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Polar Loop review - activity tracker wristband that's fit for sports people

Polar is a Finnish company that has been in the fitness business for over 30 years, quickly establishing itself as the leader in portable heart rate monitors. With its Polar Loop the company is entering the competitive activity trackers market that is booming right now, with many new wearable tech products entering the sector since the start of the year.

Fitbit is the market leader with its Force, Flex, One and Zip trackers – see Which Fitbit tracker is for you. However, the company has stumbled recently, having to take its Fitbit Force activity tracking wristband off the market following reports of some users suffering allergic reactions form the underside of the band. While this is a shame as it was our favourite tracker wristband it does leave the door open for other similar fitness trackers. The Polar Loop's closest Fitbit equivalent is the Fitbit Flex.

The first popular activity-tracking wristband was Nike’s FuelBand, and the Polar Loop is closer in looks and operation to that tracker than it is to the Fitbit products.

Polar started its fitness tech business in 1977 with a fingertip hear-rate monitor. In 1982 its Sport Tester was the world’s first wireless wearable heart-rate monitor, which took the form of a wristwatch and could therefore be considered one of the world’s first smartwatches. In 2007 its Polar AW200 activity watch was first to market with a wrist-based activity tracker that measured activity through body movement.

You can see that Polar is no novice when it comes to fitness-based wearable tech but it faces stiff competition from the likes of Fitbit, Nike, Jawbone Up and Samsung Gear 2 when it comes to mainstream non-sports-based activity trackers.

The Polar Loop uses its own motion-analysis technology to track all the moves you make during the day. Its smart display and smartphone app (above) and desktop dashboard then show you how you’re doing in reaching activity goals for the day.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way before we sing any praises. Setting up the Polar Loop was not as easy as all the other activity trackers we’ve tested. In fact we found it fiddly and worrying.

It comes with an integrated wristband but you need to measure your wrist and then take a pair of scissors to the band to cut it to the correct length for you. It is not a great sign that the first thing you have to do once a new product is out of its box is start cutting it with scissors. It’s OK while you need to keep cutting it but there’s no way back if you snip it too short, although Polar says it will replace if you snip it too much.

You then need to reattach the clasp using the small supplied tool. Some people might be good with this sort of thing but I am not, and it took me nearly half an hour to get the clasp’s tiny pins into place.

Why has Polar made this such a fiddly procedure? Fitbit ships two sized wristbands with its Flex and sells the Force with either a large or small band that you adjust simply by the fixed clasp with the appropriately spaced holes.

Polar’s fiddly metal clasp and requirement to physically cut the wristband to the right length are unnecessary design flaws. There's a video here so you can gauge whether this is something that you'd be able to handle with ease.

(If you badly butcher your Loop wristband within one month of the purchase date Polar syays you should contact its Customer Care or the place where you bought it to have it serviced for free.)

Thankfully setting up the app and online account were easy.

The Loop displays daily activity, calories burned and steps taken. Handily it also shows you the time of day so you can ditch your watch rather than have two devices strapped to your wrist.

Polar Loop uses an accelerometer to record your wrist movements. It analyses the frequency, intensity and irregularity of movements together with your physical information that you input online.

The cool red display prompts you with To Go options to push you to reach your daily activity goal: first, you see the activity type and then the duration of how long you should perform the activity to reach that goal. There are three types of activity. Jog means high-intensity activities such as jogging, skipping, sports or exercise class. Walk is for medium-intensity activities such as brisk walking, mowing the lawn, circuit training, or “gentle dancing”. Up are low-intensity activities that include cleaning, gardening, slow walking, or tai chi.

One great feature of the Polar Loop is when it reminds you that you’ve been still for too long. It’s all very well reaching your 10,000-step target but if that’s achieved at the start and/or end of the day you’re missing out on getting fit during the bulk of the day. If the Loop gets you out of your chair and more active during the day then it’s earned its keep right there.

The Polar Loop doesn’t include an altimeter like the Fitbit One and Force so it won’t measure the number of flights of stairs you manage to climb every day. This isn't a great loss, but I did find myself taking the stairs more when using the Fitbit Force and Fitbit One.

Sleep tracking: If you wear the Polar Loop at night it will track your sleep. Unlike with the Fitbit trackers you don’t need to tell the Loop that you are going to sleep. Instead it estimates when you are sleeping from your wrist movements. It calculates your sleep time from the longest continuous rest time with 24 hours. While this means that you won’t forget to activate the Sleep function it does make it slightly less accurate. Also, for Polar sleep is sleep – compared to Fitbit’s monitoring of “sleep efficiency” that includes waking and restlessness during the night.

Another feature we’d like to see on the Loop, which you do get with most of the Fitbits, is a vibration motor to alert you when you’ve reached your goal or to use as an alarm clock. It could also give you a buzz every time it issues an inactivity alert to get you out of your seat.

What really sets the Polar Loop apart from the other activity trackers is its compatibility with Polar’s heart-rate sensors.

Uniquely the Loop is compatible with the Polar H6 and H7 Bluetooth Smart heart-rate sensors (priced from around £50; see image below).

By wearing a compatible Polar heart rate sensor with your Polar Loop, you'll get more accurate information about your activities – especially non-step sports such as cycling – and also get comprehensive heart rate training analysis.

This can transform strenuous non-step activities. For example a 20-minute rowing session would log as just a few hundred steps on most activity trackers – and indeed the Loop without the heart-rate sensor. But combined with the wearable heart monitor it registers 8,000 steps.

It is also better than the Fitbits at tracking strenuous activities such as swimming. The Polar Loop is waterproof up to 20m and will estimate your activity during such pursuits.

You wouldn’t want to wear the chest-strap heart monitor all day, however, and it will drain the Loop’s battery much faster. But the combination is perfect for intensive sessions.

NEXT PAGE: Polar Loop design, comfort, app, software, and battery life


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