Detailed Review : Polar A360 Smart Fitness Band

Polar A360 ReviewI don’t know how Polar do it.

They seem to make devices that I would actually like to wear.

They might not have 1000 features to go wrong on their devices but they seem to have the features that I need. I suppose this will bias my review.

There are some new functions that Polar are working on with the A360 in 2016 but, mostly:

I love it; I wear it.

Summary:

This review will ‘go on a bit’, it may get techy and you might want to look at a one minute summary review instead, click <here>.

  • Optical Heart Rate on the wrist – no chest strap required.
  • Quality Colour Touchscreen
  • Activity-tracker, sports tracking and inactivity/sleep tracking
  • You can wear it in the pool for swimming
  • Good aesthetics and wearability
  • Awesomely detailed online/smartphone app.
  • Indeed, a great quality item. Far superior to much of the deceptively photoshopped tat that we seem to be persuaded to buy from competing companies.

To follow in 2016:

  • Re-broadcastable bluetooth HR (Q2.2016) – nice but not necessary
  • More detailed on-device exercise stats to complement those on the app.

Negative:

  • No GPS – GPS would reduce battery life to one day as Apple found to their cost. There is NO magic battery technology due anytime soon.
  • Like all other optical HR solutions for the wrist, HR readings are inaccurate to varying degrees – as Fitbit may have found to their cost with this lawsuit. The A360 is better than some but is getting worked on by Polar Q1.2016.

The first foray of Polar into optical heart rate monitoring was never going to be an awesome, ground breaking escapade. Instead it is a sensible and relatively cautious ‘testing the water’ move.

It is a good, useful and usable product.

Certainly a sign of even better things to come.

Who should buy this?

Happy Polar A360 users might include at least the following:

  • People who want a modern looking activity tracker that also tracks sleep
  • People who also want to do sporty activities – such as gym, classes and steady state exercise
  • People who want detailed web/smartphone app-based metrics

Who should not buy this?

  • People who want absolutely every feature on a small wrist based device, including a large screen and 2 week battery life 🙂 Reality check! That product doesn’t exist and no-one, including, Apple are anywhere close.
  • People who want to undertake high intensity and/or high precision exercise where high heart rates will be involved.
  • People who want super detailed metrics on the wrist. It’s not a sports watch.

The Review

You get the A360 (available in 3 sizes) and a micro USB cable. You also get POLAR FLOW which comprises the following components (all free):

  • Polar Flow web service – online analytical platform (this is not the legacy polarpersonaltrainer.com)
  • Polar Flow app – smartphone version of the online web service.
  • Polar FlowSync – gets the data from your PC to the web service (this is NOT the legacy WebSync software)

<Here’s> the Polar A360 manual if that’s what you want.

A Closer Look At The A360 Device

As I’ve said, it looks good and has a great colour, touchscreen screen.

Others have said that the closest competitor is the rather dated-looking Garmin Vivosmart HR. I disagree.

IMO the A360 is pitching into the market somewhere nearer to the much-bemoaned Samsung Gear Fit (I bought two despite everything). A perhaps controversial comparison. But both look great, have optical HR and are targeting activity tracking and recreational sports through a smart band.

Polar A360 Review

Polar A360 (left) vs Samsung Gear Fit (right)

Of the two, the A360 has a smaller screen. Both fit well to my relatively small wrists. The larger Gear Fit has a curved screen whereas the A360 is flat; as the A360 is smaller this makes sense and works well.

Both devices have touchscreen plus one-button control. It’s all you need.

With the inclusion of a metal strip at the side of the screen both ooze MUCH more quality than the majority of the cheap, plastic competition.

The A360, however, is more of a modular design. ie you can change the strap! As you can see the nice-feeling rubber strap simply pops off.

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You can also see the micro-USB port’s cover which comes off too. This IS a little fiddly. The risk of losing the cover is much-minimised by the addition of a retaining strap that you can just see in the images.

I have been swimming with the A360 (and it still works) supporting the claim that it’s ‘waterproof’ to 30m depth. My gut feeling is that it will be Ok as an occasional swimming device rather than a daily one – wait for the new FINIS Q2.2016, if that’s your optical thing.

It’s great that the A360 only needs a standard micro USB cable. The downside of this is the nature of the USB port and cover that is required. Many other vendors are choosing to go down the proprietary charging cradle route; this adds cost but perhaps is technically better. I’m not fully decided on this yet. Pros/cons abound.

