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Features

Crowdfunding project of the week: BumpOut portable audio system

 

The weekend is almost over, but here at Android Authority we continue bringing you the hottest tech content and it’s time for your ‘Crowdfunding project of the week’. This is where we highlight the hottest campaigns from sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Other featured projects:

Today we are taking a look at a product called BumpOut, a convenient Bluetooth speaker that should enhance your audio experience wherever you go.

The speaker’s main feature is that it can expand for better sound quality and richer bass. Meanwhile, it keeps a slim profile when being carried around. Another cool perk you get from this unit is what the company is calling “coins”. These are round magnets you can place on any flat surface. The BumpOut can attach to these and easily keep any space filled with music.

Of course, the device can also be used as a speakerphone for convenient hands-free calling. Battery life is estimated at 7 hours, so you shouldn’t have much trouble keeping it powered. To make matters even more exciting, this thing is both water and dust resistant.

Overall, it is pretty much a good Bluetooth speaker with a couple unique features. Those who can take advantage of them will love the idea, though. Those interested can now get it by backing the project with as low as $69. You will have to wait a while for it, though, as it is estimated to ship on May 2017.

Who is signing up?

Check out BumpOut on Indiegogo

Google Pixel XL International Giveaway!

Welcome to the Sunday Giveaway, the place where we giveaway a new Android phone or tablet each and every Sunday!

A big congratulations to last week’s winner of the Huawei Nova Plus Giveaway: Lidor A. (Israel). Enjoy your new Huawei phone.

This week we are giving away a brand new Pixel XL Smartphone!

The Pixel XL features a vibrant 5.5-inch QuadHD AMOLED display alongside a Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 3,450 mAh battery and an all-new 12MP Pixel XL camera with phase detection and laser autofocus. The standout feature is Google Assistant, a new incredibly-clever AI assistant that also powers Google Home. To see how the Pixel XL compares to flagships new and old, check out the Pixel XL vs Galaxy Note 7 and best Google Pixel XL cases!

Enter giveaway
Google Pixel XL International Giveaway!

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  • The giveaway is an international giveaway (Except when we can not ship to your Country.)
  • If we can not ship to your country, you will be compensated with an online gift card of equal MSRP value to the prize.
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  • Only 1 entry per person, do not enter multiple email addresses. We will verify all winners and if we detect multiple email addresses by the same person you will not be eligible to win.
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  • The prize will ship when it is available to purchase.

Android Nougat on the OnePlus 3 is impressive, even in beta

There’s an inverse relationship between OnePlus’ software and its reputation where updates are concerned. As clean and smooth as OxygenOS is, the company has historically struggled to get Android updates out in a timely fashion. That’s all set to change with the Nougat beta for the OnePus 3 though, which has arrived right on time and according to promises.

See also:

The OnePlus 3 will get updates just as long as the OnePlus 3T

2 weeks ago

The Android 7.0 Nougat beta is only available for the OnePlus 3. The OnePlus 3 and the OnePlus 3T will begin sharing an update cycle when Nougat officially drops in December, but the beta is an original OnePlus 3 exclusive. (Note: OnePlus has now removed the download link for the Nougat beta.)

The first thing to note is that the Nougat beta on the OnePlus 3 is more like Marshmallow on the OnePlus 3T than it is like the OnePlus 3 community builds that have been floating around recently. So while the changes are quite noticeable on the OnePlus 3, it looks like you won’t see as much of a difference on the OnePlus 3T when Nougat arrives later this month.

Notifications and Quick Settings

First up: the notifications shade. We’ve now got a row of mini quick settings toggles readily available up top, above the full width notification cards. The toggles aren’t swipeable, but you can customize their order. Unfortunately we only get five rather than the six available in Android 7.1, but hopefully that’ll change with the next version update.

The Quick Settings area looks a lot like it does on the OnePlus 3T. The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles fall into line with the other toggles and lose their mini-menu capabilities. The whole Quick Settings area no longer takes up the entire screen either but there are now multiple tabs so you can add as many shortcut as you wish.

Android Nougat on the OnePlus 3 is impressive, even in beta

The brightness slider migrates south out of the way and the user shortcut changes sides because reasons. As before, you can edit the Quick Settings tile layout and any changes you make to the order will also be reflected in the mini toggles at the top of the notifications shade. The Quick Settings look a lot neater generally and there’s now a Data Saver toggle as well.

Recent apps and Split screen mode

Taking a look at the recent apps overview reveals cards that are much larger in Nougat than in Marshmallow and the three shortcuts along the bottom have been replaced by a single floating action button to Clear All.

Stock Android’s implementation of split screen mode is accessible via the app overview screen by dragging and app card to the top of the screen and selecting the secondary app from the bottom window. If you’re using on-screen navigation buttons you’ll also be able to launch split screen mode by long-pressing the recent apps button, but this functionality doesn’t work for capacitive buttons (yet).

Android Nougat on the OnePlus 3 is impressive, even in beta

Quick app switching and Shelf

Quick app switching is also on board, allowing you to rapidly jump between your two most recent apps by double-tapping the recent apps button. There’s also plenty of other general Nougat additions like bundled notifications and Quick Reply, app locker for securing apps with a fingerprint, Data Saver, Doze Mode on the Go, notification priority and so on.

Shelf has been slightly redesigned and still lives on the left hand screen where Google Now used to live. It’s handy to have the ability to quickly take a note and see your Google Now cards, but OnePlus still hasn’t pushed Shelf to anywhere near essential status. Fortunately if you don’t use it it is easily disabled.

Android Nougat on the OnePlus 3 is impressive, even in beta

Customization and Settings

Long-pressing on the home screen brings up some new home screen management options. A new Settings icon has appeared, which takes you to a short menu with options for disabling Shelf, toggling two anywhere-on-the-homescreen gestures (swipe up for search and swipe down for notifications) and switching from the standard layout with an app drawer to one without. The customize menu now only shows the icon resizing tool with a couple of icon style options.

