Apr 27, 2014 Nick Rego
Fitness trackers are big business now, and even though power player Nike has pulled out of the race, more and more companies are rushing to put the next best fitness tracker on the market. Some have flashy screens, some monitor your sleep better, while others integrate seamlessly with your smartphone. It’s becoming more and more difficult to figure out which one best suits your needs. This week I tried out the Polar Loop to see if this new fitness tracker measures up to some of the other ones on the market.
When you first unpack the Polar Loop, you’ll notice how the entire thing blends into one seamless band that ends with a silver clasp, much like the ones you would find on a watch. There is a small, nearly invisible, button on the Loop, which you can tap to light up the LED display. Tapping the button will cycle through the Time, Steps taken, Calories burned, and Activity. The Activity segment displays how far away you are from your activity goal for the day, and follows up by displaying how long you need to jog, walk, or do active tasks in order to reach your daily goal. At times the button reacted to my taps, but sometimes I had to press down hard on it, so the sensitivity of it is not very constant. Overall the build quality of the Polar Loop is quite good, though because of its slightly larger size, I couldn’t wear it on the same hand as my watch, so I opted to just wear the Loop by itself.
In the packaging you get the Polar Loop, a handy sizing tape and instruction card, and a USB charging cable. The Polar Loop has a small magnetic port at the back, which connects to the supplied USB cable for syncing and recharging. I really don’t like that Polar hasn’t opted for a standard micro-USB connector like other fitness bands. Charging the Polar Loop was extremely quick – the device was fully charged in a little under forty minutes.
You need to do a fair bit of housekeeping in order to set up the Polar Loop. The first thing you need to do is to size it to your wrist. Unlike other fitness bands which comes in two or three sizes, the Polar Loop is specifically designed so that it can be customized to fit exactly to your wrist. However this isn’t as simple as it sounds.
The first thing you need to do is to measure your wrist. You do this by wrapping the included tape measure around your wrist until you reach a fairly snug fit. The tape will give you two numbers, which indicates how many pieces of the Polar Loop’s strap you have to cut off on either side.
That’s right – you have to physically cut up the Polar Loop. Again, this involves a bit of work – you have to use the included pin tool to pop out the clasp, making sure you don’t lose the small springs that hold the clasp in place. After you’ve unhooked the clasp, you grab a pair of scissors and cut off the correct lengths by measuring the number of holes indicated on the measuring tape when you wrapped it around your wrist. I took a total of three tries to trim it properly, as I was scared that I would make it too loose or too tight. Once you’re happy with the fit and snapped the clasp back on, you’ve completed the first step in setting up the Polar Loop. There are advantages and disadvantages to this ‘custom fit’ method – the advantage is that because the Polar Loop fitted so well, I completely forgot that I was wearing it, often thinking that I was just wearing my regular watch. While other bands may fit securely, the Polar Loop never felt like it would come off or the clasp would come undone. The obvious disadvantage is that once you’ve sized the Polar Loop, it’s only going to fit your wrist or someone with smaller wrists than you, so if you’re looking to pass it on to someone else to try out, think again.
The next step in setting up your Polar Loop is the software. You need to set up a free Polar Flow account and pair this with your Polar Loop – you can do this via a software you can download on to your PC or with the accompanying iOS app. This is the other annoying thing about the Polar Loop – at the time of writing there isn’t an Android version of its app, although the company has promised that one will be delivered soon. If you sync via PC or Mac, all you have to do is plug in your Polar Loop and the software will automatically launch and sync your data with your account.
Of course the most important thing about the Polar Loop is monitoring your actual fitness levels, and there are a number of good and bad things about how the Polar Loop does this. The accelerometer automatically detects how active you currently are, and adjusts the tracking accordingly. For example if you go from sitting at your desk to a brisk walk around your office building, the Polar Loop will correctly track the activity in the ‘Medium’ activity segment. Break into a full-fledged jog, and you’ll be monitored under the ‘High’ segment. This seamless measurement means that you often don’t even need to tell the Polar Loop what you’re doing – it just tracks your movements and logs them under the relevant category.
In addition to your activity, the Polar Loop also tracks your steps and calories burned, which you can easily see from the onboard display or the accompanying app. Sleep is also monitored, and you don’t have to ‘tell’ the Polar Loop that you’re going to sleep – it simply detects when you’re sleeping based on your body and hand movements. However the sleep tracking is a bit amateurish – while the Fitbit Flex offers a more comprehensive sleep pattern, the Polar Loop doesn’t break down your sleep or offer any insights, which is a bit of a disappointment.
Where the Polar Loop does excel is when it’s paired with a compatible heart rate monitor. Simply pair the two using Bluetooth and the Polar Loop will monitor and display your heart rate during your exercise. You can then view this information later on to see how well you performed, and the Polar Loop intelligently sections out your actual overall activity from rest and warm-up periods. I don’t recommend wearing the heart rate monitor for long periods of time as it can quickly drain the battery on the Polar Loop.
Overall however, wearing the Polar Loop produced mixed results. You can’t enter additional activities or calorie intake, and more importantly the Polar Loop doesn’t vibrate to notify you when you’ve not been active. Instead it just makes a note and displays a warning in your log for the day, which is useless. There is a social aspect to the Polar Loop which displays routes of friends and nearby people using Google Maps, but there isn’t much incentive to actually try and beat these courses. More importantly, you’ll need to carry your smartphone with you in order to enable GPS tracking so that your route is mapped out.
The Polar Loop is one of the more disappointing fitness bands I’ve tried out. While you may be able to overcome the slightly fiddly setup, the information gathered isn’t displayed in a totally understandable manner. Compared to the Fitbit which breaks everything down into more accurate categories, the Polar Loop just doesn’t measure up. If however you’re a regular jogger or have a very active workout, then the Polar Loop paired with a heart rate monitor is a great addition to have. For the rest of us however, it just doesn’t quite cut it.
A former IT & Marketing Manager turned full time Editor, Nick enjoys playing videogames during work hours and tinkering with the latest gadgets.
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