The Polar answer to a multisport watch.
ANT+ compatibility, and an integrated GPS sensor.
A capable, somewhat cumbersome system.
We are fairly well versed in the Polar department, that is to say, we've had a number of their products over the years. The RS800 and the CS200 to name just a few. We were pretty stoked when we first learned that the folks at Polar had designed a new watch targeted at multisport athletes. The RCX5 is Polar's newest geeked out multisport watch designed with triathletes in mind.
This watch is equipped with with a variety of pre-programmed "sport modes" like swim, bike, and run, for example. There's also the option of adding your own sport if you choose to do so, we're more of the swim, bike, run, kind of folks so we didn't use that feature. The new Polar watch will display 4 lines of data with up to six pages of customizable data screens per sport. We found this to be more than enough data and customization for even the most data obsessed.
We are self diagnosed tech junkies at TriBomb and anytime a new "gadget" comes along we are usually chomping at the bit to get our hands on it. The Polar RCX5 combines a slick looking watch and a host of sensors to display more data than you can shake a stick at.
A nice feature of the RCX5 is the overall "wearability" of the watch in day to day life. The watch is super thin and lightweight (47g by our scale), and maybe more than any other all in one watch we've tested, pretty stylish and practical for daily use.
The RCX5 shown with the Garmin310XT on the left and the RS800 on the right, as you can see, nice and thin.
The RCX5 uses a user replaceable CR2032 battery, so no recharging required. Of course, all this convenience comes with a price, the RCX5 does not have a built in GPS sensor. Of this we are not a fan, the external GPS sensor works just fine, but having to wear, carry, charge, and keep up with another sensor to accomplish what you can get in an all in one watch from another brand is a bit of a downgrade in our opinion.
Making sense of the sensors
Sensor overload, when our demo unit arrived we were surprised to see how many pieces there were to the Polar puzzle. There are separate sensors for speed, cadence, heart rate, and GPS, there's also another stride sensor for running.
G5 GPS Sensor
While we aren't big fans of the idea of an external GPS sensor, the G5 sensor worked pretty well for us in our testing. The G5 sensor is fairly small and the compact design makes it relatively easy to carry. The sensor is also rechargeable (using the supplied USB cable) and battery
life is rated at 20 hours between charges. The G5 sensor was accurate in our testing as well, and it also maintained satellite reception consistently. One of the main reasons we dislike having the GPS separate from the actual watch is you then have to find a way to carry the darn thing. Polar makes a simple, adjustable armband that is designed to carry the G5. We like the
armband even less than we like the external sensor, so we chose to toss the G5 sensor in the rear pocket of a cycling jersey or in the "key pocket" of our running shorts. That option worked out just fine in our testing with minimal disruptions in GPS signal. Another gripe with the external sensor is that every time we went to pick it up for a test drive it was dead. Not because the battery life is bad, but we simply found ourselves forgetting to turn the thing off. A nice feature would be an auto shut off of some type if the sensor signaled that it wasn't in motion or if the watch itself was taken out of "record mode" for an extended period of time.
WearLink Heart Rate Monitor
Heart rate monitoring is one thing that Polar seems to do a better job of than most any other heart rate monitor variety we've tested. The wear link is not only one of the most comfortable monitors we have tried, it also produces some of the most accurate and consistent heart rate readings of any brand we have tried. While we wish that Polar would jump on the ANT+ bandwagon for displaying data from power meters and other peripherals, the one thing the W.I.N.D. technology excels at in our opinion is in the HR department...and yes...it works underwater.
S3+ Stride Sensor
If you choose to go sans GPS, or you're running indoors, you can use the available stride sensor to track distance and pace indoors or outdoors. You can also use the S3+ to monitor your run cadence. We run almost exclusively outdoors, and honestly prefer not to use the foot pod. The S3+ works just fine, we simply prefer to not add another accessory to the mix, plus it is a little large in our opinion.
The RCX5 does have a "swim mode" but don't get too excited, no swim metrics here. That being said, the RCX5 is a capable swim companion for taking splits etc. We've used the watch quite a bit in the pool and the low profile, sleek design is well suited for swimming. The swim mode also allows you to display 4 lines of data per page, like the other sport modes allow you to do. One thing that is missing is the ability to display less data, and make the data fields larger. A feature that would be very welcome, especially in the pool where the tiny text is extremely difficult to read.
One thing the Polar W.I.N.D. technology does allow is the ability to record/display heart rate data under water. The only problem is actually keeping the HR strap in place while you're swimming. For us, it generally ends up as a heart rate waist band instead. For the ladies, maybe not as big an issue, but for the dudes, pretty difficult, unless you plan to swim in a wetsuit, speedsuit, or some kind of mankini this feature may not be all it's cracked up to be. Nevertheless, you do have the option with the Polar which is a feature others can't match.
It seems a little strange to us to go to great (sometimes ridiculous) lengths to tuck away every spare millimeter of exposed cable and obsess over making our bikes as aero as possible, only to strap a bunch of sensors to an otherwise clean ride. Maybe that's nitpicking, but also worth mentioning in our opinion.
Our preferred setup is a Quarq (or sometimes a PowerTap) which allows for among other things, a very tidy setup. Along with power data you also get cadence data (if you have an ANT+ compatible device) without having to have an additional external sensor strapped to your bike. So, maybe we are a little spoiled to this type of setup, but it works, and in our opinion it works superior to the setup you can achieve with the RCX5.
We thought the RCX5 might make up for this short coming by pairing nicely with the new Look Power Pedals. This would, in theory, give triathletes an alternative to the ANT+ protocol capabilities of watches like the Garmin 910XT (or the old 310XT) and the Timex Global Trainer. We were bummed to learn that the RCX5 is not compatible (at least at this time) with the new power based pedals from Look. Which means at the very least you'll have to buy and mount yet another device to your bike setup to display this data. Confusing, we know, add another piece to the Polar puzzle and another compartment in your transition bag to bring all this stuff to transition on race day.
The RCX5 is also right at home when it comes to hitting the road in run mode. Aside from our already expressed disdain toward the external GPS sensor the RCX5 does a nice job in the run department. It gave us smooth, consistent data for pace, distance and heart rate. Another cool feature with the RCX5 is the HeartTouch feature. HeartTouch allows you to perform different functions with the watch by simply bringing the watch up close to the heart rate transmitter. You can customize what action happens when using the HeartTouch feature, for example changing the views on the display, taking lap splits, or activating the backlight etc. A handy feature to have especially when it's cold out and gloved hands make it difficult to press buttons.
Transferring your data from the watch to your computer when the work is done is pretty simple. The RCX5 allows you to wirelessly transfer data using the Datalink USB stick, similar to what other watches use. Once you have it all paired up and have the software installed you can easily transfer your training data for in-depth analysis.
Comfort is excellent as far as the actual watch is concerned. We did not care for the armband to carry the G5 GPS sensor.
Seems to be well made, and has taken a beating without issue in our testing.
Expensive, especially if you purchase all the extra sensors and accessories that you will need to get the data capabilities of similar watches. We feel like there are better options in a more all in one type of system that provide more bang for your buck.
TriBomb Bottom Line
We may be in the minority here, but the RCX5 left us a little disappointed overall. For starters, the whole system seems a little cumbersome to us, sure it will go from swim to bike to run like other multisport watches, it just does so with a little more baggage than we like to carry. In our opinion the watch performs each individual activity better than it deals with bigger picture of seamless triathlon integration.