Review: Polar A360 – fitness tracker with wrist-based heart rate
Polar is a manufacturer of wearables and heart rate monitoring equipment. Based in Kempele, Finland and founded in 1977, Polar developed the world’s first wireless heart rate monitor. The company has in recent years been making its presence felt in the health and fitness band category.
Polar released its original 24/7 activity tracker the Polar Loop around two years ago. The device plots your activity levels, tracks your sleep, and provides you with target goals that help boost your fitness. The version 2 of the Loop band, featuring vibrating activity reminders and smart phone notifications for both iOS and Android devices was released only a couple of months ago. The A360 is, however, Polar’s first attempt at competing head-to-head against mainstream premium fitness trackers such as Fitbit Surge, Jawbone Up3, and Microsoft Band 2.
Ease of use
Use of information
The original Loop and more recent Loop 2 are specifically designed for activity tracking. The Polar A360 includes activity tracking, but with the inclusion of optical heart rate and training options, is a fully featured fitness and training device.
The A360 has a very stylish design. Clearly much thought has been put into making the device attractive. The wide-viewing angle full colour TFT display with capacitive touchscreen is crisp and vivid, and easily viewable in bright daylight. The A360’s screen isn’t curved, so the fit isn’t as ergonomic as it could be. The home display screen is customisable and you can choose from a number of different designs. The screen resolution is 80 x 160 pixels.
The silicone band itself holds the display unit, and changeable straps in various colours are scheduled to come out in 2016. The full range of colours includes Powder White, Charcoal Black, Neon Green, Sorbet Pink and Navy Blue. There are three sizes to choose from – a small, medium, and large option. The band feels like a watch strap and is comfortable to wear.
There’s only one button on the device since the display is touch enabled. This means there are no lumps or bumps on the tracker so it retains its smooth simple look. The clasp on the A360 is more traditional compared to Polar’s previous devices. So thankfully, no more stress of using a wrist sizing tape and scissors to cut the band, as is the case with the Loop trackers, and then trying to piece the whole thing back together again.
This time around, Polar has built a proprietary heart-rate sensor into the device. The unit contains two flickering LED lights that allow the sensor on the back to measure the blood as it flows by. If you prefer, the A360 can still be paired with Polar’s Polar Bluetooth Smart heart rate sensors H6 and H7. When you have it paired with your A360, heart rate is automatically measured from the sensor.
“The key to achieving Polar’s well-known accuracy relies on how data is recorded by the sensor, and then how it is interpreted. We developed our own algorithm for optical heart rate monitoring and optimized the hardware design to ensure the A360 meets the same accuracy and quality standards that Polar customers have come to expect,” says Marco Suvilaakso, Global Product Director at Polar.
“Polar created the first heart rate monitor, and 38 years later we continue to be the trusted industry standard.”
The charging port is at the back of the Polar A360 tracker unit. Any standard mini USB cables will fit the charging port. The device stacks up well against competition with battery life of up to 2 weeks with 24/7 activity tracking, including 1 hour of training per day. Less with smart alerts turned on. Recharging your A360 will not take more than two hours. It’s usually faster with a regular USB power adapter than with a computer’s USB port.
The fitness tracker is water-resistant up to 3 ATM (30 metres). This means that you can take it with you for a shower or in the pool with no worries. The A360 will collect your activity data from your wrist movements also when swimming. Polar has found in their tests, however, that the wrist-based heart rate measurement doesn’t work optimally in water, so does not recommend wrist-based heart rate measurement for swimming.
Ease of use
You can start using your A360 either with a computer and a USB cable or wirelessly with a compatible mobile device. Mobile setup is convenient if you don’t have access to a computer with a USB port, but it might take longer. The software will then guide you through setting up your A360 and signing up for the Polar Flow web service if you are not already a member. You will then need to enter your personal details such as your age, weight, height, and gender. Polar will use that information to set your activity targets. To get the most accurate and personal activity and training data, it is important that you’re precise with the settings.
The A360 tracks steps, calories burned, distance, sleep and automatically tracks your activity based on your movements. It cleverly knows when you’re lying down, sitting, standing, walking and running and can pick up on various sports and other calorie burning activities. The device will also break down your activity into five intensity levels as detailed below.
Sleep tracking is automatic, so we are happy to say there are no buttons to press when you feel yourself dozing off. An assessment of sleep quality relies on your wrist movements. The periods when you sleep peacefully and don’t move a lot are calculated as restful sleep. The periods when you move and change your position are calculated as restless sleep. The mobile app will show you a breakdown of sleep quality as well as an overall sleep total. Polar does offer less information on sleep than Jawbone, so if you are buying an activity tracker for the primary use of tracking your sleep, there are more advanced devices to consider.
The A360 also has the ability to provide notifications, enabling it to act as a smart notification centre for a connected iOS or Android phone. You will receive audio or vibration alerts from incoming calls, messages and push notifications from social media apps and see them on the display. You can define which notifications you wish to receive or if you do not want to be disturbed turn off notifications altogether. The communication is one way so with the exception of picking up calls from the wrist band, you cannot actually reply. You also cannot expand messages, so will need to revert to your phone to read lengthy messages.
The app makes pairing a simple process. So long as Bluetooth is enabled, the tracker will periodically sync data regardless of whether the Polar Flow app is active or open. Opening the app on your mobile device always triggers a hard sync. Plus you can also sync manually if you wish to do so.
