But the Polar RS800 (www.polarusa.com) is no common digital face. And the package of fitness tools and athletic accouterments that comes with the watch comprise an astonishing system that has the ability to--among other things--track an athlete's caloric output on a jog; measure total miles traveled on an outing via GPS signals; provide a runner's real-time speed in a miles-per-hour readout; and create heart-rate profiles so complex you might hire a cardiologist.
And that's really just the start.
I tested a prototype of this Polar package--official name: RS800G3 Multisport Training System--in Utah last August. The system, which includes the watch, a heart-rate transmitter strap, and a GPS unit that cinches on your arm, fired up and began syncing with satellites, measuring my heartbeat and counting seconds on the hike to take a comprehensive assessment of my body traveling through space and time.
Earlier this month Polar shipped me the consumer package, a small box of tools that included the aforementioned watch, heart-rate strap and GPS unit plus manuals, CDs, an infrared sensor that plugs into a computer's USB port, and fitness software to analyze and display results.
The system's GPS capability makes it unique. Just strap the sensor unit on your arm--or put it in your jersey pocket while cycling--and the 80-gram pod finds a signal and begins beaming distance, direction and altitude information via infrared blips to the watch for calculation and display.
It performed admirably during my test, syncing to satellites with little issue and providing a solid signal. On a run, at any time, I could glance to the watch and see how far I'd gone, how fast I was going in miles-per-hour, and what kind of hills I'd climbed.
The heart-rate monitor system worked similarly well. Strap on the sternum belt and it immediately displays your ticker's rhythm on the watch face. In addition, the RS800 calculates your personal training zones based on body metrics you enter during an initial watch setup, distilling basic heart-rate training to a graphical display on the watch face.
After a run or bike--or hike or paddle or ski--I would stop a session and download the workout data into my laptop via Polar's USB infrared reader. The company's ProTrainer 5 software then synthesized my heart-rate, distance, speed, altitude, and other data, and made it all discernable on graphs and charts. A calendar helped me create weeks of workout plans, and other tools are set to track performance.
Overall, this pricey system was impressive. There were a few hiccups getting up and running, as the system has a learning curve that requires quality time with the user's manual. I also had trouble initially getting the GPS unit to sync with the watch, requiring a call to customer support.
Design-wise, the watch is not perfect. More than once I inadvertently bumped the big red Go! button, starting a workout session and recording data unbeknown until the watch's memory filled up. Further, its display is not as big as I like, and the numbers could be brighter. I found myself squinting to read digits on my bouncing wrist while I ran.
But the long and the short is that Polar has something cool and unique with the RS800G3. The GPS capability was solid. It lacks very little in fitness functionality. For the right person--with the right kind of bank account--this watch system could be a dream.
Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit www.thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.