The Best Value Running Watch: Garmin Forerunner 15 Vs. TomTom Runner
There are dozens of running watches on the market, all of which are competing for the attention of serious runners and hobby runners everywhere. The price range for running watches is quite vast.
There are fairly inexpensive models that are, for all intents and purposes, not much different from the best fitness trackers. Then, there are some extremely pricey models (retailing for £400 or more) that track everything from distance to recovery, giving you all of your vital data and helping you train for longer races.
And then, there are the mid-range models, which will probably appeal to the majority of runners offering the best value at a moderate price.
Garmin Forerunner 15 price when reviewed: $79.99
Aiming For the Best Value
Mid-range running watches are aimed at runners who are serious about their fitness but don’t venture into obsessive, borderline-professional territory. Maybe these runners are gearing up to do a marathon, for example, but they certainly don’t do a marathon once a month.
Two of the most popular of these devices are the Garmin Forerunner 15 and the TomTom Runner. They’re both in the middle of the running watch spectrum, and they’re both made by highly-regarded manufacturers of navigational products.
Which one is the best?
Let’s compare them, point by point, and see if we can come up with a winner.
TomTom Runner price when reviewed: $79.99
As you might expect from running watches made by companies that focus on navigation, both the Garmin Forerunner 15 and the TomTom Runner have an onboard GPS sensor.
This immediately makes them more useful than budget fitness trackers, as they offer more complete distance and training data for outdoor runs. In particular, TomTom uses the company’s proprietary QuickGPSFix technology, which pinpoints your location quickly and accurately for the most precise distance tracking
However, you need to sync it regularly for accuracy, which some users may find annoying.
Not all runners do their training outdoors; running on a treadmill is certainly convenient in inclement weather. Both watches have solutions for including those workouts on your watch’s log without having to go through the trouble of manually entering them.
With the TomTom Runner, you simply change the activity to an indoor run, and the watch initially estimates your distance based on arm swings. Calibrating by entering your actual distance helps the watch to learn how you run so it can track future indoor activity more accurately.
The Garmin Forerunner 15 also has a way to track indoor runs, but you’ll need an accessory: a foot pod that slips over your shoelaces to measure your distance and also your cadence.
It’s totally accurate without requiring calibration, but it’s also not free. This little extra retails for £59, though you can usually find it for around £40.
One feature that both of these mid-range running watches lack is a built in heart rate monitor; you’ll need to go for a higher end model to get that. However, both the Garmin Forerunner 15 and the TomTom Runner are compatible with an external heart rate monitor made by their individual manufacturer.
Of course, those will cost you extra, but having the information that a heart rate monitor provides will allow you to do zone training. If that’s important to you, then you’ll want to consider the add-on.
For the Garmin Forerunner 15, the company’s premium heart rate monitor chest strap retails for £49 but can be found for around £35. Many fitness experts insist that a chest strap provides the most accurate heart rate data, so if zone training is a crucial part of your workout, the chest strap may be a must-have.
Both running watches lack a built in heart rate monitor
For the TomTom Runner, you can purchase the watch with the additional wrist-worn heart rate monitor for £40 over the baseline price. For many runners, this is a more comfortable way to track heart data, but again, a chest strap typically yields more accurate information.
The Garmin Forerunner 15 also doubles as a general all-day activity tracker, monitoring total calories burned and steps taken. More than that, though, if you’ve been sedentary for too long, it gives you gentle reminders that it’s time to move. A brief walk will satisfy its nagging for a little while. Runners who are also interested in wearing a fitness tracker may appreciate this feature.
However, if your goal is to motivate yourself while you’re running, the TomTom Runner has a helpful race feature. This keeps track of your best stats and encourages you to beat them, helping you to train better.
As you’d expect, both of these running watches have compatible apps for both iOS and Android. They’re free, and they offer easy, seamless syncing with your device — that’s what they’re built for, after all. Using the corresponding app, you’ll have access to all of your data in a more graphical format. They both keep tabs on distance, route, elevation, calories burned, splits, and more, though there are a few differences between the two.