Rain/Water: I have just come back from swimming with the A360 – the touchscreen worked fine when I was at the end of lengths. I don’t understand why some people say the touchscreen doesn’t work in the rain. It works for me in the pool. The pool is wetter than rain, right? Sorry.

Sensitivity of screen – again I would say this is fine. The screen perhaps turns off a little too quickly for my liking (but it’s fine). I turn my wrist to see the time and the time magically appears (most of the time!). A Feb 2016 firmware update allowed the HR display to be permanently on during exercise – at an obvious cost to battery life.

Comments on Functions And usability

There are 4 areas in the interface: My Day, Training, My Heart Rate and Time

Time – shows the time/date

Heart Rate – Shows the Heart Rate

My Day – shows what you accomplished today and what is left to be done. There is more detail behind completed activities.

PICTURE

Training – is the place to choose to start recording your activity/sport. you will have already created the activity profile online with Polar Flow. you choose the activity, the HRs and you are ready to go.

You can choose to follow a relatively simple interval/phase workout that you create online in Polar Flow

PICTURE

Connectivity

The A360, in use, is a standalone sports device that does not require anything else. But in this evermore connected world there is, of course, more.

It has links to update the device and to share your activity; using either your smartphone or a USB cable you can synchronise your A360 with the Polar Flow web service. This is where you view your activity in detail and where you send back exercise updates to your A360.

You will periodically want to link to your computer with a USB cable to charge the device and to update the A360s internal software (firmware) as this will have many updates and features added throughout 2016 and beyond.

The Bluetooth link to your phone will support smart notifications on the A360.

It is likely that in Q2.2016 the A360 will also be able to work as a HR device that broadcasts Bluetooth HR to apps on your smartphone such as STRAVA (cycling), Polar Beat and to Bluetooth enabled watches such as a Polar M400 running watch.

Optical HR Unit

We’ll come on to the accuracy of the optical HR later but for now here is a visual comparison to the MIO Velo/Link and Epson Pulsense – both different but competent devices in their own right. Each use different optical technology.

Polar A360 Review

Polar A360 vs MIO Link/Velo vs Epson Pulsense

For good measure here is the Samsung Gear Fit and A360 all lit up and measuring the heart rate of thin air. I could show you some more pretty pictures of other manufacturer’s green lights but hopefully, by now, you have got the message!

Polar’s optical configuration of two, well-spaced green lights should help deliver the capability to produce accurate HR readings. Colour does matter.

Polar A360 Review

Polar A360 vs Samsung Gear Fit Optical HR

Finally we come to the clasp/strap retaining mechanism. No doubt this is the bit you all came here to read. Actually it was the one annoying thing with the Gear Fit; I didn’t like the ‘push-in’ clasp. The A360 is very similar. I don’t like that either. The A360 includes more metal on the clasp and feels a better quality of construction…it’s still a bit hard to fasten though. Still, once it’s done…it’s done.

Please feel free to retweet this clasp pictures to all your followers, they’ll be interested too 🙂

Polar A360 Review

Polar A360 Clasp (left) vs Samsung Gear Fit Clasp (right)

I did find that after charging it was REALLY important to ensure that the main unit was properly inside the rubber strap. If you don’t do that you risk the main unit popping and potentially losing/breaking it.

Hey! At least I haven’t bored you with an unboxing section yet.

Steps, Beats, Holisticity and Activity Tracking

A weird sub title. Bear with me. It’s fairly important.

If you’re buying one of these activity trackers you might want to think about what you are measuring and why you are measuring it. There IS a right answer, IMO, about what should be measured but that needs to be tempered with the kind of person you are and the use to which you are going to put your device.

  • Low-level/low-intensity tracking – if you are ‘just’ measuring 5000 or 12000 steps a day and ‘only’ want to know how much restful sleep you got then you only need a simple device. The A360 is NOT simple but CAN do this job well. And look pretty whilst doing it.
  • Low- and medium-intensity tracking – if you are doing ‘sporty’ stuff that is going to raise your HR then 1000 walking-steps are NOT the same as 1000 running steps. The INTENSITY of the activity will have a DIFFERENT IMPACT on your fitness. You could measure and infer the impact of speed but this won’t work (uphill/downhill/wind) and requires a battery-hungry GPS. So heart rate is actually quite a good way to gauge INTENSITY; it’s not perfect, just good. So if you do 6000 steps plus a step class plus a 30 minute steady state/easy run then the cheaper activity trackers will NOT reflect well your holistic/overall efforts. The Polar A360 WILL DO THAT. Garmin, MIO (PAI) and others do a similar thing. Whether your heart rate is 145bpm for 30 minutes or 148 for 27 minutes – it doesn’t really matter as the kind of person doing this level of activity doesn’t NEED to know their exact heart rate/durations. They might WANT TO but they don’t NEED TO (IMO).
  • Higher intensity activity tracking – you people are athletes of some form or other. You need a sports watch. Actually you need something like a Polar A360 for most of your stuff AND a functional sports watch for your intense stuff where the precision of execution/analysis is important. Perhaps to you people a high degree of accuracy is important and, in any case, you will most likely also need power/speed/pace so the A360 ON ITS OWN is clearly not for you.

