The Polar RCX5 heart rate monitor is the piece de resistance in Polar’s broad range of HR and GPS products. I tested the RCX5 G5 package which comes with the Polar G5 GPS sensor (separate from the watch).
The more I used this watch over the past month, the more I realized there was no way to write a short review of it. It has way too many features (and I’m only covering the really cool ones) and functionality to pare down into a short post. In case you don’t have time to read the whole review, I have summarized what I liked most about the Polar RCX5 at the beginning, and then the rest of the detail follows.
A few of the highlights of the RCX5 were:
- HeartTouch – when you bring the watch into close proximity of the heart rate sensor, it will perform one of a series of pre-defined functions. For example I set it to turn on the backlight every time I pull it up to my chest strap. This was great at night in the cold when I didn’t want to fumble with pushing the light button while wearing gloves. It can also be set to mark a lap, change views, etc with this simple action. Brilliant, simple idea that really helps.
- Custom Reminders – you can set the watch to beep at specified intervals (time, distance, calories burned) to remind you to eat or drink.
- Quick Menu – allows you to access a settings menu to make changes on the fly, without interrupting your training recording.
- Race Pace – this application allows you to set a distance and goal time, and then track your relative pace on the screen – the display is simple but very effective. I used this on my tempo runs to easily see where I was at in terms of my goal pace.
- Zone Optimizer – I found that the RCX5 really shines when being used for HR zone based efforts. With the zone optimizer I could go through a warmup in less than 5 minutes that gave a custom set of 5 HR zones based on my body’s response that day.
Those are the really cool things the RCX5 does, now we get into the detail. Thanks in advance to those that are continuing on!
Physically, I really liked this watch. The beauty of having a separate GPS unit was that the watch was much smaller and lighter than other GPS HR monitors I have used. I have small wrists and found the RCX5 to be a great fit. The first thing that struck me when I took the watch out of the box was the band. It is made of a very sturdy, but soft and smooth rubber. It had tons of holes to fine tune an exact wrist size, and it had double “keepers” to keep the end of the strap locked in place. I found it to be as close to perfect as any watch band I’ve ever used. The unit itself sat nice and flat on my wrist and the buttons were easily accessible. The face was a good size and shape and balanced the display of information with wearability. Overall I was very happy with this watch from a fit perspective – the buttons and display were easy to use and the watch itself was non-intrusive no matter what I was doing while wearing it. I actually found myself wearing when I wasn’t training.
Once I got used to the display on the RCX5, I quite liked it. I find it normally takes a bit of time with any new watch to get oriented in terms of where the information is on the screen and within the various view options. The RCX5 allows for up to 15 sport profiles, and each can have up to 6 data screens or views. I was able to customize the views either with the Polar software on my computer, or on the RCX5 watch itself. All of the expected data options are available. One really cool option was the “Zone Pointer” that showed a bar across the screen with my 5 HR zone segments. A small heart shape filled in the zone I was currently in, and the elapsed time in the zone was displayed. This was really good when I wanted to see a quick reference when training by HR zone. It was easy to edit the views, and nice that I could choose how many of them wanted available up to the max of 6 for each profile. The information on the screen was laid out and sized well. I liked that the data was in a sort of list style down the screen so it was easy to differentiate each item.
The separate Polar G5 GPS transmitter was something I wasn’t sure I would like, but after using it I found it was nice to have the option to use it or not. Of course, any time I was running outside I used it. I appreciated it more when running on the treadmill or working out in the house. When the GPS isn’t needed, it is definitely nicer to have a smaller wrist unit. The GPS itself was really simple – 1 button to turn on and off. It paired quickly with the watch and was usually fast to pick up an adequate satellite signal. The G5 GPS ships with a belt clip and Polar offers a dedicated arm band to hold it as an accessory. I must admit that although the clip seems very sturdy, I was nervous to depend on it. This was especially true in the cold weather with multiple layers of clothing that could increase the likelhood of knocking it off the waist strap of my pants. I would be more comfortable with it in shorts/t-shirt weather but if I could make one suggestion for this thing, it would be to add a small removable cord/string that could be clipped or pinned if desired for a backup in case it fell off. Of course the armband would provide much greater security, but some people (like me) don’t like using arm bands. I always ran with the GPS in my pocket. This worked great and I had no problems with satellite connection, or wireless connection to the watch when doing this. The G5 is charged with a USB cable, and has an advertised battery life of 20 hours.
One further benefit to the separate GPS could be for long endurance events (ie: Ironmans or Ultra Races). If the 20 hr G5 isn’t long enough for a 100 miler, conceivably I could have 2 charged GPS units and swap one out when it’s near death. Given that the watch battery life is measured in months, recording is then only limited by the number of G5 GPS units you have access to (up to data capacity max.)
Speaking of data capacity, the other limiting factor that HR/GPS monitors have for long events is data storage. Polar obviously recognized this and dedicated a number of pages in their manual to pinpoint the available data storage in terms of time based on all possible combinations of factors. The factors are which sensors are in use (HR, GPS, cadence, bike speed, etc) and then the set recording rate (1, 2, 5, 15, or 60 seconds). I had the RCX5 set at 1 second recording with the GPS and HR on, which should have given me 11 hr 38 min of storage. If I was doing an event longer than that, I could simply adjust the recording rate. At 2 seconds I could get 20 hrs 57 mins, and at 5 seconds I could get up to 45 hrs and 10 minutes. With the recording rate set to 60 seconds using the HR strap and GPS, the data capacity is over 400 hours. That’s a long time! These options definitely make the RCX5 a suitable device for long events. The watch gave me warnings when I was approaching the maximum data capacity, and then indicated how many more minutes I could track using current settings before it would be full. This was nice so that I knew of any potential issues well in advance.
