Reviews

Polar M600 – Fitness Focused Android Wear – User Review

October 12, 2016

After the A360, fans of Polar were hungry for a wrist based heart rate fitness tracker with GPS functions. Something the likes of M400 or even the V800 with optical heart rate sensors. In September  this year, the company teased with the Polar M600 and upped the ante by powering it with Android Wear.polar m600 feature-1Bold gamble at a point in time when major smart watch players ceased releasing new devices amidst numerous reports highlighting the lack of consumer buy in with smart watches.

I had the device for a week now and here’s what I have to say.

The Polar M600 for this review was provided by Polar Singapore. The staff were very helpful and attended to all the queries I had about the device during the period of review.

IN SHORT

Pros:

  • All day activity tracker. Counts steps, distance, calories, sleep
  • Powered by Android wear
  • Full smartwatch capabilities
  • 6 LED optical heart rate sensors
  • Swim ready
  • Touch enabled Gorilla 3 glass TFT transmissive display
  • 2 days of battery life when paired to Android devices and 1 day when paired to iOS devices
  • 4 GB on board storage for music
  • Wirelessly plays music via Bluetooth headphones
  • GPS and Glonass, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, microphone
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Vibration motor for smart notifications and alarms
  • Changeable straps
  • More than 100 sports profiles

Cons:

  • Poor battery life (2 days for Android and 1 day for iOS)
  • Touch screen not ideal when swimming or when hands are sweaty
  • No manual lap functions (To be implemented)
  • M600 only stores training or tracking data for the day. No access to history
  • Stats display during activity tracking can only be customized from Polar Flow web.
  • Voice activation prompt on Google not as responsive
  • Display visibility passable under bright sunlight
  • Vibration intensity can’t be adjusted
  • No way to measure HR during swimming


LOOK AND FEEL

The Polar M600 appear to be an amalgamation of the A360’s display and HR sensors combined with the physical appearance of the V800 and powered by Android Wear.polar m600 feature-7The appearance is almost bangle like. I have slim wrist at about 6 inches circumference and the M600 felt a tad big for me. polar-m600-under-daylight-and-nightDisplay is sharp and crisp with customizable brightness levels. Visibility should suffice for all  conditions save for the brightest day light. This is inevitable, I doubt your smartphone would perform any better under similar conditions.polar-m600-core-trackerThe core tracker is removable with changeable watch bands which differ only by colour at present. The battery charging port is situated at the back of the tracker and the M600 adopted the charging port seen in the Polar Loop series.

This is probably a wise move since the micro USB port with cover resulted in reports of the charging port corroding in the M400.polar-m600-buttonsThere are only 2 buttons on the M600; on the side and the front. Depending on the OS you used to connect to the Polar M600, the button on the front initiates the Polar Flow tracking functions while the side button is reserved for smart watch functions associated with Android Wear.

The M600 feels pretty hefty when worn even though it’s a mere 63g. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to the 35g of the FR735XT and the Apple Watch Series 2polar-m600-optical-hr-sensors-x-6-on-back-of-watch6 LED HR sensor sit at the back of the M600. It’s a beautiful array of green light that will shoulder the task of measuring your workout intensity. The watch strap is slightly elastic so there’s allowance for the mild expansion of the arms during exercise; especially useful for wrist based HR readings.polar-m600-pairing-to-android-deviceBattery life span differs based on the device used to pair with Polar M600. The estimates provided are about right. I get about 2 days with Android (Nexus 5) and slightly more than a day with iOS (iPhone 5S).

In my case I thought pairing and using the M600 with iOS provided a less than enjoyable experience than compared versus an Android device. Also, the functionality took a huge discount when used with iOS devices which I’ll come to later.


FUNCTIONS

Heart rate monitoring accuracy

To test the HR readings, I compared the Polar M600 versus a Garmin ANT+ chest strap HR monitor over 3 scenarios. The first scenario would involve bodyweight exercises that includes events such as push ups, lunges, mountain climbers and abdominal crunches. The second scenario involves interval training either on a bike or an elliptical cycling machine. The last event is simply an outdoor run.bodyweight-circuit-training-polar-m600-garmin-chestThe Polar M600 is probably the only device I’ve used to date that is capable of tracking my HR during bodyweight exercises without too much variation in the results.

