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Polar’s Unite Fitness Watch: Hands-on Details and First Run

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Almost exactly a year after announcing the Polar Ignite GPS watch, the company is back with another wearable – the similarly named Unite, which takes all the Polar Ignite features, slashes the internal GPS, and drops the price by $50. Oh, and they’ve changed the sensors, bands, screen, and thickness. But wait – while it lacks internal GPS, it can still leverage your phone’s GPS if that’s nearby.

And thus, I’ve explained the Polar Unite in a single paragraph. Sure, I could end this non-review, but I’ve still got 6 hours till this watch launches, so I might as well fill up this page with all sorts of hands-on details on how it works and whether it makes sense for ya. Also, for those playing Branding Bingo at home, drink for every time I manage to mistype Unite as Ignite. And two drinks for when I mistype Unite as Unit or United.

The Polar Unite is theoretically aimed at the same audience as the Fitbit Charge 4, also priced at $149. Except, that one has GPS, but is a band wearable as opposed to a full watch. And while the Fitbit Charge 4 undeniably has fitness features, Polar’s Unite is in an entirely different league. It’s got the same automatic workout coach (called FitSpark) as the higher-priced Polar Ignite, and the same sleep and 24×7 tracking as Polar’s $400+ GPS watches. The question is, how does that fit into a scheme where the Apple Watch Series 3 is at $169 these days? Well, that’s trickier and will really depend on what you want out of it. For that, I’ll first have to explain the nuances (and pitfalls) of this watch.

Or, you can simply hit the play button below to get all the details:

Also, just a quick note that Polar sent over this media loaner to toy with. Once I’m done I’ll get it back to them (along with this Grit X I’m finally done with). Just the way I work – leave no tracks and all that. If you found this post useful, simply hit up links at the side, or consider becoming a DCR Supporter.

With that – let’s dive in!

High-Level Explainer:

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Now, as I stated earlier, the Polar Unite is essentially a Polar Ignite without built-in GPS. But there are a handful more differences beyond that which make it…maybe…better?

First though, let’s quickly cover the main features it has in it. Starting with the hardware side of life – here’s the specs:

– Claimed daily battery time of 4 days, workout battery time of 50hrs with connected GPS (if your phone can last that long)
– Color touchscreen display, single side button
– Waterproofed to 30 meters
– Display is not always-on, only turns on when raising wrist, like Apple Watch (pre-Series 5) or most Fitbits, workout mode *does* have always-on option though
– Polar Precision Prime optical heart rate sensor on back (same as new Grit X series)
– Strap design is new to Unite, a blended fabric and silicone strap
– Swappable wristbands
– Bluetooth Smart HR sensor support (though not power meters/cycling/footpod sensors)
– No music/storage on watch, nor NFC/contactless payments

Virtually everything above mirrors that of the Polar Ignite series. Polar doesn’t have an app store, so you won’t see that. And the only real downside here is the lack of GPS internally and the fact that the display turns off to save battery after a few seconds.

From a major software features standpoint, it mirrors all those functions from the Polar Ignite. Here’s the run-down:

– Includes ‘FitSpark’ feature which gives you daily workout options based specifically on history + Nightly Recharge
– Includes ‘Nightly Recharge’ feature that looks at breathing rate/heart rate/heart rate variability (ANS data) to figure out if you’re recovering at night
– Includes ‘Sleep Plus Stages’ which adds in REM/Light/Deep sleep tracking, and sleep score
– Includes ‘Serene’, which are guided breathing exercises (like what Fitbit and others have)
– Includes structured workout support, so you can create workouts online with specific steps to follow
– Includes ‘Training Benefit’ feature

Next, just for completeness, here’s a quick list of all the ‘things you expect’ on a wearable (especially a Polar one), but I figured I’d list them here just in case:

– Tracks general activity metrics (e.g. steps, distance, calories, etc) 24×7
– Tracks heart rate 24×7
– Tracks sleep (see new sleep features though)
– Includes VO2Max score (aka ‘Running Index’)
– Includes ‘Fitness Test’ feature (VO2Max test while lying down)
– Includes timers (countdown timers & stopwatch)
– Maximum of 20 sport profiles on the watch itself (far more than Apple, Garmin, Fitbit, or Suunto allow at this price point), some 100 sports on platform to add to watch
– Can apply both heart rate zones and speed zones (no power zones/nor power meter support)
– Accelerometer-based speed/distance when no connected GPS is available (or inside on treadmill)
– Does *NOT* have multisport (aka triathlon) mode

So, about now you’re asking yourself how’s it different than the Polar Ignite? Easy-peasy, here’s the quick and dirty list:

– No built-in GPS on Polar Unite (it will leverage your phone’s GPS though)
– Band design is different, similar to Apple Watch – better in some ways, less so in others
– Unite has color-themed watch face customization, Ignite does not
– This is 32g, versus the Ignite is 35g, so you can now eat one extra bit of ice cream
– Unite daily battery life is 4 days versus 5 days for Ignite
– Unite workout with GPS battery life & optical HR sensor enabled is 50 hours versus 17 hours for Ignite (and internal GPS)
– Unite uses the new Polar Grit X optical HR sensor with different LED colors
– Unite optical HR sensor is flush with the back of watch, Ignite has a sensor bump/pop-out
– Unite has a slightly brighter display than Ignite
– Unite is $149, while Ignite is $199
– Unite is usually impossible to type right 30 times in a row, Ignite is easier

And with that, we’ve wrapped up all the differences between them. Plus, I’m out of bullet points – I definitely used them all by now. Ok, let’s walk through the main features.

