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Initial hands-on with Polar Loop activity tracker

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Hello! My Polar Loop In-Depth Review is now published, and can be found here.  Thanks!

Today Polar announced their latest product – the Polar Loop.  This marks a new area for Polar where they’re branching into the heath “activity monitor” segment, as opposed to the straight-up fitness markets they’ve traditionally played a large part in.  The growing activity monitor market includes incumbents such as Fitbit, Nike, Jawbone, Withings, Basis and many others.  While the Polar Loop may look similar to some of those devices, it does have a few interesting differences that we haven’t seen anyone else tackle yet.

I’ve only had a day to toy around with the device, so I thought I’d briefly cover where things stand and where they’re going in the near term.  As the device shifts from beta to final retail unit, I’ll circle back at that point with a typical full in-depth review.  Like yesterday’s first-look post, this isn’t meant to replace a review – but rather just to cover the main functions.

Unboxing:

When it comes to the review process, I actually don’t very much enjoy unboxing.  Mostly because it’s slow and tedious and I have to wait for the light coming in from the windows to be ‘just right’.

Thus, I was happy to find that the unboxing for the Loop is really about as streamlined as it gets.

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Inside the box is the Loop, a charging cable and a small instruction card, that’s it.  Woot to simplicity!

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Well, actually, I’d later find this little doohickey was in the box too – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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Here’s the unit in it’s original condition and state:

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The unit has a clasp that clips in place to allow you to take it on/off your wrist.

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Then, we’ve got the USB charging cable.   It uses a standard USB port on your computer/wall/TV/XBox, etc… to charge the device.  Meanwhile, on the other end it uses something that kinda reminds me of the S-Video connectors (remember those days?).

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With those two items completed, let’s dig into getting the unit setup.

Arts and Crafts Project Time:

Given I lack small children at the moment, I don’t get too spend too much time with scissors and rulers.  Or flavored glue sticks.  But today that would change.  See, the Loop comes with a default size that’s large enough to affix the unit to Squatch (yes, I’m from Seattle).

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So, you’ve got to fix that.  While most other players in the market solve this via some sort of clever lego-block style system (Nike), or just different SKU’s (Jawbone) – Polar went in the direction of simply requiring you to get out your scissors.  Since The Girl doesn’t let me use her nice scissors, I have a $1 pair from Ikea that’s all mine!

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First you’ll grab that card from the package.  The card is actually your ruler.  So go ahead and separate it:

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Then, wrap it around your wrist to measure yourself.  I assure you, doing this and taking a photo of it is one of the more difficult photos I’ve taken during a product review.  Especially when you’re too tired to setup a tripod:

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The numbers you see represent how many ‘chunks’ you’re going to cut off from each side of the strap.

To do that, we’ll go grab that metal doohickey in the box and poke out the pins of the strap clasp:

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Next, the moment of truth: Measure twice…and cut twice:

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You’ll cut the band on both sides to be shorter:

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Ok, then grab the metal thingamajig and put the pins back in place:

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Presto, the right size!

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Ok, it actually took me two tries as it was still a bit loose after taking off the initial chunk.  But, nonetheless, mission accomplished!

General use:

The unit has a single button on the front of it, that allows you to iterate through several screens.  Like the Nike FuelBand in many ways, the singular interface keeps things fairly straightforward.

Each button tap will iterate through the different features and then briefly display the state of that metric.

Steps: Steps is pretty straight forward and monitors your steps using the internal 3D accelerometer. It doesn’t display actual distance (i.e. miles/kilometers), but just steps.

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Time: Not much complex here. The time is your local time.  You’ll set this via your phone.

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Actv (short for activity): This is field shows you how much activity time you’ve accumulated.  It starts off with how long you’ve been awake (since sleeping, since it tracks that), then shows you how much time you’ve walked and jogged.

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If you reach your goals for the day, the unit will also give you a little fireworks show.  Additionally, it has a bit of a progress bar after displaying the word Goal.

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Cals (short for calories): These are calories burned.  Note that if you use a HR strap, it’ll use that data instead to determine calorie burn.

