Using the Polar ecosystem for works-outs

For a while now I have been using the Polar 650 as a bike computer combined with a H7 heart-rate monitor and a Cadence sensor. I was very happy with the data that the Polar 650 gave me and the feedback in Polar Flow so when my Fitbit Flex conked out I decided to go “all-in” on the Polar ecosystem and get a Loop 2 as well. Polar Flow is polar’s web interface which I use most of the time and it has gotten some excellent features lately. However it is still also lacking in some very critical spots which I will also address in the review.

How I got here

I’ve been working on loosing weight since April of 2010 when I discovered I had a BMI in excess of 30, which makes you obese. I tried a lot of different things such as walking, running, biking, swimming, mountain biking, gym & home gym. But what most research into successful motivation will tell you, you need social ‘pressure’ such as a group to help you get along. I’m a big nerd and I love data so I decided to keep track of how fast everything was going. I started by weighing myself daily and setting goals I wanted to achieve. I also started using tech. Apps to track my rides & runs and websites to log my weight loss and work-outs. I’ve moved from RunKeeper to Endomondo to Fitbit and now to Polar and have used most platforms extensively for years. So keeping that in mind moving into a new ecosystem where I want to log my data is rather crucial.

Polar Flow

Polar has a very nice website where you can track works-outs done with their hardware, such as my 650. Recent updates have made this into a virtual coach with some awesome features such as recovery status, which tells you how long to wait between works-outs. I really like this new feature as it gives a “novice” like me a bit of a guideline and also it motivates you to start moving!

Since getting the loop it also incorporates my activity into my recovery status and so being ‘very active’ in the weekends sets you back in your downtime for training. The 650 gives nice motivational feedback on what you did and this also helps you learn what you should do in a possible training. But unfortunatly I also have to mention a few of the drawbacks of Polar Flow I have already encountered while using it.

  • No import function for GPX/TCX files. I cannot port over my old data into this system which is a shame.
  • Fitbit used graphs to show you how active you had been, I got very used to this so the pure text in Polar is still a bit of a downer on that front
  • Fitbit also had graphs for weight loss, which was one of my biggest motivators for staying on track! Full disclosure here: I haven’t invested in the Polar scales yet, I don’t really need smart scales in my live but that part of the website is “locked” for me. Also updating your weight via Flow is a pain in the ass.
  • Lack of a Windows Mobile app. RunKeeper ditched their app but alot of major players have them. I knew Polar didn’t have one going into this as I really don’t need the app that much anymore (I mainly used it with the Flex to check the number of steps I did which the Loop just displays).

Polar Loop 2

I’m a bit less optimistic about the Loop 2 than I was about the Fitbit Flex. It’s bulkier (gives more information though), you need to cut the loop to make it fit you, reducing the resell potential and share-ability a lot! It can work with the H7 for tracking heart-rate while running (which I haven’t done as of writing this). But it also starts making activities as soon as you put the H7 on, meaning when I get ready to bike it gives me the precise calories I burned from the moment I put the H7 on until I started using the 650. Which you then have to remove since it’s a 2 minute nonsense session. I’m pretty happy with the fit and finish. I opted for the white one which is very hard to read under direct sunlight even if you shade it with your hand, but I take that loss for a more pleasant look than a black band with red LEDs.

My grievances with the Loop 2, beyond cutting a brand new piece of kit you just bought, is that the vibration motor is either very weak or it doesn’t get used very long. The “It’s time to move” functionality is so barely noticeable for me personally that I would like to be able to adjust that. It could also use a battery meter or some indication that it should (soon) be charged.

Polar 650

I absolutely adore my 650. Polar is constantly improving it’s functionality. It is highly customizable, has different profiles for different bikes and you can even use it to track hikes and such. It lacks planned routes but you can add routes after you have done them once and it uses OpenStreetMaps which you can even pan, zoom etc on while using it. I love the heart-rate feature and I have my screen set up so that I see Heartrate, cadence, speed, height and distance. Which for me works great. I also like that if you wear gloves while biking in the winter you can push the side-button to swap between views. Very handy since my biking gloves don’t really work on the display.

TLDR: The Polar ecosystem as a whole is very nice but it still lacks many features one can expect from a big company such as Polar. However I feel like they are moving up in the world in the future. But since you should buy something for what it is now and not what it may hold in the future; Probably hold off until it is -really- fully functional.

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