Activities such as push ups causes muscle contraction that may affect blood flow where the optical HR sensors are placed;  the main source of information for optical HR sensors where algorithm is then applied. This will in turn affect the accuracy of the HR readings based on the optical HR sensors.

In Polar M600’s case, I found the HR monitoring performance good.elliptical-interval-polar-m600-vs-chestI also wanted to see how the Polar M600 would respond if put in situations where the HR was consistently raised and lowered in exercises that involved big arm movements. Verdict? Performed as expected, nothing less.5km-road-run-polar-m600-vs-garmin-chestLastly a simply outdoor road run comparison. In my opinion the Polar M600 performed exactly as it was expected in this scenario. This is probably the only scenario where optical heart rate fitness trackers are least likely to disappoint you.

Are 6 optical heart rate sensors better than 3? I would think so. For comparison, even the A360’s HR readings swung wildly while tracking the bodyweight exercise circuits.

Absolutely no complaints about Polar M600’s HR measuring capabilities throughout the review.  It’s stellar.

What’s missing is the all day heart rate readings which Polar never rolled out while its competitors such as Garmin and Fitbit did.

GPS enabled workout profiles

polar-m600-feature-3GPS/GLONASS pickup is pretty fast. On most occasions I used the Polar M600, it is on par with Garmin’s Forerunner 735XT.

You’ll know that GPS signal is locked when the green circle around the word “GPS” turns solid. polar-m600-training-summary-screensThe workout summary of a GPS enabled session on the Polar M600 is displayed in the above screen grabs which were taken directly from the smart watch.

Sadly the training summary is only active for a day only and there’s no way to access the history from the M600. Essentially the Polar M600 starts with a “clean slate”every day and the tracked stats from the previous day is synced to Polar Flow. polar-flow-screenshot-with-m600-trackedWhen synced to the Polar Flow mobile app, the user can access more information for further analysis.

Lap recording is automatically set at 1km. There are no options currently to manually set a lap. I understand this is a wish list item and there may be plans to implement this in future.

Non-GPS workout profiles

polar-flow-m600-core-workout-screen-grabThink of events like floorball, yoga, crossfit, circuit training and so on. Polar has close to 100 over profiles to choose from.

Contrary to belief, the profiles do not offer unique algorithms to calculate calories burned and so on. It’s merely for logging of correct exercise events. Nonetheless, I appreciated the wide array of activities for ease of recording.

Swimming

The Polar M600 is IPX8 rated so that makes it an excellent training device for water based activities. BUT a few factors might deter you from using it in the pool or while swimming.

The splashing of water from your swim strokes can actually stop tracking. Yep. It happened to me over a 1km swim and boy was it painful. Unlike the Apple Watch, there aren’t any options to “lock” the screen to prevent accidental activation of the touch display.

Secondly, Polar advises the wearer from relying on the optical HR sensors while swimming due to fact that the HR readings are less than optimum in terms of accuracy.



Third, no chest worn HR sensors work with the Polar M600 while underwater. Some Polar devices employ Polar GymLink, which works well in water but it’s not the case with the M600; the smart watch uses Bluetooth Smart.

Lastly, no stroke count nor stroke recognition. What the M600 does is tracking your activity level based on arm movement.

I’m disappointed at the lack of swim tracking features since the Polar V800 already records your swim distance, time and pace, strokes, and also identifies your swimming style. Even Misfit Speedo Shine offers a rudimentary form of lap tracking at a third of the price of the Polar M600.

Android Wear functions

As of publication, it appears iPhone 7 does not work well with Android Wear. During the period of review, I too had issues with Android Wear on my Iphone 5S and required software updating. No such issues with my Nexus 5 though.

In order to access Android Wear functions, the Android Wear mobile app must be kept running the background. Otherwise the Polar M600 would perpetually remain in the disconnected state and not receive any notifications. For a full comparison on the features available to Android and iOS, you may refer here.polar-m600-android-functions

With Android Wear, you can voice activate the Polar M600. This might include starting a workout, replying a text message, initiating a phone call from the watch or even send and reply emails and a lot more.

