Update: Good news, Polar has released the anticipated Android Wear 2.0 update for the M600 smartwatch. In case you don't know about what that brings to the table, let us enlighten you.
Polar's fitness-focused smartwatch now offers the Google Play store embedded right into the watch. In addition to letting you install and enjoy native apps, you can also use them while away from your smartphone, which is something new for Android Wear 2.0.
Another inherent perk of the new software is the built-in Google Assistant. A long press of the hardware button now queues up the smart assistant who is at the ready to help you execute a bunch of tasks with just your voice.
There's more! Polar announced that the M600 now supports indoor swimming metrics, which is a very sought-after feature in a fitness tracker, let alone a smartwatch. This metric can measure distance, pace, strokes per minute and strokes per pool length. It's so smart that it can even tell if you're swimming in freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly styles.
Lastly, the battery life has been improved to 36 hours, a sizable improvement over the average of about a day with the previous version of Android Wear.
Original review follows below.
Polar has gotten along just fine making stellar fitness trackers in the advent of smartwatches. And while it shows no signs of stopping, it's trying something totally new with the Polar M600, a new Android Wear smartwatch that takes after the look of its past products.
While most Android Wear smartwatches are designed to be suited for the office or a night out, Polar's latest looks unashamedly like a standard fitness tracker. As a result, it's a bit bulkier than other, more svelte options, like the Huawei Watch and Moto 360 2nd Gen.
But what's most noteworthy about the Polar M600 are the handful of features that set it apart from many of the others, thin and attractive as they may be: it's waterproof, it will be upgraded to Android Wear 2.0, it works on both iOS and Android, and it packs in GPS, like the Moto 360 Sport.
Not just that, Polar has implemented its own coaching and activity tracking software into the experience. It's not too often you see a company mess with stock Android Wear, but in this case, Polar has created some of the most alluring fitness tracking options available on a smartwatch today.
The Polar M600 is on sale for $329 (£265, AU$499), which competes in price with the legion of other established smartwatches, including the Samsung Gear S3 Classic and Apple Watch 2. And although there are some design misfires, and it likely won't change your tune if you aren't a fan of Android Wear, Polar's choice to ditch a conversation-starting design in favor for unique, fitness-focused features earns it points.
- Polar ditches the regal look of most smartwatches for something more gym-friendly
- The build is somewhat bulky and its proprietary charger is a hassle, but it allows this watch to get wet
If the Polar M600 was hiding in a group of Polar's products from the last year, you probably wouldn't be able to pick it out of the crowd. Most similar to the Polar V800, it also rocks a vibrant silicone band that will stand up to the rigors of working out - even if that so happens to be in a pool.
But unlike the other products in Polar's line, there are fewer buttons here. Just two, actually. That's because this one has a touchscreen, which obviously allows your fingers and accelerometer-powered gestures to do most of the navigation.
The main button sitting in front activates Polar's activity tracking app when pressed. Once you're in a workout, simply holding down the same button offers up the options to pause or stop the activity. You can navigate backward with a swipe of the screen, but thankfully, there's a back button on the left side of the device, which is easier to narrow in on during a frantic workout.
The M600 can be popped out of its band to make things easier to clean, or to just change over to a different band color (black and white colors are available). The strap has several adjustment options and fits comfortably on relatively bare wrists and those with hair alike.
Most smartwatches charge wirelessly, but Polar's smartest device yet annoyingly uses a proprietary pogo pin connector, like the Pebble Time and just about every Fitbit device out there.
- Polar opts for a MediaTek chipset instead of Snapdragon Wear 2100, but the results are just fine
- The low point of the M600 may very well be its low-res screen
- This smartwatch puts the others to shame with its fitness software
The rather large bezel and 1.3-inch touchscreen are covered by Gorilla Glass 3 and measures up at 240 x 240 pixel, with 260 pixels per inch (ppi). It's a transmissive LCD screen, meaning that it excels in displaying vibrant colors indoors, but unfortunately, the downside is that it's difficult to read in direct sunlight.
Compared to industry leaders in smartwatch screen quality, like the Samsung Gear S2 and Huawei Watch, the Polar M600 pales in comparison. The colors generally look washed-out and the screen's scan lines are painfully easy to see. Polar's screen gives off the impression that we're dealing with a budget device, not a $329 smartwatch.
A wise idea would have been for Polar to make the screen transflective instead and implement something similar to the Moto 360 Sport's AnyLight feature, which basically turns the screen into a easier-to-read monochrome display when outside.
The Polar M600 takes another left turn with its chipset, which is different than the Snapdragon 400 processor we've seen appear in most Android Wear devices. Inside, there's a MediaTek MT2601 dual-core processor, the chip manufacturer's first go at powering an Android Wear smartwatch.
