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Polar A360 Review – Activity Tracker & Optical HRM

Polar have released their first optical HR device, the Polar A360. The press shots certainly show a very stylish device, with a crystal clear screen, but that could be press shots for you. So how does the A360 work as an activity tracker, and more importantly as a stand-alone optical heart rate monitor? 

Polar A360 Review

Polar has created an optical heart rate monitor device. Some might say a little bit late to the party. Optical heart rate devices have been around since the end of 2014 from companies like Mio, but it’s only in the later half of 2015 that we’ve started seeing optical heart rate monitors added to activity trackers, such as the Mio Fuse, and very recently, Garmin wading into the fray with their own in-house unit the VivoSmart HR. As one of the last major players to the market, Polar to has also developed an in-house optical sensor unit, so have they been waiting to release a perfect product, or is the A360 a little late to the party?

The Device

Polar draws attention to their colour touch screen right on the box, and when you switch the unit on, you understand why.

Polar A360 review

The moment that you open the A360, you are struck by the looks of the device. The A360 looks high class. For an activity tracker, something that is going to be with you most of the time, looks do matter. It’s the reason why I love the original Garmin VivoSmart; it’s so subtle. Here the Polar A360 is more noticeable, but with two chrome strips either slide, but the unit has a subtle elegance, rather than a utilitarian look opted for by some fitness trackers.

Polar A360 review

Polar A360 review

The A360 is actually two pieces, the actual unit, which slots into the rubber strap

Polar A360 review

Polar A360 review

The LEFT side of the unit has a small button, under the rubber, which can be used to activate the device

Polar A360 review

The unit is held within the rubber strap by two pieces of hard plastic within the strap, and two thin bands of rubber which touch two indentations either side of the device

Polar A360 reviewThe A360 body clicks into these ends very firmly, and I’ve no concerns that it would fall out…assuming that the rubber strap is in good condition. The side straps are thin, and I’m sure that the material has been chosen carefully, but I’d have preferred something a little more reassuring holding an expensive device in place. The rubber straps don’t actually provide any support and have the consistency of tough rubber bands. When the device is removed, they bend with the lightest touch

Polar A360 review

I think the bit that confuses me about these straps, and the removal of the unit is that I don’t understand why this was the final design. I appreciate that Polar have put a flap over the micro USB port, which has been designed, so you have to pull the strap back to pull off the flap back, but again, this option seems to just be a little over complicatedPolar A360 review

Polar A360 review

But I need to ensure I don’t detract from something – Polar have used another waterproofed USB port – I’m so happy!!! With the Polar M400, some people have commented about the issue with that port corroding over time, hence the new flap with an additional rubber seal. But still here is a company looking to make life easier for users, and I’ve got to give real credit for that!

It might be worth while noting that the flap does feel like an afterthought. Particularly so as it very easily detaches from its simple attachment pole.

Polar A360 review

In addition to the new cover, when you plug the unit in, a warning flashes up to remind you NOT to charge the unit when the port/unit is wet or sweaty. So we know Polar have looked into the underlying causes of previous port corrosion, and they have REMOVED the flap from the M400 to prevent said corrosion…hold on a minute… No, it doesn’t make sense to me either that, to aid drying of the port, a flap has been removed on one device, and (poorly) added to another.

The actual band itself is very nice and like the whole of the device is again very classy. Certainly Polar have managed to get the style right for a device that it is expected you’ll be wearing constantly.

Polar A360 review

The actual band closes with a push button, in the same way as the Garmin Vivosmart, and Fitbit Flex, which can be a little fiddly, but I’ve not had any issues with the strap remaining closed.

Polar A360 review

The screen on Polar A360 is gorgeous. Beautiful colour saturation, response to touch, well animated. One thing that has been clear from the Polar M400 onwards, Polar knows how to choose the best screens for their devices.

