The Polar FT80 sits at the top of the company’s Fitness and Cross Training tree, which means that it’s aimed at users who are keen to improve their general fitness level while indulging in a variety of activities. Whether you’re a runner, a cyclist, a walker, a gym obsessive, or even a keen kayaker, the FT80 could be a very useful tool.
Like the Polar RS800CX that I reviewed recently, the FT80 is a very versatile bit of kit. Thanks to the optional G1 GPS unit and S1 Foot Pod, the FT80 can measure speed, distance and pace in almost any environment, no matter what your sport. The FT80 can turn its hand to more than just cardio too, thanks to its strength training feature. So, is this the ultimate all rounder?
What’s in the box?
The FT80 is one of the best looking sports watches I’ve seen. I’m not saying that I’d rather wear the FT80 than a Tag Heuer Carrera or Rolex Daytona, but compared to most heart rate monitor watches, this one is pretty sleek.
The slim case of the FT80 means that it sits quite flat on your wrist, while the well integrated, rubber strap moulds the whole thing around your arm. The combination of watch casing and strap ensure a very comfortable fit and unlike many sports watches, you could wear the FT80 all day without feeling self conscious.
The WearLink Coded heart rate monitor doesn’t use Polar’s 2.4GHz WIND wireless technology, but I’ve still found it to be impervious to interference from other devices. The big advantage that the WearLink Coded system brings to the party is that it will work with the equipment you’ll find in most gyms. The chest strap is the same, all fabric affair that shipped with both the CS500 and RS800CX. I find the Polar chest straps and heart rate monitors to be very comfortable, even after several hours of training.
Unlike the Polar CS500 that I reviewed a while back, the FT80 comes with everything that you need to synchronise your data in the box. The FlowLink module that ships with the FT80 allows you to transfer data from the device to your account on the Polar Personal Trainer website, after all, there’s no point in recording data if you can’t paw over it and analyse it endlessly.
Polar G1 GPS
At face value the Polar G1 GPS looks pretty much identical to the G3 GPS that I reviewed with the Polar RS800CX last month, but there are actually some key differences. For a start, the G1 GPS does not use Polar’s 2.4GHz WIND technology to connect, since the FT80 doesn’t support the standard. That said, I didn’t encounter any connection issues with the G1 and FT80, so its lack of WIND support certainly doesn’t stop it from doing its job efficiently.
Another key difference between the G1 and G3 GPS units is that the G1 doesn’t support route logging. Whereas the G3 will record your route while you’re training and overlay it on Google Earth for you when you get back home, the G1 won’t. In reality though, this could well be a limitation of the FT80 that’s recording the data, rather than the G1, since any GPS device will know where it is at all times. Either way, route logging is off the menu.
So what do you get? Primarily the G1 brings speed and distance capability to the party, which is pretty important if you’re into outdoor activities. Satellite lock is quite speedy, and if you switch the G1 on and leave it on a windowsill while you’re getting dressed, it should be locked on and ready to go when you are. You just need to set the FT80’s Speed Sensor setting to GPS before you leave.
Like the G3, the G1 GPS unit is designed to be worn on your upper arm, with an elasticated, Velcro strap keeping it in place. It’s a fairly comfortable piece of kit, and once it’s in place you’ll probably forget it’s there. There’s a single AA battery driving the G1 and Polar reckons that you’ll get around 10 hours of use out of each cell. Having used the FT80 with G1 for a while now, I wouldn’t argue with Polar’s estimate, but it does seem that when the battery gets low, the G1 struggles to maintain satellite lock, so it’s probably worth changing the battery before it dies completely.
With a strong battery, the G1 does a pretty good job of hanging onto its satellite lock, even when you’re running or riding underneath thick tree coverage. On the occasions where it does lose contact with the satellites it seems to estimate the distance of the black spot fairly accurately.
Polar S1 Foot Pod
If you’re primarily a runner, then you could opt for the S1 Foot Pod to take care of speed and distance measuring, instead of the G1 GPS. The S1 is a surprisingly large unit, and feels quite hefty in the hand too. I was a little worried that the S1 would make one foot feel significantly heavier than the other while running, but in practice that wasn’t the case. After a few strides I simply forgot that the foot pod was even attached to my shoe.