The Settings menu has received a bit of a visual makeover, taking its color scheme from the Google Pixel and rearranging some items. You’ll get Suggestions at the very top of the menu on occasion, just as in stock Nougat and other important information will be displayed here for example when you have Do Not Disturb enabled or are in Airplane Mode.

Android Nougat on the OnePlus 3 is impressive, even in beta

Summary information is visible in each Settings section, meaning you don’t have to access a menu to see what Wi-Fi network you’re connected to, your battery percentage or what Bluetooth devices are connected. A new sub-section called Custom appears right below Wireless & Networks, but basically contains stuff you’d already know: Alert Slider settings, Button options and shortcuts, gestures and status bar icon settings.

The Display menu has absorbed a couple of the Customization menu options from Marshmallow, being home to Night Mode (which is an awful shade of yellow) as well as Themes and Nougat’s stock DPI scaling feature which alleviates the bugginess of OnePlus’ resizing options on Marshmallow.

See also:

OnePlus shows how fast its OnePlus 3T charges compared to the Google Pixel XL

2 weeks ago

Themes and more

The default theme is light with blue highlights and gray Quick Settings and menu headers. If you switch to the light or dark theme you’ll be able to choose your accent color from the familiar palette and your header areas and Quick Settings will either become white or black rather than gray. In the default theme you don’t have any other highlight color option than blue.

Android Nougat on the OnePlus 3 is impressive, even in beta

Sounds & Notifications have been split up, now getting their own dedicated sub-sections in the Settings and you’ll also have access to Nougat’s quick access Settings menu, so no matter how deep you are in sub-menus you can always quickly access the top level settings. Swiping out from the left seems to work consistently, but tapping the hamburger menu icon sometimes drags the pane out and other times goes full screen.

At the very bottom of the Settings menu you’ll see an Advanced section that contains Accessibility settings, a toggle for Pocket Mode, access to the user experience program and options for the Clear All button in the recent apps overview (clear the task list and cache or clear task list, cache and background processes). The software update screen has now added local upgrade and auto-download options too and there’s a new-look power off menu with no screenshot option.

Initial impressions

Despite being a beta release, the Nougat beta on the OnePlus 3 is remarkably stable, with only the occasional crash or stutter. With only a few weeks until the official Nougat update arrives, it’s probably not worth flashing on your daily driver unless you’re really keen to check it out (and OnePlus has now removed the download link), but it does bode very well for what’s about to come.

Android Nougat on the OnePlus 3 is impressive, even in beta

There’s not much point discussing battery life, general performance or the touch latency issue because these will all be dealt with in the official Nougat release for the OnePlus 3 and 3T. Speaking of the OnePlus 3T, if you do a fresh install of the Nougat beta on your OnePlus 3 you’ll also enable the F2FS file system the 3T introduced, which uses flash storage for faster load times.

After seeing some of weird and wonderful things floating around in the community builds for the OnePlus 3 I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the restraint shown in the Nougat beta. While some other changes might still arrive in the final firmware, what I’m seeing right now is very promising.

It may be a little early to say OnePlus has turned its software reputation around, but it did deliver the Nougat beta on schedule and has done a very good job of it. The additions made to stock Nougat are useful and well thought out, the entire interface is relatively clean and consistent (even if the location of a few settings is a little odd) and if OnePlus can start getting updates out on time, we’re in for an enjoyable 2017.

How do you like the Nougat beta? Any features you want that are currently missing?

Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 versus Apple A10 Fusion

The two leading mobile processor companies are Qualcomm and Apple. Qualcomm’s processors are found in many of the leading handsets while Apple’s processors is found at the heart of every recent iPhone and iPad. The latest and greatest System-on-a-Chip (SoC) from Qualcomm is the Snapdragon 821 and the current processor from Apple is the A10 Fusion. While both companies are certainly working on their next generation products, these two processors represent some of the best mobile processor technology that is available in a handset.

Yes, there are others like the Samsung Exynos 8890 and the Kirin 960 and I will be making a general SoC showdown piece just after I have finished this one. However today we turn our attention solely to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 and the Apple A10 Fusion, which is best?

And this is where we stumble, even before we get out of the gate. What does “best” mean? Best performance? Best power efficiency? Best GPU? Best wireless modems? There are lots of ways to characterize a SoC. So before we go on to look at aspects like performance and power efficiency, here is a side by side comparison of the features of these two SoCs.

Specifications

I will start with a caveat. Neither Qualcomm or Apple are very forthcoming about the internals of their processors. Qualcomm does a slightly better job than Apple, but still a lot of this information is what I have gleaned from various articles across the Internet. If you know of any extra information, please let me know.

 Snapdragon 821A10 Fusion
Process Technology14 nm16 nm
CPU64Bit Quad-core, 2x Kryo 2.4 GHz + 2x Kryo 2.0 GHz64Bit Quad-core, 2x Hurricane 2.34 GHz + 2x Zephyr
Core schedulingPer corePer cluster
GPUAdreno 530 650MHz6 core
RAM typeLPDDR4 @ 1866MHzLPDDR4
4G LTEX12 LTE Cat 12/13Not included. iPhone 7 uses third party modem chips
ChargingQualcomm Quick Charge 3.010W?
Graphic APIsOpenGL ES 3.2, Open CL 2.0,
Vulkan 1.0,
DX11.2
OpenGL ES 3.0, Metal
VideoUp to 4K Ultra HD video capture @ 30FPS. Up to 4K Ultra HD video playback.4K video recording at 30 fps. Video playback up to 4K, 30 frames per second
CodecsH.264 (AVC) +
H.265 (HEVC)
H.264 (AVC) + H.265 (for Facetime?)
Wi-Fi802.11ac802.11ac

So breaking it down a bit we see that both the Snapdragon 821 and the A10 Fusion are quad-core processors using Heterogeneous Multi-Processing (HMP). In a HMP SoC, not all the cores are equal (hence, heterogeneous). Both SoCs have two high performance cores and two energy efficient cores. This system was popularized on mobile by ARM with its big.LITTLE system. ARM has been a leader in this field and has contributed lots of source code to projects like the Linux kernel.  If you want to know more about big.LITTLE then please read how the Samsung Galaxy S6 uses its octa-core processor.

