Polar M430 review: Brilliant function over functional form
When you think about fitness wearables, you’re likely inclined to think about the Fitbits, Garmins and TomToms of this world. If you were for some reason in a situation where your life depended on your ability to name companies that manufacture fitness trackers, like some terrible Saw spin-off, you may stretch as far as Apple and Samsung. And yet, despite being in the game since the 1970s, I’m not sure Polar would come to mind fast enough to save you from a messy, if unlikely, demise.
That’s unfortunate, because we’ve just taken delivery of two such trackers, and they’re both very good indeed. Jon will be on hand with his review of the Polar A370 soon, but in the meantime, I’ve been putting the Polar M430 through its paces – or, more accurately, it has been putting me through mine. In short, it’s a brilliant running watch that requires serious consideration, but it isn’t without its drawbacks.
Fortunately, almost all of these are visible from the pictures below.
Polar M430 review: Design[gallery:2]
And that’s because the Polar M430 has a (watch) face that only a parent conglomerate could love. This is a fitness tracker that somehow manages to make even the TomTom Spark 3 look svelte and that’s device that makes prison ankle tags look discrete.
What you’re looking at is a large monochrome 128×128 display with a thick, black bezel around the edge. It protrudes a good 12mm from the wrist, which doesn’t sound like very much – until you remember that most smartphones are under 8mm thick. It’s really chunky, in other words.
Indeed, it’s tempting to think that Polar just accepted defeat on making it look appealing: the rubber strap encases the whole thing, permeated with holes for breathability like a Trypophobia sufferer’s worst nightmare. It isn’t hugely comfortable, especially when worn tightly enough to measure heart rate well.[gallery:3]
There are five buttons, placed non-symmetrically along both sides of the screen, which makes it look more Tamagotchi watch than a serious athletic tool. Completing the look, our review sample is the kind of neon orange that the makers of Tango would consider obnoxious. Perhaps the expectation is that other runners will see you coming – at the very least, other road users could reasonably assume that the shopkeeper did.
I’m afraid that in terms of looks, it’s hard to find a single redeemable feature on the Polar M430, although some of the damage is mitigated if you buy it in black, grey or white.
Polar M430 review: Performance[gallery:4]
Fortunately, there are very good reasons for this and the Polar M430 is a triumph of function over form. As a fitness tracker, it’s one of the absolute best I’ve used. So yes it’s bulky, but do you know what that means in practice? It means a battery that seems to defy the laws of physics and GPS tracking accuracy that puts the Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit2 on my other wrist to shame. While the Gear Fit2 was swearing blind that the three 5km park run races I’d done were between 4.48 and 4.8km each, the Polar M430 had the figure at 5km on the nose every time.
That’s a pretty damned good start, nailing two of the common bugbears that dampen enthusiasm for running watches at the cheaper end of the spectrum, and many will be happy to trade off style for utility.
By the same token, the five button design is a triumph: touchscreens are all well and good, but everybody knows they become a painful mess when they get even slightly wet. These five buttons, on the other hand, are simple enough for anyone to figure their way around the watch’s core functionality within five minutes of playing with it.[gallery:6]
The middle button on the right-hand side activates, while the ones above and below it scroll up and down respectively. On the other side, the bottom right always goes back a screen, and the top left toggles the backlight on and off. In other words, all your functions are easy to access even mid-run.
And it may not be pretty but that big monochrome screen shows a lot of useful data on it while you’re running – and if you want more, just tap the buttons up and down to see a new screen: it’s all very intuitive. One of my favourite features is that the action button allows you to toggle when a lap is complete, meaning you can not only compare your last five minutes but also see how you’re doing compared with your last lap; almost invariably worse, in my case.
Once it’s measured one lap, the Polar M430 also offers an estimate of when the next one should be, although this was usually slightly off in my experience, so I preferred the manual approach. While in day-to-day step-counting use the watch receives notifications directly from Android, these are mercifully muted when in training mode – which I see as a smart move.