The Polar V650 was the companies first GPS base unit. Polar have a long list of older, speed sensor based bike units, but life is easier when you are connected to the eye in the sky. The question is, in today crowded GPS market, is the V650 still a contender? – This Polar V650 GPS Cycling Computer Review will find out!
Polar V650 GPS Cycling Computer Review
The V650 has a host of great design features which frankly should be considered for inclusion in many more products. 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.
It will always be better to have a dual channel device, ANT+, and Bluetooth. If you have to choose, the slightly more expensive Bluetooth heart rate monitor is often a better choice to have, as it’s also going to have a form of dual use, as you can connect to a Bluetooth-enabled phone, for use with Strava, etc. if you decide to go out running.
Without more ado, let’s look, at the device:
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 v650 is coming in towards the heavier end of the scale, comparing with the fractionally lighter (115g) Garmin 1000, and the heavier (130g) Mio 505 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 contrasting white and black shell
On the back of the unit, you have an almost Garmin male locking mount.
BUT mounted at 90degrees to the usual Garmin mount. (Which in itself isn’t a major option if you are using something like a K-Edge mount, where you can choose the orientation of the mounting cup. However, the lugs on the edges of the mount are just a hair too wide to fit the Garmin mount. While I’m sure that this could be easily remedied with a couple of moments and a file, I think returning a review unit I have “improved” might not endear me to Polar’s PR people!
Under the white flap, proudly proclaiming Bluetooth Smart is the micro USB port and the various serial numbers.
The power button is discretely hidden on the side of the unit, which foxed me for a moment when I first tried to power on the unit, finding no response to jabbing at the red button on the front (Instruction manuals are for the weak ?)
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 20, or the Lezyne Mini. However, you then lose a lot of the benefits that you get from a unit of this size.
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 left in automatic mode, utilising the Polar V650’s light sensors.
Also, the central toggle button allows you to choose if you want the light on constantly or flashing. Given its size, I found it more useful to have flashing. But obviously, it’s still really useful if you end up with a flat tyre at night.
Finally, on the design front, the mount which the Polar V650 ships with…is thoroughly irritating.
Now prejudice up front, I’m not a fan of directly attached stem mounts. But that’s what we have. Could Polar not have put on out front mount in the box as well, this is supposed to their flagship GPS unit.
Yes, I could place the mount on the handlebars, but I prefer a centrally mounted GPS. So on the stem, it goes. The mount is high enough to clear a single headset spacer, but might need a little further positioning if you are running more
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, 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 end up with a wonky GPS. Which my OCD doesn’t like.
Similarly though, when you twist the unit to take it off the mount, the mount and rubber bands twist first, before you can rotate the GPS out. It’s just irritating and a real shame.
Given that Polar include their latest slimline Bluetooth HR sensor in the box, I’d prefer to have the older sensor, with the inclusion of an out front mount
On one side I complain, and then you notice something Polar has done again to actually *think* about their customers.
After you remove the cover sticker from the unit, you notice another screen protector is installed which can be left on by the user to protect the unit if you want
Just a minor touch, but useful
Using the Polar V650
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
Four squares – History, showing previous rides, Settings, (to get lost in Bluetooth sensor hell), Bike, as you can have four different bikes paired with four different sets of sensors, finally 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 will sell you individual Bluetooth speed and cadence sensors offered at £34.50 on their site. It’s a shame that there isn’t a bundled option with the Polar V650 in the same way as there is for their HR sensors. This is doubly a shame, as for Bluetooth sensors, they are a little over prices, particularly as Wahoo, for example, has a combined unit, coming in at £49.99 through the own site – obviously, you’ll be able to find both of these cheaper in other retail outlets. This is more of an illustration as to manufacturer pricing
The Polar V650 allows you to set up different data screens, for different activities and different bikes
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
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 with the even the Polar’s own HR sensor to be a pain in the neck, Similarly the Kickr, would intermittently allow me to connect to the Polar V650, but then some days it just won’t see the turbo, a lot of the time I have seen various codes relating to devices I can’t connect to. But I found if you disconnect EVERYTHING else from the kit your are trying to connect, you can occasionally get the pairing to work.
Certainly, when using the Polar V650 with Zwift, it is nice to occasionally get a connection with the KICR and to be able to see power data on the unit.
In the outside world, my Vector 2’s don’t communicate over Bluetooth, so I haven’t been able to test the Polar V650’s power data.
During the ride, you can use an excellent numerical and coloured graphical display of your heart rate. Which is similarly shown again, along with the activity analysis at the end of your ride. 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 GPS is very quick, picking up signals in only a few seconds, certainly on pair with other top end units. As you can see the screen is very visible in any lighting conditions, and crucially doesn’t bother about water!
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.
Getting to your data
Syncing can now be done to your phone over bluetooth using Polar Flow, but again, I found this to be a little temperamental. This is likely to do with the various updates which have come out for the V650
When testing the device initially I couldn’t connect to the computer to sync… turns out, there was a problem with the firmware on the unit, which needed to be updated
However for several weeks I got nothing from the Polar V650 – why?
Simply because I had a Mac running El Capitan. Polar Flow didn’t like the operating system. I know it’s just “one of those things”, but it does occasionally make me grumble. What really annoyed though was not that I had to wait a while for a new firmware update. But because the V650 can’t update OTA like many devices, I had to find a separate Windows PC to update the firmware on the V650, and then manually tell the device in the firmware I was using a Mac…
I just havnt seen something this clunky before
When you finally have your data from the unit, Polar flow 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 continues a very admirable ethic of advancing and improving products through firmware updates, even if that does occasionally cause a bit of hassle (see above)
The latest update due to the V650 will be increased route guidance (Released end of Jan)
It would be nice to see if Polar can add smart notifications to the V650, in the way that has happened with the M400 and V800 in subsequent updates.
There are many great features on the 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 though extended to better sensor management, or better yet ANT+ pairing. If those two were present. I actually think I’d use this as main until.
As it stands I’d give the Polar V650 7/10. Possibly dropping to 6 if I have another El Capitain style firmware problem
I have now put up a review of the Polar M450, the V650’s little brother here