TomTom Runner Cardio review

A few weeks ago I was given a TomTom Runner Cardio to demo for a couple of weeks. After a quick intro to how to use the buttons (completely different from the Garmins that I’m used to) I was ready to go.

Apparently I was too eager because when I got back from my run and tried to work out how to upload the activity, I discovered that the watch was linked to somebody else’s account – presumably the last person to demo that particular watch. Set up involved downloading some software and connecting to the computer which was pretty simple – that was when I saw that another account was linked and no option to change it. The advice was to do a hard reset (which is worth bearing in mind if you ever buy one and decide to sell it – reset first). That meant I lost that activity so that’s worth thinking about if you buy a used one. Set it up first!

Unlike Garmin, TomTom does not have its own activity site for automatic upload – it uses mapmyrun (*note that I have been informed that TomTom does have which asks you to sign up by downloading the app and connecting the watch – it was at this point it prompted for a mapmyrun account and there may have been a way of signing up without it that I did not see). Personally, I use mapmyrun, strava and Garmin connect (there are various reasons I like to track in all those places) and one of the things I like about Garmin is that I have it set up such that Mapmyrun and Strava are both linked to my Garmin account and when an activity is uploaded to Garmin it automatically goes to the other two.

During the time I had the watch I wore it alongside my Fenix 3. There have been various issues with GPS tracks and pacing with the Fenix 3 (which, as of today, may have mostly been dealt with after the introduction yesterday of new firmware) so I was interested in how it compared.

What surprised me most, given that the Fenix 3 has always reported shorter distances, is that the TomTom didn’t give much higher distances. They were surprisingly close, and in one case, exactly the same:

Fenix 3: 17.24; TomTom: 17.30

Fenix 3: 8.33;   TomTom: 8.37

Fenix 3: 3.34;   TomTom: 3.34

The difference definitely showed in the tracks though, with the Garmin being off the actual line many times (again, hopefully that’s fixed by the recent updates):

Garmin not consistent with where I ran

Garmin not consistent with where I ran

TomTom more accurately showing my route

TomTom more accurately showing my route

Garmin off the road and corner cutting

Garmin off the road and corner cutting

TomTom again showing a much better "true" path

TomTom again showing a much better “true” path

During the time I had the watch I was taking part in the RVRR “Train”ing Run which is a non-competitive run. I was asked if I could pace the 8:30 group for the second half (in case the pacer for the full 34.6 couldn’t keep it going) and I’m glad I had the TomTom because I knew I couldn’t rely on reading the pace from the Fenix 3. The TomTom did a good job, although after each stop at a “station” it did take a while to settle again. Without it I think I might have been lost.

What is most confusing about this run is that, although the TomTom displayed the pace correctly during the run (often around 8:20 to 8:25), the pace chart on Maymyrun is way off – looking at the graph for pace for the activity and tracking it along, the reading it gives seems to indicate pace was in the 9 to 10 minute mile range:

By contrast the activity from the Garmin (it seems maymyrun identifies it as a Garmin 920XT) has the pace chart spot on (despite it not being so accurate during the run) – if I didn’t know which was which I would swear they should be the other way round:

For my final run, I found myself at the gym when the kids had a swimming lesson, so took myself off to run on the treadmill. The TomTom was not at all accurate at getting pace which is not necessarily all that surprising (my Garmin is better at that), however what I did like about the TomTom is that when you stopped the run, it asked you to correct the distance – a nice feature I wouldn’t mind having on the Garmin (although I really don’t run on treadmills often if I can help it).

In summary, the TomTom is a decent watch. I wasn’t a big fan of the look, but that wouldn’t stop me using it. The built in heart rate monitor is handy (particularly when it’s hot, I don’t like wearing a strap), and it was pretty good at showing me my actual pace during runs. If you want to see a lot of data while you are running it might not be the best – you’d have to scroll through the screens to see additional data. In the cold of an NJ winter, if you want to record your heart rate you would have to wear it under your clothing to get that reading, which is fine if you don’t need to glance at your watch during your run.


