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Product Review: The Polar RCX5 watch

I recently tested the Polar RCX5, with GPS capabilities. Not only is it an excellent fitness watch, most officers will find it excellent for patrol use. The RCX5 is a slim lightweight watch with a huge high contrast display. The numbers on the readout are three to four times larger than similar watches.

I believe in officer fitness — in case anyone didn’t know. Officer fitness correlates to officer safety. Moderate fitness, a combination of aerobic and strength ability, is a post-trauma mitigator. Some exercise is better than others but any exercise is better than none.

Opportunity Fitness
Most officers do shift work and juggle family obligations. It’s not easy to swear in and stay fit. Throughout my career, I practiced opportunity fitness. Generally, a gym bag with running stuff and a change of clothes stayed in my car 24/7. As an opportunity came up, I would work out. I also maintained a deliberate fitness schedule, which include strength training before or after a shift. Anyone participating in this practice knows that this increases alertness during the shift.

This is where fitness watch comes in. If an officer’s schedule is irregular, it is important to establish a baseline and track progress. Polar’s web-based fitness management portal — www.polarpersonaltrainer.com — manages it for you.

With the RCX5, one gets heart rate (using a very comfortable chest strap) analysis of the training session and even a terrain/satellite/roadmap recap. The sessions are memorialized on a clickable calendar.

I know this information sounds like it’s important for endurance athletes training for marathons. Actually, it’s more important for an officer training for retirement.

Separate GPS Module
The RCX5 uses a separate GPS module to send GPS signals to the watch, the method I prefer. There are two different schools of thought when it comes to GPS watches. Some integrate the GPS right on the watch, which makes a huge package almost unsuitable for wrist wear. Polar uses a matchbook sized sending module, which fits in the key pocket of my running shorts. Because the GPS unit is separate, the watch can be worn for other functions. It looks like a casual wear watch — appropriate for the jacket and tie one wears to court.

The instructions say that the watch has to be within a meter of the GPS module for reliable readings. It comes with an armband, but when cycling, I put it in my jersey pocket. I don’t care for armband things, especially when running. It kept losing the signal — not the GPS, but the GPS-watch link.

I experimented a bit and found that it generally didn’t lose the signal, even through solid objects. Frustrated, I measured the distance between the GPS and the watch with my hands on the handlebars. It was 1 meter, 1 centimeter. When I strapped the unit on the handlebars, everything was fine. Users should know that the GPS here was above average satellite acquisition (measured against two other navigation devices) and worked fringe areas nicely. The refresh rate gave it smooth mapping at the speeds the unit was tested.

Easily Programmable
The RCX5 uses a USB module to wirelessly transfer data to the computer. It worked equally well on my Mac and PC. Mac users will have another advantage. When I moved my settings from my MacBook Pro to my new MacBook Air wirelessly, I was able to seamlessly sync my RCX5 to the www.polarpersonaltrainer.com without breaking stride, simply by plugging in the module.

The RCX5 is user programmable, and one can program from the watch or from the wireless transfer. From my laptop I set up 4 different screens. On one, I wanted to see time, speed and distance. On another, I didn’t want to see speed at all. One can choose from the library of sport icons. I was surprised at the number of sports this computer was designed to record. I immediately took any icon that resembled swimming or tri off the watch.

The RCX5 has power-management options which allow it to sleep over a set period. It wakes itself silently.

Important Qualities
The most important quality most fitness enthusiasts want from their computer is seamless operation. I have tested several fitness watches and the RC X5 does not have a peer in this arena. I like to run, cycle and light workout in the gym. With the RC X5, I get on my bike or get on the trail and press the mode/start button twice. If there is a paired module nearby (GPS, W.I.N.D. Speed or cadence), it is already reading it.

The second-most-important quality is form factor. The RCX5 is light and slim. The back of the case and the watchband have raised channels, which allow air to circulate and sweat to evaporate. The watch doesn’t stick to the wearer during long sessions. I suppose this is an advantage when swimming, but I’ll never know. I did test it for water resistance, however.

The best part about the form factor is that it’s so slim and lightweight one hardly knows it’s there.

The watch band has a belt buckle-style clasp plus two keepers, which lock the watch on the wrist. The watch is secure on the wrist that it takes an extra second to get it off.

I was a little concerned about the durability of the watch face. Similar products are a little more recessed into the case, which takes away from at-a-glance readability. The face of the RCX5 extends edge to edge, which gives it a unique look and extra large numbers. My concerns were unfounded. I dragged it to the range, strapped it on my handlebars and wore it running on trails without scratching it, despite several solid hits to the watch face.

What doesn’t the RCX5 do? Well, navigation. It has a fairly sensitive GPS and produces really great “where ya’ been?” data. How about real time data that declares where the user is currently? This wrist computer is on the top of the food chain. I think officers would like to use it for Search and Rescue.

Second, I like having a simple stopwatch. The RCX5 has a stopwatch function, don’t get me wrong. I would just like to be a separate mode, rather than part of one of the sport functions.

The Polar RCX5 is one of the highest quality wrist computers on the market today. It doesn’t just work for endurance athletes, it is a viable law enforcement tool and a watch for everyday wear. The integrated components make the Polar RCX5 a system that is greater than the sum of its components. Like most endurance guys, I find this kind of product as encouraging toward fitness as a new pair of running shoes (antelopes, gazelles?).

Now, get out and run. 

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