The TomTom Runner is a simple, easy to use, elegant and accurate GPS running watch that is perfectly suited to those athletes who like to be out the door and training in mere seconds. All your essential running statistics are within easy reach and simplicity really is the name of the game with the TomTom Runner as this is a watch that is ready to train whenever you are.
TomTom Runner First Look Event at Battersea Park, London
I was lucky enough to be invited down to Battersea Park in late July for a first look at the watch as well as a training session with Team GB ultra marathon runner Robbie Britton. The guys at TomTom explained the main features of the watch as well as taking us through how the user interface works and how to get the most from this amazing gizmo!
After a quick walk through it was time to hit the track (or the park in this case) but the Team GB guys had something very different in mind to the casual jog that I was expecting. After 4 minutes of burpies and sprints I was already seeing double but somehow had to stomach the series of excruciating prison squats and jumps that followed. That was only a fraction of the drills that the Team GB runners do on a daily basis and it really made me glad that I am a lazy office geek and not a pro!
After a quick water stop we jogged around the park a couple of times and tested out the watch with a couple of other bloggers and journalists. First impressions are that it is incredibly fast to lock onto a GPS signal and that is is incredibly easy to use – but more on that later…
The evening wrapped up with an incredible goodie bag including a watch, a shirt, some much needed fuel and even a jar of peanut butter (which I am munching my way though now as I write this review!)
I really must say a big thank you to the TomTom guys for organising such a fun and informative event…as well as for the peanut butter (crunchy of course!). Anyway, enough peanut butter induced niceties, on with the review. This TomTom Runner GPS watch review is going to run you through the main features as well as what it is like to actually train with.
As always if you have any questions then I encourage you to comment below and I will ask the guys at TomTom if I don’t know the answer.
In the Box
The first thing that you notice about the T2 Runner after you have stopped drooling over its sleek, minimal appearance is how little extra kit you get. Far from being cheapskates, TomTom only give you exactly what you need to get you up and running as quickly as possible. Included in the box along with the unit itself is a USB cradle…and thats about it. There is a quick start manual and a handy cheat sheet reminding you to plug the unit into your computer every few days to update the gps, but other than that all you need is the USB cradle.
Charging & Setup
The watch had zero percent charge straight from the box and so the first thing to do was to download the MySports Connect package (similar to the Garmin Connect software) to enable training data transfer to the MySports website.
Amazingly I didn’t encounter a single problem when installing the software. I am always nervous when running these newly launched connectivity programs as back in the day when Garmin was just starting out I remember having all sorts of problems related to OS versions and updates. I use a Mac with OS X 10.8.4 and both the installer (64 mb in size) and the program worked fine first time. I will come to this later on but the upload historic data feature doesn’t work with OsX at the moment but this is a feature that will be released soon
After about 20 seconds the MySports Connect software was installed and the unit was charging. The only problem at this stage was a Mac related hardware issue that was completely unrelated to the Runner, but involved me switching to a different USB port. New Mac anyone?!
Minor crisis over the MySports Connect window popped up on my screen and notified me that I needed to update my software. One of the TomTom software analysts was on hand to answer all my software questions during the Battersea Park first look event and he said that the T2 Runner downloads the very latest GPS data every time you connect to the web. This means that the longer you go without connecting to your computer then the more inaccurate the GPS is going to become but on the plus side if you are a regular user then you stand the best chance of quick connectivity compared to any of the major GPS running watches. More on that later!
The software update downloaded in a matter of seconds and I was directed to the MySports website. This is a similar portal to either the Garmin MyConnect, Suunto MovesCount, Nike+ Running or any of the other online training analytics suits online. More on this later as well!
Signing up to the site was quick and painless as I only had to fill out my basic details such as age, weight and height and more importantly there was a distinct lack of spammy looking questions regarding partner mailing lists or special offers. However, further testing of the site had to wait due to my lack of training data!
The battery was charged after about one hour and according to the user manual lasts for about 10 hours of training when using the GPS sensor. [Edit:] after taking the watch out for four runs during one week (lasting about 3 hours in total), wearing casually for 10 days straight and messing around with the unit A LOT the battery was just on its last legs. Not bad at all when you compare it to something like the Motorola Motoactv (although the Motoactv does have a full colour touch screen – see the motoactv review here) which lasts under 4 hours, or the Garmin Forerunner 610 (again has a touch screen but is not full colour) which lasts about 6 hours in training mode.
So now we reach the fun part of the TomTom Runner GPS watch review, the actual running part!