3 months with the Garmin Fenix 3

It’s been 3 months now since I received my Garmin Fenix 3 and wrote my initial review so I thought it time for an update.

The strangest thing about the watch is that the GPS seemed so accurate on those initial runs, showing clearly where I had run and making me happy with my purchase. Within a few days there were some issues, but GPS is never perfect and nobody should expect it to be. However, there clearly are some ongoing issues with whatever algorithms they are using because corners are constantly (and consistently) cut which means that overall distances are shorter than they should be.

Now, I have to say this doesn’t bother me too much but it does bother many people – a quick read of the Garmin forums will show that people are returning it, or debating returning it unless Garmin sorts it out soon.

I have taken part in several USATF certified races this year and every single one of them has measured short – if you know anything about how USATF certifies courses, then you will no that it would be impossible to run a shorter distance during one of these races. It would be very normal for a GPS watch to actually show longer than the race distance because it would be extremely difficult to stay on the shortest track around the whole course.

Why doesn’t it bother me too much?

  1. I mainly use the data to review and compare runs after I get back. During the run I may use it as a guideline to see how fast I have been going (average pace) and how far I have gone, but not to worry about what pace I am running at one particular time (it does seem to get that wrong too often to rely on).
  2. In some ways I like that it measures short – I know it’s not overestimating how many training miles I’m doing, and it also means that it is recording a slightly slower average pace because of that.

Why does it bother me a little bit?

  1. All of this data loads to services like Garmin Connect, Strava, Mapmyrun, etc. and those sites will automatically indicate when you hit a best time over standard distances – of course that is most likely to happen in a race, but if it doesn’t measure the whole distance, the site isn’t going to pick up on it.
  2. If I were in a longer race without mile markers, and if I didn’t know the course already, I might want to use my watch to let me know how much further I have to go – of course I can try to compensate for the shorter measuring from the watch but that’s a pain, and then what happens when they fix it and suddenly it’s showing me the actual distance?

There are conflicting reports over whether Garmin are working on a fix or not. Apparently this isn’t the first time they’ve released a watch with similar issues, so I would assume that at some point all will be well and most people will be happy with it again.

Ultimately it’s up to the individual how important this is to them – for me it’s not such a big deal although some improvement would be nice.

Update June 25, 2015: In the last couple of days Garmin have provided updates to address the accuracy issues. In my single run since installing the update, a run that was previously recorded at 8.3 miles was recorded at 8.6 and more accurately reflected the actual path I ran. The Garmin forums appear to show a mix of responses, with most noting that it is a definite improvement.

Day 3 with the Garmin Fenix 3

It has been 2 days since my original Garmin Fenix 3 Review and I’m still finding my way around the functions. After getting the watch on Thursday (setting it up on Thursday evening), running on Friday, then flying to England on Saturday (daytime flight, which raised the question about a “flight mode” given the connectivity options on the watch, but with no answer I turned off the bluetooth as that seemed to be the only option I had – the plane managed fine), today was my second chance for a run.

After posting on the Garmin forums and a look at the GPS accuracy, I changed the recording mode from “smart” to “every second”, and I also turned on GLONASS.

The GPS picked up the signal quickly again, saying it was ready before I’d even opened the door. There was no hanging around this time before starting my run, which is perhaps why the first half mile does not appear to have had a good lock and makes it look like I was running on the opposite side of the road – I knew something wasn’t right when I looked at the screen a quarter mile in and it had me running slower than a 9 minute pace when the effort was clearly faster than 8 (maybe even closer to 7) at that point. My suspicion was confirmed when it suddenly jumped to around a 6 min/mile page presumably to correct itself. The route was an out and back, running on the same sidewalk with the exception of running along the A1198 where the map shows that it clearly picked up the side of the road I was running along. Full details here on Garmin Connect. Apparently with a faster pace my cadence may be a little higher, and my stride was longer – we’ll see how this tracks over time with various runs.

