REVIEW: The Polar RCX5 Multisport Watch

author : NewClydesdale
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PolarUSA.com       Mileage Tested: 550       Hours Tested: 70

Technical Specifications

Device

Communication

Battery

Battery life

Water

Polar RCX5 Training computer

2.4GHz and 5khz W.I.N.D

CR 2032 (watch)

8-11 months

Submersible to 30m

WearLink+ Hybrid Transmitter

2.4GHz and 5khz W.I.N.D

CR 2025 (watch)

600 hours of use

Submersible to 30m

Polar G5 GPS Sensor

2.4GHz W.I.N.D protocol

USB Rechargeable

20 hours per charge

Water Resistant

Cadence Sensor

2.4GHz W.I.N.D protocol

Non Replaceable

3000 riding hours

Splash Proof

Polar CS Speed Sensor

2.4GHz W.I.N.D protocol

Non Replaceable

3000 riding hours

Splash Proof

Initial Impressions

When first opening the RCX5 I found it surprisingly light and small.  It doesn’t look like a computer on your wrist like many other GPS watches.  Of course that is largely because the bulk of the GPS components and battery are in an arm band.

The armband and separate GPS device seemed like, and became, one extra piece of equipment to worry about.

Polar next to a standard smart phone.

Polar watch, GPS, Heart Rate Monitor, and Sync Stick in box.

Ease of Installation/Setup

I received the Polar RCX5 the night before a half marathon.  I was eager to use it the next day.  In my haste however I did not go through all the instructions.  There were a few things I had failed to realize, like the fact that the foot pod overrides the GPS for distance.  This means it has to be calibrated for your stride.  Due to this the Polar recorded 15.66 miles instead of the 13.1 I actually ran.  However, it did record the map correctly.   You can see that first run here.

Once I read a few more instructions and took a bit more time with the RCX5 I found it easy to install the software and setup the watch.

The watch, heart rate monitor and foot pod all use watch batteries.  Battery removal can be difficult, however once the back is removed the batteries are easy to install and replace.  The GPS piece is charged with a standard USB cable. 

The speed and cadence sensors batteries are not replaceable.   These sensors must be purchased again when they wear out.  

Speed and Cadence Sensor – Bike mount included is not the one for the RCX5.

The speed and cadence sensors are attached to a bike with zip ties. I found them easier to install than the Garmin sensor largely because they are separate devices. It was easier to position each of them so that they picked up the magnet from the wheel/pedal separately, rather than trying to align one device to detect both.

Additionally the speed and cadence sensor each have a built in led light that flashes each pass of the magnet.

Upside Down allowed me to run Polar and Garmin.

The Stride Sensor is easily setup by lacing the case onto your shoe, and then placing the sensor into the case.

However, to configure your stride length is tricky at best.  The best way to do it is to run a distance using the stride sensor that you know the actual distance of, then change the distance in the history.   So let’s say you ran 1 mile.  The watch believes you ran 1.1 miles.  By changing the history to 1 it should adjust the settings so that the next mile you run will record correctly.

Once you have been using the watch for some time you can get into advanced setup.  You can add your own sports, or configure the devices, and screens setup with each sport. 

You can do this from the watch, but it is easier to do it from the Polar Web Sync software.  The software works much like a remote terminal for the watch.  You connect to the watch and add or change each sport profile, or change user or device settings.

I added a sport called OWS so that I could have an open water swimming profile that would use the GPS.

The Polar WebSync software is easy to install, and relatively easy to use.  There is a small icon in your system tray  (in Windows) that will show a green (connected) or red (disconnected) heart.  Right clicking on it allows you to synchronize, or access the training computer settings and export data.

Meanwhile the web site, Polarpersonaltrainer.com, keeps all of your workouts after you synchronize and gives you an easy to use, easy to follow view of your workouts.

Here are some sample workouts from Polar Personal trainer.  These are the shared sites, but they are very similar to the personal view.  Note that as you move your mouse around on the HR chart it will show your position on the map below.

This is a sprint Tri I did.  In it you can see each event separately. 

For those who don’t want to click through here is a sample of what the site looks like: 

 

And here is a Duathlon

On the full site, though not the shared one, you can drill into each event from a multisport workout separately. 

So to give you a similar idea here is an OWS I did.  One issue I have with the website in this case is it is difficult to drill in enough on the map to see the details.

A bike ride

And a recent run

Loading Data to BeginnerTriathlete.com

From the WebSync desktop software when you go into the training computer you can find the training data on the RCX5. 

Selecting the items and exporting them creates a “.HRM” and “.GPX” file.   The HRM records the heart rate and time for the workout while the GPX records distance information.

From the BT Training Log section you can select Upload from the “jump to:” menu.  From there you can select your HRM file and upload it to BT.  Unfortunately this does not include the distance or map information due to a design issue with the device for 3rd party interfacing. Although that data can be added in and it does include heart rate by lap:

Quality of the setup/installation instructions

The Polar RCX5 and its components each come with deceptively thick instruction booklets.  In truth, the thickness is due to the eight languages covered in each. For example, the guide on the GPS looks like a small treatise on GPS theory, however, it only contains 10 pages of English language instructions.  The languages offered are: Deutsch, English, Español, Français, Italiano, Português, Suomi and Svenska.

