Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Polar M400 review

I vowed a long time ago that I'd never by another Garmin running watch. I've had at least six and their build quality seems to be terrible (at least in the watches I've had). So when my last Garmin started to malfunction I ordered a Polar M400 which is the top rated midrange watch on the excellent DCRainmaker.

It was a bit of a wrench leaving the Ant+ ecosystem for a watch which uses the Bluetooth Smart protocol, but I managed to recycle all of my old Garmin parts on eBay for a good price and it only cost me £50 to 'upgrade'.

Being a relatively new model, the watch is quite a bit leap forward from the Garmin Forerunner 210 which I was using before (and has been superseded in the Garmin lineup). For an example it has an internal pedometer, (supposedly) allows you to sync the watch via your phone, has customisable display screens and a predictive finish time etc...

I've been using the watch for just over two months now and here are my first impressions.

The Good
Firstly, and most importantly to me, the build quality feels really good. Polar are obviously backing themselves as it has a 2y warranty and is fully waterproofed. Things you didn't get with the Garmin.

The battery life seems really good. I haven't done any exhaustive tests, but I've been wearing the watch daily for the last six weeks and I get almost a weeks battery life out of it while using it for running and a normal day watch.

There aren't any single features which bowl me over, but the watch has a high 'just works' factor. As noted above it is quite a leap forward from my old watch customisable screens, a pedometer etc...

The heart rate monitor strap feels more comfortable.

The Bad
The online service Polar Flow looks good, but is pretty feature poor to be brutally honest. You have only recently been able to add manual activities if you head out running without your watch. You cannot edit the feature of a work out, give them names or flag races to make them distinct from training sessions. I used to use a label in Garmin Connect to mark which shoes I used for a given session in order to track the total distance I'd run in each pair. You simply can't do that with Polar Flow. As a web service they should be able to upgrade it and add some more decent features. Hopefully.

One of the attractions of the watch was the ability for it to sync activities via your phone so you don't need to connect the watch to your computer. I've never been able to get it to work. Step counts sync, running sessions don't.

When you've paused the watch (e.g. waiting at some traffic lights) you can't see any workout details on the screen as you are on a holding page. I can see plus sides to this as it is really clear when you have the watched paused, but I'd prefer to see any activity summary while I'm waiting at those traffic lights.

When you are using the watch as a normal day to day watch there doesn't seem to be a feature where you can see seconds on the watch, only hours and minutes. I'd like to be able to see second when I'm holding stretches and doing strength exercises etc... Seems a very basic feature not to have.

There seems to be a feature designed to stop you double tapping buttons. (The watch ignores the second tap if it is too close to the first, assuming it must be a mistake.) However, sometimes I want to double tap by starting to record and then triggering a manual lap.

It's different
If you are moving from a Garmin to Polar the watch is quite different and you'll need to re-adjust as those instinctive button presses won't work any more and the screens show different information. I found myself using the customisation options to make the screens look more like the Garmin ones I was used to.

From a running standpoint the biggest difference is the average pace that is displayed to you. On the Garmin there was an auto lap feature and showed you the average pace for the current lap. On the Polar, unless you are triggering manual laps, it shows you the average pace for your entire run. I got a bit caught out by this when I was at the Maidenhead 10 mile race and my average pace for the current auto lap would have been more useful - as I needed a kick up the bum because my pace was really dropping, but averaging it over the whole race masked this.

It might sound like I've listed quite a few negatives and there indeed a few, particularly with Polar Flow. However, the build quality and the 'just works' factor mean I am overall pretty happy with the watch.

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