By B.C. Phee
Launched in October this year, the Polar M200 joins a market already filled with other products which seemingly perform the same functions and features it touts: a waterproof running watch with GPS, heartrate monitor and 24/7 activity tracking. I took the piece out for a run with an eye to answer these questions: 1) How well does the Polar M200 perform in its core capacity as a running watch; and 2) Does the Polar M200 have anything which separates it from the already congested pack that is sports and, more precisely, running wearables?
The entire Polar M200 is made up of two separable parts like other products with interchangeable straps; the watch module with the heartrate sensor and the detachable watch strap.
The functions of the watch can be accessed through the two buttons to the sides of the watch module. A long press of the left button will start the pairing process to your smartphone and act as a ‘back’ command; a short press of the right button will bring up menu items which you can scroll through with more short presses of the same right button. A long press of the right button will start the recording of a training session.
Before you start working out with the Polar M200 you will need to make sure its internals are all set up properly for the information to be retrieved and analysed properly when you are done. To do that you will need to connect your watch module to a computer using the USB cable provided. Once you are connected you will be prompted to install the proprietary software ‘Polar FlowSync’, which will act as the interface which retrieves your training information to be analysed and recorded in your training log on your account you will have to set up on the Polar website.
What was surprising was the speed at which the GPS signal was picked up by the Polar product. Where the industry standard and how long I expected to wait was about 3-5 minutes, I was pleasantly surprised when the signal was picked up in about two minutes. This was a good start!
As I proceeded on my run, I began fiddling with the Polar M200 controls to see what sort of display and functional options were on tap. Right off the bat I noticed that the display will light up automatically when I turned my wrist and let the watch face point directly skywards. This is a nifty feature for runners who train at night.
The display options were a bit limited however, because at any one point in time you can only keep tabs on two bits of information concerning your run. I ultimately settled on viewing the heartrate and time taken.
The Polar M200 gives you milestone notifications for each kilometre you have covered, but I will imagine runners will require a more fine-grained information feedback on their progress than a kilometre-by-kilometre one, even for runners who run marathon distances and beyond. The point of a heartrate sensor on a run-tracking product is so that you can adjust yourself by focusing on heartrate feedback, but progress reports are not something which are dispensable as well.
The learning curve of the button interface is striking in the midst of a workout as well. You will not want to devote anything more than cursory attention to the workings of your activity tracker and focus on your workout, but this is unavoidable especially in the early going. I found myself accidentally pausing the recording at some points in my run because I wanted to switch around to other displays, and this was annoying every time it happened.
So I ended my run (at the end of my 10km run the battery meter indicated one less bar out of five, so the watch should be able to last marathon runners at least, but this is a really rough estimate), and the Polar M200 gives you the key data you will need to analyse your runs, and then some.
On top of the analytical features of the website interface you have your standard option to share your workout on Facebook and also export options to TCX and CSV formats for your training sessions as well as GPX format for your routes. There is also a thriving community where enthusiasts of different sporting formats share routes and workouts the world over (e.g. the STRAVA Cycling Distance Challenge saw 8,424 members sharing their workouts). You can also follow community members and get updates on their training progress, schedule and plan training programs with the help of an online assistant, keep track of your own workouts and activities using an online calendar, etc. The offerings on the website seem comprehensive and impressive, and you can clearly see that this is an area of strength for the Polar family of products by the sheer number of people active on the community.
If you are looking for a no-frills workout product to keep track of your heavy duty activities, the Polar M200 makes a compelling argument.
The Polar M200 is a solid product with onboard features any good, serious running product should have, and a very broad community base for users to bump ideas off one another. I have yet to explore other features of the product such as the phone apps, the tracking of other activities as well as sleep tracking, but those are for another day, as I continue to get know the device better.