I enjoy running for a variety of reasons and find that I get out more often when I have devices attached that track all of my fitness data for later analysis and goal setting. Data, results, goals, and even friendly competition all help to motivate me to tie up the laces and hit the road.
For the last several weeks I have been testing a couple of high end fitness devices from Polar for running and cycling. I spent time running with the Polar V800 multi-sport GPS watch and cycling with the V650 bike computer.
The Polar V800 was released in 2014, but recently received a major update that added iOS notification support. An update was also released last week that added open water swim tracking support, just in time for summer swims in lakes, bays, and sounds.
Hardware: I was sent an evaluation unit that included the Polar V800 and heart rate chest strap. It arrived in a sturdy white box with black highlights and product images. The Polar V800 is also available in black/gray and blue/red with the black/gray one arriving for me to test out for a few weeks.
After opening up the box top, I removed the V800 and was immediately struck by the high quality stainless steel, glass, and durable rubber material that make up the watch. The V800 is substantial in its heft at 82 grams, but that is about the same as other multi-sport units.The package contained the H7 Bluetooth Smart heart rate sensor and proprietary USB charging/syncing cable. The H7 heart rate sensor is actually rated to perform heart rate sensing in water, but I did not have the chance to test that out.
The V800 has five hardware buttons, two on the left and three on the right, and does not have a touchscreen interface. I often run in the rain so personally prefer a good hardware button setup over a touchscreen for my running and fitness watches. The five buttons on the V800 all have texture to make them easy to find when you are not looking directly at the watch, they are all well spaced, and they all have good tactile response.
The upper left button toggles the backlight while the bottom left button serves as the back button that you will use quite a bit. The upper right scrolls up in lists while the lower right scrolls down in lists. The center right button, colored in red, is used as the select and start button.
The buckle is a rugged stainless steel design with two prongs that fit into a number of openings in the band so that the watch will fit anybody. I like the ability to adjust for comfort, but it is a bit inconvenient to pass the free end back down through the buckle and then into a rubber ring piece. However, this design does keep the V800 securely attached to your wrist.
The V800 has a monochrome display, but it is very visible in low and direct light. I've tested many monochrome displays and the Polar V800 has one of the best I've ever used. The backlight also does a good job of lighting up the display.
The two foot charging cable attaches to an open port along the back of the top just where the band meets the stainless steel back of the device. Battery life is stated as 13 hours for GPS training and 30 days as a watch with daily activity training mode. This is fantastic and will cover long runs, swims, and bike rides. It is designed to work well for runners, hikers, swimmers, and triathletes.
Software: There is software available on the V800 watch, on Android and iOS devices, and on your desktop computer.
The watch is easy to use with the five buttons and I was able to figure out most of the software simply by navigating around with the buttons. You are primarily going to press the up or down buttons to scroll through the main menu of options that include status, today's activity, diary, settings, tests, timers, and favorites. In addition to these, the default watch face will appear after you leave one of these modules and that face can be customized to your preference as well.
Status shows you what zone of fitness or recovery you are in. Today's activity shows you active time, calories burned, and steps taken. This module also shows you what you need to do to achieve your daily goal through jogging or walking periods. The diary lets you access your previous days to view activity and fitness accomplished and recorded with the Polar V800. The Polar V800 also automatically tracks your sleep and has done a great job so far in determining when I go to sleep and when I wake up.
Settings is where you can customize settings for sport profiles, physical settings, general settings, and watch settings. While you can change many things here, there are even more settings available to you on your computer.
One of the distinguishing features of the Polar V800 is support for testing your fitness level using orthostatic, fitness, jump, and R-R recording (heartbeat interval recording). These tests are helpful in measuring progress and figuring out what it is going to take to reach your goals.
You can also sync your Android or iOS device to the Polar V800 through the Polar Flow software. The smartphone software performs mostly the same with support for some notifications on iOS devices. These smart notifications include calls, messages, calendar appointments, email, social networking, and more. Most notifications are just useful for letting you know if you should pull your phone out to take action, much like what we see on the Fitbit Surge, but you can choose to silence or answer incoming calls.
Smart notifications are pretty basic, but it is nice to see Polar working to provide some smartwatch functionality on its products. I understand Android smartphone notifications are under development as well.
A desktop utility is also available to manage syncing of your Polar V800, along with firmware update control. The Polar Flow website is used to view and manage your V800 too. After failing to customize the training views on the V800 directly, I learned that you use the Polar Flow website to manage your sports profiles. The vastness of the Polar Flow website is impressive with enough data there to keep the geekiest athlete busy for days.
I loved that I was able to fully customize a couple running displays to exactly what I want to see when I run. You can have up to four fields in view on each running display with up to eight available displays. I personally stick with just two since I don't want or need to see that much data on the run. It is easy to tap the up or down button to switch between the views too.