The Snapdragon 821 is Qualcomm’s first HMP system using its own Kryo cores, however it has used HMP before in processors like the Snapdragon 810 which used four Cortex-A57 cores plus four Cortex-A53 cores. Qualcomm still uses ARM’s big.LITTLE system for other processors in its range including the Snapdragon 652 which uses four Cortex-A72 cores plus four Cortex-A53 cores.

Although the A10 is Apple’s 4th generation 64-bit ARM compatible processor, this is the first time that Cupertino has designed a quad-core processor and the first time it has used HMP. One big difference between the Snapdragon 821 and the A10 Fusion is that the 821 can use all of its cores simultaneously where are the A10 can only swap between using the high performance core cluster and the energy efficient core cluster. This is similar to the situation with earlier implementations of big.LITTLE back in 2013.

Besides the CPU, the GPU is a vital component inside a SoC. Qualcomm uses its own in-house GPU and now so does Apple. This is the first time Apple is using its own GPU. Previously Apple used PoweVR GPUs from Imagination Technologies, however it has now started using its own design, which is probably based heavily on the PowerVR, but as usual there are no details available, in fact the GPU doesn’t even have an official name! When it comes to API support, the Adreno 530 GPU from Qualcomm supports OpenGL ES 3.2 and Vulkan 1.0, whereas Apple supports OpenGL ES 3.0 and its own Metal API.

There are two more differences worth mentioning. First, the Snapdragon 821 supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology, which allows handset makers to offer fast charging in their handsets (upto 18W), whereas Apple doesn’t yet support any kind of fast charging. Second, the Snapdragon 821 includes Qualcomm’s X12 LTE modem whereas the A10 Fusion doesn’t have a built-in modem, instead it uses third party modems on auxiliary chips. 3 out of 4 iPhone 7 models use modems from Qualcomm.

Performance

This is one of the most hotly debated processor topics, not only on mobile but on the desktop, in servers and on supercomputers. Before we dive in there are a few things we need to understand. They key thing to remember is that energy efficiency and performance are not friends. The greater the performance the more power is used. There are various equations that specify the relationship between power and performance, the most notable being P=CV^2f, where P is Power, C is the capacitance of the process node, V is voltage (in this case raised to the power of 2) and f is the frequency.

So, if you run a CPU at a higher clock speed it uses more power. Likewise if it is built on a smaller fabrication process then it uses less power, as C will be less. Most crucially the lower the voltage the lower the power usage. On the desktop power usage isn’t too much of a problem. A PC is connected to the mains and there are big cooling fans. Of course on mobile things are different. Smartphones run from batteries and they mustn’t get too hot!

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 uses Samsung’s 14nm fabrication process where as the Apple A10 uses TSMC’s 16nm process. So technically the value of C will be higher on the A10, meaning more power is used. Both processors are clocked at around the same maximum clock speed (2.4 vs 2.34GHz) however we can’t compare the clock frequencies of the smaller cores as the frequency for the A10 fusion isn’t known (well not by me at least). At this point overall performance will come down to things like memory speeds, L1 and L2 cache sizes and the number of instructions per clock that the CPU can execute.

The other thing of note is the difference in OS and OS design. Android is based on Linux while iOS is based on BSD. Android uses Java while iOS uses Objective-C & Swift. So at one level trying to gauge the overall performance of the Snapdragon 821 and then compare it to the performance of the A10 Fusion while trying to eliminate any OS and architectural differences is hard.

I have run performance tests using the Google Pixel (for the Snapdragon 821) and the iPhone 7 (for the A10 fusion), which leads me to my last caveat, there could be faster Snapdragon 821 devices out there which might give slightly different results. Likewise the screen resolution differences between the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus will have an impact on GPU performance. I have also read that the 32GB model of the iPhone 7 (which I am using) has slower internal storage than the 128GB or 256GB models.

I ran two sets of tests, first I used some of the various benchmark apps that exist on both Android and iOS (AnTuTu, Geekbench and Basemark OS II). Then I ran some of my own home brew benchmarks, but more about those later.

Here are the results:

As you can see the Apple A10 Fusion as used in the iPhone 7 is faster than the Snapdragon 821 as found in the Google Pixel. The difference in performance varies significantly. AnTuTu puts the difference at just 6% where was the Geekbench Single Core tests give the A10 a massive 126% advantage. The remaining tests says that the A10 is around 30% faster.

So let’s breakdown the AnTuTu results a bit and see what are the strengths and weaknesses of each processor:

AnTuTu TestA10 FusionSnapdragon 821
3D44996 (28917, 16079)56890 (36443, 20447)
UX52071 (8168, 11180, 21587, 4528, 6617)45278 (8209, 4833, 9027, 19639, 3570)
CPU41655 (14512, 14632, 12511)32403 (12204, 8129, 12070)
RAM115686521

AnTuTu performs four types of test: 3D, UX, CPU and RAM. For the 3D part the Adreno 530 in the Snapdragon 821 performs better than the GPU in the A10 Fusion (44996 for the A10 vs 56890 for the 821). Although the Snapdragon wins the 3D tests, the A10 is the victor for the remaining tests. For some of the individual tests the Snapdragon 821 and the A10 are neck-and-neck (e.g. the CPU multi-core test and the UX data secure test), however there are tests where the A10 is clearly the winner. In particular the RAM tests shows quite a difference between the two processors.

