*** Thanks to Matt Warnock for this blog post ***

One of the advantages of being a writer – and a rambling, picaresque triathlon blogger – is that people, for some reason that I’m fully yet to comprehend, seem to trust your opinion. On the back of that, from time to time I’m approached by companies to review certain sporting products and I thought who better to share these reviews with than all you good, good members of TriDubai?

And so, for my latest review, I tried out the Polar RCX5.

The sports watch market has come a long way from the days when heading out for a run meant carrying nothing more than a stopwatch. As the science behind training has improved, so too have the ways of monitoring your runs, rides and even swims. Polar is a major player in the market and the company’s latest offering, the Polar RCX5, is aimed at the highest end, featuring HR monitor, GPS and much, much more to boot.

Like just about anyone in Dubai who’s ever watched the Tour de France or thought about going for a jog, I currently own a Garmin 310XT which (along with the newer 910XT) is pitched at the same level as the Polar RCX5 and, therefore, it was somewhat inevitable that I judged the RCX5 against the Garmin unit.

My first impressions of the RCX5 were excellent. It’s a quality piece of kit with the watch being extremely streamline and good-looking. The battery in the watch lasts as long as 12 months, meaning you can happily wear it as an everyday watch and, available in black and red, you’ll look stylish doing so.

What comes with the watch depends on which package you buy. All come with HR strap, the GPS sensor and the DataLink USB which allows you to download your workouts wirelessly to your laptop; cyclists might like to add the cadence and speed sensors, while runners can add a stride sensor too. The more accessories, the more data you can record.

All the features you’d expect are there; while the RCX5 can tell you your time, distance covered, current pace, average pace, current heart rate and average heart rate during a bike or run race, it’s actually in training that it comes into its own. The ZoneOptimizer feature ensures that you’re training at the correct pre-determined HR zones and intensities and one advantage that the RCX5 has over all its major rivals is that the HR feature still works in the water, so that you can monitor your intensity while swimming too.

You can pre-set all manner of programmes based on distance, time and intensity; the RCX5 works like a personal trainer, telling you when to go, how hard and for how long, as well as how much rest to take in between sessions.  It’s also easy to switch between a good variety of sports, making it an obvious choice for triathletes or adventure racers.

Once you’ve finished your workout or race, head home and upload your data on to polarpersonaltrainer.com. To be honest, this site deserves a full review of its own, but it can be as simple or complicated as you want, from uploading workouts so you can compare and contrast your performance over a certain course, to using the full programme that will tell you what to do when, how hard to go and when you need to take a few days’ break… it’s impressive stuff.

But this is mostly all stuff that you read elsewhere; what you want to know is how the RCX5 performed out in the real worlds and how it stacks up next to its competitors, right?

Firstly, let me assure you, this was no namby-pamby review over a paltry 5k run. Oh no. I put the RCX5 to the test firstly at Ironman Austria and then on an 800km cycle tour from Vienna to Belgrade. So both it and I got a good workout. For Ironman, I wore the RCX5 HR strap but also wore my Garmin 310XT on the bike (and used both units for several days of the bike tour) – not just as back-up but so that I could compare their relative accuracy.

I’ll start with the pros. The RCX5 is a beautiful unit which I found comfier to wear and easier to use than other units. It says much about its simplicity that I didn’t once need to look at a manual before setting up my screen display preference, and a variety of time and distance alerts to remind me to drink and take on calories during the Ironman. There are some excellent special features on here – for example, you can set the RCX5 so that, if you swipe it quickly over the HR strap, it’ll change to a certain screen. On the Ironman run, when I only wanted current pace and distance on the main display, for example, I could swipe over the HR monitor and change to heart rate zone and average pace and back far easier than fiddling around with buttons. I could have even used the same feature to record lap splits when I made the swipe.

I like the fact that the main unit doesn’t need to be constantly recharged and the syncing with everything from the foot sensor and GPS to the laptop are all quick and easy. Finally, while you can upload data to other third-party training programmes (such as Training Peaks), polarpersonaltrainer.com is by far the best and most usable of the manufacturers’ own online programmes. In fact, it’s the simplicity and usability across the board that makes the RCX5 an attractive unit.

Also, something that’s often overlooked but should be the major consideration when buying something like this, in terms of the GPS functionality providing the distance and speed/pace data, I found the Polar RCX5 to be at least as accurate, if not a little more so, than my Garmin 310xt, both over a complicated looped course (Ironman run) and longer point-to-point bike with plenty of tree coverage (say, the 100kms ride through Serbia, from Novi Sad to Belgrade).

Somewhat ironically, the things I like most about the RCX5 are also responsible for its drawbacks. The Garmin 310XT and 910XT are far bulkier, for example, with batteries that require recharging every 20 hours or so. This is because the GPS sensor is built into the wrist units, while the RCX5’s GPS sensor is separate. For Ironman Austria, I simply slipped the sensor into the rear pocket of my trisuit as I hopped on the bike and forgot all about it, but I wonder whether I’d have the time or presence of mind to do that during a shorter race, like a sprint or Olympic triathlon.

Also, while it’s very quick and easy to toggle between sports, the RCX5, surprisingly, still doesn’t have the option for recording transition times – not important if you’re a single-sporter and not so significant during something like an Ironman when transitions are responsible for just a few minutes during a 10 to 17 hour day, but extremely important over quicker races like sprint triathlons.

So, to cut to the chase, given that the RCX5 is in the same ballpark price bracket as the Garmin 910XT, if maybe coming in a couple of hundred dirhams cheaper, would I spend my hard-earned cash on the Polar? If I were simply a runner or cyclist, or even predominantly a runner or cyclist who maybe did a little of the other sport then the Polar RCX5 would get my vote.

If I were a triathlete or multisporter who focused almost entirely on longer distance racing, then it’d be a bit of a toss-up but I may well go for the RCX5 due to the superior and more consistent syncing between the watch and cadence sensors/footpods/laptop and my preference for Polar Personal Trainer over Garmin Connect.

However, as a triathlete who competes over a range of distances, I’d still opt for the Garmin. That’s simply due to the Garmin’s integrated GPS sensor and the ability to automatically record transition times rather than usability, but that’s enough to persuade me. Once Polar manages to put these two functions in its training watches, then the race for dominance will really heat up.

Info

The Polar RCX5 costs around AED 2,000 and is distributed in the UAE by Sport In Life (04 289 6002, info@sportinlife.ae). Contact Sport In Life directly for information on stockists or buy direct from www.sportsouq.ae.

Thanks to Sport In Life for providing the unit for review.   

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