Polar M430 GPS Running Watch Review

The Polar M430 is an update to the excellent Polar M400 running watch, with the inclusion of heart rate monitoring on the rear. So now that optical HRM has trickled down to the mid levels of Polar’s portfolio, what’s the M430 like out on the run?

Polar M430 GPS Running Watch Review

Polar M430

Let’s be honest, when Polar “released” the Polar M460 cycling GPS this year, it was basically as software update, and felt a touch disingenuous to call it a new device. That is not the case with the M430.

One of Polar’s strongest devices, in my opinion, has been given a proper nip and tuck, with the addition of the headline optical heart rate monitor taken from the big brother the Polar M600 and a few features polished as well. So with that in mind, let’s have a look at what the update has brought to runners

Device Design

 

Polar M430

The Polar M430 has always been a good looking device, but visually Polar have made an interesting choice with their new model. Specifically dropping the black band option, and replaceing it with grey. But personally I actually like the grey, but would have liked to have seen slightly more colour variation – buy them i’m aleays holding out for a yellow colour option on most devices!

Polar M430

So what’s in the box? Very little actually, we’ve the watch, charging cable, and the dead tree manual

Polar M430

Unfortunately, when you open the box, you realise the biggest negative change on the Polar M430, the waterproof micro-USB cable has gone! In its stead is a new specific charger

Polar M430

I know that Polar had issues with the USB port corroding, so I know it makes sense, BUT polar have a great flat connector on the Polar Loop and the M600, I wish that the company had simply standardised on that. Although perhaps that is more my own dislike of have hundreds of different cable types

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Which seems all the more odd, as the new charging port is now exposed and recessed, but for what it is worth, I have had no issues whilst testing out this unit.

Polar M430

Staying on the back of the unit is the optical HRM. Now it’s important to highlight that this HRM module is not merely a parts bin grab from the M600, but has had tweaks applied to allow it to monitor your heart rate whilst swimming.

Polar M430

However before we get too excited, the swimming mode is limited to duration and heart rate regarding monitoring.

The screen is a 128×128 monochrome black and white affair taken directly from the M400. As I’ve mentioned before, very clear screens such as this are the perfect proof that sports watches, dont need colour screens. That said, I think the M430 could have done with a slight pixel count bump, although again, this is purely asthetics and nothing else

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On the sides of the unit are three buttons to the RIGHT, the top and bottom acting a menu navigation, and the red central button as select

Polar m430

On the LEFT, two buttons, with the top button acting as the light and quick menu function, and the bottom, the back/pause button, and manual sync

Polar M430

On the M400 Polar had chosen a delightful electronic click when you pressed the buttons. In the new Polar M430, we have a vibration motor, which is used to inform about notifications, and has now taken over the feedback function for the keys, giving a buzz on each press. There is however a casualty of war with the vibration motor, has now replaced audio alerts. Which will be a win for some, loss for others

Polar have really managed to nail the design language with their current devices. Yes you might not be able to easily swap the straps on the Polar M430, but it has a deisgn that blends in very well with a day to day wear. It doen’t screen I’M A SPORTS WATCH, which is without a doubt one of the reasons for the success of the Garmin Fenix lineIMG_0217

Specification

Screen Resolution: 128 x 128

  • Weight: 50g
  • Communication: BlueTooth
  • Smart notifications: yes
  • Sensors:
    • Altimeter, Optical Heart Rate
    • Compatible with external foot pods and heart rate monitor (can record optical hr whilst swimming
      • note, that is the restrictions, so you’re not getting cycling sensors here
  • Battery – 30hrs low power GPS or 8 hrs with normal GPS activity, 20 days activity tracking
  • Waterproofing: 30 m
  • Activities: Any activity available on Polar Flow can be uploaded, but note previous comments about sensors
  • Standard features: 
    • GPS, low power GPS Activity monitor, VO2 Max,

PolarM 430 User Manual

Polar M430

The manual for the M430 is available in PDF format here

Using the Polar M430

As with every sports watch today first stop is to download the corresponding app. In the case of the Polar M430, you are looking for Polar Flow – Here for iOS  and HERE for Google. You’ll still need  to sign up to Polar Flow,  in order to get access and more importantly download the latest updates for the watch before you use it for the first time

Polar M430

It’s really worthwhile pointing out two things, i) Polar is very honest about their estimated sync/update times ii) sync/updates can be a little slow if it says 15 mins, it means 15 mins. Go and grab a coffee

Polar Flow

Running

When you load up any of the outdoor tracking options, the device tells you the percentage of the way it is towards having a full GPS lock. The GPS chipset in the M430 has been changed, and whilst lock on is not an fast as with the current Garmins, it is certainly faster than with the previous unit.

Poalr M430

You can see that sometimes it actually takes a little longer to find the optical heart rate than it does secure the lock on the GPS. But in both cases, once locked on, they tend to say for the duration of the activity.