The smart functions sound novel and I’ve had good success with some of the features like sending messages. But I have to stress that “OK Google” didn’t quite work for me.

While I was successful voice recognition to compose texts and enjoyed a bit of fun, the novelty wore off quickly. Put simply, unless it’s urgent, I found it way easier to use my mobile device which I usually have by my side. Plus I wouldn’t want those around me to hear my messages anyway.

This is no fault of the Polar M600 but simply the lack of practical usage for Android Wear at present.

Exercise tracking with 3rd party apps
polar-m600-mobile-apps-android-wear

You can choose to use your favourite fitness apps to initiate workouts on the Polar M600 instead of using the default Polar Flow app. Depending on the app settings, some apps may tap on the Polar M600’s HR sensors while others merely tap on the GPS.

You’ll have to try the apps to find out. A screenshot of the various apps as installed on the Polar M600 is displayed above. Of course these mobile apps have to be installed on your Android device beforehand.

Playing Music with the Polar M600

polar-m600-remote-music-playingWhen connected to the mobile device, the Polar M600 can be used to control the music that’s being played on the mobile device. You can also sync music to the Polar M600 via Google Play so that the songs are stored locally on the M600’s storage. This would allow the user to go about running with the watch and connected Bluetooth headphones sans mobile device.

A note of caution, syncing of music tracks will not be allowed once battery level falls below a certain level.

Changeable watch faces

polar m600 watch-facesA long press on the screen brings up the option to change watch faces easily. You can also log on to Google Play and source for something more reflective of personality if what Polar is offering doesn’t suffice.

Part of the whole fun of owning an Android Wear device, besides the smarts, is really the limitless customisation.

As you can see, depending on the OS of your phone, you get more out the Polar M600 when using an Android device than if you were using an iOS device.

All day activity tracker

polar-flow-mobile-app-screen-capture

The M600 is a competent all day activity tracker that counts steps, distance, calories and sleep. The Polar Flow mobile app has largely remained similar in appearance in the last 2 years though there were minor tweaks of improvements.

polar-m600-daily-activity-and-tracked-stats-expanded

Don’t expect motivational events such as virtual badges or challenges. The Polar Flow mobile app is straightforward in presentation though it does provide a concise view of the user’s activities and workouts.

ANYTHING ELSE?

polar-m600-changing-viewsChanging display fields: To choose and customize the sports profiles, you have to log into Polar Flow web and tweak the settings from there. Then add and sync the profile to the Polar M600. If you want to change the display stats for profiles, this is the only way.

I thought it is unnecessarily tedious and wondered why a device powered by Android Wear isn’t as smart as I thought it’d be.polar m600 runningSyncing with mobile device only: Also, it is not possible to sync directly from Polar M600 to a computer via Polar Flowsync even though it is possible to enable charging from any standard USB port. Syncing must be done over the mobile devices.

Soft vibration: The vibration level is ridiculously soft. Since there are no audible alerts, the vibration is the only source of alert. I’ve gone days when I didn’t wake up to the vibration and I’ve also regularly missed the lap alert while running. If this can be fixed quickly, it’d be great.

Battery: The battery life is an area of concern. At 2 days for Android and 1 day for iOS, you would want to charge up by the end of everyday really. Wouldn’t want to go for your run towards the end of the second day only to see 11% battery left would you.

IN A NUTSHELL

polar m600-feaure-4The Polar M600 is an indication that Polar is willing to embrace Android Wear in considering an ever changing consumer preference. Among the major players such as Fitbit, Garmin and Suunto, it is the first to dabble with hardware provision while adopting OS run by third party. Android Wear does offer a whole new dimension to the usage of the fitness focused Polar M600.

It’s a gamble that may or may not pay off and only time will tell.



The lack of details with swim tracking and the tedious steps to customize display fields during workouts had me wondering if the Polar M600 could’ve improved in these 2 areas before the official release.

As for the 6 LED HR sensors. Is it more accurate? I personally thought so for certain activities. Is it a game changer? Depends on how highly you value HR accuracy without having to wear a chest strap heart rate monitor.

If you reside in Singapore, you can get the Polar M600 from Polar or its authorised retailers.

The Polar M600 is available at major online retailers. You can purchase the Polar M600 at $329.95 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!

1 Comment

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