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Polar RS800CX review

skatey-mark's picture

My super-cool girlfriend bought me a Polar RS800CX HRM with the G3 GPS Sensor for Christmas.  I hadn't really messed with it too much until a couple months ago.  I think I've played with it enough to have an educated opinion on it now.  It's not cheap by any stretch of the imagination (about $380 online.)  This is my third Polar HRM, having gone through a Polar Coach, then a Polar S710.

 

First some notes about the software...  The current software is Polar Pro Trainer 5, although you wouldn't notice much of a difference from Polar Precision Performance or even the earlier PC Coach software.  Kinda sad, really.  They've had years to improve on the software, and the changes they've made are pretty minimal for most people.  To their credit, they have added some capabilities like emailing your data to a coach...  But nothing I use.  The only useful feature I've found in the new version is to launch Google Earth to display the gps track data.

 

Also, I've found the device driver for the IR receiver to be very unstable.  Whether I'm running on Windows XP or Windows Vista, I will sometimes get a "blue screen" when disconnecting the IR receiver from the USB port.  This is Polar's "new and improved" USB device.  Their original USB IR device (that I used with my S710) was even worse if you can believe it.  I couldn't get that to work at all under Vista.  (Although it didn't even crash my XP machine, so it had that going for it.)

 

The software is adequate, though.  You can plot your heart rate, elevation, speed, etc all on the same chart.  You can have multiple workouts on the same chart for comparison.  All things that you'd expect to be able to do.

 

Polar also has online software as well and polarpersonaltrainer.com.  I haven't played with that very much, but what I saw did not impress me at all.  The charts were very small, so a long workout is going to be hard to analyze.  If you can believe this, the short-sighted developers provided no means of transferring data to or from the Polar Pro Trainer software!  You can only transfer data from the watch itself, via their "WebLink" software.  So, in this case, I had to upload the data from the watch to polarpersonaltrainer.com (which fortunately does not delete the data from the watch) and then upload it from the watch into Polar Pro Trainer.

 

The watch itself is a bit large.  One of the reasons I went with Polar is because the Garmin watches seemed a bit too bulky.  Even the newer Garmin 405 is a bit large.  But the RS800 is probably as big as the Garmin 405, so that really didn't end up mattering much.

 

Compared to my 710, I can't say I'm impressed with the watch.  The buttons are much more sensitive on the RS800 and it's easy to accidentally hit the lap button when I put my hands behind my back.  It also seems to lose the signal from the heart rate strap when my hands are behind my back.  When I would check my watch, the heart rate would read "0" for a few seconds until it could re-acquire the signal.  I no longer wear the watch on my wrist.  If I am wearing a camelbak, I'll just wear it on one of the Camelbak's straps.  Otherwise, I'll wear it on the HRM chest strap.  It's still easy to read & operate, although I still find myself ocassionally checking for it on my wrist.  Of course, if I ever take a fall and land on my chest, it will probably destroy the watch.  The strap on the watch doesn't seem to be replaceable, either.  That was a nice thing about my 710 - I was able to replace the strap with one that I liked more.  That's not an option on the RS800.

 

I haven't used any of the recent Garmin products.  The only one I've used it the 205 (before they had a HRM option.)  I also haven't used the Garmin software recently.  But it's my understanding that it has many more features than the Polar product.  I think that, for skaters & cyclists, the GPS features are more interesting than they might be for other sports.  We tend to put in a lot of miles, so being able to visualize that data is important.

 

Speaking of visualization, RoadSkater pointed me to gpsvisualizer.com...  The GPX file that Polar Pro trainer saves can be uploaded directly to gpsvisualizer.com.  That allows for some cool images, like color-coding your track based on how fast you were going at a given point.

 

I did have a problem with the GPS sensor as well.  During one exercise, I hit the lap button and it stopped recording distance.  It still showed my current speed, but it no longer showed how many miles I went.  When I uploaded the data to Polar Pro Trainer, neither the speed nor distance data was present after the first lap.  After some digging, I found this was a known problem, and the solution was to remove the battery from the GPS sensor.  Once I did that, it started acting normally again.  The GPS sensor only lasts maybe 10 hours on a battery anyway, so anyone hitting this problem isn't likely to experience it long, even if they don't find the solution.

