Polar RS800CX GPS Watch Review

polar rs800cx GPs watch

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Finland-based watchmakers Polar have brought out a premium GPS offering which stacks up against the very best GPS watches available in the UK market.  Finishing a very close second to the Forerunner 405 CX in our review of the best GPS watches on the market, the Polar RS800X is a watch that will make serious runners and multi sport athletes drool with anticipation at the functionality on offer.

The reason for this is that Polar have set themselves apart from the competition by developing a GPS watch whose features can be mix and matched to meet the specific needs of each individual athlete. The Polar RS800CX is available in four different versions.  The model line includes a basic version (the Polar RS800X) , a multi sport version (the Polar RS800X Multi), a running version (the Polar RS800X RUN), and a biking version (the Polar RS800X Bike).

The Polar RS800X vs. the Competition

Unlike the Forerunner or Edge series models from Garmin, which feature an all-in-one design, this Polar GPS watch is customizable to fit different individuals. The basic watch comes with a heart rate monitor built in and you can add other equipment such as a GPS sensor, bike speed sensors, pedaling cadence sensors, and even handlebar mounts. The RS800CX is a truly versatile technology built to match the needs of the athlete instead of asking the athlete to adjust to the watch.

The design of the RS800CX means it is significantly smaller than the 205, 305, and 310XT models from Garmin, and is comparable in size to the Forerunner 405 and the new Garmin Forerunner 110.  While the display is smaller than other GPS watches on the market, we found it was still easy to read while out on a run or even when mounted on the handlebars of a bike.  With the additional GPS unit, the RS800CX can provide position, speed, and elevation during running, biking, and even swimming. Polar’s best in class heart monitoring shines through on the RS800CX with a responsive wireless heart rate monitor which continues to work when in the water, unlike some of the other GPS watches on the market which lose signal as soon as they are immersed.

Cadence Sensor WIND

The Basics of the RS800CX

Polar achieves the slim design of the RS800CX by keeping the GPS housing separate to the watch itself.  To use the GPS functionality a G3 GPS sensor needs to be purchased which captures the satellite signals and wirelessly transmits this information to the watch.  The watch then stores an athlete’s speed, position, and elevation data on the watch, allowing users to download the information later to their PC or laptop for analysis. The GPS device is waterproof up to 20m depth, providing a huge plus for triathletes. While it may seem counter-intuitive to separate the GPS device from the watch itself, in reality it serves two useful purposes for users.

First off, the small display means much lower power needs and allows the watch to run for up to a year on the same battery, this is a huge advantage over other models which can need charged daily. The GPS device itself runs on AA batteries and also has a longer battery life courtesy of its low-power mode and idle mode which initiates after 15 minutes of non-use.  The second benefit is that it provides information that an all in one unit just can't.  The GPS unit provides, as standard, data on your leg cadence and your stride length which is excellent if you want to make minor adjustments to your running style to see if that helps lower your PB.

One minor niggle we found with the watch was in the speed of satellite pick up.  While the G3 is very reliable and accurate, it can be slow to acquire satellites at first. This can be a pain, but can easily be avoided by thinking ahead as we found that turning the GPS device on while getting ready for your run or cycle will give the unit more than enough time to acquire satellites and be ready to go when you are.

The Polar RS800CX isn’t just for runners though, with a few attachments it is ready to provide avid bikers with accurate information during and after their workouts as well. Bicyclists can purchase a handlebar mount to easily mount their watch directly in front of them on the handlebars and customize the display to show accurate heart rate and speed information. The RS800CX is compatible with Polar’s Cadence Sensor W.I.N.D. which allows bikers to measure their pedaling rate in revolutions per minute in both real time and average time in order to compare performance on current rides against previous rides.

Polar ProTrainer 5 Software

Whether out for a run, bike, or swim, the Polar RS800CX is an impressive piece of kit, however it is when you get the watch home and use the accompanying ProTrainer software to analyse your workout that it really comes into its own. As is the norm for GPS watches these days,  the Polar syncs straight to your PC via an infra red data receiver. After any workout, all you need to do is put the watch in transmit mode and hold it in front of the IrDA device and all the workout information stored on the watch is wirelessly transmitted to your computer.

The latest ProTrainer 5 software turns a user’s computer into a practical science lab that can analyze, graph, and compare an unlimited number of workouts and maximize future workouts based upon their findings. Using ProTrainer 5, athletes can delve deep into their post-exercise analysis by comparing their heart rate over the course of a workout with elevation, distance, and cadence to learn how conditions such as elevation affect their heart rate. Users can take this information and build suitable training programs that can be uploaded to the watch. The ProTrainer 5 software is the best in the market but it does suffer from one major design flaw.  While it is compatible with Windows software including XP, Vista and Windows 7 it does not work directly with Macs.  Apple users will therefore have to use Bootcamp or Parallels to access the software.

Is the Polar RS800CX Right for You?

The Polar RS800CX is an exceptionally designed GPS wristwatch and provides seamless integration between the watch and extra add-ons, making for simple setup and ease of use. Polar’s excellent reputation in regard to engineering and solid electronics, as well as magnificent heart monitoring hardware, shines through in this watch. While some of Polar’s less admirable qualities such as a challenging learning curve and overly technical software are also evident, they are more than offset by the level of performance analysis which can be run on the ProTrainer 5 software.

While the Polar RS800CX comes with a higher price tag than most of its competitors, it is well worth the investment for serious athletes as it practically doubles as a performance coach such is the level of data you can collect and analyse from it.   The other beauty of the Polar RS800CX is the flexibility of design that makes different models of the watch appropriate for different athletes. Casual runners who exercise for the sake of their health will find the basic model more than suitable for their needs with its heart rate monitor, lap info, and stopwatch features. Serious runners training for marathons will find the addition of the GPS unit vital as it will provide increased information such as distance covered, speed, and allow for later workout analysis. Biking enthusiasts will find the bike model essential in their training as it not only tracks distance and speed but tracks and records pedal information that will allow them to analyze their pace after the fact.  While the top of the line multi sport model is perfect for triathletes and other multi sport athletes.

Even though the Polar RS800CX is designed with athletes of varying fitness levels in mind, it is overkill for recreational runners and there are other GPS watches notably the new Forerunner 110 or even the Forerunner 205 if you don't need a heart rate monitor, which come with a much more reasonable price tag for those who would not need or use all the features of the Polar RS800CX.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ben S

I had a CS200, and had some bad experiences with it. If for example you are out in heavy rain – it fogged up and eventually stopped working. Customer service here in the UK was not up to standard, I sent it back, received a replacement, then the same thing happened to the replacement.. UK customer service response was that they would not do anything more despite the product still being in waranty(they kept my receipt the first time). Shoddy customer service UK side, Polar-Fi should take note. My advice – avoid.

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