Polar Ignite Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Inexpensive, innovative features, nice design
Cons: Backlight irreliable, uncomfortable watchband, heart rate inaccurate
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Polar Ignite has all of the features that we have come to expect from a GPS watch in any price category. These features include an optical heart rate monitor, GPS tracking of activities including speed and distance, VO2 max measurement, a step counter, and a calorie counter.
As mentioned above, the Polar Ignite has a new algorithm that recommends daily workouts based on your body's readiness level. They call this feature, FitSpark. It uses all of its sleep tracking data to measure your recovery level against your previous workout and your overall longer-term fitness. It then provides workouts based on all that data. In fact, it gives you several options to pick from and when one option includes, for example, box jumps, then it shows you a stick figure that completes the box jumps on the screen so you know how to do the motion correctly. Other options might be cardio or stretching. Essentially this watch is a digital coach. No other watch, to our knowledge, integrates your night sleep quality into your next day workout. We found that the feature actually agreed with how we perceived our recovery level and sleep quality.
Another feature that blew us away was that a watch in this price category had downloadable workouts. This means we could build interval sets on Polar's online platform, "Polar Flow" and download them to the watch. If we wanted to do intervals, we would build the workout, download it to the phone and start. Every time it was time to sprint, the watch would alert us so we did not have to constantly look down at the time to know when we needed to sprint. Super convenient.
The last feature that we were shocked to see in a GPS watch of this category was swim tracking… including in open water! No other watch to our knowledge offers this for such a low price.
Needless to say, if our award system were just based on features alone, the Polar Ignite would have definitely won an award, but there are other variables at play.
Ease of Use
For such a great features package, we expected the Polar Ignite to have a difficult menu navigation. We are surprised to discover we had no problems figuring out how to implement our workouts, track activities, find menus, etc.
We also found the touchscreen to be fairly responsive and had no trouble utilizing it. The Ignite was the only watch in this test with a touchscreen. Unfortunately, we had a lot of trouble with some other things.
The Ignite has a vivid, color touch IPS TFT screen. Because a display as nice as this requires a lot of battery life, the backlight cannot be on all the time, or the battery would run out extremely quickly (similar to a smartphone). This means the display is black unless you either manually push the button or raise your wrist up to make the "gesture" that turns the backlight on automatically. Admittedly we were used to the previously tested seamless functioning Apple watch displays and realized, after using the Polar Ignite, just how cumbersome the user experience can be if the gesture backlight does not work flawlessly.
With the Ignite, the gesture oftentimes did not work at all and we had to push the button and when it did work, there was a delay so you stood there staring at your watch and waiting. Generally, you had to also perfectly make the "gesture" for it to know that you were commanding the backlight to turn on. You could not just turn your wrist at a slight angle. You had to complete a full and very overt arm sweep that was somewhat theatrical. Sometimes you had to complete this three or four times or manually push the button. During activities, we turned on the continuous backlight (this is an option during activities) in order to avoid this trouble, but the continual display drained the battery very quickly.
Another issue we had, was an issue that we had with the last Polar we tested, namely, syncing just doesn't always work. Sometimes you get an official error, and sometimes it won't sync unless you try several times. We always were able to sync after several tries, but it took a while.
Ease of Set-Up
Due to the above mentioned syncing problem, it took us half a day to get the Polar Ignite set up. It repeatedly stopped or had errors.
Setting up the watch its self was very easy. The user interface is intuitive, and we had zero issues. The app and web portal are a bit less intuitive but also not all too confusing.
As above mentioned, the screen is not on all the time. This means that the battery life in normal usage is not too bad. We were able to get about 5 days, which was Polar's claim. Unfortunately, we could not get used to the inability to see our data when running so required the backlight to remain on (this is in a setting). This setting reduces the claimed 17 hours of activity life down to much less. After 2 hours, the battery looked to be half drained. We could not get used to doing the over-exaggerated "arm sweep gesture" during our activity to activate the backlight.
The charger was difficult to fit the back of the watch, and we didn't notice that we fitted it incorrectly twice, which resulted in a dead battery when we were hoping to use the watch, assuming it had charged several hours. If you wanted to charge the watch during an activity (like an ultra marathon), this would be impossible since the watch just "sits" on the charger. It would fall off if put into a running vest hooked up to an external battery.
Similar to previously tested budget Polar watches, the Ignite performed more inaccurate than any other watch in our review. The accuracy of distance measurements was extremely variable. Sometimes the Polar Ignite was dead on, and other times, it was up to 5% off.
Consistently the route line, when plotted on a map, had us swimming in rivers instead of running on paths next to the river, or it would show us running laterally through buildings instead of staying on the road around corners.
The optical heart rate monitor had us baffled. Usually, if a watch fits well, you have a more accurate reading from the HR monitor. The Polar Ignite fit us very well, but many times, the Ignite would not record the heart rate for half of the run. On many runs, it was consistently 20 beats off against the chest strap heart rate monitor as well as the other watches, throughout much of the run.
Even odder was how accurate it was when not doing an activity. It was spot on. When not in an activity, this watch seemed to be one of the top two accurate heart rate monitor watches in our testing! The sleep tracking was also, per our feeling, really accurate. When the Polar said we slept horribly, we thought we did too.
This is where the Polar Ignite really shines. The watch just looks designer, in our opinion. It has a minimalistic design that seems almost elegant. It is the thinnest of the watches that we tested and also not too large. The screen is wonderfully vivid, and the resolution also impressed us.
This watch has one of the best designs and fits of any of the watches we tested. It looks high-end and has a great screen. The only negative we can say about the design is the watchband. The band is awful. It is a cheap feeling, hard rubber band. No other watch we used, implemented this material. All opted for a nice silicone band. We don't know why Polar would try to save a few cents on such an integral part of the design. If you decide to buy this watch, do yourself a favor and invest in the silicone band.
The Polar Ignite had the potential to hit the ball out of the park. It has a beautiful design and an amazing feature list. The GPS is accurate enough unless you are a die-hard, and the heart rate issue can be resolved by combining it with a chest strap during activity, which we usually recommend anyways. Unfortunately though, Polar made several mistakes, the sloppy gesture backlight, a super uncomfortable wristband, and unreliable sync.
Hardcore runners will probably not be satisfied with the inaccuracy, short battery due to the backlight, nor the uncomfortable wristband and will opt for another watch.
The Polar Ignite perfectly fits a specific niche group of users. For the people that fit into this niche, this watch might be perfect. It has so many features for an affordable watch and looks wonderful. Like one bad apple ruins the bunch, one or two flaws in a GPS watch can ruin the entire user experience.
— Larin McPeak
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