The Basics:

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Once you crack open the box you’ll find the watch inside. Also of note – Polar changed their box design to this swanky new one. It’s kinda clever.

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Also of note is that Polar changed their charging clip here (unfortunately) to this cable-less variant.

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They’re a pain in the butt in most cases to use with laptops/desktops/anywhere without a weird USB port spot.

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The first thing you’ll probably notice on the Unite is the removable band. It looks like this mysterious blend of fabric and silicone. Seriously, it’s kinda cool. But in reality, it’s just laser-etched into the band. Still, it feels nice.

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It is however also a direct softer duplication of the Apple Watch band design where the strap inserts back into itself. The only problem is that Polar’s manufacturing design or tolerances isn’t quite good enough to pull it off. So for first-time usage I’ve found getting the pole into the hole is really challenging. It’s just a super tight fit and requires a substantial amount of force and fiddling around.

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Polar says over time and with more practice/usage it’ll loosen up a bit and be easier to get in.

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I’ll have to take their word on that at this point and will circle back later after a few weeks. Still, I do really like the fabric/silicone blend. It’s mysteriously alluring.

Next, there’s the touchscreen display and single button. The screen appears slightly brighter than the Ignite, and Polar says it is actually very slightly brighter than the Polar Ignite. As noted, you’ll largely interact with the screen via touch, though there’s also a dedicated button on the left. I’ve found the touch control so-so. For swipes left to right it’s fine, but I find that either I or the watch have often missed on up/down swipes (like in some of the menus). It’s not a big deal, and I suspect over time I’d get better at the nuances of it.

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On the back of the unit you’ll find the new optical HR sensor. This is the same sensor as the Polar Grit X which came out back in April. That sensor is slightly different than the Polar Ignite or Vantage series in that it changes the LED coloring. This sensor will monitor your heart rate 24×7, as well as during workouts:

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Flipping the unit back over let’s dive into menus. First up is the watch face, showing me the time. There’s only two watch faces, digital or analog. And then within that, you can pick from half a dozen or so colors to accent them (to match the wrist straps available):

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I can swipe left or right to iterate through the other widget screens. In fact, above it actually shows my steps atop the time (using the blue band around the edge). When tapping that, I can get more details about steps:

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Same is true for heart rate:

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There’s also one for sleep. While it takes 3 consecutive days of wearing the Unite to get more advanced sleep information, you’ll get preliminary information immediately.

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From a sports standpoint, the widget will show your last workout, and then you can tap it to get more details about that workout or previous ones:

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There’s also a FitSpark widget screen, which will give you a workout suggestion for the day. But more on that in the next section:

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If you press the lower left button you’ll be able to access the menu to start training, but it’s also where you can swipe down once to access Serene:

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Serene is where it’ll walk you through guided breathing exercises:

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In this same area is where you’ll find timers (stopwatch and such), as well as the Fitness test:

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It’s also where you can dive into the settings and pair your phone, sensors, and change things like how it displays certain details such as distance or the time of day.

Finally, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access smartphone notifications. Like with the Polar Grit X a few months ago, I’m having problems here as well on timeliness of these notifications. My other devices get them instantly, but in some cases I’m seeing delays of up to 30 minutes before a notification appears. It’s unclear to me if this is just a ‘DCR Issue’, or something wider.

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And then you can swipe down from the top to access the screen lock, do not disturb mode, and alarms.

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With that, let’s talk sports.

Sport Details:

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If you’re buying the Polar Unite, it’s likely for sport or fitness usage. And in that realm, it does quite a bit. As I noted earlier, it’s not much different than the Polar Vantage or Grit X series in terms of the main sports features. Where it differs is lacking some of the more advanced aspects. For example, you won’t find Recovery Pro or Training Load Pro here, nor will you find the new Hillsplitter feature.

But it does have FitSpark for automated workout suggestions, as well as the ability to download structured workouts to it. And of course, while it lacks internal GPS, you can still leverage your phone – which probably works for many people.

We’ll start with FitSpark, since that’s one of the big features of the Unite. From the main widget page you’ll see this screen. It’s telling me that my workout for today should be a cardio one:

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And when I tap it, it gives a bit more details. First, it should be a ‘Cardio Medium’ effort of 1 hour and 4 minutes, staying in heart rate zones 1-3. Which is oddly perfect, since that’s exactly what I planned for today (60 minutes technically, but close enough). On the upper edge you see it also says ‘Strength’ and ‘Supportive’, which are the other two workout types it’ll recommend.

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When I hit that ‘More’ button, it’ll give me other workout options, in this case doing a ‘Core Regular’ workout for 25 minutes, or a ‘Mobility Dynamic’ workout for 23 minutes. There’s also a flyer of an option for ‘Cardio Long’, at 1hr 48mins.

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If I tap that ‘Core Regular’ workout, it gives you a bunch of explainer text, but lower down you’ll see the exact core moves it wants you to do, complete with little moving animated peoples:

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It also shows the set numbers next to it. The same is true for the ‘Mobility Dynamic’ workout:

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Going back to my actual Cardio Medium workout for today, it shows some intensity phases to stay within. However, these blocks of time don’t match the actual lengths. For example, in reality this workout would have me do 10 minutes warmup (blue below), then 49 mins ‘work’ (green below), and then 5 mins cool-down (blue below). Obviously, that’s not three equal parts like represented below.

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Once I’m ready, I’ll tap the ‘Start’ button, which then brings me to choose the exact sport.

