Polar Verity Sense (Optical HR Sensor Band) In-Depth Review

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Polar has launched an updated version of their standalone optical HR sensor, taking the existing Polar OH1 and adding new features and capabilities and re-branding it as the Verity Sense. For those familiar with my reviews & testing, you’ll know that I often use the Polar OH1 as a reference device in testing – and is arguably the most accurate optical HR sensor in the market – usually out-performing conventional chest straps too (especially in cooler weather).

The question is – does the Verity Sense retain that title? First up, are the improvements. They’ve significantly increased the battery life claims, from 8 to 20 hours. They’ve also increased the range from 75m to 150m – primarily targeted at field team sports that may have recording devices on the sidelines. They’ve also included a new swimming mode, and dedicated mode lights on the back, plus an entirely new strap design that minimizes the chance of a flip-over. In other words, they basically addresses the most common complaints of the OH1 series.

I’ve been testing the unit for a bit now, and have some good solid data to look at accuracy on, plus general usage. However, I’ll keep adding data sets to this, especially over the coming weeks as part of other reviews where I’ll continue to use this alongside other products to see how accuracy fairs longer term.

Finally note that neither this post, nor any other post I write, is sponsored by Polar or anyone else in the sports tech industry. I’ll return this media loaner unit back to them and go out and buy my own. 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.

What’s new:

It’d be relatively easy to look at the Verity Sense, spit off a couple of battery and band changes and call it done. But in reality, there’s actually quite a bit more than meets the eye that’s different than the OH1 series – especially once you start using it. Here’s my bulleted attempt at capturing all of those (including battery and band):

– Increased battery life from 8 hours to 20 hours
– Increased signal range from 75 meters 150 meters
– Increased storage from 12MB to 16MB (thus up to 600hrs of data)
– Added antenna signal amplifier to new strap design
– Increased water resistance from 30m to 50m
– Added secondary Bluetooth channel (2x Bluetooth Smart + unlimited ANT+ connections)
– Changed band design to make it difficult to flip over
– Changed band design to allow it to detach strap (like a watch, versus single-piece band prior)
– Changed the swimming clip to make it more universally compatible
– Added dedicated swim mode, which captures swim metrics
– Added three lights for the three main modes (transmission/standalone recording/swimming)
– Added gyro and magnetometer for SDK applications
– Changed basic operations aspects like how exactly you record an activity in standalone mode
– Price increased from $ 79/89EUR to $ 89/89EUR
– Kept the same optical HR sensor as the OH1 series
– Kept the same external design/size & charging/sync dock

Now, we’ll dive into all those details, but I know a bunch of you will be asking: Can you buy the new strap design for the older Polar OH1 series? And the answer is yes. The external pods are identical and Polar says they’ll offer the strap as an accessory you can buy. As for the antenna boosting properties, for the OH1 series it won’t boost the range any, but Polar says it also won’t hurt it either. It’ll just be a wash. But, it’ll keep it from flipping over, and make it far easier to put on your arm when you forget after putting on your long-sleeve shirt/coat (more on that in a second too).

With that, let’s get this unboxed.

Unboxing:

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First up, let’s get this thing unboxed. Once you slide the cover off, you’ll see the strap, swim goggle connector, and charging plug:

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Then below deck there’s a new pouch, designed for the pool desk, as well as some paper stuff.

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Here’s that swim pouch, with the strap and pod inside. Realistically you’d probably just put the clip on your goggles at all times, and then switch it between the strap and the goggles, but, do as you please.

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The swim strap connector has changed to make it more universally compatible, while the charging dock has stayed the same.

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Finally, here’s the strap itself – which is sporting a new ‘heather gray’ color scheme, and much wider band than previously.

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I like the coloring though – it’s very sharp and crispy.

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Oh wait – and the manuals – in case you need to read them or something.

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Ok, with that, let’s run through how to use it.

The Basics:

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To get started you’ll want to setup your Verity Sense with Polar Flow, which is their online training platform. You can do that via your smartphone or computer (or both). While you might use it just as a HR sensor, you’ll want to ensure it’s got the correct time and firmware updates. Plus, it’s required to activate it anyway. The setup process takes just a few seconds, and mainly walks you through what the different buttons and lights do/mean.

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Taking a look at the strap for a second, you’ll see that it’ opens up on one end, as well as can be adjusted for those with manly-man arms. I lack such a thing, so the stock medium band fits just fine.

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The biggest benefit of having a strap though is that when you forget to put on the sensor after putting on your coat or long-sleeve gear, you can simply reach down your sleeve instead and attach it. Arguably it’ll probably take you just as long to do it that way, but sometimes it’s the principal of it.

