- The $230 Polar Ignite is a waterproof smartwatch with built-in GPS.
- The Polar Ignite can track your exercise and sleep, and it provides recommendations to help you improve your fitness.
- It’s not as feature-packed as the Apple Watch or the Fitbit Versa, but it’s still a great device for health and fitness enthusiasts.
Confession time: I’ve been using the Fitbit Charge 2 for almost three years. I’ve tried countless other wearables, from the Apple Watch to the Galaxy Watch, but I’ve struggled to find another fitness tracker that provided accurate health and fitness analysis, tracked sleep, wasn’t bogged down by five thousand extra features that I didn’t need, and didn’t cost a fortune.
So I was a bit nervous about the Polar Ignite, a timepiece that, at $229.95, is one of Polar’s cheapest wearables. But after testing the device for a few weeks, I’m pleased to report that I’m finally throwing out my old Fitbit. The Polar Ignite is the fitness watch I’ve been looking for.
The Polar Ignite is one of the few modern smartwatches to retain the antiquated “flat tire” display; the screen is circular, but the bottom is cut off by a large bezel sporting the Polar logo. It takes up valuable screen real estate and looks a bit clunky. Also, the Ignite’s watch face is not customizable, so take a look at some photos to make sure it suits your style before you buy it.
I do, however, like the stainless-steel bezel. It gives the device a premium feel (especially from the side). I felt comfortable wearing this to work, dates, and parties — places I wouldn’t dare wear plastic-bezeled sports watches like the Polar Vantage M. The Ignite’s default sport loop isn’t particularly stylish, but you can swap it out for any other band that uses 20mm bars.
Interface and display
The Polar Ignite sports a more bare-bones browsing interface than you’ll find on most smartwatches. The home screen displays the time, day, and date. Swiping left and right brings up other metrics, including activity percentage, heart rate, time since your last training session, nightly recharge status, and recommended future workouts. Swipe down to turn on screen lock, Do Not Disturb, or Airplane mode; swipe up to see phone notifications. You’ll press watch’s singular button on the bottom left side to bring up the Ignite’s menu of health features — this is where you can access fitness tracking, breathing exercises, timers, and fitness tests, as well as device settings.
Overall, I found the interface easy to use and intuitive to navigate. However, I had two issues with the display.
First: The Ignite is dim, and you can’t raise the brightness. I had no trouble reading its display indoors, but reading it in bright daylight, especially from the side, was next to impossible. While biking around Los Angeles in the early afternoon, not only could I not read my heart rate when glancing down at my wrist, but I actually had to raise the screen to inches from my eyes to make out the numbers. That’s certainly not safe (let alone pleasant) to be doing during a bike ride.
Second: The touchscreen is frustratingly unresponsive, especially if your fingers are wet or sweaty. It didn’t recognize light-pressured, or even medium-pressured taps and swipes, and I often found myself tapping three to six times before the Ignite recognized my selections. Multi-menu navigations were especially arduous, as the touchscreen would sometimes interpret my left-swipes as up-swipes, or my swipes as taps, or my taps as swipes, forcing me to go back and start the process over.
But an unresponsive touchscreen is a touchscreen nonetheless, and that’s a feature that most watches in the Ignite’s price range, including the Polar Vantage M and Garmin Forerunner 245, lack. Folks will have their own preferences, but I personally find swiping and tapping easier than fiddling with an array of buttons, especially while exercising.
The Ignite can track more than 100 different exercises, including everything from aerobics and basketball to kitesurfing and Finnish baseball. It can store 20 at a time. You press the physical button to start and pause your workout, and long-press to conclude.
Unlike some Fitbits, the Ignite is waterproof, so it can also log swimming and water aerobics, plus you can wear it in the shower.
At the end, you can see a laundry list of statistics, including your workout’s duration, distance, calories, average heart rate, and other metrics dependent on the exercise. One notable thing it doesn’t log is reps from strength training; you’ll need a more expensive device like Garmin’s $399 Forerunner 645 for that.
I found the heart-rate measurements and calorie counts to be accurate. And they weren’t thrown off by sweat, which is a problem I’ve had with multiple Fitbit devices.
The Polar Ignite also has built-in GPS, meaning it can track your runs and rides even if you don’t bring your phone along. If you listen to music while exercising, this won’t matter to you; the Ignite doesn’t store or stream music, so you’re probably bringing your phone along anyway. But if you prefer to run in silence or your music lives on a different MP3 player, onboard GPS is likely a big bonus for you.
The Ignite’s GPS was accurate. It nailed down my 10-mile bike ride around Pasadena, California, even catching a tiny detour I made into the woods to take a picture.
