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Cycling Cycling Computers and GPS Units Gear Reviews

Polar M450 GPS cycling computer review

Small and mighty. That might be a good over view of the Polar M450 when you look at it on paper. A shrunken version of the highly successful Polar V650. But does that loss of the touch screen hamper the Polar M450 at £114, when the Polar V650 is available for at slightly more for £157?

Polar M450 GPS cycling computer review

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The Polar M450 is positioned as an every man bike computer. Small, simple, but very fully featured, especially with some of the later firmware updates. It carries over many of the excellent features from the Polar V650 but does drop a few features as well, notably the colour screen, associated real estate, and perhaps most importantly we lose the touch screen interaction

Instead, we get a smaller, tighter package, but retaining 90% of the core functionality of the V650

Device Design

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Inside we’ve got everything you need to get started. The Polar soft strap, Bluetooth HRM, micro USB cable, polar mount and rubber bands to attach the mount to your steed.

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On the back of the unit is the polar mountain system. Which is not compatible with Garmin mounts, but I don’t really think that is any surprise, as Garmin and Polar are compatible in the same way as water and electricity!

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The included mount is a stem/bar mount version, which personally I’m not a fan of, making the lack of compatibility all the more of a shameTitaniumGeek IMG_5061-1-1024x768 Polar M450 GPS cycling computer review Zwift Polar M450 Polar GPS Garmin 25 garmin Cycling computer cycling Bike

You have a plastic mount and a rubber spacer that you attach to your stem, from there the unit twists in. Unfortunately, the mount isn’t held on exceptionally tightly, so there is a degree of movement when you fit the Polar M450 on your stem, which was a similar problem with the Polar V650.

This is something that Polar seem aware of as their special edition M450 bundle includes an out front mount, and cover for £20 extra

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If you’ve seen the V650, then you’ve a very good idea what the Polar M450 looks like.

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We’ve a nicely sizes screen, with excellent contrast, especially in bright sunlight, and a good clean white design on the front.

However, it’s not only a white design. Polar also sell a series of back plates, if you want to personalised your unit a bit. Polar very kindly included a yellow back plate, which meant I IMMEDIATELY had to swap the back plates before I took the Polar M450 for a spin. If you’ve read my Mio Alpha 2 review, you know I think screaming yellow should be an option on ALL sports devices?

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Swapping the plates is very easy, with a couple of very simple diagrams inside the pack

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So here we are “pre-op.”

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A little bit of pulling with a fingernail easily overcomes the clips holding the back plate in place.

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Then we have the exposed back of the Polar M450, waiting to have the new back pushed on.

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“click” “click”, and it’s done!

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There are three difference colours available from the Polar Website, priced at £11.50 each, some of you might consider these an unnecessary expense, but, but it’s so YELLOW ? TitaniumGeek Screen-Shot-2016-07-09-at-15.11.00-1024x524 Polar M450 GPS cycling computer review Zwift Polar M450 Polar GPS Garmin 25 garmin Cycling computer cycling Bike

Carrying on to look around the unit you’ve five buttons.

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The Red central button to start the unit, and start your activity

On the button, LEFT we’ve the stop button

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On the bottom RIGHT and lower side RIGHT on the up and down menu buttons

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Finally on the LEFT side of the unit is the light toggle button

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A long press of this button locks the buttons, and when you’ve selected an activity you want to do, a long press here takes you to the setting screen for that particular activity.

Around the inside of the mount, you can also see the speaker grills. Surprisingly, in spite of their position, there doesn’t appear to be any impact of the notifications coming through. Charging is deal with via micro USB covered by a small rubber flap, with an insert going into the port

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There is the industry standard IPX7 water rating covering the unit and extending to the micro USB port, so the Polar M450 should be able to shrug off the average UK rain without issue

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Specification

  • Communications:
    • Bluetooth Smart only
      • Given Garmin is a direct rival to Polar, I don’t think you’ll likely ever see ANT+ on a Polar product! Although personally, I’d happily pay an extra £5-10 per Polar product to have dual ANT/Bluetooth chips!
  • Measurements
    • Display: 3.5cmx3.5cm
      • Black and white
    • Width: 14.0mm
    • Weight: 51g
  • Battery: Rechargeable 385mAh (12-15 hrs)
  • Micro-USB charging
  • Metrics
    • Barometric altimeter
    • Bluetooth ONLY power
    • Speed
    • Cadence
    • Heart beat
  • IPX7 Waterproofing (splash proof)

You get the heart rate strap in the box – props Polar.

Using the Device

Sport specific metrics

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The included Polar Bluetooth strap can record heart-rate variability which is required for certain parameters within the device. This is quite important, as not all Bluetooth HR straps give this in a way the Polar M450 can read, thus preventing you from doing Orthostatic and Fitness Tests. However regular HR straps should also be found for Training Benefit, Training Load and Recovery Time.

