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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Polar M400 Review: Can I Bin The Garmin Yet?

I was sent a Polar M400 to have a play with and review. I wasn't paid (not even in creme eggs) and I accepted on the proviso that I would be writing exactly what I thought. If I thought the watch was absolutely rubbish I would be saying so.

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When I first received the Polar M400, I was underwhelmed. It was very nice looking but white. A BAD colour for me who tends to be running around covered in mud, cycling around covered in oil or swimming around covered in pond weed, gravel and duck poo. I felt the chances of a bright white watch staying bright white were very low.

Also as a result of all of the oil, mud and pondweed, I end up having about 3 showers a day ... and the watch is only water resistant to 30m. So I’d have to remove it for the swimming, the showers and try and keep it away from the duck poo. 

I also wouldn’t be able to wear my carefully chosen wristwatch as this activity tracker is in place of a watch. It’s not like a FitBit or Jawbone which hides as a bracelet or band, the Polar M400 is positioned very definitely on your wrist in prime position. In usual-wristwatch-stealing position. 

So why is it, that 3 months after receiving it, has it stayed so firmly on my wrist? My wristwatch ticking away to itself in a drawer, my previous activity bands given away. What differentiates this from the other activity trackers. And has it replaced my beloved Garmin?

The M400 is marketed as a ‘sports watch with GPS for urban and trail runners who want sporty design with advanced GPS and training features, along with loads of options to keep an eye on their activity.’ That’s a bit of a mouthful but the key word here is ‘activity’.

This watch is first and foremost an activity tracker. I know precisely how far and how fast I do my runs, but what I don’t know is how long I spend sitting when I’m working in the office and I don’t know how many steps I take when I’m spending a day cleaning the house, trying to get a grumpy 6 year old to go to school and trying to coax the cat down from the tree while simultaneously attempting to mow the lawn. This is what interested me … and what scared me when I checked my activity levels and realised that I spent over 10 hours of today sitting down … and that doesn’t include the time I was in bed sleeping. 

One of the best things about this watch is that the information is instantly available too. You press a button on the side and it synchronises with your smart phone. Within 30 seconds you have the information displayed on a dashboard with a clear visual representation which is colour coded so can immediately see how you spent your day. 

A screenshot from the Polar Flow smartphone app

The watch also tracks your sleep and breaks it down into restful and restless sleep. So you know those days when you get to bed early but still wake up feeling like hell? Well now you know why. And you can view how many times you woke by using the dashboard graphic. This could be a useful tool if you suffer from broken sleep. 

A screenshot from the Polar Flow App

Now the M400 hasn’t yet replaced my Garmin as I don’t feel that the level of data is the same. I like having fancy graphs, lots of data and being able to upload my runs to Strava. However due to both of my Garmins going wrong while I was on holiday I used my Polar for all my running. And you know what? It was brilliant. I didn’t have to wait until I got home to upload all my data - I could do it at the push of a button - so my heart rate zones, distance, elevation and pace were all instantly available on the Polar Flow app on my phone, even the map of my run and the type of running and the training benefit. 

A screenshot from the Polar Flow App

Normally I’d have to wait the week until I got back home and in range of the wifi and my laptop to upload my Garmin data  so this was a lovely benefit. I also suspect I’m not yet using the watch to it’s full capability as there are a full range of training options I’m not yet using such as the ‘Interval Trainer Guided Workouts’ and ‘Advanced Activity Analysis’. 

While it is only marketed as being 30m water resistant – which usually means it can survive only a mild rain shower, this one has survived several sea swims, plenty of jumps into a swimming pool and swims, showers and baths. This wasn’t as a result of a thorough review but purely because I am 

  1. forgetful (stupid)
  1. used to a wristwatch which is extremely bulletproof
  1. an idiot who needs to take better care of her things


Pros:

