Can A Smartwatch Replace Your GPS? Meet Polar’s Grit X
Polar has been at the forefront of consumer heart-rate monitoring for decades. The Grit X is the Finnish firm’s class-leading multisport smartwatch, packed with more features than you might ever need. But could a smartwatch – even an athlete-oriented one like the Grit X – ever replace a dedicated cycling GPS unit? Let’s find out.
There are four elements that combine to make or break the Grit X as a cycling superstar: the unit itself, getting the details of your ride somewhere you can analyse it, mounting it where you can usefully see what is going on as you ride, and accurately measuring your heart rate.
The heart of the matter
Let’s work backwards through those criteria: Polar shipped our review unit with the firm’s H10 heart rate monitor strap, an ECG unit which is far more accurate than the Grit X’s built-in optical sensors when you are giving it horns on the bike. The optical readings are plenty accurate 99% of the time, but with the extra movement that comes with aggressive training and off-road riding, a chest-based reading will always give you more reliable readings.
The H10 is one of the best we have ever tested – read the review here – and is the perfect companion for the Grit X, if not a necessity for active riders.
Wear it or mount it?
The second after-market accessory in the box was the universal Vantage bike mount, a R450 must-have for dedicated cycling use. We tried using the Grit X wrist-mounted, and it is actually fine to see what is going on, but pressing the right buttons to scroll through the displays, make a lap or switch on the back light can be troublesome and lead to irritatingly paused rides, especially with gloves on.
The bike mount fits with a large rubber band, so swapping between bikes is quick and easy, although we did get lazy and left it on the most-ridden machine, wearing the Grit X on the wrist on the irregular test machines that rolled through the Bicycling offices during the test period. It was nice not having to refit mounts, for a change, keeping Strava happy.
More data than you can shake a USB stick at
Polar’s Flow software is properly comprehensive, and easy to access through either the various-platform apps or through the Flow website. The Grit X comes with Bluetooth Low Energy for connectivity, we had no challenge pairing various power meters, heart rate monitors and Zwift, although the pairing before the ride occasionally took a little longer than the unit did to find enough satellite coverage to lock in the GPS – it did that pretty quickly, we are talking a matter of a handful of seconds, never more.
The Grit X itself comes pre-installed with a bewildering choice of sports, 130 in total, each of which you can customise into numerous screens, each with your personal choice of what to display. The screen is not as large as many dedicated GPS units, and we ended up having a few screens with just two metrics displayed, purely so that our Veteran eyes could read them at a glance. The touch-enabled screen is full-colour, laminated Gorilla Glass affair that will withstand much abuse. We didn’t use the touchscreen too much, the buttons offer more reliable navigation, especially with wet or sweaty fingers, but it does work well if that is your thing. Battery life is superb – we never really frightened the claimed 40-hour capacity in training mode, but only having to recharge every few days is lovely.
The unit is fairly large on our hillclimber-chic wrists, but not too chunky. At just 64g, including the strap, it certainly isn’t cumbersome and is on a par with the lightest of dedicated GPS units. The stainless steel casing is aesthetically pleasing, and durable, and the unit is waterproof to 100m, should you feel the urge to measure your swimming/diving/wreck-hunting too.
Tons of useful stuff
The Grit X is loaded – almost overloaded – with cycling-specific features that make it a tinkerer’s joy. Just take a look at all of these (we played at-length with each of them, and the potential to self-coach using them is immense!):
Strava Live Segments
Make your runs and rides more exciting with Strava Live Segments. Get alerts about nearby segments, see real-time performance data during a segment and check your results right after you finish.
Training Load Pro
Quantify the strain of your training session and see how your training strains the different parts of your body.
Sleep Plus Stages™
Follow your sleep stages and get insights to your sleep quality. (This requires sleeping with the watch on).
See how well you recover from your day during the night. (This requires sleeping with the watch on).
Know exactly how many calories you’ve burned based on your weight, height, age, gender, your individual maximum heart rate (HRmax) and how hard you’re training.
Get motivating feedback immediately after training describing the effect of the session.
Continuous Heart Rate
Get a comprehensive view on how your heart behaves during your day. Continuous heart rate monitoring gives you even more accurate calorie burn and activity data and tells you the lowest and highest heart rate of your day.
Get detailed data about your performance on the uphill and downhill sections of your session.
FuelWise™ smart fueling assistant
Learn to refuel and maintain adequate energy levels during your long sessions.
Upload your route to your Polar Grit X and stay on the right path with real-time guidance.
Route planning with Komoot
Plan your route on Komoot, import it to your Polar Grit X and let the turn-by-turn guidance take care of navigation for you.
FitSpark™ training guide
Polar Grit X and the FitSpark™ training guide make sure you’re prepared for your pursuit to conquer the trails with ready-made daily workouts that match your recovery, readiness and training history.
See how your body uses different energy sources during a training session. Polar Grit X divides your energy usage into carbs, proteins and fats.
Stay connected with notifications from your phone. Get alerts for incoming calls, messages, emails, calendar events and more.
Serene™ breathing exercise
Relax your body and calm down your mind with the help of a guided breathing exercise.
Test your fitness level easily in just 5 minutes without breaking a sweat. This is possibly the most addictive of the lot!
But is the Grit X a bike computer?
In a word: yes. The only shortcoming is that the display is quite small, mainly if you are of an age where you carry reading glasses to fix punctures. That small consideration aside, there is nothing a dedicated GPS unit can do, that the Grit X can’t. Plus, you can now measure your runs, swims, walks in the park and more without carrying a phone or a dorky GPS.