Polar has had some catching up to do in the smartwatch space as Fitbit, Garmin, and Apple continuously improve upon and release new products. Polar has always had solid wearable options for serious athletes, but now the new Ignite smartwatch wants to reach a wider group of users.
At $ 229, the Polar Ignite is more affordable than the Vantage M or V smartwatches, but it has more capabilities as a GPS watch than something like Polar’s A370 fitness band. It’s also more attractive and versatile thanks to a round, lightweight case and interchangeable bands. It seemingly provides a good balance of style and fitness prowess like Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 or Fitbit’s Versa does, but spending a week wearing the Ignite has proven that Polar should have paid more attention to small yet crucial details that can make or break a $ 229 smartwatch.
|Specs at a glance: Polar Ignite|
|Screen||240×204 color touchscreen|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, heart rate monitor, GPS, GLONASS|
|Water resistance||Up to 30 meters|
|Battery life||At least five days|
The Ignite is less intimidating than the Vantage M and V smartwatches because it strips away most of the side buttons and opts for a thinner and lighter case. The round smartwatch has a metal ring around its case and just one side button that navigates back on the touchscreen. Both parts of the watch band are removable, so you can switch them out for other styles at your leisure.
The Ignite has an inoffensive design overall, but problems come in when you start to use the touchscreen. First, the active part of the screen is smaller than the case itself—it has a thick black bezel around it and a small chin at the bottom where the Polar logo lives. Second and more importantly, the touchscreen isn’t as responsive as it should be. I often tapped the screen to wake it from its dark sleep mode only to have it ignore my actions. Swiping to different data screens from the main clock face can only be done by hitting the touchscreen at the proper spot—not too close to that bezel, otherwise your swipes will get you nowhere.
The screen also doesn’t have the most reliable raise-to-wake feature either. Since the screen is in sleep mode most of the time, which helps preserve battery power, you must raise your wrist to see the time. However, that only worked for me half of the time, and when it did work, it took a full second or two after I raised my wrist for the screen to wake. I asked Polar about this and my finicky touchscreen, and a representative only told me to make sure the watch had up-to-date firmware (it did) and to clean the display (I did, to no improvement).
You also only have one alternative watch face on the Ignite, giving you a total of two faces to choose from: digital and analog. I kept the digital watch face on most of the time, and it shows the time in large numbers along with the data in smaller numbers and letters underneath it. Swiping from left or right on the screen brings up activity stats like daily goal percentage, current heart rate, and sleep data, along the circumference of the screen. But the time always stays in place.
This is good in terms of telling time, which is arguably a smartwatch’s most important feature. But it’s frustrating to spend more than $ 200 on a smartwatch and then find out that you only have two ways of customizing the watch’s on-screen look and feel.
Music and battery
Polar also missed an opportunity to add onboard music storage to the Ignite. None of Polar’s wearables have this feature, but leaving it out of wearable that costs more than $ 200 in 2019 seems odd. Apple, Garmin, and Fitbit have included onboard music storage and the ability for subscribers to download music from streaming services like Spotify onto their wrists for easier phone-free workouts—that’s the direction the that industry is moving right now, and Polar’s reluctance to following suit is confusing. When asked about this, a Polar representative told me that the company isn’t focusing on falling in line with its competitors but rather serving the “fitness and performance community” by developing new fitness technologies that other devices don’t have (we’ll discuss some of these in the forthcoming sections).
The Ignite has a so-so battery life—it’s good when compared to devices like the Apple Watch but just average when compared to devices like Garmin’s Vivoactive 3. The Ignite lasted four full days and nights for me, with at least three hour-long workouts recording during that time.
However, I was disappointed to find that, when the Ignite’s battery is running very low (lower than 10%), most of the activity features are useless. The device doesn’t track activity, sleep, or workouts. When it’s close to dying, the Ignite is essentially reduced to a “dumb” watch that only tells time. While recording a workout when the device is at 10% will undoubtably drain the battery faster, it should still be an option to do so.
