The Polar Ignite is a new sports watch from Polar, which is a bit more elegant than its predecessors. You can measure sleep, sports and recovery, receive training advice and much more. How well does this sports watch work for someone who is used to an Apple Watch? We have tested the Polar Ignite, from the point of view of a new user, the target audience that Polar is targeting.
My plan was initially to compare the Polar Ignite ( € 199 ) with the Apple Watch and especially how well it works with sports activities. But I quickly abandoned that thought: it is simply impossible to compare: whoever buys this is looking for something completely different than someone who chooses the Apple Watch . The accents are so different: the Polar Ignite is intended for people who really only want to use it for sports, while the Apple Watch is so versatile that it is almost a computer in itself. You cannot install apps on the Polar Ignite or ask questions to a digital assistant, but you can see very well whether you have slept well and whether you have recovered well to do the next workout.
Measuring sports activities can be a confusing activity, especially for beginners. You tie a wearable on your wrist and then receive so much data that you no longer know what to do with it. On that point, the Apple Watch doesn’t help you much either: the Workout app stares at you expectantly after starting up, but gives no suggestions on what to do. Apple doesn’t give you training plans or workouts, while machine learning and other smart techniques can give you a bit more advice. After all, they’ve also hired all kinds of athletes and sports experts to turn the Apple Watch into a sporty sidekick.
The Polar Ignite does. During the press meeting, the company said that the long-standing Polar sports watches are intended for people who live to exercise. The Ignite is aimed at people who also have other things on their mind, such as work, family life, food and sleep. Partly for this reason, it is a pity that it only contains sports and health functions. No agenda, to-do list or even the ability to save music. After all, the latter also comes in handy during exercise and now Polar forces you to bring a separate MP3 player or smartphone.
The watch comes in a simple, thin cardboard packaging that feels a bit cheap, which is a shame. You buy a watch for two hundred euros, not a pacifier for € 4.99. The Polar Ignite is available in three colors. The price depends on the color and material of the strap: black TPU rubber is the cheapest (€ 199), for the versions in white or yellow silicone rubber you pay extra (€ 229). Loose straps are available for € 24.90. The straps are therefore a lot cheaper than Apple’s, but also feel a lot cheaper. I would have liked the Nike style with hole pattern, or something of comparable quality. The baggy strap could also be made for a $ 30 smartwatch, that’s how cheap it feels.
Design of the Polar Ignite
I like one thing about the Ignite right away: it looks more elegant and less bulky than previous models like the Polar Vantage. I would not easily buckle the Vantage on my wrist, while the Ignite looks more acceptable. It still has a functional look and it is still clunkier than a Withings smartwatch, but that somewhat heavier look you at Garmin too. With that I immediately named the biggest competitor of these Polar watches: Garmin has a much wider product range and when I presented a number of fanatic athletes from my area with the choice Garmin versus Polar, the preference was clear: Garmin! The main pain point: Polar’s interface is confusing. In terms of reliability of measurements, it is good, but Polar has some difficulty in presenting it in a user-friendly way.
As far as the buttons are concerned, an attempt has been made to reduce the confusion a bit. The Polar Ignite has a color touchscreen and only one button. Previously there were several buttons on it and you did not know exactly what to press. Yet there are many functions, such as 24-hour heart rate measurement, improved sleep analysis, personal training advice and breathing exercises. You can record 100 different sports, including swimming. The smart coaching functions give you an idea of how well you are performing and if you are a runner, you also get an indication of your running performance. The training plans will get you started to run a 5K or a marathon (and everything in between).
Operation of the Polar Ignite
Despite that one button, I had trouble operating the Polar Ignite. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so used to the Apple Watch, or if Polar just handled it awkwardly. Often times, I didn’t know whether to tap the screen, press the button, or press one extra long for a particular action. For example, it is a mystery how to start and stop a workout. There is no manual and no instructions appear on the screen.
On the Apple Watch, it’s a matter of pressing the side button, scrolling to the Workout app, and choosing something. If you forget to start a workout, the Apple Watch will automatically ask you after a few minutes if you are exercising and want to record it. With the Polar it is less intuitive. Automatically recognizing sports and reminding you to start a workout is not an option. You have to do it all yourself and for a beginner (which this watch is aimed at) it is sometimes quite a search. For example, to stop a workout, hold the side button for ten seconds until you see a count down animation. I discovered this by just trying. A countdown counter is also illogical in this case. You expect this when starting a workout (to prepare for your performance),
Polar Ignite during exercise
For people who are used to sports watches, the Polar Ignite also has something special: the screen is black and only turns on when you lift your wrist. This is normal with the Apple Watch , but usually not with sports watches: you want to continuously see what your performance is. If you want, you can make sure that the screen is on during exercise, but you have to arrange this via the settings. When operating the touchscreen, you have to take into account that you cannot read data quickly while exercising. This is partly because the screen lighting is less bright than with the Apple Watch, but also because the information is organized a bit less practical due to the round screen. Only the text in the middle of the screen is easy to read, as soon as you scroll up slightly, the round screen cuts off the sides.
