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Polar OH1+ Review – Does Location Matter?

Optical heart rate monitors are now very much thing and are here to stay. The Polar OH1+ release pushes the fact that they can be worn on goggles as much as the arm, so does the location actually matter?

Polar OH1 + Review – Does Location Matter?

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The Polar OH1 (note no plus) came out last year. At the time I felt that the Polar OH1 was one of the best optical heart rate units available, giving good battery life, internal memory for use as an independent tracker. The only thing which held it back was it’s Bluetooth only communications.

Thankfully in the product push that Polar has started this year, the Polar OH1 has undergone an upgrade to also support ANT+ transmission, which can now be seen displayed on the underside of the unit

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Some people may feel a short changed if they have recently purchased the “older” Polar OH1. However, I haven’t spoken about the Polar OH1 “+” – that is because Polar have not changed the hardware in their optical HRM device, merely unlocked a feature which was present in the chipset. In a great piece of customer service, Polar have issues a firmware update to the previous OH1, activating it’s latent ANT+ broadcast channel – everyone wins!

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So where does the Polar OH1+ come into things? Essentially this is the standard Polar OH1 with an additional accessory pack, which allows the OH1 to be attached to a pair of swimming goggles.

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Swimming is a bit of an issue for most devices when it comes to external sensors, as the water pretty much blocks Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ signals after about 5 cm. Similarly reliable optical heart rate data has been a bigger challenge than getting a trace when going for a run for example. I think this is borne out most clear in the fact that the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus still doesn’t natively support optical HRM !

The Polar OH1 overcomes the issue of transmitting data to a separate sports tracker by having onboard memory enabling it to cache your heart rate data. There are some standard chest straps, which are also waterproof and can cache data, but the Polar OH1 on the arm, and a chest HRM such as the Shanren Discovery can be a little bit irritating when in the pool

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Hence now the inclusion of the new swimming googles clip, which will bring us nicely to what is in the box!

Polar OH1+ Review – Device Design

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From the front, there is actually very little to set the Polar OH1+ apart from the regular OH1. If you look on the back you can see the swim goggles clip, but there isn’t much more really proclaiming what is going on

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In the box we’ve the Polar OH1, two device clips, the arm strap charging cradle and paper manual

The two different sized clips allow for positioning on regular and wide strapped googles.

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The clips have a small flange which goes around the top of the unit, allowing you to press directly on that to toggle the power of the OH 1 easily when it is attached to the strap, rather than having to struggle to find the little button, which can be a touch hard to depress

This does mean that the status light is a little harder to see than when strapped to your arm, as you can easily remove the Polar OH1 from the holder there, or just twist the strap so that the LED faces towards you

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Looking inside the band shows the button press sequence in order to active the Polar OH1 as a straight forward sensor, or to activate the cache function. A small update from the original OH1, in that the instructions are now moulded, not printed

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Given this change I was a little surprised to see the same black band in the Polar OH1+ box, as I would have thought it would have been a great time to include one of the coloured armbands which Polar now has in order to differentiate the boxes slightly.

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The charging cradle is also unchanged, which is a slight shame, as when plugged in to charge, the width of the unit tends to block the port next to it. As you can see, I can’t actually get the Polar OH1 to charge here when charging the GoPro

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Polar OH1+ Review – Button Presses / LED indicators

  • Single short press with active the OH1
  • After power-up, the LED will flash green five times if the battery is good, led will flash red five times if low c
  • When active, but searching for a heart rate, the LED will flash white every two seconds
  • When heart rate has been found, the cycles LED flashes green once a second
  • Two short presses close together will activate onboard recording
  • Independently searching for heart rate, white flashes twice a second
  • When recording the unit will cycle flashing the green LED twice
  • Approaching 2 hours/10% of battery remaining, the flashing LED will now alternate green/red
  • Flashing red is critical battery
  • A blue flashing light indicates a connection to Polar Flow/Beat and data transmission
  • A Blue LED continuously lit, updating firmware
  • Red led continuously lit, device error
  • A long press turns the unit off
  • When charging led glows yellow and turns solid green when fully charged

I’ll be honest, a tone, or vibration would have really enhanced the button presses/changes in mode, as they can be relatively easily missed. I appreciate this would have resulted in an increase in size, something Polar has worked hard to prevent, but usability would have been greatly enhanced

Polar OH1+ Review – Specifications

No change here:

  • Weight: 5g OH1 alone – including armband 17g
    • The armband is one size fits all… ish – Medium to XXL
  • Communication: BlueTooth 4.0, ANT+ – for data transmission and live HR broadcast
  • Size: 9.5mm high, 29.85mm diameter
  • Sensors: 6 LED Optical Heart Rate
  • Waterproofing: 30 m
  • Battery: 45mAh 12 hours of recording
    • Specifically no change here, in fact, slower discharge when powered down now!
  • Memory: 4Mb, enough for 200 hours of recording

Polar OH1+ Review – Swimming

Given that is the big change here, it seemed sensible to test out how the Polar OH1+ signal differs when attached to your arm, compared to goggle mounted. Obviously we need more than two units for a comparison, so the new Suunto 5 and Polar Vantage V also came along for a dip

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After the Polar OH1 has been switched on, in order to go swimming you need to put the device into independent mode.