Polar has put more emphasis on sleep tracking as of late, and the Ignite shows off a few new metrics that help users understand the quality of the rest they get each night. Using its motion sensors and heart-rate monitor, the Ignite estimates how long you spend in light, deep, and REM sleep—like many newer wearables do—and gives you a sleep score each night based off that data. Polar’s “sleep charge” metric compares your current night’s sleep score to previous ones to let you know how “normal” your current night’s sleep is compared to how you usually sleep.
Most people will get more use out of sleep scores than sleep charge. Almost every modern wearable that tracks sleep provides users with a sleep score in the morning, and that singular number makes it easy to understand how well you slept the previous night. I believe a graph of sleep scores over time would provide similar insights as sleep charge scores for most users—instead of assigning another arbitrary score to a piece of data, just show users a graph that illustrates the change in a piece of data they already know and understand.
But sleep charge, along with the autonomic nervous system (ANS) charge score, feeds into Polar’s “nightly recharge” score. Let’s define ANS charge first: it looks at your heart rate, heart-rate variability, and breathing rate during the first four hours of sleep, then judges how quickly your body calms down as you’re hitting the sack. If your body calms down quickly, your ANS charge will be high—but you’ll have a low ANS charge score if you’re tossing and turning or unable to shut your brain down when you’re trying to fall asleep.
The nightly recharge score considers both ANS charge and sleep charge for the previous night and gives you yet another score (although not in numbers but rather in phrases like “compromised”). This score lets you know how you should treat the current day in terms of training and strenuous activity. If you have a good nightly recharge score, Polar’s personalized recommendations will probably tell you that you can work out as you normally would with little to no concern about injury. But if your nightly recharge score is poor, you may want to take the day off or go easy on yourself when you train.
Many users can get informative insights from the nightly recharge feature. Unlike sleep charge, it’s a bit more complicated of a metric that analyzes more than just how you slept the night before. Combined with Polar’s personalized training and lifestyle suggestions, it could help users better tailor their workouts to what their bodies can handle on any given day.
Nightly recharge is similar to Garmin’s “body battery” feature that’s now becoming a standard feature on most of its advanced wearables. However, nightly recharge only takes into account your body’s state during sleep time, whereas Garmin’s body battery also considers periods of “rest’ throughout the day in addition to nightly sleep. If you took an afternoon nap or meditated for 15 minutes during your lunch break, body battery includes those periods of rest into its score calculations, giving you a somewhat more comprehensive score overall.
FitSpark workout routines
Also based on your sleep data, Polar’s new FitSpark feature gives you recommended workout routines that are supposed to be best for your body depending on how much and how well you slept the night before (and how active you were the day before as well). Three types of routines—strength, cardio, and supportive—are available almost every day and range from 10 minutes to 45 minutes long. The strength and supportive routines even have animated stick-figure icons that move next to each exercise, showing you how to do the moves correctly.
FitSpark is supposed to make it easier for you to work out even when you’ve had a sluggish day or a bad night’s sleep, and it certainly lowers the barrier between you and exercise. It’s easy to skip a workout when you’re feeling tired and excuse it away by claiming you’re not sure what your body can handle. FitSpark gives you suggestions based on your own activity and sleep stats, and it knows what your body can handle—or at the very least, what won’t be too strenuous on your body.
I also appreciate that FitSpark workouts are not tied to any existing fitness routine. It’s not like Garmin Coach, which requires you to input fitness goals before it spits out a training plan based on those desires. It’s also not like Fitbit Coach, which requires a subscription fee to glean access to fitness and dietary programs. FitSpark workouts will change every day based on your data from the previous day, and that type of immediate adaptation will be useful to many users. And arguably the best thing about FitSpark is that it’s totally free—no subscription or membership required.
Polar also added “Serene” guided breathing exercises, which are similar to those on Fitbit, Garmin, and Apple Watch wearables. You can customize the amount of time you want to relax, and a timer plus animations on the Ignite’s screen will guide you through inhaling and exhaling. If you’ve used any wearable’s guided breathing feature, you’ll know how to use Polar’s—and that also means that if you never use such features (like me), then you’ll probably skip this one, too.