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The last function is the ability to track sleep.  It even tells you “Sweet Dreams” (well, it did sitting on my lap writing this post anyway).

In addition you can also briefly hold down the unit’s button to plop it into an airplane mode, in the highly unlikely event you remember to do so on a flight.

Pairing with a Bluetooth Smart heart rate strap:

Perhaps the single most interesting aspect of the Polar Loop is the ability to pair it with a heart rate strap.  The challenge with most activity trackers is how to bridge the gap between a device aimed to track day to day walking around the office/home, with that of something designed to track your exercises.  Most activity tracker devices out there today tend to gloss over the exercise piece – especially on calories.

To solve that Polar added the ability to pair a heart rate strap via Bluetooth Smart.  This works with any Bluetooth Smart HR strap – such as the Polar H6 or H7.

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I also tested it on a few other non-Polar branded straps as well (such as the 4iiii’s Viiiiva).  Regardless of which brand, it has to be a Bluetooth Smart strap. Not a standard Bluetooth (legacy) strap, nor an older Polar strap. Only Bluetooth Smart (look for the little “Bluetooth Smart” symbol):

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In this mode you’ll simply hold the HR strap close to the Polar Loop and then tap the button, which triggers a brief search for the strap before pairing to it.  The Loop will now add your current HR metric into the list of fields you can display.

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As I went on my run tonight, I was able to simply tap the Loop to display my current heart rate.

Later, if I were to upload this data to the app, the calorie information will have been pulled from the HR strap versus simple weight/distance metrics that most devices use.

This is a pretty cool idea, and one that I’m kinda surprised nobody else has added.  How to bridge the gap between fitness device and general life-monitoring device is a question I’m frequently asked, and it appears that Polar may have found the solution.

Polar Flow: Apps & Website Usage:

As part of the Polar Loop platform (that’s the device), Polar is also releasing a new website and app – called Polar Flow.

The Loop syncs with your phone via Bluetooth Smart, so it will require an iPhone 4s or newer.  Out of the gate there will only be an iPhone app available, whereas Android will follow down the road in a few months.  I suspect that the recent Bluetooth Smart challenges on Android are the key driver of that.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to either the website nor the iPhone app as part of my poking with the device.  Thus I can’t really comment yet on how that’s going to shake out – that’ll all come in due course with a full review anyway.  However, in looking at the two screenshots I can share with you (below), as well as a few others that they’ve shown me – I’m impressed with how polished the apps look.

It’s interesting to note for example in the below iPhone image that it breaks out your different activity periods: Sleep, Sitting, Standing, Walking, and Running.

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You’ll also notice as we look at the website, that this is a refreshed site dedicated for the Polar Loop and future Polar devices.  It seems like some good progress over the current/legacy Polar websites which are in desperate need for updating.

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Summary:

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It’s notable that the device is the only one out there that’s fully certified to be 20-meter waterproofed, and also the only one that can be worn while actively swimming (though it’s unclear if it’ll track that properly as an exercise).  It’s also of course the only one that pairs to a heart rate strap for exercises – like I did tonight with my run (where I didn’t feel like bringing a cell phone).  You’ll notice it was pouring out, no problems with water:

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As the $109US Polar Loop releases in two weeks, I’ll be aiming to dig more deeply into it after a few weeks of device and new Flow app platforms usage.  There’s a lot of players in this space, and I expect it to only get more crowded – so I’m looking forward to helping to separate out the winners and losers here.

In the meantime, here’s a quick comparison table of the features.