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Anyway, looking at the sensor, on one side you’ve got the charging contacts and text stuff. Nothing exciting there. Polar OH1 Plus at left, Polar Verity Sense at right:

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Then flipping it over you’ve got three little icons that indicate the three modes:

A) Heart Rate Broadcasting mode
B) HR Recording mode (standalone)
C) Swim session recording mode (standalone)

Technically when in one of the standalone recording modes it also transmits too. Here’s those icons (again, Polar OH1 Plus at left, Polar Verity Sense at right):

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When you power on the device using the side button (hold for a second or so), it’ll then power on the optical HR sensor and show you which mode you’re in. You can tap to change between the modes. You’ve got a bit of a short period before it ‘locks’ that mode, and you cannot change it again without powering off (which, is sorta annoying). It’ll default to whatever mode you were in the last session.

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On the opposite side of the button is an LED. This gives you confirmation the unit is working, and a specific light color/pattern. They are as followsNyah-Nyah

Blue: Heart Rate Broadcasting mode
Green: HR Recording mode (standalone)
White: Swim session recording mode (standalone)

Now, sliding it into the strap it just snaps in place. It’s specifically designed to orient one of two directions. It doesn’t matter which direction per se, but in general you want the LED status light to face you (so you can see status easily). But that’s more of a ease of use thing than a technical/accuracy thing.

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The metal part of the strap actually has a thin metal piece on the inside, which then ‘connects’ to the sense internally, helping boost the signal. It’s a simple old-school yet practical antenna booster type design. The reason Polar wants to boost signal upwards of 150m is that they’ve got a bunch of team sport packages/systems they sell where coaches can monitor athlete performance from the sidelines.

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With everything all set, you’re ready to go and pair it up to another device (if that’s your jam). The Verity Sense doesn’t display your HR or zones on the unit itself. Instead, it either broadcasts to another watch/app/bike computer/whatever, or, it records it for later access. The main new thing on the Verity Sense is that it’s got dual Bluetooth Smart channels, compared to a single channel previously (plus unlimited ANT+ connections). That’s most applicable for Polar/Suunto/Apple users as their watches only connect over Bluetooth Smart. So for example, if you’ve got a Polar/Suunto/Apple watch and you want to pair it to the OH1 sensor for better accuracy, you wouldn’t be also record the session on Zwift via Bluetooth Smart. Whereas with the Verity Sense, now you can do that with two concurrent connections.

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The sensor is smart enough to not try and connect to your phone, unless there’s good reason to (to offload data). Else, that’d take up one of your  Bluetooth connections.

And of course, there’s no issues via ANT+ either. Here’s connecting on a Garmin Edge device via ANT+:

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For platforms that support ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart concurrently (Garmin/Wahoo/Hammerhead/Stages/Peloton Bikes/etc…), my general recommendation is to use ANT+ first, since that doesn’t use up any Bluetooth Smart channels.

During your workout, you’ll see the status displayed on the watch/device/app in real-time, as you’d expect from any other heart rate strap:

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What about recording mode? Well, in that mode it simply records the session to the device as soon as it powers up and confirms that mode. This is handy for sports where you may not be allowed to have a watch on. Once you’re done, just power off the Verity Sense, and then it’ll save the session. If you power it back on, it’ll then sync via your smartphone to Polar Flow (or, if you plug it into the charging cradle via USB on a computer).

You can then see your session on Polar Flow, either via smartphone app or on the web:

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The one downside to this recording mode compared to the OH1 Plus is there is no dedicated manual starting. Meaning that on the OH1 series, you could turn on the unit, and then double-tap to start recording. Whereas this just starts when you turn it on, if in the recording mode. Where this sorta matters is I usually turn on the sensor while I walk to my run/ride start point a few mins away. In this configuration it’ll capture that extra time, versus before with the OH1 Plus, I just double-tap when I’m ready to start my workout to record.

Now mind you, practically speaking, on the OH1 series I manage to forget to start the recording of the workout about 10% of the time. So…yeah, this is probably better overall. However, I could see that it would be handy to have a simple ‘trim’ option in the app/platform for the files, akin to what Wahoo has for their TICKR X straps. In fact, it’s my favorite feature of their straps – as the tool is silly easy to trim workouts, and even re-upload them to Strava/etc…

Speaking of which, your Verity Sense workout will upload to any platform that you’ve paired up with Polar Flow. That includes Strava, among others. Here’s a Verity Sense workout on Strava:

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One of the new features of the Verity Sense is the ability to capture swimming data in a new swimming standalone mode. While the Polar OH1 Plus added a new swim goggle strap, it didn’t capture swim distance – just heart rate.