My second set of tests use my own home brew set of benchmarks. Cross platform benchmarking is full of pitfalls and possible rabbit holes. The first problem is that Android uses Java as its principal development language where as iOS uses Objective-C or Swift. This means that an app written for one platform can’t be easily ported to the other just by recompiling. Another problem is the use of run-time libraries. For example, if an app needs to manipulate some data (compress, encrypt, copy, whatever) there are various functions provided by the respective languages and the operating systems that can help with that. But for a benchmark that means that the app is now testing the efficiency of the run-time libraries and the OS and not necessarily the hardware.

There are various ways to write apps which work on both platforms. One is to use an SDK which supports multiple platforms, another is to use C. The C programming language is kind of the lingua-franca of the computing world. Almost every computer platform has a C compiler including Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Linux, etc.

For my benchmarks I use both approaches. One set of tests uses the LUA programming language which is supported by various SDKs across Android and iOS. The other set of benchmarks uses C.

I have two LUA based tests. The first of my custom benchmarks tests the CPU without using the GPU. It calculates 100 SHA1 hashes on 4K of data and then does some other CPU stuff, I call it “Hashes, bubble sorts, tables and primes.” The result is the time taken to complete the test.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 versus Apple A10 Fusion

As you can see the iPhone 7 is the clear winner by a significant margin. The second test is slightly different to the first in that it also involves some graphics, 2D graphics in this case. The benchmark uses a 2D physics engine to simulate water being poured into a container. The app is designed to run at 60 frames per second and two drops of water are added every frame. The benchmark measures how many droplets are actually processed and how many are missed, the maximum score is 10800. The Pixel scores 10178 while the iPhone 7 scores 10202.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 versus Apple A10 Fusion

For the C language tests I took the C benchmark code which I used in my article Java vs C app performance – Gary explains and recompiled it for iOS. The actual iOS app is written in Objective-C, for the UI etc, however the benchmark code is exactly the same C code as run on Android using the NDK.

See also:

Java vs C app performance – Gary explains

May 3, 2016

The first test repeatedly calculates the SHA1 of a block of data. The second calculates the first 1 million primes using trial by division. The third repeatedly runs an arbitrary function which performs lots of different mathematical functions (multiply, divide, with integers, with floating point numbers etc). In each case the time taken to complete the test (in seconds) is measured. Here are the results:

Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 versus Apple A10 Fusion

As you can see in this case the Snapdragon 821 beats the Apple A10 fusion in every test. Now this is a bit of a conundrum. If the previous benchmarks were more ambiguous, giving the lead sometimes to the Snapdragon and sometimes to the A10 then this could just one of the results that tips in favor of the Qualcomm processor. However, almost unanimously the benchmarks declared the A10 the faster processor.

So why do my C language benchmarks show a clear victory for the Snapdragon 821? There are a number of possible answers: a) The C compiler in the Android NDK is better than the C compiler in Xcode, or b) due to the HMP nature of both processors then it is possible that the “big” cores on the A10 didn’t get a chance to run and the tests executed on the smaller cores, or c) there are some unknown performance optimizations that normally run that didn’t kick-in, or d) there is something wrong with my iOS app (as I am not that familiar with iOS app development).

Power

As I have mentioned above, it is possible to create a high performance processor if you can afford to use lots of energy and you have a way to dissipate the heat. On mobile that isn’t possible, so it is important to look at the efficiency aspects of both processors. Testing the power efficiency of a mobile processor is hard. There are various ways to do it including dismantling the phone and connecting lots of wires to the circuit board! However for this test I will try to get an idea using software and a bit of math.

First of all I set each phone’s display to minimum brightness and left it on the home screen doing “nothing”. After an hour I looked at the battery usage to try and gauge how much the display consumes with the processor practically idle. The Pixel used 5% of its battery and the iPhone used 4%. This sounds about right as the screen on the Pixel is bigger, has a higher resolution (i.e. more pixels to power) and is slightly brighter when on minimum. The iPhone 7 has a 1960 mAh battery and the Pixel has a 2770 mAh unit. That means that the iPhone used 78 mAh to power the screen for 1 hour while the Pixel used 138 mAh.

I then ran Epic Citadel for one hour (in the guided tour mode) on both phones. The iPhone 7 used 20% of its battery and so did the Pixel. We know that 4% and 5% respectively of that usage was for the screen, so the iPhone used 16% of 1960 mAh and the Pixel used 15% of 2770 mAh. That works out to 319 mAh for the iPhone and 415 mAh for the Pixel. This result is to be expected as the GPU on the Pixel is working harder than the GPU on the iPhone as it has more pixels (no pun intended) to render per frame. In fact the Pixel has double the number of pixels than the iPhone, that is a lot of work for the GPU!

I performed a similar test for video playback. Using VLC on both Android and iOS I played a video file for one hour. The iPhone used 11% of its battery while the Pixel used 10%. So the iPhone used 7% of 1960 mAh and the Pixel used 5% of 2770 mAh. That works out to 137 mAh for the iPhone and 138 mAh for the Pixel.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 versus Apple A10 Fusion

Unfortunately that means it is hard to definitely declare the winner here. The iPhone has a smaller battery which some might take as proof that it is more power efficient, however it also has a lower resolution display. It is interesting to note that the iPhone 7 Plus has a bigger battery than the Pixel but the same resolution display. When playing 3D games the iPhone 7 uses less power, however the GPU is working less (maybe 50% less). When playing video both devices uses almost identical amounts of battery power.

