This Polar M200 Review continues the elusive search for the best running watch at a budget level.
Polar’s latest M200 running watch is priced as a budget model yet it has some advanced components on board that make it worthy of consideration for many levels of runner. In its price bracket it might be a contender for the best running watch. Let’s see…
It generally ticks the boxes with: GPS accuracy; personalised training plans for most levels of runner; and an inbuilt optical heart rate monitor for the wrist. It falls short on the display prettiness and breadth of ‘less usual’ professional data metrics – but VERY, many of you will be able to live with that if you just want a great running watch to, ahem, run with!
Who Would Buy This?
If you want a running watch to record your runs and other gym/class-related exercises then the M200 is definitely worth considering.
If you know about GCT, VO, VO2max, SmO2 and know what your degrees of pronation excursion are then the M200 is NOT for you!
Jeez. It’s just a watch FOR RUNNING & GENERAL SPORTS simple!
It performs well when you are running, it just has the key types of data on show. It records all the bits it needs to and then let’s you see those ‘bits’ on a free and pretty awesome running app (Polar FLOW). Other than your running shoes, you won’t need any other bits of running gadgetry.
It has a rather clever and personalised running plan to direct towards your next race whilst also knowing what you are capable of – that is a relatively unusual feature when done to Polar’s high standard.
I perhaps started off with a run-snobbish dislike of the M200 but after a while testing it I often got to the point of saying to myself, “You know what? I trust it to perform well. Let’s just put it on and run with it. I can’t be bothered to look for the heart rate strap for my other watch(es).”
It’s super, super easy to use.
Polar would position this watch by saying, “It’s for your everyday sports” and I would agree with that statement and the sentiment behind it.
I’ll crack on now with a fairly detailed review, including my views on its accuracy (good). Below are the competition Garmin’s FR35 and TomTom’s Runner 3. Click through to Amazon to read their short reviews, if you want, or jump to the summary at the end of the detailed review that follows here.
UNBOXING & CONTENTS
Polar’s packaging looks standard across the range and the M200 is no different.
Inside you get the watch, a USB extension cable for charging/data transfer and pieces of paper that you will never read.
FORM – SHAPE – FIT
It’s a nice shape and a nice size with a circular display. There’s nothing unusual in the shape or size of the watch,
The screen feels a little plasticy whereas the body feels more metallic – although it’s probably a coated plastic.
Nevertheless it all feel well-made.
The display is quite ‘pixelly’ and easily readable, The display has a central area for the delivery of information and also an innovative circular progress bar of dots around the edge of the display. More on that later.
It’s relatively unusual in only having two buttons to control the device.
The strap feels comfortable and well, made with a relatively unobtrusive clasp. The strap can be easily swapped but seems well-attached to the main watch body and not susceptible to accidental coming apart.
The waterproof charging/data connector is unusual in its precise location and orientation and requires the proprietary charging cable including in the box.
I don’t particularly like the looks of the watch. Then again I don’t like the looks of the direct competitors to this watch either – the Garmin FR35 and the base model of the TomTom Runner 3. Then again I’m probably a grumpy, old ‘so-and-so’,
My younger running associates seem to favour its trendy look. What do I know?
There’s certainly no pleasing everyone; and you will, no doubt, soon make up YOUR mind as to whether or not you like it.
It’s one of those devices that doesn’t really need a manual.
Not because it works in the same way that other products work but rather that the interaction opportunities are limited by the two-button controlled interface and you VERY quickly learn what either a short or long press does.
I would say the interaction was relatively ‘novel’ and ‘intuitive’
I’m a bit of a PC-luddite and favour data transfer by cable. The cable is a little hard to attach and there’s a brief feeling that you might snap the male part of the watch that is to be connected to. But my connector is still going strong and is definitely in one piece, so my fears are clearly unfounded.
Routinely, between charges, it’s probably one of those devices that is best to pair with your smartphone. Indeed you would obviously need to do so if you want to benefit from the other connected features of the FLOW app.
For the target market, the simplicity of the metrics on display is great. And it’s re-assuring to know there is good accuracy behind what you are being shown.
You pair the M200 to your Polar Flow account either through a PC or via an app on your phone. If you don’t know how to do that then now could be the time to consult our good friend Manuel or to read some of Polar’s online resources.
One of the great features of the entire Polar ecosystem, in my opinion, is that you can configure the watches on the app/web. For me that’s a LOT easier than fiddling around with intricate menus on a watch. The only downside to that is that once you are out and running then changing how the watch works becomes more difficult; although just about feasible if you carry your smartphone – I don’t.