To get in that new mode, you’ll tap the button after powering on, which shows the swimmer icon. And of course, place it in your swim goggle using the included swim goggle accessory.

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Meanwhile, before you do that, be sure on the smartphone app you’ve set the correct pool-size for your specific pool. You an do this pool-side, in case your pool switches between long-course and short-course configurations on the regular (e.g. 50m vs 25m).

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Also, the Polar Verity Sense still works like the Polar OH1 Plus with the FORM Swim goggles/heads up display, so you can pull your heart rate from that if you want to:

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Now unfortunately due to a combination of COVID restrictions and the Great Netherlands Freeze 2021, all our pools are closed. While COVID has closed all the indoor pools here, I had planned to do an outdoor pool swim this week. But then starting this past weekend they closed those too, because the outdoor temperature was basically turning them into ice skating rinks or something. Maybe they’ll open again next week.

So I can’t demonstrate that right now. But I can at least show you what the data should look like. Below are some screenshots Polar sent over from one of their actual product team members swimming, and the exact data shown on the Verity Sense – which is essentially distance and heart rate:

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Of course, the gap here is that Polar still doesn’t enable pairing of the Verity Sense to their Polar watches (such as the Vantage series or Grit X). It’s always been a weird quirk since the Vantage series launched. Sure, the Polar Vantage series can capture your swimming heart rate at the wrist, but for most people, that’s a crapshoot at best to the whacking nature of your wrist on the surface of the watch each stroke (and many other factors). Whereas the OH1/Verity Sense sensors tend to do a better job up on the temple as it’s a more stable area to measure heart rate. I’ve long been surprised that Polar hasn’t enabled the Vantage series to do direct offload from the OH1 Plus (or now the Verity Sense) – in the same way that Garmin does offload from the HRM-SWIM/HRM-TRI/HRM-PRO straps. Sure, it wouldn’t solve mid-swim accuracy issues (since Bluetooth can’t transmit more than a couple centimeters underwater), but it does solve post-swim accuracy analysis.

Heart Rate Accuracy:

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Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the strap throughout my usual workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs and rides, and so on.

For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors.  This sometimes included a second strap, usually the Wahoo TICKR X 2020), as well as usually two optical sensor watches on the wrists. Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

We’ll start with something relatively tame and then build up from there. First is a Zwift session that was mostly steady-state, minus a few intervals tossed in. Here it is compared against the Polar H10 chest strap, Scosche Rhythm+ 2.0, Whoop strap, and Polar OH1 Plus. Here’s that data set:

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The sense is in teal, though that’s virtually impossible to see since it’s identical to everything except Whoop (who is dancing to its own beat, like usual).

However, it’s not quite perfect. Very very close, but we see the very slight bit of lag like we usually see on most optical HR sensors. In this case we’re looking at about 5 seconds of lag for significant increases in intensity, but almost no lag for decreases. Check out the below. There’s basically three ‘tracks’ here on this moderate sprint. The fastest to respond were the Polar H10 chest strap and Scosche Rhythm+ 2.0 optical sensor band. These were almost indistinguishable. Below that with a bit of lag you then see the similar Polar OH1 and Verity Sense sensors – logical they’d act the same since they are basically the same. And finally, in last place on lag and incorrectness was Whoop.

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Still, we’re only talking a few seconds of lag, and that’s basically the only error casualties here. Look at this chunk of the set of steady-state intensity:

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Here again for this next sprint – the same pattern of slight delay as the first. In this case, the sprint was sharper, but the delay wasn’t appreciably different. However this time it did lag slightly on the recovery, which, ironically sorta made it all a wash if one were looking at total time in zones. The Whoop basically missed the sprint entirely.

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Still – while I can nitpick here, we’re talking very very similar tracks with only a tiny bit of delay.

Let’s head outside now and tackle a harder interval run in cold weather. Cold weather is mostly a nightmare for wrist based optical sensors due to the cold impacting blood flow at the extremities (such as your wrists). However, for the Verity Sense, it’s going to be positioned much higher up and thus more protected against that – as well as being under my coat. This is compared against an Apple Watch SE on one wrist, and a Garmin FR745 on the other wrist. Plus a Polar H10 chest strap on my upper chest, and a Garmin HRM-PRO on my lower chest (above/below the nipple essentially). I then threw in the Polar OH1 Plus and Whoop bands for fun too. Here’s that data set:

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Now at a high level things look pretty good. One odd dropout in green for the HRM-PRO to the watch, but more notably, the Garmin FR745 really struggled this time on the 3rd interval. Not quite clear why, as that was a relatively normal interval. Also I think the first time in 6 months I’ve seen it actually struggle in any meaningful way. In any case, the Verity Sense was basically spot-on with the chest straps and Polar OH1 Plus, and of course, the Whoop was low/incorrect.