 

The display on the watch is okay.  It's semi-customizable, but not enough that I could pick anything more useful than the default configuration.  If I could configure it to show speed, distance, heart rate and time on one screen, that would be ideal.  But, as it is, I can only have three things at a time.  So I have speed, heart rate, and time on one screen.  Then I have to switch to another screen to see my distance.

 

The heart rate features are where the Polar really shines.  The HRM has a built-in "fitness test" and can attempt to estimate your VO2-max.  Polar hypes the accuracy of its heart rate monitors.  It's probably true, but I also wonder how much it matters if the heart rate data is as accurate as hospital equipment.  I suppose if the HRM could alert me if I'm about the have a heart attack, that could be useful.  As far as I know, that's not a feature they have... ;-)

 

The watch does have a nice feature where you can specify the recording frequency of the data.  1 second, 2 seconds, 5 seconds, and 15 seconds are all options.  At 5-second intervals, a 5-hour skate only took up about 23% of the memory.  So I've recently changed it to 2-second intervals, since I upload after every workout anyway.

 

The watch does not have the concept of "courses" like the recent Garmin products do.  I always thought it would be a cool feature if I could upload the A2A (or other event's) route into the watch ahead of time.  Then, it could tell me how long until the next turn, beep if I miss a turn, etc.  Something like that won't be possible in the current Polar products.  I expect that, based on their rate of innovation, that it's several years away.  It can't even tell how far your are from your starting position.  The watch will *only* display your speed and distance.  No gps coordinates, direction, or any other gps kinds of things.  It seems the GPS functionality was really shoe-horned into the product.  I think the "CX" version was the first to actually record the GPS points and make them available via the GPX file.  Before that, I think that it didn't act much differently than having a speed sensor on a bike.

 

I *do* like that the GPS sensor is separate from the watch.  I have it attached to the top of my helmet, so I always have the best GPS reception possible.  I suspect that, with the Garmin 405, it might tend to lose reception when skating with your arms behind your back.  But that's just a guess.

 

I like the heart rate strap.  Polar recently redesigned the wearlink strap, and it's the best one they've ever had.  It's very comfortable to wear.  The battery is user replaceable.  The previous wearlink strap used snaps as the "clasp".  The snaps were somewhat problematic for people, though.  The newer wearlink strap has a simple "hook" for the clasp that works very well.  The HRM sensor itself still snaps onto the strap, but the snaps aren't used as the clasp.

 

I know this review seems overly negative, but I am fairly satisfied with the RS800.  It does what it's supposed to do.  Yes, it has a few warts. But it's easy to use and it's nice to see Polar finally get with the program and offer GPS capability on their products.

 

So, to summarize:

Pros:

 

  • Easy to use
  • Separate GPS sensor allows for optimal reception 
  • Comfortable heart rate strap
  • Easy to compare workout data

 

Cons:

 

  • A little pricey
  • Loses HR signal if hands behind back
  • Buttons are sensitive to accidentally hitting them
  • No advanced GPS features like Garmin products
  • No significant software improvements in years 
 
If I had to do it all again, I might have tried the Garmin 405 first.  But I expect to get a few years' of use out of the RS800  before I upgrade again.  I certainly like the RS800 enough that I'm not ready to ditch it for anything else right now.  Anyone that's considering a new HRM purchase should check around and certainly consider what Garmin has to offer.  The RS800 is certainly adequate, though.  And for me, it does what I need...
 
 
- SM - 

 

Comments

eebee's picture

Some Garmin 305 comparisons

Thanks for the review of the Polar set-up, Skatey-Mark.

Some initial thoughts about the Garmin 305 in comparison...

I also lose my HR signal when my hands are behind my back. Every single time. I haven't yet figured out where I could attach the watch around the front to avoid this, as I wear a hip hydro pack these days, and then only during roadskates. The missing heart rate data problem happens usually only when I'm 'training' during weekday evenings, doing laps around a track, or something. Roadskates are usually hilly, meaning I'm hardly ever cruising with my arms back - they're usually flapping around out to my side. I seem to get HR readings that way.