If you’re not familiar with Polar then there are LOTS of sports profiles available. You enable the ones you want and then optionally further configure them. You can have treadmill running, running, cycling, pool swimming, gym and MANY more. It sounds more complicated than it is. In reality, for the indoor sports you choose, you will automatically have GPS disabled and you might want to change the metrics on display to, for example, show running pace in min/km as opposed to km/h when you are cycling. That kind of thing.
Below you can see where you choose which bits of information you want to display on each of the 3 screen available to you for each and every sport. There are 30 or so pieces of information available for you to choose from. Here I am choosing calories as a type of body measurement to go at the bottom of the 3rd screen on the watch.
You don’t HAVE to do any of this and you can run with the watch, straight out-of-the-box, easily enough.
GOING FOR A RUN
A few right button presses (long- and short-) and you have chosen your outdoor running profile. Alternatively you select your scheduled/pre-built workout and follow that.
You are reminded if the all-important GPS signal and HR signal are working.
It asks you to stand still if GPS has not been found but, as with most sports watches these days, some form of predictive-GPS positioning is used and the signal is found pretty quickly…seconds or a few tens of seconds. I think it says up to a minute in the manual but it’s definitely always been MUCH quicker than that.
If you are wearing the watch correctly it will find the HR signal within 5-10 seconds.
Some other points to consider:
- There’s vibrational feedback as you start and you have the confidence that you know it is recording.
- You can pause the recording and you can toggle from one of your pre-selected screen for the sport profile.
- You can add manual laps (see later).
- The two sets of numbers are easily readable for most people. Next to each number is an icon to indicate what the number means. Polar users will already be familiar with this. But those new to Polar might take a while to decipher them.
- Although there are two sets of numbers (max) per screen, Polar probably could have squeezed more in there if they wanted to.
- The watch feels comfy and secure whilst running.
That’s it really. Simple!
The accuracy of HR and GPS is covered later.
Press and hold the left button after you stop and it syncs through your smartphone.
THE FLOW APP
There is an intuitive view to your training calendar on Polar’s FLOW app. As well as the daily summaries in the ’24 hour circle’ there are also summaries of activity-stats, like sleep, as you scroll down in the app
If you tap one of the sports icons on the 24 hour circle then you can view the detail to the activity. as you can see, for the vast majority of people, this shows the key information in an eye-pleasing way.
THE FLOW SERVICE ON THE WEB
The same kind of exercise and daily data, but with more detail, is available on the web service as your app sync to it OR you directly upload to it using the charger cable and the PC based FLOWSYNC software.
FLOW on the web, flow.polar.com, is the same place where you make the changes to your sports profile settings shown earlier
Here’s a flavour of the current month; showing completed exercises and planned training for the 5K plan that was automatically created for me (further below):
Here’s an example of the exercise details of a looooong ride.
And here flow has created a 5k training program for me using the parameters I provided.
Or you can add a specific daily training target that’s totally separate from the automatic plan.
OTHER SPORTS – Ref: POLAR M200 REVIEW
I only intended to use the watch for running. But it grew on me.
I’m a bit of a data-geeky cyclist and so the M200 didn’t help out there. It lacks power meter support and lacks speed/cadence support. Remember it’s a RUNNING watch.
But for gym sessions, and for swimming, the M200 cunningly snuck its way onto my wrist; often replacing FAR more expensive sports watches.
Just the simplicity of a single device, without a chest strap, that can record my HR during exercise. Until recently, no vendors have supported optical HR whilst swimming. Polar does 🙂 . So I wear it for swimming rather than a £500 watch and an embarrassing chest strap!
It’s light and handy for gym sessions with nothing else to worry about. If I’m using weights and for some reason I were to damage the watch then it’s best to damage a £100 one rather than a £500 one. That’s how I saw it.
CHARGING AND BATTERY LIFE
As already noted, the charging method is unusual. The cable provided is actually a standard USB EXTENSION cable. Standard BUT it’s unlikely most of you will have another one in your house. so you can actually just plug your M200 straight into your computer’s USB port without ANY cable. You would have to take off the M200’s strap first.
I always seemed to be uncertain which way I should put the charger on. There are metal bits on one side of the charger and on one side of the hole in the cable. These metal bits touch to form a connection. The point I am making is that I have to look inside the end of cable to figure out which is the correct way round to attach the cable.
I had a phase of bemoaning sports watch companies that kept on creating new and bespoke chargers for each new watch. “Why can’t they use a standard micro USB port on the watch?” I thought. The answer is simple – there’s no way it will be reliably waterproof. Whilst that can be perfectly fine for a run-only watch, it is most certainly NOT OK for a watch that you can swim with like the M200. Thus it IS correct for Polar to avoid the inclusion of a micro-USB port on this watch.
