The TomTom Adventurer takes the company's existing sports watch line-up - as familiar in the Runner or Spark - with the added twist of a barometer for additional outdoor activity tracking abilities.

TomTom is clearly looking to cement its place in sport devices, an offshoot of a business that was once focused on in-car GPS devices. In addition to its variety of products the company is also striving to improve its app offering to create an experience that's more encompassing than previous efforts.

With strong competition from the likes of the Garmin Fenix 3 and Polar V800, the TomTom Adventurer's hook is that it doesn't cost an absolute fortune. Does that mean its compromised from the off?

  • 22 x 25mm monochrome display
  • Waterproof to 40m
  • Four-way controller
  • Enhanced strap

The TomTom Adventurer's body is exactly the same as the company's existing devices: a single-piece body that fits into the separate strap. The only physical difference is a small change in the moulding on the rear to incorporate the barometer sensor.

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The biggest visual difference you'll spot is the strap styling. It's slightly more substantial, but we really like it. The buckle works nicely and the materials make this a comfortable watch to wear on long activities or even casually through the day. The strap also has a slightly raised lip to the front around the display, designed to add a little more protection for the screen.

As you can swap straps, there's nothing to stop you buying a different version when you fancy a change, different colour or style. We daresay you'll be able to buy the Adventurer strap for other watch models too if you're just drawn to the look of this watch, rather than the features. As it is, this strap is much easier to change size on the move, perhaps loosening after a long time wearing as your wrist swells.

As with other TomTom devices, there's a monochrome display (no fancy battery-sapping colour here), and a four-way controller beneath it curling down onto your wrist. There are no other buttons, no touchscreen to get to grips with, just that four-way control.

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There's waterproofing to 40m/5ATM, meaning that is a watch that you can swim in, shower in, snowboard in, without having to worry about water damage. 

  • Optical heart-rate sensor
  • Barometer
  • GPS tracking
  • Bluetooth music with 3GB internal storage

There's no real difference from other devices in the TomTom family and there's also a lot of overlap in terms of features too. That's a downside, because there's no real variety in design and TomTom's sports devices are therefore a little confusing.

The Spark is aimed at fitness, the Runner is aimed at runners, but both are the same: same prices, same design, same features, same experience, although there are various tiers of each - GPS, HRM, music. The only difference is the packaging.

The Adventurer essentially parachutes itself in at the top of the existing collection with that barometer hardware opening up some new features. As this watch will more accurately detect a change in altitude, it offers more accuracy and more interesting stats for outdoor sports, like hiking, skiing and snowboarding - features you don't get on the other models.

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In some areas the experience is very much the same - running, gym training and cycling, for example - although one of the additions is 3D distance, more accurately taking into account the change in elevation along your route.

That makes the TomTom Adventurer a more natural choice for outdoor sports where hills are involved, so might appeal to the likes of adventure racers or hikers, fell runners or just cyclists who want to see altitude more accurately. For skiers and snowboarders there's automatic lift detection so you don't have to poke the button to stop your watch. There's also a display of the run you've just completed, so you can geek out over the stats before you hit it again.

Aside from the additional information that can be gleaned from the extra sensor, the TomTom Adventurer offers all the features of the top Spark/Runner model, so it has local music playback via Bluetooth headphones (not included), GPS, heart rate and full-time step tracking, as well as sleep tracking. 

It also offers the route function introduced on the Spark 3/Runner 3, meaning you can trace your way back to where you started, although this is only a rough route trace rather than any sort of visual mapping.

This also supports GPX trail uploads, so you can add route data to follow. Again, this isn't Garmin Epix style mapping, it's a trace of the route to aid your navigation, paired with the compass, rather than replacing a map. You can, for example, find your way back the route using the compass.

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Perhaps a downside on the hardware front is the lack of an automatic light sensor. There is a "night" mode hiding in the options menu that will let you turn on illumination for the display. The positive is that you can have it off during the day and that saves battery. But it's a bit of a fiddle to get to it if it's dark.

In terms of the user interface, it's something we wish was easier to access: the old Nike+ Sportswatch with TomTom (where this all started in 2011), would illuminate when you slapped it. A simple option for rotational illumination - as you get on Android Wear - would be a nice addition here.

