Polar M450 – Detailed Review

Polar M450 Cycling Computer

Polar M450 Cycling Computer

The Polar M450 is similar to it’s larger sibling, the V650; except it is about 20% cheaper. Notably, in that comparison, the M450 only really lacks a larger screen and navigation/mapping.

This seems to be the makings of a cunning Pre-Christmas plan to re-take the cycling-computer market by storm ie sell a feature-packed and excellent device for a bargain price. That’s similar to the plan for the Polar M400 running watch and for the intriguing smart activity tracker the Polar A360. The aforementioned V650 is also well priced for a cycling navigational computer.

Will that strategy work?

I would say, quite possibly yes. The only inertia is the grip that Garmin has on the market through its historically good devices and the historically high number of ANT+ sensors. Oh yes, and also such a strategy will only work if the M450 is a great product. Let’s find out if it is 🙂

Detailed Review

Here is a one minute summary review of the Polar M450 cycling computer. For those of you who want the details read on.

Polar’s M450 is a budget, highly competent, cycling training device. It’s got pretty much all the capability and stats that you need on a clear and compact display. Maybe smartphone notifications, a larger screen and mapping would be of some use but they are on the next model up; the V650 at approx. GBP150 without HRM.

Unboxing, box contents, weights, dimension and installation

Here is the less interesting and detailed unboxing, box contents, weights, dimensions and installation section. It’s not that interesting, unless you like boxes and bits.

Polar M450 Cycling Computer

Polar M450 Cycling Computer

Firmware, software, configuration/pairing and sharing

Polar M450 Pairs to ANT+ bePro power meter Via 4iiii Viiiiva V100

Pairs to ANT+ sortof

Here is the less interesting firmware, software, configuration/pairing and sharing section. It is a little bit more interesting than the unboxing section but less interesting than watching paint dry (when you’ve bought one come back and have a look).

Here is one of the official Polar marketing videos.

See what Polar marketing says

My First Ride

I stumbled across an old box from a Polar S720i recently. Memories! One of the issues that I had with the earlier Polars like the 720 was that the menus just didn’t always make sense. Whilst the M450’s menus are different to what I am used, the menus DO make sense. Hence the learning curve to switch to it is short. If you have a V800 the menus are almost identical.

Any initial annoyance from one of your first rides will probably be that you’ve forgotten to configure a particular screen in a particular way and some bit of data that you want to see isn’t there. That’s true of any new device.

Polar M450 Pairs to ANT+ bePro power meter Via 4iiii Viiiiva V100

Polar M450 Pairs to ANT+ bePro power meter Via 4iiii Viiiiva V100. As you can see, years of training have paid off. Living the dream.

It was raining and I’m a bit of a wimp. So my first ride was indoors on the trainer. This had the advantage of prompting me to play with the 4iiii Viiiiva heart rate strap, pairing it to the M450 (no problems) and then endeavouring to connect an ANT+ power meter to it. It didn’t take long to configure the Viiiiva effectively as a Bluetooth power meter (as far as the M450 was concerned) and I was off. Power, cadence, speed, heart rate and everything.

So the issue here was what I was just saying. I hadn’t checked if the weird ANT+ conversion would convert all data. It didn’t. So on some screens on the M450 I had a few blanks – like on left|right balance. I’ve asked 4iiii if they plan to support that down the line and that looks to be on the cards fairly soon.

Of course this is a minor issue.

After completing my ride and later starting up Polar Flow, it was straightforward to get the menus just right; now that I’d figured out what I wanted.

You can see below the sport profile editing screen where up to 8 screens can be configured, each with up to 4 different metrics. That should be enough! Very intuitive to use and much better than doing it on the device’s screen IMO.

It would be nice to get more than 4 on the screen sometimes as that is often one of the attractions of a dedicated cycling computer. However more than 4 would probably not be right on the M450’s screen size.

M450-PolarFlow-ChangeDisplay-All

So I wanted to add a new power-based screen also with cadence and HR. Here I add those as the 5th screen.

M450-PolarFlow-ChangeDisplay

There appears to be a ROLLING AVERAGE POWER metric missing. On the device you specify the ROLLING AVERAGE period eg 3s or 10s and I would have expected the metric on the screen to be configured accordingly.

The scope of data that you can include is wide. It’s NOT totally comprehensive but it is not far off. Another thing that I would genuinely find useful would be to have, say, a 3s rolling average as well as a 30s rolling average. Although I could get by with AUTOLAP=1km and then showing LAP average power plus the rolling average set to 3s. That would work for me.

IN-RIDE SUMMARY

Providing you have your bikes, profiles, pages and metrics set up properly there is not a lot you need to know about using it on your ride. You can lock training zones, recalibrate the altimeter, change between pages or profiles, press a lap/start/stop button. Simple! It’s a great user experience.

Accuracy

A few rides later was the accuracy ride and I chose a particularly tricky built up area as well as fast open areas.

