(Suggested retail prices: RS800CX watch including cycling speed sensor, $449; G3 GPS accessory, $139)
- Long battery life for watch and GPS sensor.
- Comfortable and accurate heart rate monitor.
- Watch is compact and versatile.
- No mapping or directions.
- Display small, black-and-white.
- Software somewhat limited compared to the popular online workout analysis and mapping services.
Finland-based Polar Electro is one of the very few companies giving Garmin some competition in the category of GPS devices for sports and fitness enthusiasts. The new Polar RS800 sports wristwatch with optional GPS accessory comes in four versions, including multi-sport, running, and bike. I tried the bike version with GPS (RS800CX), taking it for a number of long-distance rides and also trying it out for running and even as a heart rate monitor for stationary bike workouts.
Polar has a reputation for solid electronics and engineering, and best-in-class heart rate monitoring hardware, but also for a challenging learning curve and somewhat geeky and hard-to-use software. The RS800CX lives up to all of those, but it has some strengths, such as super-long battery life, multi-sport versatility, and a compact, solidly built and elegant watch, that may make it a top choice depending on your needs.
GPS Accessory: Long Battery Life, Waterproof
Unlike Garmin, with its all-in-one Edge series, Polar takes a mix-and-match approach with the RS800CX. You can buy the watch with heart rate monitor, and add GPS, a bike speed sensor (wheel mounted), and a pedaling cadence sensor. An optional bike handlebar mount provides a firm mount for the watch.
The G3 GPS sensor ($139 suggested retail) is a compact (2.3 x 2.3 inches), sturdily built (tough, water resistant nylon shell) separate unit that captures GPS satellite signals and relays the data wirelessly to the Polar sports watch. The watch then displays and stores speed, distance, and elevation data. One big positive of this setup is extended battery life. The watch batteries last for up to a year of continuous use, and the two AA batteries in the G3 GPS unit I used are good for days of continuous use, depending on setup. The G3 has a low-power mode, and goes into an idle mode when it hasn't moved in 15 minutes, so I didn't need to replace GPS batteries over the course of my test.
The G3 sensor is rated waterproof to 20 meters in depth - a big plus for triathletes - and it passed my immmersion test.
The G3 sensor uses WAAS for best-available accuracy, and features a SIRFIII GPS chip, but it was consistently slow at acquiring GPS signals in cold starts. I suggest starting the GPS and placing outdoors while you prep for your workout, so it's ready to go when you are.
You "teach" the RS800CX watch to accept the GPS accessory in a brief and easy sync/setup routine. Just be sure to get the G3 model, because Polar's other device, the G1, doesn't work with the RS800CX.
RS800CX Watch and Heart Rate Monitor
The RS800CX watch is sleek, compact, and well-built. Its display is small, at 1.3 inches (diagonal) and it is black-and-white. Even though it is GPS-capable with the addition of the G3 GPS receiver, it is not intended as a navigation or mapping device and it does not show a map. The GPS is added solely to provide position, speed, and elevation data during any sport.
Those sound like a lot of limitations, but one benefit of a small display is a very modest power draw that keeps this watch working on the same battery for a year or more. The compact display also helps the watch maintain its slim profile. You could easily wear this watch all day and it doesn't look especially out of place in non-sports settings.
The watch is loaded with features and options, and they are all listed on page two of this review.
The watch can be handlebar-mounted on a bike with the optional bike mount adapter, but I didn't bother with that and just wore the watch on my wrist while on the bike. With the GPS device activated, the watch displays accurate speed and distance, and you can customize the display to show heart rate and other important stats. Just as importantly, the watch is storing all of your workout data for download and analysis by the included Polar ProTrainer 5 software.
Polar ProTrainer 5 Software and Infrared Data Transfer
The RS800CX comes with Polar Protrainer 5 software (on CD) and an infrared data receiver that plugs into your computer's USB port. When you are finished with your workout, simply start the ProTrainer software, then put the watch in transmit mode and hold it in front of the IrDA device. It will automatically upload your workout data. Within ProTrainer, you can store, analyze and graph a virtually unlimited number of workouts.
The ProTrainer software is not avalable for Macs, and is said to be compatible with Windows XP and Vista. I could not get the data import feature to work on an XP machine, but the program installed perfectly and data import worked fine on a Vista machine.
See page two of this review for full specifications.