With the London Cyclist 2016 roundup of the best GPS options for cyclists guide just released, now seemed like a good time to provide a through review of one of the options we mentioned.
I have had the Polar M400 for a year now and it has replaced my regular watch. I chose this watch as it was a good combination of price and features. I felt that I would get the most use out of it given the kinds of activities I take part in. The watch has been out for a little while, but is still Polar’s primary sport offering. It is a good price for a multisport watch, available on Amazon for £113.18 with the heart rate monitor, £105.81 without.
In its most basic state, the M400 can act as a watch, alarm and daily activity tracker. Using these functions the battery will last at least a couple of weeks. The GPS is not on all the time, it acquires a signal once you select one of the activity modes. You can select running, cycling, and a number of customisable outdoor and indoor activities. The information pages, once those activities are underway, are customisable too.
For cycling, the watch can show speed, distance, lap time, duration of ride, heart rate, altitude (not barometric), time, speed zone, etc. Really as much information as you can possibly need on up to 8 screens you can scroll through while riding. This can all be customised on your computer and programmed into the watch.
You can set an inactivity alert on the watch, so it will beep at you if you do not move for an hour. This is a very useful feature if you want to make sure that yogurt up and walk around plenty at work, or do a very active job. I have found it less good in the evening when I just want to veg and watch a film!
You can get the M400 with a heart rate monitor. One of the things that attracted me to this watch was its lack of optical heart rate monitoring. For training and riding a chest mounted heart rate monitor is far more accurate and useful.
The watch is really easy to use. Before I got it I was having a hard time believing it would be easy, given how many features is has and what it can do, all while only having 5 buttons. In reality it is straight forward as the menus are very clear and distinct.
To turn the GPS on, you just press the red button and select the sport you are about to undertake. It will take a moment to acquire the GPS signal and then you can go. Getting the signal can take a while and I think it is the main negative point of the watch. In central London it can take ages and often times I have just given up as I am not a very patient person, particularly not when trying to get home!
The information it gives me is plenty and very easy to read at a glance. It auto pauses at lights, a feature you can turn on or off. This is a good feature for city riding as it means your average speed and time on the bike is not damaged too much by all the traffic lights.
Having something on my wrist is not too much of a problem for me. In the winter I have found that I just don’t look at my stats very much on regular rides, and if I really wanted to then I could make the watch poke out between my sleeve and my glove.
This watch is great as a regular watch and activity tracker. It seems pretty accurate for steps and distance travelled when the GPS is turned off. The sleep tracking is an added bonus and seems pretty accurate. I haven’t really found a particular use for it but, but it is good to know that if I am asleep for 8 hours, only 6 of those hours might actually be restful sleep.
The amount of information available about a ride, or run or hike, is really useful. I am not a particularly competitive cyclist and have never used Strava, but I do like the ability to know how much I have really pushed myself if I go all out on a regular ride. I also just like knowing how much cake I can allow myself afterwards. I do like knowing where I rode and which sections were slow or fast. This sort of information can really help with route planning if you are trying to be super efficient on your commute.
While this does not have any base maps or route loading like a full cycling GPS, it does have a back to start feature. I have yet to use this, but I imagine it could make for some pretty fun exploring where you don’t have to really worry about making sure you know exactly how to get home. It works by telling you which direction to head in, so not specific directions, but in a city this is a great way to explore a new neighbourhood – it’s kind of like a very basic BeeLine.
The M400 is very durable. It is waterproof so you can leave it on all the time and not worry about it getting wet or dirty. Last summer I thought I had lost it on holiday only to find it again in my rolled up tent a few months later. The tent had been wet for a few days as well (quite how I didn’t find it when I aired the tent out I have no idea).
As I have already mentioned it can take some time for it find a GPS signal. I have found this to be the M400’s major drawback. This is the only watch of this type I have tried, so it might be fairly standard, and looking at other peoples reviews online I think it is just a common flaw with small GPS watches. I once stood next to a friend who had a Garmin Edge Touring and it definitely found signal quicker, but it is significantly larger and more expensive.
The phone app to sync your data too often takes a couple of attempts to communicate with the watch. It usually gets there after a couple of tries, but it is somewhat aggravating. The computer software works fine and I have found it easy enough to update it.
This is not a small watch and I have pretty small wrists. It does a lot so it is no surprise that it is a little chunky, and I did know this when buying it. I generally prefer having a large watch so it works well for me most of the time. The main problem with its size becomes apparent when trying to get sleeves over it. It can make putting jackets on a little hard and there are some tops that I simply cannot put on with the watch on. With a long-sleeved jersey, I would have to take the watch off and put it on over the top of the sleeve. Not too much of a problem in the grand scheme of things. This will be less of a problem for the larger members of society.
I find this watch very easy to use and quite useful for tracking my bike rides and other activities. It is the only watch of its type I have used, but I have not been tempted to upgrade at all. The battery life is really good, I only have to charge it every few weeks if I don’t use the GPS, or every few days with heavy use. I have not found it to be a problem to check the screen when cycling so a watch GPS works well and is more useable in the long run.
Do you have a GPS watch that you use for cycling? Let us know which one you have and what you think of it.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.