The Polar V650 has been around since 2014. That is a long time in gadget years. Is this 2018 update enough to keep the big Polar unit competitive and able to fight against the onslaught from Garmin and Wahoo… just possibly!
Polar V650 2018 Cycling Computer Review
Polar had a bit of a habit for 2017, of refreshing units via their software features, and giving them a new model number. I’ll direct you to the Polar M460 GPS unit, and the Polar A730 activity tracker if you’re in any doubt. Which sounds like a slightly negative tone, but for the fact that the Polar M460 is actually a very good bit of kit.
This time Polar has not even changed the colour of the V650, and I have to confess to initially wondering are the changes actually going to be noticeable, thankfully they are! As with the Polar M460, the Strava integration into the Polar V650 is probably the tent pole upgrade, but that is not to diminish that the Polar V650 is already a very capable bit of kit.
Other slight more low key updates, but still very relevant to todays data demanding roadie are:
- GPS based gradient
- Advanced power metrics
- Covering normalised power, intensity factor, training stress score and allowing FTP calculation
- Improved power sensor compatibility
So that is what the box says, but how. Does these updates stack up in real life? Let’s find out!
Polar V650 2018 Cycling Computer – Design
The Polar V650 is not a new GPS unit, and that alone might put some people off. However the old adage of “if it ain’t broke down the fix it” certainly comes to mind, as the Polar V650 hosts several clever design features which frankly should be considered for inclusion in many more products.
But before we get to that, what’s in the box?!
In the box, we’ve got quite a range of included kit, particularly so for the £150 which you can find the Polar V650 in some parts of the net.
We’ve the latest Polar H10 HRM and strap, a stem mount with rubber bands to attach it, micro USB cable, and a dead tree manual. I’ll be honest, given that the Polar V650 is not the youngest GPS on block, I’m surprised we haven’t seen a slightly more expensive overall package including the Polar OH1 optical HRM, as that would likely be a compelling combo
Let’s look over the Polar V650 itself.
The Polar V650 isn’t a small unit by any stretch of the imagination, but unless you are a REAL weight weeny, I dont think it matters on the bike. The at 120g, the Polar V650 is coming in towards the heavier end of the scale, comparing with the fractionally lighter (104g) Wahoo Elemnt, and the heavier (120g) Garmin 1000 GPS
From a purely design perspective, I do think the V650 looks very good. There is clearly a visual design to it, which seems to be lacking on many other GPS units, with the white and black shell, and contrasting red “action” button. Although perhaps people could say the new Garmin 1030 has had it’s colour scheme inspired by the Polar V650… maybe. That said, I do think the loseng shapped button on the front really should be lit up. But that is just me!
On the back of the unit is the Polar mount system. Which is not compatible with Garmin mounts, but I don’t really think that is any surprise, as Garmin and Polar are are compatibile in a similar way the water and electricity! It’s worth while noting that inside the mount are a series of ridges to keep the unit and place, and if you should, wish, mount the Polar V650 at odd angles
it is probably worth talking about the mount here used on the Polar V650 – personally I’m not a fan. You have two pieces, the hard plastic adapter, and a rubber mount to place on your bike, either on the stem or the bars. This is held together by a single rubber band
Now prejudice up front, I’m not a fan of directly attached stem mounts. But that’s what we have. Given how long the Polar V650 has been on the market, as an additional draw for 2018, I’m surprised that Polar have not included an out front mount in the box as well, of this their flagship cycling head unit.
Yes, I could place the mount on the handlebars, but I prefer a centrally mounted GPS. So on the stem, it goes, standing little proud
The nature of the mount means it doesnt really get on with flat stems if you go for the stem mount option, which slightly reduces the clean lines. Which is a shame.
But all of those points are relatively minor. What I don’t like is that the unit grips into the mount with more friction than the mount does to the bike, whether we are using a flat, or normal round stem , so putting the unit on and off, results in the mount being pulled around, and frequently means that as you ride, the mount shifts and you can end up with a wonky GPS. Which my OCD doesn’t like.
Staying in the back of the unit, we’ve a white flap, proudly proclaiming Bluetooth Smart, still not ANT+ here. Come on Polar, Kinetic have seen the light!
