Polar has announced recently the latest addition to its wearables range. Dubbed Polar Ignite, this is an all-around activity tracking device that focuses strongly on overall well-being and recovery.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
Most people only focus on training, but forget that recovery is just as important. Trying to push harder can sometimes be counter-productive and in extreme cases can even lead to injury.
This GPS fitness watch is marketed as a versatile training tool for a variety of sports and activities. What’s most unique about it is that Polar has slapped on advanced sleep analysis, overnight recovery insights and personalised and adaptive training guidance.
How well does this combination work? Read on to find out.
OverviewView technical specs
Ignite is a thing of beauty. For years the company’s products adopted a square-ish design but this has all changed with the introduction of Vantage V and M late last year. Ignite is also designed for fitness and sports enthusiasts, but sits slightly below these two in terms of features and specs. A competitor to the likes of the Fitbit Versa.
The watch has a round, glass-fiber reinforced polymer case that measures 43cm in diameter and only 8.5mm in thickness, so sports a smaller footprint than the Vantage series. The shiny bezel is made of stainless-steel. Everything was created with classic Scandinavian simplicity in mind and looks very stylish and attractive.
The straps come in two sizes. The small fits wrist circumference between 130 and 185 mm, the large between 155 and 210 mm. The 20mm bands are easily interchangeable thanks to a small lever which can be used to release the spring mechanism. There are white, yellow, and black wristband options to choose from. My review unit was the black and silver version with a white TPU wristband.
I can help but think Ignite is the perfect unisex device. It’s a looker and great for those with smaller wrists – a fitness watch that is comfortable to wear around the clock. You’ll find it’s easy to forget the thing is on your wrist seeing that it weights only 35 grams (21 grams without the wristband).
Polar says it set out to create a “thin and light fitness watch with a universal and ergonomic design suitable for everyone.” It has certainly succeeded in this.
The watch comes with a colour touch display (IPS TFT), Dragontrail glass lens, ambient light sensor (ALS) and pixel resolution of 240 x 204. It looks extremely crisp, sharp and colourful indoors although, as with most watches, the visibility does deteriorate somewhat in bright, sunny conditions.
The screen is off by default. To bring it to life simply raise your wrist or press the single physical button on the left. At least, that’s the theory. Unfortunately the sensitivity of the wrist wake-up feature leaves a lot to be desired. Often I would revert to using the button. Even when it did react to the lifting of the wrist, it takes about a second for the screen to wake up. There is an always-on feature but this works only for workouts, which is useful but depletes the battery.
Once the display is on you can use its touch-sensitivity to navigate the menus, or the button. The watch always shows the date and time on its face, and swiping left or right places other information below. This includes daily activity, heart rate, last training session, Nightly Recharge and a workout recommendations.
A long-press on any of these shows further detail. Swiping down shows the settings, swiping up the notifications. A press of the button takes you back to the previous screen. It is also used as a shortcut to start training sessions, access breathing exercises, fitness test, timers and further settings.
Like the wake-up feature, the screen’s responsiveness to touch lets it down slightly. I found that at times the watch wouldn’t recognise my command which meant I had to repeat the motion, sometimes a few times. Not a deal-breaker and it did work most of the time, but it does get a tad annoying. There seems to be a sweet spot on the screen so perhaps its a learning process. Cleaning the watch face helps.
Also, I didn’t really like the fact that you can’t customise the watch-face or swap it for another one. Your only choice is between a digital and an analog face. Perhaps something that could be changed via a future firmware upgrade.
The watch is rated 3 ATM for water-resistance. This means it is built to resist the weather elements and you are fine to take a bath or shower with it. Ignite will also do the job if you’re looking for something to track your swim sessions.
Under the hood, Polar’s latest watch comes with an accelerometer, heart rate sensor and built-in GPS. What’s missing is an altimeter for counting floors. Don’t look for it – it’s not there.
The life of the watch’s 165 mAh Li-polimer battery is pretty decent. Between charges you can expect around 5 days. According the specs sheet, this comes down to 7 hours in training mode (GPS and wrist based heart rate switched on). In my testing I found these numbers tallied with reality.
Polar wants Ignite to be your ultimate fitness partner and go beyond the usual steps, calories, distance and basic sleep stats we are so accustomed to seeing. Mind you, you still get the basics. But slapped on to these are some interesting additions.
Let’s start with Fitspark or as it’s also called “Adaptive Training Guidance”. The aim of this is to make your workouts more interesting by offering ready-made on-demand exercises that match your recovery and sleep score, fitness level and training history.
I must admit I didn’t make too much use of this as I already have a workout routine I stick to. But those who don’t get 2-4 exercises to choose from per day within cardio, strength training and performance categories.
The first spits out workouts that come with varying intensities based on target heart rate zones. Strength training includes instructions and guidance to help you perform moves correctly and safely. The last one covers things such as basic core exercise and stretching to help you prevent injuries and improve your performance.
The watch tracks over 100 different indoor and outdoor activities, including the likes of running, CrossFit, rowing and surfing. You just need to make sure you select the ones you are interested in, in the Polar Flow app and sync to your watch. I tried out a few such as running, cycling and tennis.
Polar says Ignite features the same Precision Prime heart rate monitor as the Vantage series. The technology fuses three different methods to improve heart rate tracking. This includes nine optical channels which use several colors and wavelengths of light, 3D acceleration and an electrical sensor that measures the quality of sensor-skin contact.
This combination results in a faster response time, more sensitivity for readings, and higher accuracy and reliability for wrist-based heart rate. In my testing I have to say that generally, the watch did a decent job at tracking heart rate.
