Running Watch Review: #GetsMyHeartRacing

Last month I was selected to be part of a Running Bug team to put the new TomTom Runner Cardio watch to the test.  Having used the adidas miCoach SmartRun watch for the last 9 months it was a great opportunity to put them head-to-head.

When I started running seriously a few years ago I tracked my running using phone apps, settling for adidas miCoach after a brief spell of using Nike+.  The miCoach app has helped me to train and secure PBs over the last 3 years so when I heard that adidas were releasing a watch that would not only have GPS but a built-in HR monitor, I knew I would eventually have one on my wrist.

It was a slightly bumpy start for the SmartRun but I patiently fed back to adidas and was invited to join a user test group that has helped to smooth out some of the rough edges.

Having never used a running watch before the SmartRun, being asked to test the TomTom Runner Cardio was a great opportunity to not only provide feedback on a new product but also have something to compare to my beloved SmartRun.  So for the last few weeks I’ve been “Two Watch Wymer” and here’s how the two watches have squared up to each other.

Round 1: Look & Feel

Both TomTom and adidas have done well to move away from the Casio-inspired styling of many other GPS watches on the market resulting in two good-looking watches.  The TomTom Runner Cardio very much yells “sports watch” with its bright white and red (but changeable) strap, whereas the adidas miCoach SmartRun is more subtle and sleek with a black strap and brushed metal detailing.

Both units are of a similar size and shape in general although the subtle curve to the back of the SmartRun meant it felt more comfortable quickly.  Also, the slightly asymmetric design of the TomTom (with the operating button and GPS receiver below the screen) meant it felt slightly strange to begin with but I’ve got used to it.

Both straps have numerous holes to enable a close fit and I’ve had no trouble adjusting either of the watches to get a tight but comfortable fit.  Looking at the straps, the TomTom has marginally more holes: 10 in the space of the SmartRun’s 9.  We’re talking fractions of millimeters so I’d challenge any of you with less OCD tendencies than me to notice a difference.

TomTom and adidas can pat themselves on their respective backs for producing two good-looking, well-fitting watches but the first round goes to the SmartRun; it’s just that little bit more sleek and a full colour screen is just that little bit more sexy.

Round 1 Winner: adidas miCoach SmartRun

Round 2: Usability

Setting up the SmartRun takes slightly longer than the TomTom, as you need to connect and log in to an adidas miCoach profile.  Other than that, the basics of both watches mean you can get yourself out for your first run in no time.

Both watches have a single button; the TomTom using a 4-way rocker whilst the SmartRun pairs its simple button with a touch screen.

Recently I faced a challenge at work: whilst waiting for my new touchscreen mobile phone, I had to revert to an old-fashioned mobile phone.  You know, the ones where you have to use buttons.  It sounds ridiculous but it felt like I’d been asked to start a fire using two flints and all I wanted was my matches!

Why is this relevant? Well, I got a similar feeling when I started using the TomTom.  All I wanted to do is desperately paw at the screen to make it work.

I guess it’s what you’re used to, and I have started to get used to the TomTom’s rocker button, but for me the SmartRun touch screen makes it easier to use.

Round 2 Winner: adidas miCoach SmartRun

Round 3: GPS

So the watches are out of the box and on my wrists, ready to go.  My heart rate is reassuringly the same on both watches (I notice the sensor on both watches is from Mio) and all that stands between myself and my two-watch run is a connection to the GPS satellites.

Before I’ve even opened the front door the TomTom has locked on to a GPS signal; perhaps unsurprisingly, considering their position in the SatNav market.  The SmartRun wasn’t quite as quick off the mark.

Software updates to the SmartRun have made it a little more eager to find a satellite.   I have also been given some tips from miCoach support to encourage the SmartRun to find a signal so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes but currently, if the two watches were gun slingers in a wild west duel, I’d be siding with the TomTom.

When it comes to GPS accuracy the SmartRun is the eager new kid who is really putting in the effort and improving but the class swot is still smugly sitting the teacher’s favourite.

Now we’re not talking wild differences between the two watches, especially on shorter runs.  The longer runs have shown up more of a difference: a 20km run on the SmartRun, measured as 19.64km on the TomTom.  So they’re only disagreeing by 18 metres per kilometre but as I’ve already said, I’m a little OCD and like most runners, I put a lot of faith (probably too much) in my tracking device.

The routes I run are not measured so I can’t be sure whether the miCoach is being generous or the TomTom is being a little cautious with distance however when looking at the route maps the TomTom does seem to follow the footpaths and roads more closely, hinting that it may be the more precise of the pair.  I’m running the Great North Run on Sunday so I know I will have run at least 13.1 miles – I wonder what my wrist buddies will say.

Round 3 Winner: TomTom Runner Cardio

Round 4: Battery Life

Battery life is, to a running watch, what calories are to the runner that wears the said watch.  You have to have enough beans to get you round.

My training regime since I’ve had the SmartRun means the longest run I’ve done with it was the 20km run I did last Monday – a run so recent that I had the TomTom too.  At 102 minutes long, I’m not pushing the boundaries of either watch.

Now the SmartRun does have the beautiful full-colour touch screen to support so it’s probably no surprise that it seems to eat through its battery at a faster rate than the TomTom.  Other SmartRun functionality, like listening to music through BlueTooth headphones (yes, it’s showing off now!) would also have an impact although there is a “Marathon Mode” feature to help lock down features and prolong battery life for those with longer distances in mind.

I’ll be interested to test the TomTom over longer distances when I take on the marathon distance next year to see if it really is as good as it seems and also to see how the SmartRun “Marathon Mode” performs.

