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Shootouts

Shootout: Tracking down the best fitness band

By Liu Hongzuo - 2 Sep 2017

TomTom Touch

TomTom Touch

The TomTom Touch is your typical fitness tracker with a twist – a bioelectric sensor that provides a body fat estimate. With this, TomTom hopes that their Touch will stand out in the growing market of similar-looking fitness bands.

The Touch itself was extremely simple to operate, since it comes in a basic bracelet form factor that's easy to understand and operate. It uses an oblong display and a circular, front-facing metal sensor for all inputs. The metal sensor wakes the band up, and you swipe a finger along the grey scale display for different menus. Simply tap or hold a finger to the metal sensor to confirm your selection. While it's a simple device, it lacks is a raise-to-wake feature - the wearable won't display the time until you touch its metal button.

The key feature is none other than its fabled body fat measurement that works via its coin-shaped bioelectric sensor. The front sensor can measure your body's fat and muscle percentage by reading the organic electrical pulses from your body when you place a finger on its reader. To complete its cellulite 'circuit', the rear sensor comes into contact with your wrist. How electricity travels within the body can determine if the body is muscular, or blessed with lavish fat content.

Is the body fat percentage reading from the Touch accurate? It gives a good estimate, but it's better to get a clinically measured reading if you're very serious about your proportions. While we don't have an alternate reading from a medically approved device, mine said I had 17% body fat, whereas this body fat calculator said I was at 20.3%, which was considered 'average' for males of my age. Other reviewers in a similar fitness predicament saw their TomTom Touch’s measure off by nearly 6%, versus a gym-tested body fat test.

17% doesn't seem likely for a person who exerts only during the yearly mandatory fitness test (IPPT as known in Singapore), and during product reviews such as for this feature. In comparison, this other Singaporean spent two years of body-building at six times a week for a 12% body fat (from an overweight 25%),  up until he entered Manhunt 2016 as a finalist. My average BMI of 23 (nurtured by the copious amount of fast food I eat), puts the 20.3% body fat estimate at a realistic benchmark, while 17% would indicate that I’m borderline fit  (hah, right). While I am not a nutritionist, I am certain that I'm not 5% body fat away from taking part in a bodybuilding pageant. By itself, a body fat measurement is one of many guidelines to healthier, fitter living, so the number only becomes meaningful after you take other metrics into account, like heart rate and calories burnt.

At S$239, this pits the TomTom Touch squarely against other trackers of similar price points, while its headlining feature doesn't have the critical touch it needs to make users move on from their current wearable.

The 24/7 passive HRM measures your heart rate at regular intervals decided by the fitness band. You'll only know your average resting HR, and a snapshot of your resting HR before you start a run. It's accurate enough as a gauge, but the TomTom Touch's HRM isn’t the most accurate among wearables in general.

Other typical features include steps tracking, sports mode, and the ability to accept push notifications from a paired smartphone. The accompanying TomTom MySports app displays all the fitness related content in a manner that’s simple to understand. While the splash page shows your steps and muscle goals, it doesn't display your average HR for the day. It's not a crucial number, but it’s still nice to see more details given how this tracker has passive HRM. Our trial run couldn't get the tracker to register distance accurately, but it did log down the exercise.

It offers conventional goal tracking, but it doesn't feed fitness advice like the Fitbit or Jawbone apps do. The app also offers plenty of useful data but it is not the easiest app to navigate – data is layered under different menus, making the comparison process harder once you go beyond the home page. Effectively, it's up to the user to maximize the band's benefits, making it ideal for folks who are motivated enough to stick to their own goals.

The user experience of the fitness tracker was less than stellar. While it churns out workout data perfectly, the metallic sensor button is the key to most of its crucial controls. This is the same button that needs tapping to wake the device up. When we tap to check if the workouts are registering correctly, the button would take it as a prompt to end or cancel the existing workout. Battery-wise, it would be wise to start charging the sensor after two full days of use, or risk running low or empty on day three or four. This is lower than its expected five days of battery life per charge.

All in all, the TomTom Touch is a novelty among our selection of fitness trackers thanks to its body fat sensor, and it has passable accuracy for tracking runs and passive HRM. However, lack of a raise-to-wake display and the less intelligent button design hurts the tracker's viability among its peers. Without a raise-to-wake function, the fitness band's time-telling feature cannot be fully utilized, and that's dampened by its less intuitive controls. For a band that's asking for S$239, it looks awfully similar to the S$55 Xiaomi Mi Band 2.

Still, the TomTom Touch is more affordable than other fancier-looking fitness trackers with HRM, so it isn't entirely out of the race. Further to that, it seems TomTom has revised the suggested retail price of the band since it was first launched and is now going for S$189 (or less, when there are offers). This makes it more palatable given some of the sore points we've observed.