Quick Review — Polar M400

Having experienced both the Polar M400 and the Motorola Moto 360, I’ve realised what I want in an everyday fitness device. The perfect fitness device needs to have an always on display, it needs to handle notification, measure heart rate, have GPS, have a battery that lasts at least a week and be waterproof. Currently such a device doesn’t exist, but the M400 is the closest I’ve found to achieving these goals.

Until a few weeks ago I hadn’t bothered writing my thoughts on the M400 because all I could have written would be something to the effect of “handy device, shame about the app”, but that all changed recently with what looks like a complete rewrite. So let’s get to it.

The Bad:
The number one complaint I have is that this sports watch doesn’t have a stopwatch. It’s completely unfathomable, and frankly I don’t need one all that often, but it still seems somewhat ridiculous.

The second grievance is the way this thing synchronises with the smartphone app. Rather than keeping itself up to date in the background at its own convenience (which is good and bad when it comes to battery life), you need to hold down a key for a few second to activate the synchronisation process, and it takes a considerable amount of time. Again, it isn’t the end of the world, but it’s just an odd choice that seems more in keeping with plugging the device into a computer to synchronise rather than utilising low energy Bluetooth constant updating.

The lack of vibrate function when it comes to alarms and notifications is a big loss. Being able to be woken by a silent alarm or to prevent your wrist buzzing constantly throughout the day with messages would be a big benefit and possibly its biggest limiting factor in attempting to rely on it for notifications.

I know heart rate monitoring on the wrist isn’t the most accurate or everyone’s cup of tea, but it would be a nice inclusion for measuring resting heart rate or the odd bit of unstructured training, like kicking the ball around the yard.

The Good:
Let’s start with battery life, this watch’s tiny 140mAh battery last about a month with my usual usage pattern of daily wear and 1–2 30 minute GPS training sessions. It means you never worry about battery life and for a watch, that’s a big win.

Great big screen, making it easy to read details while jogging or cycling. The display is very customisable for each type of activity, meaning you can fit between 1 and 4 different readouts per page. This is helpful when you want to make some readouts appear larger so they are easy to glance at when you are running, as it’s often difficult to read small numbers while on the move.

One thing I learnt from my time with the Moto 360 is how little I care to interact with notifications on my wrist. Smartwatches often give you a range of options depending on the app for how you want to respond to a notification. For example, a Tweet notification may give you the option to reply, like, retweet and block. All I really want to do is see them and either decide to look at them on my phone or dismiss them, and that’s pretty much the only options with the Polar. Some notifications give you the option of using the buttons to access functions, but the vast majority are simply dismissable, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It means you don’t feel like you have yet another device to manage. You simply tell your phone which notifications to push to your watch (or rather which not to send) and that’s it. Notifications appear for a short amount of time and if they are ignored, they go away, simple and the way it should be.

And finally, the M400 gives you a nice clear progress bar to see how you are going throughout the day. It notifies you when you’ve been sitting too long and keeps track of how long you’ve been standing. It also give you specifics on steps. But for me, measuring specific aspects like time standing vs sitting and step counting is all rather arbitrary. What matters is keeping active and getting your heart rate up, and one of the best features of this watch is how it combines all this data and gives you a simple progress bar. It knows that 2,000 steps running isn’t the same as 2,000 steps walking and it calculates accordingly. The M400 is one of the few devices I’ve experienced that gives you a progress bar that’s worth paying attention to, my only gripe is the lowest setting is actually still quite challenging, and I feel I’m quite an active person.

Conclusion:
There is a great freedom in being about to go for a run without having to strap and increasingly large phone to your arm. And there is also something to be said for a waterproof/lifeproof watch. It means you never have to worry about how you wear the watch, in fact you can just leave it on your wrist until it needs a charge, and with such a simplistic and efficient package, that means you don’t have to take it off for 3–4 weeks at a time (you probably should take it off sometimes). I wouldn’t call the Polar M400 a smartwatch, it’s more of a fitness watch that has notifications, but to me it’s the most complete smartwatch experience I’ve seen or read about. Every other device has at least one significant compromise when it comes to battery life, GPS or waterproofing that means you won’t be wearing them as often as you should. When you have a watch you don’t have to worry or care about, you get more from it.

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