Polar FT80 First Impressions

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been using a Polar FT80 during my run training instead of my usual RS800cx. The reason for this was to gather some data for introducing the FT80 into iSMARTtrain’s stable of supported devices.

The FT80 is Polar’s top-of-the-range “Fitness” watch, positioned above the FT40 & FT60. Like the other models in the range, it uses Polar’s FlowLink interface to download its data.

First, the good points: The watch is fairly easy to use, even if you’ve never used one of Polar’s devices before, following their fairly standard layout of menus and options. It’s got a nice clear white-on-black display. The FlowLink interface works very well, even if the technology seems like a step back to Polar’s interfaces of the late ‘90s. It’s also got some training features such as the STAR training program which guides you to weekly targets, and strength training guidance which tells you when your body is ready for the next set.

Now the bad: This is the only model in the FT range that records continuous heart rate data, and I was surprised to find that it doesn’t record continuous speed data, only a max & average speed, plus the distance. The S1 footpod is quite big (it dates back to the release of the S625x in 2005), compared with the competition from Suunto and Garmin, and Polar’s own S3. The FT80 also works with the G1 GPS unit, but this only records speed and distance data, not positional data. Another surprising omission was that there’s no laps function – the cheaper RS300x has both manual and auto lap functions (although not continuous recording of HR data).

Downloading the data using the FlowLink interface is a pleasure to do working well on both Windows, using Polar’s WebSync software and iSMARTtrain on the Mac. Given the hassles we’ve had trying to make IrDA work on the Mac, I hope Polar move more of their CS & RS models to this interface. I noted that the new CS500 will use something called ‘Datalink’ which I can only hope will be as easy to support on the Mac as Flowlink.

Overall, the FT80 is a nice HRM, but considering its limited features (no continuous speed recording, no laps) and its price, it’s quite expensive. In the UK costs £234, while the top-of-the-range RS800cs is only £50 more at £285 (prices from http://www.heartratemonitor.co.uk/).

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