(Pocket-lint) - Polar has been on the fitness tracking scene for a while - like 40 years - creating devices for those who take their activity monitoring a little more seriously. The runners and cyclists of this world who want plethora of stats including heart-rate monitoring and GPS tracking to measure achievements and progress in detail are well served by Polar.
The Polar Activity Loop 2 succeeds the original model that first put Polar into more consumer level territory, taking on the likes of Fitbit and Jawbone. The Loop 2 adds smart notifications, bringing it up to speed with its competition, while still serving step-counting and calories burned - without the bombardment of stats you get with higher-end Polar devices.
We have been walking and running around with the Activity Loop 2 to see how it performs, what makes it special, and whether Polar has managed to present its years of expertise in a simple and user-friendly enough way to compete in the fiercely competitive field that is activity trackers.
Polar Activity Loop 2 review: Design is chunky and fiddly
The Polar Activity Loop 2 is no small device, so if you're looking for something subtle that can be worn everyday and go unnoticed, this is probably not the tracker for you. It measures 20mm in width, 10.8mm in depth and it weighs 38g - so although it's a reasonably chunky device, it is lightweight. It's not too dissimilar in size to the likes of the Fitbit Charge HR and Sony Smartband 2 but looks and feels bulkier.
The design could be more refined but the soft silicone material makes it comfortable enough to wear and it's waterproof, too, which is great. Two silver metal accents, a small indented Polar logo and a central indented groove that runs either side of the display and down to the clasp help make the Loop 2 look like more than just a thick rubber band.
The display sits inbetween those silver accents, made up of 85 individual white LEDs which are only visible when the small oval capacitive button next to the display is tapped. A light press will present the time, with each subsequent tap showing various stats (comprising amount of activity completed, calories burned and steps taken). Annoyingly either the display or the Polar logo will face upside down, depending on which wrist you have set the device up on.
The Loop 2 comes in black, white and pink colour options and as the LEDs shine through the silicone band, so they will match the colour choice. We like that the display isn't always on to conserve battery life, but while its legible in normal conditions, bright conditions are an entirely different ballgame. When the sun is shining, you can forget finding about seeing anything.
On the underside of the display is where the small circular charging and syncing port is. Like Fitbit and Jawbone, Polar opts for a bespoke port unique to the company, rather than go for a universal Micro-USB port like Sony does. This isn't a problem, unless you lose the lead that comes with the Loop 2, which would then prevent you from not only charging the device, but syncing it with your computer too. We got around five days use from the Loop 2 before it needed charging - which although not the full eight days as quoted, isn't too bad.
The clasp is made of stainless steel with the Polar logo etched into it, tying in with those accents. It's a spring-loaded clasp that clips into place and we didn't have any issues with it coming loose; it's reasonably secure, but prone to picking up scratches. However, this kind of clasp makes it difficult to adjust the size.
The Loop 2 is only available in one size option, while competitors tend to offer a couple of bands in different sizes. Of course not everyone has the same wrist size and so to combat this, Polar requires you to measure your wrist with the special paper ruler provided in the instruction manual and then physically cut the Loop 2 band. Yes, get your scissors ready as you really will be required to chop the product you just spent £100 on. Don't get it wrong!
The ruler indicates two numbers, which refer to the number of tabs to cut from either side of the band. Before cutting, the clasp itself has to be removed using another special tool and then reattached after you've chopped the respective tabs off. It's important to make sure you cut straight as the pin of the clasp has to slide through the hole of the end tag - so use small scissors for better precision rather than larger ones, trust us.
Despite using the ruler, which should have meant a perfect fit, we found the Loop 2 was a little too big for our wrists. The entire process is far more fiddly than it should be and overall, we would vote for a much simpler solution in future devices. Get it wrong and the device is useless to you too, which is far from an ideal situation.
Polar Activity Loop 2 review: Smart notifications monitoring
In addition to its display options, the Loop 2 cleverly also knows when you're lying down, sitting, standing, walking and running - but you can't manually tag a specific activity like you can with the Fitbit Charge HR, for example.
Syncing with Polar Flow - which is both a web-based platform and an app - will allow for more detailed analysis and the Loop 2 and your activity. You'll need to set up an account and sync the Loop 2 using a computer before you are able to do anything else.
There are also smart notifications on board the Activity Loop 2 that work well. Notifications in their word form, such as "message", will run across on the LED display when you have incoming calls, messages or calendar reminders. There is no support for third-party apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter, but there is caller ID for incoming calls, which is handy, and there is also a do not disturb function if you want to stop the notifications during certain time periods. The Fitbit Charge HR has incoming calls and message alerts, but not calendar notifications, giving the Activity Loop 2 an advantage in this area.
Last but not least, the Activity Loop 2 has a motor that will vibrate and flash when you have been inactive for too long, which we found helped us get off our butts a little more than usual - or you can turn it off if you'd rather not know. It's also possible to set an alarm on the Activity Loop 2 and the light vibration will attempt to wake you up. It's not a smart alarm, however, so it doesn't use the sleep tracking data it collects to work out when best to wake you up. All these features can be found within the settings section of the Polar Flow app.