Looking at the features of the RS800CX on Polar's website, you also have a calorie logging function. I hope Polar kept their old way of calculating calories burned and didn't switch to Garmin's method: calculating calories burned by distance traveled regardless of actual HR/effort. 

I remember Roadskater being happy with the accuracy of his old Polar HRM's elevation reading. The Garmin 305 elevation readings seem to be completely bogus and along with the calorie readings, a waste of feature, to me. Do you know how Polar measures elevation on your RS800CX? I could probably go research it, if I weren't so lazy. Do you think your Polar's elevation readings are at least somewhere in the ballpark?

The 'stop timer' buttons on the Garmin 305 are also too easily activated. I have to wear mine on the inside of my wrist in case I want to rest my hands on my lower back to skate. If I don't, 99% of the time, I will inadvertently stop recording my workout. 

skatey-mark's picture

RS800 elevation, calorie computations

My Polar 710 never lost my heart rate signal when my hands were behind my back, and it was *very* rare that I would accidentally hit any buttons, even wearing it on the topside of my wrist. So it's a little disappointing that the newer model would have these issues. I haven't tried mine with a hip hydro pack yet, but I think it would work fine just hanging it in front where the buckle is. Unfortunately, you don't have the same option of hanging it off the HRM strap... ;-) The calorie calculation seems consistent with what my 710 showed. I assume they're still using the same formula. I'm sure it's a "trade secret", but I'm pretty sure heart rate factors in there somewhere -- especially since they had no way of factoring distance in until recently. Elevation is tracked using a barometric sensor in the watch. The GPS isn't used at all. It doesn't store the elevation data from the GPS, and doesn't export it to the GPX file. So, when using a site like gpsvisualizer.com, there is no elevation data to analyze. (gpsvisualizer.com can import elevation data from NASA's database based on the GPS coordinates, but it's pretty coarse data.) I would think GPS elevation data would be the way to go, but I've heard some cyclists prefer the elevation data from the barometric sensor instead. I don't know how I'd even check it to know if it's accurate or not... :-) Looking at the elevation profile generated by Polar Pro Trainer, it "looks" reasonably accurate. You can definitely see where the hills are, etc... Whether or not the actual height of the hills is right or not would take a bit of work to figure out... - SM -

