe the watch would be most useful on the treadmill if you were using a heart rate monitor.  Otherwise, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just use the data delivered on the treadmill itself (except for data recording purposes).

2) Run

This is the heart and soul of the watch, and where it shines.  The basic run setting displays distance, pace, time, splits, calories, and heart rate.

The user is able to easily switch through the different data and display the information they find most important boldly on the watch.  By default, time, distance, and average pace are shown.

Within the run function, you are given the option to use several different training modes:

  • Goals: The runner selects a goal based on distance, time, or calories, and the watch displays your progress towards that goal throughout the run.  This mode seems a little unnecessary to me, and one I doubt I’ll ever use.
  • Laps: You can preset laps based on time, distance, or manual, giving you the functionality to set up speed and tempo workouts directly into the watch.
  • Zones: Preset a target heart or pace, and the watch will monitor your behavior throughout the workout.  If you are moving away from the target zone, you are alerted by large arrows telling you how to adjust.  When you are back in the correct zone, a large target is displayed on the watch.  Easy to use and follow.
  • Race: Race mode is pretty cool and unique.  It allows you to race yourself based on past performances or preset times.  You can race yourself on courses you have already run (it remembers the route), or by preset generic distances that are saved within the system.  As you are running, the watch will display how far ahead or behind you are through a constantly updating graphic.

DSC01567-002Satellite Reception

I’ve had much better luck with the TomTom Runner unit than I ever did with the Garmin.  The watch is able to locate satellites quickly and has proven to be very accurate throughout the run.  Both on the road and in the woods.

Every time you plug your watch into the computer (for data downloads or charging), it automatically pre-loads satellite locations for the next three days.  This makes for incredibly fast connection speed once the watch is turned on for use.

Quick satellite reception stands out as one of the biggest pluses for the TomTom Runner.

BATTERY LIFE

The TomTom Runner has 10 hours of GPS battery life, pretty standard for this type of unit.  For your average runner or marathoner, 10 hours is more than enough, but becomes an issue during 50+ mile ultras and other longer events.

I say GPS battery life because when the watch is in non-GPS mode, it’ll last for weeks.

Analyzing Data

TomTom has created their own computer data system called TomTom Mysports.

The system is clean and easy to use, but pretty basic.  TomTom Mysports uses the map system from MapMyFitness (the folks behind MapMyRun, MayMyRide), and offers nice charts displaying data throughout the run.  I wouldn’t say anything is wrong with it, but it does have room for additional functionality.

Problems

After a few weeks of solid testing and using the device during Ragnar, only two major problems come to mind:

  1. You can’t start the timer in “run” function if the satellite hasn’t been located.  This shouldn’t be a big issue, especially since the satellite usually locates very quickly, but it became a problem one time during Ragnar.  I started a leg before realizing I hadn’t turned on the watch.  When I switched it to “run,” the unit had trouble finding the satellite.  In the meantime I wanted to start the stopwatch so I could at least record how long I was running, but had to wait a few minutes before signal was found.
  2. I’m not convinced that designing the unit to pop out of the band is a great idea.  Or rather, I’m not convinced designing it to pop out so easily is a good idea.  The idea seems solid, but it has fallen out twice on me.  Thankfully both times on grass.

Final Thoughts

DSC01563-001This GPS is a great addition to the mid-level range.  The easy to use interface and accurate data makes it perfect for your average runner.

Right now the unit is selling on Amazon for the reasonable price of $169.99 or $200 with heart rate monitor.  A multi-sport version, which includes biking and swimming features, is also available.

Do I think they have room to improve the unit?  Sure.  But it’ll be most important to see improvement on the back end through TomTom MySport and software updates.

Even as is, the TomTom Runner gets Rock Creek Runner’s big stamp of approval.  It has already become my go-to GPS for runs long and short.

Note:  All Amazon links are affliate links.  By purchasing the unit, or anything else, though the link, you are helping to support the costs that go into keeping Rock Creek Runner up and running.

5 Responses to TomTom Runner GPS Watch Review

  1. Thanks for the review! I reached out to TomTom a few times about this watch, trying to find out if it has interval functionality. I unfortunately wasn’t able to get a response from them! I’d love to hear more from you on how exactly setting up laps works and just how much you can do there. I did end up pre-ordering the new Garmin FR 220 even though I was more interested in the TomTom just because Garmin was clearer on the functionality of the device. Very informative review, thanks again.

    • Since the latest sw update to 1.4 it now has a real interval feature added.

      • I just saw that! Too bad TomTom was unresponsive to me when I asked about this because I already ordered the Garmin.

  2. Color me intrigued about this watch.

    Quick question about satellite reception – do you fee like you got better reception with your Garmin when it was new? I’ve had my 405 for about 2 1/2 years and I feel like it’s noticbly slower in picking up the satellites than it used to be.

    I know little to nothing about the technology behind this (but am looking into it!), but it would make sense that older equipment wears down…

    • Hey PJ, thanks for reading. Honestly, I’m not sure if I got better reception when it was new. I never remember it having great reception, but also don’t remember being as frustrated with it as I am now.

      Great question. Sorry I don’t have a good answer.

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