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See, for Polar FitSpark it doesn’t care or specify about sports for these cardio workouts. Instead, it’s focused on your heart rate. So in this case, it’s an indoor ride. So I’ll select that – and also get on my bike.:

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After that, I simply press start and get to it. It’ll show me a banner as I start each section with the heart rate zone and duration, and then show me a gauge at the top with the target and my current spot in zone, as well as time remaining.

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The coloring changes based on the zones, for example my cool-down:

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Afterwards, I’ll get a summary (more details on those in a moment):

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Now, what about GPS workouts? Fear not – let’s talk there based on a workout last night. Now all but one of Polar’s other wearables have built-in GPS, whereas the Polar Unite will depend on your phone for that. However, this isn’t Polar’s first BBQ when it comes to leveraging your phone for GPS. In fact, the band-based Polar A360 and A370 had the same technology as well.

When you first set up the Polar Flow app on your smartphone, it’ll prompt you to confirm the GPS permissions (and just after that, permissions for smartphone notifications):

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Then, you’ll go into the sport menu like normal to start a workout. To do that simply tap the lower left button, and choose to ‘Start Training’. It’ll give you a swippable list of workout types, just like with FitSpark. You can customize all these, including the exact data screens and data fields you’ve got configured:

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If you select an outdoor workout type that leverages GPS (like Road Running), you’ll then see an icon for phone connectivity. This shows whether it’s connected to the phone or not, then if it has GPS lock. At first it’ll be red:

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Then once connected to the phone it turns orange:

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And then finally green once it’s got GPS lock:

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Meanwhile, on the heart rate side, it’ll show optical HR lock once ready. Or, if you’ve got a Bluetooth Smart chest strap paired, it’ll show that too.

With that, you’re ready to run. Now since it depends on your phone’s GPS for the GPS track and distance, you’ll obviously need to carry that with you. The most ideal spot for GPS signal is an armband. But I didn’t have one of those that actually fits my phone, so I just tossed it in my running shorts pocket and off I went:

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Of course, exact placement of the phone will impact accuracy, so I’ll dive into that later.

In workout mode I’d strongly recommend turning on the always-on display, otherwise it’ll constantly turn-off on you. To do so, simply swipe down from the top and tap the light bulb:

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When it comes to seeing your workout data, the watch screen is off unless you raise your wrist. When you do so it’ll turn on. It seems to take about 1.5-2.5 seconds to turn on, which is so-so. However, the slightly more challenging issue is that I found the update-rate for pace was all over the place. I ran a super consistent pace last night, yet the watch (in open sky conditions) would sometimes show me running 7:50/mile, sometimes 99:00/mile, sometimes 13:30/mile, and sometimes 9:30/mile. Here’s it compared to the Garmin Forerunner 935:

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And then sometimes it’d take a few more seconds and it’d adjust correctly. And sometimes not. It was mostly a gamble.

I found that taking my phone out of my pocket and holding it out in front of me did seem to vaguely help in some, but definitely not all, cases. I’d have expected/hoped that Polar would use blended accelerometer-based speed with GPS speed to smooth that out, but that didn’t seem to be the case here. It was just pretty inconsistent. Hopefully Polar can tune this a bit more in future software updates.

However, the rest of the metrics were fine. You can swipe left/right to see the other data pages and metrics you’ve configured, such as heart rate:

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Once you’re done with your workout you’ll press the button to pause it. Then you’ll long-hold to end the workout.

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After that, you’ll get a pile of summary information on the watch to look at, such as heart rate zones, pace, calories, and so on.

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All of this is also available up on Polar Flow (the website), or the Polar Flow smartphone app too. However, you can see where it lost connectivity with the phone’s GPS… shown on the map below, ultimately cutting corners. It’s unclear why it lost connectivity with a phone a mere half a meter away.

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And finally, what’s notable is that if you remember back to my indoor workout from earlier in this section where I followed the FitSpark guide? Well, now that I’ve completed that, it shows me a new workout suggestion of the day, now a ‘Supportive’ workout, which in this case basically meant stretching.

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Quite a logical suggestion.

Finally, as noted earlier you can also download structured workouts to the watch by creating them on Polar Flow and then favoriting them, so they show up on the watch under ‘Favorites’. You’ll access this from the Sports settings menu before you start a sport.

Ok, with that, we’ve covered all the sport-related tidbits in the Polar Unite watch. As I noted earlier, it’s got quite a comprehensive set of details. Sure, it lacks the fancy apps of the Apple Watch, but in terms of sport-specific features, it’s far more detailed, far deeper in capabilities natively, and better tuned to workouts. Looking at the Series 3 specifically (given it’s only $20 more), both lack always-on displays for regular use, so that’s a wash. But more comparisons a bit later in the post on the other aspects.

Ultimately you’ll find it’s got significant sport and fitness features that capture the bulk of what most folks are looking to use in a higher-end Polar sports watch. Where you’d find gaps is simply with more of the endurance training load and recovery pieces, as well as the ability to have no navigation in the Unite/Ignite series.

GPS & HR Accuracy:

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For this post I’m only going to be looking at my initial workouts – down the road I’ll update it with more data. Also, while I’ll be briefly evaluating GPS accuracy, keep in mind that’s dependent on your specific phone (since it uses your phone’s GPS). Still, I think it’s a valid thing to evaluate, because ultimately it’s a feature of the watch (or a caveat, depending on how you look at it).

And while Polar does depend on your specific phone for GPS, all wearable companies and standalone apps that leverage phones for GPS tend to do some level of GPS smoothing/tweaking. So to see how each individual company does that is notable. How they deal with bad GPS data or wonky situations is just as important as having clean data.

Meanwhile, on the optical HR side, I’ve compared it to other sensors, straps, and watches worn at the same time.

