Fitness Watch: Outstanding display, mysterious weaknesses: The Polar Ignite 3 in the test

They were thought leaders and pioneers in their field.

Fitness Watch: Outstanding display, mysterious weaknesses: The Polar Ignite 3 in the test

They were thought leaders and pioneers in their field. In the 1980s and 90s, the Finnish sports watch brand Polar was no match for wearables for endurance athletes such as runners or cyclists. Now, more than 30 years later, Polar finds itself in the pursuit role to stay in the running image. The smartwatch giants from the USA and Asia have overrun the Scandinavians and left them behind. Aside from small, very specific features, Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch

For years people in the far north have been working on innovative ideas and products in order to gradually make up for lost ground. So far with limited success. The Ignite 3 is the next attempt to get a toe in the door in the highly competitive fitness tool, GPS tracking and health monitoring market. How does the fitness and wellness watch fare in everyday life, during sports, at night and in comparison to the hasty competition?

Fun fact: In 2013, Polar introduced its first watch with integrated GPS, the RC3 GPS. It wasn't until three years later that the second generation Apple Watch was launched, the first with built-in GPS. Trade journals ennobled the popular RC3 at the time as a "training companion thought out down to the smallest detail".

Let's first come to the first and external impression of the Ignite 3. Our test model came in a simple, almost elegant, night black. The watch, marketed by Polar as a fitness and wellness smartwatch, is remarkably flat and is not only reminiscent of the Google Pixel Watch, which was also presented in 2022. The bracelet that holds the watch on the wrist is rather unloving (but can be replaced in no time at all if you don't like it). We found putting it on to be unnecessarily cumbersome even on the tenth attempt. Instead of fixing it with small loops as usual, you thread the end of the silicone strap down behind the buckle and fumble it there so that it doesn't get in the way when doing sports.

But back to the case. Here you will find a black button on the left in the middle, the only control button on the Ignite 3. Everything else can be done via the 43 x 43 millimeter small touch display. The discreetly framed AMOLED screen has a diameter of 1.28 inches, which corresponds to a display size of around 3.25 centimeters and, in our opinion, is completely okay for everyday use. And the AMOLED display is undoubtedly one of the highlights of this watch. It has a resolution of 416 x 416 pixels. And that is - at least in the polar world - a quantum leap. The Vantage V2, one of the Finns' flagships, only has 240 x 240 pixels with its MIP display. The third generation of the Ignite with this display doesn't have to hide from any other competitor either. The small diodes shine intensely and razor-sharp. So our running test in cloudy December weather was child's play for the watch. But even in direct sunlight, the numbers and information on the display protected by Corning Gorilla Glass should always be easy to read.

There's nothing new on the back: As with the two Pacer models presented in the summer, ten LEDs and four optical sensors record heart rate and oxygen saturation via the skin, which can later be spit out and evaluated via the Polar Flow app. Praiseworthy: The charging cable holder is also identical to that of the Pacer series. And finally, we have to talk about the weight. The developers trimmed the Ignite 3 down to a slim 35 grams. The "little black one" (which is also available in copper/brown, gold/beige and violet combinations) is on par with the previous model and at least in this category on par with Samsung's Galaxy Watch 5 (44 mm) and the Apple Watch Series 7 (41mm). However, this is at the expense of the battery. With active GPS and permanent HF monitoring, it runs out of breath after almost two days.

Polar Ignite 3

weight

35 g

battery life

Training mode (GPS HF): max. 30 hours

Watch mode: up to 5 days

display size

43mm diameter

Resolution: 416x416px

battery pack

220 mAh (Lithium-Polymer)

bracelet/clasp

silicone/stainless steel

Size S-L (135-210 mm wrist circumference)

compatible apps

z.B. Polar Flow, Strava, Training Peaks, Straava, Komoot

Colours

Black, Copper-Brown, Gold-Greige, Lilac-Purple

RRP

329 Euro

As already indicated, nothing works on the Ignite 3 without tapping and swiping. Or at least not much. The button on the left is more of a kind of emergency exit to get back to the main menu or at least one menu step back if the touch display fails. We were amazed that all training sessions can only be ended and saved using this button on the housing, or better: must. You have to start the workout with a courageous slap on the curved Gorilla Glass. Last but not least, you need the button on the side to pair the watch with the Polar Flow app and sync the data. The inclined Polar user already knows that.

And unfortunately, apart from running, cycling and one of the more than 100 possible activities, the display not only requires a sure instinct, but also a lot of patience. Despite the processor, which according to Polar is twice as fast as its predecessor, and seven times more internal memory, swiping often takes two seconds of computing time before the desired screen is displayed. The Ignite 3 reacted with a similar delay in our test when pressing the stop and back button. Navigation also remains difficult with Polar's touchscreen models. Right, left, up or down? Navigating by trying. There is still a lot of room for improvement here. Small visual aids in which direction to go could help here.

In testing the Ignite 3, we focused on two core functions. Polar has expanded sleep tracking with a so-called Sleep-Wise function. This is intended to determine what specific influence night sleep and all other measured values ​​recorded during the course of the day have on the energy level of the wearer. In itself a brilliant idea. But how concrete and above all suitable for everyday use are the (training) recommendations that the Ignite 3 spits out via the Polar Flow app on the smartphone? And while we're on the subject of training, what can the Ignite 3's revised dual-frequency GPS do? Here, too, Polar promises greater accuracy and less interference from buildings or natural obstacles such as trees. The average position error is said to have been reduced by a factor of 2.

