How is that for controversial title? I have just recently received few question from people trying to decide between the two monitors. As you probably know I own both of them and do not plan to let one of them go any time soon. In fact I find both good at what they do, but if you have money just for one what should you do? Well you will need to decide for yourself, but this post will hopefully provide some information that make the decision easier.
I'll use the same format I used in the other comparison article in June of 2008 - Q: Garmin Forerunner 405 or Suunto T6c?. I made few changes to the T6c text reflecting my longer use of the watch. But most of it remains the same as 7 months ago. Note that I ultimately sold the Garmin Forerunner 405 on eBay after I got tired of it. I'm sticking with the RS800cx and T6c for now.
Polar RS800cx - it will be of little surprise to readers of this blog, that I like the abilities to program variety of guided workouts in this watch. It offers so many options to structure workout that I have yet to find a workout I can not program in it. You name it - ladder intervals, sessions with various interval length, phases focusing in cadence, pace or HR. You can do it all. Do you need to workout for specific time or until your HR raises to specific HR, etc. So in training planning I really prefer the flexibility and functionality you get in RS800cx. You can define workout in the watch, but I prefer to use the Polar Pro Trainer 5 software to plan my training sessions.
Suunto T6c - has some planning capability in the software, but the guided workouts are to be defined directly in the watch. You can define warm-up duration, countdown duration (in case you want to do warmup, but not include it in the total exercise time), then there are two time intervals or you can use distance intervals (again only two). You can define how many times to repeat the intervals and that is it. I find this fairly good for less structured training sessions. So I use the T6c on simpler workouts - like tempo runs or recovery runs that are easily fit into the format of warm-up and two interval timers. (In June I wrote that I felt the RS800 was more robotic way to do the workouts - I do not feel that way these days. Perhaps I was on the edge of overtraining and needed to step back. The switch to T6c certainly helped that. These days I train with both and as I wrote above the RS800cx is for more structured sessions and T6c for sessions that have little less structure). The T6c is very similar in training planning abilities to S625X from Polar in terms of interval workouts.
Polar RS800cx - what I like in RS800cx is the ability to define up to 3 pairs of shoes with different calibration factors. So you do not need to mess with the CF before each run if you decide to wear different shoes or just switch from road to treadmill. The actual execution of the training session is very well supported by the watch. It has very clear and loud beep when switching from one planned phase to another. Also the limits alarm beeps loud enough to hear it if you exercise with headphones. The watch provides information about many parameters of your session from overall perspective or individual laps. After each lap watch briefly displays the summary for the lap and if if is changing from one phase to another it shows the new phase title. This is very useful when you have multiple phases and in the middle of the exercise forget what is next - the watch will remind you. I also like the little repeat calculator in the right bottom part of the screen that shows you how many repeats of the phase or phases are remaining. It is very useful especially in case of interval training when you may miscount - yeah it happens to me all the time. Another great thing on the watch is the display. It shows bunch of data which can be overwhelming at times, so I tend to stick to 2-3 displays that I configured to provide the key information I need (jut FYI the watch has 6 displays you can configure yourself, one multi-sport display which is discussed later in this text and one display for count-down of the current phase). The count-down display shows the counter of the current phase with time remaining and information about the limits - e.g. HR, cadence, etc. Other stuff that you may like in this watch is the recording of your location if you use the G3 GPS sensor, recording of cadence both in cycling and running. There is more about this unit in the three detailed articles I wrote last year after I had the watch for few weeks. I will not go back to that discussion here.
There is doubt that this watch provides the most functionality out of any HRMs I owned so far. The only missing piece is the automatic switch between the sensors - like from bike to run. But the watch manages that OK. You can stop the exercise, switch to the other sensors and start a new session. The watch will prompt you if you want to combine exercises and if you do so it shows a new display for multi-sport workout. The display shows overall time, distance and calories burned in the combined session. You can combine multiple sessions into one and then review them later in the software.
Suunto T6c - works like a charm for running and biking (and with memory belt also OK for swimming). The watch is able to automatically switch between sensors (pods) if you use multiple in one session - bike pod, foot pod, GPS pod. Like in the triathlon race. The comfort HR belt is very nice - I find it even more ehm comfortable than the Polar WearLink+ and it works very well once you figure out which part to moisten. The watch has configurable screens - 2 screens 3 lines each and the last line can show multiple items that you can switch between. Other that that the watch displays the EPOC and TE on the fly, but I find these values less accurate than what you get later on the computer.
The really cool feature of this watch is the automatic switch between the sensors. I did a brick session and it recorded my bike speed / distance (as 18mph), then I did a lap for transition and headed out of the house for a short run. Before I hit the street it was already switched to my foot pod and was showing my pace 18:30/mi as I walked and soon 7:45/mi as I started running. It is pretty cool to see this working after struggling with this with Polar, previous Suunto and Garmin. This may not be as important for single sport athletes, but quite nice for triathletes. Especially if you want to have one less thing to care about in transition. That is also one reason T6c will remain in my collection. I plan on racing with it again this season.
