Polar Ignite review

A sports watch that smartly tells you what your next workout should be
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Polar Ignite
By Polar
The Polar Ignite manages to cram a whole lot into a small, comfortable design that's generally a joy to wear. It covers the sports tracking bases, it's well priced and in FitSpark, it has a feature Garmin, Suunto and Fitbit owners will no doubt be envious of. Minor areas of disappointment include smartwatch features that are kept to a minimum, and occasional screen responsiveness issues. But if you are looking for a sports watch for under $200, the Ignite is well worth looking at.

  • Smart, good-looking design
  • Good value for money
  • Great smart workout recommendations
  • Screen can be unresponsive
  • Complex sleep features
  • Basic smartwatch features

The Polar Ignite is an intriguing sports watch release from the company that brought us its new Vantage series last year.

The Vantage V and its smaller sibling the Vantage M felt like much needed responses to the veritable army of Garmin Forerunners that are now available. The Ignite, priced at serves as the kind of alternative to something like the Forerunner 45 or even an Apple Watch Series 3, which has now permanently dropped to the price point.

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The Ignite offers everything you pretty much expect from a watch that can track your workouts. There's GPS, sports modes for a whole host of activities and it also includes Polar's new Precision Prime optical heart rate sensor tech that impressed us on the Vantage V and M.

But there are a couple of big things Polar is showing off on the Ignite that you can't get on its other watches (yet). The first is more insightful sleep data and its correlation with recovery. It's also introducing something called FitSpark, a mode that offers personalised advice and suggested exercises based on your fitness level, training history and new sleep insights.

It also has its share of smartwatch features, too, like notification support and new guided breathing exercises.

We've been living with the Ignite for a while now, tracking workouts, digging into those new sleep insights and taking on those recommendations to see if Polar's latest watch is as 'lit' as its name. Here's our full verdict.

Polar Ignite: Design and screen

Polar Ignite review

While the Vantage V and M feel every bit like sports watches, the Ignite feels more like something that straddles a bit more between sports watch and smartwatch. It's got a significantly smaller profile than Polar's pricier watches and has more in common with a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 in terms of the kind of space it's going to accommodate on your wrist.

Polar has gone circular again giving you a 43mm sized watch that measures in at just 8mm thick and weighing just 35g. Day or night, this is a really comfortable watch to wear. It's a great option for slimmer wrists and the silicone band sits snug and add a nice pop of color.

There's just one physical button on the bottom right edge of the watch case in an otherwise really tidy looking design. It's got definite unisex appeal and if you don't like your fitness watches to be the hulking kind, the Ignite certainly fits the bill.

Polar Ignite review

When you need to check your stats, you'll be staring down at a 240 x 204 resolution IPS TFT touchscreen display, which is a departure from what we've seen on Polar watches before. It's a step up in brightness, vibrancy and color making that data easier to absorb. It's not a fully round screen though (it's cut off at the bottom), but is a respectable screen in terms of visibility.

But, all is not rosy with this display. When it comes to interacting with it, there are problems. It's not always the most responsive to your swipes as the Ignite seems to lag at times when registering those interactions. It was more problematic when we first started using the Ignite and has improved since then. But every now and then it can still throw up responsiveness issues.

It feels like a combination of the screen tech, the processing power and the software that may be causing those irksome screen issues. Hopefully it's something that Polar will be able to address.

We should also note waterproofing here. The Ignite has been slapped with a water resistant rating that will let you take it swimming up to 30 metres depth. There's also swim tracking on board so you can track those pool activities.

Polar Ignite: Sports tracking and activity tracking

Polar Ignite review

The Ignite packs in a fair amount into that compact watch design. There's GPS and GLONASS for tracking your outdoor activities like running and cycling. In fact, there are numerous sports profiles you can set up from hiking to strength training.

The data you can garner when in those various modes will differ. You'll get more metrics from an activity like running; while a bodyweight workout will offer basics like heart rate, duration and calorie burn data.

Essential reading: Understanding your running watch stats

Polar also brings a bunch of the more in-depth training features here like its great adaptive running program Running Index, Training Load Pro and Training Benefit features. If you want that more complex hit of data and analysis, you do have access to them.

We focused our GPS testing largely with running and what we found is that the Ignite is a perfectly competent running watch. The user interface available during runs matches the one used on the Vantage watches, with the useful color coded gauge at the top to indicate heart rate zones.