Wrap-up

Millions of Qualcomm and Apple processors are being used right now in handsets all across the globe. When taken as a whole package including the CPU, GPU, ISP, DSP, and modem there are pros and cons on both sides. Clearly both processors are advanced pieces of tech. The Snapdragon 821 is the more rounded processor since it contains an integrated LTE modem, the same type of modem that is used by the iPhone 7, plus support for quick charging and more graphic APIs (OpenGL ES 3.2 + Vulkan). And this fits with Qualcomm’s business model, the Snapdragon series are mobile processors that are sold to OEMs to build phones, tablets, set-top boxes, media players, whatever. The A10 is designed specifically for one thing, the iPhone (and maybe later the iPad).

As for performance, it seems clear that the A10 Fusion has the upper-hand, however not by much, but that does depend on the workload. In some of AnTuTu sub-tests the Snapdragon 821 matched the performance of the A10 and for my home brew tests written in C then the Snapdragon 821 actually beat the A10!

In terms of power efficiency it is hard to say, power is used by some many components in a smartphone including the CPU, GPU, memory, various Wi-Fi and cellular radios, etc. But from what I see there isn’t much between the two SoCs.

As a final word, I know this article will stir up various “fanboy” sentiments, all I can ask is that you remember that there are lots of problems in the world and lots of reasons why people get angry with each other, however which smartphone you use shouldn’t be one of them.

Screen-on time: Why is it important, and how can I extend it?

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As tech enthusiasts, we have extremely high standards. Gone are the days when ‘good enough’ is good enough and, instead, we expect faster, bigger, thinner, better, more, more, more. And as our demands get greater, we’ve developed a tendency to see devices for their shortcomings instead of their strengths.

Despite all the impressive features that smartphones have today, there are certain things that will always be more important, like the battery. You might even say that a device can only be as good as its battery; after all, if a smartphone doesn’t have enough power to let you use its impressive features, it might as well not have those features at all. As you can see, this makes a phone’s battery pretty important.

But how, exactly, do you gauge the performance of a smartphone’s battery?

The most obvious answer would be to go by the actual size of the battery in milliampere-hours (mAh), which is a unit of measure for the amount of power over a period of time. However, it’s not quite as simple as that. You’ve probably noticed by now that a smartphone with a large battery can have worse battery life than a device with a smaller battery. It comes down to which battery has a better balance between resource-intensive hardware (and software) and mAh. Since battery size isn’t always indicative of battery performance, we’ve had to look for some other representation.

That’s where screen-on time comes into play.

What is screen-on time?

(Screen on time images from Google Pixel)

To put it in the simplest terms, screen-on time refers to how long a device’s battery can power its display on a single full charge. But much like how having resource-intensive components can result in getting less usage from a larger battery, screen-on time has contingencies, too, which we’ll cover in greater detail below.

The screen-on time you get from a device depends on a few important variables: how resource-intensive the hardware is, the size of the battery, and your patterns of use. If you’re a power user who routinely streams music on Spotify, takes photos and uploads them to Instagram, checks email frequently, watches lots of YouTube videos, plays intensive games, and uses Google Maps for driving directions, you’ll get less screen-on time than an ‘average’ user who’s using the same device, but for far fewer things. So when power users are getting a fair amount of screen-on time in spite of their heavy use, we tend to be impressed. If power users are getting impressive screen-on time, this tells us that a device’s battery performance can satisfy the majority of users’ needs. This is also why screen-on time has become a popular metric in tech reviews — especially here at Android Authority.

So why do we pay attention to screen-on time versus other factors like standby time? And how can tracking Screen-on-time help you to better extend your battery life?

Standby time isn’t a good performance indicator

Screen-on time: Why is it important, and how can I extend it?

On occasion, you’ll hear a tech company bragging about the standby time one of their devices gets, but standby time isn’t a very good indicator of battery performance, especially when it comes to real-world usage. Think of it this way: How often do you give your device a full charge, set it down, and leave it there without touching it for days on end? Of course, having great standby time is useful for extremely rare situations when good standby time might be beneficial (out camping and just need the line active for emergencies, etc), but having days and weeks of standby time isn’t something most of us really need or care about.

To be clear, a device on ‘standby’ essentially means all wireless radios — including WiFi, Bluetooth, and the cellular antenna — are turned off, and no apps or processes are running in the background. The average person’s smartphone isn’t even this inactive overnight while he or she is sleeping. It’s true that the display is almost always the greatest drain on a device’s battery, but virtually every other feature and capability puts some amount of strain on the battery, no matter how minimal it may be. As such, this is such an unrealistic scenario that standby time is rarely a subject of focus although, again, it may be good to know for those what-if scenarios.

A great tool for extending battery

Screen-on time: Why is it important, and how can I extend it?

As I said before, while there are numerous things putting varying amounts of strain on a device’s battery, the display is consistently the most resource-intensive of them all. This is especially true as we enter an era in which 1440p QHD displays are increasingly the norm and 1080p FHD displays are passé. The reality is that all those extra pixels come at the cost of battery life. Even as batteries get larger, any potential gain in battery life is mitigated because the displays are also growing in size and quality, plus we want increasingly powerful cameras, more impressive speakers, wider Bluetooth range, and so on.

It’s no secret that the lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones — and basically all consumer tech —are overdue for an upgrade. However, there’s currently only so much battery that can be crammed into today’s smartphones, so it’s fallen on the consumer’s shoulders to extend battery performance by adapting his/her usage.

This is where screen-on time becomes incredibly useful because it allows you to gauge how changes in your usage affect a device’s battery life. For example, if you start keeping your display brightness at about 50 percent rather than the max, you’d surely notice an increase in screen-on time. Things like reducing the amount of time it takes for your display to sleep, cutting back on YouTube videos, and turning off vibration for calls and texts can lead to significant improvements to a device’s battery performance via more screen-on time.