We’ll quickly tap-out the GPS side of the house with a run I did last night. In this case, I had my phone in my running shorts pocket. Surely, having it in an arm-band might get better GPS reception, but honestly for phones these days I rarely see much of a difference. Along on this run I had a Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, a Casio HBD-1000 watch, and a Garmin Forerunner 935. Unfortunately, the Casio still doesn’t allow data to properly export, so we’ll skip that one. In any case, here’s the data set:

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The dark maroon is the Polar Unite, via my iPhone 11 Pro. At a high level it looks fine…until it’s not. Then it entirely loses the plot. We’ll start with the bottom half first, the outbound:

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As you can see, it’s definitely wobbly. Of course, that could be my phone in my pocket. Likely is. But that’s the reality of relying on a phone-based GPS.

On the flip-side, it handles far better going through (under) the massive Rijksmuseum. The FR935 struggled here. The Fenix 6 Pro was fine.

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But on the way back, things started to fall apart. Check out these two sections. It appears to entirely drop GPS connectivity. And unlike what Fitbit now does, which is backfill missing GPS data from the phone if the Bluetooth connection drops, Polar doesn’t.  So, you get these straight lines connecting the dots. And unfortunately for Polar, in these two exact situations I created giant arcs here, so basically – it missed a huge chunk of track.

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And then while it gained it back for a few hundred meters, it lost the connection again apparently and cut off another giant chunk of my run:

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At no point during this timeframe did the watch tell me it lost connection. And in fact, the phone wasn’t even in my pocket at this point – it was in my other hand – super close-by ready to take any photos. Note that didn’t cause any issues elsewhere.

Look, I get that phone Bluetooth connectivity is hard to deal with, and often the blame lies on the phone and not the connected watch. But there’s no reason Polar couldn’t have backfilled that GPS track data. None.

Meanwhile, on total distance accuracy, it’s somewhat close – that’s because it keeps using the accelerometer here to cover the gapped distance. – So it’s only short by 70 meters, when it should in reality by far shorter.

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Next, let’s look at the heart rate track from that run:

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At a high level it’s pretty darn close. That’s compared to a Garmin HRM-DUAL and a Polar OH1 Plus. You can see the Unite starts off a bit higher than the Garmin HRM-DUAL and Polar OH1 Plus. I’m more inclined to believe the OH1 & HRM-DUAL than the Unite on this initial minute. Only because I was literally standing around waiting forever for the darn Casio’s GPS to connect, so my HR would have been 70’s to 80’s – not 110bpm.

But after that point it’s pretty close. There are though these random spikes/drops – which look a heck of a lot like the spikes/drops I saw with the Grit X two months ago. That shares the same new optical HR sensor as the Polar Unite.

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This wasn’t a hard workout, so it’s hard to say until I do an interval workout how well it’ll track that. Given it’s the same sensor as the Grit X, I’d expect the results mostly the same there.

Next, looking at today’s mostly easy indoor trainer workout – there’s not a lot to see. Except the spikes again on the Polar Unite. All the other sensors (Fenix 6 Pro, Mio Pod, and Wahoo Fitness TICKR X) – were all virtually identical. Except the Unite spikes.

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So, overall within the bounds of preliminary testing, I’d say that the GPS dependency aspects needs to be re-thought a bit, primarily when the connection is lost.

On the heart rate accuracy – it’s fine, save the minor spikes that I also saw on the Polar Grit X. Given we’re 2.5 months since the release of that watch, I’m wondering if it’s a more systematic thing in this sensor than not. I’d have somewhat expected by now it’d be solved. However, I suspect most people won’t notice them. It’s only having so many other reliable sensors (including ones from Polar) that you see them.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Product & Pricing Comparison:

I’ve added the Polar Unite into the product comparison tool, which allows you to compare it against any watches I’ve reviewed to date.

There’s a myriad of watches I could have added to compare this too. But I think the most obvious ones are the Polar Ignite (with GPS), the Apple Watch Series 3 (with GPS), and the Samsung Galaxy Active 2 (with GPS). But there’s also plenty of Garmin options like the Forerunner 45 ($199 with GPS, $149 on sale), and so on.

You can easily mix and match against any other products within the database here, by creating your own product comparison tables.  Note that in some cases nuanced features (like having ANS data), don’t really fit well into product comparison tools designed to host hundreds of watches (when only a single watch has it).

