What's Cool In Road Cycling

Pez Reviews: Polar V800 MultiSport Watch

Polar was the pioneer in portable heart rate monitors, and their systems have kept improving through the years. Their new V800 is the perfect storm of function, design, software, and usability. I spent the past three months using it intensively, and it is not coming off my wrist any time soon.

V800 Styling
With the V800, Polar opted for the full monty in terms of making it obviously a sports watch yet maximizing its fashion sense. It is big and chunky in its styling, but not in an ugly way (personal tastes differ of course). I was visiting friends the past week and got numerous comments on the cool styling of the watch when they didn’t know it was a heart rate monitor, so it’s probably not just my imagination that Polar has a nice looking piece of kit on its hands.

SAMSUNG CSCYou also have the option of a variety of watch face styles to pick from, including an analog view. My personal favourite is the “big number” watch face to go with the “big watch” styling.

The V800 features a metal body with a gorilla glass face, and it has been resistant to any scuffing or scratching so far despite constant use. The rubbery watch band is wide and very adjustable across a wide range of wrist sizes. I deliberately chose the blue over the black option to test for discolouration, fading, or scuffing, but have found nothing with 24/7 wear over 2 months.

Watch Ergonomics and Durability
The trademark Polar red button has now become a metal button on the right side of the watch. This is great because the prior plastic red buttons tended to feel flimsy, and moving the button to the side of the watch finally means no banging of the button and starting data logging accidentally.

SAMSUNG CSCDespite all the five buttons being fairly small dots on the right and left side of the watch, their metallic build, knurled surfaces, and solid tactile feel meant that they were easy to use even with full winter gloves or mitts.

The glass face is also touch sensitive, and tapping it can provide a set function that you can customize for during both everyday wear, and individually for each sport profile. For example, you can set a tap on the watch while in bike mode to give you the time of day view, or to activate the backlight while in run mode.

Heart Rate Strap and Heart-touch
It’s a good sign when a heart rate monitor review barely mentions the heart rate strap, but that’s just a sign of how nice the Polar strap is. Being a soft fabric strap that goes completely around your chest, it conforms nicely to your torso with the Bluetooth transmitter clipping into two clasps on the front. The transmitter uses a typical CR2025 battery that’s usually available at any drug store. The strap is also easily washable.

SAMSUNG CSCSoft and comfortable heart rate strap.

When using the heart rate strap, bringing the V800 near your HR transmitter can also activate a function, which I find a supremely useful feature when I’m in the middle of an effort and don’t want to mess around with finding a button or tapping. In the Polar RCX5, this “heart-touch” could be used to take a lap, which was my preferred use of this feature. Unfortunately, this “take a lap” feature is not there with the V800’s heartouch any more.

GPS
Polar has really kept up with the advances in technology. Back in 2009 they came out with their G3 GPS, a separate GPS tracker that was compatible with their watches. At the time I wrote that there tended to be a ~3 s time lag in speed when accelerating or decelerating. This was followed by a much smaller but still separate G5 model in 2011 that had a reduced yet still noticeable time lag.

polar-v800-flowmapAll of your ride data, from the GPS map through to ascent/descent, calories, and of course heart rate, are easily uploaded and viewed on Polar’s Flow web or mobile app.

The V800 has now built the GPS directly into the watch without making the V800 really big on the wrist like some other GPS watches. I used the V800 over a season of snowboarding along with outdoor rides, and found that the time lag effect has also been eliminated.

Activity Tracking
Athletes are cluing into the concept that training is more than your actual training session, but is rather a 24/7 holistic endeavour. The V800 has joined that revolution by incorporating a full-function activity monitor that helps you to track your everyday activity. The built-in monitor tracks everything from your step count, your time spent sitting, and comes up with a running “total activity.” This can be calibrated or normalized to your typical work, from somebody like me who spends most of his day desk-bound “mostly sitting,” to “mostly standing” and “mostly moving.”

polar-v800-flowrecoveryPolar tracks not just your training but your 24/7 activity to show you your daily and long term training load and recovery.

You get a running sum value of your total daily activity levels as a percentage of daily quota. For me, there is also a nice inactivity monitor that motivates me to get away from the computer and get some activity in every hour. At work, I’ve taken the alarm as a signal to walk the 5 minutes or so from my office to my lab and back.