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You press the silver button twice, quickly, to trigger the internal memory to record your heart rate, and activity duration. You’ll be able to confirm the mode has engaged by the LED now repeatedly flashing twice quickly

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Now this graph doesn’t look that great initially – for any unit actually. I ran the Garmin Fenix in running mode just to see what the Elevate sensor trace looked like. The Polar OH1 seems to have a delay, which is an unfortunate slight limitation of the Polar OH1 – the internal clock needs to be synced with your phone every time prior to using as an independent device, the reason being unfortunately the Polar OH1 doesn’t seem to hold time well. As you can see above, the graphs of the Polar OH1 heart rate look good, but a little out of line. This is not due to an issue with detecting each heart beat, but the internal clock when using caching. This is born out in other tests where the Polar OH1 has shown similarly accurate heart rate graphs, but this time not out of alignment. In reality this isn’t an problem for anyone, other than reviewers comparing heart rates from multiple source, and if I wasn’t aware of the clock issue on the Polar OH1, I’d be more unhappy

Maybe someone would consider there to be an issue for triathlons. But as long as the heart rate trace is ACCURATE, I don’t think that the fact that the time stamp is off by a few seconds would be of great issue during post-race analysis, as if you are using a triathlon watch, you’ll be swapping over to the next activity as you pass through T1, whereupon the watch would use its own internal timestamp along with the Polar heart rate signal.

As a result of this problem all further tests on positioning were performed with both the Polar units recording directly to other head units in order to avoid internal clock issues

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Staying with the triathlon idea for a moment, the Polar OH1 has an interesting use case, in terms of monitoring during the swim and beyond. I can see it being very easy to the swim segment and swap from the Polar OH1 goggle clip to a strap either waiting with your kit, or already on your arm under your wetsuit. Though I’m not sure that I’d be happy to trust the arm strap underneath a wetsuit. Let me clarify that – I can see that wetsuit pulling the Polar OH1 from it’s holder as you take the suit off, and you don’t want to be grovelling for a stray heart rate monitor in a transition zone

Polar OH1 – Running

The Polar OH1+ can only really be used on swimming googles due to it’s diminutive size. After all the unit has a diameter about as small as it is possible to go without actually cutting into the sensor! Given that with an optical HRM you should be able to get a pulse reading on any flat-ish bit of skin as long as there is no stray light hitting the sensor I wondered if the heart rate trace would be affected by other locations from activities other that swimming?

Using the swim goggles clip, it’s very easy to slip the Polar OH1+ onto the waistband of running shorts. So seemed a reasonable test.

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When running, I was able to get a very similar trace whether using the Polar OH1 attached to my arm, or on my hip.

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If we compare just the Polar OH1 at the hip and the Polar OH1 on my upper arm, both look just about perfectly in sync. Whilst this does make sense technically, I was still surprised at the outcome

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This does rather bear out the conventional wisdom that the two biggest issues for optical heart rate, that the sensor needs to be stable in place, and free from stray light. As a result of this, I thought I’d see how far I could push the unit…

Polar OH1 – Cycling

Obviously any activity where you want accurate feedback on your heart rate the Polar OH1+ should be able to handle. It would be a bit daft to use it otherwise wouldn’t it!

Now wrist mounted optical heart rate sensors tend to struggle as a result of the vibrations coming up through the handlebars. Hence why the Polar OH1 and the Wahoo TICKR Fit have previously been shown to be so much more accurate on a bike than straight forward watch mounted HRM, as we’ve seen with the Garmin Fenix 5, although watches are improving – the recent Suunto 9 seems to have improved their filtering and accuracy as a result

So I took this thought process to the next natural step, and clipped the Polar OH1 to my bib and went cycling. But to really up the ante decided to take my road bike down some of the country lanes

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How did things go? Given we’ve already looked at the Wahoo TICKR Fit and the Polar OH1 it’s no surprise that they didn’t have any issues on the ride, more so that the hip mounted Polar OH1 was also giving a matching reading

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Again, everything is lining up terrifically if we zoom in

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I think it is fair to say that optical HRM has now established itself as a viable and accurate form of monitoring. It is just a shame that the classic recovery/fitness tests using R-R variability are not yet matc

Polar OH1 Review – Battery Life

On the face of things, I would have most thought that now the Polar OH1 is broadcasting a signal on dual channels we may have seen a deterioration in battery life, but I’ve not notied any change in battery life. It is possible that this is actually due to changes in firmware, as Polar has commented of improved battery management.

Polar OH1 Review – Conclusion

As the changes seen in the Polar OH1+ firmware, specifically improved battery management and Bluetooth SMART broadcast have both been rolled out to the existing OH1 units, I think it almost creates a problem for the Polar OH1+ as a box. If you are not particularly interested in swimming, there is no reason to buy the Polar OH1+ box over the regular Polar OH1.

Polar has looked after their existing customers brilliantly by extending the software updates backwards, but at the same time, they could have made the Polar OH1+ more attractive / differentiated, if only through the band colouring etc

The clips within the Polar OH1+ have been demonstrated here that they give Polar’s optical heart rate monitor a greater / easier range of functions. I’m not sure if I’d want to clip to my waist for a race, but for impromptu training runs without additional kit you are not going to find a smaller monitoring system.

Lack of dual channel data broadcast was the Achilles heel to the Polar OH1 in 2017. With Bluetooth integrated, I’m happy to call the Polar OH1+ the best optical heart rate monitor on the market. Easily earning a 5/5 and a recommended stamp

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James Gill

Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. <br /> <br /> After learning a lot about olecranon fractures, I was introduced to the world Zwift, and slowly transitioned into writing about sports gadgets and the like<br /> <br /> Trying to keep up cycling, swimming and running whilst being a busy General Practice Doctor