The Forerunner 15 uses Garmin Connect, which is also available as a web tool. This app has a big social component, which allows you to link up with friends, share your workouts, leave encouraging comments, and engage in some friendly competition. It also allows you to see other courses and routes that runners have already done, a nice feature if you’re looking for some new scenery. Finally, it has training plans, so if you’re prepping for a certain distance, you can follow a prescribed schedule to get ready.
Similarly, the TomTom Runner uses the TomTom MySports app, which is also available as a stand-alone application on both Mac and Windows. Instead of a big social aspect, the MySports app encourages you to compete against yourself. You’ll have easy access to your best times, distances, and other stats so you can do your best to beat them.
Don’t like the MySports app? No problem — the TomTom Runner is also compatible with RunKeeper, Map My Fitness, and Strava, if you’d prefer to use one of those apps instead of the proprietary TomTom one.
Both watches are fairly slim, as far as sports watches go. They’re also lightweight, so there’s no unbalanced heavy feeling when you’re moving. But in the category of most advanced-looking interface, the TomTom Runner’s crisp, high resolution display wins, hands down.
It’s just easier to read, and it offers simple but useful on screen graphics to help you see your progress and achievements. It’s also scratch resistant, and the one-button controls are simple and intuitive to use, even when you’re blazing down the trail.
The Garmin Forerunner 15’s display feels more utilitarian. It gives you what you need to know, but it just doesn’t feel as new. Lots of numerical readouts are available, if you’ll have to go to the app to get anything image-based.
If you’re on a particularly challenging run and really pushing yourself, all of those numbers may be hard to decipher in the moment.
If you’ve used any of the GPS-based apps on your smartphone, you know that turning on the GPS sensor is a huge battery drain. Therefore, it’s unrealistic to expect a super long battery life from a GPS running watch.
However, the battery on the Garmin Forerunner 15 will last an impressively long time when the device is used as an ordinary fitness tracker. Sure, the battery only lasts up to eight hours when the GPS is engaged, but if you’re in non-GPS tracking mode, you can go for up to five whole weeks.
With the TomTom Runner, you don’t have the ability to switch off the GPS, and that means you’ll need to recharge very frequently. It can go for up to ten hours, but if you’ve got the heart rate monitor synced and tracking, you shouldn’t expect much more than eight hours.
Looks and Design
Both the Garmin Forerunner 15 and the TomTom Runner look like what they are: sports watches. While they are relatively low profile for their category, you’ll never mistake either one for a smartwatch.
They just look like what they are. However, because running gear is not without its fashion choices, both of these devices come in a few different colours.
Garmin, however, wants you to wear its Forerunner 15 all day to track all of your activity. You can do that, but just be aware that it will probably clash with business attire more than, say, a Jawbone or Fitbit.
The good news is that the price on both of these running watches has dropped in recent months as each company has released a newer, more expensive, and more fully featured high end running watch. For Garmin, it’s the Forerunner 620, and for TomTom, it’s the Runner Cardio.
Currently, the Garmin Forerunner 15 retails for £119 (down from £149), and the base model of the TomTom Runner — the one without the heart rate monitor — retails for just £99 (down from £119).
Really, with a difference of just £20, we can essentially call these more or less equal. However, if you’re looking for a mid-range running watch and don’t want to drop more than £100, the TomTom Runner is the only one you’ll be able to afford.
Which One is Best?
In the mid-range running watch category, is there a clear-cut winner between the Garmin Forerunner 15 and the TomTom Runner? Well, that all depends on your needs.
If you’re looking for a running watch that doubles as an all day tracker (to avoid buying two separate devices), then you’ll definitely want to consider the Garmin Forerunner 15. The same holds true if you’ll be doing as many indoor runs as outdoor runs: the Forerunner 15, along with its go-along foot pod, will give you accuracy that doesn’t need to be calibrated.
However, if a good interface is important, and if money is a big consideration, the TomTom Runner is probably the model you want.
Ultimately, though, both of these running watches are excellent pieces of gear that will transform your workouts and how you train. The only hitch is that the limitations of both of these devices, along with the knowledge that there are more robust high end running watches with and without GPS out there, may eventually cause you to yearn for something better. But of course, that’s another article for another time.See recommended fitness trackers on Amazon
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