Polar always produce very consumer-focused devices, and I personally really do like the Polar Coach function, giving you a training summary at the end of an activity. This provides you with easy to digest information about exactly how that activity/training has benefited you, without swamping you in data analysis

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Some days I find that I don’t have time to log onto a computer to look at an online analysis of an activity, so getting the below level of detail, directly on the Polar M450 screen after a ride is brilliant if you are in a hurry

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Activities

With the most recent firmware update, you can add any of the sports profiles from Polar Flow onto the Polar M450, which actually makes the device much more than merely cycling GPS

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I was very pleased to be able to load the rowing profile onto the device, and then use the Polar M450 as a heart rate monitor while down at the boat house

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Given the range of options available for activities. The Polar M450 can also be loaded with an “Indoor Cycling” profile. In my case, the device connected the My Wahoo KICKR without issue. 

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In turn, this allowed me to use the Polar as a HUD for on Zwift, giving me an extra backup, and access to all of the Polar Coaching analysis after a ride.

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Polar have always had an excellent approach to screen tech. Something that Wahoo have acknowledged with their Elemnt. In a lot of sports devices, a colour screen is an unnecessary luxury, and you actually tend to get a better viewing experience in direct sunlight from a mono-chrome screen, as we have here on the M450

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The backlight is a crisp white affair, giving an excellent uniform illumination across the screen.

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The safety light on the Polar M450 is smaller than that on the V650, but it is still an excellent thought to my mind. Not particularly from a “safety light” point of view, but it’s the idea you’ve a backup torch with you. I personally find having a torch of some form with me generally very reassuring.

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The light can be triggered to come on based on either the time of day or automatically with the ambient light sensor on the front of the device.

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I have mentioned the mounting system is not the best, and I think this is one of the points which personally exacerbates the issues with the buttons of me. Using the buttons tends to put a little strain on the rubber bands, again causing the system to twist. An out front or a bar clamp mount would have proved to be much more secure and would have to make the whole device feel higher quality.

Navigation

The navigation on the Polar M450 is rudimentary. Giving you more of a direction heading than anything else.

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If you are looking at a polar device and wanting turn by turn navigation, you need to be looking at the big brother Polar V650

Conclusion

The Polar M450 has a great design, in many respects. I still love the little LED torch on the front.

Given them firmware updates, I have actually seen someone go for a run with the Polar M450 in their back pocket, rather than shell out on a separate GPS watch. Plus I have used it while on the rowing machine.  Now that might seem a bit daft to some, but if you really are on a budget and don’t like taking your phone with you on a run, the Polar M450 might be a device to think about if your number one activity is going to be cycling, and occasionally doing a few other sports.

But the design on the Polar M450 is not perfect. Personally, I found the buttons INFURIATING to use. There was something about the positioning of them opposite each other, but right at the very bottom of the unit which kept on causing me issues. By positioning the buttons as far south on the M450 as possible, it feels unbalanced, and as a result, you hold the unit differently, and I regularly ended up pressing the button on the opposite side of the unit as well as the intended. Similarly placing the down button on the bottom of the unit causes me further irritation, and found I would actually have to use the device to handed for best outcome

Personally given the small price difference, I really think anyone looking at a Polar cycling focused unit would be better placed getting the superior Polar V650 when it is on sale, you’ll be grateful for the touch screen.

But at the lower-priced end of the market, what about the smaller Garmin Edge 25?

The cheapest I have found the Polar M450 is £114 at Amazon which puts it within spitting distance of the Garmin 25 at £95, and thus is reasonable to consider both as competitors

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The 25 is a much smaller device and is completely focused towards cycling. At a similar price, the Polar M450 is the best buy of the two. But that is a bit of complicated decision. Ultimately the hardware on the Garmin 25 is better (I really was that irritated by the buttons on the Polar M450) however the Polar M450 is a better device. It has a lot more functionality and can give you much more practical training information. So in many ways, it does come down to budget issues as much as anything.

If you want a single device, buy the Polar M450 and deal with the buttons. If you are after a cycling specific device alone, I’d probably lean towards the Garmin 25!

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James Gill

Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. Feel free to drop me a line about sports tech, medicine, or frankly anything that you want to chat about!!

  • asaf

    Regarding the rubber band movement- Polar have a unique technique (double wrapping) that takes some effort, but once done- it will never move. Have you tried?

    • No, I’ll have to check. Thanks for that

      • David White

        Yes, do check James – I posted a similar comment on your V650 review earlier this year. When you get it right it is more solid than anything else I have seen. 🙂