TomTom Multisport GPS Watch Review

This is TomTom’s first solo venture into the Garmin-centric world of GPS watches. I’ve used the Multi-Sport version (there’s also a running version and the TomTom powered Nike+ watch) for the past four weeks, complete with a marathon in there and some trail/mountain running. So I’ve had a great opportunity to put it through its paces. And this is how it performed for me …

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Initial Reactions

  • Design: Looks sleek, big face display (but not overly bulky), the strap is comfy (even if the rubber catch band is a little sticky to readjust), funky colours. Score: 9/10
  • Navigation: The single button (with left, right, up and down commands) is easy to use and the functions are super simple to navigate around. Score: 8/10

The watch has four sporting functions: running, cycling (with handlebar mount), swimming, and treadmill running.

The running is obviously my main priority but as a part time triathlete (most runners need to be during injury breaks!) the other functions are definitely useful for me. And to be honest, this watch is a great way of avoiding forking out extra coin for other devices (for swimming and cycling) that I may only use now and again and when injured.

TomTom GPS Watch 3

Running

So this was the big tester for me. I’m a competitive regional level athlete (with a 15:27 5k best) so am after something I can use for tempo runs and for assisting with pacing for longer races like half and full marathons. Additionally, my work in running book publishing is greatly assisted by an accurate GPS for mapping trail runs and gauging distances and elevation profiles. So this is how the TomTom stacked up to my running demands:

Running Displays: You can set a major display for either pace, average pace, distance, calories, time and so on, and then also have two minor displays at the top of the screen with an alternative measure. This is a great feature and with the touch-screen night-light, makes for easy reading. Plus, you can always scroll up and down for other measurements.

It also has the graphic training partner feature, but this wasn’t really a biggy for me as I’d rather keep my eye on the race and the road!
Score: 9/10

Satellite Detection: Living in the city, in an apartment block, can’t help but I found the TomTom typically slow. Best result was to leave the watch on the balcony while I tracked down my running kit. This would take a couple of minutes usually (20 seconds once), but when running, it was often around four to eight minutes to lock into a satellite signal. I guess this is normal for most watches, but still frustrating if you’re in a rush to get out the door. Some say the advertised QuickGPSFix technology worked for them but I couldn’t say definitively that this watch stands out from the crowd on this point. Apparently it will connect quicker when you use it immediately after it has been connected to a computer.
Score: 6/10

Speed & Distance Accuracy: I ran a marathon with the watch and regularly compared paces to a friend running next to me who was wearing a Garmin. My paces were typically reading slower than his and then seemed to jump up by 10-15 seconds per kilometre occasionally as if to make up for missed ground.

Looking at the satellite map of my race suggested that the culprit was simply a lack of coordinate tracking where it would assume I was cutting corners frequently (if the race director is reading this, I can confirm I did not swim across any of the bazillion bays we ran around!).

I understand that most GPS devices will cut corners, especially when running at higher speeds, but this was too much variability for my liking. The total distance was still reasonably accurate, missing 400m over the marathon reading 41.78km at the finish (my friend’s watch read 42.3km).
Score: 5/10

GPS reading

The GPS plot from the marathon showing several cut corners.

Alerts: The usual kilometre or mile alerts are fine, but constantly telling me whether I’m changing from uphill to downhill or flat is a bit annoying, especially that you can’t switch this function off.
Score: 6/10

Stopwatch Capabilities: The watch only has a simple go/pause stopwatch function. No splits or lap times until you sync with external software. In a race, workout or coaching setting this is a major drawback. I also love the reassurance of having a stand-alone one-hit stop/start button for the stopwatch rather than the TomTom’s all-in-one button (which is otherwise great).
Score: 2/10

Workouts: You can set various goals, paces, races or workout zones. I’m a purest, preferring a well-measured track and a stopwatch (plus my own perceived effort) so this didn’t really interest me much, but others may find these tools useful ideas for mixing up the training.
Score: N/A

Swimming

I am terrible at keeping track of how many laps of the pool I’ve done (often leading to over-inflated time trial times!), so I’ve found this watch, which works regardless of whether you’re indoors or outdoors, a Godsend.