Polar A360 review

Compared to the Garmin Vivosmart HR, which is probably the A360’s biggest competitor, I personally feel that Polar have the style points, compared to the functional looks of the Vivosmart. Although the Vivosmart does fit on your wrist slightly more easily

Polar A360 review

Polar A360 review

Specifications

  • Waterproof
  • Screen – 13mm x 27mm
  • 1oomAh Battery
    • Estimated at two weeks battery life as an activity tracker, assuming 1 hour of training a day
    • This number is given WITHOUT the use of smart notifications – I’ve had about seven days with smart notifications on, which is reasonable on the market currently
  • Bluetooth Smart
  • NO HR BROADCAST

Using the Device

The A360 is an activity tracker first and foremost. The optical HR, while not an afterthought, is an additional feature. (It might also be a pilot feature before adding it to further Polar devices)

Given the beautiful screen is so bright, its off by default, but the unit responds when you raise your wrist up and instantly powers on. Make sure that you have told to software which wrist you are wearing it on, as if you have said RIGHT wrist, but wear it on your LEFT, the accelerometer doesn’t always play ball and switch the unit on. Which to be honest is pretty much a user issue, not the device!

Polar A360 review

There are multiple clock faces to the unit; the above probably has the most subtle activity gauge. The numbers fill up with colour as you progress through the day. You can also opt for the standard activity bar on digital faces, even analogue dials, but the above is probably my most preferred.

Fear not, however, there a few horizontal clock faces as well, for those not keen on the vertical look, although you trade tracking for the date.

Polar A360 review

When the unit wakes up, you can swipe though the screen menus. You can also activate the unit by pressing the bottom LEFT button, bringing the screen to life.

The first swipe up will bring you to the start of the app carousel, the tracking app, “My Day”, where as the first swipe will have you at the end of the carousel with “My Heart Rate.”

Polar A360 review

Tapping into My Day will display the activity tracking for far, with an additional swipe down showing any warning symbols, about being inactive for too long

Polar A360 review

The Polar A360 monitors your total step count using its internal accelerometer, and as it does so calculates your total daily distance and calorific burn.

I believe the device is supposed to auto sync with Polar Flow, but I was only able to get the unit to sync with my phone by a short press on the side button to make to unit look for a device to sync with, you can also sync via USB (much easier as you get quick charge too)

Polar A360 review

When you do sync with Polar Flow, the software  uses a clock face to visualise your activities in the app, which is a novel, and effective visualisation strategy

Polar A360 review

If you log onto the Polar Flow site from a desktop, you get a much deeper break down (Christmas Eve prep before the feast!) including Sleep, and a breakdown of restful/restless sleep

Polar A360 review

Activities trackers are about promoting movement and stamping out the curse of the sedentary lifestyle…through occasionally buzz notifications to say you’ve been attached to the couch for too long. If you do try to emulate the couch potato, after you’ve remained gracefully inactive for 50mins, you will get a small buzz and a move notification, allowing you to address that inactivity before it’s recorded in your daily log, like some kind of bad mark from your electronic fitness coach.

We also have Training – the area I found most useful for the device. While there is no GPS in the unit, it does allow you to identify a wide array of activities to monitor your heart rate during

Polar A360 review

Polar A360 review

When you select any of the training modes, the heart rate monitor activates, and you get constant readouts about heart rate zones, calorific burn and overall activity duration. All of the information is rendered in beautiful colour.

Polar A360 review

Polar A360 review

Beautiful colour it may be, but you quickly realise that there is very little additional information here. You get heart rate, time and calories…that’s it. No cadence, no estimated speed, not even the ability to include laps – ALTHOUGH Distance and speed have been confirmed for an upcoming firmware update in 2016, but quite when, is still a mystery!

So given the current lack of data during activities, why even choose different activities if it gives no extra data? Polar uses the activity type to give a more accurate idea of calorie burn, suggesting that this may be a device quite literally focused on someone interested in activity monitoring, rather than sport monitoring

The “My Heart Rate” App does exactly what is says on the tin. It shows your heart rate, nothing more. No recording, no zones, just a number.

Smart Notifications

The Smart notifications work in the same way as other Polar devices. You get a small vibration from the unit, and a single screen of info, and it’s for your eyes only – the notifications are that, merely notifications and one way only. You can’t dismiss a text from your phone, nor can you scroll to look at additional information that might be displayed. Which is a shame, as the screen is more than capable of displaying beautiful streams of information and wonderfully responsive, would it have been too difficult to let me scroll through the rest of the message?

