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Review of the Polar S-610 HRM

2001 Jim Fiore, all rights reserved

(A slightly modified version of this article originally appeared in SpliTimes issue 15/8, August, 2001)

Recently I was considering getting a new sports watch. It seems that the lap time display on mine had gotten strangely smaller. I used to be able to see it, but now it's not so easy. While I was researching watches, I noticed that Polar had come out with a new line of heart rate monitors. I have one of the very early Polar monitors. All it shows is your heart rate. That's it. The digits are nice and large, but it's a real pain if I want to check my heart rate AND keep track of the time. I thought that if I could get a monitor that also could double as a good stop watch with split and lap times, I'd be a happy guy. Eventually, I took a look at the S-610. The more I looked, the more I liked, so I ordered one. Now that I've used the unit for a little while, I'd like to share what I've found.

The new S series starts with the S-210 and works up to the S-810. All of the units are about the size of a normal sports watch and come with a chest strap. Unlike earlier models, the chest straps use unique codes to identify themselves to the main units so that your strap won't interfere with your buddy's and vice versa. Some of the units are designed with cyclists in mind (S-510, S-710) and have features specific to that discipline (distance, speed, cadence, power output etc.). The S-810 is designed for coaches tracking several athletes. For runners, the choices are the S-210, S-410, and S-610. They all have basically the same features except that the S-410 adds simple uploading of data with your computer, and the S-610 adds sophisticated uploading and downloading with the additional infrared interface. The units run from the upper $100 range to the upper $200 range. The infrared interface is about $40. An S-610 with interface will set you back almost $300. That's a lot of money. What do you get for it? In a nutshell, EVERYTHING. If you can think of something, this unit will probably do it.

First off, the unit remembers your personal information. This includes your weight, height, max heart rate, VO2max, and other details. What's that? You don't know your HRmax or VO2max? That's OK, there's a built-in test that will estimate them for you! You can save several hours of heart rate data in the unit, even if you use the high resolution 5 second sample setting (you can save over a day's data if you select a lower sampling rate). This storage is free-form, meaning that it could be comprised of several different work-outs.

The display is very flexible. It consists of three main lines along with a few extra symbols at the edges. For example, during a workout you can have the display show your heart rate at the bottom, your split time in the middle, and your calories burned on the top. My personal favorite is heart rate expressed as a percentage of HRmax at the bottom, split time at the top, and lap time in the middle. There is one big red button for starting and laps. Oh, and you'll never forget which lap you're on because there's a little lap readout in the lower right corner.

Besides the basic readouts, you can set up training zones (with audible alarms) and five different kinds of workouts. These are also quite flexible. For example, you might want to set your rest period between a set of 400 meter intervals to a specific time, but you could also set it to beep when your heart rate falls to a certain recovery value. There are many other possibilities, but let's move on to something really cool.

If you get the infrared interface, you will get a copy of Polar's Precision Performance 3.0 software. With it you can transfer the data from the unit into your computer (I used a Windows version, I'm not sure if a Mac version is available). The unit hooks up to your serial port and the data transfer is very quick. It only took a few seconds to transfer the data from an entire 14 mile run. Once the data is in the software, you can view it graphically. You can zoom in/out, set regions, determine averages, and other fun statistical stuff. If desired, you can load several curves into the viewer for comparison (such as the same course run during the early and late season). The software includes a calendar function and will compute things such as your weekly training load, heart rate averages, and the like. It can be set up for multiple athletes and multiple sports. If you want, you can use the software to replace an ordinary paper training log. There are entries for resting heart, weight, quantity and quality of sleep, temperature during workout; you name it. In short, there's enough here to keep any obsessive-compulsive runner happy for months. After installing the software, I suggest that you go to www.polar.fi and download the latest version. This fixes some bugs in the version that comes on CD. (You must install the CD version first before you can install the update though.)

So, the big question is, is this unit worth the money? That of course, depends on your needs and personal finances. Consider that the unit costs about as much as three pairs of decent running shoes. If you like to use heart rate monitoring as part of your workouts and want something very flexible and powerful, take a close look at the Polar S series. They're not cheap, but they do the job and then some.

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