Polar Ignite review: Clever fitness perks marred by too many compromises

Polar has had some catching up to do in the smartwatch space as Fitbit, Garmin, and Apple continuously improve upon and release new products. Polar has always had solid wearable options for serious athletes, but now the new Ignite smartwatch wants to reach a wider group of users.

At $229, the Polar Ignite is more affordable than the Vantage M or V smartwatches, but it has more capabilities as a GPS watch than something like Polar’s A370 fitness band.

It’s also more attractive and versatile thanks to a round, lightweight case and interchangeable bands. It seemingly provides a good balance of style and fitness prowess like Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 or Fitbit’s Versa does, but spending a week wearing the Ignite has proven that Polar should have paid more attention to small yet crucial details that can make or break a $229 smartwatch.


Specs at a glance: Polar Ignite
Price $229
Screen 240×204 color touchscreen
Sensors Accelerometer, heart rate monitor, GPS, GLONASS
Nav buttons One
Water resistance Up to 30 meters
Music storage No
Swim tracking Yes
Battery life At least five days

Polar Ignite

Price: $229.99 at Polar


The Ignite is less intimidating than the Vantage M and V smartwatches because it strips away most of the side buttons and opts for a thinner and lighter case. The round smartwatch has a metal ring around its case and just one side button that navigates back on the touchscreen. Both parts of the watch band are removable, so you can switch them out for other styles at your leisure.

The Ignite has an inoffensive design overall, but problems come in when you start to use the touchscreen. First, the active part of the screen is smaller than the case itself—it has a thick black bezel around it and a small chin at the bottom where the Polar logo lives. Second and more importantly, the touchscreen isn’t as responsive as it should be. I often tapped the screen to wake it from its dark sleep mode only to have it ignore my actions. Swiping to different data screens from the main clock face can only be done by hitting the touchscreen at the proper spot—not too close to that bezel, otherwise your swipes will get you nowhere.

The screen also doesn’t have the most reliable raise-to-wake feature either. Since the screen is in sleep mode most of the time, which helps preserve battery power, you must raise your wrist to see the time. However, that only worked for me half of the time, and when it did work, it took a full second or two after I raised my wrist for the screen to wake. I asked Polar about this and my finicky touchscreen, and a representative only told me to make sure the watch had up-to-date firmware (it did) and to clean the display (I did, to no improvement).

You also only have one alternative watch face on the Ignite, giving you a total of two faces to choose from: digital and analog. I kept the digital watch face on most of the time, and it shows the time in large numbers along with the data in smaller numbers and letters underneath it. Swiping from left or right on the screen brings up activity stats like daily goal percentage, current heart rate, and sleep data, along the circumference of the screen. But the time always stays in place.

This is good in terms of telling time, which is arguably a smartwatch’s most important feature. But it’s frustrating to spend more than $200 on a smartwatch and then find out that you only have two ways of customizing the watch’s on-screen look and feel.

Music and battery

Polar also missed an opportunity to add onboard music storage to the Ignite. None of Polar’s wearables have this feature, but leaving it out of wearable that costs more than $200 in 2019 seems odd. Apple, Garmin, and Fitbit have included onboard music storage and the ability for subscribers to download music from streaming services like Spotify onto their wrists for easier phone-free workouts—that’s the direction the that industry is moving right now, and Polar’s reluctance to following suit is confusing. When asked about this, a Polar representative told me that the company isn’t focusing on falling in line with its competitors but rather serving the “fitness and performance community” by developing new fitness technologies that other devices don’t have (we’ll discuss some of these in the forthcoming sections).

The Ignite has a so-so battery life—it’s good when compared to devices like the Apple Watch but just average when compared to devices like Garmin’s Vivoactive 3. The Ignite lasted four full days and nights for me, with at least three hour-long workouts recording during that time.

However, I was disappointed to find that, when the Ignite’s battery is running very low (lower than 10%), most of the activity features are useless. The device doesn’t track activity, sleep, or workouts. When it’s close to dying, the Ignite is essentially reduced to a “dumb” watch that only tells time. While recording a workout when the device is at 10% will undoubtably drain the battery faster, it should still be an option to do so.

New features

Polar has put more emphasis on sleep tracking as of late, and the Ignite shows off a few new metrics that help users understand the quality of the rest they get each night. Using its motion sensors and heart-rate monitor, the Ignite estimates how long you spend in light, deep, and REM sleep—like many newer wearables do—and gives you a sleep score each night based off that data. Polar’s “sleep charge” metric compares your current night’s sleep score to previous ones to let you know how “normal” your current night’s sleep is compared to how you usually sleep.

Most people will get more use out of sleep scores than sleep charge. Almost every modern wearable that tracks sleep provides users with a sleep score in the morning, and that singular number makes it easy to understand how well you slept the previous night. I believe a graph of sleep scores over time would provide similar insights as sleep charge scores for most users—instead of assigning another arbitrary score to a piece of data, just show users a graph that illustrates the change in a piece of data they already know and understand.

Nightly recharge

But sleep charge, along with the autonomic nervous system (ANS) charge score, feeds into Polar’s “nightly recharge” score. Let’s define ANS charge first: it looks at your heart rate, heart-rate variability, and breathing rate during the first four hours of sleep, then judges how quickly your body calms down as you’re hitting the sack. If your body calms down quickly, your ANS charge will be high—but you’ll have a low ANS charge score if you’re tossing and turning or unable to shut your brain down when you’re trying to fall asleep.

The nightly recharge score considers both ANS charge and sleep charge for the previous night and gives you yet another score (although not in numbers but rather in phrases like “compromised”). This score lets you know how you should treat the current day in terms of training and strenuous activity. If you have a good nightly recharge score, Polar’s personalized recommendations will probably tell you that you can work out as you normally would with little to no concern about injury. But if your nightly recharge score is poor, you may want to take the day off or go easy on yourself when you train.

Many users can get informative insights from the nightly recharge feature. Unlike sleep charge, it’s a bit more complicated of a metric that analyzes more than just how you slept the night before. Combined with Polar’s personalized training and lifestyle suggestions, it could help users better tailor their workouts to what their bodies can handle on any given day.

Nightly recharge is similar to Garmin’s “body battery” feature that’s now becoming a standard feature on most of its advanced wearables. However, nightly recharge only takes into account your body’s state during sleep time, whereas Garmin’s body battery also considers periods of “rest’ throughout the day in addition to nightly sleep. If you took an afternoon nap or meditated for 15 minutes during your lunch break, body battery includes those periods of rest into its score calculations, giving you a somewhat more comprehensive score overall.

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