When it comes to watches (and other devices) that are available to help you get fitter (or at least give you some metrics), you have a wide range of options out there. At the simpler end, you have things like my trusty Fitbit One; going to more complex, you have the full-on smart watches that incorporate some form of tracking (some with heart rate measurement as well). While I have previously reviewed one that was a bit short of a true smart watch (the Garmin 920XT, which would give notifications from the phone), we have not looked at many that are purely fitness devices. Well, today we expand that coverage a bit more with the Polar A300.
Prior to this review, I knew of Polar, based on recommendations I was getting for a bluetooth heart rate strap to use in conjunction with my Fitbit. Well, the Garmin became the workout partner of choice so that search was abandoned. I became re-aware of the brand with the release of their M600, and was intrigued. Just starting out with the brand, though, we decided to have a look at something that is a good deal more affordable – even with a heart rate strap. This is how I came to spend a lot more time with the Polar A300 these past few weeks.
As I’ve used it, I have come to actually prefer the Polar A300 over the Garmin in many ways. For starters, it pairs up to my phone, and syncs data, much more quickly and reliably than the Garmin does (this is a common complaint about the Garmin Connect app across the ‘net, actually). I also like the fact that it has a ton of different profiles for various exercises that you can record. You like taking group classes? There’s a profile for that. Weight lifting? Yup, a profile. Basically, if there’s an activity, you can find a specific profile for it.
That, I think, belies who the target consumer for the Polar A300 is. While the Garmin 920XT can really get into specific metrics to help you train up for things like triathlons, the Polar A300 is actually better suited for someone like me, who is hitting the gym regularly, but it is more for general fitness than training for a specific event. This gives me some insight into how hard I’m working (or working out), breaking heart rate ranges into five bands, and calculating what percentages of the calories burnt are fat calories. In other words, the type of information a regular guy (or gal) would be looking for to get more fit. That all said, the Polar Flow app will allow you to setup training programs for things like a triathlon, if you are so inclined.
Now, if you are a hardcore runner (or training for a race), something like the Polar A300 is likely not for you, as it does not have a GPS radio in it, so it cannot tell how far you’ve run – you’ll need to know that yourself, either via going known, fixed distances, or by utilizing a track or equipment (treadmill or elliptical, perhaps) that will tell you how far you went. Again, for someone who is not training for a specific event, that is a-ok. Another shift for the Polar A300 is how it tracks your goals for the day.
With the Fitbit – or even the Garmin, for that matter, it seems to be all step-count based. The Polar A300 seems to take a more holistic view of what is going on, and calculates how active you’ve been (out of a 100% measure) based on the training you’ve done, as well as the walking. Want reminders to get moving? It can buzz your wrist if you’ve been inactive too long (and it will record those inactivity notifications in the Polar Flow app as well, so you have that history). Want a basic alarm? You can have that too.
That was one feature I was very interested in with the Polar A300. The silent alarms on my Fitbit One are all but indispensable for me, as they are how I get out of bed in the morning (and have been for about three years or so). The Polar A300 alarm worked to wake me as well, and gives the additional nicety of allowing you to “snooze” the alarm. If you wait too long to snooze or dismiss it, however, it changes from a silent alarm to digital chirps. Not the end of the world, but not something I needed going off if I was slow on the uptake, and having it wake my wife up as well.
With that silent alarm functionality, it becomes quickly obvious that the 46g Polar A300 is intended to be on your wrist (of your non-dominant hand) all day, every day. While I was testing it out, that is precisely what I did. If you are the sort who likes to mix colors in (and really, most watch folks like changing straps out), there are a variety of different colors of the silicone strap (which itself makes up 26g of the total weight), and these are a cinch to change out. For as flimsy as the straps feel when the A300 puck is not in it, it’s surprising how sturdy the whole assembly feels.
This is partly due to some reinforcement in the strap itself, and the fact that the USB connector on the A300 extends into the strap, off of the lower portion of the watch. This was another win for me over the Garmin 920XT – rather than a proprietary connector and cable, you can plug the Polar A300 into any standard USB port to charge and sync the data (if you did not already sync it on your phone). This sort of simplicity just works, and it works well. Then again, you probably will not be plugging it in all that much – battery life is estimated to be about a month with regular training usage, and I found it syncing to my phone pretty easily.
That’s done via bluetooth (which will allow it to display phone notifications if you are so inclined), of course, and it is also how the Polar A300 talks with the Polar H7 chest strap. Unlike other, more proprietary, methods of connecting devices to heart rate monitors, the bluetooth usage is a bit more open. So, while I did not go trying it out, one would presume you could sync this strap into some other device, or even a different app running on your phone. If you are using it with the Polar A300, there’s another neat feature hiding in it. When the watch is in a training profile, you cannot see the current time. To get that bit of info, simply bring the watch up to the chest strap puck, and it will display the current time for a few seconds. Handy, no?
For my money, there is certainly a lot to like about the Polar A300. It’s pretty darn affordable ($140 with the included chest strap), works simply and easily, and has crazy battery life. I would not have minded the ability to actually turn the watch off (handy for storing in the gym bag between sessions), and being able to track my distance during a run would be nice as well (then again, there are models higher up the Polar food chain that bring that to the party).
The main question you have to ask yourself with devices like the Polar A300 is whether or not you want to wear it all day, and what your goals are. If it’s simple movement tracking, something like this could be overkill, and you have to commit to wearing it all day to get a complete picture. If you are going into a hardcore training cycle, you might be looking for more features or capabilities. And for those that fall somewhere in-between – looking for a workout partner to get a more complete picture of what your workouts are doing – then something like the Polar A300 would definitely be in order. We’ll see if we can’t get some hands-on time with other Polar models; in the meantime, sound off below (or drop us a line) on what your favorite watch-based gym partner is. polar.com
- Brand & Model: Polar A300
- Price: $140 ($100 w/out the HR chest strap)
- Who’s it for?: You find yourself a regular gym-goer who wants more detailed information about your workouts, without a steep learning curve on the device doing the tracking
- Would I wear it?: At the gym, indeed. Outside of the gym, it requires double-wristing, so I’m not seeing that being a long-lasting trend for me
- What I’d change: A way to enable pocket carry (without damaging the USB connector) would be a nice add
- The best thing about it: The absolute simplicity of use was perfect for my gym routine
Tech Specs from Polar
- Thickness: 12.7mm
- Water resistant (30 m)
- Rechargeable battery (Battery life up to 4 weeks)
- Memory capacity up to 60 days (with daily activity tracking and 1 hour of daily training)
- Easy wireless sync via Polar Flow app with Bluetooth® Smart
- Custom USB connector for charging and data sync with PC or Mac via Polar FlowSync
- Polar Flow web service compatibility with Mac OS X 10.6 or later and PC Windows XP, 7, 8
- Updatable software
- UI languages in Polar Flow: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, German, Italian, Finnish, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese