Reviews

Polar M430 User Review – Designed for Runners | GadFit

June 12, 2017

The new Polar M430 ($229.95) ships with 6 LED optical heart rate sensors which was seen previously in the M600. It’s also the first GPS watch from Polar to enable fitness testing from the wrist without requiring chest strap heart rate monitors.

This wearable was designed with runners in mind so the focus is really running based interests such as VO2 max estimates, Polar running index, cadence and individualised running programs.

POlar M430 first feature

Polar has also enhanced the all day activity tracking aspect of the M430 by adding Polar Sleep Plus algorithm to guide the user towards better sleeping habits. On paper, the Polar M430 appears to be a worthy upgrade from the aged Polar M400.

I’ve been wearing the Polar M430 for a whole week now and here’s what I have to say.

LOOK AND FEEL

The Polar M430 was built in the image of the aged M400 right down to the size of the watch and number of physical buttons. And that’s about where the similarity ends.

Polar M430 in box

The watch might appear a tad big for some despite the size, the actual display is a mere 0.9 x 0.9 inches. Nevertheless, the pixelated display performs superbly under bright daylight and back light illumination ensures visibility in the night is taken care of.

There are a few changeable watch faces you may choose from but the choices are mostly unimaginative and further magnifies the low resolution shortcoming.

Polar M430 needs charging

The 128 x 128 monochrome display is probably the reason the Polar M430 is able to last an incredible 20 days in smart watch mode only.

Personally I managed about 7 days worth of use with smart notifications turned on and about 30 minutes worth of workout recording daily.

Once the battery level hits low level, training recording functions and fitness tests will be disabled even though the watch will still tell time.

Polar M430 on wrist

I always found physical buttons a logical design consideration compared to touch screen displays for sports watches and that’s what’s found on the M430. Perspiration drenched fingers are a lost cause for touch screens really. The physical buttons on the Polar M430 are responsive and the screen scrolls quickly and these are the functions of the 5 buttons:

  • Top left: Short press (Back light illumination) Long press (Quick menu)
  • Bottom Left: Short press (Back) Long press (Manual sync)
  • Top right: Short press (Scroll up) Long press (Watch face change)
  • Middle right: Enter or Select
  • Bottom right: Scroll down

During workout recording the buttons take on extra functions:

  • Top left: Short press (Back light illumination) Long press (Quick menu)
  • Bottom Left: Short press (Back) Long press (Manual sync)
  • Top right: Short press (Scroll up) Long press (Watch face change)
  • Middle right: Lap / Continue after pause
  • Bottom right: Short Press (Pause) Long press (Cease recording)

The watch strap is of silicon make with a multitude of fitting and perforated holes, and stretchable. In terms of weight, this GPS watch is light for its size (51g) and wears very comfortably during runs. I genuinely felt the difference while wearing the Garmin Fenix 5 on my right arm and the Polar M430 on my left.

Polar M430 optical heart rate sensors

The M430 houses 6 optical LEDs on the back for wrist based heart rate measurements. The other 6 LED optical heart rate sensor hardware in Polar’s arsenal is the premium Android powered Polar M600. Polar has adopted a new design with regard to the charging port so there’s no cap cover unlike the Polar M400.

The Polar M430 connects to compatible mobile devices via Bluetooth Low Energy and allows the user to receive smart notifications, including picking up or rejecting calls from the watch.

Polar M430 vibration alarm

Vibration is enabled for alarms and smart notifications. I personally would have liked for an option to adjust the strength of the buzzing; my auto lap vibrations regularly go unnoticed.

POLAR M430 USAGE

Wrist HR Measurement

Let’s talk about the heart rate measurement first. I’d usually pay attention to the HR readings over 2 different activities which I believe pretty much covers the main forms of workouts most users would engage in. Intervals (either elliptical machine or spin bike) and a regular long run (5-8km)

In my experience, only the Polar M600 has done well in both events. The Polar M430 actually shipped with the identical 6 LED optical heart rate sensor design as the M600 so I’m pretty stoked to get the test going. The benchmark is Polar’s chest strap H10 heart rate monitor.

I had the Polar H10 paired to a Garmin Fenix 5 for this run as I didn’t want my workouts to go to unrecorded. As seen above, the M430 performed well during constant paced outdoor runs.

Both the Polar M200 and M600 have also done splendidly well for constant paced run type activities so no surprises here.

Polar M430 vs H10 intervals

During interval type activities, it’s easy to see how the M430 struggles to keep up with the Polar H10. Towards the end of the interval session during cooling down, the HR measurement from the M430 actual went missing for a good 8-10 seconds thus the broken blue line towards the end. Nevertheless, the margin of error isn’t exceeding and is definitely something I can stomach.

Polar M430 on demand HR

The watch is also capable of on demand heart rate readings which at present are not recorded anywhere. The 6 optical heart rate LEDs fire up when the feature is activated and shuts off when the feature is closed.

Previously, the watch also didn’t do all day HR measurement unlike the newer A370 but a firmware update has fixed this in September 2017.

GPS acquisition and accuracy

Next we discuss the GPS features. The Polar M430 has a GPS bar right on the display that shows exactly how much signal the watch is getting. Once the GPS signal is locked, then the user will see GPS “OK.” Before that you’ll see 20%, 40% and so on. GPS acquisition speed is fast.

According to Polar website:

“Provides a fast GPS satellite fix. A-GPS data tells your wrist device the predicted positions of the GPS satellites and makes it possible to get signals from them within seconds, even under difficult signal conditions.

The A-GPS data file is valid for up to 13 days on your training computer. To ensure a faster fix time, make sure to sync your training computer with Polar Flow app or FlowSync on a regular basis.”

There’s this 600m loop which I use for tracking distances. So these are my 4 recorded distances with the Polar M430 based on an assortment of distances around the same 600m loop. The comparison is between the distance recorded by the Polar M430 and the actual distance.

  1. 8th June: Polar M430: 7km. (Actual distance 6km)
  2. 11th June: Polar M430: 4.97km (Actual distance 4.8km)
  3. 12th June: Polar M430 2.42km (Actual distance 2.4km)
  4. 13th June: Polar M430: 4.89km (Actual distance 4.8km)

As shown above, the distances recorded improved after the initial hiccup. This might be due to the SiRFInstantFix™ satellite prediction technology which was present in the Polar M200 as well. After the initial set up, I ran for my first run and synced thereafter. Distance recording did improve after that and I do hope it’s not purely anecdotal.

The watch can also be set to power save GPS mode which will allow the M430 to continuously track for up to 30 hours by plotting a GPS point every 60 seconds. This would come in handy on long outdoor treks or ultra marathons.

Users can also manually tweak the GPS recording mode within each sport profile right on the watch without the need to access Polar Flow web or mobile app.

  • High accuracy
  • Medium accuracy
  • Power Save, long session (One GPS point every 30 seconds)
  • Off

Polar M430 workout stats on watch

Tracked workout sessions are then stored both on watch and the Polar Flow mobile app and the list of stats to be displayed is extensive.

  • Start time, duration, distance
  • Training benefits (if any)
  • HR and Speed zones
  • AVG and MAX HR, Cadence and Speed
  • Calories and % of calories which are of fat
  • Running Index
  • Total ascent and descent
  • Automatic and manual laps

I can also access the same information on the Polar Flow mobile app. I enjoyed the convenience of quickly accessing my recorded stats post workout and appreciated the option to delve into the past to check previous workouts for comparison.

Polar Flow web platform offers an even more detailed presentation of information.

Polar Fitness Test

Polar’s fitness test which previously required a chest strap HR monitor and Polar Beat mobile app or compatible Polar wearable, can now be carried out right on the Polar M430. It’s a tall order for wrist heart rate hardware and I’m sure some of you out there are raising your eyebrows on this.

Polar m430 fitness test

The initial two tries failed as the Polar M430 indicated I wasn’t wearing the watch properly. The readings did come up on the third try and it was identical to the readings I got from wearing a chest strap HR monitor. Is it accurate? I can’t say with confidence.

I attempted the wrist based fitness test multiple times over this week and the scores dropped from 53 to 45. When i did the same test using a chest strap HR monitor, the results were consistent and maintained at 53. I’ll leave it as that.

Polar M430 Sleep Plus

It’s probably worth mentioning that the Polar M430 is one of Polar’s wearables to feature the company’s new Sleep Plus algorithm. According to Polar, the accuracy of their Sleep Plus algorithm has been benchmarked against polysomnography in terms of movement. During sleep, the Polar M430’s optical heart rate sensors doesn’t come up at all so I’m curious how accurate it actually is.

Polar M430 Sleep Plus

The sleep duration recorded is about right and there’s some form of feedback every day which was only available on both Polar Flow web platform and the mobile app.

Besides that, there’s also mention of a sleep continuity score of between 1 to 5 with 5 being the best, plus a feedback every morning asking if I feel rested.

The trend is then charted over time so that the user may make sense of patterns, if any.

At the end of every week, there’s some rudimentary calculation on the averages. I didn’t find the Sleep Plus analysis exceptional, to me it was very factual and surface; telling me the whats instead of the whys.

There are times when the sleep duration can kick in earlier or not at all. It’s a pity because you can’t manually add sleep if it’s not captured. On the whole I did appreciate the decently accurate sleep duration recording.

All day Activity Tracking

All the workout tracking aside, the Polar M430 is actually a competent all day activity tracking. It will capture step count, distance traveled and even sleep as mentioned earlier. Sit for too long and a sedentary alert will come on on the watch. The tracked stats are available both on the mobile app and right on the watch.