The Polar Flow website lets you view activity feed, explore other people's workout results, view your daily diary and performance, view your progress, and fully customize your fitness experience. You can also export your data in case you want to use it elsewhere.
One fun aspect of the Polar Flow website is the Relive button that you can press on your feed or workout page. This launches a dynamic page that takes you through your activity with real photos of key locations along your route, records and milestones (such as fastest mile), and other data in a fun and enjoyable format.
Pricing, experiences, and conclusion: The advertised price of the Polar V800 and heart rate sensor is $519.95, but I see you can pick it up on Amazon for just over $300. I couldn't justify the $500 price, but at $300 I can easily recommend the V800 for those serious about tracking their running, swimming, hiking, and cycling.
The V800 obtained a GPS fix in 30 seconds or less every time and never once let me down in tracking my running and biking. The daily activity tracking is useful when you are not working out and the inactivity reminders will help you get up and move if you've been sitting too long.
The V800 is built like a rock and should last you years. The battery life is amazing and if you use it for daily activity tracking with three runs a week then you can go for a couple weeks without worrying about charging it up. You can sync to the Polar Flow service via the USB cable or simply connect your iOS or Android smartphone.
The Polar V800 is one of my favorite GPS sport watches thanks to its quality build, long battery life, helpful information on what is needed to reach my goals, accurate and quick tracking of my data, and smartphone connectivity. I may soon pick one up for myself and use it as my primary GPS fitness device.
The Polar V650 was released in 2015 and Polar continues to provide updates to add functionality and enhance the user experience. OpenStreetMap support is coming in a release next month so you will be able to see where you are cycling on free maps available around the world.
Hardware: It has been years since I rode my bike, but a couple months ago I decided to get back up on my Bridgestone XO-3 since I moved to an area that provides quick and easy access to some dedicated bike trails. My standard one hour route includes a trip from Puyallup to Orting and back with Mount Rainier in site the whole way.
The V650 also comes in a sturdy white box with V650 product highlights. Inside is a standard microUSB cable, H6 heart rate monitor, and the V650. I personally liked the heart rate monitor in the V650 package better than the V800 package since the module itself was a bit smaller and didn't rub my chest like most chest-mounted heart rate monitors.I've heard people state that the V650 is a bit large for a bike computer, but given I was mounting my iPhone 6 Plus prior to this I think it is rather small. It feels great in my hand with white and black matte plastic finishes and a large 2.8 inch color touchscreen display.
The power button is on the upper left with a large red start/pause/stop button centered below the display. Buttons on the display are large and easy to press. I never missed anything while biking and using my finger to navigate.
A cool feature of the V650 is a front LED light. Simply swipe down from the top on the display to turn the light to on, intermittent flashing, or auto. It's not really designed to light your path ahead while you cycle, but it serves as a great additional light for safety and identification as you hit a busy trail or road with cars.
There is a mount included for the V650 that consists of a small mounting bracket and rubber bands that fit around your handlebar in two directions to secure the V650. There are three lengths of rubber bands included to fit your particular handlebar diameter. I found that this bracket very securely kept the V650 in place on my bike, but I did not take it offroad for any mountain biking either.
Software: The Polar V650 also supports the Polar Flow app and the desktop version of Polar Flow. Unfortunately, it doesn't support iOS or Android connectivity so you need to connect it via a standard microUSB cable to sync your data to the Polar Flow database.
Unlike the Polar V800 where you use the Polar Flow website to customize all of your profiles, you must do it all right from the V650. You setup profiles for road cycling, mountain biking, and indoor cycling. You can also customize settings for up to four bikes. Each bike profile can have different sensors and sizes for your riding management.
The software on the V650 is different than the V800 given the focus on cycling while the V650 also has a touch screen interface for navigating around the device. On the main display you will see four main quadrants for data with a row of status icons at the bottom of the display.
The quadrants, from upper left and working clockwise, include history, settings, selected bike profile, and selected bike. Simply tap on any of these to access further information, make changes, or switch to another profile.
The status icons at the bottom include icons for GPS and various sensors. You can connect a heart rate monitor, cadence sensor, speed sensor, and power sensor. I was able to use my existing cadence and speed sensor with the V650.
Pressing the side button also gives you access to a menu to calibrate altitude, lock the display, turn off the V650, and search for sensors (bike, heart rate, etc.).
Pricing, experiences, and conclusion: The Polar V650 and heart rate sensor combination is priced at $299.95 on the Polar website, but can be found on Amazon for about $20 less.
I enjoyed using the V650 with my bike and found it helpful for maintaining my desired heart rate and speed along my route. In the past, I just judged my pace based on time and a bike computer gives you much more information to push yourself and improve your fitness.
The upcoming maps update should help those who want to take more open road adventures to be able to figure out destinations and get back to the starting point without having to use a phone or physical map.