At the very bottom of the screen is the foot pod icon, so show that the Polar M430 has paired to my Stryd unit

Polar M430

But the Stryd is only connecting in terms of cadence. Whilst the Polar V800 now has access to Stryd Running with power, this isn’t available for the M430

During a run, you have access to various metrics, time elapsed, pace, distance and heart rate, altitude, but one thing you don’t see is cadence, you need to manually add that field in the Polar app

The initial screens set out on the device are all clear and very legible for the most part, and well more importantly, they are logically set out.

There is a lot to be said for customising your displays, I know I’m a real so-and-so for getting the data fields exactly as I like them. But the data fields available on the Polar M430 out of the box seem to work quite nicely – the inclusion of the heart rate and relevant training zones on once screen is a nice touch too. Again, the way the heart rate zones are displayed is easily digestible and accessible to the user.

Polar M430

All of which is quite good, it isn’t however possible to adjust the fields on the device, but you can easily make the changes from the Polar Flow app as long as your phone is with you

Polar M430

You can also easily load new activity profiles from the Polar Flow app, and they are legion,

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Coaching

As part of the user interface the Polar M430 uses “Smart Coaching” which is really great for both the casual runner, but also the more seasoned athlete, who is quite happy to run and let the watch do the thinking for him.

First off, at the end of an activity, you have Distance, Speed and Calories based achievements – if you’ve been so lucky

Then you get the more simple langauge training information – and this is the real benefit to the smart coaching in my eyes. Polar cleanly and clearly tells you what you have done

As part of the smart coaching is the Race/Finish Time Estimator, which Polar goes about in the opposite direction to most other companies…

Most Garmin running devices, for example, will give you a prediction, based off your VO2 max, as to how long the watch thinks it would take you to complete an event. As I have commented previously, my feeling is that Garmin is rather optimistic, compared with relality,and thus their race predictor is a feature I see little use for.

Having a Garmin tell me that I, theoretically, can run a 5km in nearly 2mins faster than I’ve ever done before is useless to me. Having the watch say it thinks I’ve only 5mins left in my 10km is a great thing to know, but also a great motivator – “Yes I can drop another 2 secs off that estimation – PUSH!!!”

In comparison, with Polar’s Estimator, you tell the watch what your intended distance/event is at the start of the run. E.g. 5km, and it will give you a predicted count down of how long it thinks you HAVE LEFT on your run.

Polar M430

What it doesnt do is give you an estimated race time, just for interests sake, but actually give you a usable target based on your current performance, which will change across the run. Personally I like this, if only as a way to push myself a little more – beat the target and all that!

 

In terms of your athletic profile, Polar now allows utilisation of the optical heart rate strap to perform a VO2 Test with the M430.

To start the test, the Polar M430 displays an instruction to relax and start the test, that should really be lying down…

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So I did, and even when you are lying down, that relax part is very important

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When I say important, I really mean it, no phone browsing, no moving the arm, basically lie still. I had to restart several times due to seeing this notice:

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When you do submit, and actually lie still, you can see when it is recoring your heart rate

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You just lie there for about two mins, and then the Polar M430 gives a little buzz and you are done

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More in-depth detail, and more importantly tracking over time is available on the Polar Flow

Polar M430

Cycling

The M300 does have cycling features, but they are relatively rudimentary, and based on the watches GPS, rather than the ability to connect speed/cadence meters -which is not possible. So similarly to running you get pace, speed, distance, time and heart rates data.

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If we have outdoor, we’ve also got indoor cycling options is also available, which is the same with the optical HR running, and the with thec GPS off, So this is basically a recording of time and heart rates during that training session. As such there is limited useful data that can be taken from this – as you cant connect ANY cycling specific sensors.

Polar M430

This is REALLY something I don’t understand the logic on, Polar allows connections to heart rate monitors and foot pods via Bluetooth, why not go that little bit further and add cycling sensors as well?

Activity tracker

A little like smart notifications, if you sports watch does not have activity tracking, it’s not really appealing to the current market,

You can either see your progress on the device either from the watch face, or the My Day menu

Polar M430

Inside the My Day section, well you get a recording of what you’ve done during the day!

The Polar M430 monitors your total step count using its internal accelerometer, and when you sync the device at the end of the day it will calculate a distance walked for those steps. This same accelerometer is then used to monitor your sleep levels.

Whilst you can see most of the activity information actually on the Polar M430, if you want to look at the granularity, then it benefits you to load up the Polar Flow app, where Polar uses a clock face to visualise your activities

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Previously I’d not been a fan of Polar Flow, as the app felt very basic, and I personally prefer using mobile interfaces when possible rather than the web sites. But with updates over the last year, the Polar Flow app covers most of my needs, and when I WANT to additional detail about my training, and heart rate performance, it is all on the website.

