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A long overdue review but still cathartic
on June 29, 2014
I have owned this device for close to a year which means I have a fully formed opinion of it, but I recognize that it is a model that may not even be available so this review is probably going to be less than useful. But I suspect that newer models will have similar virtues and problems so hopefully it won't be a complete waste of time.
The good news is that this is a solid running watch and heart rate monitor. It also gives me reasonably accurate calorie burn data, at least with respect to cardio based activities. It isn't that hard to learn how to use, but I would recommend anyone getting the online users manual and at least read through it once. I've referred back to it a half dozen times at least.
The watch is not that easy to read, so if you are someone who sweats a lot and has "older" eyes, you may have difficulty reading some of the data as you work out. I know I do.
I've owned 4 different Polar devices over the last 25 years and two things that are consistent with all of then is that a) they are not very intuitive and b) just pushing a button doesn't mean that a lap is going to register or a function is going to change. I have no idea why Polar cannot get their buttons to easily depress but they stick and if you push too hard you may get a double recording (the dreaded 1 second lap) or you don't get the split recorded at all. I've called Polar and taken all their advice but candidly nothing works and never has. It is just a design flaw or lousy engineering. I've had zero problems with button depressing on Garmin's or Timex. My finger strength hasn't changed over the years so I feel pretty confident that the problem is with Polar and not me.
The battery replacement has been very disappointing. It is easy to change them (for both the watch, err. training computer and heart rate monitor) and they aren't that expensive but I've been flipping these out a lot more than I expected and it started within 3 months of owning it. Now I use the device for every workout (approx 270 times the las 12 months) so maybe this is normal but it doesn't feel right.
I barely use the GPS unit unless I go out of town. Since I tend to run the same courses, I've found using the GPS a big waste of time since the information is often only 90-95% accurate in terms of distance covered. In certain areas of town it is better than others but for the most part I can get a lot more accurate information measuring courses on my bike and not getting frustrated with the wild fluctuations in what GPS thinks a mile is. I've run a segment using the Polar maybe 10-15 times and the distances have ranged from 3.05 miles to 3.52 miles. (On my bike the course is 3.48 miles) Other courses have the same level of "relative accuracy" which may be fine for some, but isn't for me. Having to carry a second unit for GPS doesn't help when others like the Garmin just have it built into the watch. Now I originally used the clip but that was very cumbersome and a bear to actually get out of the holster (which is necessary from time to time for removing moisture and cleaning). Fortunately Polar explained that merely sticking it into a zipper pocket in your running shorts works just as well so other than the issues of it being a bit heavy and bouncing around, I'd say if you have to use it, this is the way to go. The optimal thing I've found is putting it into a key pocket sewn on the inside of the shorts. You barely notice it.
Getting a GPS signal isn't that hard. Putting it out on some flat area with a clear view of the sky and you'll get a green signal in about 30-45 seconds.
The biggest disappointment over the past 6 months is how lousy the data sync is when you upload workouts to polarpersonaltrainer.com. While it worked pretty seamlessly at the start, not the connection routinely gets lost and something that should take a minute or so, can become a 10-15 minute exercise in futility. I've called Polar on this a few times but they merely are guessing and don't seem to have a clue on how to make it work. I've explained to them that I'm using the same computer, at the same desk with the same sync device in the same USB port. None of the variables changed, but the dependability is completely lacking. Uploading my last 3 workouts took 6 attempts at getting it to go all the way through and I changed absolutely nothing during the entire process. On the 6th time it finally worked and I have no reason to explain why the last effort clicked when the previous 5 did not.
The fitness test that they offer is kind of a joke. It is not accurate at all, and if it was, my Vo2 max would seem to indicate I should be quitting my day job and becoming a professional athlete. It is largely dependent on your resting HR, which in my case is very low and over time my fitness test results have gone from 47 (still elite in my age category) to over 60, which is off the charts. I wouldn't care, but immediately it impacted my calorie burn results to a point where I went from burning 100-110 calories per mile to 130, all relatively at the same pace per mile. Manually changing the vo2 max down to low 50's and immediately the calorie results went back to normal. When I asked Polar the reason for this, they tried to rationalize it but clearly the people you speak with have no idea what they are talking about. The logic I employed was that if I were truly getting that much fitter, then I'd burn less calories per mile at the same relative effort because I'd become more efficient. That makes perfect sense to me, but in Polar speak, the opposite is true.
So at this point, I have a 1 year old device with a GPS that I don't like to use. The batteries die frequently, and you can't consistently upload your results if you really have your heart set on analyzing them. OTOH, I only paid a little over $200 so if I can suffer with it for another year I'll start fresh with something else and feel like I at least got my money's worth.
Three stars is probably generous, but the Polar people at least take your call (it sounds like I've called them 100 times, but in reality it may be 8-10) and do seem concerned with helping you, even if they can't.