Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Polar s725 Review

I finally got around to putting together a review of the Polar s725 over on Amazon, complete with a bunch of pictures. Since one extra click to read the review is a lot of a work, I'll spare you the trouble:

I purchased the s725 as single device to replace my heart rate monitor and bike computer. The s725 seemed to offer all the cycling features, in addition to being a full featured heart rate monitor. While it was certainly not cheap, I am satisfied with my purchase.

In terms of cycling features, it offers everything you would expect: speed, altitude, temperature, cadence and power (both with optional sensor). Both the speed and cadence sensors are wireless and have worked very well despite my worries (I don't own the power sensor, so I can't comment on how well it works). The only time I have encountered interference is when I'm using my HID headlight, and even then it doesn't happen very often. My only gripe here is that both the speed and cadence sensor are kind of big and ugly. Also, the speed sensor can only be mounted on the front of the bike (or so they say). I'd like to have the option to mount it on the rear wheel so I can record speed and distance while using an indoor trainer.

The more general features of the s725 really set it apart from other HRMs. First, each type of data, including heart rate and all of the cycling data can be recorded for the duration of your workout. You can select a sampling rate of every 5, 10, or 15 seconds to ensure the s725 has enough memory for your workout. I record every piece of data except power at 5 second intervals and can usually store about 8 hours of exercise. This is very convenient since you don't have to download your data after every workout.

While I'm on the topic of data recording, I should mention the included software since it is a key piece the s725's appeal. Using an infrared link you can download and manage your workouts using Polar's software. It keeps track of your workouts using a calendar view and allows you to see (and customize) graphs for each of your training sessions. Additionally, you can program the watch (intervals and other options) using the software, saving yourself the fumbling with the small watch buttons.

Anyway, back to the main functionality. During your workout the screen shows three rows of data, which you can rotate using the various buttons on the watch. I like to keep heart rate in the large middle row and then rotate among cadence, time and other pieces of information in the top row as my workout progresses. If you go outside any heart rate bounds you have set the watch will warn you by blinking the heart rate display or emit an audible signal.

So what's wrong with it? My biggest gripe is that the interval training functionality is very inflexible. An interval is defined in terms of heart rate or time, an optional recovery period after each interval and the number of interval repetitions. This means that every interval must be exactly the same. Unfortunately, I have some interval workouts where each interval is a different length. There is no way to program this into the watch so I have to punch the "lap" button every time I begin/end one of these intervals and monitor the lap time throughout the interval. An HRM in this price range should really have more flexible interval configuration.

Before I wrap up, I should mention that the chest strap is vastly improved and much more comfortable than prior models. All but one short segment, which sits in the middle of your chest, is entirely flexible, even the electrodes.

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