The other nice tracking feature is a sleep monitor, which uses motion sensing to track your overall sleep time, along with your “restful” and “restless” sleep. Being a scientist and numbers geek, it has been a useful gauge and motivator for me to get more sleep.

All Hail Bluetooth
For me and other busy athletes, the point of data isn’t to just have it, but to be able to easily analyze it. The first critical step in that link is getting the data from your watch onto software.

SAMSUNG CSCThe V800 takes a quantum leap forward from prior Polar dongles using sound or infrared, with two options for uploading. First, there is the wired upload, which also doubles as the charger for the watch. It’s a huge improvement because it clamps securely so there is no messing around with holding the watch at the right angle or distance.

Even better, the V800 incorporates Bluetooth. So it is now dead easy to upload data from the watch to your smartphone (iOS and Android) Polar Flow app, which also automatically syncs with the Polar Flow web-based software. This is so easy that I only use the wired clamp for charging and when I’ve made changes to the sport profiles and want to download them to my watch.

SAMSUNG CSCThe HR and all other accessories are now Bluetooth, making for simple connectivity.

Speaking of charging the watch, the V800 uses a rechargeable battery rather than a replaceable coin battery. Battery life has been very good. Even with heavy use of both the GPS and HR tracking, a full charge lasts me about ten hours and it takes

Easy Watch Views
The app and the web Flow software are great, but I also liked how I can get the vast majority of the day-to-day info that I wanted straight from the V800 itself with minimum fuss. Besides the recovery status and the activity info, the information (calories, distance, HR zones, average HR, intensity of training load) are all only about 3 button clicks to find. The recovery status and your daily activity level is also two clicks away.

The Importance of Recovery
Of the watch information, one feature I really like is the Status view, which shows a bar graph with 4 categories from bottom to top: “Undertrained,” “Balanced,” “Strained,” and “Very Strained.” This evaluation is based on your VO2max, HR parameters (e.g., HRmax, resting HR), age, along with training background and workout history over the past days and weeks.

SAMSUNG CSCAlong with a quick glance to see what your training load is, if you’re in the strained or very strained regions, time estimates for when you will recover to the next lower level is provided.

In using the V800 over the past two months, I’ve found the general correlation with both my power-based analytical software and also my own perceptual sensations pretty close. I also like that I can access this information directly and quickly from my watch without having to open up any phone or computer software, though the same info is also there.

High-end Testing Features
As with prior Polar watches, the V800 provides some useful tools to supplement your training and tracking. The first and most useful of these is their calorie counter, which uses an algorithm incorporating numerous items from your individual profile: age, size, sex, heart rate (max, resting, exercise), VO2max, and altitude. The calorie counter functions throughout the day even when you’re not wearing the heart rate strap, providing you with a count of training calories and daily activity calories. I’ve found this feature a nice general gauge of my caloric needs over time.

polar-v800-flowdataLots of analysis possible, and data is easily transferred to friends or coaches.

The V800 also comes with a number of diagnostic tests, including a VO2max estimation. I have to say I was initially dubious about this test, which involves logging your heart rate while lying down relaxed for 3 minutes. However, rather to my surprise, the estimation of 65 mL/kg/min matched the 64.8 mL/kg/min value that I directly tested in my lab.

Another useful diagnostic tool, complementing the Recovery Status feature, is the Orthostatic test. In reality, this is similar to the typical do-it-yourself measuring of resting and standing heart rates, as the test involves lying down for 3 minutes followed by standing for 3 minutes. Either way, it provides another gauge of your recovery and whether you’re primed for the next hard workout or not.

Summary
I have come to expect a lot from Polar over the years. They have been the go-to heart rate monitors for myself and most other exercise science labs and sports teams for the past three decades, requiring them to be on top of their game in advancing heart rate monitoring technology.

SAMSUNG CSC

All this background, along with listening to feedback from athletes and scientists, has led to the V800, which is pretty much near perfect in styling, ergonomics, comprehensive data, and ease of data transfer. This is matched by a powerful web and mobile-based Polar Flow app that provides comprehensive information married with ease of use.

• See more at  PolarV800.com.
Price: $599.90.

• Check prices on Polar v800 watches here.


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PezCycling News and the author ask that you contact the manufacturers before using any products we test here. Only the manufacturer can provide accurate and complete information on proper use and or installation of products as well as any conditional information or product limits that may limit their use.

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