Features: The swimming function provides measures for duration, distance, lengths, swolf (time to do a length + number of strokes in that length), strokes per length, and calories. Like the running function, the swimming display allows you to have one main measure (or switch between measures) and keep two other key measures at the top of your screen. For me, duration in the main display and lengths and strokes in the top worked perfectly.
Score: 9/10

Accuracy: The swim function uses the motion of your arm and the programmable pool length to gauge all the measures. I found this quite accurate. However, the pool size maxes out at 50m (not so good when one of your local pools is 60m) and there’s no open-water function.

For the latter problem, you could always use the run setting but you will most likely lose the satellite connection when your hand’s under the water. I don’t see anyway around this other than attaching your watch to your goggle strap when swimming in the ocean (but watch the unit itself doesn’t fall off the strap!).
Score: 6.5/10  

Workouts: You can set a workout to, say, 1km and bring up a pie chart to tell you what percentage of the workout you have down. This is great for checking every so often as you push off the wall for another length, rather than clear your goggles to read digits.

The major flaw when it comes to structuring workouts is the lack of interval training programming. Like the running, it would be great to have a button you can just whack to start and finish an interval or lap.
Score: 7/10

TomTom GPS Watch 1

Cycle

I only really use cycling to get around and to keep fit on my rest days from running and when I’m injured. Like the running function, the cycling is nice and straightforward using the same GPS tracking as the running (no wiring needed unless you want the cadence accessory). It did what I wanted it to do: tell me my rough speed and rough distance. Comes with an easily mounted, handlebar mount.
Score: 8/10

Treadmill

Like the swim function, the treadmill function uses the movement of your arm to gauge your pace. I soon found out that in such situations it’s better to put it on the arm you won’t be using to towel yourself, drink with, and change settings on the treadmill—it will assume you have stopped!

Treadmill running obviously isn’t a huge need for tracking distance, but this is certainly a useful tool for recording your mileage.

You can calibrate your watch and running speed to the actual distance you have run (as determined by your treadmill or outdoor measured circuit).
Score: 8/10

Multisport

So as a multisport watch can you use it for the entirety of a triathlon? No. Well, you can, but you’ll need to press a few buttons in transition to switch between modes. It would be excellent if it had just a simple one-touch triathlon/brick session function from which to do this.
Score: 4/10

Accessories

You can always add a heart rate monitor, cadence sensor (for bike) and altimeter. All would be useful additions depending on your goals and training routines. I didn’t try these. It’s also possible to sync the watch to other Bluetooth Smart accessories.
Score: N/A

TomTom GPS Watch 2

Battery Life

10 hours. Not bad but does mean slapping it on the charger every night—it’s always annoying if when you wake up in the morning having forgotten the night before. And unless you’re speedy, not usable in an Ironman. It charges via the computer USB connection.
Score: 5/10

Durability

When on your wrist it is great. Take it off, however, and the electronic unit can easily fall out, making it annoying to find in a gym bag and also opening up the potential for dropping it (and braking the glass display).
Score: 5/10

Syncing

With a simple USB attachment, this is nice and easy. Download some software and upload to TomTom’s website and also to sites like Mapmyrun and RunKeeper. All good, if without any special bells and whistles (as the software is still in Beta mode).
Score: 7/10

Conclusion

A good watch that covers the basics well if a little underwhelming on the speed accuracy when in GPS mode. If you’re a triathlete and don’t want to spend the earth on a device for each discipline this will certainly tick most of your boxes (until you go to swim in the ocean!). And with a reasonable price point it ticks those boxes at a good dollars-per-tick ratio.

Total Score: 6.5/10

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