To download my workouts, the wireless USB connection worked really well. The RCX5 came with a USB stick that allowed for wireless sync’ing between the watch and my laptop. Although its not a huge effort to plug a cord in to a USB port, I found the wireless connection to be a nice feature. The data downloading was quite fast and I had no issues with lost workouts or connection problems.
The RCX5 is definitely a good option for multisport (duathlon, triathlon) training and racing. One key feature is that the HR strap it came with transmits HR data in the water, so you can track it even while swimming. The watch allowed me to manually switch sports in the same training session, by backing out of the profile I was in and selecting the next sport profile, then resuming my existing session. The one feature I found the RCX5 was lacking was an automated multisport mode. By this I mean the ability to set up a multisport event (ie: swim, bike, run) and easily switch sport modes with a single button (like setting laps). It was not a huge burden to back out and select the next profile, but I wouldn’t want to be messing with it in the middle of a race. Honestly this was the only thing I missed when using this watch.
Polar monitors upload to the polarpersonaltrainer.com site which I was quite impressed with. It’s got a ton of analysis features and even gave me feedback on how each training session had benefited me. A recent update now allows data to be exported as a .gpx file which is important for strava junkies like me!
One thing to be aware of is that Polar uses its own wireless protocols so that the more common ANT and ANT+ compatible accessories will not work with the Polar RCX5. If this is your first and only HR/GPS device then this is not likely an issue. However, if you already have ANT enabled acccessories (HR Strap, footpod, bike speed/cadence sensors) they will not communicate with the Polar watch. I would love to see a standard for wireless fitness equipment, but so far this doesn’t exist.
All in all, this is a super versatile, full featured watch for someone that wants to track outdoor workouts along with indoor workouts. It has a long battery life which makes it good for endurance athletes. It is a nice looking watch and carries the solid reputation that Polar has developed over many years of producing fitness monitoring gear.
I definitely haven’t covered everything this watch can do, so if you have a question I haven’t answered, please let me know. As always, thanks for reading my post!
I’m a bit new to gadgets but my cyclocomputer is draining out of battery. I really want to replace it with a “Garmin” type GPS system. I’m hunting for something that can be used as a watch for running & as a cyclocomputer for cycling. One that has an clip attachment to the bike handlebar. Is this product more of a watch for running?
No, the RCX5 is designed for both running and cycling (and lots of other sports!). Polar offers the same range of bike accessories (handlebar mount, pedal cadence, etc) or you can just use it on your wrist. Check out polar.com to see what is available.
I’ve got almost 2000km of training on my RCX5 now, and although I agree with some of your points I could point out a few issues that are very real (for me at least). The first is that unless you’re wearing a wetsuit or tri top in the pool you can forget swimming effectively with the HR belt on. The second is that the GPS times out after an hour, so unless you’re a VERY good IM distance swimmer it’s turned itself off by the time you get to T1 (and there’s no easy way to switch from one sport to the next, and transition time isn’t recorded separately). Thirdly, strapping it to a bike for training rides is pretty inelegant – a quick release band like the Garmin 910XT can be fitted to would be a big plus here. Fourth – the GPS and watch data don’t have matching time stamps for easy upload to Training Peaks. You have to open the gps file and adjust for UTC to get them to match up (DCRainmaker talks about this in his review).
As far as the GPS issue goes, I know you can have a speed sensor to replace it, but that’s not really the point. Cadence and speed sensor should also really be a single unit like the Garmin version – paying twice as much isn’t really that great.
Overall – great for training…very poor for racing.
Dave, thanks for reading and for your feedback. I must admit that as a non-Tri guy (resulting from being a non-swimmer) I hadn’t encountered these issues.
All good stuff to be aware of – thanks for sharing your experience.
Great review !
However, with respect to multisport the RCX5 GPS is lacking some other (more or less important) features as well, among others:
– no vibrating alert (Polar uses audible alerts),
– no barometric altimeter (barometric altitude),
– it doesn’t capture swim data such as the number of strokes, (pool) length or distance,
– no power meter support,
– no back on track function and/or navigation to a waypoint,
– a relatively small number of key metrics (~19).
(features the Garmin Forerunner 910XT does have)
But without a doubt it’s a great watch for running (may be except for training in a hilly environment).
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts Frank.
I agree, all of the watches on the market offer unique features and designs so its a very individual selection based on what you need it to do. The best thing is to consider your needs, the wants, and then evaluate the potential watches based on that list.
I am currently using a RC3 GPS and was wondering if the RCX5 is the same as far as trying to view your HR without recording a session. If you stop the stop watch, like at the end of a race, but still want to see your heart rate and your time instead of the damn “recording paused” screen. I would like to be able to see how quickly my HR is dropping at the end of a run without letting it record that time and adding it to my race time. This seems like it should be a very basic function but I do not see any way to do it.
Was wondering if this new model had that same limitation, thanks
Hey Mike. Thanks for reading and your question. Unfortunately the interface is basically the exact same. The only real way to do this would be to end your activity and then start a new one to view your HR recovery (and then delete the data later). I can pass along your comment to Polar because I agree that it would be nice to be able to see HR while recording is off.
Thanks for the quick reply. This really seems like something that should be a very basic function, all of my older Polar watches did this as well as my old Garmin 305. It is crazy to think that this is something Polar deliberately did as a “feature”, would love to hear the logic behind it.
is there a quick timer that you can set for 2 minutes or 3 minutes for doing intervals?
Hi Elliot, thanks for reading and for the question. The RCX5 does have a countdown timer which would work for doing intervals.