The market for wrist worn wearables has broken itself down into three segments – smartwatches, activity trackers, and hardcore exercise devices. To succeed in any one of these segments generally means compromises in the areas and features that may make for a winner in another segment. That does not stop manufacturers from trying to figure out how to mash together a device that can crossover and appeal to more than one of these segments. A good example is the Polar M600 which tries to combine the features of a traditional smartwatch thanks to a nice color display and the inclusion of Android Wear 2.0 with Polar’s expertise at producing devices targeting hardcore athletes.
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time using the M600. I looked forward to giving it a try. Even though I am firmly in the Garmin camp, I know from online communities I frequent that Polar is a strong competitor in the market with Garmin for exercise devices and they are very popular. Check out my review below to see whether Polar succeeded in producing a device worthy of your hard-earned dollars.
Let’s just get this out of the way from the start. The Polar M600 is huge. Massive. Immense. I will admit that I have small wrists, so even normal sized devices can seem large to me. The Moto 360 Sport I had was a healthy size for me and I have been rocking a Garmin Forerunner 235 for a while now, no small device for sure. Even the size of these devices pale in comparison to the M600. I found the size of the M600 to be a bit overwhelming and made it prone to a couple problems.
In looking at the design of the device, the main unit is rectangular and has two wings that extend to the sides, albeit at a slight curve. The problem when wearing the device is if your wrist is smaller than the curvature of these wings, it creates a large gap between your arm and where the strap can finally be bent down to start wrapping around your arm. This can be quite annoying. The other problem I found is due to the thickness of the device, I could barely get my cuffs on my long sleeve shirts buttoned and sliding them up to actually view the device during the day was nearly impossible. If you are an office worker and hope to wear the M600 with long sleeve dress shirts, keep this in mind.
The heft and bulk of the unit notwithstanding, Polar did use one design feature that I liked. The main unit of the device is not permanently attached in any way to the strap, which is constructed of a typical silicone rubber material found on active lifestyle oriented devices. The M600 slides into the strap, meaning it is very easy to swap straps. The downside to this is there is not really an aftermarket for the straps and Polar only offers a couple options, black or white. This idea is a good concept, although I am starting to see more device makers switching over to industry standard lug systems to make it possible to use standard watch straps with their devices.
Setting aside issues with the size of the device, the design is otherwise clean and what you would expect from such a device. The M600 has a beautiful color touchscreen that works well in all light conditions, including bright sunlight. Polar did try to keep things touch oriented, but there are two buttons present. The first is the “front” button located just below the screen and is primarily used to control the Polar app running on the device. This button can be used to open the app, open the Training menu and choose a sport. According to Polar’s materials, this button can also be used to stop a training session, but I found all it did was function as a lap button.
On the side of the device is the second button and is generally a power button. By power, Polar uses it for more than just on/off. The button can be used to do things like wake the screen, dim the screen, turn theater mode on or off, or even to return to the homescreen with one touch if you happen to be buried deep in a menu tree or an app.
Overall, the M600 has a clean look to go with the nice screen. However, the size of the device is likely going to be a problem for many potential buyers.
The Polar M600 comes equipped with a 1.3-inch 240 x 240 resolution TFT display, a MediaTek MT2601 dual-core processor, 4GB of onboard storage and 512MB of RAM and a 500 mAh battery. Inside the device is an accelerometer, an ambient light sensor, a gyroscope, a vibration motor and a microphone. The device uses an optical heart rate monitor located on the back of the device which makes use of 6 LEDs, two more than what most manufacturers use in their heart rate monitors. The back of the device also includes the contact for the proprietary charging cable connection.
Polar also included GPS and Glonass chips meaning routes and other activities can record their own locations without a smartphone present. Likewise, with the available onboard storage, users can stream music from the device. Essentially, a user should be able to go out for a run or bike ride or other activity with just the M600, leaving their smartphone behind, and have access to everything they normally would except for phone calls and text messages.
Polar made sure the M600 had a good level of water resistance, IPX8 which is good for 10 meters depth, so that swimmers could wear the device to track their activities.
In examining the performance of the M600, there are a couple areas to look at including how it functions as a smartwatch and how it functions as an exercise tracking device. In terms of smartwatch functionality, the M600 performed as expected. Using the touchscreen to move things around works as expected and I did not notice any stuttering or pauses or other glitches. Operation was smooth and fluid. As noted earlier, the screen is quite good with plenty of brightness and the ambient light sensor and related software does a good job of adjusting the screen for changing conditions.