You get two shoe mounts for the S1, which means that you can switch the foot pod between running shoes with a minimum amount of fuss. This is ideal for a household where two people run, assuming that they don’t spend most sessions running together of course. Unfortunately, it can be pretty tricky attaching the S1 to the mount, and I found myself struggling to get the S1 attached unless I loosened my laces, and then it was hard to get them tight again once the S1 was in place. I did find that familiarity made the procedure easier though.
The S1 foot pod does require calibrating before you can get an accurate reading. The best way to do this is to run a known distance and compare what the S1/FT80 reports with what you know the real distance to be. I decided to nip to the gym and use a treadmill to get the accurate distance. I ran for exactly 1.5km and found that the FT80 was reporting 1.7km. It was then simply a case of telling the FT80 what the real distance was, at which point the watch automatically calibrated itself. I continued to run on the treadmill for another 4km and the FT80’s logged distance matched perfectly.
It’s important to remember however, that it’s simple for a foot pod to be accurate when you’re running on a treadmill, since your stride length doesn’t change. When you’re out in the real world, the terrain is constantly changing, causing your stride length and pattern to change accordingly. I found that my regular 5.4km run around my local park war reported as 5.2km when using the foot pod. To be fair, even using a GPS device that run sometimes comes in at 5.3km, where I’m probably cutting a few corners on my laps, but the S1 definitely reports slightly lower distances than the G1 over the same runs.
Despite the fact that the screen looks very reflective in the pictures on this page, it’s actually not hard to read. It’s far harder to take photos though, unless you want a reflection of the camera in the screen! The FT80 is also easy to read at night, thanks to a very effective backlight.
There are five buttons on the FT80 – two on the left edge and three on the right. There’s no big, red lap button on the front fascia, like on so many other Polar sports watches, but there’s a good reason for that. You see the FT80 doesn’t have a lap function, which in itself will make it unsuitable for many prospective buyers. It’s a strange omission on Polar’s part, but then the FT80 isn’t supposed to be an alternative to devices like the RS800CX, which are aimed at serious fitness fanatics and professional athletes.
Going back to those five buttons, the top left button activates the backlight, while the bottom left button takes care of Stop/Back functionality. The top and bottom right buttons are used to cycle through options and menus, while the centre right button handles Start/Select duties.
Pressing the Start button once will prime the FT80, at which point it will try to link up with the heart rate monitor and speed sensor. Once it gets locks on the peripheral devices, you simply press Start again and head off.
There are four info screens to choose from while you’re exercising. The default screen shows your current heart rate, what heart rate zone you’re currently in along with exercise time and the time you’ve spent in the current heart rate zone. The second info screen displays your current heart rate in a very large font and the total exercise time. The third info screen shows calories burned, time of day and exercise time. The final info screen displays current speed, distance and exercise time.
There’s no way to customise the info screens, so if you wanted to see your current speed along with calories burned, you’re out of luck. The RS800CX allowed complete customisation of the info screens, so if you’re looking for that level of functionality, you’ll need to climb a bit higher up Polar’s pecking order.
The FT80 is part of Polar’s cross training range, and it is a pretty versatile piece of kit. If you do a decent amount of your training in the gym, the FT80 makes a very good case for itself. As already mentioned, the HRM is compatible with the majority of cardio machines, which means that you’ll get an accurate measure of heart rate on the machine itself, rather than those random estimates from the hand sensors.
Another big advantage that the FT80 has in a gym environment is its strength training functionality. When you’re doing weight or resistance training, the FT80 will monitor your heart rate and tell you when you should start your next set, thus stopping you from over-training and causing any muscle damage. I found this quite useful, since I have a habit of starting my next set too quickly, and struggling over the last few reps. It’s not an exact science though, since heart rate alone is not a great indication of when your muscles are rested enough to start a new set. But, as always with any form of exercise, a degree of common sense is necessary.
The S1 foot pod is also a useful option for anyone that does a lot of running on a treadmill in the gym. Obviously the treadmill itself will show your distance and speed, but using the S1 will allow you to record that data on the FT80 directly too.