Sleep tracking was also spot-on. It captured my correct sleep and wake-up times, and the sleep stages it displayed matched up well with what I remembered. It wasn’t fooled into thinking I was asleep at times when I was actually staring at Netflix or scrolling Twitter — another pitfall I’ve encountered with Fitbit devices.
This is not an Apple Watch, and several things are missing. It doesn’t use Wi-Fi or LTE, and there are no apps. You can’t use it to order Starbucks, read the New York Times, control Spotify, or do most other things that are unrelated to health and fitness. There’s no period tracking, a feature of both Fitbits and cheaper GPS watches like the Garmin Forerunner 245.
But I don’t mourn those features too much, because Polar Ignite isn’t intended to be a multipurpose watch. It’s intended to track your health and fitness. And it does that very well.
Polar Flow app
Polar’s app contains a number of advanced features that I found super useful. The home screen contains a breakdown of your day logging the amount of time you’ve spent resting, sitting, and doing low-, medium-, and high-intensity activities, and tracks progress towards your daily exercise goal (which you designate during setup).
In the “Training” tab, Polar analyzes your training regimen and makes recommendations for the upcoming week. When I worked out consistently for a few days and then took a few days off for a trip, the app informed me that “if you keep this up for long, detraining will occur.” I appreciated this as a motivational tool. I do wish, however, that there were a way to notify the app if you’re injured or going on vacation, so it could adjust expectations accordingly.
In the “Sleep” tab, Polar breaks down your sleep cycles from the previous nights. Unlike the Fitbit app, which gives you a single score each night based on ambiguous metrics, Polar rates your slumber based on amount, solidity, and regeneration. You can also see the time you spent in each sleep stage, and how it compares to your typical cycles.
But the most unique section of the app is the “Nightly Recharge” tab. Here, the app analyzes your sleep patterns to let you know how much your body has recovered from your previous workout, and how much you should work out the next day. It’s much more advanced sleep insight than I get from the Fitbit app, which just tells me every day that I need to get more sleep. (Thanks, Fitbit!)
I love using the Polar app. I look forward to seeing the statistics after each of my workouts — not only is it satisfying to see how many calories I burned, but it’s also fun to take Polar’s fitness tips and apply them to future exercises. And I’ve actually found myself going to bed earlier because I’m so excited to see my nightly recharge analysis. It doesn’t feel like the generic advice you get from most fitness apps; it feels genuinely personal.
I got the Polar Ignite to last four days on one charge, which included continuous heart-rate monitoring, sleep tracking, and 30-60 minutes of exercise per day. After the four days, the watch entered a low-power mode where it still displayed the time but wasn’t able to track workouts or sleep. Swiping or pushing the button just prompted me to charge the device. It lasted another day and a half in this mode before dying entirely.
Four days isn’t phenomenal, and the Ignite doesn’t compare to the whopping month-long battery life of the Amazfit Bip, or even the two weeks the Polar Vantage M provides. Garmin’s Forerunner 245 gets around seven days. Still, four days is probably enough for most people. It’ll get you through a day and a night; you don’t have to worry about it dying in the middle of your workout or a good sleep.
Plus, the Ignite only took an hour to juice up from zero to full battery, so charging it once or twice per week won’t be a huge hassle.
The Polar Ignite is priced at $229.95. That puts it on the cheaper end of the GPS-watch spectrum. It’s $50 less than the Vantage M, the non-touchscreen budget option Polar launched earlier this year. And it’s a significant markdown from most popular flagship offerings, including Polar’s $499 Vantage V, and the $449 Garmin 645 Music.
The bottom line
Should you buy it?
If you’re a serious athlete who wants insights into your training, and help personalizing your workouts, you’ll be happy with the Polar Ignite.
It’s not just a fitness tracker — it’s a motivational assistant. You’ll get accurate exercise statistics, and the GPS won’t let you down. You’ll look forward to reading your sleep and exercise analysis, and will hopefully develop healthier habits.
What are your alternatives?
If you’re looking for a cheaper Apple Watch, the Polar Ignite isn’t for you. From music to apps to any other smartwatch features, it’s missing a lot — and the interface leaves a lot to be desired. If you want those extra features, you may like the older $249.99 Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music.
And if you’re just looking to track your steps, or to keep an eye on your heart rate during the occasional run, you’ll be fine with cheaper options like the $79.99 Amazfit Bip, which also offers better battery life.
Pros: Solid fitness tracking, built-in GPS, helpful alerts, a good app, personalized workouts, solid build quality
Cons: No onboard music storage, flat tire display is dim
Join the conversation about this story »