Under the flap we’ve the micro USB port and the various serial numbers.
The power button is discretely hidden on the upper LEFT side of the unit
You can also bring up the accessory menus screen from this button when the unit is powered up
Now as mentioned the Polar V650 isn’t the lightest GPS on the market, but you are going to need to go to something properly anorexic like the Garmin 130, or the Wahoo Elemnt Mini. However, you then lose some of the benefits in terms of battery life, and screen realestate which you get from a unit of this size, and for many those are two of the most important factors
I’ll be frank; I get the idea behind carbon fibre frames and aero design. It makes sense. Unless you are Bradley Wiggins or doing a TT, the difference of 20-30grams, on the GPS unit isn’t going to make a difference, and you are going to miss out on great features. So Polar have “wasted” some weight with the V650, but that has enabled them to make a better real world unit. Because I kid you not, they have included a safety light on the Polar V650!!
Seriously Polar have incorporated a small forward facing LED into the forward facing edge of the unit. Why has no one thought of this before?? Yes, it means that the unit is probably a hair thicker than it needs to be, but it’s such a clever idea!
The light is controlled from the V650 itself and can either by manually triggered from the screen by swiping down to see the toggle buttons
Or using the automatic mode, to be switched on utilising the Polar V650’s light sensors, which can be made out on the top LEFT of the device
Yes we are not talking about a hugely powerful light, but I do think this is a nice addition, and something to set the unit apart in the crowded GPS market
One area which perhaps the Polar V650 isn’t quite as hot though is the screen, whilst beautiful colour screens look great indoors, they just get washed out when on the sun is out. The Polar V650 is no different here, cracking indoors, less so under direct sunlight.
Polar’s own M460 and the Wahoo range of cycling GPS unit have really demonstrated the currently, monochrome is best for cycling, as when it comes to sports, is not about how many millions of colours your unit can display, but how easy it is to read.
As mentioned the front of the unit also sports a large “action button’ – this is used to start and stop your activities
Ok, that’s the overview, let’s go for a spin!
Polar V650 2018 Cycling Computer – Specification
- Device weight: 120 grams
- Screen: 320×240 – touch screen
- Memory: 10,000hrs of data
- Battery: 1900 mAH – 10hrs
- Water resistance: IPX7 (splash)
- Waterproof Micro-USB charging port
- Sensor compatibility: Bluetooth; HRM, Speed, Cadence, and Power Air pressure Barometer built in
- Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart
The Polar V650 manual can be found here
Polar V650 2018 Cycling Computer – Using the Device
Polar has created a Bluetooth-only device, but include the most important part, the Bluetooth heart rate monitor in the box, so you are ready to go, right from the offset. 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 pulse rate in the way that the Polar V650 can read, in order for that data to be used to calculate Orthostatic and Fitness Tests.
One thing I was surprised at when powering on the Polar V650, is that it has a great speaker. When turning the unit on, there is an intro tone and a little movie of white road lines flashing by. It’s only a little thing, it gives you confidence you’ll easily be able to hear any alerts without issue
The first task after switching on the unit
The interface is very simple when the unit is turned on
- History, showing previous rides,
- Settings, (to get lost in Bluetooth sensor hell),
- Favourites, covering your selected Strava segmens
- Profile, indicating the type of activity you are doing.
Along the bottom are you sensor detection circles: GPS, Heart Rate, Power, Cadence and Speed
Polar have a more graphics heavy appoach. Even when it comes to the charging symbols, Polar have really gone to town
Before you go much further, it’s worth while installing both the Polar Flow app – Here for iOS and HERE for Google. You’ll still need to sign up to Polar Flow, to download the latest updates for the Polar V650 before you use it for the first time, as the unit doesnt do OTA updates
Before you are able to get the Polar V650 to connect to your devices though, you must go into the unit and identify which systems you are using before you can actually transfer data… which just feels a tad clunky
But then things will work a treat!