When it comes to using the device as an exercise tracker, there was some good and some bad. The good news is that, as expected, the M600 excelled in tracking activities and keeping up with exercises. Based on comparisons to my Garmin, the heart rate monitor is accurate as is expected for this grade of device. I did note that the M600 consistently measured my running distances about .12 – .15 miles shorter than what my Garmin measured, but I’m not sure which one may be the inaccurate one. Nevertheless, the M600 was consistent and had no trouble quickly grabbing a GPS signal.
The bad part of the equation is the fact that it uses a touchscreen instead of buttons. In all of my testing of devices when running, I consistently find touchscreens to be inadequate as they are too hard to use when bouncing around while running. This is especially true when the interface makes poor use of available screen real estate, a problem that pretty much plagues the industry regardless of the device. Another example of how the use of a touchscreen instead of buttons can have a negative impact occurred for me one night at the end of a run in some decent heat. My fingers were so sweaty that the touchscreen could not register my taps and swipes to try to stop the session. Even trying to wipe my fingers on my clothes was a fruitless endeavor as they were soaked through as well. It took several minutes to finally get a tap to register – minutes that skew results for events and activities focused on time.
One area of particular note when it comes to activity and exercise trackers is how the battery holds up. For the M600, I was pleasantly surprised to find I could consistently get a couple days use out of the device in between charges. This is a definite improvement over some older devices that struggled to make it through a single day. Although I never did a really long run with the device, I found that runs of up to a couple hours did not have enough of an impact to change the two day window. Polar says using the GPS, like you would do during a training session, pulls battery life down from a couple days to only 8 hours.
When it comes to recharging, the M600 has a proprietary cable that attaches magnetically to the back of the device. I found the unit could generally charge up within a couple hours
I am not going to go into all the features and functions available thanks to the presence of Android Wear 2.0 running on the device. Google worked to make the implementation of their wearable platform consistent across devices from different manufacturers, so it pretty much looks and works the same no matter what device you are using.
The Polar Flow app is the training app that comes on the device and is used to launch things like training sessions for runs, bike rides, or swimming. Once started the app displays typical information like elapsed time, lap times, pace, heart rate and other information that can be access by swiping between different screens.
One thing I found lacking about Polar’s implementation is the inability to create custom training plans. Through the Flow app on a smartphone or a computer, users do have access to training plans they can follow, but I found no easy way to create a custom plan, which puts this slightly behind Garmin (which does not make it easy, but possible). Otherwise, the Flow app on a phone does a nice job of displaying a wide variety of post-workout stats and information for a user to review and I found it consistent with other similar apps like Garmin Connect, Runkeeper, or MapMyRun.
Another option that I never found was audio cues. I find these very useful when training and my impression is that lots of other people use and rely on them as well.
With the M600, Polar appears to be trying to capitalize on their success in the exercise tracking market by adding in Android Wear 2.0 to meet the interest of users who want more smartwatch features than the typical device offers. A possible side benefit of that is that they can possibly attract smartwatch buyers who are also interested in having some fairly advanced activity tracking features, like good water resistance, integrated storage for music, and integrate GPS.
As you might be able to tell, I am not a fan of touchscreens for heavy exercise oriented devices and the M600 did nothing to change my position on that. The touchscreen interface is still prone to mis-taps when attempted in the middle of an activity and the power-hungry nature limits battery life, although at two days the Polar M600 is actually pretty good.
Then there is the issue of the size. Given how large the M600 is, I suspect a lot of buyers will be turned off by that. For those who do make the investment, the challenges of such a large device may make users decide to only use it when exercising, where Polar’s strength lies, and abandon it for daily wear, which will defeat the purpose of buying a device that comes with Android Wear onboard.
Overall I found the negatives created a disappointing experience. If a more hardcore activity tracking device is something you are interested in, I would probably look at other devices, including other Polar offerings if you are interested in how they do things, which in general seems to be a recipe for success. If, in addition to that you also want the benefits of a true Android Wear based smartwatch, I would look for something else and then swap the devices on your wrist depending on context and need. Clearly this is not what Polar is hoping for, but the mash-up is still not viable as represented by the Polar M600.