Take Your Data to the Next Level: Polar RC3 GPS Multisport Watch Review
Some people don’t like to run with a watch. (Some people also don’t like to eat Mexican food or snuggle with puppies, so, you know, to each his own.) I, however, get itchy just thinking about going for a run and leaving my watch at home. Give me data or give me death! Or cake.
(Can I have data and cake? Sweet. Thanks.)
Now, a stopwatch and a set distance will tell you a lot, but if you’re really data hungry, a good GPS watch is a super smart investment. I’ve been playing around with the Polar RC3 GPS Sports Watch for a few months, and, you guys. There is SO MUCH data goodness! (In fact, even more than I know what to do with, and that’s saying something.) But first, let’s talk equipment.
The watch itself looks like a pretty standard GPS watch — a little smaller than some, though, and it’s available in a funky orangey-red in addition to black, so it stands out a bit from the crowd. (I received the red as a sample, and I think it looks really cool, even if it doesn’t necessarily match my running clothes all the time.)
It comes with a heart rate monitor and chest strap, as well as a USB charging cord. Nothing too scary.
(Although, that being said, does anyone have tips on how to keep a heart rate strap from cutting into your skin? Every single one I’ve ever used has left me bleeding unless I put a piece athletic tape between it and my skin. Any thoughts?)
As is generally the case with a piece of equipment designed to cover a lot of ground, it’s not quite a “strap it on and go” type of watch. You’ll be prompted to enter a bunch of information before you begin. I think it probably took me 10 minutes or so. Not a big deal, but good to know.
Taking It Out for a Spin
With a GPS watch, once you step outside, you need to give the watch a moment to find a satellite. I’ve been really impressed with how quickly the RC3 connects compared to other GPS watches I’ve used. And, it connects even if you’re moving, meaning you don’t have to step outside and stand completely still for five minutes while the neighborhood kids point and laugh at you. It’ll also connect to your heart rate monitor, if you choose to wear it, at this time.
In addition to taking time to answer the watch’s questions before you start, it’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basic functionality, because while this watch does a lot (more on that in a second), I didn’t find the buttons and functions to be terribly intuitive — I’ve had to refer back to the manual a few times to jog my memory on how to get different screens to show and how to make different selections. (This is often a problem for me, though, so let’s place equal blame on the watch and my terrible memory.)
So Much to See
Okay, so, the different screens: This is really cool. You can scroll through a bunch of different training views at the touch of a button, so if one day you want to see your current pace, but another you want to watch your heart rate, it’s easy.
Given that Polar has long been in the heart rate training game, I wasn’t surprised to see there were a couple of heart rate training options — basically, automatic or manual. If you don’t know your HR zones but want to do some HR training, use the automatic/optimized option. If you know your zones and prefer to set them yourself, you can do that.
But it’s not just heart rate training that this watch takes seriously. You can use it for guided distance interval training, to track your route (including altitude), and you can even complete a fitness test using the watch so you can, essentially, establish a VO2Max number (they call it the OwnIndex) and enter that into the watch, which will enable it to better determine your calorie burn. NEAT.
And, there’s a “direction to start” feature (pictured above — the screen with the arrow) so, if you’re out running and exploring and aren’t sure how to get back to where you started, you can enable this feature and have a general idea of where to go. It’s awesome for exploring and needing a general idea of how far you need to run to get back, but it’s not going to tell you how to follow your original route at all or exactly the distance you’ll actually have to go to get home.
It’s Also an Actual Watch!
Unlike a lot of GPS watches, when you aren’t using the GPS functionality, the RC3 still remains on as, you know, a watch. I love that — I can’t tell you how many times after a race I’ve turned off my watch and then found myself needing to turn it back on or ask around to find out the time (which just feels dumb when you’ve got a big ol’ watch on your wrist).
The battery lasts a long time with the GPS off (technically 1,200 hours, although I haven’t exactly confirmed that myself), and actually has quite a long life with the GPS in use (up to 12 hours), making it a good option for long rides and runs.
And … a Coach?
Not only are you able to set intervals and track all kinds of data, but you can get feedback as well. From Polar:
- Training Benefit gives you instant feedback after your session
- Running Index scores your performance
- Improves performance with endurance training programs, downloadable for free from polarpersonaltrainer.com
Full disclosure: I haven’t tried these functions out myself — I’m already sharing this data with coaches and analyzing it myself, and I just couldn’t bring myself to bring in another opinion. But, I’m sure I’ll use it in the future, and for that reason, I’m glad to know it’s there.
Well, it couldn’t be perfect, right?
While it’s waterproof enough to withstand rain and sweat, it’s not for swimming, so it’s not an ideal full triathlon watch in that regard. But, since it’s solid for cycling and running (and has specific functions for both, including cadence and the ability to pair with some other equipment on your bike), I still think it’s a good option for multisport endurance athletes.
At $349, this watch is an investment, but considering all it does, it might actually be a pretty good deal. How data driven are you? Does this watch sound awesome or intimidating? —Kristen