  • The watch is smart looking with clean, sharp lines. I was very worried about wearing a watch with a white rubber strap but it doesn’t mark at all and wipes clean very easily. I got chain oil on it the other day which I thought would be the end of the nice white strap and the start of the grey dull strap, but the oil just wiped off easily leaving no trace. 
  • The screen has stayed resolutely unscratched despite my terrible habit of walking into walls, falling into brambles and smashing watch faces. It’s been running, climbing and cycling with me. And even come with me (unintentionally) on a few sea swims and pool swims. Even after 6 months it still looks brand new. 
  • Relieved to see there was a paper ‘Getting Started Guide’. This is a small thing but I hate hate hate when I get no instructions except a bit of paper telling me to ‘go online’. You do however need to go online to get everything set up and you’ll need a smartphone for the Flow app. It was VERY quick to get all this set up though. 
A screenshot from the Polar Flow App (ignore my dodgy spelling ...)
  • The strap felt lightweight and slimline compared to the thick chunkiness of my Garmin strap. The buckle was metal and solid and there were plenty of holes for adjustability. Despite my first fears, the strap ISN’T moulded … so if it breaks it can be replaced.
  • You can tailor the information using your own height, weight, gender etc to make the information more relevant to you and you choose your daily activity goal from 3 levels which takes into account your job and whether it’s sedentary and levels of sport. I’m easily flattered and when the Polar classed me as ‘Semi-Pro’ for doing  8 - 12 hrs of training a week I was most happy. I’m easily pleased.
  • Synchronises with My Fitness Pal which is handy for adding activities that you do even when you aren’t wearing the watch. It also adds the calories burned while exercising to My Fitness Pal so you don’t have to make any dodgy estimates - it’s all one for you. 

  • In the Polar Flow app it tells me what I need to do to hit my Daily Activity Goal through different activities: 59 mins group exercise, 3:17 mins gentle dancing, 7hr 27 mins washing up. Love this. I’d MUCH rather go to group exercise for an hour than wash up for 7 hours!
  • You can do fitness tests using the HR strap and a simple setting on the watch to measure your Resting Heart Rate (RHR). Quick and easy to do and a nice way to measure your fitness!
  • I really like the ‘time to move’ alert. If I sit still for longer than an hour I get beeped at a and a ‘Time to Move’ message beeps up on the screen of the watch. It can be frustrating when I’m sitting in a meeting and can’t do anything about it. But it makes me more mindful in the evening that I’d done nothing all day. And if I’m sitting at my desk doing reports then it makes me aware that a coffee and fresh eyes every hour will probably benefit my work too!
  • The battery life is EPIC. If you’re using it as a day to day activity tracker it lasts about 3 weeks, you’ll need to charge it every week if using the GPS too but it’s a standard mini usb sized charger so no panic if you forget it on holiday. Also it charges very quickly.



Downsides: 


  • As mentioned about it is only marketed as water resistant to 30m. BUT it has been on sea swims, pool swims and into streams, baths and showers. I wouldn’t recommend you do this but there has been no screen fogging or problems with this. However it does still recognise my swimming as it pulls this data through from My Fitness Pal. 
  • Despite the watch picking up my activities from logs on My Fitness Pal (which pulls them through from Garmin), it doesn’t count these as going towards your daily activities so when I did a triathlon on Sunday which involved 32 miles and almost 3 hours of utter exhaustion, because I hadn’t been wearing the watch it told me I’d only hit 5% of my daily activity goal. It doesn’t estimate or pull through the data from the other apps … yet. I did attempt to counter this for a couple of days by wearing a Garmin on one wrist and the Polar on the other but after rightly being branded a #WatchWanker I stopped. 
  • The HR reading on the Polar and on the Garmin using the HR straps bizarrely give me 2 different readings (when wearing them at the same time) with about 5 BPM difference! No idea which one is correct …
  • The Polar Flow app does occasionally experience problems after an update … but it always seems to be sorted out quickly and new features seem to be getting added all the time with the option of ‘Social Feed’, ‘Speed & Pace Zones’ and ‘Assisted GPS’ being added to the latest update on the 9th July. 
  • I’d initially assumed that as this is a 24/7 activity tracking device, I would be able to just click start and go, but the GPS isn’t activated unless you start one of the sport modes. It tells me to ‘Stand still while it finds GPS’. Bossy watch. It also tells you the % of fix it has on the satellite which is a nice touch. I’m never entirely sure WHEN to restart my other GPS watches when searching for a satellite – have they just frozen? It also didn't reset the time abroad even when it had found the GPS for the run. It’s a small thing but would have been a nice touch.

And as I’m sitting writing thisI’m getting beeped at by the M400 telling me ‘It’s time to move’ as I’ve been sitting down for an hour. Well … who am I to argue with a smart wristwatch! Time to go …! 

2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for your review Sarah! It helps a lot!

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    Replies
    1. Glad you found it handy Nessa! I'm still wearing it now ... and it's still bright white!

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