Round 4 Winner: TomTom Runner Cardio

 

So after the adidas miCoach SmartRun took an early lead, the TomTom Runner Cardio has fought back to leave the contest tied after 4 rounds with still plenty more to play for.

Round 5: Training Tools

A GPS running watch isn’t just about tracking your runs, they should help you to run further and faster – or at least, that’s what the manufacturers would like us to think.  As an aspiring coach, currently working through a UKA coaching qualification, I have a slight problem with this.

There is no replacement for a qualified coach assessing and assisting with your technique.  And working on your technique, or running form, is the most important thing you could do to help improve your running results.

However, I know not all of you will be members of running clubs and even if you are, your club may not have coaches so, from the motivational side of coaching I do believe these wrist-based, pocket-sized “coaches” can help.

You can use both watches to set up several different types of training sessions based on speed, different, intervals, heart rate zones and the like.  These can be great to make your training more interesting or to keep you out on the road when you might have otherwise stopped.  Soon enough the watch will be chirping and vibrating its instructions to speed up and slow down, or giving you a progress update.

Both watches now enable you to race against a virtual opponent – through the TomTom Race mode or the SmartRun Ghost mode – which is great for practising race pace or just trying to beat your own personal best.

The biggest difference between the TomTom and the SmartRun is the might of adidas miCoach.  The miCoach platform helps you to create a tailored programme of sessions based on your goal and how often you can run, as well as having strength and flexibility programmes too.  These all sync between the miCoach website and the SmartRun and the miCoach app on your phone if you want to use that too.

I’ve created and used miCoach programmes to gain PBs at 10k and half marathon distances so can testify that they can definitely help get you running faster.  But don’t forget your technique – if you haven’t got access to a real running coach then I’d recommend the free Kinetic Revolution 30 day challenge as a way to begin working on your technique.  It’s still not ideal, as you haven’t got someone giving you individual feedback, but it’s certainly a start.

Round 5 Winner: adidas miCoach SmartRun

Round 6: Data Tools

As well as being a self-confessed running addict, I am a self-confessed data geek both in my work life and my running life.  Well, to be honest, I’m not sure there’s ever a time that couldn’t be improved with a little graph or spreadsheet!

Even if you’re not a data geek like me, there’s little point in having these magical watches if you’re not going to at least take a peek at what they observed during your run.  The first step is to sync your watch.

The SmartRun can be sunc (drink=drunk so surely sync=sunc?) over the wonder that is WiFi and whilst it can take a few moments to enter the password on the SmartRun screen it means your run will be syncing before you’ve even got your trainers off.  Well, on your home network at least!  You can then head to the miCoach website to see how you got on.

The TomTom needs it’s little umbilical cord to connect to your PC and then it swiftly converses and exchanges files with your PC and the TomTom MySports website.  But that does mean switching your PC on.  Despite being a runner I am somewhat lazy!

For me, WiFi wins but there really isn’t a problem with the TomTom.

Now once you have your data, what can you see and do with it?

The websites for both watches display a map showing your route and some basic charts showing pace, elevation and heart rate.  The TomTom MySports site is very basic where as the adidas miCoach site allows you to crop a run, overlay different measures on top of each other and generally get a bit more stuck in to the data with things like splits etc.

To their credit, TomTom have noticed their weakness in this area and partnered with MapMyFitness and whilst this website comes much closer to miCoach, i was very disappointed to find much of the functionality is only available to paying, premium members.  This includes detailed HR information which, considering the TomTom Runner Cardio is a heart rate measuring watch, kind of nullifies this feature.

Both watches allow you to export your runs as common format data files like .GPX however, you need to tell the TomTom to do this before you sync your run.  Once you have set this up, the data file is available for every subsequent run.  The SmartRun, through miCoach, allows you to download the file, on demand, as and when you please.

Round 6 Winner: adidas miCoach SmartRun

Round 7:Value

“They both sound great,” I hear you whisper, “but how nicely am I going to have to ask my other half now that I want to buy one?”

I’ve not come across many, if any, other GPS watches with integrated heart rate monitors so yes, there are other GPS-only watches out there for less money but then you have to add on the expense, hassle and discomfort of a heart rate chest strap.

Using the adidas and TomTom websites for retail prices you will see the TomTom Runner Cardio, at £219.99, is the cheaper of the pair.  The adidas miCoach SmartRun is available at £300.

Value is a difficult one to call as you might be willing to spend the extra £80 for the extra training and data tools you get from miCoach but if you’re just looking for the basics, or are willing to subscribe to MapMyFitness, then the TomTom probably is better value.

Round 7 Winner: TomTom Runner Cardio

 

Despite a late rally from the TomTom Runner Cardio, I declare the winner – with 4 rounds to 3 – is the adidas miCoach SmartRun!

It really is a close run thing and different factors like data geekery, budget or bling factor might tip you one side or the other.  The SmartRun’s weaknesses (GPS and battery) are in turn, the TomTom’s strengths.  If the adidas miCoach team can further improve on the SmartRun’s GPS (and I have found they are welcome and responsive to feedback) then it really would be a clear winner.

I won’t be retiring my SmartRun but I might get it to buddy up with the TomTom for important races – like the Great North Run on Sunday.

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6 thoughts on “Running Watch Review: #GetsMyHeartRacing”

  1. I’ll be looking out for you next Sunday then 🙂 Think I will have to pull out due to injury (physio tomorrow) so I’ll be cheering folks in instead. Good luck though and looking forward to knowing which watch was best.

  2. Great review! I’m so tempted to get the SmartRun, because of the built-in HRM and BT music. The only thing holding me back is the GPS accuracy. If adidas could improve it (a better chip, perhaps?), I’d be sure to grab one!

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