The Polar website also offers a comprehensive guide all in each language, which provides more detail than the included documentation. 

The online manual has answered all my questions about how to use the Polar RCX5 and it is easy to follow.

Here are a few of the online manuals available.

English, Spanish, French 

While most of the accessories do not need a lot of explanation, what they provide is accurate and useful.  The one exception is that, if you plan to use your bike on a trainer, the speed sensor will need to be placed on the rear wheel, instead of the front wheel.

Appearance

The sleekness and color choices of the RCX5 are one of its primary appeals compared to other similar watches on the market today.  The watch looks like a normal digital watch with a slightly larger frame and can be worn comfortably in everyday settings.  It would be easy to wear the RCX5 through the day, and then pull on the GPS device, or foot pod, when it was time to go for a run.

RCX5 next to Garmin 310xt.

The GPS arm band appears much like many of the Phone or Music arm bands you see on the market today, but a little smaller.  As long as you don’t mind a small tan line in the shape of an arm band there really aren’t any other appearance issues.

The bike and foot sensors are barely noticeable.

Ready to run my first race with both the Garmin and RCX5 .

You can see the WearLink under the tri top.  Please don’t judge the watch by the wearer.

Speed, cadence sensor and watch are largely hidden.

Ease of Use

Basic use of the Polar RCX5 is quite simple. 

First you must learn the basic button structure.  It works differently than the Garmin, and so it took me a few days to get use to the button structure.

Pressing the “Ok” button at the bottom of the watch goes into the mode to select a sport.  Using the “Up” and “Down” buttons lets you navigate through the various sport modes.  Once you have selected a sport it will show you the devices involved in that sport on an icon of the sport - Heart Rate Monitor, GPS arm band, Speed/Cadence sensor, or foot pod.  As it scans for the device a circle will flash, once it is found the circle stops flashing.  If it can’t find, or has an issue with a device, the Polar RCX5 will show a triangle with an exclamation mark (!) inside it.

When you are ready to start the workout press the “Ok” button again and it will start the workout. 

When you press the back button it will pause the workout recording and go back to the icon screen. 

If you are doing a multisport workout you can simply move to another sport before pressing start again.  If you paused the workout due to a stoplight, or other forced break, you can simply press “go” again during the workout.

Pressing back a second time from the icon screen will end the workout session and go back to the clock screen.  One thing to note with the icon and clock screens is they do not allow you to see any of your current data.  So if you pause or stop your workout you can’t see what your heart rate is as you cool down.  If you pause during transition, for example, you wouldn’t have any information on speed or heart rate until you started the next sport.  You could add a transition sport in that case.

While you are working out, the up and down buttons let you move through the various screens.  Each screen allows four fields to be displayed.  These fields come from a list of speed, pace, cadence, heart rate, sports zone, time of day, etc. depending on the devices that are associated with that sport profile. 

The Heart Touch Feature

A very nice feature of the Polar is the heart touch feature.  During the run portion of the Galveston Half-Ironman, I was trying to figure out when I would finish the race.  Specifically, I wanted the time of day.  I did not have time of day on any of my current screens and I was a bit disoriented after exercising for six hours.   I was having trouble figuring out what time it was based on my elapsed time.  Suddenly I remembered that I had heart touch set to 'time of day.'  A quick movement of my watch next to my HRM and the screen changed to the current time.  Problem solved.  Heart touch can be set to do a number of features, such as lap, backlight, or time of day.

Additional features

There are additional features for both the Polar RCX5 and the Polar Personal Trainer website.

The watch offers race pace calculations, and heart rate fitness tests.  And the website offers training programs, calendars, and training load calendars.

These features are nice options to explore, but not compelling enough to help drive a purchasing decision.

Low Light Visibility

One of my primary complaints about the Polar RCX5 is the difficulty I have seeing the fields especially in low light.  There is a backlight that helps, but it is not as useful as running under a street light.

However, the Polar RCX5 does have a nice aid for those of us who can be sight challenged at times.  By holding down either the Up or Down button the Upper, or Lower field on the page will zoom in to double the size, removing the middle fields.  This makes it much easier to read, especially at night.  However the settings and history screens cannot be zoomed in on and are best reviewed when in reach of your glasses.

From the clock screen if you press up or down you can see the data, connections, settings, and applications .

You can view, and change this data on the watch, but it is much more helpful to do so from the polar web sync, or Polarpersonaltrainer.com.

Quality of construction

The Polar RCX5 and accessories seem to be solid and good quality.  The devices all seem to be well formed and complete.  

The only complaint I had was the included USB cable had a loose connection with both the Polar GPS device, and other Micro USB ports (such as my phone).  This caused some charging issues, but swapping the cable resolved the issue.

Comfort

The watch is light and comfortable.

The only discomfort I had was when I didn’t align the Velcro correctly I had some irritation from the Velcro from the movement of my arm against my side when running shirtless.