[Homework: Try checking your device’s screen-on time throughout each week. Take note of how your device’s battery performance is affected by your usage patterns. This will help you to maximize your device’s battery, which is particularly helpful during those times when you don’t have access to an outlet and need to conserve power.]

Detecting battery drain from apps

Screen-on time: Why is it important, and how can I extend it?

Different tasks and functions cause varying levels of drain on your device. For instance, playing Pokémon Go for thirty minutes will drain more power than chatting for thirty minutes on WhatsApp. Alternately, recording a 5-minute vlog in 4K resolution requires much more power than what a smartphone uses to exchange a dozen or so text messages with a friend. With the latter example, each of these functions involves separate hardware components in the phone and for video recording, the battery must power many more components than what’s needed to receive a text. Similarly, certain apps are much more resource-intensive than others, which is why playing games requires much more power than something like a tip-calculator app.

A device’s screen-on time is a great way to determine which apps are putting the most strain on a device. In fact, this is one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to get in the habit of checking your screen-on time at least occasionally; if you have a general idea of how much screen-on time you get on an average day, you’ll be able to tell when your device is getting less screen-on time than it should be getting and you can do some investigating. In many cases, it’s because there’s an app running in the background that’s putting a lot of unnecessary strain on your battery. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to pick these apps out since they’ll be near the top of the list of running apps in the battery menu of your Android device.

Going by Google’s most recent numbers, there are more than 24,000 different Android devices available today with 1.4 billion Android users currently using them. Obviously, it’s a pretty saturated and very competitive marketplace, which is why we focus on the distinguishing factors that are most important when it comes to real-world usage.

But how much screen-on-time should I expect?

Now we tackle the most important question: How much screen-on time should we expect from an Android smartphone made today? Unfortunately, the answer is complicated and needs explaining.

The amount of screen-on time you should expect from a smartphone depends on what type of smartphone it is. Flagship phones are designed to be full-featured, high-performance devices, so they should offer ample screen-on time in spite of having resource-intensive components to power. By comparison, you probably shouldn’t expect the lowest-cost devices — ones that cost $100 or less — to offer as much screen-on time as flagships.

Generally, we hope for no less than three hours of screen-on time from a device although four hours is a more respectable minimum. When a device can offer up to five or more hours of screen-on time, especially for a power user, it tends to impress. But, again, screen-on time can be highly variable for any device because it’s so highly dependent on usage and other factors.

Screen on time isn’t perfect though!

Screen-on time: Why is it important, and how can I extend it?

For all the virtues of screen on time, it’s important to note that it isn’t without faults. The problem is that different kinds of uses utilize their smartphones in different ways.

For instance, some people might take lots of photos on their smartphones while others might use smartphones primarily for mobile web browsing. There are the social media gurus among us, too, who are continuously tweeting updates and posting photos throughout the day. Obviously, these different usage scenarios don’t put the same amount of strain on a device’s battery. Since power users put more strain on a device’s battery than most users, it follows that power users are likely getting near to the minimum amount of screen-on time of which a device is capable. Therefore, moderate users can expect to get at least the same amount of screen-on time as power users get or probably even more.

However, there’s definitely a caveat. As I said previously, screen-on time is highly dependent on how you use your device. If you’re someone who mostly makes calls, sends and receives messages, and uses data while the screen is turned off (i.e., for sending and receiving files, listening to music/podcasts, etc), your device is going to show that its screen-on time is very low, suggesting poor battery life. In this situation, the low reading for screen-on time doesn’t necessarily mean that the battery life is bad because the screen must actually be turned on to be counted as screen-on time.

As you can see, screen-on time can be a very valuable metric, but it can sometimes be misleading. For it to be representative of a device and be of the most value, you must consider all the variables that influence screen-on time.

Now I want to hear from you. Had you known what screen-on time was before reading this article? Were you surprised to learn how screen-on time is determined? What kind of screen-on time are you getting from your current device? What’s the minimum amount of screen-on time you need to get before you’ll consider a device? Do you feel that screentime is the best metric for judging battery life — or what would you recommend instead? Keep the conversation going by posting any questions or thoughts you have in the comments section below.

Polar M600 review

Throughout the past few years, we’ve had to choose one or the other – fitness trackers or smartwatches. Dedicated fitness trackers might be better at tracking your daily activity and heart rate, but they normally lack things like voice commands and proper notification support – two features normally found only on smartwatches. Sure, there’s always the option of buying a fitness tracker and a smartwatch, but that’s not a very elegant solution for those who are looking to wear just one device at a time.

But what if you don’t want to choose between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker? That’s where the Polar M600 comes in.

With a built-in GPS, optical heart rate sensor and plenty of other essentials found in higher-end fitness trackers, the new Polar M600 certainly brings a lot to the table. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the device, though, is the fact that it’s running Android Wear, Google’s smartwatch OS.

Does the M600 offer up enough to warrant its high price tag? Or should you opt for something else? We find that out, and more, in our full Polar M600 review.

In an effort to bring both our readers and viewers the most comprehensive review experience possible, the Polar M600 was reviewed by two different members of Android Authority. Both Joshua Vergara and I (Jimmy Westenberg) collaborated on this review.

We have both been using the Polar M600 as our main fitness tracker for roughly three weeks.

Show More
Related:

Best fitness trackers

3 weeks ago

Design

It’s clear that Polar set out to create a true fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid device with the M600. While that may be the case on the software front, this thing doesn’t look anything like the other smartwatches currently on the market. Rather, its overall shape and size bares a slight resemblance to Garmin’s vívoactive HR, mostly because of its big, bulky design. In fact, the M600 is actually quite a bit bigger than the vívoactive HR. It measures 13mm thick, compared to the vívoactive HR’s 11.4mm.

