Like other activity trackers the Polar Loop counts steps and monitors progress towards daily activity goals, but it takes a slightly different approach to the norm because it can pair with a heart rate sensor. This makes the Polar Loop more versatile than other activity trackers.
The Polar Loop is a sturdy wristband that is really comfortable to wear. The rubbery finish with silver highlight strips surrounding the display looks attractive, and after a month of wear it was as pristine as when it came out of the box. It is waterproof – and yes, you do burn calories while washing your hair in the shower. My only niggle about the design is that on smaller wrists it does look a bit chunky.
You might feel a bit unnerved at having to cut the band to fit your wrist, but you’re going to have to get over that as out of the box it is enormous. Polar provides a paper ruler as part of its setup instructions. Wrap this round your wrist, take a measurement, and then cut accordingly.
Don’t succumb to the temptation to make the Polar Loop a tight fit to your wrist unless that is what you really want. I didn’t want that, so I didn’t use the ruler system. Instead I cut the band down in stages so that I could test the fit to see where it was most comfortable. Take off more wrist band than you’d like and there’s no way to put any of it back.
You cut the wristband on both the left and right of the clasp, which is secured with the same sprung fittings you see in watches. Polar provides a little tool to help replace these fittings, and it’s a really easy job to do. I had the whole fitting job dealt with in about ten minutes. The clasp itself is very solid – I never felt in danger of the Loop coming undone and getting lost.
The on-board display is a key feature of the Polar Loop, and of course it means you can see how you are progressing towards goals easily. It even doubles as an old fashioned timepiece – something many people have abandoned in favour of their phones. The default status of the display is off. You have to switch it on by touching a small symbol to one side. I was sent a black review sample and on this display was red. You can also get purple and blue versions of the Loop, which have displays in the same colour as the band.
I found the LED display to be fantastically bright indoors but sadly lacking outside. Even on dull days I found it difficult to read, and in any kind of sunlight I fades away. I often had to shade the display with my hand to read it.
You cycle through several different types of information by pressing the touch button. So, ‘time’ shows you the time, of course. ‘Cals’ is the Loop’s estimate of calories burned so far today and ‘step’ is the estimate of the number of steps taken. ‘Actv’ runs through several bits of information. A bar slowly fills up to show how close you are to meeting today’s goal- the fuller it is the closer you are to success.
This bar disappears, replaced with ‘to go’ which then tells you what you need to do in order to reach the goal. You can do any of ‘jog’, ‘walk’ or ‘up’ activities for a set period.
These three are really just codes for different intensities of activities. Use the Android or iPhone app, (which I will cover in more depth later) in conjunction with the Loop you’ll get a bit more detail on what you can do to achieve the day’s goal through the app. I’ve been variously encouraged to play guitar, do some baking, mow the lawn, do some tai chi, and do some rope skipping, for example, to help reach my goal.
Setup is really straightforward and is done by installing the Polar Flow Sync app to your computer and completing an initial sync and any required firmware update.
You’ll need to sign up to the Polar Flow web portal too. This is where later you will access performance data and where you make settings.
As well as entering all the usual basic info like age, height, weight and so on, you can enter more sophisticated information if you know it like V02 max and your maximum and resting heart rates and BMI. You can also tell the app whether your typical day is mostly sitting, standing or moving, and how often you train. These factors are used to help with the automatic setting of daily goals and the latter runs through in stages from Occasional – 0-1 hour a week right through to Heavy – 5-8 hours a week and even what Polar calls Pro – more than 12 hours a week.
You can also specify how you like data measured – metric or imperial, make various other viewing preferences, and set up a profile and configure sharing settings. That’s because the Polar Flow app can share your activity with other people – or you can keep it private.
For all these things you need to make a wired connection via the charge and sync cable. This stays in place on the Loop really well thanks to a magnet.
The charge cable is proprietary at the Polar Loop end and that means if you are travelling you need to carry it with you. Polar says the Loop will last for five days between charges, but that really depends on how you use it. My long kayak (see below) reduced it to 40 percent and this massive battery drain was likely the result of the Loop working with a heart rate sensor for more than seven hours. So if you are going on an activity weekend you may well need to pack charge cable.
The good news is that charging is remarkably fast. I got into a routine of doing a charge as part of my morning routine and that was very efficient with charging completed after I’d finished breakfast. You know exactly where you stand regarding charging too because the percentage charge is shown on the Loop’s screen.
If you want to save battery power you can turn Bluetooth off by holding down the touch button for a few seconds. Of course without Bluetooth on the Loop can’t pair with a heart rate sensor, and nor can it synchronise with the smartphone app.