Continual heart rate monitoring: Why? if it’s monitoring steps and monitoring HR when exercising why do you need this? OK periodic checks, notably while sleeping, might be peripherally useful but if you want to take your HR you can do this manually with the A360. After a few days you won’t bother doing it because it serves no real purpose. There is no point in taking resting heart rate repeatedly through the day. It can be interesting but you won’t be able to draw any actionable conclusions. WAKING HEART RATE is what you need.

If you need continual HR for medical reasons then you need to buy a medical-grade device…

So, IMO, with all this in mind you need to approach your choice of lifestyle with a dose of pragmatism around the choice of lifestyle monitoring device(s) you make.

With this in mind we move on to…

Heart Rate Accuracy

Resting heart rate and one off readings are fine (below). You can just see the Samsung at 70bpm.

Polar A360 Review

Polar A360 64bpm HR vs 920XT 65bpm vs Samsung Gear Fit 70bpm

Heart Rate Accuracy – Overall Effect

If we look at a fairly intense VO2max swim session. 14 minutes of swimming in a 25 minute session. The TRIMP score shows 32 (Garmin HRM-TRI) vs 37 (Polar A360). For an wrist optical HR device this is probably on par with other similar devices in a relatively intense and hostile environment that it wasn’t really designed for. If you were using this to track your overall intensities and durations then it would be OK.

Polar-A360-Garmin-HRMTRI-Swim-Comparison

Swim HR Data, Clickable

Comparing the same track to the HRM-TRI we can see that, in the warmup, the two did not match. This Garmin HRM-TRI typically reports a 1% to 4% error rate in Firstbeat so although we are initially inclined to place the fault with the A360, maybe its not so clear cut? As the interval starts the Polar DOES lag for over a minute and then tracks well enough through to the end of the warmdown.

Red-A360-Blue-HRMRUN-SWIM

Turning to running, I was pleasantly surprised with the running accuracy as these 3 different runs show, below. Polar’s A360 compared very well to the Garmin HRM-RUN. In some uses this Garmin HRM-RUN reports over 50% errors in Firstbeat…..(just so you know! but usually 1%-7%) – yet I would treat it as ‘accurate’. hmmm.

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Clearly the A360 does not quite track the Garmin and there seems to be some small drop-outs and also some delayed lags. On the whole it’s pretty good.

With the same HRM-RUN (reporting 4% error) the A360 again did well until 35 minutes into the session when it lost the plot. On reflection the drops in the A360’s reading seemed to be when I was on aerobars (minute on, minute off, ish) and this exposed the watch to more airflow from my fan. Might this change in position disrupt bloodflow to my wrists – possibly. Of course that is where the A360 is measuring it. It can’t measure what isn’t there to be measured. Just a thought

Polar-A360-vs-Garmin-HRM-RUN

Clickable. Blue Polar, Red HRM-RUN

So the accuracy needs improvement and Polar have been working on that and new firmware is expected in Q1.2016.

For general lower-intensity sports usage, the HR is usable.

 

Summary:

 

I feel like the A360 could have been a really awesome product for Polar. It could have marked a bit of a turn in the activity tracker space for them. With it’s brilliant screen, reasonably good battery life, and generally attractive design – it was poised for success. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line Polar made a decision to release it before it was ready, likely to meet holiday timelines. And as a result, I can’t see any situation in which I’d recommend buying it at this time.

Polar needed to do a few things with the A360, notably and most importantly: Be reasonably accurate. On that report card, it’s failed. The non-ideal pod/strap design doesn’t help either.