Polar Activity Loop 2 review: Activity and sleep tracking
The Polar Activity Loop 2 breaks down activity into five intensity levels comprising resting, sitting, low, medium and high (the equivalent of the lying, sitting, standing, walking and running in this instance). The Polar Flow software gives you a breakdown of time you spent at each intensity, along with your total active time, number of steps, distance in relation to the number of steps and number of calories burned based on the information you provided at setup.
Polar sets an activity goal for you each day, which is where the meter on the display comes into play. The goal set for you depends on how active you told the Polar Flow software you were when you entered your details - you can change this in the settings and you have the option of level one, two and three. Helpfully, the app will provide assistance on how to reach your goal - such as 30-minutes jogging or an hour walking - and the display will tell you too if you wait a couple of seconds.
In terms of accuracy, the Activity Loop 2 is almost spot-on for step counting. For the 1,000 steps we physically counted, the Loop 2 recorded 941. Taking into consideration any errors with our counting, the Loop 2 is one of the most accurate step trackers we have come across, second only to the Fitbit Charge HR.
When it comes to sleep tracking, the total amount of sleep is counted, which is then broken down into restful sleep and restless sleep, with percentage of restful sleep presented as the main figure.
It's tough to judge the accuracy of sleep tracking but compared to the Withings Sleep Aura (that measures heart rate using a sleep sensing mat under the mattress) the Loop 2 seemed to be close to the same mark. For example, where the Loop 2 recorded 10 hours 29 minutes sleep, the Withings Aura recorded 10 hours 33 minutes in bed, of which we were said to be asleep for 9 hours 57 minutes.
The Loop 2 suggested we had 8 hours and 57 minutes of restful sleep, along with 1 hour and 32 minutes of restless sleep. The Withings Aura monitors light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep, of which it recorded 5 hours 43 minutes, 2 hours 31 minutes, and 1 hour 43 minutes respectively. We would presume restless sleep is the equivalent of REM, which would put the Loop 2 almost on par with the Withings Aura.
Polar does offer less information than the likes of Jawbone for sleep, however, therefore if you are buying an activity tracker for the primary use of tracking your sleep, there are more advanced devices to consider.
Polar Activity Loop 2 review: Polar Flow software is clever
As we have mentioned, Polar Flow is the software element of the Activity Loop 2 and this is where there is a clear difference between devices like Fitbit and Polar. Fitbit and Jawbone make their apps a priority, while Polar offers the most functionality through its web service.
Still, the Polar app provides plenty of information - including everything we mentioned above, such as the intensity breakdown. A lovely circular 24-hour clock-style display presents how your intensity breakdown looks throughout the day, allowing you to see when you move or don't move the most. The app also offers suggestions for improvement, ideas on how to meet your goal, a feed breaking down your recent weeks' activity, and your daily goal status. However it's the web service that's the most detailed, not the app.
Using the online platform, Activity Loop 2 users will be able see more analysis of their exercise, as well as locate other Polar users to see their training sessions and even connect with them for tips if you want to. Many of Polar's competitors offer communities (we're looking at your Garmin) in order to motivate you to exercise more but Polar takes a different approach with the location feature. Plus, with apps like Strava dominating, it's tricky to see the reason to stick just to Polar's service.
Polar Flow becomes slightly more useful and advanced if you invest in a Polar H7 heart-rate monitor. Syncing this means you can get access to a training diary, which is also in the app, and track specific workouts that don't involve your wrist's motion, such as cycling.
These training sessions can be added manually to the Polar Flow diary through the browser by heading to the Add button and clicking on Training. The main problem here - other than that it can't be done through the app and it requires the heart-rate monitor - is that these sessions won't be counted towards your daily activity goal.
Having the heart-rate monitor will also allow you to review your beats per minute and see how much time you spend in the various heart-rate zones, but this is something the Fitbit Charge HR delivers in the one device.
There are a few nice additional touches, such as the ability to connect to MyFitnessPal and Apple Health, as well as tell the app or make notes online about how you feel on particular days - but we would say Fitbit and Jawbone both deliver a more simplistic and easy-to-navigate solution. It would be great to see Polar put more focus into the app because we turned to here more than the online platform and wanted more functionality straight from our phone.
Overall, we don't love the Polar app as much compared to others like Fitbit and Jawbone. It looks nice and it provides good analysis but it isn't as user-friendly nor as as clean as others out there. But the information is at least all there.
The Polar Activity Loop 2 is a tricky one to place. Polar undoubtedly has a great deal of experience within the fitness tracking sector, but without the accompanying heart-rate monitor, the Loop 2 doesn't do much more than any of the others in its field, except track when you are sitting and standing.
The Polar Flow software is good but the app isn't as user-friendly or as fun as some of the competition. Although the design might be the most stylish of the Polar family, it's not the most stylish of all the activity trackers out there. Ultimately, the Activity Loop 2 is a glorified rubber band with good software supporting it - but it does less than the likes of the Fitbit Charge HR (the ability to tag a specific activity) and it doesn't look as nice as the Jawbone UP3 (which, we must say, doesn't offer as strong a clasp).
The Polar Activity Loop 2 is a decent, accurate activity tracker that delivers good results but it has some tough competition in this field and there isn't anything quite special enough about it to make it a stand-out winner.