If you are considering a new GPS watch for running but haven’t looked past the various Garmin or Suunto models then I recommend not buying one until you’ve found out a bit more about the TomTom Adventurer, you might be surprised, I certainly was!
This is quite a long review so if you can’t be bothered to read it all then I will just say that this is a very capable GPS watch that provides some really useful running training modes and also the options to track all kinds of outdoor activities and includes an optical heartrate monitor.
I know that I shouldn’t have preconceptions before starting a review but to be honest I didn’t have high expectations for this watch before testing it. The design looked simplistic and with a price of £269.99 it is clearly expected to compete with the well-established and very popular Suunto and Garmin models. However, I have to say that I have been very pleasantly surprised over the two months that I’ve been testing it, it has far exceeded my expectations and is worth serious consideration if you are considering buying a GPS watch for multiple outdoor activities.
It was intuitive to use straight out of the box with a simple 4-way control button below the watch face. This 4-way button was easy to use even while wearing thick gloves and had none of the issues of being difficult to use in the rain that some of the competing touch screen watches have. It was simple to set it up and pair with my phone after downloading the Mysports App, then the main activity functions were easy to use and I got it up and running within literally a few button presses.
In terms of appearance the watch screen is very clear and the light function works well. I’m not a big fan of the bright orange strap which makes this look very much like just a sport watch. While this is just a personal opinion I didn’t like the appearance enough to mean that I chose not to wear the Adventurer at work or at any time other than doing sport.
This is Run247 so I guess you are going to be most interested in the usefulness of the watch for running, well I can tell you that it has some excellent training modes that I found really useful. One tip if you do purchase one of these is to not, like me, just think you know what you’re doing and assume that the basic activity functions are all there is to this watch. If you take the time to read the instructions (which may have taken me a couple of weeks!) then you will find a wealth of training possibilities and customisation.
One of my favourite training modes was the Race option which not only allows you to race over a set distance but also gives you the option of racing yourself on a route that you have completed before. For those of us who train on our own this provides a great motivation by showing your position in comparison to your previous run, especially if like me you have a competitive nature and can’t face being beaten, even if it is by yourself!
Left: race mode, 100 yards behind! Right: normal running screen at the start of the run
Heart Rate Monitor
One of the features of this watch which sets it apart from its rivals is the optical heart rate monitor. I won’t pretend to understand the technology but what it means in practical terms is that it measures your heart rate on your wrist and so there is no need to wear a chest strap. This has several practical advantages: no need for an additional piece of kit that might be uncomfortable and chafe while running and it also means that the watch can monitor your heart rate throughout the day. I’ve used chest strap monitors before but always avoided wearing them on long runs as they were too uncomfortable, so to me this seems like a good solution. There are various training modes that allow you to train according to a target heart rate and they display the information simply with audible and vibration warnings if you are off your target.
There is some debate as to the relative accuracy of optical heart rate trackers as in general they are less accurate the chest straps. I did some unscientific comparisons and it seemed to me that the TomTom was generally within 15% of my heart rate using the chest strap which was accurate enough for me but could be an issue if you a relying on using an accurate heartrate.
Other Activity Modes
Although this is a running website the whole point of the Adventurer is to be used across a variety of activities which is a real selling point if you don’t just run 24/7. It has modes for swimming (waterproof to 40m), gym, cycling and snowboarding but the ones I mainly used were the hiking mode and the skiing mode. The hiking mode I used for a 70 mile race as it has a lower GPS recording interval which gives a longer battery life. The hiking mode also allows a route to be followed for navigation, while using this feature I got just over 15 hours of battery life out of it. (TomTom do say that you should get over 20 hours of battery life in hiking mode but using the navigation feature does drain the battery quicker.) The screen shows a simple stick map (a similar display to my Suunto Ambit) and it was easy to load a route onto the watch via my computer.
The skiing mode was a really impressive bonus feature of this watch for me. The watch was able to display a number of different options while skiing such as speed, heart rate, altitude etc. although I generally don’t look at the screen much while skiing which is where the cleverest feature comes in. The watch senses when you are on a lift and vibrates on your wrist to present you with a summary of your last descent with max speed, distance and angle of slope. I did get a couple of glitches with inaccurate slope angles but other than that the data seemed accurate. In the skiing mode the battery lasted for a full 7 hour day of skiing, despite the sub-zero temperatures which will drain the battery quicker than normal.
Left: ski run summary: speed, distance and slope angle. Right: showing altitude, distance and total ascent
Ease of Use
The watch is comfortable to wear and doesn’t feel too heavy. The content of the screens that you see during activities have customisable elements that you can change on the watch. This differs with my Suunto Ambit which offers much more customisation of screens and modes but this all has to be carried out on your computer before syncing with the watch. Altering the training modes, for example changing an interval training session, can all be carried out on the watch and is actually really simple to do.
Another useful feature of the Adventurer is that it is able to sync your activities using Bluetooth to your smartphone. There are other watches on the market that also have this capability but it is worth checking as this really made life easier not having to plug the watch into a laptop at the end of every run. This has the bonus effect of getting your route up onto Strava as soon as possible for maximum Kudos!
Other Watch Features
Another interesting feature of this watch which differs from some of its rivals is the capability to load up to 3GB of music (approximately 500 songs) onto it which you can then listen to via Bluetooth headphones. It was fairly simple to load the playlists on the computer and then sync with the watch. If you are someone who normally carries a phone or a separate music device, then this feature could well make your life simpler and mean carrying less gadgets around.
The Adventurer does also provide activity and sleep monitoring and you can set goals of distance, steps, calories or activity time each day. Personally, I didn’t make much use of this feature but it may provide good motivation for some people. The sleep tracking only provides a very limited amount of data by estimating the total sleep time each night. This may be useful to some people but there are other watches and smartphone apps on the market that provide a much more detailed analysis of the different phases of sleep. I feel that this is something that could be improved on with this watch, potentially just with a software update as the watch is capable of monitoring movement and heartrate.
I really liked this watch, I was impressed by the range of features and activity modes. It allows some interesting and useful running training options and it also allows me to track other outdoor activities such as skiing. I enjoyed the convenience of the optical heartrate monitor although if you want a very accurate heartrate then you may be better off sticking to a chest strap. For those of you who like the longer races it is worth bearing in mind that the battery life is limited to around 20 hours which is shorter than some of its competitors. If you are a runner who also enjoys a range of outdoor activities, then I would seriously consider purchasing this watch. Despite my initial misgivings, I have been convinced that this watch is worth the price and I would certainly consider buying one for myself.
Terms of the review
I was given this watch by Tomtom for 60 days in order to write a review with the condition that I would return the watch at the end of the test period.