Saturday, May 26, 2018

Polar RS800CX PTE Review (Part 1)

November 27, 2009 by · 10 Comments 

Polar RS800CX PTE

Polar RS800CX PTE (image from Polar.fi)

Back in January, right after I had made my New Year’s resolutions, I reviewed the Polar RS400. It is therefore fitting that I finish the year by reviewing its older brother, the Polar RS800CX PTE.

To clarify a common question from the start, the Pro Team Edition (PTE) of the RS800CX is identical to the regular Polar RS800CX from a functionality point of view. The only differences are that the PTE comes packaged with a cadence meter, a speedometer, and the IR USB stick, and the ‘finish’. The PTE has a distinctive chrome ‘finish’ (which here at chromewalker we dig since.. well, we like chrome, it makes us look more like cylons than we already do, and lastly because it has received more compliments than any other ‘watch’ in our review set.

But looks aside, how good is the PTE in the field and is it worth the extra cash over the RS400 if you are just starting out?

I should also state that I’m just a cyclist. Although I do run when chased by large animals or by scary people, I generally try to walk. As for swimming, the water is too cold for me here in the UK. I’m from the tropics we don’t do wetsuits.

First of all, let me explain why I chose to review the PTE right now as opposed to earlier in the year. In my recent post discussing cycle coaching on sister site faston2wheels.com I talk about how my coach has assigned me interval training as a way to improve my condition. Throughout the year I have reviewed various different heart rate monitors that assist you to train alone and/or with the help of software. However, now that I have a coach and as with any carpentry project, you need different tools for different functions. With the new training program set forth by my coach, I needed to be able to create and follow the interval sessions on a cyclocomputer and not just try and keep track of them in my head. With the assistance of the Polar ProTrainer 5 Software included in the box (to be reviewed in depth in part 2 of this review), the PTE would be able to replicate the exact interval parameters of cadence and heart rate set forth by my coach. But if you’re not using a coach, nor training with complex intervals, is the PTE still a heart rate monitor to consider?

Yes. But… before I go into the ins and outs of the PTE, keep in mind that if you don’t need the extra sensors that come with the PTE and want the Polar solution, then you might save some cash by just getting the RS800CX instead.

Now, to the specifics –

Construction:

As with its little brother the RS400 the PTE is solidly built. Although the crystal on the face is plastic, the little lips that stick out around it seem to so far to have protected it from any serious scratches.  The PTE is very legible from most viewing angles, but the curvature of the display can at times make the screen difficult to see if seen from sharper angles. If you are a scratch-prone kind of person either get a screen protector or stop drinking and cycling.

The monitor’s chrome finish is still intact and seems to wear well, but I will keep you posted on this after I’ve had the monitor for a longer period of time. The strap is comfortable, but stiff at first. The box comes with an extra strap segment that you can use to make the strap longer (for if you need to put it over a jacket or wetsuit). The form of the monitor is ergonomic and conforms nicely to the shape of the wrist preventing the monitor from ‘spinning’ around the thin section of your wrist. On the back, you can see the user-replaceable battery door. The monitor takes standard 2032 cell batteries typical to a watch (unfortunately the heart strap battery is a different kind 2025, argh).

Lastly, the side buttons, although small and tricky to push whilst on the bike, work well. The main red button, used to start sessions, select items, and increase laps is more ‘secure’ in its feel than the RS400 that I reviewed earlier in the year (which was too sensitive). One feature I miss from the RS400 is being able to switch screens by bringing the monitor close to your chest instead of having to only push buttons, oh well.

User Interface:

The Polar user interface is very Windows-like and is easily approachable. With graphical representations of the main menu items, you at least know where you are in navigating the functions of the monitor. That said, some features can feel a bit ‘buried’ deep within sub-menus. Studying the manual will help you get the most out of the PTE (or you can be like me and play with stuff incessantly until you have figured it out so you can brag to your friends about it and watch them shake their heads…nevermind, read the manual).

The screen displays (three different stacked fields) when exercising are customizable. This allows you to have various customizations such as (speed, cadence, distance) or (heart zone pointer, time till next interval, speed) or (altitude, speed, heart rate) etc. Unfortunately, the lowest part of the display is limited in what it can display due to it being different than the top two (less resolution), therefore it can only show a subset of the different things that the monitor is capable of displaying on the top two. For example, it won’t display time until next interval or cadence (and a few others). There are times when this means you can’t have everything you need in one display configuration, but rather, you’ll have to split it up into two display configurations which you will have to toggle between whilst exercising.

Sensors:

As I mentioned, the PTE comes with the Speed and Cadence sensors in the box. I’m also going to include the heart strap in this section. All three of these use the latest 2.4Ghz ‘Wind’ technology from Polar. Mostly this just means that the signal is encrypted and less likely to suffer interference from monitors from people around you. Generally I found the connection of monitor to all three sensors rock solid. I have not had a problem yet, just make sure your heart strap is snug and wet it before putting it on, otherwise it doesn’t pick up your heart rate well.