The Polar Loop is compatible with a Polar H6 and H7 or any other Bluetooth Smart HRM. Pairing is just a matter of wearing the HRM and then holding the Loop near the sensor and holding down its button. It is easy enough to do, but if you are also using a smartphone app which gets data from the Loop via Bluetooth note that you’ll need to break that connection before connecting the HRM – because the Loop can only cope with one Bluetooth device at a time.
If you use a HRM there’s an additional information display on the Loop that shows your heart rate and it will tell you if it thinks you are in ‘fat burning’ mode or ‘fitness’ mode. You’ll only get into the latter if you are working hard, with fat burning the default mode.
Heart rate data is synchronised and displayed at the Polar Flow web portal and in smartphone app.
It is worth noting that this isn’t as useful as using a heart rate sensor with a more sophisticated device like a sports watch. If you want to, for example, measure your heart rate during exercise – say a run or a cycle – you’ll need to pair and unpair the Loop at the start and end of your activity because it just keeps on recording all the time it is paired. If this doesn’t appeal, you can delete the portions of a session that you think were not actually part of a training activity – so making the recording that bit more accurate.
Wearing a heart rate sensor adds accuracy to the Loop. When I was kayaking, for example, the Loop was not able to record steps because I wasn’t taking any. But it was able to do some maths based on heart rate to work out calories burned. Without the HRM it would not have recorded me as burning so many calories.
The Polar Flow smartphone app is available for both iPhone and Android. The Polar Flow web portal is officially in beta, so it may change over time, but it performs quite well even now.
When you are out and about data can be synchronised with the app and from there to the web. Irritatingly, this is a manual process – you have to start the app then tap the button on the Loop to start a sync session. Polar needs to get with the times here and cater for automatic synchronisation. The manual process is just too irritating. If you don’t want to bother with the app then as already noted manual sync through the power cable can be done when you are at a computer.
The app gives you a display of active time broken down into different zones – characterised as laying down, sitting, standing, walking and running.
If you tap the centre of the display it shows when over 24 hours you were doing these activities.
Neither of these two displays really works for me. They just look overly busy and don’t tell me much that’s useful. If you scroll down the screen you can see some detail on steps taken, calories burned and, if you have not reached the day’s goal yet, some ideas on how you might do that. Remember to synchronise before looking at this info, though, or it will be out of date!
There are weekly and monthly aggregate displays and you can see total calories and steps taken during each of these periods as well as an estimate of distance covered.
Measuring distance is not something the Polar Loop puts front and centre – I’d like to see this changed in a firmware update even though there are obvious limitations. My 15 mile kayak would not get an accurate distance measurement, for example, but for step based activity it could be useful.
On those days when I tested the Loop against my trusty and accurate Fitbit One, the two were pretty much in sync. For example I tested it on a walk that my Fitbit One recorded as 7.1km. The Fitbit said I did 8947 steps, the Polar Loop clocked me at 8771. That’s close enough for me.
Part of the Polar approach is that sitting down for extended periods is not seen as a good thing. So the Polar Loop app issues inactivity alerts. You can set these up to be either silent or with sound. I’ve had the inactivity alerts setting to be with sound since the start of my time with the Polar Loop, but never heard an alert, even though there have been some. Odd.
The web based Polar Flow portal displays the same basic data as the smartphone app, but has a quite a lot more going for it in visual terms. I really like the calendar view which gives an indication of how close you are to each daily goal, has weekly summaries and links you in to the detail of any day with a click.
You can look at particular days and add diary notes too.
If you scroll down the screen you can see the same style and types of data as are in the Polar Flow smartphone app.
If you are into the social and sharing side of things, then you can view the activities of anyone who has shared their activities. You can share your own too. The default setting is off so you won’t suddenly find yourself sharing information you had no intention of making public.
A big selling point of the Polar Loop is its ability to pair with a heart rate sensor. Now, it isn’t a patch on a proper sports watch, but it is a useful added feature for an activity band.
The smartphone app needs a bit of a facelift, both to make its activity display easier to understand and to synchronise automatically rather than manually. On the other hand the Polar Flow web portal shows great promise even though it is only in beta at the moment.
Battery life is not as good as Polar suggests. I averaged out at about three days between charges, but the fast charging meant a daily boost was easy and efficient.
The attractive price and neat, waterproof design are big plus points for the Polar Loop, and mine looks as good after a month of use as it did right out of the box despite some pretty rough handling. Overall, then the Polar Loop gets a big thumbs up.
- Well made
- Pairs with heart rate sensor
- Good Web software
- Battery charges quickly
- Good value
- Manual smartphone app sync
- Display hard to read outdoors
Price: £84.50 without heart rate sensor, £149 with heart rate sensor