The return (tracking to the left) was accurate, but early issues meant the start of the run was not accurately recorded.

The return (tracking to the left) was accurate, but early issues meant the start of the run was not accurately recorded.

By contrast the route along the A1198 was accurately recorded both ways.

By contrast the route along the A1198 was very accurately recorded both ways.

I did not bring the rubber strap on this trip, so ran with the metal strap (I have the Sapphire model). It was a little looser than I would have liked so I may take another link out when I get back to the US where my link removal tools are, but then I worry it will be a little tight for day to day comfort.

A note on battery life: 2 runs (just over 3 miles and 5 miles respectively), one with every second GPS with GLONASS turned on, 2.5 days since charged and approximately 1 day with bluetooth turned off (on the plane and overnight) and now the battery is at 75% which I think is pretty impressive. The clock face I am using also has a seconds hand (the standard one) and this was noted as something that would use more battery.

One thing to note is that I need to be more careful about the notification settings from my phone. Someone in the US sent me a text message when it was the middle of the night here in the UK. My phone was on silent, but the watch vibrated when the message came in and woke me up. I turned off the bluetooth because it was the quickest way I could think to deal with it in my sleepy state.

My latest update at 3 months of ownership can be found by clicking here.

Garmin Fenix 3 Review

It is apparently a bit hit and miss still as to who is getting the Garmin Fenix 3, but I ordered a Sapphire edition from REI on January 6, and it seems that REI is getting them before anyone else if the Garmin forums are accurate.

After taking it out of the box I plugged it in, but the watch appears to be fully charged already. Going through the initial set up screens was very simple, and then it needs a GPS signal to set up the time. I placed the watch by the kitchen window (it’s a garden window so more open than most windows, but it probably would have been okay by another window) and went to brush the kids teeth. By the time I was back the time was set.

Next I connected it to the Garmin app on my phone. Again, very simple instructions to get that all set up. It was also easy to connect the HRM-Run heart monitor that I also ordered earlier in the week (before I even knew the watch was on its way, which again was very lucky).

I downloaded the Garmin Express app to my computer and connected the watch via USB – the instructions in the box were sparse, and there is a manual online but it’s not easy to find, although once your device is set up with Garmin Express it is accessible there. The Garmin Express app walked me through setting a preferred wi-fi network, and then showed me that there was a firmware update (not surprising with a new device like this). Even though Garmin Express said the update was complete, once I had disconnected the watch from the computer, the watch had to install the update (just another couple of minutes).

I plan to run on Friday morning, so I switched the strap because the temperature is supposed to be extremely low and I will want it on over my running gear – switching the straps was a very simple process with the included tools and took less than a minute. As you can see from the pictures, I was also messing around with the watch face options. There aren’t that many to choose from yet, but there should be more to come as time goes on.



Friday morning:
When I got up this morning, the Fenix 3 indicated that there was an update so I got ready for my run while that was happening. Once it was done I put my old Garmin Forerunner 405CX on my right wrist, and the Fenix 3 on the left and started to get them ready. I wanted to switch everything on before going out the door because my weather app on my phone was telling me the wind chill was -7 Fahrenheit.

The strap is longer on the Fenix 3 which means that even over my winter running clothes it holds properly. Here’s a comparison of how my 405CX fits:

405CX barely closes

405CX barely closes

Fenix 3 strap easily fits around thick winter clothes

Fenix 3 strap easily fits around thick winter clothes

Now, it seems that one of the updates introduced a minor glitch (UPDATE: it does not seem that the update caused this, most likely explanation is that I accidentally hit the status change option in the settings menu to “hide this from the list) – “Run” has disappeared as an activity option (it’s still an option in the settings for set up of data fields), so I chose to run using the “Trail Run” option (I’m not quite sure what that would do differently). I started the search for GPS signal inside the front door but knew I would have to go outside and wait. However, the Fenix 3 picked up the signal extremely quickly even inside, with a porch covering outside the door! That didn’t help this morning because I still had to wait standing out in the cold for the Forerunner to pick it up. This alone is great for me – I hated waiting outside for the 405CX to pick up the signal sometimes – especially the days when it seemed close to getting it, but then seemed to have to start searching all over again.

