With origins in cross country skiing, Finnish brand Polar has been around since the late 1970s and launched the world’s first wireless heart rate monitor way back in 1982. While long a pioneer in wearable fitness technology – most notably watches, which continue to provide the bulk of its product catalogue in 2015 – the recently-arrived V650 marks Polar’s first serious foray into the burgeoning GPS cycling computer sector.
As a devoted disciple of GPS/ride data across multiple brands and platforms, this is an impressive piece of cyclo-tech. But, as we’ll get to in a moment, it isn’t quite perfect. For this reason, rather than call it a bona fide game changer it’s probably best described as a ‘game joiner’. It will certainly have rivals taking notice. But not quite quaking in their cleats – not yet, anyway.
Out of the box it’s clear the V650 is seriously well made. With an IPX7 water resistance rating and high quality finish it looks and feels like the premium gadget it is. At 105x63x15mm it’s bigger, albeit thinner, than most of its rivals and also weighs a little more at 120g. But it still nestles snuggly on your stem via the twist lock mount provided (Polar also produces an adjustable front mount) which is remarkably similar to other mounting systems but not quite interchangeable. Sneaky.
Having vowed to read the instructions first, I can vouch the Getting Started Guide does make setting up the V650 a breeze. Before long I’d registered for the free PolarFlow web service, set up the free FlowSync widget on my desktop (Mac and Windows compatible), downloaded the free PolarBeat mobile app to my smartphone, paired the Polar H6 Heart Rate Sensor and was ready to hit the road.
It may seem a little oversized out of the box, but when out riding the 2.8” touch screen really comes into its own. The interface is user friendly and the resolution of the colour display is as good as anything I’ve seen. Real-time ride data is easy to view at a glance and navigation between screens is noticeably simpler than more compact devices, especially on cold winter mornings with half frozen fingers. Moving between the six fully-customisable data screens is done with a simple sideways swipe of your finger, gloves on or off. Swipe down to quickly adjust basic settings including audio and brightness levels.
Functionality wise, the V650 does everything you’d expect and the myriad data options – including everything from speed, ascent and cadence information to training load, heart rate zones and smart calorie outputs – are more than a match for comparable devices on the market. A built-in barometer and integrated GPS ensures ultra-precise altitude and location data. You can program up to four different bike profiles. Video and audio alerts can be customised to suit and your post-ride data can be synced automatically to the PolarFlow website and also uploaded into third party platforms such as Strava, although a direct upload option isn’t yet available for these.
The V650 also brings a few nice additions to the table, most visibly an integrated LED headlight that proved quite a novelty in my local bunch. It’s a neat safety idea that makes total sense in theory, but in its current iteration it certainly isn’t bright enough to illuminate the road on its own, so don’t bin your old headlight just yet.
Overall the V650 really only showed two shortcomings: battery life and the lack of ANT+ compatibility. It’s not that the claimed battery life of 10 hours is bad. But it will necessitate more frequent recharging than some rival devices that offer run times of up to 18 hours.
While shorter battery life is a little inconvenient, of greater concern for some will be the fact the V650 is only compatible with Bluetooth SMART sensors. It will not pair with ANT+ devices so if you have an existing (and most likely expensive) power meter for example, it’s a good idea to do your homework first. It’s also worth knowing some Bluetooth SMART-enabled power meters – such as Stages – aren’t yet compatible. In fact, at the time of writing Polar Australia confirmed Look’s Keo Bluetooth SMART Power Pedals are the only compatible power device for the V650, although its promised upcoming firmware updates will address this.
Short-term compatibility issues aside, the Polar V650 is an impressive addition to the ranks of GPS cycling computers. At $449 (RRP) including the H6 Heart Rate Sensor it delivers high quality, excellent functionality and a competitive price point that should secure its place as a genuine rival to the more established players. If you’re in the market, it’s worth serious consideration.
Distributed by Pursuit Performance www.pursuitperformance.com