Adjustability

The watch has a large number of close pin holes for setting the width.  The arm band uses Velcro to control the size and it works well.

The configuration options, discussed elsewhere, allow the software to adjust to your needs.

Durability

I have found the Polar watch, and components to be very durable.  I have swam, biked, and ran with the watch and the GPS.  I have swapped the speed and cadence sensors between bikes, ridden and wrecked with them in place.  I have run through puddles and what felt like superheated concrete.  I have never had an equipment failure with the Polar equipment, with the rare exception of a battery that needed to be replaced.

Value

The Polar RCX5 is on par with the other sports watches in the area both in price and in performance.  While it does not offer stroke analysis it does offer the ability to collect HR data while in the water.  The ability to purchase the GPS unit separately from the watch allows you to spread the expense out if needed.

Overall Performance

I’ve found the Polar RCX 5 responsive and never had an issue with the response time on the device. 

The web sync can be a little slow, and from the computer the training computer configuration is tedious.  The software on the computer appears to be working as a remote terminal to the watch, and it can take several seconds, or minutes, to open all the data that you want to change.  While I love the flexibility of being able to control the settings from the computer I wish it would let me change the settings offline, then sync back to the watch when I’m done.

With all GPS devices there is some concern on accuracy.  This is because sampling rates and loss of connectivity cause the device to guess the pattern.  I’ve run with a Garmin, the Polar, and Run Keeper from my phone at the same time and I’ve found that the Polar is equivalent to the others.  I will say that on an anecdotal basis that the Polar finds the satellite signal faster than the Garmin 910XT and 610.

This is a recent race my wife and I did together.  I was wearing the Polar and she was wearing the Garmin 910XT.  While we were not side by side the entire run and I started the Polar a few seconds late, you can see the splits, map and distance all match reasonably well by comparing the 2 links below.

Polar

Garmin

Weaknesses

1)   Visibility is an ongoing struggle with the RCX5.  Even with the zoom, and backlight it is harder to read than the Garmin.  This is especially true in low light and on the bike where vibration and speed don’t give you a lot of time to focus.

2)   The foot pod, while nice for treadmills, or those that do not have a GPS option is difficult to configure, and is only as accurate as your stride is consistent.  If you start taking longer or shorter strides the configuration would need to be reset. 

I wish that the foot pod could be configured in coordination with the GPS and that I could choose to use the GPS or the foot pod for distance.  This would allow me to collect cadence from the foot pod.

The Wheel speed sensor is also used for distance, but I find this more accurate as my wheel is always the same distance around (assuming it is inflated fully) while my foot stride might be a bit wider or shorter.

3)   Polar uses the W.I.N.D. wireless protocol and is proprietary to Polar.  Other companies use ANT+ or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).  Because of this the Polar devices are only compatible with other Polar devices.  The RCX5 will not be able to pair with your other devices.  This also impacts software such as Trainer Road that relies on speed, heart rate, and Cadence coming in ANT+.

4)   While the Polar is particularly strong at tracking the heart rate in the water it does not offer any other good tools for swimming in the pool.  While you can use the lap button to track laps I found the process of trying to press the lap button more tedious than it was worth.  This combined with the need to wear a shirt to keep the heart monitor in place made it impractical for pool workouts.

5)   The GPS being a separate device gives you “one more thing” to worry about.  I have forgotten to turn on the GPS, or even left it at home by mistake a time or two.

Strengths

The Polar RCX5 is flexible and allows for many configurations.  You can use it as a simple running watch with a foot pod, or add in a HRM, GPS, and speed and cadence sensors and have a fully functional tool set. 

The RCX5 with the Polar WearLink + Hybrid transmitter can detect your heart rate while swimming.  While my testing showed that this frequently slipped without a shirt, and was somewhat hit or miss it is the only HRM that I am aware of that allows the heart rate to be monitored while swimming.

While not touted by Polar, the GPS device can be worn while swimming in the swim cap, or connected to the goggles.  I wore it in one race by stretching the arm band around the head under the swim cap (it was a bit tight).  This allows you to keep the watch on your wrist while collecting at least some distance data.

The GPS unit hidden away in the swim cap.

Closing Summary

The Polar RCX5 is a robust multi-sport watch with a sleek profile that you can wear even when you are not working out.  With the right accessories the RCX5 can provide you with heart rate, speed, cadence (for both the bike and the run) and GPS data.  Unlike most of its competitors the RCX5 relies on an accessory for GPS signal allowing you to start small and easily add more functionality later.

While it does not offer swim stroke data it does allow you to capture heart rate information in the water, and I have managed to capture GPS data in open water swims as well. 

The RCX5 relies on W.I.N.D. protocol and is not compatible with ANT+ or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) effectively limiting you to Polar branded accessories.

While the display on the RCX5 can be difficult to read in low light, even with the backlight, it does offer a zoom feature that helps, and it allows you to customize your display from the desktop. 

All in all it is a competitive sports watch that should be considered by triathletes, especially those who want something lighter on their wrist. 

Visit this watch at PolarUSA.com   

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date: December 11, 2012

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