Comparing the Polar M450 to a more expensive Garmin Edge 510 the accuracy was near-identical in terms of GPS-speed and heart rate. I didn’t check for variances in cadence. The matches too in the GPS tracks were the norm HOWEVER there were notable differences in the accuracy of the GPS track as shown below:

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The all green open-park image with few trees shows the two devices matching each other neck and neck for the GPS track. No curves and fairly fast riding.

However moving to the other two satellite images both devices have some troubles but the Polar is generally better avoiding the water but going through the trees!! These two are built up areas with large buildings and significant overhanging tree cover as shown. A tricky test but probably not representative of most road rides you’ll undertake.

The final image shows the two devices following a different map (in case there are mapping discrepancies). This is a little more worrying (same on the satellite) as the Garmin parallel tracks the road ie a northerly and westerly shift of about 5m in places.. I have found this exact same thing with 3 Garmin devices and I don’t know why. It doesn’t seem to affect pace/speed at all but clearly something is slightly of place. In Garmin’s defence I have had an Edge 810 that was near-perfect in its GPS track most of the time and I have had other devices parallel track roads/tracks.

More About the M450 Features

The screen has a fairly basic resolution with good glass cover and nice contrast. It’s easy to read and does the job. The screen does NOT look great but it DOES do the job of presenting data well.

Sport Profiles and Bike Status

Polar M450 Profile-Bike-Status-Pre-RideYou chose the sport profile you want to follow. The pre-ride status is shown for the bike number (in this case bike #1) the HR, battery and GPS.

If you have more than one configured bike+sensors present the M450 can get confused. Move away and start somewhere else with the bike you intend to use!

Intervals, Laps and Autolaps

You can follow a pre-defined interval session and any session can benefit from manual laps or automatic laps

Zone Lock

The RED button starts your session and also inserts a lap when pressed. If pressed and held then Polar’s Zone Lock functionality comes into play. I’ve not really seen this on other products.

In Polar Flow you can choose which of HR, speed or POWER you want to lock a zone on. So if you’ve chosen power then when you press and hold the RED button yoru current power zones becomes the active ZONE LOCKed power zone. You are alerted whenever you leave that Zone.

This is a nice feature and easier to use than a pre-configured alert. It’s much easier to turn off when the beeps get annoying!!

It would have been nice to be able to do a ZONE LOCK based on cadence.

Structured Workouts

Structured workouts are available as ‘PHASED TRAINING’ in Polar Flow. They seem to be based only ON HR and SPEED ZONES at present and this should be extended to include POWER ZONES. Whilst this functionality could be improved it will suffice for most people most of the time. Effort periods can be set to have an automatic or manual end and can be stored on the M450 as ‘favourites’.

Polar M450 - Phased Training Interval Workout

Polar Flow – Phased Interval Structured Workout

Session Summaries

There is information available at the end of your session. Simple, to the point and lots of it.

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Assisted GPS (A-GPS)

After synchronisation, the A-GPS  is valid for 14 days, during which time the GPS-fix takes only a matter of seconds when outdoors.

Barometer (atmospherics air pressure sensor)

The barometer provides normal data such as altitude, descent, ascent and temperature. Additionally calories can be altitude compensated and the vertical/ascent velocity can also be shown. With the addition of a speed sensor, the incline/grade can also be shown.

I didn’t test the accuracy of the barometer but dcrainmaker and others report it is good.

Smart Coaching

Polar have a great resource wrapped around your training to monitor the effectiveness of what you are doing. How hard you are training and how well you are recovering. This is Smart Coaching. Perhaps when we finish a session we look for miles or minutes or as “Did we hit the pace in those intervals?” These are all valid questions but I would encourage everyone to use features like those provided by Polar’s Smart Coaching.

You training load is assessed not on miles or minutes but rather on time spent at certain intensities. Your body responds to those loads and recovery times are also given as you need time to adapt to the training you have done. The kind of training you’ve done (eg TEMPO) is also analysed along with how your training is split over all different intensities of training. And should you not know what TEMPO means it explains it thus “You improved your aerobic fitness, speed, and ability to sustain high intensity effort for longer.”

Also included are the ORTHOSTATIC and FITNESS tests. Great to do regularly to track your progress.

for those of you concerned about calories, Polar claim to have the most accurate calorie estimator on the market.

Key Technical Details

Not very exciting and many already mentioned but here you go for completeness: UBlox UBX-G7020ct GPS chip; >12 hours battery; Bluetooth SMART V4 sensor compatibility; ANT+ sensors only indirectly through 3rd party products; 1second data recording will give a whopping 35 hours of exercise recording time; barometric altimeter; and Waterproof to IPX7. Oh and it’s got a nice white LED which comes on automatically at the front when light conditions deteriorate.

Polar M450 Cycling Computer

Polar M450 Cycling Computer

Alternatives

At this price point, for these features I can’t yet see a credible alternative.

Summary

It’s great value for money for what it is. It’s great at presenting fairly comprehensively all the cycling numbers you need when on the road, the trail or on your turbo. It’s not got navigational stuff. It only takes Bluetooth SMART sensors unless you use 3rd party sensor/signal converting tools.

I’ve started using one on my bike and keeping my 920XT on my wrist.

Price

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