Polar Ignite 2 Hands-On: What’s New & Different

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Last week Polar launched the Ignite 2, alongside the new Vantage M2. While I’ve been using the Ignite 2 for a few weeks now, this isn’t a review – mainly since the unit isn’t done yet. It’s not set to start shipping till the end of April (or even being on sale till then). Thus, things can (and hopefully will) change between now and then.

Of course, the Ignite series isn’t new. As the name implies, this second edition builds upon the first that was released about two years ago. The Ignite series essentially aims to compete with lower-end Apple Watches and Garmin’s Vivoactive lineup. In other words, it offers a sporty fitness-focused twist on a smartwatch with a prettier display than most of Polar’s Vantage series (which are a bit more high end, but have longer battery life).

The new Ignite 2, like the Vantage M2 is a blend of new external design elements, with new software feature upgrades. Meaning that arguably some of the bigger ticket items on the Ignite 2 are more to do with the bezel/strap than the actual software. Still, Polar is trialing one new item on the Ignite 2 not yet seen elsewhere in Polar’s lineup: Bluetooth heart rate broadcasting. This allows you to transmit your Polar Ignite 2’s optical HR sensor to apps like Zwift or Peloton. While Polar has tried things like this in the past, they rarely worked and rarely followed standards. It’s seemingly different this time.

For this review I’ve been using a media loaner Polar Ignite 2 – and putting it through its paces. Once I’m done with the unit I’ll toss it in a box and get it shipped back to Polar. That’s just the way I roll. If you found this post useful, consider becoming a DCR Supporter which makes the site ad-free, while also getting access to a mostly weekly video series behind the scenes of the DCR Cave. And of course, it makes you awesome.

In any case, let’s dive into all the newness.

What’s new:

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As noted, there’s a pile of things added here, both hardware and software. In general, virtually all the software features are items we’ve seen Polar add on the Grit X last spring and the Vantage V2 last fall (plus also the Vantage M2 last week). Still, it’s good to see them trickle-down to the Ignite 2, which is only one level above the Polar Unite series watches – their lowest current offering (that unit lacks GPS in the watch, but is otherwise very similar to the original Ignite).

– Added new Bluetooth Smart HR broadcasting/sharing from optical sensor
– Added Music controls widget/dashboard
– Added weather forecast widget/dashboard
– Added weekly training summary widget/dashboard
– Added energy sources – breakdown of carbs/protein/fats
– Added watch face customization – choose which widgets/dashboards to see
– Improved battery life from 17 hours of training to 20 hours
– Added power save modes – increases non-GPS continuous workout time to 100 hours
– Added additional GPS satellite systems (Galileo & QZSS)
– New engraved bezel (it looks really damn nice, see above)
– New softer material bands/straps
– Added new color options
– Pricing remains same at $ 229/229EUR
– Waterproofing remains the same at 30m

Oh, and just a minor note is that while the Polar Ignite 2 has energy source information after a workout, it does not have FuelWise found on the Vantage V2/M2/Grit X. FuelWise is basically nutrition reminders for gels/liquids during a longer workout. I wanted to point that out, merely because sometimes people assume those are all part of the same feature – in this case you get the post-workout breakdown in the Ignite 2, but not the during-workout planning bits.

Now Polar emphasized in their media call how much effort they spent in making the watch feel more premium physically (the look of it), and I’d agree. Both it and the Vantage M2 feel less like cheaper plastic watches and more like something that has a premium/polished look to it.  Speaking of which, there are multiple multiple band types, they are priced as follows:

· Champagne crystal €/$ 69.90
· Black Pearl crystal €/$ 69.90
· Pink Textile for €/$ 39.90
· BLK/Grey hybrid textile €/$ 39.90
· Blue hybrid textile €/$ 39.90

Here’s all that sparkly stuffs, as I don’t have one of those bands, you’ll want to use the below imagery from Polar to design if the level of sparkle is appropriate for your wrists capabilities:

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Now for those that aren’t as familiar with the original Polar Ignite, it’s a full-featured GPS watch that has daily activity tracking, sleep tracking, workout tracking and daily workout suggestions. The key features that were largely launched with the original Ignite, are as follows:

– FitSpark: Essentially suggested workouts on a daily basis
– Sleep Plus Stages: Sleep details including sleep cycles and states
– Nightly Recharge: This uses ANSI data to determine how much you recovery each night
– Serene Breathing Exercises: Pretty much as titled
– Fitness Tests: Determines your Vo2Max using a short test

Got all that? Ok, good. Let’s dig into some of the new stuff.

Initial Impressions:

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Now I’m not going to go through every nuanced existing feature here, we’ll save that for an in-depth review or such down the road. Instead, I want to focus on the newer features that weren’t on the original Polar Ignite (you can read that review here).