Function/FeaturePolar LoopPolar A360Garmin Vivosmart HR+Garmin Vivofit3Fitbit Alta
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated June 9th, 2016 @ 10:55 amNew Window
Price$109$199$219$99$129
Body PlacementWristWristWristWristWrist
Data Transfer TypeBluetooth Smart & USBUSB, Bluetooth SmartBluetooth Smart, USBBluetooth Smart/ANT+Bluetooth Smart
Bluetooth to PhoneYesYesYesYesYes
Has GPS built-inNoNoYesNoNo
Waterproofing20 meters30m50m50 MetersNot really
Battery Life5-7 daysUp to 2 weeksUp to 5 days1 YearUp to 5 Days
Battery TypeUSB RechargeableUSB RechargeableUSB RechargeableCR1632USB Rechargeable
Changeable Bands/StrapsYesNo
WatchPolar LoopPolar A360Garmin Vivosmart HR+Garmin Vivofit3Fitbit Alta
Displays timeYesYesYesYesYes
Has time alarmsNoYesYesYesYes
Has smart sleep alarmsNoNoNoNo
NotificationsPolar LoopPolar A360Garmin Vivosmart HR+Garmin Vivofit3Fitbit Alta
Smartphone NotificationsNoYesYesNoText/Call/Calendar only
WorkoutsPolar LoopPolar A360Garmin Vivosmart HR+Garmin Vivofit3Fitbit Alta
Workout guidance/coachingNoYesYesNoNo
DataPolar LoopPolar A360Garmin Vivosmart HR+Garmin Vivofit3Fitbit Alta
Step CounterYesYesYesYesYes
Stairs ClimbedNoNoYEsNoNo
Distance WalkedApp Only (Added in update)YesYEsYesYes
Calories BurnedYesYesYEsYesYes
Sleep MetricsYesYesYesYesYes
24x7 HR MetricsNoYesNoNo
SensorsPolar LoopPolar A360Garmin Vivosmart HR+Garmin Vivofit3Fitbit Alta
Skin TemperatureNoNoNoNoNo
Heart RateYes (with HR Strap)YesYes (Internal)Yes (with HR Strap)No
Optical Heart RateYesYEsNoNo
Can re-broadcast Heart Rate dataNoOnly to certain Polar platformsYesNoNo
Skin PerspirationNoNoNoNoNo
Cycling SensorsNoNoNonONo
Action Camera ControlNoNoYesNoNo
SoftwarePolar LoopPolar A360Garmin Vivosmart HR+Garmin Vivofit3Fitbit Alta
Web ApplicationYesYesYesYesYes
PC ApplicationYesYesYesYesYes
Mac ApplicationYesYesYesYesYes
Phone AppsiOS/AndroidiPhone/AndroidiOS/Android/Windows PhoneAndroid/iOS/Windows PhoneiOS/Android/Windows Phone
Ability to export/sync settings from computer/phoneYesYesYesYesYes
PlatformPolar LoopPolar A360Garmin Vivosmart HR+Garmin Vivofit3Fitbit Alta
3rd parties can access data via APIYesSortaYesYesYes
Ability to export your data out of platformYesYesYesYesYes
PurchasePolar LoopPolar A360Garmin Vivosmart HR+Garmin Vivofit3Fitbit Alta
Amazon LinkLinkLinkLinkLinkLink
Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP programLinkLinkLinkLinkLink
Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP programLinkN/A
DCRainmakerPolar LoopPolar A360Garmin Vivosmart HR+Garmin Vivofit3Fitbit Alta
Review LinkLinkLinkLinkLinkLink

As always, feel free to drop questions into the comments below and I’d be happy to try and get them answered.  Thanks for reading!

 

Update: Ordering information

Just as a heads up, you can now order the Polar Loop via Clever Training – which in turn helps support the site. As most of you know, I’ve partnered with Clever Training to provide DCR Readers with an exclusive 10% off coupon (DCR10MHD), good for anything you put in your cart. Plus free US shipping over $75.  The relevant links are:

Polar Loop Activity Tracker
Polar H6 Bluetooth Smart HR Strap
Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart HR Strap

Thanks for the support!

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254 Comments

  1. Norbert

    Hi Ray,
    As the Polar Loop is just showing up in Canada, wondering if you are still planning on releasing one of your amazing reviews this week? With so many choices out there, and the holiday season coming up, I would certainly appreciate your help navigating through the ever growing field of activity trackers. Keep up the great work and thanks in advance for any and all help!

    • Not this week unfortunately. I only got a final production unit earlier in the week unfortunately (got caught up in customs).

      I suspect late next week right now, or at absolute worst Monday/Tues the week after.

      You will however next week see the Withings Pulse review, and another unit (cheaper one for a different market segment). Fwiw.

