TomTom is a company with a lot of plates spinning at once. In-car GPS, mobile apps, and the competitive fitness wearable segment make for a lot to pay attention to. The new Multi-Sport Cardio, though, is so simultaneously simple, and powerful, and versatile that it really is a runner's best friend.
What Is It?
The $399 TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio is, in a manner of speaking, a smartwatch. It's a watch that you strap to your wrist that not only tells the time but also does a damn fine job of tracking your workouts -- whether they're swimming laps, a jogging route, a treadmill session or a spin on your bike. The standout feature of this particular fitness watch, though, is its integrated heart rate monitor.
The Multi-Sport Cardio's heart rate monitor is built into the inner shell of the watch, nestling close against the wearer's outer wrist -- it's not a particularly smooth shell, with exposed circuitry necessary to help the heart rate monitor work. Because of this, you can't strap the watch to the inside of your wrist easily, although it does still take heart rate readings when you do so.
The TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio inherits its other features from the previous Multi-Sport models, which take their cues in turn from the original TomTom Runner. At its core, the new Multi-Sport Cardio is a fitness watch that contains a highly accurate GPS tracker, calculating the distance you've run, the altitude you have climbed or descended, and the calories you have consumed in the process.
What Is It Good At?
Using the TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio couldn't be easier. You need an iPhone to get the most out of the watch, but even if you're on Android you can still use the core fitness tracking features. Want to log a run? Tap sideways on the keypad, select the run option, wait for the GPS to establish a lock, then you're off. Want to check your heart rate at any time? Visit that sensor submenu. Everything the Multi-Sport Cardio can do is easily accessible, and it's also clearly labeled.
More than just tracking the exercise that you're already doing, TomTom's most expensive sports watch can also function to create interval or lap training programs, or to activate whenever you enter a predefined zone (as determined by GPS boundaries, which makes it pretty accurate). If you like routine, this is a fitness watch that can help you achieve it. I found it great for setting the boundary of the cycle course I sometimes ride on, with the watch activating a lap timer when I started working out (until I got a puncture, which I still haven't fixed. That reminds me...).
In terms of the quality of its tracking and the consistency of the GPS-tracked data that it produces, I can't fault the TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio. Comparing it to an older GPS watch, an older standalone SIRF III GPS dongle, and a couple of smartphones, the location logging of the Multi-Sport Cardio was simultaneously more granular -- more accurately tracking the side of the road I was running on, for example -- and more consistent over a set of three test runs. Battery life is middling; after three hours worth of exercise, the watch reported it was three-quarters full.
The value of this minute extra advantage in logging detail is questionable, but combined with the integrated heart rate monitor there's a clear reason to choose the Multi-Sport Cardio over taking your smartphone with you as you exercise. After looking over a few of my (admittedly infrequent and generally quite rare) runs, I noticed that my heart rate was much higher in the first couple of kilometres of my exercise as I was pushing myself than in the rest of my regular jog; dialing it back a bit meant I was able to run further overall in subsequent exercise. That's something you could do by the seat of your pants, but the data came in handy in this occasion.
The Multi-Sport Cardio looks good, too. I road-tested the red and white version, although red and black is also available. It's well built, and is absolutely easy to operate when you consider there's really only one button to push. The menu layout is intuitive, everything is clearly labeled, and the watch's screen is clear in daylight and has a capable enough backlight for night time and twilight outdoor exercise. The Multi-Sport Cardio's band is soft, and there is a huge range of positions that you can cinch the wristband to; the locking mechanism is also both easy to use and sturdy enough to not be dislodged even during vigorous running (and, presumably, swimming).
TomTom bundles a bunch of accessories with the Multi-Sport Cardio. The bike mount lets you use the watch strapped onto the handlebars of your road or mountain bike to track your cycling distance if you don't want to wear it on your wrist, and there's also the desk dock that lets you connect the watch over USB to your PC or Mac to share data and offload your workout summaries. Beyond that the documentation is brief, but you can find anything you need online.
What Is It Not Good At?
Consistently throughout my time with the Multi-Sport Cardio, it was slow to establish an initial GPS lock, despite the quick start option being preset after setting up the watch via PC. This is understandable given the watch's relatively compact size and lack of any external antennae, but given TomTom's expertise in the GPS space it was surprising to see the Multi-Sport Cardio take more than a couple of minutes to establish a GPS lock each time it started up.
TomTom uses this as 'warm-up' time, and prompts you to start running when the lock is established, but it feels a little like you're playing to someone else's tune rather than choosing your own fitness regime. In any case, once the GPS signal is successfully triangulated, the Multi-Sport Cardio is unlikely to lose it -- I didn't encounter any time where the watch stopped tracking, whether I was running in an open park or cycling in suburbs or jogging through the city. It's a perfectly adequate GPS tracker; it just takes a few minutes to get there.
The Multi-Sport Cardio is expensive at $399, too. It's an investment that seems like it will last for a long time to come -- being reasonably platform-agnostic in that it just collates raw data, the Multi-Sport Cardio should only theoretically be limited by the life of its internal nonremovable battery, but the initial investment will take a lot of justifying unless you're really into your fitness routine and want that extra data. It's fitness-only, too; it won't vibrate when you have a phone call or text message, for example (a future feature, perhaps).
Not having any Android app support just yet -- although apparently TomTom is working on it, and I'm waiting with anticipation for when that app is released -- restricts the watch's target market somewhat. People want mobile support, and the iPhone app means the Multi-Sport Cardio suits some, but not all needs. I found plugging the watch into my PC and checking out the TomTom MySports website to not be a bad alternative, but ideally I want some combination of RunKeeper and Jawbone's UP app to store and track my exercise data.
Should You Buy It?
The TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio is a niche device; it's not a watch you can wear every day, and you'll have to have it handy whenever you want to go for a run (which makes it a necessary addition to your gym bag, if you visit a club regularly). It fulfils the requirements of that niche admirably, though, and does so in a way that is utterly simple to understand and take advantage of for your exercise regimen.
The $399 asking price in Australia makes the TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio hard to wholeheartedly recommend to anyone that already has a smartphone (especially one with a heart rate monitor like the Galaxy S5) and a fitness tracker like the Jawbone Up. If you don't already have a way to monitor your workouts, though, or if you can find value in the level of detail that the Multi-Sport Cardio offers, then it's a device without any significant flaws.