It was ridiculously cold, and down in the park I had to carefully pick my way between ice sheets across the road, so I kept the run short. However, the two watches recorded different distances, and some other differences too.

Fenix 3 – 3.08 miles, average pace 8:22

Garmin Forerunner 405CX – 3.13 miles, average pace 8:14 (well, that’s bound to happen when the distance is greater over the same time).

The difference appears to be from early in the run (well, I say early, but the entire first mile is all off on the 405CX). The forerunner didn’t even have the start in the correct place and has me running through people’s houses to the park, and then on a path that would have been covered in ice.

405CX unable to track my route for the first mile - not on roads, or even on the wrong road at one point.

405CX unable to track my route for the first mile – not on roads, or even on the wrong road at one point.

Fenix 3 - an accurate picture of my run.

Fenix 3 – an accurate picture of my run.

I’m loving all the extra information I’m getting from my run too with the HRM-Run monitor. My cadence is about where I thought it was (forefoot running gives me a high cadence) – it will be interesting to track these with different types of run. The temperature reading is presumably picking up some of my body heat(?) because it was single digit fahrenheit (without the wind chill) so indicating an average temperature in the high 40s is definitely wrong – if I cared that much there is an external gadget for getting that reading available.

I’m off to England tomorrow for a week, so will see how things go there – at least I won’t need my winter running clothes with temperatures in the 40s, so I’ll be keeping the metal strap on for those runs.

Follow this link to my day 3 follow up review – another run plus notes on battery life.

Garmin Fenix 3 – very tempting

I’ve had my Garmin Forerunner 405CX for about 3 years now and it’s still going strong. It’s a decent enough tool for recording and uploading my miles, but when Garmin introduced the Forerunner 620, I was almost tempted to buy it (but I couldn’t justify the cost). Now Garmin has announced the Fenix 3 which is a seriously tempting watch.

Garmin Fenix 3

My interest in this watch is also a product of my recent thoughts on tracking more about my running than just the miles. I never bothered to put on my heart rate monitor for a run, but had thought about doing so. I’m not sure how I would incorporate it with my training, but having the information available to look back on might show some interesting results. This is the first time I’ve looked at detailed specifications of a running watch in a while, so learning about the HRM-RUN monitor and what it can do was a bit of an eye-opener. All this information I’d been interested in such as tracking my cadence (several times last year I was counting during parts of my run, but I was always suspicious that the act of counting actually changed how I was running – just because I was so focused on it). From the Garmin Fenix 3 page – runner section: “When used with the HRM-Run monitor¹, the fēnix 3 can give you feedback on your running form by showing your cadence, ground contact time, and vertical oscillation. It even gives you fitness metrics like VO2 max and recovery timer when used with either a standard Garmin heart rate monitor or the HRM-Run monitor.”

Add to all of that the fact that this watch just looks good (I started wearing a watch again about a year ago and have a few that I wear on a regular basis), and it’s a smart watch (although I’ve not really been interested in having one, so that wouldn’t be relevant to my own decision).

As I was a cyclist before I was a runner, I also have a Garmin Edge 705 cycle GPS computer. It seems like this watch would be more than capable of matching what that does for me while out cycling.

So, I think I may have a Garmin 405CX and a Garmin Edge 705 up for sale soon… If I do get it, I’ll be sure to post a review. Reports are suggesting that the release could be as early as February; REI has it listed, and their pre-order information suggests pre-orders ship within 30 days.

UPDATE: I did order, and got it on February 12th – my initial review can be found by clicking here.