If we look closely at these four core 800m intervals (before the sprints later on), there’s virtually no lag at all this time. Why? Well, most optical HR sensors look at running cadence via the accelerometer as a supporting factor for figuring out intensity shifts. So in this case, it sees my cadence naturally increase as I increase intensity, allowing the algorithm to consider that a valid increase faster than on the bike, where it doesn’t have extra data. Thus, here things are basically perfect.

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In fact, if we then move to the 30-second sprints at the end, which are usually quite difficult for optical HR sensors in the cold, almost of the units did well (minus Whoop, which was 10bpm low). We see some squiggles from the FR745 on the 3rd and 4th intervals again however, the others were fine entirely.

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In other words, for this outdoor interval run, the Polar Verity Sense was spot-on with the chest straps and other sensors, despite the challenging intensity shifts.

Next, and the last set for now – let’s go back inside for a beastly Peloton workout. This started off with a nice warm-up build, and then did some moderate intensity intervals up to Z3 power levels. However, what came after that was a string of a dozen 30×30 second intervals where my intensity was shifting from 80w to 500w every 30 seconds – dragging my heart rate along with it. There’s a boatload of sensors here including the Scosche Rhythm 2.0, Polar OH1 Plus, Whoop, and the Polar H10 chest strap. Here’s that data set:

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And you know what? At the high level – things look very very close for the first 2/3rds of the set. Heck, even the Whoop only made minor errors up until that point. You see everyone agrees nicely for the most part, making it near picture perfect.

I mean…at least until we get to the 30×30’s, which look like a long set of speed bumps. Let’s zoom into that:

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The pattern we see here is almost identical to the first cycling workout, in terms of delay. The Polar H10 chest strap and Scosche are spot-on together with no lag, while the two Polar optical HR sensors (OH1 Plus & Verity Sense) are delayed slightly, however the delay is equal on the ups and downs – so overall things are basically shifted. For a workout like this, it’s more about power zone durations than heart rate durations. Meaning, we’re not using heart rate as the primary/leading indicator of success – so the delay isn’t an issue (versus for other types of workouts we may use HR as the leading indicator).

Notably, the Whoop strap entirely misses every interval – both the ups and the downs. It just plows through oblivious. And I know I’ve harped on it a lot – but a workout like this shows *precisely* why that’s so problematic. The training load from this workout is *ENTIRELY* these 30×30’s and those ups/downs, and missing all of that misses the everything training load-wise about the workout. It vastly underestimates how hard this was. The other sensors don’t have that problem, despite costing a fraction the price.

Now as I said at the outset, I’m going to be included many more Verity Sense data sets in the coming days and weeks as I publish more/other reviews, so be on the lookout for those. But for now – I’m seeing noting of major concern, beyond the usual Polar OH1-style slight lag in cycling workouts. For running it’s spot on. Note that due to the winter storm conditions the past week, I’ve been unable to get out and do any proper outside road cycling workouts (which would introduce other variables). Hopefully it’ll warm up enough in a few weeks to get some of the roads cleared of ice to do that – as that’s an area that some optical HR sensors struggle (though rarely the Polar OH1 Plus).

Still – at this point, this looks just as solid as the OH1 Plus, despite the power consumption changes/optimizations that Polar made in order to gain the extra battery life.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions 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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Overall, the Polar Verity Sense is simply a much improved version of the workhorse that is the existing OH1 Plus. They basically addressed almost every criticism of that product without seemingly impacting any of the goodness of it – I mean, aside from adding $ 10 to it. But I think most of us would pay that extra $ 10 compared to the OH1 Plus for those features. The anti-flip strap and the dual Bluetooth Smart channels being one of the bigger ones for me, but also simply having to charge it less.

About the only criticism I could wager at this point would be that I’d like to see some sort of activity cropping option via the Polar Flow smartphone app, to snip out the beginnings of a workout before I actually get started (such as waiting to start a run or such) – similar to what Wahoo offers for their TICKR X straps. But that’d be about my only real complaint. The slight bit of lag of a few seconds on indoor cycling workouts with high intensity intervals doesn’t bother me too much for how I train indoors.

Finally, as for availability, pre-orders from Polar’s site will ship on February 17th, while all other retailers will begin shipping on February 24th. Stay tuned for my other strap reviews, as well as an updated/consolidated optical armband strap post including the Scosche Rhythm 2.0 and the Mio Pod.

With that – thanks for reading!

Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker

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