  • Excellent heart-rate tracking
  • Useful and accessible altitude features
  • 24hr hiking use, 11hr GPS tracking

We've long been fans of the optical heart-rate tracker on the rear of these TomTom devices: we've found the TomTom Spark 3 to hold its own against a heart rate chest strap on rival Garmin devices, and with greater reliability, i.e., less lag, than some other wrist-based devices. That performance is repeated on the Adventurer, returning consistent heart-rate tracking.

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We've also found the GPS to be generally good. This is more of a level playing field, with many devices using similar setups to track GPS position using on-watch sensors. The trick that TomTom attempts to use is taking a "QuickGPS" hotfix from your phone when it syncs. This uses data gathered from the phone's location to give the Adventurer a head start in rapidly finding your new location.

Generally this feature works well. Like the Apple Watch or some Android Wear devices, GPS location is quickly found, whereas some standalone devices will have to search a little harder (and longer) to figure out exactly where they are. That said, before you start a GPS-tracked activity, you'll have to wait for the watch to locate itself. Cold starts with no phone sync can see you standing around a few minutes waiting before you can actually start.

Once locked in, the tracking features are plenty capable. There's some variance, naturally, but we've found the Adventurer to be accurate to distance measurements on a map and to comparable wrist-worn devices. This TomTom is designed to take into account changes in elevation, too, to give you a more accurate picture of the distance you actually travelled, rather than just as the crow flies.

The barometer adds an altitude dimension that gives you a little more than standard GPS altimeter results. You can check the elevation at any time on the watch, and you can also check the gradient. This is fun, perhaps not hugely useful: you'll know it's steep and knowing the percentage perhaps doesn't add much to your metrics, but each to their own. You could, of course, compare this to contour lines on a map for at-a-glance confirmation of your location. Yes, you're supposed to be walking down this -24 per cent slope.

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We do like the change in ascent and descent figures, however, because it's much easier to visualise than something like gradient. And who doesn't like to know that they've climbed a long way?

Transferring this to real maps, knowing the elevation - which you often don't get to see on a normal GPS watch - means you know how much more climbing you can expect to do to hit the summit, for example. For walkers in the hills, it's a nice additional piece of information, where speed, pace or heart rate might be less important, but that on-the-fly Naismith's estimation might be aided with this additional information.

The Adventurer pulls these things together logically with a hiking, ski and snowboard modes for those playing outdoors. The swim, run, bike, gym and other modes are more common and basically the same as the Spark and Runner, but those outdoor modes are really what makes the TomTom Adventurer fit for its job.

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The Adventurer claims 11-hours of GPS tracking per charge. That's a pretty long day event, although you can extend that to 24-hours in hiking mode, which might see you through a 100km trail, for example. Using all the functions - that's GPS, heart rate and music playback - will see it to around five hours per charge, which should see you through a marathon.

TomTom also claims that you'll get up to three weeks of general tracking from this watch, which is step-tracking and not much else. For us we've managed about a week, using it for a couple of runs and daily wear. In that sense it's not too different to other sports watches, and significantly better in casual wear than most smart watches which will only give you two days of use at the most. 

Most "fitness" smartwatches purport to offer a hiking mode or similar, but the endurance of devices like the TomTom Adventurer, Garmin Vivoactive HR or Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical makes them more appealing to those who want a tool for the job, rather than something that does everything.

  • New Sports app improves connection
  • Life-style approach to data
  • Syncs with Strava, MyFitnessPal and others

We've criticised previous TomTom devices because of the smartphone experience that goes along with it. This has changed recently, however, with the launch of the new TomTom Sports app. This replaces the MySports app and it's much better overall. 

Starting at the beginning,: there's still a need to register your watch by plugging it into a computer USB. This element is still a little backwards, but via the app on your PC or Mac you can then sync the watch to your account. A similar process takes place on your Android or iPhone, downloading the app and connecting to your watch.

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In the past, we've found this to be a troublesome point in our relationship with the TomTom Spark/Runner. Just getting it to sync was hit and miss. Things are much better with the new app. That's a big connectivity hurdle removed.