I have used the Polar Ignite while walking, running and exercising and found that I could really only operate and read the watch properly when walking. It even became a bit dangerous while cycling. You have to raise your wrist and hold it up for a while (because the screen turns on less quickly than on the Apple Watch) and in the meantime you are already looking away again because you want to pay attention to the road. You will have to get used to lifting your wrist first and then looking about five seconds later. But cycling is not really pleasant.
As far as the choice of sports is concerned, I have no complaints: there are really a lot of sports, more than I would ever practice. The same applies to the Apple Watch, but most of it can be found in the ‘Other’ category and are equated with brisk walking, while body and mind exercises cost a lot less calories than snowboarding.
All measurements can be found in the Polar Flow app, where the sleep measurement and analyzes should be the strongest point. However, I found them less clear than the measurements I collect with AutoSleep on the Apple Watch. The scientific substantiation and the research that Polar uses to analyze your sleep as accurately as possible, this has been well thought out at Polar. But it did not work well to convey that in graphs that gave me new insights.
What makes the Polar Ignite unique?
The Polar Ignite includes a number of functions that were also found on the previous models: workouts, steps, calories, distances, heart rate, sleep tracking, stopwatch and countdown timer and support for dozens of sports. You will also find all of this on the Apple Watch, where you depend on third-party apps for workouts and sleep tracking.
New to the Ignite (compared to previous Polar watches) are these features:
- Measure calories from workouts
- Color touchscreen
- Optical heart rate sensor that measures 24 hours a day (with more lights than the Apple Watch)
- Battery life of five days, or 18 hours if you use GPS
Polar has a number of functions that have been developed in-house that should make the watch extra ‘smart’. This concerns:
- Sleep Plus Stages
- Nightly Recharge
- Serene breathing exercises
The first three work together.
The Serene Breathing Exercises are not that different from the Breathing app you’ll find on the Apple Watch: inhale and exhale to calm down and you’ll be shown a score at the end. With the Apple Watch, this is a bit more hidden (you have to search for your HRV score in the Health app), while the Ignite divides your score into the (somewhat convulsive sounding) zones of Diamond, Sapphire and Amethyst.
Sleep Plus Stages is based on Polar’s existing sleep tracking, which now also looks at specific sleep stages (deep, light and REM), sleep cycles and interruptions. As said: I can already measure that with AutoSleep and I have the impression that it corresponds better to the moments when I was awake. Polar thought at one point that I didn’t go to sleep until 1:17 a.m., while I was in bed by 11:00 p.m. and dreamed away before midnight. It is difficult to validate 100% scientifically if the sleep measurements are correct without going to a sleep lab, but what I do know is if I was awake at certain times, if it took me a long time to fall asleep and at what time awoke. Polar’s sleep tracking didn’t add much to me on that point.
For athletes, the Nightly Recharge feature is much more interesting. That way you know whether you have recovered enough to start exercising again. Three values are considered: your heart rate, heart rate variability and respiratory frequency. I thought this was a useful measurement, because you do not always feel this yourself. Garmin and Suunto also use heart rate and HRV to determine recovery using FirstBeat algorithms, but do not include breaths. Polar does. It provides a measurement of your autonomic nervous system, measuring how quickly your body calms down during the first few hours of sleep. After three nights of sleep you will see the Nightly Recharge Score. I found this useful: you now know whether it is time to exercise, or whether it is better to take an extra day of rest.
FitSpark is also unique on the Polar Ignite. This is a kind of virtual coach that helps you choose the right workout. You can choose from two or three workouts every day: one that suits you best and 1 to 3 alternatives that are slightly less suitable. I also found this useful. If you do not follow a fixed training schedule, you often do not know what to do best. Especially because FitSpark also takes your training history, recovery and sleep data into account.
- Lots of sports functions
- More compact and less robust than previous models
- Algorithms are scientifically based
- Suggests the best workout
- Takes into account recovery and your autonomic nervous system
- Sleep tracking was not always reliable for me
- Operation not intuitive
- Does not automatically recognize that you are exercising
- I miss many features that I have on the Apple Watch, such as apps
- No possibility to save music
Conclusion Polar Ignite watch
The Polar Ignite watch is a sports watch for people who do not exercise that much, but want to take a lot of measurements. Moreover, Polar Ignite watch for people who do not need a smartwatch. The comparison with the Apple Watch is therefore immediately flawed. Apple’s watch is more versatile and has a completely different approach. On the Polar Ignite you can read the time and actually only exercise. No apps, no weather forecast, no answering WhatsApp messages, just sports. You can read a lot of data, such as steps, calories and distances, a VO2max score, fitness test, heart rate, sleep and more, but it all has to do with sports and health. So I don’t have too high expectations of what you can do with this sports watch, but what I do miss is the ability to save and play music. This is possible on sports watches from other brands. Competitors such as Fitbit and Garmin even offer you the option of contactless payment. I do not expect that from the Polar, which mainly depends on the solid measurements.