There’s also built-in GPS for detailed monitoring of speed, distance, route and altitude. This is a big plus in the watches favour. The device is quick to find a satellite signal but seems to fluctuate between being very precise on most occasions and way off in the odd instance.
I tested Ignite on six 5K runs and found that four times the GPS distance tracking was within a couple of metres of my Garmin watch. Spot on. But a run in a park located in the South-Eastern part of London didn’t agree with it. For some reason Ignite gave results that were off by some distance. To make sure it wasn’t a fluke I tested again a few days later in the exact same location – and got the same results. Not sure what the reason was for this, whether the area was over-populated or something else caused the issue.
In terms of running stats, they are quite detailed and include duration, distance, HR average, HR min, HR max, calories, fat burn%, pace average, pace max, ascent, descent, cadence average and cadence max. You also get some guidance in the form of a running index which quantifies the effects of your training session.
Other info includes a graph with heart rate and pace, a chart with heart rate zones, a map of your route and individual automatic lap information. That’s enough info to satisfy most data-hungry runners.
As shown in the image above, there’s also something called Cardio Load (TRIMP). This shows your cardiac response to a training session.
The goal here is to provide you with guidance to let you know whether you are overreaching (load much higher than usual), productive (load slowly increasing), maintaining (load slightly lower than usual) or detraining. You are meant to gradually increase your training over a longer period of time so don’t want to do too much too soon. Not doing enough, on the other hand, is not ideal either.
Polar says it takes at least a month of training to get precise Cardio Load results. In addition to daily averages, the app spits out averages from the previous 7 days as well as the previous 28 days.
Next I tried out cycling. Again, the stats were quite detailed. This, along with other exercises, feeds into the Cardio Load total.
Tennis was a more simple affair and doesn’t do anything special apart from tracking time, your heart rate and calories. I suspect quite a few of the 100+ exercises in the database churn out these types of stats.
But while training is clearly important, many people forget that recovery is an integral part of the process. Not a problem with Polar Ignite. The smartwatch introduces a few new metrics to make sure you don’t lose sight of this.
Let’s start with Sleep Stages Plus which takes sleep analysis to the next level and is more detailed than what you’d find on most other sports watches. Users get info on light, deep and REM sleep stages, interruptions and an overall Sleep Score. You can use this last metric for quick info on whether you’ve had a good night’s rest. Sleep tracking is, of course, automatic so no need to press any buttons when you go to bed.
There are also some more sophisticated stats such as Sleep Solidity and Sleep Regeneration. I didn’t find them too useful but they are there for those that are interested.
One downside is that the device is not great at picking up those afternoon naps. Not great if you have the tendency to sleep 5 hours a night and make up for the shortage during the day like I do.
The sleep stats work in conjunction with something Polar calls Nightly Recharge. This looks into how quickly your autonomic nervous system calms down during the early hours of previous night’s sleep. The info is tied in with your daily activity stats to let you know whether to take a days rest or train as usual.
You get a result that fluctuates from -1 to +10. Around zero is your usual level. The figure is calculated by taking into account your heart rate, heart rate variability and breathing rate. The higher the score the better – it means it took you less time than usual to go into relaxation mode.
You even get separate info on heart rate variability, beat-to-beat interval average and breathing rate. There’s almost too much info to digest if you start disecting the numbers. For most people it’s enough just to glance at the overall ANS charge and Sleep charge score. There are also useful tips for the day which summarise everything for you.
After a shorter than usual sleep session, this morning I was told “You might feel tired after a poor night’s sleep, but it’s still ok to train today if you feel like it”. At other times I was told it was not a good idea to train and if I do to train very lightly. When your body is rejuvenated you will be told to go for it.
In addition to tips for exercise, the app dishes out insights on regulating energy levels and improving sleep. All of this makes quite interesting reading and saves you from having to sift through stats. I found the suggestions from the app typically tallied with how I felt.
There are also guided breathing sessions on the watch that calm your body and mind down after the strenuous workouts. They come with visual cues helping you breathe in a stress-relieving manner.
While Serene worked well, the Fitness Test didn’t. This attempts to assess how fit you are by capturing your heart rate for a couple of minutes while you are resting. For some reason it took about 5 goes before it successfully completed the test, and the Vo2 Max figure it dished out was well below the number I get with other devices. It was also below the Running Index Polar Flow churns out after a run, which is supposed to mirror VO2 Max.
As far as Ignite smartwatch features go, they begin and end with notifications. There’s no storage for music, NFC or installable apps. Polar is purely focused on the fitness side of things with this device and it shows.
Ignite is a great fitness watch. Polar has managed to cram an impressive array of features into something that is very good looking and extremely lightweight. The device was developed as a more affordable version of the company’s Vantage V & M watches launched in September last year.
There are addictively insightful sleep and recovery stats along with the ability to track more than 100 indoor and outdoor activities. Polar’s on-watch software makes recording workouts a breeze and will even suggest exercises that match your recovery and sleep score, fitness level and training history.
And while its GPS was slightly off at times the heart rate sensor did a good job. The other negatives are the temperamental screen which fails to register touches at times and the distinct lack of smartwatch features.
All things considered, Polar Ignite offers a lot. This includes some new features that focus on overall well-being and recovery which you won’t find on many other mid-range fitness watches.
It’s refreshing to see a device that offers insights beyond the usual steps taken, hours of sleep and simple logging of exercises. Ignite is not perfect, but it is probably one of the most advanced fitness watches you’ll find for the price.
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