We said previously that you can upload GPX files for trails, but you'll have to do that via a PC connection. You can't upload a file through the app on your phone, so it's slightly less mobile than you might want it to be. Again, if you want music on your Adventurer, you'll have to upload a playlist from your PC, rather than being about to sensibility select tracks from your phone. It means that in general, you need to be a little more considered about what you do.

With all that said, the MySport area of your TomTom account on the website gives a good area to view your activities and will give you routes with more detailed mapping, so if you've been on a longer trek, for example, you'll probably find yourself back on the website.

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The app also does a reasonable job of representing your activity and it covers everything from a breakdown in your activity to your daily stats, like your resting heart rate and your achievements. It's perhaps not as sophisticated as Polar Flow or Garmin Connect, taking more of a lifestyle approach than those other apps that are a little more serious, stemming from the heart-rate tracking running crowd. 

There are some interesting highlights in the new TomTom Sport app. It highlights your activity achievements with gold, silver or bronze icons, making it easy to glance down and find your longest or fastest, for example. It also attempts to pull out trends, saying that your distance is increasing, but here it never really seems to be as authentic as Polar Flow's direct session feedback, or Garmin's recovery stats.

The app will also share data with other platforms like Strava and perhaps more critically MyFitnessPal, which will in turn share this data with a wide range of other platforms, so you can get your workout data in Fitbit, for example (but not steps). All these connections, however, need to be managed through the website, rather than in the app.

But that's really where this device ends. Unlike the Garmin Vivoactive HR that's a natural rival at a similar price, this offers very little customisation and no smartphone notifications. We don't think that's a make or break omission, but for some it will lessen the appeal.

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Overall, the TomTom app position is a lot better though. It's better connected and more reliable - and that was our biggest bugbear with the previous version. Importantly, you can get to the information you want fairly easily too.

Verdict

The TomTom Adventurer is the stand-out device in the company's line-up of fitness devices. It's the most comprehensively specced and the most interesting, because it uses the additional data it gathers to provide more interesting results.

That might not appeal to all, however: this is a watch for those who want to track stats in outdoor activities and for, say, your average runner or cyclist, it might be offering functions you never actually want to use.

The Adventurer puts in a good performance in a number of areas: the heart-rate tracking is solid, the GPS tracking accurate, and battery life ample. The stats represented by the altimeter correlate with those we cross reference on other maps.

The new TomTom app is also better connected than previous efforts, so you're only really left dealing with a design that's starting to get very familiar and a watch that's not the most widely connected.

Overall, the TomTom Adventurer should appeal to those who play in the great outdoors. If you run, swim and cycle regularly, it will take care of those things, but stepping beyond is where the Adventurer is more useful. This is for those who like to know altitude in real-time, who want to cross-reference with a map and like to know how far they've climbed on that day in the hills.

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The Fenix 3 has been the poster boy of active watches for a couple of years. It makes a distinction between Garmin's wide range of sports devices pitches at runners, and gives you watch that's fully-loaded with sensors and offering a premium design. With that comes high pricing, but a feature set that leaves almost nothing out. There different versions, however, so if you want heart rate, you'll have to make sure you pick the right model.

Read the full preview: Garmin Fenix 3: Adventure ready for any sport

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The Polar V800 is best known as the device of choice for serious runners and multi-sport athletes, but it also includes a barometer to track your altitude. It's also watchproof, but it relies on a chest strap for heart rate, rather than optical sensors. This makes it more accurate, but more cumbersome. The Polar V800 is a serious tool, but tracking your activity on the road or track is its forte, and it's not so well placed with it comes to adventure activity.

Read the full review: Polar V800: Tempting for triathletes

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The most natural rival for the TomTom Adventurer is the Garmin Vivoactive HR. This compact device also offers wrist-based heart rate tracking and GPS location, but unlike a lot of running watches, it also features a barometer to give you accurate altitude data. In addition to 24/7 activity and sleep tracking, the Vivoactive HR also offers smartphone notifications, bringing more connected options and the Garmin platform is a little more serious in presenting your data.

Read the preview: Garmin Vivoactive HR: The complete training solution