The Polar Flow mobile app has largely remained unchanged in terms of presentation. If there are extended periods of rest, a sedentary alert will be recorded and it will appear on the app as well.

WORTH MENTIONING

The M430 works nicely with Polar Flow web in customising bespoke running programmes for the user ranging from 5km, 10, 21km to a full marathon. The program is comprehensive and peppered with strength, static and mobility exercises on top of runs which the user may peruse.

Polar M430 5km program

The workouts then automatically syncs to the watch so you can check out via the “Diary” tab when the next training is going to be or what it’ll entail.

The connection is seamless and allows the user to check both past and upcoming workouts right on the Polar M430 watch.

Polar M430 profile editing

Polar has also simplified the customisation process so users can connect the M430 to the Polar Flow mobile app and customise the display screen stats without having to access the Polar Flow web platform on a computer.

Owners of previous Polar products would recall having to link the wearables via PC connection first. So this is a welcomed change.

Polar M430 smart notifications

There are a few other goodies such as smart notifications, on demand heart rate measurements and limited changeable watch faces which are features commonly seen in just about any run-of-the-mill wearables out there.

Polar M430 smart coaching

Polar has traditionally imbued their devices with smart coaching so users get some form of feedback after a workout. It’s novel for those new to the Polar ecosystem but old timers will know it’s merely a description dispensed based on training intensity. There’s also a recovery status duration which is actually listed right on Polar Flow mobile app but not on the watch.

POLAR M430 IN A NUTSHELL

The Polar M430’s display is pixelated, the vibration is too soft, it lacked some Polar M200 features (Cooper test and world record comparison) and the back light doesn’t come on with button presses (except the illumination button) or wrist flicks. I also didn’t appreciate the lack of options for aesthetics customisation because that meant the sporty looking M430 is destined for sports activities and nowhere else.

Extra thoughts put into the little things make a product great instead of average. You rarely get a second chance at making a first impression and in the case of the Polar M430, I’m a tad disappointed simply because the M430 could have been better.

All that being said, what you get with the Polar M430 is a reliable work horse that gets the fundamentals done right. It is a decent and welcomed upgrade over the M400.

Polar M430 diary view

Personally I think runners upgrading from entry GPS watches the likes of the M200 would likely take a bigger leap than settle. I’m thinking Garmin’s Forerunner 935, Suunto’s Spartan Sport Wrist HR or Polar’s V800 if there was an optical HR version in the near future. Perhaps even the Apple Watch Series 2 since the announcement of the Watch OS 4.

You can purchase the Polar M430 from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site.

Thanks for reading!

POLAR M430 TECHNICAL SUMMARY

Like

  • All day activity tracker. Records steps, distance, calories, sleep and active duration and sedentary alerts
  • A-GPS enabled with accelerometer estimated indoor running distance
  • Fitness test from wrist based heart rate measurements
  • Polar Sleep Plus, training load and recovery status
  • Customisable Running program and Polar Running Index, running cadence from the wrist
  • Vibration enabled for alarms and smart notifications
  • WR30 rated water resistance
  • Current location information with GPS coordinates, back to start function
  • Up to 8 hours of use with GPS and wrist based HR. Up to 20 days in smart watch
  • GPS Power Save option allows up to 30 hours of recording and use
  • Compatible with selected Bluetooth Smart devices
  • Changeable watch face

Dislike

  • Low resolution monochrome display
  • Small display size relative to watch face
  • Weak vibrations
  • Lack of customisation in terms of watch face and non changeable wrist strap
  • Lack all day heart rate measurements (*Enabled in Sep 2017)
  • Backlight does not come on with wrist flick

2 Comments

  • Reply the5krunner July 2, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    yes I think your summary is logical and makes sense (I don’t necessarily agree with it!!). eg your comment about those upgrading FROM the likes of an entry level M200 might make a bigger jump – that makes sense as a general comment.

    what I think Polar are aiming at though is
    1. cheap (to produce) and reliable refresh of M400
    2. Adding key needs of the market – eg optical
    3. ACCURACY

    I think they see accuracy as their differentiator. The M430 *IS* more accurate for GPS and kinda also for HR than most Garmins I compare to. I think Suunto have a similar strategy: they will never be able to compete on features so add some niche features instead and also go for high quality components.

    • Reply Michael S July 2, 2017 at 9:54 pm

      I agree with you about Polar adopting a reinforce their strengths rather than go broad based competition with Garmin. That being said, going that route effectively put them on a collision course with the Apple watch which is growing from strength to strength.
      The M430 is a convenient and trusty solution. Unfortunately not a very good look solution I’m afraid.
      Always nice to have you drop by.
      Mike

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