Next, Polar needed to be competitive with its features. For example – it needs optical HR sensor rebroadcasting – as both Mio and Garmin include this (and TomTom has it slated too). They could/should have done this over Bluetooth Smart, but even also over analog frequencies – to capitalize on the company’s longstanding tie-ins with treadmills and gym equipment to display HR. Polar says it’s (Bluetooth Smart rebroadcasting) on its radar, but they’ve also made a number of promises over the past year they’ve had trouble keeping. So while a year ago I would have given them the benefit of the doubt, today I can no longer do so. Right now it only rebroadcasts to Polar’s proprietary club solution.

Speaking of features, it can’t do basics like measure how long a run was – something every other activity tracker (including ones 1/8th its price, such as Misfit’s units) are able to do. Why?

While I’m sure the unit will see many feature upgrades over the coming year, I think it’s unfortunately probably a case of too little, too late.

 

Minor Update – Dec 28th, 2015:

Just as a super-brief update, I’ve since had a conference call with Polar program management and engineering about the issues I saw with the A360, and my general concerns. These can be summarized as the following:

A) They are aware of the inaccurate optical HR issues, which they believe occur when running hard (which matches what I saw). They believe they’ll have a fix in January 2016 for that issue.

 

C) Regarding continuous HR recording, that’s slated for more detail coming in the next few months.

D) With respect to the pod falling out, they noted they haven’t seen that previously, but numerous folks in the comments here have seen the same issue as I – so I don’t think it’s just a ‘me’ issue.

E) Additionally, they’ll be adding in speed/distance capabilities soon, as well as the ability to have the display ‘Always On’ during exercise.

 

 

 

Any news on updates to this that will allow RHR? Or broadcasting of HR?
Or software updates to make optical HR more accurate?
Polar has let an important part of market go to other brands

 

 

 

have used my A360 while swimming (chlorine based indoor pool) and it seems to work fine. No issues using the touch screen at all while wet. Seems to record my heart beat fine as well, although I didn’t wear a chest strap to compare against. The heart rate curve generated looked reasonable to me based on the exertion I felt during my swim.

 

 

 

“It’s been such a warm welcome for our new Polar A360 and we’ve got a lot of positive feedback on our new fitness tracker. We’re so happy you’re as excited about the new product as we are. This been said, we would like to unveil some future updates we’re planning for the A360 during the first half of the upcoming year 2016.

First of all, we’ve heard you would like to have the possibility to follow your heart rate more closely and have the display ON during your training sessions. This is something we have our engineers working on and you’ll be training with a lit display before you know it!

Our research and R&D department have also been working on improving the performance of the algorithm during a high intensity running interval training session. This will help you get even more accurate heart rate readings on your intervals and this way help you improve your performance.

As we’ve been working on the speed and distance for our other products, we’re excited to share that also A360 will have this feature in the upcoming feature updates.

There’s also one more thing in the works we’ve heard you’ve been asking for; the possibility to use the A360 as a Bluetooth smart heart rate sensor the same way as the Polar H7 is used currently. This means you could use the A360 as a heart rate sensor for example together with our Polar Beat application or even during your rides with the Polar M450.”

Source: Polar updates page.

 

 

My wife got the A360 (medium size) and I borrowed it for a few days:
– I am not sure why other people have issues with the pod popping out, but to me it looks like there is no reason to tighten the band very much. Even with the band not being tight, the sensor is capable of recording the HR.
– Initial setup (on OS X El Capitan) was a pain, as the device staid in “sync”-mode and did not properly boot up. Somehow the device was on firmware 0.2.# (current is 1.1.#) and it took several resets to get the setup and firmware upgrade going.
– Notifications on iOS work but messages should really auto-scroll or have the option to expand. Most notifications (such as one-time passwords) are truncated to much and are really use less.
– Notifications for phone-calls take a few presses to decline a call
– Running workout does not count steps or distance. Even the pedometer on an iPod Nano does a better job – that’s disappointing.
– I would get annoyed about those “inactivity” notifications
– I have not seen any sleep tracking feature as advertised – i.e. “Automatically tracks your sleep time and quality. Check and learn more about your sleeping patterns in the Polar Flow app and web service.”
– On the A360 it would report “daily activity achieved” and it would show “120%” achieved at the end of the day, but the website will always show “100%”. For some days, the device will show “100%” achieved, but the website will show less. Perhaps a sync issue.
– Battery lasts about 4-5 days
– I think they need to substantially up-date firmware on the device and the mobile app / website to make any of those functions meaningful.
– I personally think that the device has potential and I agree that the lack of certain basic features seem to indicate a rushed job to make xmas.

 

 

Ray, did you test it with swimming? Or have you tested any wrist HR monitors while swimming?

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