'ANOTHER WINNER FROM POLAR - BUT A FEW TEETHING PROBLEMS'
Strengths: Reliable HR measurement. Comfortable cheststrap. Well-designed, intuitive, user interface. Feature-rich. Good memory capacity and battery life. Instantaneous and accurate pace/distance monitoring under most conditions. Helpful customer service.
Weaknesses: Intial product reliability (hopefully resolved). Does need to be calibrated. Sonic data download is fiddly.
Overall: I love my old trusty Polar M22 HRM with an old-style transmitter that's still going strong after 5 years. I also have a Nike SDM that I use very rarely because it doesn't have a HRM function. Therefore I was thrilled (I lead a sheltered life!) when I saw that Polar were finally making available an integrated SDM with HRM and gladly shelled out the £155 shortly after the RS200SD became generally available back in August 2005.
Speed, pace & distance Function - To get accurate measurements, you really need to calibrate the footpod. You can do this on an athletics track or over any known distance, e.g. at a race. Now that I have the right calibration factor (after a few false starts) it seems quite accurate and certainly consistent. The advantage of this accelerometer technology over GPS is that it doesn't need to search for satellites at the start of a run and also is not affected by either overhead foliage or high buildings which might mask a signal. Also, the battery life is generally longer; that said, the GPS SDMs are probably more accurate so I think it probably comes down to personal preference.
HRM Function - As you would expect from Polar, the heart rate measurement is steady and accurate and certainly for me this the key feature. Having a measure of pace or distance are certainly a nice-to-have, but if they are not 100% accurate or you lose the reading for a few minutes it won't ultimately impact your session, while for training or racing to heart rate you really need a reliable measure.
User Interface - Generally well-designed, with the needs of the runner in mind. Minimal button presses required for most of the functions, although trying to enter text, letter by letter, to name exercise profiles is an extremely long-winded process. It is possible to change most settings during a run, although you need to pause the session to do this. There are some nice features, such as the ability to configure the watch so that the backlight comes on when you raise the wrist unit to the chest strap (ideal for those early morning winter runs).
Display - There is a good choice of different views to display during a session (e.g. I generally use pace, time and heart rate but these can be changed). The display is clear and easy to read.
Data Storage - The watch stores details of up to 16 workouts - in more detail than any sane person would reasonably need - plus weekly totals. There is a nifty bar graph feature that displays all of the stored files as bars according to duration. The data files are relatively easy to navigate when you get used to the menu structure. I have also used the on-line training tool to upload data. The SonicLink tool for data transfer is a bit flakey (sometimes takes several attempts to download the data to a PC) but the on-line application provides quite a few useful graphs and reports and is a good motivational tool. Polar seem to have been developing the functionality of the on-line application over time - the advantage of having an on-line tool is that they can do this without the end-users having to upgrade any software. Note that Polar also promote an UpLink tool to enable you to 'Edit your watch settings on a PC' and upload them to the watch. This tool is extremely basic at the moment - merely allowing you to change the time settings and the logo on the watch, but again I suspect this might be enhanced in the future.
Exercise Settings - It is possible to set a huge variey of different structured sessions with different zones by distance, pace, heart rate etc. I tend to stick to two simple profiles for my steady runs and tempo sessions based on 70% and 85% of max heart rate respectively. In addition to this, the watch automatically calculates the time spend in 5 HR sports zones.
Look and Feel - I have yet to see a HRM/SDM watch that really looks 'good' but I was pleased that this one fits even my rather spindly wrists. It feels less like a supercomputer strapped to your arm than some of the Polar S-model watches. The new-format 'wear link' chest strap is light and very comfortable - though I did used to regard the chafe marks on my back from the old-style strap as a mark of dedication ;-). Even the M-XL sized strap adjusts to fit my (also spindly) chest. I believe Polar are the only major vendor who supply a textile strap. The cheststrap battery can be changed yourself - no need to send the strap back to Polar. The footpod is reasonably easy to fit onto your trainers and, unlike the Nike, does not require a screwdriver for battery replacement although it is a little fiddly. Batteries seem to last about 18-20 hours, which compares favourably with the GPS-based pods.
Reliability - Hmm, this is where the story gets less rosey. The first unit I had intermittently lost the footpod and HR signal, the 'In Zone' feature seemed to have a bug in it and after less than a month the watch went completely dead so I sent it back. In fact, over the next few months I sent the wrist unit back twice (it was replaced the second time) and finally in frustration I sent back the watch, footpod and transmitter. I received a brand new watch unit and transmitter in January and am pleased to say these are now working really well. I should point out that Polar customer services were at all times extremely prompt in responding to these complaints, and I have since read that pushing all 4 buttons at once will revive a dead display and also that Polar have identified the bug in the 'In Zone' feature. I have had no problems with my new unit so fingers crossed they have ironed out the initial problems.