Operation, Look and Feel
Operating the TomTom Runner is easy, although slightly different to other GPS watches on the market. We are used to seeing watches with strange touch operated bevels (Forerunner 610) and tap screen operation (Motorola Motoactv) but the Runner has taken a slightly different approach. Whereas other watches seek to hide the GPS sensor within the main body, T2 have decided to take the receiver and mount it as an almost separate entity on the strap, slightly below the face of the watch. This not only places the receiver in the most optimum position for GPS tracking but also means that the watch profile itself is both slimmer and smaller than any other GPS watch that I have used
Instead of placing the control buttons around the face like other GPS running watches, TomTom have opted to place the controls around the separately mounded GPS receiver which sits just below the watch face. So what does this mean for your running experience? Although the actual buttons are what we are used to (Up, Down, left and Right) that fact that they are placed in a different location takes a little getting used to. During the first few runs I found myself instinctively reaching for buttons that weren’t there which is not ideal when you are mid-way through a 800m sprint and have your eyes on the trail and not on your watch! Years of wrist watch wearing is going to have to be unlearned before I completely get used to the new buttons but when I do find them they are easy to operate, especially when combined with the simple user interface.
The user interface is built in a similar manner to the Nike+ SportWatch GPS that TomTom and Nike delivered to the running community over 18 months ago now. TomTom have incorporated some of the unique aspects of the Nike+ SportWatch GPS into their latest watch, including the simple ‘side to side’ user interface that made it such a hit with runners. Instead of navigating a complex series of multi-layered menus you can work all aspects of the T2 Runner using a right to left motion, with up and down being reserved for simple option selections.
Switching the unit to training mode is a simple three click job. From the main clock display screen, you simply click the button to the right of the GPS receiver and select whether you want to run indoors or outdoors. Upon selecting ‘outdoors’ the T2 Runner will start to search for a GPS signal using ‘Hot Fix’ technology. This involves using all of the GPS signal data that it collects during the first few seconds of searching so that if can fill in any gaps for weaker satellite signals if they were present at some point during those few seconds, even if they drop out of range whilst waiting for further satellite.
Running with the T2 Runner
Impressively on my first run the Runner managed to find a GPS signal about 15 seconds before the Garmin Forerunner 610. Both units had the latest versions of their respective software installed and both had never before been used in the UK. Eini’s Forerunner was fresh from Finland and so had never been switched into training mode before the run whereas the Runner was the brand new unit given to me by the guys at Tom Tom. Both were close to fully charged and both started searching for a GPS signal at the same time within half of meter of each other. You can see from the below image that the Runner had managed to locate a signal and was ready to go before the Forerunner 610 had even reached two bars. Obviously we shouldn’t draw conclusions from just the one test but first impressions are important!
Usually the Runner takes about 15 seconds to find a GPS signal. Check out the Youtube video below:
Once the watch has found a GPS signal you click the button to the right of the receiver to start recording your run. If you haven’t preset any sort of target (more on this later) then you will see the simple pre-run screen bellow.
One you are up and running there is very little maintenance apart from the odd stop/start for traffic lights and the occasional glance at your training stats. One of the beautiful things about the T2 watch is that the stats are displayed in nice big, easy to read font so you don’t have to switch your attention away from your running too long to check your progress.
You can navigate through your various running statistics using the up and down buttons to cycle through various screens of training data including distance, time, average pace, current pace, calories, stride and heart rate, much in the same way as the Nike+ GPS SportWatch.
These views of training data can be altered using the menu either whilst you are running or prior to starting your training session.
At any point in your run you can pause your workout by pushing the left hand button in a similar way to the Nike+ Sportwatch GPS. I have noticed a slight problem with this system though - You have to be quite careful that you don’t press the left button more than once as this will end your run and save your workout to history when really all you meant to do was pause your run. I fell into this trap during my first run as it really is very easy to over click whilst you are getting used to the controls. Something that I really would like to see added to the UI would be a simple prompt asking the user if they want to end their workout. I wouldn’t have thought that this would be too hard to do and it would prevent many frustrated runners having to restart training session recording and having their workouts split across multiple records.
One of the quite cool things about the TT is the ability to set targets quickly and easily. You can set distance, time or calorie targets as you are waiting for the unit to find a GPS signal prior to your run and progress towards your goal is displayed throughout your workout.
As well as being able to see your progress via a live pie chart the watch also alerts you when you have covered 50%, 90% and 100% of your target via an alert and a percentage progress bar that briefly flashes up on the display.
After you have finished your run it is quick and easy to go back and view your past workout history. Simply chose the run you want to check by its date and time to view all the essential stats such as time, distance, average pace and calories.