There are a few nice additions, such as the ability to connect to Apple Health and MyFitnessPal, as well as tell the app about how you feel on particular days. While the Polar app is comprehensive, it is a bit less user friendly compared to the Fitbit and Jawbone apps. It would be great to see Polar put some more work into the app to complement their devices.
Use of information
The A360 tracks steps, distance, calories, heart rate and sleep. Like most of Polar’s products, it includes integration with their Smart Coaching functionality, which includes features such as Training Benefit and the ability to enable sport profiles.
Sport profiles are a new feature that Polar has introduced. Polar provides over a hundred different sport profiles which enables you to choose the right one for your training sessions, and get sport-specific reports and feedback. All sport profiles are based on specific logic and give you the most accurate data, for example, about burned calories.
The A360 tracks heart rate once a user begins a training session. Note that the A360 does not track your heart rate 24×7. Rather, only during a specific workout will the heart rate sensor be enabled. We hope this will change down the road with firmware updates.
The Polar wrist-based heart rate measurement is based on Polar proprietary optical heart rate module. The company has a well proven track record in producing heart-rate tracking devices. Rather disappointingly, the statistics the A360 device churns out can be inconsistent, and are much less accurate than the Polar chest straps. Particularly for active sports such as running.
During a training session, you can see your current speed and distance. After your session you’ll see a summary with info about your speed and distance covered. When syncing the Polar A360 with the Flow app and web service there is a more detailed analysis. The feature speed and distance feature is available for running related sport profiles and walking.
Smart Calories are worked out based on on your individual data: your weight, height, age, gender, HRmax, HRrest, VO2max, and the intensity of your training/activity. The sport of the session is also taken into account through a sport specific factor. Heart rate-based calorie calculation is used when heart rate is measured. This is when the calorie count is most precise. Activity-based calorie calculation is used when heart rate is not available. You can see the cumulative energy expenditure during exercise and total kilocalories of the session after exercise. You can also follow your total daily calories.
The A360 sets an activity goal for each day – based on more than just steps. This is a feature carried over from the original device. The goal is displayed as a meter that gradually fills as you exercise. The device separates your daily activity into five intensity levels. This is based on the analyses of the frequency, intensity and regularity of your movements together with your physical information.
Intensity levels are:
- Resting (sleep and rest, lying down)
- Sitting (sitting or other passive behavior)
- Low (standing work, light household chores)
- Medium (walking and other moderate activities)
- High (jogging, running and other intense activities)
You can also see how different activity intensities accumulate daily activity: the higher the intensity, the faster you’ll reach your activity goal. You will get little updates throughout the day that tell you how much of a certain kind of activity you need to do to hit your daily goal.
The A360 itself gives you a basic readout of your activity. Given the limited display size, Polar has restricted the displayed stats during training mode to two stats per screen. After a short while, the display dims somewhat and subsequently goes off. To have it come on again, just tilt the device (similar as you would with an Apple Watch), or alternatively, just press the button.
Following a training session, the A360 will provide immediate training benefits on a particular training session. The phone app provides you with more details including your training diary and a host of charts and breakdowns. For even more detail, head off to the online version. This includes more analysis options and a map where you can tap into the social aspect and review other people’s training sessions and leave comments if you choose to do so.
This is how the A360 compares to the Loop 2.
Finding time for fitness can be challenging, but the A360 helps with motivating feedback and individual guidance. The Polar device tells you your daily Activity Goal and guides you on how to reach it. The suggestions are based on your personal details, chosen level of activity and general health recommendations. For example, the A360 will give you practical guidance such ´walk for 50 minutes or jog for 20 minutes´.
Immediately following a training session, the A360 will provide the user with a Training Benefit. Training Benefits are based on Polar’s sport zones, and are determined by how much time you spent and how many calories you burned in each zone. The A360 will tell you if a session helped you build endurance, burn fat, was good for recovery, and others. Additionally, users can sync their data to Polar Flow where they can view their progress and receive guidance on how to reach their wellness/performance goals.
There is also something called – Activity Benefit. This rewards you by giving you daily, weekly and monthly feedback explaining how your activities have been benefiting your health. You can check up on how you’re doing either from the Polar Flow app or by using the Flow web service.
We like that the A360 customizes a daily activity goal based on your personal settings and provides motivating feedback on how to reach it. The device also helps you stay active throughout the day with vibrating inactivity alerts. If you’re sitting longer than 55 minutes, A360 will encourage you to move.
All in all, Polar A360 is a well designed 24/7 fitness tracker that we feel will be particularly popular with people looking for a convenient, yet stylish, way to quantify and track their daily activity. The wearable allows for easy transitioning into training sessions, has a very good battery life, is water-resistant and provides motivational feedback.
On the negative side, the A360 would benefit from a built-in GPS system. Also, heart-rate monitoring is not 24/7, something that we hope will be upgraded with forthcoming firmware updates. And issues with heart rate tracking which can be inconsistent should be taken into consideration when considering this purchase.
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One thought on “Review: Polar A360 – fitness tracker with wrist-based heart rate”
I love the polar A360. No chest strap to bother with, great looking design. the huge con is the band and the system keeping the watch in place. It falls out during the my activities, or if you pull the watch band too tight.