Even with Strava making the headlines on the Polar V650, Polar Flow still remains a strong platform, again presented in ways to really help the user understand what is going on. Going from your dairy view
Into overall summaries from the day, week and month detailing what your training breakdown has been so that you can maximise your time on the bike
Polar V650 Out on the Road
The Polar V650 allows you to set up different data screens, for different activities and different bikes, which is quite useful, as the Polar V650 can support the whole range of sports profiles from Polar Flow
In addition to the eight fields which can be set up for your riding information
You also have the option to display many data fields in a graph based form, which can actually improve the “at a glance” viewing, so see what your performance is currently like.
I’m personally quite a fan of using the power zone, and HR graphs, especially when training inside on Zwift
Setting up sensors
The Polar V650 is Bluetooth Smart only, no ANT+. Hence another reason why having dual channel sensors is always a good idea, as it allows you to change bits of your setup, hopefully, without having to replace everything.
Frankly I have found pairing sensors a touch complicated a pressing the side button and selecting “search for sensors” doesnt allow you to find new sensors
To do that, you have to go into the settings menu, and use the more clearly named “pair new device” section.
After the ride, Polar again brings the graphs to the fore in the post activity analysis. It is one thing for a device to give you data, but I’m very pro anything which helps people to understand that data
Out on the road
The actual GPS in the Polar V65 is very quick, picking up signals in only a few seconds, certainly on pair with other top end units, and crucially the screen doesn’t bother about water when trying to use it with a gloves finger. But in heavy downpours, you can still lock the screen, stop any stray commands from the rain.
The size of the screen certainly helps the unit and in terms of the actual functionality of a GPS unit. I was really happy, with distances and speeds comparing very favourably with other GPS units.
Polar V650 – Strava
Be under no doubt, the Polar V650 upgrade is essentially a software tweak, BUT, and it is a big but, one of the things I have stressed during this review, like the Polar M460, is that a large amount of the attraction for the Polar V650 compared to other units relates to it’s value for money, more so with Strava integration.
The inclusion of Strava, and by extension Strava Premium is actually a clever move from Polar. With 2 months free subscription included, it allows the user to get access to a cycling safety feature – Strava Beacon – upon opening the box. But here is the clever bit, all the benefits of Strava Premium, (which is basically Segments and Beacon) come without significant internal development costs for Polar
In one simple move, Polar has replaced the need for a dedicated crash device such as the ICEdot crash sensor, which costs nearly as much on it’s own. Whilst at the same time nullifying otherwise headline-grabbing safety features from devices such as the Garmin Edge 820. Again improving the value of the Polar V650…. well until those first two free months run out!
But safety is one thing, getting the KOM is something entirely different.
You can see, which segments will go over to your device from the star in the top right-hand corner of the Polar Flow page
Whilst clicking on a segment here, will give you the details, and your PB times
You can also press the bottom LEFT hand square on the Polar V650 dashboard to review the segments you have downloaded on the unit
Or alternative you can also view your nearby segments on the map in order to plan your attacks
Taking Segments out into the world, it works exactly as it should, you see your normal data on the screen as you cycle along, until your approach a segment, upon which the Polar V650 flags up an alert, showing the distance before the segment
Then when you turn on the segment, it gives you to GO! signal, telling you your previous PB, and your position in front or behind of that time
When cycling along, the Strava integration gives you a numerical read out of how your current timing is doing compared to the KOM on that segment, but also your own PR
It should be noted that, that the Polar app cant make changes to the segment the Poalr V650, nor the Strava app, so if you are going somewhere new for the first time, and want to put a route on the unit, you have to make sure you do it whilst attached to the computer. Other wise it’s a lovely sunny ride, and no Strava integration
Oh and just for interests sake, the Polar V650 also managed to survive having OTE gel baked on it, during the same ride. Seriously that stuff sets like ROCK!
Polar V650 – Conclusion
Polar continues a very admirable ethic of advancing and improving products through firmware updates, even if that does occasionally cause a bit of hassle for themselves in that older devices don’t get the newer features – ala Strava
There are many great features on the Polar V650, and things like the integrated LED light show much thought went into the design processes of the unit. I would have just liked to have seen that same thought extended unlocking ANT+ pairing, as I’d be surprised if the onboard chips are only single comms channels in reality. For simple specs, I think today, TG3/5 is reasonable, however when taken into account with the price, this could be pushed up to 4/5