The Speed and Cadence sensors are very easy to install and come with batteries that should last you several years even under heavy usage (but are sealed and not user replaceable, which frankly makes sense considering how long they last). Because I like to train on a turbo trainer during the winter (it’s too cold and dark to go outside, yes.. make fun of me for not being hardcore), I’ve installed the speed sensor on the non-drive stay next to the cadence sensor. I can say it works perfectly fine and provides me with speed and distance on the turbo as if I were on the road.

Speed & Cadence on the stay

Speed & Cadence on the stay

The heart rate strap is the same as the RS400, as a matter of fact, it’s identical, all I did was click in the PTE’s sensor into the buttons of the strap and I was ready to go. The strap and whole chest unit is comfortable enough for a man, but I can’t comment on any inconvenience it may or may not pose for women. Because the unit is clipped onto the front of the strap, it adds a little bit of bulk which sticks out of your shirt. This has only been a problem for me if I had the strap a bit loose and thus the hanging weight separated the sensor from my skin leading to funky heart rate readings. However, I must say that the data collected from the PTE’s strap is very good and not prone to errors.

Features:

Like the RS400, the PTE comes with a series of tests that can help you determine your state of fitness/restedness (just made that word up) and your max heart rate. In general, if you are going to start training with heart rate, you want to get the closest approximation to your real max heart rate as possible. The equation based way of 220-age is the least precise. The most precise is via a lab test, but with Polar’s max heart rate test, you can get a pretty good approximation. For example, my lab tested max heart rate is 181 and Polar estimated it at 186 (without me having to suffer in a lab).. and no, I’m not going to tell you how old the equation will tell you I am! The fitness test approximates your VO2Max score, which may not mean much to you unless you regularly look at those values, but it does allow you to track how your fitness improves in time if you do the test regularly. Lastly, the OwnOptimizer test allows you to track what state your are in so that you can either train harder (on the day) or should rest.

In addition to the tests, the PTE as well as the RSxxx series in general allows you to create training sessions on the watch. Whilst this can be done to a limited extent on the watch, it is far easier and more exhaustive to do via the included software which I will cover in part 2 of this review. You can also choose to use Polar’s OwnZone exercise, which takes your warmup and then predicts what would be the best exercise for you today. I personally didn’t find that feature too useful, but you may.

The sheer amount of data the RS800CX PTE collects and displays is what most impresses me though. Unlike the RS400, the RS800CX series collects, altitude data (great to see how hills affect your heart rate when exercising), temperature data (to correlate heat with increase in heart rate), GPS data (if you have the GPS sensor which is sold separately, no mapping on the device though), and R-R data, which is useful if you use software such as FirstBeat Athlete to self-coach. Add to those the ability to do stuff like auto-lap, display incline as a %, display ascent, descent, altitude, temp, time till next interval change, and target zone during an interval and you can understand why the RS800CX series is so impressive for the serious athlete that loves data analysis. Additionally, I found that the monitor has a great way of displaying the logged summary data after an exercise. You can virtually dissect the specifics of your workout without having to wait to analyze it on your computer via the software. Of course, although the memory on the monitor is reasonably large, you will run out eventually. Check your recording rate to find one that lasts long enough for your need since the faster the recording interval the faster your will consume the devices memory.

So what’s the PTE like on the road? Well, whilst cycling outside I found the PTE to be visible and without any major issues. Pushing buttons to toggle displays was a bit more of a challenge due to the smallish buttons and the force necessary to activate them. However, on the turbo trainer the PTE was great to use as the beeps it made to guide you when you were off the track from your plan were loud and varied depending on whether you were under or over the heart rate, speed, distance, and cadence set out in your plan.

The last bits to mention is that as a watch, it works well. Has dual time zone, day, date, and alarm. I wish Polar would allow us to display more information on the time display instead of the logo that is there (which you can change to another image). Having two time zones displaying at the same time would have been great.

Conclusion of Part 1:

In part 2 of the review I will cover in greater detail how the RS800CX interfaces with the Polar ProTrainer 5 software included in the box. However, to conclude part 1, if you are looking for a versatile cycle training tool, you will find the RS800CX PTE to be a pretty powerful solution, particularly if, like me, you do interval training on the road and on a turbo. I will update this part of the post on how the watch and its chrome finish wears with time and usage.

Return to the main Heart Rate Training Page

Update 1:

Link to Part 2 of the review

Update 2 (2 months later):

Below is an image of the strap as the chrome finish is starting to wear off.
So far no chipping or wearing on the many body of the watch though.

small_Strap_Wear

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