Function/FeaturePolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated August 17th, 2020 @ 3:42 amNew Window
Price$149$229$169-$179$199
Product Announcement DateJune 30th, 2020June 26th, 2019Sept 12th, 2017Feb 20th, 2019
Actual Availability/Shipping DateJuly 2020July 2019Sept 22nd, 2017Mar 9th, 2019
GPS Recording FunctionalityOnly via Phone Connected GPSYesYesYes
Data TransferUSB, BLUETOOTH SMARTUSB, BLUETOOTH SMARTBluetooth SmartBluetooth Smart
WaterproofingYes - 30mYes - 30m50m50 meters
Battery Life (GPS)Up to 50hrs with phone GPS (4 days standby)Up to 17 hours5hrs GPS on time (24-48hrs standby)Undeclared (claims 45hrs non-GPS)
Recording Interval1s1sVaries1-second for GPS, 1-minute for HR
Satellite Pre-Loading via ComputerYesYesYes (but seems questionable)Yes
Quick Satellite ReceptionGreatGreatNot generallyYes
AlertsVibrate/VisualVibrate/VisualVibration/Audio/VisualVibrate/Visual
Backlight GreatnessGreatGreatGreatGreat
Ability to download custom apps to unit/deviceNoNoYesYes
Acts as daily activity monitor (steps, etc...)YesYesYesYEs
MusicPolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Can control phone musicNoNoYesYes
Has music storage and playbackNoNoYesYes
Streaming ServicesNoNoApple Music, Spotify (but not offline yet)Spotify
PaymentsPolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Contactless-NFC PaymentsNoNoYesYes (but only with Samsung phone)
ConnectivityPolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Bluetooth Smart to Phone UploadingYesYesYesYes
Phone Notifications to unit (i.e. texts/calls/etc...)YesYesYesYes
Live Tracking (streaming location to website)NoNoWith 3rd party appsNo
Group trackingNoNoNoNo
Emergency/SOS Message Notification (from watch to contacts)NoNoYesNo
Built-in cellular chip (no phone required)NoNoYes (with cellular version)No
CyclingPolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Designed for cyclingYesYesYesYes
Power Meter CapableNoNoNoNo
Speed/Cadence Sensor CapableNoNoNoNo
Strava segments live on deviceNoNoNoNo
Crash detectionNoNoNoNo
RunningPolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Designed for runningYesYesYesYes
Footpod Capable (For treadmills)No (but has accelerometer for indoor running)NoWith 3rd party appsWith 3rd party apps
Running Dynamics (vertical oscillation, ground contact time, etc...)NoNoNoNo
Running PowerNoNoNo
VO2Max EstimationYesYesYesNo
Race PredictorNoNoNoNo
Recovery AdvisorNoNoNoNo
Run/Walk ModeNoNoWith 3rd party appsWith 3rd party apps
SwimmingPolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Designed for swimmingYesYesYesYes
Openwater swimming modeNoYesYEsYes
Lap/Indoor Distance TrackingYesYesYesYes
Record HR underwaterYesYesYesYes
Openwater Metrics (Stroke/etc.)YesYesBasic stroke type onlyNo
Indoor Metrics (Stroke/etc.)YesYesBasic stroke type onlyYes
Indoor Drill ModeNoNoNoNo
Indoor auto-pause featureYesYesYesNo
Change pool sizeYesYesYesYes
Indoor Min/Max Pool Lengths20M/Y to 250 m/y20M/Y to 250 m/y1y/m to 1,500y/m+
Ability to customize data fieldsYesYesVery limited
Can change yards to metersYesYesYesYes
Captures per length data - indoorsYesYesYesYes
Indoor AlertsN/AN/AYes (goals)No
TriathlonPolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Designed for triathlonNoNoNot reallyNo
Multisport modeNoNoYesSorta (can combine sports manually)
WorkoutsPolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Create/Follow custom workoutsYesYesWith 3rd party appsNo
On-unit interval FeatureSorta (offers structured workouts)Sorta (offers structured workouts)With 3rd party appsNo
Training Calendar FunctionalitySorta (offers daily workouts)Sorta (offers daily workoutsWith 3rd party appsNo
FunctionsPolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Auto Start/StopYesYes
Virtual Partner FeatureNo (but can give out of zone information)No (but can give out of zone information)NoPace guidance only
Virtual Racer FeatureNoNoNoNo
Records PR's - Personal Records (diff than history)NoNoNoNo
Day to day watch abilityYesYesYesYes
Hunting/Fishing/Ocean DataNoNoNoNo
Tidal Tables (Tide Information)NoNoNoNo
Jumpmaster mode (Parachuting)NoNoNoNo
GeocachingNoNoNoNo
Weather Display (live data)NoNoYesYes
NavigatePolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Follow GPS Track (Courses/Waypoints)NoNoWith 3rd party appsNo
Markers/Waypoint DirectionNoNoWith 3rd party appsNo
Routable/Visual Maps (like car GPS)NoNoWith 3rd party appsNo
Back to startNoNoWith 3rd party appsNo
Impromptu Round Trip Route CreationNoNoWith 3rd party appsNo
Download courses/routes from phone to unitNoNoWith 3rd party apps3rd party apps
SensorsPolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Altimeter TypeNoneGPSBarometricBarometric
Optical Heart Rate Sensor internallyYesYesYesYes
Pulse Oximetry (aka Pulse Ox)NoNoNoNo
Heart Rate Strap CompatibleYesYesYes3rd Party Apps only
ANT+ Heart Rate Strap CapableNoNoNoNo
ANT+ Speed/Cadence CapableNoNonoNo
ANT+ Footpod CapableNoNoNoNo
ANT+ Power Meter CapableNoNoNono
ANT+ Weight Scale CapableNoNoNonO
ANT+ Fitness Equipment (Gym)NoNoNono
ANT+ Lighting ControlNoNoNono
ANT+ Bike Radar IntegrationNoNoNoNo
ANT+ Trainer Control (FE-C)NoNoNoNo
ANT+ Remote ControlNoNoNoNo
ANT+ eBike CompatibilityNoNoNoNo
ANT+ Muscle Oxygen (i.e. Moxy/BSX)NoNoNoNo
ANT+ Gear Shifting (i.e. SRAM ETAP)NoNoNonO
Shimano Di2 ShiftingNoNoNoNo
Bluetooth Smart HR Strap CapableYesYesYes3rd party apps only
Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence CapableNoNoNoNo
Bluetooth Smart Footpod CapableNoNoNo3rd party apps only
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter CapableNoNoNoNo
Temp Recording (internal sensor)NoNoNoYes
Temp Recording (external sensor)NoNoNoNo
Compatible with Firstbeat HR toolsN/AN/ANoNo
SoftwarePolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
PC ApplicationPolar Flowsync - Windows/MacPolar Flowsync - Windows/MacNoneNo
Web ApplicationPolar FlowPolar FlowNoneNo
Phone AppiOS/AndroidiOS/AndroidiOS onlyiOS/Android (iOS is limited though)
Ability to Export SettingsNoNoNoNo
PurchasePolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Amazon LinkLinkLinkLinkLink
Clever Training Link (Save 10% with DCR10BTF)LinkLinkN/AN/A
REI LinkLinkN/A
Wiggle LinkLinkLink
DCRainmakerPolar UnitePolar Ignite GPSApple Watch Series 3Samsung Galaxy Active
Review LinkLinkLinkLinkLink

Remember, you can mix and match and create your own product comparison tables here, for watches not seen above.