Don't miss:

Garmin vívoactive HR review

September 19, 2016

One of the biggest downsides of a bulky device like this is that users could potentially feel less inclined to put it on every day. Especially for sleep tracking, this isn’t the most comfortable device to wear on your wrist, so try to keep that in mind if you’re looking for a comfortable, wrist-mounted activity tracker.

Polar M600 review

On top of the size issues some may have with the M600, the design of the device is quite bland, overall. While there are a few things that help the device stand out, such as the chrome bezels on the left and right edges and Gorilla Glass 3 screen, we can’t help but think that the M600’s design feels a bit uninspired. Polar might not be in the business of creating fashionable fitness accessories, but it’s hard not to compare it to the work Fitbit is doing with its latest activity trackers.

Polar M600 review

One of the more positive aspects of the M600’s design is support for interchangeable straps. This means if your strap breaks for some reason, you can pick up a spare on Amazon for about $30 without replacing the whole unit. The M600’s straps remind us a lot of the ones found on the Moto 360 Sport. They’re very rubbery and tend to collect a lot of dust and fuzz. It’s a small gripe, really, but should still be kept in mind if you own any dogs or cats.

See also:

Moto 360 Sport review

March 4, 2016

Forget ever using the M600 with a suit or even a button up shirt

Smartwatches often try to toe the line between style and functionality, given that they often need to be quite thick in order to accommodate the technology underneath the screen. The problem with the Polar M600 is that it makes no such effort. For a watch that is supposed to be useful in more than just active situations, we felt like we could only use the watch when we were exercising or outdoors. Forget ever using the M600 with a suit or even a button up shirt – while we don’t have any problem letting others know we are active people, this fitness watch finds a way to make it a little too obvious.

The M600 also carries an IPX8 waterproof rating, which means it’s suitable for swimming up to 10 meters. This is certainly one of the more positive aspects in the design department, as it means you can not only track your swims, you also don’t need to worry about it getting wet if you’re near a pool.

Polar M600 review

Now let’s talk about the display. The M600 sports a 1.3-inch TFT display with a resolution of 240 x 240, resulting in a pixel density of 260ppi. We’ve been quite happy with the quality and responsiveness of the display, though it does seem a tad small compared to the overall size of the device.

The M600 has two physical buttons – one right below the display and another off to the left. The leftmost button acts as a home button, which can also be used to wake up the display if you don’t want to swipe to wake it. The button below the display is the activity button, and pressing it will bring you to Polar’s built-in training application. From here, you get two options – Training and My day. The Training section is where you’ll go to select which workout you’d like to perform, and the My day section will give you a snapshot of the current day’s activity. You can only see your steps, distance and calories progress from this screen though; for everything else, you’ll need to open the Polar Flow app on your phone.

Features and performance

Polar M600 review

The Polar M600 is one of the most feature-rich fitness trackers we've tested

The Polar M600 is one of the most feature-rich fitness trackers we’ve tested. As for daily activity tracking, it’ll keep track of your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, resting and active heart rate, and sleep. In order for the M600 to track any of these things, you’ll first need to download the Polar Flow app on your Android or iOS smartphone. Once that’s downloaded, sync your M600 to the app and you’re ready to start tracking.

It’s also worth noting that Polar Flow has a desktop client and a browser version, too, if you’d rather look at your activity history on a computer. It’s definitely refreshing to see a fitness-focused Android Wear device with a robust companion app. While Google Fit and Moto Body are easy to use, simplistic applications, Polar Flow is much more to our liking. More on that later, though.

Polar M600 review

Before you take the M600 out for its first workout, we recommend opening up Polar Flow and navigating to the Sport Profiles section. This is where you’ll be able to load up to 20 different sport profiles on your M600 to select before you start working out. You can ‘only’ load 20 onto your device at one time, but there are over a hundred to choose from. Some of the most common Sport Profiles are running, hiking, walking, spinning, road cycling, jogging, indoor cycling and strength training. It can also track other sports like baseball, hockey and football, too.

We should clarify something here – the M600 may be able to track your activity during your Finnish baseball match or judo training class, but it won’t give you granular feedback based on that specific sport. For instance, it might be able to track your activity during your rowing class, but it won’t give you stroke rate or stroke count information.

Unlike Fitbit and some Garmin devices, the M600 doesn't come with automatic activity recognition

Whichever sport you choose to participate in, though, you’ll need to remember to tell the device to record your activity beforehand. Unlike Fitbit and some Garmin devices, the M600 doesn’t come with automatic activity recognition. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember to record your workouts manually, but it’s only a few more buttons.

Polar M600 review

This is where we’ve found the Polar ecosystem to be one of the best in the fitness game. While the M600 may not be able to figure out automatically what kind of workout you’re performing, it will take into account the rigorousness of the current activity and put it towards your overall fitness for the day. And to that end, Polar does not solely rely on step counts in order to figure out users’ overall fitness. Instead, it uses a combination of sensors to know if the user is lying down, sitting, standing, walking, running, or otherwise being active. Based on the aggressiveness of activity, it will put the steps toward its overall count.

More importantly, however, the device will add it all to an overall percentage that, when completed, means that optimal fitness has been achieved for that day. We feel this is much better than other fitness trackers that rely only on steps (looking at you, Samsung, and your ridiculous 6,000 step goal by default) because it takes into account how rigorous the said steps are. Think of it this way: let’s say you paced around for a long time during the day and hit 10,000 steps – because you weren’t really exerting a lot of energy in doing so, you might only get to about 60% of the day’s overall optimal fitness.

See also:

Gear Fit 2 review – can Samsung get fitness tracking right?