Feedback on the RS800CX

Thank you Skatey-Mark for posting the review of the Polar RS800CX! It was great to hear a perspective from someone in the skating community! I learned some things from your experiences. I have been using the RS800CX with GPS since I got serious about skating this year and before that I used the Polar AXN700 which doesn’t have GPS but has an altimeter, compass, barometer, thermometer, all the HR fun stuff as well as ProTrainer 5. Before I started skating, I primarily used mine inside the health club, tennis, skiing and other outdoor activities. One of the biggest Polar dealers in the northeast happens to go to the same club I attend. After I read your review I forwarded the link to him and he likewise sent it to his contacts at Polar. Hopefully they will read it and maybe provide some feedback. I have become a self proclaimed Polar Guru and perhaps I can help with some of the questions and problems I saw posted. It’s very important to keep doing the VO2 MAX test if you wish to get accurate calorie counts. It’s basically used to calibrate your HR monitor to your fitness level. This is why the Garmin HR monitors provide inaccurate calorie counts. They go off a chart strictly based on things such as height, weight and age which does not account for your fitness level. When I first got my AXN700 I did the tests at first and the numbers did not seem to change so I stopped doing the test. When I got the RS800 I reran the test and found my fitness level was much better and my calorie counts went way up. I asked the local Polar guy about this and he explained it as I just stated above and he said the VO2MAX should be done daily if you want accurate measurements. I think that’s a bit overkill but be sure to do the test per the instructions to get consistent readings and be sure to allow the monitor to automatically update the values used in your personal profile. I too have the same problem with the RS800 loosing the HR signal when skating which did not happen with the AXN700. I never associated it with placing my hands behind my back while skating but that makes sense and I’m going to experiment with it next time out. The bad thing is that it stops counting calories when not working and does not add time to the proper HR zones in the summaries. There is a tool in ProTrainer that can fix small HR problems but it is cumbersome when large pieces are missing. This also does not fix the calorie count. To get a better calorie estimate I usually take the HR percentage in the zone below the lowest sports zone and add that percentage to the total calories reported by the monitor. (Example: 1000 Calories reported with 10% below lowest sports zone: 1000 + (1000 X .1) = 1100 Calories) This works for me because theoretically my HR should never be in that range while skating. I did find if you really drench the strap in water and strap it up as tight as you can, the problems do not seem as bad. I put the strap in a ziplock bag with water to be sure it is well soaked for when I get to a skate. I don't have to do this with other activities. I have actually found the altimeter to be fairly accurate as long as it is calibrated to a known altitude just before use. I use it to count vertical feet while skiing and I know the top and bottom altitudes of the local ski area. Each run from the top seems to always display within +/- 20 feet from the 1000’ vertical drop showing on the ski map. These deviations could be in part because of the sampling rate. Also I do 30-50 mile skates with total ascents between 1500’ and 2600’ and over the same routes the totals seem to be pretty consistent each time. I have found if a precipitation is moving in or out of the area the altitude tends to drift when doing activities over periods of time. This is because the barometric pressure is changing which will affect the altitude. Also be sure to calibrate at the temperature you plan on using HR monitor. Basically don’t calibrate it in a warm ski lodge then go out and ski in 20 degree weather or it might drift at first. Both of these cases will make your ascent/descent totals a little off even if you start/stop at the same place. They should be the same in this case. As for the upload problems to your computer. I have a $9.99 unknown brand IR USB device that I use on an XP machine with both my AXN700 and RS800 and it works without problems. When I got a Vista box I had to switch to the Polar USB IR device and I got the blue screens of death and kept using the old XP box just for uploads. Somewhere the problems went away on the Vista box and now it works flawlessly. I have no idea for sure but make sure you have the latest patches and updates that are available for the ProTrainer software, Windows and the Polar IR adaptor drivers. I have noticed that shadows as well as improper alignment of the HR monitor will cause problems making a connection to the HR monitor. Point the HR Monitor LCD straight at the IR device about 2 inches from the IR device. The guys I skate with all use Garmin devices and one thing I have noticed is that the RS800 always seems to show a somewhat shorter route than Garmin which translates to a somewhat lower average speed. I have no idea which is right for sure. When I upload the data to mapmyrun.com, the site sometimes shows the routes longer and sometimes shorter than the Polar device. I hope this helps. If anyone has any questions or problems I might be able to get help from Polar. I skate in the Boston area with the Inline Club of Boston. Bill
roadskater's picture

Thanks for lots of great info on the Polar RS800

Thanks a lot for taking the time to write these notes, folks. I hope this can really help some people. Surely Garmin will be doing as they do with my Garmin Etrex Vista...using the GPS altitude data to check the sanity of the barometric. For example, let's say a wx front is pushing through, but I'm standing at a rest stop with hugs and handshakes for volunteers and other participants. A sufficiently cool unit should know to keep the altitude the same, or at least correct it somewhat, based on the GPS altitude or by noting my speed is ~0 and coordinates haven't significantly changed, or all these things. I think I heard that Garmin's outgecoming with a Forerunner or Edge with barometric and some other goodies. Note that Garmin does have the calorie problem worked on with the Forerunner 310XT, which seems way too expensive to me, but has a few nice features. Also, the Edge 500 is due out by roadskater becomes clausian time they say. I'll leave it to ye to look up the links as I think these devices exceed my bang per buck ratio. The Forerunner 305 matches that at $150 or so these days, even with eebee's well said and easily agreed upon complaints. I have learned to live without the calorie information and the barometric-only altimeter of my Polar (even with drift it showed hills well and laps could be discerned easily, but the Forerunner counts them and times them for me based on position). I miss that Polar fitness test. I thought it was really good...worth doing once a week at least. But there's a lot about the Polars I don't miss, too, so overall I'm good with the 305 for now. I'd like to have color and maps...for the same price, ha!

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