Summary:

DSC_6361

The Polar Unite watch is probably a bit of a gamble for Polar. A low cost gamble though in that they essentially just took a Polar Ignite watch, yanked the GPS chip out of it, and swapped the optical HR sensor for the Grit X one. And a year or two ago – this would have been a sure-fire winner of a watch in terms of features to price. After all, I don’t see any substantial early problems (save some of the phone connection issues, which could just be a Day 1 thing). It’s loaded with fitness/sports features that easily eclipse that of the Apple Watch, and are on par or exceeding Garmin’s offerings in this price ballpark. And they easily beat out Fitbit’s sports offerings at just about any price range.

The challenge I think Polar really has though is that once you start talking sports (which is what Polar is really about), then it quickly gets to whether or not you want GPS in the unit. Depending on a phone is fine, but depending on the connection to the phone is an entirely different matter (as I’ve already seen). And thus, I’m not certain there’s enough demand at this price point for something that’s this sporty but not sporty enough. Meaning, I suspect most buyers at this price point would choose an Apple Watch Series 3 for $20 more. That includes GPS and it includes music. This has neither. Plus, that’ll get sleep tracking this September. Or, they might choose the Fitbit Versa 2 which also has music and contactless payments.

I know some companies think I’m always pressing for lower prices – and that’s true. But it’s also a very simple game consumers play. As good as this watch is in terms of features and functions, I simply think it’s going to be a hard sell for all but the most particular of use cases and individuals. If Polar had said they were coming out at $129, and dropping the price of GPS-equipped Ignite to $179 – then I’d be like: Boom – nailed it.

Still, if you’re looking for a sports-focused watch which is all about fitness, tracking, and doesn’t require you to go out and buy and download a bunch of apps, then this certainly seems to fit the initial impressions bill.

Wanna Save 10%? Or found this post useful? Read on!

Hopefully you found this review useful.  At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device.  The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love).  As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers an exclusive 10% discount across the board on all products (except clearance items).  You can pick up the Polar Unite (or any accessories) from Clever Training. Then receive 10% off of everything in your cart by adding code DCR10BTF at checkout.  By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get a sweet discount. And, since this item is more than $99, you get free US shipping as well.

Polar Unite (choose drop-down for band style- Clever Training 10% off)

For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pickup the unit via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too! With Wiggle new customers get 10GBP (or equivalent in other currencies) off their first order for anything over 50GBP by using code [Currently Disabled] at check-out after clicking the links below.

Polar Unite (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)

Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (all colors shown after clicking through to the left) or accessories (though, no discount on Amazon).  Or, anything else you pick up on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells).  If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.  Though, Clever Training also ships there too, and you get the 10% discount.

Thanks for reading!

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66 Comments

  1. Yonah

    Help me out here – why does polar keep changing their charging cable design? I kind of like the magnetic charger that they have on the Vantage/Grit/Ignite – why change it for the Unite?

    • I suspect with the loss of the bump, it means the spot for the magnets probably went away. 🙂 Which in turn, kept the charger on.

      That said – I totally agree, it was always a nice dependable charger. RIP Good Charger.

  2. Matthew

    I like the move to a smooth he sensor on the back. I tried a grit x but couldn’t get on with the large protrusion of the hr sensor – it pressed in and cause a lot of discomfort. Here’s hoping that thin case and smooth design comes to a new vantage or similar and then I’m in.

  3. Luis

    So is this like the “new/updated” version of what the A360/A370’s where?

  4. RAD

    Will it work with Polar 5 kHz chest straps (e.g. H10) for swimming?

    • No, only pairs with Bluetooth Smart (but that doesn’t work underwater as you probably know). But it will at least do optical in swimming..whether it’s accurate though…

  5. Os

    “And two drinks for when I mistype Unite as Unit or Unite.”

    Sorry liver, you heard the man.

  6. mack

    no go since it does not have internal GPS. I thought it was a stupid idea when magellan did it, and more so now. I do not want to always have to run with my phone.

    • flokon

      I really don’t like the direction Polar have taken since the Vantage line (M430, V800 were excellent devices!), but in their defense: The Unite is hardly aimed at runners/cyclists,OW swimmers, in short: athletes that do GPS based activities.

  7. Antony B

    So Polar have dumped the Vantage series for the Gritx, does this mean they are about to dump the Ignite platform?

    • They announced back in January the Vantage series had seen the end of the update road. At the time of the Grit X though I asked whether they saw that as the successor to the Vantage series, and they said no – adjacent category.

  8. David Chrisman

    How’s the back light at night? Is it lighting up the world or smart enough to stay off?

    • It’s both. 😉

      It’s lighting up the baby when I need to change her (she was very displeased about it at 2AM), albeit, on a 3 or so second timer. But otherwise it stays off.

  9. Colin

    I’m assuming that these companies use some sort of conjoint (or trade-off) analysis to work out what features people want and are willing to pay for. Though there are different market segments so that one size will never fit all.

