June 20, 2011

Polar what were you thinking? Why I'm keeping RS800cx and sending the RCX5 back

Polar may not like me for saying this, but the RCX5 does not seem like the winner I was hoping it to be based on the marketing materials and buzz. Over the past few days of playing with the RCX5 run package I made decision to send it back to seller. I was hoping that Polar finally has a great unit for multi-sport athlete, but they did not quite get it. It certainly is not replacement for RS800cx as it has been understood by many users. If anything it is an upgrade for RS400 users.

I have been using RS800cx for over 18 months and like it quite a bit. I think that even now it is the most flexible training heart rate wrist unit in the market. I will continue to use it since the RCX5 unit has many serious shortcomings to fit my needs and to replace or even complement the RS800cx. This article is a short summary of the main reasons for this decision. I hope it helps people make decision of whether they should be keeping RS800cx or replacing it with RCX5. So lets get started with the gaps I discovered.

RS800cx RCX5

First up is lack of altitude recording - Polar designers what were you thinking? This unit is targeted to triathletes that are known for being data obsessed. Altitude data is quite important for post workout analysis and the unit that does not capture altitude is utterly useless for TSS calculations and even less advanced run analysis.

Second - planned exercises have two major issues. First one is that currently the unit supports only 4 phases (that can be repeated) in the planned exercise which is just very basic and major step down from 12 phases that RS800cx supports. This may be fine if your exercise structure is fairly simple - like warmup (1st phase), intervals with fixed recovery (2nd and 3rd phase), cooldown (4th phase). If you have ladder workout then you are out of luck with the 4 phases.

Third major gap is that there is no way to schedule cadence based workouts - really? How often do people perform cadence drills or hill simulation workouts with 50-60rpm in big gear - I do quite often. So this is a major problem. This can also be problem for running if you are trying to improve your running cadence. RS800cx does this with no problem. Again Polar what were you thinking?

Fourth - forcing users to use polarpersonaltrainer.com - while I see benefit of moving the data to cloud and generally do not disagree with this concept I do have a problem with the way Polar implements this. I have NO WAY TO DOWNLOAD DATA TO MY PC DIRECTLY and load them to WKO+ or TrainingPeaks.com. Yes there is way to load data to PolarPersonalTrainer.com and then download them back to my PC so I can finally load them to TrainingPeaks.com. Yeah that sounds like 5-10 minutes per workout file. Not interested. Hint for Polar team - look at how Garmin does this - they have a fairly simple client on the PC/Mac that is capable of storing the files locally so people can actually use them. Also having to synchronize planned exercises with the web makes it hard to make last minute changes in exercise - again Garmin's model may be way to go here - their small client lets you create and synchronize planned exercises.

Update 2011/06/21: Fellow blogger and Polar enthusiast pointed out that I missed one feature in the Polar software that lets users extract the data files from the HRM to local files. He has blog post in German on his site that you can read crudely translated to English here. It shows how this can be done.

So there are really only 4 reasons for me to send the RCX5 back. When it comes to it the first two items on this list are the most significant reasons why the unit went back since I do not see how Polar can address the first one and while they can probably work on the second one I do not see that happening any time soon. So I continue to use RS800cx as it is definitely superior to the new unit.

Fifth - lack of support for pre-defined exercises outside of the Plan. This is something that I really like on RS800cx. I do few run and bike sessions quite regularly and I see no need to schedule each one of them in my diary. I do have bunch of pre-defined exercises like pickups, on-off repeats, recovery runs with pace limits, recovery spins with HR limits stored in my unit and can use them without any additional work. With the model implemented in RCX5 it is no longer possible.

These are the five main reasons for me to send the unit back. There are other, less important functions, that RCX5 leaves out compared to RS800cx. Just check the Polar discussion boards for more details.
Funny thing is that I did not even get chance to train with RCX5 due to my injury. I just played with the unit on PC, Mac and polarpersonaltrainer.com to simulate the training needs I know I have when I'm in full training. In the end this may be a blessing since I will get full refund and not just partial.

Well I must say that while Polar is not going to get my money for RCX5 they did get few things right in the unit. Here are the few things I wish RS800cx did for me that RCX5 does - HR recording during swim, heart touch function, being able to switch off HR belt for specific sport, easier way to switch between sports in multi-sport exercises. But these are not important enough for me to overlook the major 5 issues I described above.

My recommendation for anyone who already has RS800cx and is happy with it - keep it and if you want something new get the GPS G5 sensor which is really small and you may also get the new cradle for S3 sensor that is for RCX5 and holds the sensor better on the shoe. Otherwise I do not see any reason to upgrade to RCX5. I hope Polar has another unit in development that will replace RS800cx and will be step above RCX5. I really wish it was more like RS800cx and less like RS400.

Disclaimer - none of the units in this review were provided to me by any company or indicidual. I paid for them with my own money which I hope to get back (at least for the RCX5). I like Polar products and as their loyal customer I feel obligated to call them on products that they did not get quite right.