Polar’s Latest Running Watch Thinks It’s Smarter Than It Is

I then tried to take the cycling test. Because I am a gear editor, I have an exercise bike in my basement. However, I could not use it to take the cycling fitness test because I didn’t have a third-party power meter. That’s OK, I thought. I can’t leave the house because I’m home with the kids, but I will simply move to the treadmill to take the walking fitness test, since—again—I am a gear editor and also have a treadmill.

That also didn’t work, because the walking test needs to be mapped outside. Fine, I thought. I waited until my spouse got home, changed again, and went outside to start the running test. I ran three blocks down the street, keeping my heart rate within the Polar Pro’s carefully prescribed warm-up parameters, until I got to a stop light. The watch informed me that I’d failed the running test because I had to stop.

I started to ask myself: Who is this for, again? What kind of watch makes you travel, not just outside, but to an enclosed outdoor track, and have a somewhat obscure third-party sensor just to take the baseline tests? I did finally take the test, which took about 40 minutes and gave me a VO2 max score of 30. Of these, the only test whose operation and results made sense to me was the one where I lay down on the floor.

Paper Work

None of the features that Polar offers on this watch are particularly new. We’ve seen software like FitSpark, which recommends different workouts, FuelWise, to tell you when to eat and drink, and Training Load Pro, which acts like Garmin Coach to tell you if your workouts are productive or overreaching, on previous Polar watches.

For me, the newest aspect of the Pacer Pro was how puzzling its recommendations were, even compared to previous Polar watches that I’ve tried. For weeks, the watch told me every day that I was risking mortal injury by continuing to exercise. Every single other fitness tracker, even Whoop, rates me as being a pretty fit person. Polar explained that Training Load Pro only takes into account the past 28 days of training sessions, so discrepancies can throw it off; but I work out pretty consistently. Those baseline tests were just for funsies, I guess.

It was doubly puzzling because the metrics were comparable to my Apple Watch and Garmin measurements. The Pacer Pro uses three separate satellite positioning systems, and I did not notice any discrepancies on my previously mapped out routes. With two tracked activities per day for a month, I still got under the full 7 days of advertised battery life.

Photograph: Polar

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