  2. Leslie

    Sync with these steps.

    1. Open Polar Flow iPhone App
    2. After the iPhone App shows that the Sync to Service is Completed.
    3. Press the Polar Flow Button to wake the Polar Loop.
    4. The BT Symbol should then flash and connect.
    5. Sync Data with Product should show up at the top of the App.
    6. Sync Data with Service will follow after sync w/ Product.
    7. This will complete the syncing phase.
    8. Polarpersonaltrainer.com will only show exercises when using the H6 or H7. It is not designed to show your daily activity, that is Polar Flow’s task (website and iPhone application)

  3. Leslie

    Sync with these steps.

    13. The mode that displays activity total time looks OK (picture) but the mode where it displays the activity per minute does not show the circle with the activities, only the clock and nothing else. I’ll try to attach the pciture in a response to this post.
    I Sync with these steps.

    1. Open Polar Flow iPhone App
    2. After the iPhone App shows that the Sync to Service is Completed.
    3. Press the Polar Flow Button to wake the Polar Loop.
    4. The BT Symbol should then flash and connect.
    5. Sync Data with Product should show up at the top of the App.
    6. Sync Data with Service will follow after sync w/ Product.
    7. This will complete the syncing phase.
    8. Polarpersonaltrainer.com will only show exercises when using the H6 or H7. It is not designed to show your daily activity, that is Polar Flow’s task (website and iPhone application). Open Polar Flow iPhone App
    2. After the iPhone App shows that the Sync to Service is Completed.
    3. Press the Polar Flow Button to wake the Polar Loop.
    4. The BT Symbol should then flash and connect.
    5. Sync Data with Product should show up at the top of the App.
    6. Sync Data with Service will follow after sync w/ Product.
    7. This will complete the syncing phase.
    8. Polarpersonaltrainer.com will only show exercises when using the H6 or H7. It is not designed to show your daily activity, that is Polar Flow’s task (website and iPhone application)

  4. Oscar

    Is there any way of using this without having to sync it with your iPhone? I am a Windows Phone user and this is a problem for me….

  5. Adrienne

    Hi, any updates on the loop? Also, do you know how it compares to the fitbit force?

  6. JR

    RE: your comparison chart, my FuelBand gets WAY more than 3 days battery life. Try 10-14 days.

    • Hmm, that’s not what I found in my testing, nor what Nike advertises, nor what any other review I can find says it gets anywhere near that.

      I’m not saying you don’t get that long, but that’s definitely not normal.

    • Damon

      That’s interesting for the Polar Loop, no one on the Polar Forum has even come close to 7 days, let alone the 5 days they state it will last.

    • Yup, I charged it last Thursday evening (France time), and have been wearing it since. It’s now Thursday evening again France time. Charger has otherwise been in my suitcase the entire time.

      And, as I write this, it’s just changed from showing my stats + “Charge” to simply “Charge”. Thus, it’s done.

    • Long Run Nick

      Hey JR, do you stay in Bed?(:
      My FB got 3 to maybe 4 days. I averaged around 6000 fuel points a day. This includes runs from 6-10 miles. My new FBSE needed re-charging for the first time after a little over 3 days. I would think when you activate sessions you will burn more battery and with the Blue tooth automatic, no need to sync, that may eat some more of the battery. My sessions are running 6-10 miles. I do like the sessions and am happy with the SE. Old one headed to my daughter. Thanks for letting me share.
      Ray, you continue to rule!!

    • Damon

      How long were each of your workout sessions with the Polar Loop & H7 in one day? 2 1hr sessions and 1 30min session and my PL was down to 20%. Less than 3 days without the H7. Polar Customer Service said that was normal. I’m in the USA and have the chat session as proof. If they’re shipping better bands over that side of the Atlantic, I’d sure like to order one, be worth the wait.

    • Tim

      Which tracker is more “motivational”, the FB or Loop? It seems the Loop is the more powerful device, but the FB and its app appear to make one keep ‘playing the move game.’ Trying to figure out which one to get.

