I’ve been using some form of activity tracker for a few years now. For a while I had a Fitbit (which went missing in Florida a few years ago), but my go-to device for the past year or so has been the Garmin Vivofit. For the most part I really like the Vivofit – solid battery life and tracking accuracy, smallish form-factor, works with a heart rate monitor, etc. But the Garmin Connect app isn’t great, and I’ve had some issues getting the Vivofit to sync reliably with my phone (I lost a few months of data doing a factory reset in order to get it to sync).
A few months ago Polar offered to send me a test sample of their new A300 fitness watch/activity tracker. I’ve never used a Polar device before, and being a bit of a gadget junkie, I agreed to try it out (Disclosure: the device reviewed here was a media sample provided free-of-charge by the manufacturer). I was particularly interested in how it would compare to the Garmin Vivofit. I’ve now been using the Polar A300 for a few months, and it’s time to share my thoughts.
First off, the Polar A300 is a watch, whereas the Vivofit is a narrower band. Both tell time, but since I already use a GPS watch I prefer to have a band on the opposite wrist so as not to look like a total geek. So I’m going to write this review as if the A300 is your primary watch.
The A300 is a nice looking, well-made device. The wristband comes in several different color options (white, pink, black and a few others) – the device pops in and out of the band with ease, and has a built-in USB plug so it can be inserted directly into a computer for syncing and charging. Band comfort is good – no issues there. I’d have no problem using the A300 as my full-time watch from an appearance or size standpoint.
As for function, the A300 does a solid job tracking steps, but one complaint I have here is that the watch-face displays a status bar below the time-of-day readout that slowly fills in as you accumulate steps rather than the actual step count. I much prefer seeing how many steps I’ve actually taken. You can click the bottom right button and go to your daily activity screen, and that adds in a percent value showing how close you are to reaching your daily step goal, but you still need another two button-clicks before you can view your actual step count. I’d love to see ability to display steps on the main watch face added via a firmware update.
One feature I like with regard to activity tracking is that the watch vibrates when you reach your daily goal or if you have been inactive for a long time. My Garmin Vivofit does neither, so this is a plus for the A300.
In addition to tracking steps, you can also record activities with the A300. There is no lap counter or stopwatch function per se, but you can time pre-set activities like walking, biking, swimming or running. These activities will show up when synced with your phone or on the Polar website. The A300 also does sleep tracking automatically (no need to put it into sleep mode) – it’s kind of cool to be able to see how often you stir at night, but I’m not entirely sure how to apply this knowledge in a practical way.
One of the big pluses for the Garmin Vivofit is battery life. I’ve had mine for over a year and I still have not had to change the battery. The Polar A300 has a rechargeable battery that recharges via USB – you can either plug it directly into a USB port on your computer, or use an included USB extension cable. Though battery life is nowhere near as long as the Vivofit, I have gotten several weeks of life on each charge so it is still quite good.
The A300 can be purchased with or without a heart rate monitor. If you opt to buy the HRM, you can use it during activities and have it display your heart rate. You can also take advantage of Smart Coaching features when you wear the HRM. I do use heart rate as an indicator of effort, but mainly as a reminder to slow down when I push the effort too hard. As such, I have not made much use of the more advanced heart rate features. (Note: I have not been able to get the A300 to sync with my Scosche Rhythm+ optical heart rate monitor)
One additional heart rate feature is that you can use the HRM to conduct a fitness test. The Polar Fitness Test basically involves you lying down for a bit with the HRM on. The watch records your heart rate, and then spits an estimate of your VO2max. I did the test and the watch gave me a VO2max value of 48 – not too far off the value of 52 I got a few years back when I had the test done in a lab.
Another plus for the A300 is the Polar Flow app. The app is pretty simple, but it displays activity data nicely and syncs flawlessly with the device via Bluetooth Smart (much more reliably than the Garmin Vivofit does with the Garmin Connect app). I like the circular display of daily activity periods (see below) – makes it really easy to see when I’ve been active and when I’ve been a slug. I haven’t used the Polar Flow website as much, but it has a nice interface and allows you to visualize your activity data in a variety of ways. Another point to note: the Polar Flow app syncs with MyFitnessPal, so if you use that site/app it’s an easy way to import your activity data and calorie burn.
Sample of daily activity screen from the Polar Flow app. Looks like I got restless around 2:00AM!
My activity diary so far from May 2015 – via the Polar Flow website
So, as an activity tracker the Polar A300 is a great little device. It does just about everything that other activity trackers do, and adds in some more sophisticated heart rate training options. The main problem I have with it is pricing – at $140 without the HRM it costs $40 more than the Garmin Vivofit 2 and Polar Loop. For a device without GPS, this is a bit on the high side, especially when you compare it to a device like the Garmin FR15. The FR15 has heart rate, activity monitoring, and GPS. Pricing both with and without a heart rate monitor included is almost identical between the two devices, which makes me question why one would opt for the Polar A300. Similarly, the Polar M400 watch has GPS, heart rate, and activity tracking and the cost is only about $20 more than the A300. Thus, pricing on the A300 is in line with GPS-enabled activity trackers, but it lacks GPS. Even if you don’t think you need GPS, given the price difference, it might make sense to go with one of the other devices should it become a feature you want at some point.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed using the Polar A300 for the past few months. It’s a solid device, and one to look at if you want an activity tracker with a watch form-factor and advanced heart rate functions. However it is a bit pricy for a watch without GPS, so keep that in mind when weighing your options – comparably priced devices with GPS functionality are available and might be a better option.