TomTom makes GPS units. That’s what we know them for, though their sports gear is pretty awesome too. If a bit specialist. And speaking of specialist, this is the TomTom Runner Cardio. This is the fitness watch to own if you’re all about your stride, pace and want your heart-rate tracked while you burn it up on the track for a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a more all-round wearable then you’re going to want to look elsewhere. I just want to get that out of the way fast because while the Runner Cardio is more than fit-for-purpose, it’s not good for a whole lot more than telling the time and syncing with the TomTom MySports app otherwise. If you want to have your Twitter, Facebook and call notifications on your wrist, you’re in the wrong place.
The TomTom Runner Cardio is different from the standard Runner in that it’s bigger, chunkier and sheathed in rubber. Even if you’ve never used the TomTom Runner, the size of the Runner Cardio is very apparent. You won’t forget that you’ve got the broad band around your wrist unless you’re running, it tends to catch on everything for the first few days you’re wearing it.
It makes sense that TomTom have increased sizes across the board though, as they’ve got the GPS as well as a wrist-based heart-rate monitor tucked in behind the 1-inch monochrome display. All that rubber is just protecting it from the boneheaded things we do as a matter of course.
Exposed is the display, which has a single soft-touch button, as is the four-directional keypad that takes care of all your control on the Runner Cardio. Underneath the band and encased in rubber is the charging connector, which you’ll be making good friends with after every six to seven hours of HR tracking.
A Real Life-Saver
It’s not often that my reviews wind up with personal anecdotes attached but the TomTom Runner Cardio may have saved my life. Not because it did anything special but because I was testing it in the office while sitting behind a computer. And I was averaging a sitting heart-rate of about 110 beats per minute. That’s not good, by anyone’s standards.
The elevated heart rate – which turned out to be a combination of stress, medication and excessive smoking – dropped off after a couple of days but it was still enough of a fright to convince me to successfully (so far – verging on three weeks now) stop smoking. So I’m predisposed to look kindly on the Runner Cardio, it may have added years to my life. My standard heart rate is now around the 70-80 range, so I won’t be dropping dead of a heart attack before I finish writing this.
But this is also how we managed to test just how effective the Runner Cardio’s heart-rate monitor actually is, as well as get an idea of the heart-rates of just about everyone in the Stuff offices. The initial idea what that my 110+ heart rate had to be inaccurate but we managed to rule this out by testing against another monitor – FitBit’s Charge HR. As it happens, TomTom’s wristband is very accurate indeed.
The Runner Cardio is very easy to set up, though getting used to that directional button to navigate and activate the various training modes takes a day or two. Once you’re done acclimatising though, it’s a simple task to set the TomTom to start tracking. Then you wait. Wait for the GPS to connect and the HR tracker to kick in, both of which happen faster if you’re outside. Sitting under four floors of concrete? Not so fast.
TomTom’s heart-rate tracker will let you know which zone you’re in, from Easy (100bpm) to Almost Dead (around 190bpm), so you can keep close tabs on all those metrics that serious runners seem to take meticulous notes on, though it may take some math to get the more esoteric measurements worked out.
But you’ll pay for the privilege of largely accurate tracking in battery life because while the watch will sit on your wrist for days on standby (watch) mode, it counts its lifespan in just hours when you’ve got everything turned on. About six of them, to be precise, though TomTom claims eight to ten. The short lifespan isn’t an issue, you should be able to complete a whole lot of a marathon in the time that it takes to run the Cardio Runner down, and it recharges very quickly from completely dead.
And all of the data that the TomTom Runner Cardio captures, from the heart-rate data to the GPS data and any laps, stopwatch or other training info, is transferred to the TomTom MySports app. The Runner Cardio contains a surprisingly large amount of info on the watch itself and the companion app is mostly used to keep historical track of your actions, from what I can see. For improvement measurement and things. The app itself is quite simple, with just a listing of your activities, divided by time and duration, and then your GP, heart-rate and other data sitting there waiting for you to assess it.
The data above mostly comes from a drive through Johannesburg traffic during rush hour in the evening (note the HR spike over 200bpm), while the middle image is just an evening spent driving into and then walking around Microsoft’s head office. Though simple at heart, the information that the Runner Cardio provides is extremely detailed.
If you’re going to be going all-in with your running then the TomTom Runner Cardio is a solid choice as a technological fitness companion. Easy to use, well protected and with a fast uptake for the GPS and detailed tracking, you might as well be running with a full telemetry setup. If you’re looking for a more generalised exercise companion then you’d be better off with something more waterproof, more versatile. You’re not going to be putting this otherwise decent fitness tracker into a pool any time soon but if you’re planning on spending all your time on the trail, take the Runner Cardio along.