Screen Shot 2017-07-01 at 17.01.13

In terms of an activity trackers, Polar also takes a similar approach as the coaching aspect, rather than simply giving moving reminders, (which do come through vibration nudges) Polar again comes to the fore with the human touch with regard to activity goals. At the setup of the device, you can select which goal, 1-3 you want, and rather than base your choice on an arbitrary number of 10,000 steps, plus there is a little description of suggestions as to ways you could complete your activity goal that day

Polar M430

As mentioned the accelerometer is also used to monitor sleep. I’ll be honest, currently the sleeping feedback is pretty rudimentary, and just tells you i) how long your slept, and ii) how much you have in the way of interrupts.

Polar M430

I’m definitely blaming the larger interruptions on the cat jumping on me! He seems to think he helps with reviews… he doesn’t!

Polar M430

Optical Heart Rate Monitoring

This is the major change on the Polar M430. A six LED system, with tweaks from when the sensors originally debuted on the Polar M600.

Now you can go running like a numpty, with every watch you can get strapped to your wrists to check out how the optical heart rate sensors compare… but that is going to induce too much error into the readings. Been there, tried it, confirmed it doesn’t work

Polar M430

So the optical HRM should only be tested one arm at a time, meaning the most you’ll be able to compare devices is two at a time. So how did the Polar M430 compared?

On a 5Km run, the Polar M430 tracked quite well with the Polar H10 chest strap. The Garmin Fenix 5 was a little slow to wake up (But then I haven’t been impressed with their new Elevate sensor!), after a slow start, the Fenix did get it’s act together thought. It’s worth while highlighting that the Polar did read a little high at points compared to the other two devices.

Polar M430

But the Fenix 5 isn’t really in the same price range as the Polar M430, so another, longer run, with the Garmin ForeRunner 35 instead. The Forerunner didn’t cover itself in glory, but this time the Polar M430 have have a few niggles too, particularly, as it appeared to lose the plot towards the end of my sprint at the start of my run.

Polar M430

Very much like the Polar M600 before it, it does appear that Polar certainly have a handle on optical heart rate monitoring. I’d love to know what their secret sauce is, it’s got to something other than using the six LEDs compared other manufacturers two and three LED units!

One thing that the Polar M430, CANT currently do is 24×7 HRM. The optical heart rate is ONLY activated during training sessions. You can however request the watch to display your heart rate at any time, by accessing My Heart Rate from the menus.

Polar m430

24×7 optical heart rate monitoring is coming but later in the year via firmware update

One other tip bit about the Polar optical HRM, which sound great in theory, is the ability to broadcast the heart rate data out to other apps… but I couldn’t manage to get it working for some reason 🙁

Smart notifications

Smart notifications, are now a requirement on sports watches, as GPS used to be years ago. So they have been shoehorned into the M430 but they slightly rudimentary. When a notification comes through to your phone, the M430 gives a little buzz and displays the notification.

Polar M430

But only one screens worth of info. There isn’t a way to see anything more than that. Similarly, once you press the button to dismiss that message here is no easily accessible notifications screen for you to look at messages which have been received. The is exactly the issue I had on the Suunto Spartan, iftjust seems to be an odd omission.

Staying with the smart watch vibe, you can now also chose from various watch faces (four in total) which are accessed by long pressing the top button

Polar M430

Although I’ve actually kept the standard out of the box watch face. Liking the small bar that moves up the screen with my activity, and partially as I’m being shamed into moving as the little man on the screen sits down.

I’ll be honest, this little seated person design if far more compelling to me than any *buzz* MOVE notifications. But that might just be me!

Polar M430 Conclusion

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The Polar M400 on which the M430 is based was a very good device. The M430 is a strong update, and it’s nice to see Polar produce a strong device.

The running features, and end user customisation are brilliant. The optical heart rate monitor, is working itself up to be possibly “best in class”, and the overall design of the M430 is fitting for both work and play.

The ONLY major criticism that I have for the Polar M430 is the limitation to running only sensors. Seriously Polar would be such an unbelievably good seller on their hands if this was a proper multi-sport watch.

As it is, the Polar is a great running watch, if your main activity is running, for the price, I think this is possibly one of the best watches on the market currently.

So 4/5 based on not connecting cycling sensors, and the fact I cant get the optical heart rate broadcast to work!

Stryd

About James Gill

A runner first, a cyclist second, and when pushed a swimmer. Working as a GP registrar, I found that I went from walking 12miles a day on the hospital corridors to sitting in a chair. Whilst at medical school, I'd run 10km in an evening just for fun, but having lost the general activity required to be a hospital SHO, consciously being active has now become more important - well until I broke myself!

  • Ray

    Fwiw – That issue your seeing on rebroadcasting is a Zwift-specific issue. I brought it up to Polar a week or two back, and as of this weekend they’re working with Zwift to figure it out. So hopefully it’ll be resolved shortly!