Evaluation of training
I guess this sentence from original article summarizes it well: "Well compared to Polar software both Garmin and Suunto have a long way to go."
Polar RS800cx - Polar Pro Trainer 5 offers certainly the software with most bells and whistles for analysis of single workout or reporting over a defined period of time. I love the ability not only to define own sports, but for each to set the speed/pace units that I want to see in the graphs, different HR zones for each sport and the ability to define my own reports and customize how they look. You can easily take any set of HR zones and synchronize them to your watch in case you wanted to switch between them for cycling or running session. The calendar view and summary for the week is also quite useful and shows you actual vs planned - number of exercises, training time, distance and actual burned calories.
I also like the way Polar stores the log files in individual text file. I can modify the logs if I need to correct data from the session. Like this past weekend when I had an occurrence of CS600 not connected well with my HR belt. After the session I had all HR data in RS800cx log and all the power, cadence, speed data in the CS600 (but no HR). I simply took the logs opened them in text editor did one large copy/paste and saved the log. Everything was saved and I could do the analysis I needed to do with HR, power data. While I had few cases when CS600 did not capture my HR data I never had issue with RS800cx. If you are interested in R-R data analysis the RS800cx can capture the data and you can later analyze them in the Polar software (which has very limited analysis functions) or load them to other R-R analysis tools like FirstBeat Athlete or Kubios HRV.
Suunto T6c - the biggest difference between T6c and other HRMs is the analysis of your workouts to provide EPOC and TE. The standard STrM software does the basic analysis and shows you the data recorded by the watch - R-R data, HR, speed / distance and all the parameters the software calculates based on the R-R. I use also the FirstBeat Athlete software mostly to help me look at my EPOC load during the week and month. The STrM is not as flexible as PPT5 and while it allows definition of multiple sports it supports only one set of HR zones. I find the analysis capabilities of the software little limited compared to PPT5. The only exception is the TE and EPOC that Polar does not provide in their software. But if you use the FirstBeat Athlete you can get the EPOC and TE post workout if you load the R-R files to the software. I found the fine tuning of the parameters for the accurate EPOC/TE calculation somewhat complicated when I first got the watch. But that is no longer the case since Suunto published the manual from Eddie Fletcher that describes how to best setup the watch. Key is to determine your activity class based on your weekly training load and your VO2max either via lab test or based on field test or race result. The manual provides great examples and makes setting-up the watch much easier than before it was published.
Daily use as a watch
Polar RS800cx - I wore the RS800sd on daily basis for over a year and the RS800cx is the same 'format'. It fits well under shirt and can be used as daily watch. It is just a tiny bit smaller than the T6c, but it is hardly noticeable. The alarm of this watch works fine and can be snoozed for 10 minutes if you want to get more sleep.
Suunto T6c - It is a watch that you can use daily. It fits under the shirt and goes with pretty much any outfit (especially the black version that is not as flashy as the Fusion). I pretty much alternate between T6c and RS800cx as my daily watch. I do not mind wearing either one of them. You may prefer Suunto if you need multiple alarms to get out of the bed - T6c has 3 of them, but does not offer snooze.
Note that this section reflects the situation as of January 2008 and that I looked at prices on US market. The prices are likely to change over time so do your research, check sites that sell Polar and Suunto watches. I also strongly recommend to only buy from certified distributors and resellers of Polar and Suunto to prevent any warranty repair issues. Both Suunto and Polar confirmed in telephone that they honor warranty from Amazon.com where I made most of my purchases in the past few months of HRM shopping.
Polar RS800cx - the watch alone is now about 400 USD + tax. You can also buy a package with the watch and either S3 sensor for running (470 USD), multisport package with G3 sensor for 470 USD or bike package with bike speed sensor for 430 USD. The additional sensors go for 140 USD for the S3 foot pod, 130 USD for the G3 GPS sensor, 55 USD for cadence WIND sensor and 55 USD for bike speed sensor WIND. Do your math before you buy as certain combinations of packages and additional sensors could be less expensive than others.
Suunto T6c - The watch sells for 335 USD for Black version and 350 USD for Fusion version. The foot pod for 80 USD, bike pod for 50 USD, the road bike pod for 57 USD and lastly the GPS pod for about 150 USD. Suunto also offers various packs with T6c - Triathlon pack with all you need for triathlon including memory belt for 660 USD, Running pack with T6c and foot pod for 470 USD and Multisport pack with GPS sensor (does not capture location) for 530 USD.
Well you will need to make one for yourself. If you can go look at both models in the store or at the race expo and test them out before you purchase. They are both very good HRMs and will help you structure your training. As for me I'm going to keep both of them on my wrist as I train. One at a time to be exact. I will cotinue to use the T6c for less structured sessions and RS800cx for sessions that are more complex. I will continue to run road races with RS800cx and do triathlons with T6c. Let me know if this helped a bit in your decision making.
Update (13/1/09): In case you want to read more about the RS800cx you may like to review few earlier articles on this blog:
RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions I.
RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions II.
Analysis of training data (part 3 of RS800CX reviews)
There are also few articles about Suunto T6c that I published earlier.