From the Pebble to the Toq, multi-tasking sports watches have recently gained popularity among the techie set. Among athletes, they’ve been used for over a decade. At their most basic functionality, athletic smart watches measure pace and distance, though most also have an optional heart rate monitor and offer enough technological bells and whistles to make Siri swoon. We got our hands on the TomTom Multisport GPS ($200), an intuitive little offering that provides metrics for running, cycling and swimming.
Previously, TomTom had partnered with Nike to produce the Nike+ Sportwatch GPS, but now they’ve gone rogue, so to speak; the Multisport is the second offering in their solo venture after the Runner GPS, which offers much of the same functionality as the Multisport but only for, obviously, running-related activities. If you’ve ever seen the Nike+ SportWatch, you’ll immediately notice the similarities: square face, large font, and bright, easy-to-read display. However, whereas one controls the Nike watch via side buttons, the TomTom takes commands from a small joystick pad under the display.
When resting, the screen shows the date and time. To start an activity, you press the right button on the joystick, which vibrates pleasantly and shifts the display to the Activities screen. From here, you choose one of four options: Run, Cycle, Swim or Treadmill.
When you select Run mode, the watch begins satellite searching. During our test, it picked up a signal almost immediately. If you have a heart rate strap (sold separately), it’ll find that, too. Once everything’s been paired, hitting the right button again starts the run. As a default, the top quarter of the screen displays elapsed time and distance, while the bottom three-fourths can toggle between clock, duration, distance, pace, average pace, calories, heart rate and laps (if enabled). Pressing the left button pauses the run and takes you to the summary screen, which displays the elapsed time, distance, and average pace. Another press of the left button will end the run.
In addition to standard metrics, the watch also offers several other features, including the ability to set run-specific goals (the watch then displays a chart of your progress, and offers you pop-up alerts at 50%, 90%, and 110% of your goal), create laps based on time or distance, create “target zones” for pace or heart rate, or race against past performances (preloaded times get replaced as you build a history).
Cycling mode, offered only on the Multisport, is similar to run mode, with two exceptions. In addition to the standard metrics, the watch is compatible with an external speed and cadence sensor (via Bluetooth, not ANT+), sold separately, for more accurate metrics.
Compared to other GPS-enabled sportwatches on the market, the TomTom is certainly the prettiest, as well as the slimmest.
Swimming mode uses the watch’s 3D accelerometers (not GPS) to measure distance, so before starting your swim, you need to enter the pool distance. While the use of accelerometers allows the watch to measure metrics like strokes and SWOLF (a metric comprised of your strokes plus the amount of time it takes to complete a lap; the lower your SWOLF, the better), it means that the watch only supports pool swimming, not open water. However, should you swim in an unusually deep lap pool, the watch is rated at 5 ATM, which means that it’s water resistant down to 50 meters.
For frequent treadmill runners, one of the most attractive features about the TomTom is that its Treadmill mode measures distance using the same accelerometers as swimming mode, meaning that no footpads are required. In our tests, the watch measured pace and distance accurately, especially when “calibrated” post-run by entering the distance reading on the treadmill itself. The only gaps occurred when we took a drink of water, checked our phone, or changed the channel on the TV; because the watch depends on wrist movement for metrics, any changes in wrist movement will impact the final results. But again, this is fixed with calibration.
With all the options, you can upload your data to TomTom’s MySport website, which is powered by the same people that run MapMyRun/MapMyRide. After downloading the included software, you simply plug the watch into your computer to launch the website. Alternately, as of December 2nd, you can upload data from the watch to an iOS or Android device via Bluetooth. From there, you can view, store and share your athletic achievements online. Although the website is currently bare bones, TomTom spokesmen have announced that they plan to show more advanced statistics in the near future.
Compared to other GPS-enabled sportwatches on the market, the TomTom is certainly the prettiest, as well as the slimmest. At $200, it falls between the Garmin Forerunner 10 ($129, only for running, and only tracks distance, pace and calories), and the Timex Run Trainer GPS 2.0 ($225, with similar features to the TomTom but with ANT+ connectivity). For the weekend warrior who wants an easy-to-use, stylish sportwatch, the TomTom looks like the best bet for your money, especially since the brand seems committed to updating the experience through firmware upgrades, website reboots and mobile app releases.