You can gauge your level of fitness by taking the FT80’s fitness test, which estimates your VO2max. The fitness test is taken at rest, and your OwnIndex is calculated from your resting heart rate. My OwnIndex or VO2max was measured at 54, which the FT80 informs me, means that I’m at the Elite level of fitness. I have to admit that I don’t feel like I have an Elite fitness level, so your OwnIndex result should be taken with a slight pinch of salt.
The FT80 also puts a different spin on the training programme concept. While most fitness computers need to have a training programme created by the user, the FT80 has something called the STAR training programme built into it. The STAR programme sets you weekly training targets based on your personal info (age, weight, sex etc.) and your OwnIndex score. The watch constantly monitors your performance and your ability to meet the schedule, and will customise the programme accordingly.
With the STAR programme you don’t just have to burn a set amount of calories and train for a set number of hours, you also need to burn the calories in the designated way. That means training in each of your heart rate zones for the required time. At the end of each week the watch will give you a summary of your performance and award you a trophy if you managed to hit all your targets in the correct way.
Synchronising your data
One area where the FT80 excels is data synchronisation. The Polar FlowLink plate works beautifully, and you’ll have all your data uploaded to the Polar Personal Trainer portal within minutes of you finishing your training session.
The FlowLink plate itself connects to your PC via a USB port. You’ll need to install the latest version of Polar WebSync first, which worked flawlessly on both my PC and Mac. Then you simply place the FT80 face down on the FlowLink plate, and twist it until the align light turns green.
Once the connection is established, WebSync will automatically drag all the data from the FT80 and send it directly to your Polar Personal Trainer account. Once it has finished synchronising, it will open up a web browser and load the PPT site for you, so you just have to click the login button to view your progress.
The Polar Personal Trainer portal will give you access to your training diary, where you can analyse the data from each of your exercise sessions. You can also schedule training sessions into your diary for the coming days, weeks or months if you desire. If you’re following a training programme, like the integrated STAR programme, you can view your progress and how much you still need to achieve before the week ends.
You’ll notice from the training data screen shot that there’s no mention of altitude or temperature, since the FT80 doesn’t record either. There’s also no measure of pace, which is a shame since all the data necessary to calculate pace is being recorded. So if logging such data is important to you, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
If you really want to step up your training at set yourself a tangible goal, you can join or even create a challenge in the Polar Personal Trainer community. A challenge can be anything from “Burn at least 10,000 calories in the next four weeks”, to “who can run the most miles in the next three days”. Challenges are a good way to increase your training impetus, but be aware that they can also be quite demoralising if there’s some smart arse who continually wipes the floor with everyone else on the challenge list, just so he can feel good about himself. You have been warned!
The Polar FT80 is what you might call a general purpose fitness computer, that can turn its hand to almost any activity, and that alone makes it quite an attractive proposition. In fact I actually own an FT80, because it suited my predominantly gym based training regime last year. The strength training, easy data synchronisation and STAR training programme made it a great partner for me, and definitely helped me improve my fitness.
The G1 GPS gives you the option of speed and distance logging for pretty much any outdoor activity, while if you’re primarily a runner, the S1 Foot Pod will let you log your miles whether outside or in the gym. The compatibility with gym based cardio equipment is also a real bonus, as is the help with resistance and weight training.
All that said, there are some important things missing from the FT80. The complete lack of lapping functionality will put of many cyclists and runners straight away. Altitude and temperature logging are also conspicuous by their absence, but not quite as annoying. Hardcore athletes will also bemoan the inability to customise the info screens.
Ultimately the Polar FT80 is a very versatile training tool for anyone who likes to vary their exercise between multiple disciplines. It works brilliantly in the gym, but can also be a solid companion for runners or cyclists. However, if you’re a bit more serious about your sport, and crave as much data as possible, you might find the FT80 a bit lightweight. Personally, I still use my FT80 regularly, but I’ve bought myself a Polar CS500 for my bike – the perfect combination for me.
- Slim, unobtrusive watch
- Very versatile
- Compatible with G1 GPS and S1 Foot Pod
- FlowLink plate bundled for data upload
- Compatible with gym cardio equipment
- Strength Training option
- Integrated STAR training programme
- No lapping feature
- Info screens not customisable
- No altitude data
- No temperature data
- Not compatible with bike sensors
FT80 – £239.50
G1 GPS – £124.50
S1 Foot Pod – £94.50