In the test, the Ignite 3 was worn on the wrist overnight for almost three weeks. Compared to competitors such as the robust T-Rex 2 from Amazfit, the Polar wearable is pleasantly unobtrusive when sleeping. The low weight and the flat structure have a positive effect here. Like other models, the Ignite 3 automatically detects when the wearer goes to rest. When you get up, you can give her a little help and confirm with a touch that you have lifted yourself out of the pillows. Otherwise, it can do this quite reliably itself. And immediately spits out the first analyses. Here it doesn't really differ from the Pacer Pro and other smart wearables.

Sleep and ANS status can be read on a scale from -10 to 10. From these two values, the mini-computer determines the nightly recharge, i.e. a value that is intended to indicate how well or poorly the nervous system and the body in general have recovered from the mental and physical stresses of the previous day. In our test, this value essentially correlated with the subjective feeling of the tester. In the morning after a tough competition, the watch rated the Nightly Recharge as "very low". Who would have thought? Even with comparatively short sleep durations (five hours or less), the Ignite 3 attested a virtual battery charge in the deep red area in the morning. None of this is new, nor is it surprising.

But what about the mysterious SleepWise function that Polar has given the Ignite 3? Basically, it does nothing other than create a so-called boost value from Nightly Recharge and the individual sleep-wake cycle. In a bar chart you get it light or dark green on white. In our case, on one of the test days, the app signaled that peak cognitive and physical performance was most likely between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. (see graphic above). We couldn't really verify that. The training would probably have felt good. The fact that many people are most productive between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. is nothing new. According to sports scientists, the second small time window opens from around eleven in the morning. Somehow predictably, the Ignite 3 repeatedly calculated a comparatively high energy level for this time of day during the test period. Unfortunately, the two peaks in the biorhythm all too often collide with everyday work. The sleep tracking of a sports watch and the associated algorithms cannot change that.

After all, the Ignite showed 3 different boost levels, which varied depending on the amount of sleep and the analysis of a few other parameters. However, this does not change the fundamental problem of sleep tracking via smartwatch. Finding out via app or watch that you slept particularly well or extremely badly is nice – but in most cases it is not very helpful. Or better: In order to improve the quality of sleep or to use the energy boosts collected during sleep as efficiently as possible (because that's what it's all about), even the smartest sleep tracker on the wrist is not enough. And so the SleepWise function of the Ignite 3 is smart and rich in data - but we were not able to gain the really big new knowledge from it in our test.

Now the Ignite 3 is not only designed as a bodyguard for the night. In addition (or mainly?), she should keep an eye on the fitness of the wearer. The little black dress documents every step, counts every step and permanently measures the heart rate on the wrist, if you wish. And as always, exercise is the key to the next level of fitness. In our running test (almost 90 minutes at about minus five degrees), the Ignite 3 did a good job. She easily coped with the freezing temperatures. She recorded the most important parameters safely. The Bluetooth connection to the smartphone and headphones was also stable. Especially helpful in winter: depending on the presetting, you can conveniently hear the most important parameters during the workout, such as heart rate or the time for the last kilometer run. We were less enthusiastic about the GPS tracking, a problem child from Polar anyway.

Despite the more precise multi-band technology on board, the Flow app sometimes spat out sections of the route that deviated significantly from the route. This was particularly noticeable in our test with a short lollipop run, which consisted of a way there, a short turning loop and the identical way back. The terrain was mostly open, so actually a penalty for the dual-band chipset from Sony that was built into the Ignite 3. Nevertheless, the route shown led partly along the opposite side of the road. In addition, the lines of the outward and return journeys differed significantly in some places. In a direct comparison, however, the Ignite 3 was ahead of the Polar Pacer Pro (no multiband GPS).

The Polar Ignite 3 leaves us a little perplexed. We were convinced by the elegant look and the no-frills design of the lightweight. Polar also hit the mark with the AMOLED touch display. In addition, the wearable is equipped with almost all the functions that a GPS sports watch has to have nowadays, right down to just under the robust Gorilla Glass. Polar wants to stand out from the competition with the so-called SleepWise function. In our opinion, this does not take sleep tracking to a new level. Not yet. An update announced by Polar is to follow and with it even more specific training recommendations.

The Ignite 3's GPS tracking is solid. For hobby runners and fitness-savvy athletes, the deviations are irrelevant. From our point of view, the biggest weak point is the mysteriously sluggish processor, which spoils the joy of the overall smart fitness watch. The fact that you can sometimes twiddle your thumbs for two seconds when navigating through the menus is out of the question. Last but not least, we're still pondering who the Ignite 3 can actually help on the leap to the next fitness level. And even after a few nights of thinking, it's difficult for us to define a target group.

The Polar Ignite 3 is a slim, stylish and unobtrusive bodyguard for active people who would like to learn more about their work-life balance. Anyone who can get involved with the training recommendations and enjoy extensive sleep and workout analyzes will get a reliable product on their wrist from Polar.

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