So let’s just start with the most interesting one, and the one that’s on no other Polar watch yet – the ability to broadcast Bluetooth Smart to 3rd party apps. While this is something that Polar has flirted with in various forms over the years, it rarely actually worked. In some scenarios, it only worked with other Polar products, and then in the one scenario it was supposed to work with all products (the A360/370), I found it didn’t work the key products you wanted (like Zwift).

However, this time it’s clearly redesigned from the ground up, and based on my testing thus far – seems to be working largely as expected. To broadcast your heart rate to 3rd party apps you’ll go to start a workout, and then tap the little settings icon:

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From there you’ll see ‘Share HR with other devices’ in the list, tap that:

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Now, you can choose to ‘Add a new device’, which…is you’re only option.

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At this point it’ll start broadcasting, and is your cue to search for sensors on your app/other device. You’ve got about 60 seconds to get this part done. For today’s example, we’ll just use Zwift:

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Once you see it in Zwift, tap that, and that’ll confirm it over on the Ignite. There isn’t anything you need to do there (in theory) – it’ll just connect up. On the Ignite 2 you’ll see the device source name listed (above ‘With iPhone’). For phone apps, it’ll just say the name of your phone (rather than the app). Whereas for something like a bike computer, it’ll say the name of that (such as ‘Edge 530’). I’ve used both.

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In theory it saves past sensor pairings, such as your phone. But in practice, in the beta right now – it seems super finicky here on remembering names/devices. In any case, once paired up, you’ll see your heart rate shown on the watch and on the device that you’re pairing to (Zwift, as seen below) – in the case below, 61bpm for both.

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You can now go about your business and record the workout while also transmitting your heart rate.  Now, as I said before, I’ve found this a bit finicky – especially on the initial pairing/setup. Keeping mind mind (again) that this is still beta for a month, I presume they’ll work to iron out these bugs. But the pairing seems overly complicated compared to how Garmin/Whoop do it. I just wish it was a simple toggle that I enabled to broadcast my HR anytime I’m in a sport mode, and then I can pair to it as I see fit. The whole pairing screen thing just seems like a lot of work. I’d rather it just operate like a typical heart rate strap/band, then try and get fancy. Just my two cents.

Still, I do appreciate Polar bringing Bluetooth Smart broadcasting to this price point, while Garmin has been rolling it out on higher end watches, they decided against rolling it out to their Vivoactive 4 and Venu lineups, which only feature ANT+ broadcasting.

Moving onto a few other features. We’ve got music controls. These work identical to that on the Vantage V2 with its touch screen display. You can control music on your phone, but there’s no music stored on the device itself. So essentially you can skip tracks, control volume, and pause/play:

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This is accessible from the widget/dashboard menu, which you can now customize. In the settings you can now enable/disable which things you do and don’t want to see. For example, if you don’t care about FitSpark recommendations, you can toggle off that menu option from the watch face views.

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However, there are some further new widgets. For example, the new weather forecast one, showing you today’s weather and then the weather for the next few days:

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As well as the weekly training summary widget/dashboard, showing you the breakdown of the week’s worth of workouts to date, resetting each Monday. As you swipe down it’ll show the breakdown by HR zone for the totals, and you can also get total calories, activities, distance, and time. I like it quite a bit.

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And then post-workout, you’ll find the energy source breakdown. The idea here being that for longer workouts you could take this data to determine how to fuel next time. On Polar’s Vantage M2/V2/Grit X watches that means taking that data into FuelWise for automated reminders during your workout, but as noted earlier, that’s not on the Ignite series. Still, the data is useful for your own manual planning.

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Now, I’ve got a pile of workouts under my belt here, both running and cycling, and my wife has also done various strength workouts too with it. By and large, things work pretty good. GPS accuracy isn’t quite as crispy though as some of Polar’s other units, which back on the Ignite 1 they said was somewhat to be expected. It’s not bad though, for example, here’s a GPS track without any major differences. The Vantage M2 on one wrist, Ignite M2 on the other, and the FR745 on the handlebars – plus a pile of Edge series units on the handlebars too.

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The GPS track is basically perfectly fine, even on the repeated loops around the sports complex. Also note that while I was having pretty substantial GPS acquisition issues (it would take upwards of 10 minutes to find GPS), that seems to have been resolved in the most recent firmware update yesterday (it was also getting better a few days ago in another update).

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In looking at some of my wife’s runs, things look mostly OK, but with a few of the Ignite imperfections that I’ve also seen. For example here on a track workout of hers, as she did her warm-up off-track on the running/bike path, you can see it has her basically going through a large building/hotel:

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Note, that I wouldn’t overthink the lines on the track itself. Namely because I wasn’t there, and also because I know how my wife does track workouts – and it wouldn’t at all surprise me if she was indeed off to the sides of the track in between sets. I haven’t pulled the comparative data from all her sets, but I don’t really need to, to know that being inside the hotel probably isn’t where she was mid-run.

