Polar RC3 GPS Tour de France Review

We’re in the final straight of the build up to the biggest race in cycling, and to celebrate, Polar have launched their Polar RC3 GPS Tour de France edition. The iconic Tour de France race is fabled for its yellow jersey, which is bestowed on to the winner of each stage. Following in that tradition, the RC3 Tour de France edition comes decked out in an appropriately garish yellow finish. The RC3 was first released by Polar in 2012, and this 2013 limited edition has been released to celebrate the Tour’s 100th anniversary. Boasting a heart rate monitor, cadence meter and other exciting goodies, all included in the price unlike many rival products (ahem, Garmin), here is our RC3 2013 Tour de France edition review, where we investigate whether its worthy of wearing the yellow jersey

More then just cycling

The first important thing to note is that this is more then just a cycling computer – it is a fully fledged fitness gadget. 2013 has been the year when fitness gadgets have come of age, as people realise that technology really can augment the measurement and improvement of their health and fitness. In this period of increased competition from new market entrants as well as tried and tested foes, companies like Polar are increasingly fearful of launching single facetted devices based around one discipline. Users are demanding more and the Polar RC3 GPS does not disappoint.

Sports gadgets are very much the in thing at the moment. The rising interest isn’t a fad, though, it’s down to a wider audience realising just how effective technology can be when it comes to fitness training. We can’t all have support teams to help us along, and regular training is important if you have goals. When it comes to pushing yourself and measuring the true exertion the likes of the Polar RC3 GPS is an ideal concept. That said, it faces strict competition from the likes of the Garmin Edge 810, which is a dedicated cycle computer as well as the activity tracker market, where products like the Nike Fuelband provide an overreaching fitness gadget solution for the more everyday trainer. At £270, the RC3 Tour de France edition sits on the higher end of the market, and is targeting trainers who are serious across multiple disciplines.

The strengths of the RC3 sit in cycling, naturally, and running, so this is the perfect device for keen biathletes and triathletes. The device is profile oriented, meaning that you can set up 2 profiles for the bike, one for running and 2 additional profiles for other activities. Don’t mistake the RC3 as a rival for general activity trackers – it is very much a serious training aid. You will not wear this device to measure the additional 130 calories you may burn by walking one tube stop closer to work, you strap on your hr monitor and fasten up the watch when your going training, not shopping.

Besides the above, my other first impressions were more visual. The Tour de France 2013 edition certainly brings a more striking style package to the table. The general visuals are let down by the poor resolution on the watches face, with the graphics been more reminiscent of a 1990s market stall gadget rather than a high end piece of fit tech. That said, the graphics are easily read across the light spectrum, and function must come before form on any fitness technology device. The comfort of the device, which is helped by an air flow efficient strap, goes further towards helping me to overcome the poor screen – even over longer rides this watch remains a joy to wear. the HR monitor is a chest strap – it would have been nice to avoid, but any regular users of serious health tech are used to this by now. Technology is changing and we should not be grumbling about chest straps for too much longer.

Usability and setup

The Polar RC3 is pretty standard in as much as the whole watch orientates around 5 buttons. The interface is directional in nature, meaning you generally navigate via back and forward buttons as opposed to each button powering a distinct element. A big red start button is the main point of control, and all buttons feel well constructed, robust and are easily used.

Syncing the belt to the watch was slightly more dramatic then it needed to be. The process is easy enough but is more involved then other similar offerings, think Garmin 810. You enter the settings interface, where you navigate with the down button and then lay around with the start button to activate the sync. The chest strap, unusually for Polar, whose chest straps i normally rave over, i did have to mess around with water on the sensors to get it going.

The cadence monitor installation left me close to calling in the experts. Functions in the watches interface pop up relating to optional extra products, like wind readers, which confuse the matter. No instructions came with the watch, and it began to remind me of horrific memories of shopping at ikea. This is certainly an area for Polar to look at with the RC3 – it may be aimed at serious cyclists but that doesn’t make us technicians. Perhaps you’re supposed to have a Tour de France style engineer team behind you…

We got their in the end though, and once it is done it is done. Bear in mind though that the battery on the cadence meter is non-replaceable, so you will have this drama when the battery goes. This is another slight oversight on the RC3

Using the Polar RC3

As a serious training aid data is naturally taken seriously, and the RC3 comes with a detailed data hub. The watch wires into your computer via a socket on its underside. This syncs the RC3 with the Polar personal trainer website whilst also charging the device. The personal trainer sync is best run via the software rather then the web app, which requires a painless download.

Once you have the software downloaded and fully installed, syncing is really straightforward. Its literally as easy as plugging the watch in and clicking the sync button on prompt. The sync itself is quick, and the data presentation a=is a joy. The Polar service is rich in its presentation but also offers a depth of data which has been lacking in this type of bundled software previously. NB, you can hook up rival database ports if you prefer, but it does require data exporting. This is a slightly insular, almost Apple like approach from Polar when viewed against the TomTom multi-sport. TomTom have been at pains to say their device will work seamlessly with all third parties, which include a huge wealth of fitness apps.

READ: TomTom Multi-Sport GPS sports watch pictures and preview

I was happy with the Polar offering though and feel it adds a lot of value, not least because native hardware and software will always work better then trying to get third parties software working seamlessly.

The Polar software opens with a social media style activity feed, which showcases your training sessions in date order. A calendar enables you to view your workouts over time, which pulls in interesting visuals such as map views, graphs and performance overlays (HR, cadence etc). I like how you can scroll out to view your workouts over time and the main aim of such software is always going to be to track progress.

The data, albeit in a rawer format, is available for immediate viewing on the RC3 itself. This happens in real time, allowing you to train in heart rate zones. The watches presentation of the data was unfussy and nicely done, and was totally inline with Polar heart rate monitors.

Final Verdict

I am generally very positive about the Polar RC3 GPS Tour de France, and found a lot of things to love. The data based insights into my training were genuinely really insightful, and took me to the next level Forgetting everything else, that is the reason why a serious trainer would consider laying out £270 on this gps watch.

The combination of cadence and heart rate strap hardware with killer training software like the Polar personal trainer delivers unprecedented accuracy and insight. You don’t need to be a data nerd to get full utility, as you can consume this data in bite sized chunks or detailed reports, its all there for you. This magic combination trumps any activity tracker for the serious trainer.

Stylistically it is strong, screen resolution besides, and it is a nice keep sake piece of fit tech to celebrate a huge year in the Tour de France’s history. It isn’t without its faults, or at least its drawbacks.

As a pure cycling computer, i think the Garmin 810 is stronger. Any device which sets its stall out to absolutely nail one discipline will normally do a better job. When a device is called the RC3 Tour de France, i think we are entitled to judge it against cycling specific devices, and i also think its fair to assume that most of you looking into this will be doing so predominantly from a cycling standpoint.

I also gripe slightly about their closed stance around the software. There are definitely pros and cons here, but i really like the open attitude that TomTom are bringing, with their (excellent looking) Multi-Sport.

Finally, there is the price point. Theres no doubt the RC3 is serious kit, and there are plenty of cyclists that i ride with who would not bat an eye lid at paying nearly £300 for a cycling computer. The wider application of the RC3, with its running an ‘other sport’ profiles should be factored here too.

The RC3 Tour De France edition is the closest thing to Le Tour winner’s yellow jersey that most of us will ever get, and on balance i think it is an excellent device. On balance, its multi-sport capability swings it for me. Now, lets get that tour started!

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