You can swipe on the screen to see additional metrics and press the solitary physical button to pause workouts. Don't expect to see running power here though, as the Ignite lacks the ability to monitor the new running metric. Again, those temperamental screen issues can rear their ugly head at times, but from an accuracy point of view and picking up a signal nice and quick, the Ignite does a fine job.

Polar Ignite review

Run tracking compared: Polar Ignite (left and centre) and Garmin Forerunner 945 (right)

When you need to get off land and into the water, the Ignite's swimming skills are very similar to what you get with Polar's Vantage watches. You're getting the same data and the slimmer design makes it a lot nicer to wear in the water. The screen is also super sharp for viewing your data in both the pool and post swim, all the while touchscreen navigation wasn't the nuisance to use as we'd anticipated.

Polar Ignite review

Swim tracking data from Polar Ignite

Like pretty much all sports watches these days, Polar packs in fitness tracker features so you are able to monitor things like step counts and calories burned. But as we've seen in the past, these features don't feel all that much of a priority in terms of what else this watch is capable of.

You can see your activity tracking progress by swiping through the main watch face screen and see inactivity stamps in your data over in the Polar Flow smartphone companion app. But there's nothing really here in the way of motivating you to move more like you might get on a dedicated Garmin or Fitbit fitness tracker.

One big new feature is Serene, which is basically Polar's answer to the guided breathing features you already get on the Apple Watch and watches from the likes of Samsung and Fitbit. It works much in the same way offering simple breathing exercises to help you de-stress during the day. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but it's all part of Polar's bigger push on how stress can negatively impact on your day.

Polar Ignite: FitSpark

Polar Ignite review

While there doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary on the sports tracking front, the real talking point is something Polar is calling FitSpark. This is a feature that looks to act on your data to offer more useful recommendations and advice. It takes into consideration training history, current fitness levels and that all important recovery time between workouts.

These FitSpark recommendations manifest themselves in a couple of ways based on our experience with the Ignite. The first is within the settings menus for individual sport profiles.

So for running, if you tap the Training suggestions option in settings you'll be offered a range of cardio-based workouts. Each workout is accompanied by a small description explaining the benefits of the workout as well as revealing the intensity of the workout. Once you've made your selection, you'll be guided through the workout to make sure you're doing it properly.

Polar Ignite review

While it might feel like a feature reserved for beginners, it's certainly going to have appeal for anyone that's looking for inspiration to upgrade their current training regime in a really useful way.

The other way you'll find yourself interacting with FitSpark is directly from the Ignite's watch face, particularly when you've just completed a workout. This is Polar's way of offering suggestions for your next workout based on the one you've just logged. So, if you've gone on a relatively intense run, it may suggest a "Supportive" or "Strength" workout.

FitSpark is the kind of thing we've wanted to see more of from sports watch companies. Looking at your data and actually offering really helpful advice. Suunto did this to an extent with its Suunto 3 Fitness watch, though we've not seen anything like this from Garmin yet.

While Polar is planning to bring some Ignite features to its Vantage series, FitSpark isn't one of them. It's a shame, because we think owners of those devices would appreciate having this really handy feature.

Polar Ignite: Sleep tracking

Polar Ignite review

Along with FitSpark, the other headline feature is sleep tracking, specifically the insights that Polar claims it can offer over its rivals. Tracking your bed time is still done automatically using the same accelerometer-based tracking method that pretty much every other wrist worn wearable employs.

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Polar still includes its Sleep Plus Stages mode that gives you a breakdown of your sleep and offers feedback and analysis along with a Sleep Score. Basically, a lot of what we've seen on other devices from the likes of Fitbit and Garmin.

Now Polar is adding something called Nightly Recharge. This is the company's move to start exploring how well recovered you are from your day by harvesting more data from your sleep.

Nightly Recharge data is generated once you've tracked sleep for at least three nights in a row. It collates data related to how you slept (that's called Sleep Charge) along with insights into how well your automatic automatic nervous system (ANS) has calmed down during the early hours of your sleep (ANS Charge). That ANS data is based on heart rate, heart rate variability and breathing rate data and is taken from the first four hours of your sleep.