At least the nice big cross makes it easy to dismiss

Polar A360 review

If you long press the side button, it brings up the supplementary screen allowing you to switch Bluetooth off, go into plane mode, or do not disturb, if you’d prefer not to have messages coming through to your wrist

Polar A360 review

Accuracy of Polar A360

Activity Tracking accuracy

Optical Heart Rate Accuracy

As Polar have created their own optical HR sensor with two green LEDs and one photodiode for seeing through to your capillaries, we have no benchmark on reliability like the Mio optical units. Having a good track record is vital for monitoring devices like this, and the accuracy of the Polar A360 has been called into doubt already.

When initially using the unit with the Fenix 3, I’ve seen some widely inaccurate results, when rowing, and just going for a simple jog for example.

Polar A360 review

Polar A360

However, a little bit likre power, I’m not as interested in the instantaneous heart rate number as I am about the heart rate zone I’m in. Although let’s be fair, some of those numbers are going to be in different zones as well!

Most optical HR units tend to have a mild degree of variation at times, so its more about the overall accuracy of the tracking.

Polar A360 review

Initially doing an indoor cycle, with minimal movement, both the Polar A360 and the Garmin VivoSmart HR (grey) tracked nicely in line with the Fenix 3 ANT+ chest strap. If anything, it was the VivoSmart that was a little sleepy on the start

Polar A360 review

But overall the Polar A360 (blue) did a good job of holding on to match the Fenix 3 when indoors (Orange), and carrying on with it’s slightly sleepy start, the Vivosmart is all over the place

Polar A360 review

However, going for an outdoor jog, the Polar A360 (Bottom blue line) never really got with the program. Whereas initially, the Vivosmart HR held to the Fenix 3 ANT+ very nicely…at the start

Polar A360 review

But lets be honest, after a brief pause to take some shots on the run, which is sudden drop in HR early on –

Polar A360 review

From that point, none of the optical HR devices even remotely lined up with the Fenix 3

So given the initial impression that the Polar A360 isn’t really tracking well when used for general activities, that meant a more focused test was needed to see what is going on – so four hills repeats over 35mins using:

Styrd HRM chest strap ANT+

Mio HRM chest strap ANT+

Polar A360
Polar A360 reviewFrankly, I think the graph speaks for itself, the A360, which has been on my arm all day, and thus shouldn’t need to warm up, tracks poorly at the start and then completely misses two of the first hill repeats. Its one thing to have a bit of a delay, but these were hard sprints and not a twitch from the Polar A360. Frankly not a good show.

During steady states, such as on the bike, shown earlier, the Polar A360 tracks nicely, but it just doesn’t adapt to rapid changes very well. I hate to be disparaging, but the unit just comes off as…well a little [email protected] I think this is reinforced by the effective tracking on the bike, where there are no major rapid changes, yet poor performance out on the runs

Conclusion

I was excited to receive the Polar A360. It looks GORGEOUS, and for a device which you are going to have strapped to your wrist for most of the time, that’s VERY important.

But as with so many things in life, those looks are only skin deep. WHY Polar made the strap removable, in the way it has, is completely beyond me. Having the unit held between two very thin pieces of rubber doesn’t  provide a lot of confidence, although I’m sure that Polar will have tested for durability. What does cause me an irritation is that these gaps are a sink for dirt and muck to get down the side of the unit.

Polar A360 review

On the upshot, staying with Polar’s typical approach to products such as the M400 and V800, the screen is beautiful, bright vibrant, colourful. Frankly, these are the sorts of colours we expect on smart phones, certainly not activity gadgets.

Another misstep is the lack of ANT+ compatibility in my eyes. Polar would gain a lot of potential customers if the unit were able to broadcast HR data over ANT+, I understand that Garmin owns the protocol, etc. That said the unit isn’t currently able to broadcast even Bluetooth HR. Polar is normally very good at the vastly increasing functionality of their products after launch, but it’s a shame that something which perhaps should have been a core feature isn’t ready just yet.

I hate to say it, but at the moment Polar has currently released a product which is more style than substance. But it’s a very stylish product, with a gorgeous screen (other manufacturers should take note)

So I think it’s fair to say that this Polar A360 review suggests that rather than coming late to the market, Polar have released a product which could have perhaps done with a little more time in the development oven. Whilst many points will be addressed with future firmware updates, on the software side of things, the design of the strap is not going to change quickly. I’d hold off this one for the moment!

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