As someone's who getting serious about running again, I think a lot can be said for simplicity. When it comes to finding a running watch I want something that delivers as much useful and accurate information for as little faff as possible. To that end, the Polar M200 answers my call: it works independently of my smartphone, it has GPS built in, it doesn't require charging after every run, and the interface is relatively easy to navigate.
Essential reading: The best GPS running watches
On paper it all sounds pretty good, especially when you see the price tag of $149.95. That's slightly cheaper than the Garmin Forerunner 35, another affordable running watch.
It's a knowingly budget option that doesn't want to cut too many corners, and goes beyond hardcore fitness with daily activity tracking, sleep monitoring and notifications. That's not to say all of this works perfectly, but it promises a lot of good stuff, and knowing it won't break the bank makes it more likely to get a look-in.
So, how does it actually stack up? Here's what life is like living with the Polar M200 GPS running watch.
Polar M200: Design
The M200 won't be gracing the pages of Vogue any time soon. Its design is durable and basic, with the main unit sat inside a silicone strap of your choosing – black, white, turquoise, yellow or red. The display itself is actually tiny, moated by a bezel that takes up most of the face. This probably isn't a device you're going to keep on your wrist once the workout is over, although Polar clearly wants you to.
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There's no touchscreen either, just one button on the right side and one on the left. The right button cycles through the menu, which you'll do with a single tap and a long press to select options. It's not the most elegant way to navigate, but it does the job.
The left button will take you back to the time, end a current run or sync with your phone. Or simply light up the screen if you want to check the time. One thing I find odd is that the backlight display will come on with a flick of the wrist during an activity, but not any other time you're using it. The small screen also means a lot of words and notifications are truncated – more on that later.
Interfacing issues aside, it's a comfortable, lightweight watch that you'll easily forget is on your wrist. The clasp is a little fiddly, requiring a bit of a hard tug to free the notches, but it feels durable enough to take some rough handling.
But wait a second, where does the charger go? Glad you asked: simply push the unit from the rubber and it will come free, revealing the USB charger sticking out like an antenna. This can be plugged into a port directly, but if that's too awkward there's a USB extension cable included in the box. Again, it's all pretty simple, though I guarantee you're going to get dust and grit in that tiny gap between the strap and the screen.
Polar M200: Features and accuracy
The M200 is packing the basic essentials for any runner. There's built-in GPS, allowing you to take it out without a phone, and an optical heart rate monitor on the back.
The watch comes with a couple of pre-set activities, but you can add plenty more through the app. As Polar users will know, this range is pretty exhaustive, classic roller skiing and table tennis not excluded. But with most of these you won't be getting specific tracking, just HR data and GPS if it involves outdoor activity, like running and cycling. There's a program for swimming here too (yes, it's waterproof – to 30 metres) but the M200 doesn't track your strokes. I think that's a shame – that could have made this watch a lot more desirable.
During my testing with the watch I found the GPS to be very good. I put it up against my phone just to be sure, and accuracy has certainly not been a problem.
The watch does try to detect any stops, and on a couple of occasions it shaved off some of the distance at the start because there was a lot of stop-starting as I made my way through a busy part of town. It meant my pace and HR average was more accurate in my post-workout analysis, although it did mean some of my workout was discarded.
I've been pleased with the heart rate monitor too, especially after using so many poor optical sensors as of late. The resting reading has been spot on most of the time, and when moving – normally the time when optical readers can go AWOL – the reading stayed close to the Polar H7 chest strap, which I find to be a very accurate way to track my data.
In the middle of a run you'll be able to see your lap time, heart rate, pace and overall duration. Checking my heart rate against the chest strap in the middle of action, it was often very close. Usually I find wrist-based optical readers to read too high, but the M200 kept it low and more accurate. The fact the M200's strap has so many notches helps here, ensuring you can get it snug enough to stop it slipping, but not too tight.
Using Polar's browser software you can set lap information, including auto-laps, although there doesn't appear to be a way of doing it in the app right now. Alternatively you can record laps manually by holding the right button when you're on a run. Out of the box it defaulted to auto laps, which were set to miles for me.
I do like too that I can view a history of my recent workouts on the watch itself, including pace, heart rate and distance information for each.
A longer run with more intervals, but it kept closely in line
But the M200 also tracks your daily activity outside of specific workouts, with a percentage of your goal and calories burned always available on the watch. Unlike some other trackers however, the HR monitor isn't recording constantly. You can select 'My HR' from the menu at any time to get a snapshot reading, but this means you're not going to get any big end-of-day graphs to pour over.
Delving into the activity menu will tell you your remaining activity debt and how you can achieve it by jogging or walking. Any specific workout you do will be put towards your daily total too.
The M200 also functions as a sleep tracker, albeit a basic one, serving up a simple record of your overall sleep time and quality at the end of the night. I wouldn't buy this if this is one of your greatly desired features. The accuracy isn't fantastic, and you're better off going for something from Misfit or Fitbit if a wrist-based sleep tracker is what you're after. Compared with both the Misfit Ray and the Beddit 3 sleep sensor, I found the Polar to be a bit off.
Then you have smart notifications, which are less than impressive on the M200. Annoyingly these can't be customised, and even more annoying is how the watch truncates them without any way to scroll. So you'll get fractions of messages and other less useful notifications, as well as the current song playing (or at least a bit of the title) but with no way to actually control playback.
Generally speaking it's rarely helpful; it would be better to show the name of the app or person contacting you and leave it at that. Also odd is that these don't work during a workout, with only calls coming through. It all feels a bit tapped-on for the sake of it, without much thought as to how people might use them.
One other bugbear I have with the M200 is that it sometimes finds syncing an issue. Oddly I found it worked better with a Samsung phone than it did an iPhone, but the lack of consistency is a tad annoying.
Polar M200: App, programs and battery
The M200 syncs with Polar's Flow app where you'll be able to see the details of your workouts at the end of each session, including more detailed heart rate zone info and your route. Some of you may already use the app for workouts, so you know what you're getting.
The even better news, and arguably one of the M200's biggest strengths, is that you can sync Polar's training programs straight to the watch. For those not in the know, Polar's training programs let you set a goal – like a 5k marathon – and the software will then create a calendar schedule to get you there. It's free to use, but you can only set up the schedule in the browser, not the app.
Once you've set your program and answered the physical wellness questionnaire, you can then sync the schedule to your watch and app. From then on you'll see the activity for that day (like "medium run" or "interval") in the watch's training menu. You'll be able to select the program to see the exact outline for the workout on the screen, before starting the workout. In sum, it turns the watch into more of a personal trainer, and any M200 owner should make the most of this.
With all of this going on, the battery remains decent. Taking it for a run each day, I got around five days of use before it needed a charge, though turning on smart notifications shaved a little off that. Used as just an activity tracker, Polar says you should be able to stretch out to almost a month. We haven't been able to test it that far, but it certainly doesn't seem to suck much battery when it's sat idly counting your movement throughout the day.
- Packs in a lot for price
- GPS and HR tech both solid
- Works with Polar's training programs
- Not a looker
- Smart notifications a bit pointless
- Some syncing issues
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