Review: Polar RCX5 GPS Watch

A sleek, pricey GPS trainer for endurance athletes

Polar’s RCX5, a watch designed for multisport endurance athletes, is perhaps the most elegant looking performance watch available. Its large face, not uncommon in the GPS performance watch category, is made far more wearable by its sliver-thin case. Though the bulk saved in the watch is made up for in the RCX5’s separate GPS sensor and bulky arm strap (or, if you prefer, ankle bracelet), I appreciated the everday wearability of its slimmed-down profile.

As a training computer, the RCX5 hits all the marks. I was most pleased with the number of different training data that can be displayed at once—up to four data fields per page (heart rate, pace, calories burned, distance, time elapsed, pace highs and lows, exertion compared to previous runs and more) on as many as six customizable data pages—and how easy they are to read and navigate, even during hard sessions. The GPS signal was unwavering, even atop 14,000-foot mountains like Longs Peak.

To test the RCX5's GPS capabilities and to track my runs in a less conventional system than the included “Polar Personal Trainer” website, I explored Polar’s compatibility with Strava. In short, it has none…unless, that is, you get clever. It turns out Polar’s proprietary data type—“HRM”—is not among Strava’s currently accepted file types. Fortunately, there's a super easy hack, using a free application called TracksBox “HRM2GPX.” In seconds, you can upload your Polar HRM workout profile to TracksBox and with one click make a duplicate GPX file that you upload to Strava to compare yourself against other runners. Though it began as a tool for cyclists only, Strava’s making a push toward runners, particularly trail runners (where terrain variety and vertical gain and loss makes for interesting and competitive Strava segments). Lucky for me and other die-hards, this watch can be used with it.

Overall, this is a sleek, easy-to-use and very accurate GPS watch that simultaneously tracks—and displays—more data that even the hardest-core stat fiends can probably use. For tri geeks (not me), both the watch and heartrate monitor are fully waterproof (unlike most watches out there), which makes it perfect for tracking pool workouts. And, really, it's just a pretty watch, with styling that beats all of its (often much clunkier) competition. Sure, it's pricey, but well worth it if you live the quantified life.

Hits: stylish enough to wear daily, intuitive functions, super reliable workout data, huge storage capacity
Misses: not out-of-the-box compatible with apps like Strava, bulky GPS strap system, buttons require firm pressure to engage, which can be difficult on the move
Buy It ($470 from Polar)