Polar is a company synonymous with heart rate tracking, after all it did invent the first ever wireless heart rate tracker. Now the company is trying to cash in on its heritage by designing a new wrist-worn product for the mass market. To be successful they are going to need a plan to budge the incumbent, Fitbit, out of their dominance of the market. To be frank, the Polar A360 and its accompanying software show they haven’t quite managed this yet.
The Polar A360 has a silicon strap that comes in white, pink, black and blue. This attaches via two metal buttons and does a really good job at keeping the watch in place. However, in white it looks a little cheap and is a bit reminiscent of the cheap silicon watches sold on EasyJet flights. The actual watch itself can be popped out of the strap which initially seemed handy but ultimately means that it can feel as though it’s going to fly right off when you are doing particularly strenuous exercise. Apart from this, it is very comfortable to wear and you can easily forget that you have it on.
The face itself is pretty large, but we can’t help thinking more space could have been made available if they hadn’t insisted on emblazoning it with their brand name and had managed to cut down on the black area around the screen. It has a colour display but a slightly pixelated 80 x 160 display.
The Fitbit Charge 2 is an all round more refined affair. The straps come in teal, blue, purple and black and all of them seem to fit much more seamlessly with the display. As with the A360, the bands are interchangeable.
It uses a black and white OLED screen that turns on when you rotate your wrist and displays the time, date and your current heart rate. The A360 is also supposed to turn on when you turn your wrist, but we found this a bit unreliable, on occasion having to press the unit to get a display. We didn’t have any problems reading either model, even in bright sunshine, but on the A360 we did experience a small amount of glare.
The A360 tracks active time, sleep, steps, distance (though only in steps), calories and, of course, heart rate. However, this data is only accessible on the watch for the last day and to get a longer time frame you have to go into its companion app.
While it’s waterproof to 30m, the heart rate monitoring is totally inaccurate when you are in water and it can’t tell what strokes you are doing, making it fairly useless. So it won’t break in water, but that’s the only plus of this feature. It also doesn’t have GPS, which we have now come to expect from watches in this price range.
You can get a vibration alert after 55 minutes of inactivity to tell you to start moving, but if you work in an office environment where getting up and moving around is not always possible then this can be a judgy annoyance.
Except for being waterproof, Fitbit matches all these features and also throws in GPS which allows it to do some cool things in its app (see below).
Heart Rate: We were expecting big things from Polaris. We were a little disappointed that it doesn’t continuously track heart rate, but a company with such pedigree in this area must get its on the spot readings bang on, right? Well, no. In our tests, it was often 20 bpm a minute out from the consensus given by other trackers and gym equipment, which impacts on calorie burn measurements too.
The Fitbit was out by 15bpm during very high-intensity training, however at rest it was accurate.
Step Tracking: The Fitbit Chare 2 generally would add on about 5% more steps during our tests, but the A360 was only out by 2%.
The A360’s software is really easy to use and lets you set different training modes. The data is presented in an uncomplicated way, though you can dive down separately into different types of activities which it conveniently separates out for you. It’s also pretty liberal with praise and tells you the benefits of the exercise you are doing, a feature we found genuinely motivating (but the The Grade team are very susceptible to flattery). Sleep tracking is a bit basic
Sleep tracking is a bit basic. It tells you how long you were asleep and how much of your night was restful or restless, but doesn’t give you the exact times you were disturbed.
Fitbit matches all these features but has more detailed sleep tracking and a slightly more appealing design. However, the availability of GPS means it can get much more visual with your data, showing you the routes you have walked and run as well as throwing in some more creative features. For example, you can do “Adventures” around famous routes, unlocking info about them that you can see in virtual reality through your phone. It also has Fitbit’s famous leaderboards systems so you can compete against other users and friends if that’s what motivates you.Fitbit can also track your food/calorie intake, but Polar requires you to use other apps like MyFitnessPal to do this, which is a bit of a pain.
The Polar claims to only need charging every 14 days, but users have commented that in reality you get 9-11 days. This beats the Fitbit, which needs to be charged every 5 days.
Which One Should I Buy?
Go for the Fitbit. Polar has made an adequate device, but we don’t think it quite lives up to the standard set by rivals and nowhere is this more clear than in the Polar A360 vs Fitbit Charge 2 battle.