Polar Ignite 3 review: Needs more training
Fitness Trackers

Polar Ignite 3 review: Needs more training

Polar has come a long way since I wrote for Expert Reviews. In 2017, the Polar M430 proved an ugly but bafflingly accurate running companion. Two years later, the original Polar Ignite corrected the appearance but at the expense of accuracy. Can the Polar Ignite 3 give us intelligence and beauty in one package?

Type of. But it introduces a whole new set of issues that make it frustrating in a whole new way. And that, ultimately, makes it hard to recommend, especially given the $89 price hike over the 2021 Polar Ignite 2.

Polar Ignite 3 review: What do you get for the money?

The Polar Ignite 3 is upgraded from its predecessor in several small but important ways. It now has a beautifully crisp Polars First AMOLED display and customizable widgets to make the most of it.

For runners and cyclists who rely on their Polar to track their performance live, the watch adds voice guidance to tell you how you’re doing on the fly and dual-band GPS for greater accuracy. Internals also got a decent boost, with the 120MHz processor bumped to 192MHz and memory jumping from 0.64MB to 5MB. That’s still disappointing on paper but it’s at least okay in the good direction.

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The watch also features SleepWise to learn from your sleep and advise you accordingly, although this came to the Ignite 2 as a software update in February. The new walk and run tests, short exercises to analyze your current aerobic fitness, however, are exclusive to the new generation.

Polar Ignite 3 review: What do we love about it?

The Polar Ignite 3 is perhaps one of the best looking running watches around. The design is minimalist with the round 1.28-inch touch face interrupted by a single button on the left side. The screen, which uses an AMOLED panel, really pops and is nice and easy to read even in bright sunlight.

It’s also ridiculously thin and light at 9.5mm and 35g with the strap included. Indeed, if it weren’t for the rather unpleasant bracelet provided, one of those uncomfortable ones that folds back on itself, you would quickly forget that you are wearing it. Since said strap can easily be swapped out for any 20mm strap, I count this as a win.

Another win is the new ability to customize watch faces. Usually I ignore this stuff in fitness apparel, but here it’s delivered with care. Polar bundles four watch faces together and then lets you choose the background and color accent from a number of options. Each comes with a number of spaces for widgets, where you can pull up your choice of metric, from your steps and remaining battery to current heart rate and date.

Yes, four watch faces aren’t very many in the grand scheme of things, especially since they can’t be made larger, but the limited number at least means they all look good.

The racing experience is also largely positive. GPS accuracy with the new dual-band sensor seemed solid over several parkruns measured at 5km and I particularly like the Race Pace feature where you can set the desired distance and time, and then can see at a glance at how far forward or back of said goal you are, as you go.

The user interface is also commendably simplified. Swipe and you can see your daily activity, last week’s activities, remaining light hours, weather, cardio status, sleep data, today’s workout suggestions, and music controls . And most of them can be tapped for a more detailed view without you having to open the Polar Flow smartphone app. By the way, the app is just as impressive as the watch’s user interface. It feels incredibly focused on fitness and makes it easy to access essential information or tips on what to do on any given day.

Polar Ignite 3 review: What could it do better?

So far so good, but the shortcomings of Polar Ignite 3 start to show during prolonged use.

The most obvious issue is performance. The user interface can be intuitive, but it feels painfully slow at times. Swiping up to read your notifications results in a horribly jerky transition animation emerging from the bottom of the screen, then loitering a second longer than you’d like.

It’s not a great experience at the best of times, but it’s more forgivable on a complex smartwatch with lots of built-in features; the Ignite 3s interface is so simplified that it’s a little insulting that the watch visibly struggles at times. Although the specifications have been updated, it is obvious that they have not been updated enough. A 192MHz processor is clearly not sufficient for this operating system.

This simplified approach is not without problems either. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity, but you might raise an eyebrow at some omissions given the price. For your 290 there’s no built-in music, no NFC for contactless payments, no ability to add your own apps, and no support for external ANT+ sensors.

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Battery life isn’t hugely impressive either. Polar suggests you’ll get up to five days of battery life, and that seems fair, but it’s alarming how quickly it seems to drop when you’re doing very little. It’s also worth noting that this five-day estimate drops to around 48 hours if you switch to always-on display mode, so you probably don’t want to.

To be completely fair to Polar, five days isn’t bad, in fact, it’s superhuman compared to many smartwatches. But it’s not a smartwatch, nor is it as packed with smart features, and having recently been bowled over by the Garmin Forerunner 265’s 15-day battery life, it’s hard to be too thrilled to have to clip the slightly clunky Polars charging cable once a week.

Although the dual-band GPS provided satisfactory accuracy on a number of measured tests, we found the heart rate monitoring to be questionable, with the average heart rate reading over each run differing from that recorded by our strap. MyZone MZ-Switch breast reduction by an average of almost 9%.

For comparison, the same number for the Apple Watch Series 8 and Garmin Forerunner 265 was less than 2.5%, while for the Forerunner 955 it was just 0.77%. In other words, you’ll want to wear an external chest strap if heart rate accuracy is important to you.

As a runner, I also feel that including a single button sacrifices substance for style. Touchscreens are all great, but they don’t like sweat or rain. To complete a run, you have to clumsily press the single button for three seconds, and it doesn’t always respond immediately either: give me multiple buttons any day of the week.

Finally, and I’m fully aware that this is a complaint that will make most athletes shrug their shoulders, step counting is infuriating. In the past six months, I’ve tried to take over 8,500 steps a day, and using the Polar Ignite 3 for that has been an awful experience. The step counter updates incredibly infrequently; my best guess is once every 10-15 minutes, but I’ve never really caught him making the switch. So if you’re trying to figure out your return route with a specific stage goal in mind, well, good luck with that.

Polar Ignite 3 review: Should you buy it?

None of these things may seem like a full-fledged breach of contract and I guess they are not. But they add to the feel of a product that has lots of cool features and great ideas, but isn’t quite ready for the show. Or at least not near 300.

So my advice is the same as I gave at the end of the Garmin Forerunner 265 review: buy a Garmin Forerunner 255 instead. It’s almost as good as the latest Garmins, and it offers a better experience than Polars, almost super portable for 30 less if you shop around.

There’s enough here to make me reasonably excited for the Polar Ignite 4, but that doesn’t mean you should settle for the Ignite 3 while you wait. Better options are available today, although they may lack this aesthetic factor.

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