Along with the Polar H7 Bluetooth heart rate strap I’ve been testing out lately, I’ve been using the Polar Beat app on my iPhone 4S. While this app works great with the H7 HR strap, it provides a significant amount of functionality on its own at a great price – free!
The first step was downloading the app from the iOS app store – this was easy and it was soon on my iPhone. Next I created an account and started into the app. Setting Polar Beat up with the H7 strap was simple and then I was ready to go.
The basic version of Polar Beat is free from the app store, and it gave me a significant amount of functionality without costing a penny. With the free version opened, the GPS turned on, and the app set to “free training” mode I could see all current information including distance, calories burned, pace (which can be toggled to speed), heart rate (which can be toggled to % of max HR), as well as a graph which plots real time HR, target zones, speed, or energy. You can also change to another view which shows where you are on a map, along with your elapsed time. The app also allowed me to select other “targets” besides free training. I could set a time/distance duration, calories burned, or a specific workout benefit type for my session. If one of these was selected, there was another data screen which illustrated my progress towards completing the target. At the end of my training, Polar Beat provided a summary of the time in each zone and a message indicating how the completed session helped me. Basically the free version of the app allows you to plan your workout, view the results in real time, and then review the data when you are finished. In these days where everything that happens ends up on social media, you can also post your results on your facebook and twitter accounts so your friends know how strong you’re getting!
The two optional upgrades to the Polar Beat app provide a bit more functionality with a few specifics that I would find useful. One upgrade was the fitness test component. This is found on a number of the Polar HR watches, and basically provides a calculated measure of your fitness based on the personal data you enter and your HR at rest. To do the test, you lie down for about 5 minutes with the H7 strap in place, and the Polar Beat app records the HR data and then produces a fitness score and VO2 Max level. The app will keep track of your results as you do further tests over time. I wouldn’t suggest that the specific calculated values could be as accurate as a VO2 Max test in a lab, but I do see it being useful as a relative indicator of my personal fitness. I have been doing the same test occasionally on my Polar RCX5 at the same time (when I first wake up) and will use the data to compare and see whether I am getting better or worse over time. The second upgrade option provides more choices in terms of your training targets. For example if you want to increase endurance, the app will suggest workouts and give guidance to achieve that goal. This would be useful if you were interested in more than the basic targets like time, distance, or calories burned.
The post training analysis on Polar Beat is also nice. You can scan through past sessions and select the one you want from the history menu. This opens up a session summary (time, distance, avg HR, and calories), analysis chart (HR zones and speed vs HR), or a map showing your route (if using GPS). I found the information to be a good summary, and it was organized very intuitively. Polar Beat also tracks personal bests and weekly summaries.
I used the app mainly for indoor workouts. I liked that I could throw on the H7 HR strap and log my strength training circuit workouts with the phone sitting across the room. It was nice not having to wear a watch while doing these types of workouts and know that Polar Beat was still tracking my time and HR. I did use it for a couple of outdoor runs and was amazed at how accurate the GPS was. I used it along with another high end GPS watch while running hill repeats one night and the two ended up with very similar distances when I was done. The difference between the two devices was 0.2% over about 10km (as in 2 tenths of 1 percent!) With this kind of accuracy, the Polar Beat app definitely made my iPhone a suitable running (or cycling) monitor.
The workouts I saved on the Polar Beat app were uploaded to my polarpersonaltrainer.com account. This is nice if you use other Polar devices (like a watch) because its consolidates all of your workout data in one place that you can access online. I liked that it was uploaded without any extra actions required from me. I didn’t need to sync it with a computer the way I have to with my GPS watches. While this was great, it does point to the one feature I would like to see added to the Polar Beat app. I wished that the training files that I had uploaded to polarpersonaltrainer.com from other devices would show up on my Polar Beat history. I would prefer an app that gave me a complete history of all the workouts on my Polar account in case I wanted to view them in the app.
The Polar Beat app is an awesome tool to turn a supported iDevice that you already have with you when you’re training into a GPS/HRM that has all the features you would find on high end watches. It is quite intuitive, quick to setup, and easy to use. That combined with the fact that it is super accurate, and provides training files you can analyze when you’re done makes it a great addition at no additional cost. If you’re interested in the app, and want to read about the Polar H7 Bluetooth HR strap that I used with it, click here.