Polar carried over most of the tracking features you’d expect in its other wearables to the Ignite. It’s mostly similar to the $ 279 Vantage M fitness watch in that they both track all-day activity and sleep, record multiple workout profiles, measure heart rate and heart-rate zones, and map outdoor sessions using onboard GPS. You can even get additional metrics like speed, cadence, running index, altitude ascent/descent, training targets, and swimming data from both devices. Like other Polar wearables I’ve used, the Ignite’s GPS was quick to find my location, and its heart-rate monitor recorded my heart rate within 3 BPMs of the Polar H10 chest strap, even when measuring high BPMs.
However, both the Ignite and the Vantage M have a few features that the other doesn’t. As the more expensive device, the Vantage M tracks metrics like Training Load Pro, and it can calculate Running Power when paired with an external running sensor (the Ignite cannot connect to those types of third-party sensors). The Vantage M also has Multisport training mode, which can be useful for triathletes.
The Vantage M will receive a firmware update that will include nightly recharge and Polar’s Serene breathing exercises, too, so it gains some of the newest functionality found in the Ignite. But the Vantage M will not gain FitSpark workout recommendations—which is a bummer because even the most seasoned athletes may want to check out those suggestions and see if they want to fit them into their routine. FitSpark is probably less necessary on a more advanced device like the Vantage M, but it’s still a solid feature that I wish wasn’t sequestered to the Ignite.
Otherwise, the on-screen look and feel of the Ignite matches those of other Polar wearables. Both the wearable’s UI and the Polar Flow app UI haven’t changed much, and I much prefer the former to the latter. The touchscreen might be difficult to use, but at least Polar makes it easy to find the icons to start a training session, begin a breathing exercise, and edit device settings.
However, syncing the Ignite to the Polar mobile app takes a bit more tapping than I’d like. You must navigate to Settings < General Settings < Pair and Sync every time you want to sync data to the mobile app. The Ignite will only sync automatically when the app is open if you’re using it on an Android device. So iPhone users will always have to go through these steps when they need to transfer data. Nearly every other wearable with a companion mobile app syncs automatically when the mobile app is opened on your smartphone or tablet, so this just adds more steps and time between syncing and actually being able to analyze your data.
Good ideas, poor execution
Developing the Ignite as a slightly more affordable version of the Vantage M was a good idea on Polar’s part. However, the final product forces too many compromises to be worth its $ 229 price tag. To give credit where credit is due, the Ignite is a solid fitness watch in that it has an accurate heart-rate monitor and GPS, and Polar’s on-watch software makes recording workouts and tracking a bunch of advanced information easy.
I also admire Polar’s new fitness features, particularly nightly recharge and FitSpark-suggested workouts. Things like that help your data work harder for you, and when you’re spending hundreds on a device that’s main job is to capture data, you could get as many insights as possible from it.
I don’t even mind its overall design much at all—in fact, the blueprint is a good one, and it’s one that many wearable OEMs have followed: an analog-style, round case with limited side buttons and a touchscreen plus interchangeable bands. It’s almost too formulaic, but why mess with a good thing?
But even a decent design can’t make me forget the problems I’ve had with the touchscreen. If the primary way you’re to interact with a wearable is flawed, then the entire device can become more trouble than it’s worth. The design also can’t erase the fact that you cannot save music to the watch, you can’t do most “smart” things once its battery life gets too low, and you only have two watch faces to choose from. No $ 229 smartwatch should force you to make that many sacrifices, particularly with some of the most basic features that more affordable devices treat as standard. Better options for more well-rounded smartwatches are the $ 200 Fitbit Versa, and if you’re willing to pay slightly more, the $ 249 Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music.
- Simple, attractive design.
- Nightly recharge feature helps you know how hard you should train depending on how well you slept.
- FitSpark feature suggests workout routines based on previous activity and sleep metrics.
- Accurate heart-rate monitor and GPS.
- Finicky touchscreen.
- Only two watch faces to choose from.
- No onboard music storage.
- No NFC.
- No automatic workout recognition feature.
- iPhone users must manually sync Ignite to mobile app.
- Cannot do anything “smart” once the battery life gets too low.