During our testing, MediaTek's wrist-based chipset performs equally well under-pressure and during regular use. Like all Android Wear smartwatches, there's a bit of user interface lag from time-to-time, and the M600 is no different. Thankfully, it handled Polar's app, the watch's main attraction that utilizes GPS and a heart rate sensor in tandem, admirably.
In terms of the other specs, it's standard fare here. There's 4GB of internal storage for syncing up your favorite Google Play Music files and third-party apps, as well as 512MB RAM backing the experience. It seems low, but as we saw in the Fossil Q Founder, more doesn't necessarily equate to a better experience. It's possible that Android Wear 2.0 (which Polar has confirmed for the M600) will speed things up, but we'll have to wait and see.
Now, here's where the M600 takes on a life of its own in the Android Wear space. Similar to the Moto 360 Sport, Polar's smartwatch puts the focus on fitness. As such, it can log stats for a variety of activities, ranging from running to ice skating, map your position with its built-in GPS sensor and keep a finger to the pulse with its heart rate monitor.
The software that Polar has built into the M600 is definitely a step above what we've seen put forward by other Android Wear manufacturers. We appreciate that it's possible to pause workouts, and look at the stats in-depth in the Polar Flow app.
Booting up into an activity with GPS-tracking enabled takes around five to ten seconds in our experience. Compare that to the Microsoft Band 2 and Moto 360 Sport, which can each take up to 30 seconds to find signal.
- Huzzah, iOS and Android compatibility!
- However, the M600's battery life tanks when used with iOS
- The Polar Flow app succeeds in being useful for generalists and more hardcore users alike
The Polar M600 is compatible with Android and iOS, making it one of a rather small (but growing) handful of Android Wear smartwatches that offer compatibility for both sides of the fence.
A big reason for the cross-compatibility is probably because Polar Flow, the companion app which the M600 feeds into, is available on both platforms. It's a rare, but welcomed move to see some - scratch that, any - unique functionality working with Android Wear and iOS, but unfortunately, there are some caveats.
First off, third-party apps (other than Polar's) won't work on the M600 when it's synced with an iOS device. You'll receive notifications, but you'll likely need to whip your phone out to take an action on most of them.
Also, Polar stated that battery life varies wildly depending on what OS you're using. On Android, it offers two days of battery life with mixed use, eight hours while working out and about four with GPS enabled. On iOS, you'll only get a max battery life of one day with mixed use, up to eight hours during workout mode. Here's to hoping that a patch, or the upgrade to Android Wear 2.0 can help things out here.
Our testers aren't the most active bunch, but we made sure to do a little bit of exercise to properly test the battery. On a Nexus 6P, we were able to squeeze an average of two days of mixed use out of the Polar M600. Sometimes, the smartwatch lasted longer, while other times it died more quickly.
Touching on the companion app, in addition to tracking intensive activities in the Polar Flow app, the M600 can also record some standard wearable features, like sleep tracking and step count, both of which consistently put out accurate, detailed results.
Checking up on the app isn't a necessity, as the M600 can display a lot of the information on the screen - a big plus compared to how most fitness trackers operate. But when you do log into Flow, you'll be greeted by a slick user interface and as much or as little detail as you'd like.
For example, you can find a date and simply glance at how much sleep you got. Or if you're hungry for metrics, you can drill down to see the amount of your sleep that Polar considers to be restful.
Another example: the feed view shows the quick and dirty info from a workout, but clicking into, say, a walking activity shows a play-by-play look at your trek. Every step of the way, the M600 is recording your heart rate, and the GPS is recording the location. We found the latter function to be more accurate outside of large metropolitan areas, as the results shown from a walk through Manhattan made our tester seem like a chicken with its head cut off.
Polar's M600 might look just like a standard fitness tracker, but it's all smartwatch inside. Stocked with 4GB of storage and full access to the Google Play Store, these factors make it nearly as good a choice as any smartwatch that's currently available, but less good-looking than most.
Who's this for?
For those who want a smarter-than-your-average fitness tracker. Android Wear still has problems, but with Android Wear 2.0 coming sooner than later, the Polar M600 aims to be one of the most future-proof fitness-focused smartwatches to be released in 2016.
Should you buy it?
For an Android Wear smartwatch with fitness chops, you can currently do no better than Polar's M600. It offers the most intuitive third-party integration with Google's wrist-based OS we've seen yet, and the comprehensive set of workout options should be exactly what most generalist gym visitors are looking for.
However, seasoned fitness user might be better served by a dedicated tracker, like the Garmin Fenix 3, TomTom Spark 3, or any other GPS-stocked wearable that doesn't dedicate precious processing and battery resources to running a battery-guzzling mobile OS.