Before we start, let me be clear that I in no way tested this device in any situation that could even remotely be mistaken as exercise. The extent of my physical activity is walking around the city trying to catch mythical anime creatures on my smart phone, although I have been known to occasionally–specifically once a year–climb a mountain or two. Thankfully, I have a 16-year-old son who is filled with all kinds of energy–at least until he’s confronted with that teenage Kryptonite known as “work I’m not getting paid to do.” I also am lucky enough to be married to a wonderful woman who is a swimmer, runner, fitness instructor, weightlifter, and all manner of other “er”s and “or”s used to describe people who actually raise their heart rate by a method other than watching The Shining or playing Clustertruck.
The first step in enjoying the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music is to read the instruction manual. By my estimate, there are 18,312 different functions on this watch that are accessed by a single four-way button. Once you learn what all the Spark can do, it’s actually pretty easy to get to each function, but just blindly pushing buttons can leave you wondering if you’re possibly doing something you shouldn’t like setting the watch’s language to Korean or remotely launching an ICBM. If you were raised to believe that only losers read the instructions to anything and doing so is an affront to your masculinity, intelligence, forebears, whatever, don’t worry. That’s what I’m here for. Sit back, adjust the ice pack from the latest household accident that was in no way due to not reading the instructions on whatever complicated device you thought you already knew how to use but somehow, most likely due to lousy workmanship and again not in any way due to not reading the instructions, managed to come loose and wallop you upside the head, and read on.
From the home screen, the left button accesses the history of your activities including miles, hours and minutes slept, steps, workout minutes, and calories burned. These should all read zero because you haven’t actually done anything yet, begging the question of why we started here in the first place and also why people say “begging the question” when they really mean something else.
Again from the home screen–and to be clear, I’m using “home screen” to describe the screen showing the time and date–push to the right to go into the exercise screens. From here, you can choose from a number of specific exercises including running, cycling, swimming (yep, it’s waterproof!), treadmill (running without bothering with the GPS tracking because, frankly, that would just be stupid), gym (Booty Boot Camp, Tae Bo, step aerobics, Sweatin’ to the Oldies, etc.), indoor cycling, freestyle (everything else), and stopwatch (an exercise where you watch the numbers on your watch go by rapidly, burning surprisingly few calories). Just choose your exercise and hit go to begin tracking your time, heart rate, and distance. Simple enough, right?
Of course not. I mean, yes, it’s that simple if that’s all you want it to do. I spent days doing just that, tracking the time, heart rate, and distance for such activities as “walking to get the mail” and “chasing a stupid Onix around the mall, cursing Niantic for not including a directional marker in its app.” However for your more elite athletes that care about little things like actually getting fit, there is so much more you can do. First, and most importantly, you can choose a playlist for this exercise because what kind of casual runs to the same music they bike to? Beyond that, there are are also options for:
- Setting training goals by distance, time, or calories
- Configuring intervals by time or distance
- Setting up laps by time, distance, or manually
- Configuring workout zones by pace, speed, or heart rate
- Racing against your own previous workouts
- Configuring the display to show whatever info works best for your workout
- Turning on splits to be notified at each mile/kilometer
Back to the important part of choosing a playlist for an exercise. Unless you’re just a huge John Cage fan, you’ll probably want to get some music onto the watch first. This was the one place I was a little disappointed. While it’s simple to load it up with music from a Windows Media or iTunes playlist, you do have to do it from a computer. Given that the watch already syncs directly with your smartphone via Bluetooth for downloading workout data, it would have been nice if I could just push the music straight from my phone. Instead, I had to fire up Windows Media Player, which I haven’t used in years, and populate a few playlists with songs from my hard drive. My assumption is that this is necessary due to some kind of DRM or other nonsense Apple and Google have sidled us with, but regardless, it’s a minor inconvenience at most, but one to be aware of.
Now that you have up to 3GB of music on your watch, you’re probably going to want a way to listen to it. Pushing up from the home screen, you can sync your TomTom Spark Cardio + Music sport watch with any pair of Bluetooth headphones. If you don’t already have a pair, you probably don’t own an iPhone 7. You can buy a version of the Spark that includes a pair of headphones, but while they worked fine, there was nothing spectacular about them. I synced up my Aftershokz Bluez II S headphones and was able to quickly fire up some Master of Puppets. Navigating through the music was simple enough, and the watch appeared to remember where I last was when I exited the music player. This is key if you’re going to use the Spark to listen to audiobooks while working out.
Since we’ve covered all the other directions, there’s nowhere left to go but down. This is where you will find all the settings functions for checking battery and storage, setting time and alarms, switching between SI units and FREEDOM UNITS, turning off the buzzer, and lying to your watch about your height, weight, and age. Actually, I don’t recommend doing that last, as this is how it determines many of the metrics stored on the watch and transferred to your phone and ultimately to the website where you can share your workouts with your friends and family or with your readers if you’re so inclined.
Packing in GPS, a heart rate monitor, Bluetooth, an MP3 player, a vibrating motor, and a back light is bound to take its toll on a battery, and the Spark is not immune to this. With casual use, I can easily get over a week on a single charge, but with one workout a day, using the heart rate monitor and GPS, a more realistic number would be 3-5 days. Charging is done via proprietary USB cable, and while I would have preferred a standard Micro USB, I understand the need to not have any plugs on it if you want it to be waterproof. The watch face easily pops in and out for charging and loading music or for switching out the band.
One piece of functionality you might be expecting that is not in the TomTom Spark is syncing of messages with your phone. You won’t be notified when you get a text or an e-mail, and the watch face won’t light up or anything when your phone rings. This is first and foremost a sport watch, and one of the joys of exercise, whether it’s running, cycling, swimming, or just strolling down the sidewalk is disconnecting from the rest of the world. Also, if you’re riding your bike on the road or jogging down the sidewalk, and you’re trying to read a text, please understand that when you smack face first into a tree or the back of a UPS truck, I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing at your watch.
Okay, and you.
I received a TomTom Spark Cardio + Music for review purposes. All opinions are my own.