As for the heart rate sensor, it’s been pretty solid for me on the vast majority of my workouts, though, struggled significantly on a single outdoor road ride. That’s not uncommon for wrist based optical sensors, especially in cooler weather, on road rides – due to your wrists being under tension holding the handlebars.

Here’s an example of a relatively good indoor workout. A few minor wobbles in the first few minutes during the warmup (which could have been me getting TV shows setup/etc using a remote), but nothing of major concern:

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Given this isn’t a full review since the product isn’t final, I’ll withhold all my final thoughts till things have finalized. However, if you want, there’s a few more data sets from the Ignite 2 mixed in my Vantage M2 In-Depth review, compared to various other units/straps/sensors.

Finally, for lack of anywhere else to put it – I’m going to note what is likely the most problematic part of the Ignite 2: The screen.

Because the Ignite 2 is an LCD screen, it trades battery life for prettiness. Just like an Apple Watch or Samsung watch, the prettier display burn more battery quicker, and as such companies sometimes enable features like ‘raise to wake’, which means the display is off, unless you raise your wrist or tap the display. Apple did this for a number of years, as did Garmin and Fitbit. But in the last 18 months or so, this has become unnecessary for most units. Unfortunately, it’s still necessary for the Ignite 2. This means that as I sit here typing this, the Ignite 2 screen is off:

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In order to get the screen to turn on, I need to raise my wrist. Which, isn’t a big deal, except that Polar’s algorithms aren’t that great here. Wrist raise detection is a blend of art and science. Too sensitive and it turns on the display/backlight too often – reducing battery (and perhaps increasing annoyance). However, too conservative, and it doesn’t trigger, causing you to have to move your arm more than expected to just see the time. Without question, Polar is far too conservative in their algorithms here. There are countless scenarios it just doesn’t work to do the one thing a watch should do: Show the time.

For example, if I’m sitting on the couch and twist my wrist naturally, it won’t detect. Nor does it detect while riding my bike (commuting) for a simple wrist turn towards me (I have to fully take my hand off the handlebars and up in front of me). Nor does it while I’m standing or walking and just move my wrist a bit within glanceable range to see the time.

And then once it does, I found the touch-screen to be finicky at best. Actions like swipes and taps often take repeated attempts. Not always, but some do. My wife found usability “miserable” (an exact quote from a text conversation after her first workout with it) in comparison to other watches I’ve made her use – though, those are largely button based watches. Undoubtedly, as more athletic-minded she prefers buttons for sports watches. But I think her perspective is useful as someone who might not be as lenient as I when it comes to dealing with finicky touch displays.

Do note that Polar does offer an always-on screen mode workouts, so you can have it always on there. I didn’t find the raise to wake a big issue in running workouts, as my movements were generally overt enough there that it triggered – albeit with a slight delay.

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Anyway – I hope Polar can find a way to improve their algorithms here (or, just offers an always-on option for 24×7 usage). There may be some middle-ground to consider, as some watches will offer an always-on mode up until your do-not-disturb timeframe when you sleep, at which point they switch to raise-to-wake for the night.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Wrap-Up:

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On paper, the Ignite 2 has great specs and features. And in many cases, it’s a solid little watch. The problem is, it’s just finicky. Namely – the wrist raise for the screen to come on: It drives me nuts. And once it does come on, the touchscreen almost always requires multiple touches as well.

And while I’m willing to wait to see if this is sorted by the end of April, I’m not convinced it will be. After all, if you turn back to my review of the Ignite 1 watch nearly two years ago, it concluded with the following:

“The display wrist turn/raise detection just isn’t good…”

And sure enough, here we are two years later, and it still kinda sucks. While many companies have shifted towards AMOLED or LCD screens, as Polar did here, they’ve also done so in a way that’s always-on. Polar hasn’t done that. Thus, the raise to wake issue is far more visible because it almost never turns on when you want it to, unless you’re doing a hilariously exaggerated wrist raise.

Still, if you can set aside that, the software and fitness features of the device are hard to beat at this price point. If we look at Garmin’s Vivoactive 4 lineup (priced slightly above this), it doesn’t have the daily workout suggestion concept, nor does it account for your nightly sleep metrics in that daily guidance. Nor does it broadcast your heart rate via Bluetooth Smart (it does it via ANT+, which is far less valuable in 2021). Of course, Garmin has numerous other features, including a usable screen. Still – from a purely fitness perspective, the Ignite 2 is deeper here. And then compared to the Apple Watch Series 3 or even Apple Watch SE, again at a sports/fitness level it’s easily deeper there unless you go off and cobble together a bunch of 3rd party apps.

With that – thanks for reading!

Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker

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