Polar Ignite review

That Nightly Recharge data will be displayed on the watch face letting you swipe down to see you Sleep Charge and ANS Charge scores. These are usually illustrated by an up or down arrow to indicate if they are good or bad scores. It will also generate a scale to tell you whether you've scored a good Nightly Recharge status.

Sleep Charge is scored out of 100 (the higher, the better), while ANS Charge works on a scale of -10 to +10. Scoring around 0 represents your usual level of how calmed down your nervous system is. If you've managed to understand all of that after one read, then congratulations. Polar has introduced a potentially valuable piece of data ina really complex way.

These insights are about how rested you are are thankfully made more digestible than when reviewing inside of the Polar Flow app. That data sits in a separate section of the app where you can see Nightly Recharge status and Tips for the day. They will tell you things like whether you're in a good state or bad state to exercise, offering suggestions like stretching before bed time to improve sleep.

Polar Ignite review

Sleep tracking compared: Polar Ignite (left), Withings Sleep (centre) and Garmin Forerunner 945 (right)

All of this data though relies on the heart rate monitor and the sleep tracking working accurately and reliably. We tested the sleep tracking on the Ignite against a Garmin watch and the Withings Sleep bed monitor.

Unsurprisingly, the three never delivered the same data, though the Ignite's data had more in common with the Garmin watch as opposed to the Withings Sleep. The latter generally reported shorter sleep times, sometimes by 5 or 10 minutes or sometimes around 30 minutes.

So does the at times questionable data accuracy mean those scores should be rendered useless? It's a difficult one to say. As a guide and in a bid to get you thinking more about recovery, there are the foundations of something that offers valuable recovery insights. Ultimately though, the sleep tracking and biometric monitoring needs to be on the money. It was sometimes, but not always, and that's a problem.

Polar Ignite: Heart rate accuracy

Polar Ignite review

It's good to see that the Ignite manages to include the same Precision Prime sensor tech that Polar included on its Vantage watches. It's still an optical (light based) sensor setup with the addition of more LEDs and a combination of red and green LEDs to penetrate the skin deeper to get more reliable readings. Though, Polar still recommends that for some sports (it doesn't say which ones) you should opt for a chest strap for optimal accuracy.

That HR tech is used for the richer sleep tracking features we described above as well as continuous heart rate monitoring giving you lowest and highest heart rate during the day.

We imagine though that most will be most interested about its workout-based use. From that point of view, we'd say the Ignite performs well. For runs and gym workouts, there weren't any alarming results in our real time data and when synced to the Polar Flow app.

It handled more high intensity based training better than a lot of wrist-based monitors we've used. Sample data from a run (above) with some intervals thrown in show that it holds up in terms of recovering from the sudden drops and spikes in heart rate when pushed to its limits.

If you yearn for the most reliable data, it's worth taking the advice from Polar and grabbing a chest strap. But for most, the Ignite's heart rate sensor tech - particularly for continuous HR data and general workouts - should be fine.

Polar Ignite: Smartwatch features

Polar Ignite review

We've remarked on the very smartwatch-like stature of the Ignite, so we hoped it might match that look with some useful support to keep you away from your phone. Polar's smartwatch skills consist of receiving phone notifications and that's your lot.

There's no music control playback, apps, customizable watch faces or the ability to add widgets. It's just notifications, which you can't respond to or act upon.

As far as notification settings are concerned, you can block certain notifications and you will want to do that because the Ignite will send a vibrating buzz almost constantly if you don't. Even for when you're playing music on your phone, it'll vibrate when another song plays and you can't turn that off.

In some respects, notifications support is the very minimum we'd expect here, and it's as basic as you can get. It'll be enough for most, but it would've been nice to see some music player features added into the mix.

Polar Ignite: Battery life

The Ignite includes a 165mAh capacity battery that Polar says should get you up to 17 hours of tracked workouts with GPS and heart rate. That should also get you up to 5 days in watch mode with continuous heart rate tracking.

Based on our time, that generally levelled out to about four days. Five days is possible, but with a couple of 1 hour sessions putting the GPS to use, keeping those notifications buzzing through, and with continuous heart rate monitoring, it's going to be a struggle to get all the way to five days.

What's more worrying is getting cut short during the night, without any way of knowing that until you wake up. Often we'd wake up and see the low battery message on the screen and find that richer sleep tracking data hadn't been captured.

How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of T3.com.

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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