No Tom Tom Runner GPS watch review would be complete unless we talked about some of the extra little features that this watch has.
The Runner has a back light that you can activate and deactivate by tapping the three small circles on the face of the watch. You can also change the light settings so that it comes on and stays on during your training session, although this will drain the battery quickly so should only be used for short runs.
A Quick Note On Multi Sports
Although I have only been able to test the Runner, TomTom also sell a multi-sport edition that has cycle and swim functionality (get excited triathletes!) As well as being able to hook it up to a cadence sensor for your bike, you can also track your speed, distance and strokes in the pool or open water swimming. I am itching to get my hands on a unit to test as I am only hearing good things from triathletes at the moment and this could be a simple and easy to use watch to rival the Garmin Forerunner 910 multi-sport GPS watch.
MySports is TomTom’s own online training portal. Similar to Garmin’s MyConnect, Suunto’s MovesCount or Nike+ Running, MySports stores all of your training data for long term fitness and progress tracking. Although the portal is still in the early phases of development, the platform is shaping up quite nicely and more importantly, works seamlessly with the Runner with no fiddling or messing around.
Uploading training data from the unit to the portal takes a matter of seconds. After plugging the watch into your computer via the supplied USB cradle, the MySports Connect software pops up and starts transferring all your hard earned data across. It takes about 5 seconds to transfer each run so all five of my runs were uploaded in about 25 seconds.
After the data transfer has finished the watch will update with new GPS data and resume charging
Once the software has finished transferring your data across, the MySports portal page pops up in your browser. You can change this so that you aren’t automatically directed to the site using the settings tab on the Connect software.
After you have entered your login details, your user Dashboard is the first thing that you see. This page lists details of your last run such as distance, duration, calories, pace and heart rate as well as displaying a MapMyFitness map of your route.
The right hand side bar of the dashboard also details your total distance and average pace to date.
There really isn’t much more to the training portal at the moment apart from a settings page where you can update your personal user data such as weight, height and age. The site is still in Beta at the moment so there should be lots of new features being added over the following few months.
Uploading Training Data to Third Party Training Portals
Although the MySports site is a little basic at the moment this is something that doesn’t really hold the watch back. TomTom recognize that their portal is basic compared to the likes of the Garmin MyConnect portal but to be fair, Garmin have had 7 years to develop their portal and so TT are bound to have to play catch up.
While we are waiting for new features to be added to MySports, T2 have made it easy to upload training data to third party websites such as MapMyFitness and a whole host of others. There are two processes to go through to setup these third party connections. First of all you have to tell the Connect software that you want to upload all future training data to your selected training portals automatically and secondly you have to upload any historic files that are saved on your PC or Mac.
To set up the live third party training portal connections, go to the Connect software and click the “Upload and Export Tab”. From here you can add the third party connections using the plus button and making your selections from the below:
If you chose Map My Run/Ride/Fitness or RunKeeper you will have to enter your username and password for those sites before the MySports software can begin to upload your future run data.
Once that has been setup you then need to upload your past training sessions to whatever third party site you have chosen. I couldn’t get this to work on my mac as this feature isn’t available for OsX (but this is something that should be resolved soon). What you would normally do is to click the folder icon in the Connect software and navigate to the correct .ttbin files to covert and upload.
Once you have connected to your chosen third party training portal you are ready to go and all future runs will appear when you connect the unit to your PC or Mac and run the Connect software.
TomTom Runner Review Summary
So just to round up this TomTom Runner review… The Runner has been designed with simplicity in mind and is well suited for the causal fitness enthusiast who wants to keep track of their essential training data (pace, distance, time, HR and calories). As well as being incredibly quick at finding a GPS signal, the watch is very simple and easy to use. Although the online training portal “MySports” is pretty basic at the moment, the beauty of the Runner is that T2 have designed their software to be open and versatile. You can chose to automatically sync your training data with all/any of the following: MySports, Map My Run/Fitness or RunKeeper as well as downloading and storing your data in an array of formats.
- Incredibly quick to locate a GPS signal (average for me was 15 seconds)
- Automatically upload training data to Map My Run/Fitness and RunKeeper as well as MySports
- Easily set and track training targets
- Long battery life – 10 hours
- Simple and easy to use
- Ultra slim profile
- Its easy to accidentally end your run when trying to pause
- Basic training portal (Beta version at the moment)
- Uploading historic training data not available for Mac OSx
- New button layout (not really a dislike but it takes a bit of getting used to!)
For more information check the TomTom website. Thanks for reading – let me know your comments and thoughts below!
[Edit: 27th August] Congratulations to Emily Nealson for winning the TomTom Runner competition!