    • Damon

      I own the Fitbit Flex, then went to the Polar Loop and I’m currently using the Fuel Band SE. Returning the PL, sold the FF on eBay. The FBSE is definitely more motivational if you’re a competitive person, especially when you join a group. Really disappointed in the PL app software and hardware. Nike and Fitbit customer service outclass Polar anyday. You also have 30 days to try either of those two. Don’t by direct from Polar if you want to try the PL, try REI or an Online Source instead. Polar accepts no refunds after an item is opened, whether you like it or not.

    • Damon Ross

      I own the Fitbit Flex, then went to the Polar Loop and I’m currently using the Fuel Band SE. Returning the PL, sold the FF on eBay. The FBSE is definitely more motivational if you’re a competitive person, especially when you join a group. Really disappointed in the PL app software and hardware. Nike and Fitbit customer service outclass Polar anyday. You also have 30 days to try either of those two. Don’t by direct from Polar if you want to try the PL, try REI or an Online Source instead. Polar accepts no refunds after an item is opened, whether you like it or not.

    • Tim

      Damnon,

      Thanks for that reply. Whatever I get, I’m getting one for myself and my wife for daily competitions. One more question if I may….How do you think the durability is on the FBSE? Reading all over the net these things seem to break a lot. Is that a Nike problem or a side effect of an activity tracker? I’ve never owned one so I have no clue if an activity tracker can withstand the day to day activities/workouts, even if it’s a Nike product or not.

    • Damon Ross

      The FB was a first run, I trained myself never to buy the initial launch. I went against that with Polar because of their track record the last ten years with my money; boy was that not a smart move. A rare number love the PL, I have had a clasp issue with my FBSE and Nike replaced it right away. The band takes some getting used to after wearing the FF and the PL, but they give you 3 different ways to fit the band and 2 extensions. Go to an Apple Store and get moving with the FBSE. Add me as a friend and you’ll see just how my group pushes and encourages you to get moving. FYI, Nike is coming out with a special color for the ladies on 11-21-13 and it’s all the rave on the web. In the end, it’s all about finding what gets you motivated and moving. FF is great and so is PL, but they don’t push you or light the fire to make you competitive. Nike linked with Apple and made a great social application. Oh and FBSE isn’t the 2.0 Fuel Band, so there will be another around the 3rd or 4th quarter of next year.

    • Damon Ross

      @Robin, I had the exact same mindset. Check the forum and see for yourself. Don’t wear the HRM for more than an hour or you’ll be searching for a charger. I swim in cold water and the minimal operating temperature is 32F/0C. Oh, you’ll love the band and good luck with the iOS software. I really hope it works for you, didn’t for me. I’m going back to my Polar FT80 for HRM, I’ll use the FBSE to keep me moving competitively. link to forum.polar.fi

  7. Robin Clark

    Regarding which activity tracker to get, It really comes down to personal choice. I’ve ordered a Loop and H7 heart rate strap and expect to get it next week. For me, it’s the best choice and unless I find it really unusable (the band or the software) I’m going to stick with it. It’s the only all-day activity tracker on the market that uses heart rate and is also waterproof for swimming. Those two features are must-haves for me. The Amiigo incorporates heart rate and is waterproof but you have to use your phone to see anything, as opposed to the Loop which has the display right on the band. That was also a must-have feature for me.

  8. Ruben C

    I have had the Loop for 5 days now. My thoughts. Pros: very light and comfortable to wear, stylish, LED readout very nice and easy to understand, syncing very easy, nice magnetic cable for charging, hard to exaggerate step counter with false movement. Nice watch.

    CONS: Over exaggerated calories counter and activity counter, phone app data very basic, the sleep monitor is almost useless compared to FITBIT and Jawbone UP, the LOOP would not pick up my sleep during daytime hours as I work on call and have random sleep habits. It assumes that non movement at night means sleepy time and during day is just inactive time. No breakdown of sleep habits. My Kettlebell workouts were hardly noticed by the bracelet.

    I did not use loop with the heart monitor.

  9. Dan G

    Somewhat silly question that’s relevant to me – how many clicks does it take to view the TIME on the loop? Based on the manual it looks like 4. The Force and FBSE get there in 2 I think.

