Need a Heart Rate Monitor? Polar FT4 Review



Thinking about getting a heart rate monitor? Wondering whether the Polar FT4 is a good pick?

Yep, it's Product Review time again, which means: Crabby gets something for free that she gets to keep (yay!), googlers looking for info on a product have a fitness blog review from a source that is ill-tempered enough not to reflexively kiss sponsor ass (yay!), and sponsors get publicity for their products in a health blog of questionable influence noted for mainly for swear words and semi-naked pictures of Italian soccer players (yay?)

Note: this was originally a giveaway post, but that aspect has expired. Sorry if you missed it!

Now let's get crackin'.

Polar FT4 Features and Specs


If you are a lazy blogger and you go to the Polar Website and just copy sh*t without analyzing anything, here's what you find:

Measurement features:

Automatic age-based target zone – bpm / %
Average and maximum heart rate of training
Heart rate – bpm / %
HR-based target zones with visual and audible alarm
HRmax (user set)
Manual target zone – bpm / %
Polar OwnCal® – calorie expenditure
Polar OwnCode® (5kHz) – coded transmission

Recording features

Totals
Training files (with summaries) – 10

Training features

Graphical target zone indicator
HeartTouch – button-free operation of wrist unit

Watch features

Backlight
Date and weekday indicator
Display text in English and a crapload of other languages
Dual time zone
KeyLock
Low battery indicator
Time of day (12/24h) with alarm and snooze
User replaceable battery
Water resistant – 30m

What's Great About The Monitor


The price ain't bad. Though technically it retails for about a hundred bucks, a quick google search will land you figures that are quite a bit less than that. So for less than your next pair of fancy running shoes, you could be set with an HRM that has a good balance between features and ease of use. Polar is one of the biggest names in heart rate monitors with an excellent reputation; not that other ones might not be good too--but you're not taking any wild chances with this brand.

It's a nice step up from the low-end hrms. The flexible chest strap is way more comfortable that the stiff kind, plus there are absorbable pads you presoak with water, so you don't have to wait to get soaked with sweat for the thing to work. The strap is even machine washable! (But don't be a doof and throw the transmitter and watch in the machine too).

The wrist watch part has a good set of features but is not too complicated to use. Even the Cranky Crab was able to set it up, and toggle the display between time, heart rate, workout duration, calories burned and HRM relative to target range. (This may not seem like an achievement worth bragging about, but I'm someone who's been walking around in Massachusetts for the last 6 months with a sports watch that's still set to California time because I couldn't figure out how to change it).

What's Better About the FT4 Than I Initially Thought


The Display is Easy To Read  I almost chose the lowest-end F1 to test because I was scared off by the above picture. The type looks so tiny! There is a sad trade-off with heart rate monitors if you are an old fogey like me and don't want to have to take along reading glasses to see tiny type--you are generally restricted to low end models that don't measure much besides heart rate. However, what I didn't realize is that the screen displayed above is just one option; you can get big readable numbers when you're just measuring heart-rate or time, etc. So this is a perfectly good pick for the reading-glasses generation.

You Can Get Bright or Neutral Colors. The Polar people are currently promoting their new louder colors: pink (billed as pink & purple, but trust me, it's pink) or black and orange (good for Halloween or SF Giants fans). So I didn't at first realize that nice safe old silver/blacks and goldish/brown are also available. (Not for this giveaway though, I don't think).

Calories Burned Seemed Fairly Accurate : I tend to be skeptical of the ability of a monitor to count how many calories you burn based solely on your heart rate. But on both low and high intensity days, it seemed to correlate pretty well with what models would predict given my weight and the number of miles I covered.

Accuracy Under Bouncy Conditions: My old hrm would not make good enough contact with my chest to give consistent readings on the elliptical machine, especially at the beginning before I got soaked with sweat. (Don't know it's due to bouncing boobage, or my poor elliptical form, but whatever the reason, getting values that pop around randomly from 36 to 243 is not all that helpful).

But Voila: The flexible chest strap of the FT4 totally fixed this problem!  Well, ok, one one workout there was a few seconds of skittering around before the numbers settled in, but this chest strap is a vast improvement over the inflexible kind. Much more comfort and accuracy and worth the upgrade.

You Can Turn Off the Godawful Beeping The default setting has an annoying beep whenever the hrm function is working. From the initial set-up guide, it isn't clear at first how to turn it off. However, after  five minutes of whining, stomping, and cursing further investigation, it turns out there is indeed a setting that will turn the beeping off, thank goodness.

What Could be Better About This Heart Rate Monitor


No High-Tech Features. It's mostly a "get what you pay for" scenario: this is a lower end model, and it doesn't have GPS or an accelerometer nor will it sing to you in Swedish or talk you through your motivational issues. It doesn't even seem to have an interval timer-- though it does have an alarm, so perhaps there's something I'm missing that would enable interval timing. If it's there, they don't make it obvious.

Online Tracking?  Polar says in the instruction manual that you can track your data on their website!  So at first I thought, really, you can send your workout data wirelessly to your PC? That's cool! But turns out they mean if you wanna bother to go register with them and manually enter your data, they'll keep it for you. Big whoop! (FYI, just send Crabby a hundred bucks, she'd be happy to do the same!)

Lack of Sufficient Instructions in Box Also, being the old fashioned type, I wouldn't have minded a bit more operating information in the package. I had to go online to download the user manual in order to shut off the default hrm sounds--the initial set-up only told you how to silence the button noise, not the constant hrm beeping at you. The hrm system is NOT that complicated for them to include the complete operating instructions in the package.

Overall: If you don't need gps or complicated programming features, and want a well-designed heart rate monitor from a reliable company that is comfortable and easy to read, this definitely fits the bill. And if you shop this thing rather than paying full retail, it's seems like a good value for the money.

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