You still would have thought Polar, Garmin, TomTom et al could standardise the chargers in other ways. Sigh. (Actually TomTom’s have been standard over all models for a couple of years…rubbish charger design!! but standard.)
Battery life is six days as a watch/activity tracker with one hour of training per day (and no notifications). Translated to continuous GPS + optical HR usage that is 6 hours. That’s not too great and I would have hoped for more with the M200’s screen which is certainly not a battery guzzler.
BUT if you turn off the GPS (eg for any indoor sport this will be automatically turned off by the sport profile) then you get a highly creditable 40 hours of sport usage.
So if you will use the M200 as mostly a sports watch and you are occasionally mindful to recharge it, then you should be OK. I never had a flat battery.
ACCURACY – HR
It’s a fairly standard-looking optical HR sensor on the rear and is similar to others on the market but different to the Polar M600. It looks identical to the one on the A360.
Like the TomTom and the Fitbit, below, the optical unit protrudes for 1-2mm at the rear. That doesn’t affect the comfort at all.
Whilst the outward appearance of the optical sensor is irrelevant to the aesthetics of the watch, it IS a factor in how well the optical HR works. But there are several other factors that affect the accuracy as well – these factors are the responsibility for the manufacturer. Factors like your skin colour, hairiness or precisely where you wear the watch all play a part too. (A handy get-out for the reviewer who can blame the reader when the reader has different results).
I could probably compare the M200’s optical performance in some lab-like conditions but really that’s irrelevant. All that we want to know is how does it stack up to the competition where we are doing real-world exercise.
And you might have thought that was simple to do. I’ve tested LOTS of optical HR sports watches and, over time, have come to appreciate that a simple, slow jog is not sufficient. Pretty much any device will perform well as I pootle along with my heart rate at 120bpm.
So I run, cycle and swim with it. I go fast and I suddenly go slow. I go fast and I slowly slow down. I bounce a lot on roads. You get the picture. I try to replicate my form of sporting reality. Hopefully that helps you too.
I wore the M200 more than I normally would for tests against other Garmin/Suunto watches. It just worked out that way.
Here’s what I found.
This is a long run and the Polar is in yellow, with the test starting properly at 20 minutes. At about one hour 20 I thought I’d fiddle with the M200. I inadvertently pushed it onto my wrist bone ( I was wearing another device next to it) and that’s precisely a user error – you don’t want to wear it on the wrist bone. Otherwise for a long Zone 2 (aerobic) run it was perfectly fine.
Here’s a harder run but still Zone 2. There as a mile interval and some one minute intervals alternating with varying recovery types. The Polar, in red this time, performed admirably well against the Suunto. You can assume a Suunto or Garmin watch in these tests are 100% correct (or near enough).
Here’s a relatively steady swim where the M200 was not quite spot-on but still good enough for me. OK it missed one of the pauses but it recorded me thrashing about at 150bpm perfectly well. Considering this is in water … it’s good.
Indoor cycling at an easy pace for an hour was great
Example of not-so-great performance: A bumpy, but flat, trail ride was less good but just about Ok. Sometimes optical HR devices also take a while ‘to get going’. As was case here at the start.
And here’s a long bike session, mostly Z2 but edging up to Z3 and Z4 at times near the end. Apart from a ‘little wobbly’ at 40 minutes, it looks good to me.
The M200 passed the run tests with flying colours on the whole. Whenever I glanced at the HR at any one instant it seemed to be within a beat of the Suunto.
Cycling and swimming were passable-to-good, depending on the precise nature of the activity in question.
ACCURACY – GPS
The GPS accuracy on the M200 CAN be pretty awesome. I have a standardised 10 mile GPS test route with many aspects of challenging GPS reception. Of all the watches I’ve tested the M200 has the best score! (as of 15March2017) I AM CERTAINLY NOT SAYING it will do that every time. Maybe it got lucky one day; the RIGHT day. Maybe. But it had to get lucky for an hour and 20 minutes by being continuously lucky through varied conditions; building, tunnels, trees.
It can be awesome
There is an element of subjectivity in my interpretation of the results. Let’s say I had a subconscious pro-Polar bias for some reason that day. Even ignoring that it will still be up the with the best. ON THAT DAY.
Have a look yourself: ALL the raw FIT/TCX test files of every formal test are available (here) in a public folder along with an analysis spreadsheet of the results (there are three tabs in the spreadsheet).