    However, the best bit for the consumer is it means they keep developing and innovating.

  10. Fletch Chambers

    Is Polar aggressively pushing subscription services with this device? I don’t mind a little solicitation for extra value added services, but Fitbit totally put me off with, “Sure, it’s a continuous HR monitor… But if you *really* wanna know what’s going on with your HR, pony up some cash… Monthly… Forever.”

    • They have no subscription services.

    • F Chambers

      That’s sorta amazing. I use a borderline elderly Polar M400 for tracking exercise, this sounds like it might be a nice replacement (I can loose the GPS of the M400 `cause the the only time I need it is on the bike… a bike that now has a Garmin 530 on it (largely attributable to your reviews…)

  11. Cosmin Mazilu

    I was actually considering buying a Ignite, now it seems that I have an extra option.
    As I am more of a gym rat I don’t mind the dropping the GPS, but I have a concern when it comes to battery life. I take battery life serious and while on paper it’s only one day it seems strange considering it mostly does the same thing.
    Is the Unite touchscreen more sensitive that Ignite? there are a couple of Ignite reviews complaining about that.

  12. Ruslan

    Are there any chances Polar will release Vantage V Ver2 this year?

  13. EUGENIO YAMAGUCHI

    HR Broadcast?

  14. Paul

    How is the flat tire display still a thing? That and no GPS. Sorry, Garmin is still way better.

  15. Chris Brown

    The Garmin 145 (s) were $149 for a while on Amazon with built in GPS – why would I get a non-GPS from Polar for my wife or someone else?

    • At $149, that’s a pretty tough question. At $199, I’d say a reason someone might want the Polar is more of the ‘on-demand’ workouts bit. Basically FitSpark and everything that comes with it. Or the more advanced/better sleep tracking. Or simply the prettier display.

  16. Ray, stray “d” at the top of that article…

  17. Andrew

    In Australia Suunto 3 is currently $100 cheaper than Polar Unite ($249 vs $149) which makes it seem expensive given no GPS on both. I really can’t see a market for Non GPS watches other than regular gym people who are already spending way more on gym membership.

  18. John

    I think it looks promising for Polar. I have an Android phone, so the Apple Watch 3 would not have much value to me. In workout mode when you were turning on the always-on display, did that take a big hit on the battery life? Also, in workout mode, can you set it to have a white background rather than the dark background? Thanks, Ray!

    • I don’t see any inverted display option. While I’m normally not a fan of white text on a black background (perhaps because it’s a @#$@# nightmare to photograph in most cases), it’s crazy crispy/bright in real-life.

      That running pic was taken on an evening run with overcast conditions without stopping.

      As for a hit on battery life, it seems to certainly burn more. I need to do some exact numbers, but I finished my ride yesterday (an hour) and did a brief double-take on the battery remaining. But maybe I just got the initial start of ride battery wrong.

    • John

      I see. Maybe you can discuss the battery life hit in your full review then. It’s too bad about the inverted display. It would have been nice. Bit at least there is an always on option for workouts. Thanks, Ray!

  19. At least it is good that Polar is launching new devices in a more frequent way. However for my personal needs and the given price-point now … I would choose a different option (even within the Polar product-range)

  20. David D

    Do You know, if they’ll also release a new scale for their so called Fitness Family? The previous Balance scale is now quietly discontinued.

  21. Lee

    For me this could be a serious competitor to the likes of Whoop if Polar shifted their marketing and made some minor tweaks to the way sleep data is presented. Having used a Whoop for a little over 6 months before swapping to a Vantage M, the Polar sleep tracking seems every bit as good, but the recovery score is far more transparent (I can see my HRV variation over the 4 hour period used to determine the score) and Polar have released White Papers backing up what they do. Wrist-based sleep tracking isn’t perfect, but at least Polar don’t pretend it is.

    The only thing the Polar implementation lacks is sleep coaching, i.e. “Today you worked out hard, based on past data we think you need another 45 minutes sleep tonight”. This is the one area Whoop was excellent.

    The reason I think the Unite would be a perfect Whoop alternative? The whole watch costs less than a 6 month Whoop membership, it has an actual fitness tracker built in, and oh yeah, it doesn’t tell you you’re working in HR zone 4 doing the washing up…

  22. PeterF

    Diameter is 43.4mm, slightly less than the Vivoactive 4 (45mm), noticeably larger than the 4s (40mm).

    Will (this) Polar upload indoor activities like yoga to Strava? The various Fitbits, including the Versa, never did for me, whereas the Vivoactive did straight out of the box (ok, so I already had Connect configured for Strava)

  23. Meredith

    Ray, in the summary you state “I suspect most buyers at this price point would choose an Apple Watch Series 3 for $20 more.”

    The problem with this is that you assume everyone has an iPhone. If you don’t have one then that option is a whole lot more expensive (need to buy an iPhone) and not everyone wants an iPhone so for some it isn’t even an option to consider.

  24. Chuck

    I wonder how Polar is handling the loss of the charging contacts for determining how good of contact the watch has with your skin. I thought this was core to Polar’s Precision architecture.

    • flokon

      The whole skin-contact detection was merely marketing. Algorithm’s are sophisticated enough to know if there’s a beat or not. Both my M and V’s OHR sensors still come on regularly when they’re on a shelf and not on my wrist, only to shut down again when there is no HR to measure. My 935 does the same without a fancy Prime Precision sensor. I’ve used an M for 10 months, and a V for a year. They were neither more nor less accurate than my 935. Running with the M/V and 935 one on each wrist usually resulted in the exact same avg. HR and a HR max of +/-2-3bpm.

