Two minute review
The Polar Unite is a fitness tracker for anyone who’s new to working out, wants to get more active generally, or is getting back into exercise after a break. It’s quite a change of pace for Polar – a company that has long specialized in tech for serious outdoor athletes, and whose last watch (the Polar Grit X) is built with ultra-runners, and mountain bikers in mind.
The Polar Unite a simple looking but well-built device, with all-day heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, breathing exercises and workout monitoring built in, and a superb companion app in the form of Polar Flow to provide a wealth of information about your daily activity (or lack thereof).
The elephant in the room is the lack of on-board GPS – the Unite can only track the speed and distance of outdoor workouts if you’re also carrying your phone. In fact, it’s very much like an Ignite with that key feature stripped out and a more comfortable band.
The Unite is an excellent device, but it’s hard to recommend when you can snap up the Polar Ignite for only a little more. Perhaps in a few months’ time the Unite will start to see some discounts too, making it more of a challenger, but for the time being we’d opt for the Ignite instead.
Price and availability
The Polar Unite launched on July 1 2020, and is priced at £134.50 / $149.95 / AU$249. Extra bands come in a range of colors and materials, and start at $22.95 / £20.50 / AU$39.99.
The Polar Unite looks very similar to the Polar Ignite, with the same 43mm case size and minimalistic design, and is a mere 3g lighter. Like the Unite, it has a bright color display that’s clear and easily legible even in bright sunlight, but tends to time out quite quickly (presumably to conserve power).
The Polar Unite is supplied with textured silicone band, and comes in four colors: lively shades of pink and blue, and more sedate black and white. Other band colors and materials are available through Polar’s online store for an extra fee.
The silicone band is secured with a simplified type of buckle, with no metal parts. It takes a little getting used to because it fastens in the opposite way to what you’d expect. First, decide how tight to secure the band and push a hard plastic pin through the silicone band, then tuck the free end of inside.
Executing this manoeuver with your non-dominant hand is a bit tricky at first, but it’s very secure and extremely comfortable, which is particularly important at night (more on sleep tracking later).
Straps are easy to swap, with no special tools or tiny screwdrivers necessary; the quick release pins are recessed so they’ll never be retracted accidentally, but can be released by hand when you fancy a change of style.
The Polar Unite’s charger is another design highlight. Whereas most fitness trackers we’ve tested use some kind of spring-loaded clamp that can be fiddly to line up correctly, the Polar Unite’s charger is a single rigid piece of plastic that clips firmly onto the back of the watch, then plugs into a USB socket.
It takes a lot of work to create something so simple. It’s impossible to misalign the connectors, there are no cables to worry about, and the charger even has a loop on one end so you can attach it to a keychain.
Polar advises that the Unite can last up to four days with continuous heart rate tracking enabled, and that estimate held true in our tests, with two charges a week keeping things running smoothly.
To start an activity, tap the button on the left-hand side of the case twice and tap ‘Start training’. tart training’. Your options include outdoor walking, running, cycling, yoga, group exercise (Zumba, for example), swimming, indoor cycling, treadmill running, strength training, ‘other outdoor’ and ‘other indoor’. The case is waterproof, so there are no worries about sweat or pool water.
If the battery is running low, the Unite won’t let you start activity tracking, which is a thoughtful design feature that helps avoid the problem of heading out for a run, only for your fitness tracker to die halfway through, losing all your progress. If you decide to go ahead and start working out anyway, the heart rate monitor will still detect that you’re engaging in physical activity, and record it in the app as such, but you won’t be able to see your speed, distance or other useful training data.
When you’ve finished your activity, hold the back button for three seconds (a countdown clock will appear) to save it. Bear in mind that you’ll need to hold the button again with the app open to sync your data with the app – it won’t happen automatically. More on that shortly.
At night, the Polar Unite uses your heart rate and restlessness to monitor your sleep. There’s no SPO2 sensor for detecting changes in blood oxygen saturation, though the in-depth analysis provided by the Polar Flow app could provide some useful insight if you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep and often feel groggy in the morning.
Polar has two companion apps for its various fitness trackers. The Polar Beat app is designed specifically for running and workouts rather than everyday activity tracking, and is the companion app used by the company’s serious fitness trackers and heart rate monitor.
The Polar Flow app is a much more accessible affair, with a focus on tracking your movements throughout the day, and is the app used by the Polar Unite and – you guessed it – the Ignite.
Holding the Unite’s back button will sync your recent activity with Polar Flow. This must be done manually and can only be done with the Polar Flow app open – your data won’t be synced in the background.
Every day, Polar Flow creates a pie chart that gradually fills with various colors to reflect how you’ve spent your time (sitting still, walking about, working out and sleeping). It can be illuminating to see just how much of your day you spend at your desk (for example) and a good motivation to get out and moving more frequently. If you stay still for 55 minutes, you’ll be issued a warning that you should start moving around within the next five minutes.
If you don’t do so, and stay put for a whole hour, you’ll receive an Inactivity Stamp – a literal black mark on your record. You can get an inactivity stamp even if you’ve met or exceeded your daily activity goal – it’s about not being sedentary. You won’t get inactivity stamps while you’re sleeping, even if you sneak a nap halfway through the day.
One of the Polar Flow app’s highlights is its sleep tracking. Like most sleep trackers, it will calculate your sleep patterns throughout the night, with periods of light sleep, REM sleep, deep sleep and interruptions. However, Polar Flow will also give you a recharge score, which is intended to show how effective your sleep was at helping you recover from the demands of the previous day.
Your Recharge Score is based on two factors: Sleep Charge and ANS (autonomous nervous system) Charge. Sleep Charge is based on how long you slept overall, how many times your sleep was interrupted, and how much REM and deep sleep you managed to get.
ANS Charge represents how quickly your autonomous nervous system settles down to rest when your head hits the pillow. This is calculated based on your heart rate, heart rate variability and breathing rate during the first few hours of sleep. To earn a higher ANS Charge score, you need to avoid anything stressful or stimulating too soon before bed.
Over the course of three nights, the Polar Flow app will also build up a picture of your sleep patterns using data from the Unite, which will serve as a baseline so you can see whether your most recent night’s sleep was better or worse than average.
It’s a superb app that’s a pleasure to use, but since it’s also used by the Polar Ignite, it’s hard to recommend investing in the Unite until it drops in price.
First reviewed July 2020
Buy it if
You need a great sleep tracker
The Polar Unite is perhaps the most comfortable fitness tracker around, and the Polar Flow app’s in-depth sleep analysis makes it ideal for checking out your nocturnal wellbeing.
You’re on a tight budget
The Polar Unite has impressive specs for the price, and we expect it will see some good discounts soon. We might even see some price cuts in time for Black Friday 2020.
Don’t buy it if
You’re a keen runner or cyclist
The lack of on-board GPS means you’ll be relying on your phone to do the tracking, and you won’t be able to upload map data directly to third-party apps like Strava.
You can afford a little more
If you like the look of the Unite, you’ll love the higher-specced Ignite, and there’s very little difference in price right now.