But then it had less good days as well. The image below shows a pretty awesome HR tracks but a less-than-good GPS track around Chislehurst and Petts Wood.
Zooming in on the ‘Wood’ part of Petts Wood you can see the Polar in red struggling. I’ve not specifically analysed what the Suunto SPARTAN Sport did that day but, from memory, the Suunto looks ‘about right’. The M200 clearly not. This wooded part of the Chislehurst run WAS HARDER, in GPS terms, than the tree sections in my standard test with very significantly long periods of time in the woods. But also on this particular day there were more open areas, away from the trees, where the M200 was not as good as it should have been.
So maybe the GPS performance is a bit like your favourite child (we all have one apparently 🙂 ). When the sun shines s/he is the most wonderful thing on the planet yet, in our heart of hearts, we know that s/he can be a naughty little so-and-so sometimes!
But, in seriousness, the M200 has been pretty good on the GPS front for most of the 10s of hours I’ve used it for.
- I used firmware v1.1.3 (sorry, that’s not interesting)
- There is a ‘gesture activated backlight‘ – in common parlance it means, “if you turn your wrist the light comes on“
- Autolap – can be set based on either time or distance. It’s not possible to autolap by time on some Garmin models, so this actually is a neat feature and one that I use all the time.
- The M200 can broadcast your HR. Most usefully this will be when using machines in gyms ie you will be able to see your HR on the machine as well as on your M200 (not tested)
- You can optionally use a chest strap. Why?!
- It will be more accurate and
- Will save battery life on your watch.
- You can set custom HR zones through FLOW. Why?
- Most people need not worry about this.
- If you know what your zones are (for example as a result of a lab test) then you might as well use them to better hone your training
- This is a fairly good vibration feedback (IMO) but no audible feedback.
- Polar sees autolaps and manually pressed laps as two totally separate sets of laps. You WILL see both sets of laps in Polar’s software but, because of the nature of how sports systems talk to each other, you will lose at least one of those sets of laps when sending the data elsewhere.
- 1 or 2 metrics can be displayed per screen. But there is also a 3rd metric because around the edge of the screen there are dots which represent the training zone you are working in.
- These dots also have different meanings in other scenarios and cover: your progress towards your daily target; and your progress towards certain exercise-specific goals. That’s a nice feature.
REPORTED ISSUES HIGHTLIGHTED IN THE POLAR M200 REVIEW
- Whilst workout usage is generally great, other users have reported inaccuracies in general, basic activity tracking … steps, sleep. That kind of thing. I’m not overly concerned about that. If you use a single device as your activity tracker it ought to be relatively consistent over time.
BEST RUNNING WATCH?
If you need to do more research, I consider and recommend the best running watches in many categories here…
Other entry-level sports watches include some of the TomTom Runner 3 models and the Garmin FR35. They all have ‘unique’ aesthetics and you can make your own call on that front. The general level of functionality across the 3 is similar but there are some nuanced differences which might be important to you. Here’s an overview:
- Polar wins big time by being able to follow a training plan and structured workouts. If you want a free, tailored online plan that you can follow on your watch then you go for the Polar.
- The TomTom generally has the better battery life of the 3
- The Polar and Garmin have a better and more comfortable strap than the TomTom AND the strap will last longer.
- The Garmin can be used with a footpod and the TomTom can have a crack at estimating your pace indoors through internal sensors.
- The Garmin and TomTom can also support cycling cadence sensors
- Garmin’s app probably looks the best, it’s WAY too complex and I prefer Polar’s app and online platform.
- TomTom’s base model wins on price but you may well be lured to TomTom by the mistaken promise of features at the higher end of the Runner 3 range eg music. You will pay quite a bit more for those features.
- Polar’s and TomTom’s GPS both can be very good (FR35 not yet tested for GPS accuracy)
- Polar’s and TomTom’s optical HR both can be very good.
- If you are not bothered about optical HR then consider the FR25 or Polar’s older M400. If you want a low cost-high feature watch then an unusual watch to look at would be the Lezyne MICRO C GPS.
Note Well: I have reservation about the viability of TomTom as a sports watch provider (link to: the5krunner.com)
Q: WHY BUY THE POLAR M200?
A: It’s got generally good GPS, a great app/website and good optical HR. A year ago you simply would not have got those features for this price. From 2017 onwards most running/sports watches will have optical HR as standard.
If you like its looks or want a ‘proper’ training plan then go for the Polar. Of the 3 listed above (TomTom, FR35, FR25), Polar probably looks and feels the better-made. If you are already a Polar user then stick to the brand and app you already know and love.
PRICE,DISCOUNTS & AVAILABILITY
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