    • Interestingly enough, I actually asked about the skin detection. It’s actually still there – just now via the optical sensors instead.

  25. Neil Jones

    I think the most exciting feature of this watch which no one seems to have picked up on is the strap material seems to have the ability to make you invisible, judging by the first wrist photo in the GPS section.

    • See, everyone’s focused on training features, coaching, and AI. But Polar knows the way to our hearts is going back to every kids childhood goal: Being invisible.

  26. damien

    I don’t think the lack off GPS is always such a loss for all these watches. I’ve used a Fitbit without GPS for a number of years, and the distance tracked is actually quite accurate, when I compare it to distances manually measured out on Google maps. Yeah sure I can’t see a nice visual map of the track I ran but I don’t tend to go out and share those routes on social media either way.

    Have you found at least distance tracking unreliable without GPS?

    • I haven’t tried the Unite sans-GPS for running on an entire run, except for the parts that it dropped on my run the GPS, which turned out to be relatively close distance-wise actually.

  27. Caroline

    Will it pair with a polar OH1 strap?

  28. Dustin

    I currently have a Forerunner 245. Do you think Polar’s nightly recharge feature is more useful than Garmin’s body battery for training / recovery guidance?

  29. John

    From the Polar webpage it looks like the Ignite has training load pro and cardio load, while the Unite does not. Those seem like useful features and an argument in favor of the Ignite. Wouldn’t you think so, Ray?

  30. Rob

    Great review.

    I think you’ve mistakenly included the Running Index, or Vo2Max, as one of the Unite’s features. According to the Polar website, this feature has been taken out along with the Running Index analysis and Training Load metrics.

    While you still have the 5 minute, manual Fitness Test, the lack of a post-workout, watched-based VO2 Max score I think is a major omission even at this price point and deal-breaker for me. As you note, Vo2Max metrics are a ‘thing you expect’. It’s such a basic feature in all smartwatches with Firstbeat, for example, that I don’t understand why it’s been stripped.

  31. Douglas

    I’m looking at a watch primarily for tracking recovery metrics such as 24/7 heart rate, resting heart rate, and sleep tracking. Obviously this does all of those pretty well, going by your review. I would also use it for basic activity tracking, such as leisure hiking, casual cycling, or occasional running (primarily a cyclist). I’d be more than happy to take my phone with me on such activities, so I don’t really need the GPS, however the added accuracy would be nice.

    In your opinion, which would be better value – Polar Unite at £134.50, or Polar Ignite GPS at £149.00?
    As you’ve pointed out, there are a few small improvements over the Ignite. Would you say that I’m better spending £14.50 and getting the GPS and slightly better battery, or saving and getting the slightly updated HR sensor.

    Another side question – If I go for a ride without starting an activity on the watch, will it still record as an activity in order to suggest stretches through fitspark? I like the idea of having a customised recovery program.

    • Rob

      Where are you seeing the Ignite for £149?

      I’m still looking myself but at that price it would be a no-brainer to pay the extra £15 for the GPS function and all the extra metrics.

    • Robert perkins

      Answering my own question here, I found it here for £149 so bought it! Thanks for the tip off!

      link to fhinds.co.uk

    • Dustin

      I decided to give the Ignite a go as well. I am primarily interested in the sleep / recovery / fitspark stuff, but I do run and bike outside a few times a week so the built-in GPS and additional running metrics was worth it to me (the few months a year where it’s possible anyway…).

  32. Dan G

    Ray, ever fancy re-reviewing the Polar Vantage series? My understanding is that, since being launched unfinished, they’re now much improved on the software side. It would be good to know exactly what the state of play with them is.

    • I kinda touched on various updates along the way in posts, such as when they added major features. And now with the Grit X basically being a Vantage+ of sorts, and with the Vantage series headed off into the sunset, it’s harder to step back and re-review something that’s realistically on it’s way out.

      Ironically, I do actually often use a Polar Vantage V in comparison testing. In fact, one sitting less than a foot from me on my desk right now.

    • Dan G

      It seems so strange that the Vantage family were only “finished” in January with release 5, yet you’re right, between the Ignite and the Grit X it’s hard to see the role the Vantages perform.

      Still, it would be nice to see a round-up of where the Vantages finished. I know you’ve discussed the updates along the way but they’re hard to find and afaik, you’ve not updated the original reviews.

  33. Samatha Savoie

    Do you have a discount code for the ignite that would work in Canada ?

  34. Craig S

    Hey DC,

    Other than on your Features/Functions list it’s difficult to see if you can actually swim with it and it’ll measure your swim data.

    Do you know if this is true or not?

    I know not everyone has access to a pool right now so that may be why.

    Cheers!

  35. John

    Will Unite work while mounted on bicycle handlebars and using a Polar chest strap? While I mountain bike, I want to just glance down at my heart rate and not have to keep taking my hand off the handlebars to raise my wrist and see the watch… In all other situations, I would just wear it normally on my wrist.

  36. Zain

    Thank you for your detailed review, I enjoyed this one.
    I’m curious if Polar is able to fix the kinks in OHR via Software.
    Haven’t had a Smartwatch to this date, but the Unite seems like a perfect start.
    Would love to pick you brain also considering my thoughts on wearing the watch on the inside, reasoning behind is:
    OHR seem to be more precise on “fleshy” tissue, than “bony” one.

  37. Melanie

    Does Polar offer a workout auto-detection like FitBit? I want to get away from FB, but I love the auto-detect so I can just jump into working out instead of having to swipe, click, swipe…