    • Robin Clark

      I’ve had my Loop for a couple of days now. To view the time with one tap of the touch button, just leave the display mode cycled to “TIME”. Then you can see the time just by tapping the button once.

  10. xtgirl

    Ray, I bought the 4iii Viva heart rate strap because you mentioned it worked with the polar loop. I can’t seem to get it to pair. It never detects heart rate or shows heart rate screen at all.
    Can you check yours again and make sure it still continues to function? I’ll now be out 200 dollars if this doesn’t work…could it be new firmware? I don’t have a polar strap to test the overall function.

    • xtgirl

      I finally got it to work after a factory reset….

    • xtgirl

      Ahhhh…I can’t get it to show heart rate. I even did a factory reset this time. It’s worked once out of 10 times that I’ve tried to get it to read heart rate. Can you check yours when you have time and see if it’s still working with the 4iii. I guess I’ll call/write Polar. Sometimes my button will be unresponsive as well. I wonder if my unit is a little messed up. Does yours read on the loop and a Garmin at the same time? Not that that is the issue as it won’t read on polar alone….

    • Yes, the Viiiiva will dual-broadcast.

      I’m not home at the moment and don’t have that strap with me, but I can check when I return.

    • I re-validated both production units at once (4iiii’s Viiiiva + Polar Loop) this evening, and it does still work for me. And, at the same time also streaming to a Garmin Edge 800.

      I do get occasional non-response from the buttons. In general I find that it happens if I press it a few times, and then try again immediately to press. Sorta like a fail-safe of sorts from something holding down the button in your sleep/bag/etc… Odd, and it’s something I’ve noted in my full in-depth review (set for 12AM Eastern).

  11. kousaku

    Hi, awesome review, but now the choice is even harder.
    At the moment I have Suunto M5 watch which I use for the gym, but recently I noticed I might have water damaged it. So now I’m looking for a new health tracking solution.

    As far as I have understood there is still no Holy Grail, meaning that there is no single device, which would track sleep patterns, activity level, pulse etc, gym activity, running and all similar activities with good accuracy etc. (there always seems to be an area in, which given product is inaccurate).

    So, I’m now wondering which two devices I should get or should I settle for a compromise. For a while now I’ve been wondering about Getting Basis B1 for normal daily tracking and then for a gym Getting Polar bluetooth chestband to track pulse with a smartphone. Now however, I’m not so sure anymore what to get. Fitbit Force seems to be quite nice for daily use and on the other hand Polar has this device which, makes smartphone unnecessary. On the other hands Basis has nice idea about Habits&Level Up.

    Any suggestions?

    • No, there’s no Holy Grail at this point.

      Your idea of getting the B1 for the 23 hours of the day you’re not working out, and then just a HR strap makes sense if you’re more focused on the data for the rest of the day.

      Whereas if you’re more focused on the workout, then you may want to spend more money there, and less money on a activity monitor.

    • Nancy Schoeggl

      I am experiencing the same problem as xtgirl with connecting to the Viiiiva. My button also exhibits the same issue.

  12. Stacie

    How well do you think this would work with a day of continuous heart rate monitoring (with a strap of course)? Would I have to have my phone on me the whole time for it to be transmitting to, or is the Polar Loop capable of storing the information internally until I am able to sync it with my computer.

    I’m looking for a device that can help me got some readings for full days. I did look into the Alpha and your post on that was amazingly helpful, but I’m really not looking forward to the drain that would be to my phone.

    What would be your suggestion for a heart rate monitor capable of keeping an accurate reading for and entire day?

    • Yeah, I wouldn’t use the Loop for that honestly. Mostly because the challenge with then pairing to normal HR straps it that for non-athletic purposes – without HR gel – you’re likely to get drops/spikes since there’s no moisture.

      Check out the Basis B1 watch (in the reviews), as an option here instead (optical).

  13. Hi All-

    With the In-Depth Review now published, I’m going to go ahead and close this specific post to new comments, simply to keep things organized. You can check out the review there, as well as add any new comments there: link to dcrainmaker.com

    Thanks all!