July 11, 2016

Polar M600 review

The M600 will also let you know if you’ve been sitting down too long. Every 55 minutes you’ll get an inactivity alert, and that’s when it’s time to get up and take a walk, stretch or light jog. If you don’t get up and move within five minutes, you’ll get an inactivity stamp on your Polar Flow timeline.

The M600 has been quite accurate in terms of step, calorie and distance tracking

But how well does it perform? Throughout our testing, the M600 has been quite accurate in terms of step, calorie and distance tracking. Thanks to the built-in GPS, accurate distance tracking shouldn’t come as a surprise on the M600. This is especially good news for runners and cyclists who need accurate distance metrics, and the Polar Flow app does a great job at displaying this information.

When you’re done recording a workout, you can head into the Polar Flow app and view your past exercises in the Training section. Once you select your workout, click on the map, then use the slider on the bottom to scroll through your route. Polar Flow will give you granular details based on where you were in your route, how fast you were going, your pace at that time, and your heart rate. You can see a good example of this in the screenshots attached below.

If you’re at all familiar with Polar’s other products, you’re probably aware that the company has made a name for itself by producing high-quality, accurate heart rate monitors. With that said, it should come as no surprise that the M600 sports a very impressive optical heart rate monitor, complete with six LED lights.

Polar M600 review

Throughout this review period, we’ve tested the M600’s heart rate monitor against the Wahoo TICKR X. From what we’ve been able to gather, the M600 has one of the most accurate wrist-mounted heart rate monitors we’ve used thus far. When comparing it to the TICKR X, the M600 was never off by more than 4bpm or so, even during high-intensity workouts. We usually see wrist-mounted heart rate monitors slip up when reaching upwards of 160bpm, but we’re happy to say the M600 experienced no such problems.

Take a look at the screenshots attached above. The two on the left are from the Polar Flow app, while the two on the right are from the Wahoo TICKR X. As you can see, the M600’s heart rate monitor had no problems keeping up with the TICKR X during the highs and lows of the workout. If you’d like a more detailed look at the M600’s heart rate recordings, see the screenshot below.

Polar M600 review

If you'd rather not use the M600's built-in heart rate sensor, you can pair it with a third-party chest strap

If you’d rather not use the built-in heart rate sensor on the M600, though, you can pair it with a third-party chest strap. Not only will this give you more accurate heart rate data, pairing a chest strap to the M600 is easy. Just press the center button on your M600 (the one below the screen), then tap Training. If your chest strap is turned on, you should see a connect option on your screen. Tap that, and you’re good to go. Your M600 will now use the heart rate data from your chest strap.

Another bonus: once your chest-mounted heart rate monitor is connected, you can take the M600 off. This is useful for those times when the watch is simply too big for the activity being done (like hitting a punching bag, as it is too difficult to get gloves on while wearing the M600). You will still get an accurate reading of the exercise being done via the continuous heart rate monitoring from the strap. 

Polar M600 review

While the Polar M600 doesn’t offer up automatic activity recognition, it does, however, record sleep automatically. There’s no need to tap a sleep now button or anything before you pass out. Just fall asleep with the device strapped to your wrist, wake up, and your sleep data will be recorded in the Polar Flow app. The M600 will record your total time asleep, restful sleep percentage, restful sleep time, and restless sleep time. Those are the only stats you’ll get by default, but since this is Android Wear, you can download a third-party app like Sleep as Android if you need more granular stats.

Also read: The best sleep trackers

From what we’ve been able to tell, the M600 is very accurate at tracking sleep, though we would have liked to see more sleep stats offered up by default. Polar Flow doesn’t display sleep cycle information, for instance.

Under the hood, the M600 sports a MediaTek MT2601 processor backed by 512MB of RAM. That’s par for the course when compared to other Android Wear devices on the market. Plus, it comes with 4GB of on-board storage, so you can save your favorite playlist locally for offline listening with a pair of Bluetooth earbuds.

Polar M600 review

The device also features a 500mAh battery, which Polar says will be able to get you about two full days of use or eight hours of training on a single charge. And for the most part, that’s absolutely correct. With moderate use, we’ve had no problems getting the M600 to last two full days, even with roughly an hour’s worth of exercise tracking on each day. If you’re constantly receiving notifications, replying to text messages or using Google Maps to navigate from your watch, however, the device will probably last closer to one full day.

Compared to the other Android Wear devices on the market, the M600’s two-day battery life is very impressive.

Polar M600 review

A quick tip – turn on Do Not Disturb when you sleep. It’ll keep the notifications from coming in and the alarm will still go off. After getting into this habit for just about any wearable, we’ve found battery life to be much closer to the claims that the various companies make. Two days is great for the Polar M600, but we could have done away with the proprietary charging cable that Polar uses for most of their peripherals. A microUSB connection would have worked just fine, as it did with the previous M400. Why they felt the need to go to a completely different charging connector is beyond us.

 Polar M600
Display1.3-inch TFT display
240 x 240 resolution, 260ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Processor1.2GHz dual-core MediaTek MT2601
RAM512MB
Storage4GB
Battery500mAh
Heart rate sensorYes, optical heart rate sensor with 6 LED lights
GPSYes
Other sensorsAccelerometer, Ambient Light Sensor, Gyroscope, Vibration motor, Microphone
Water resistanceYes, IPX8
Suitable for swimming, up to 10 meters
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.2
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
SoftwareAndroid Wear
NotificationsCall, text, calendar alerts, and more
CompatibilityAndroid phones running 4.3 Jelly Bean or higher
iPhone 5 or later running iOS 8.2 or higher
Dimensions and weight45x36x13mm
63g

Software

Polar M600 review

One of the most unique aspects of the M600 is its software, and that’s mainly due to the fact that this is one of the first fitness-focused Android Wear devices we’ve seen thus far. The Polar M600 is running Android Wear 6.0.1, version 1.5.0.3062003.

Polar M600 reviewAs we all know by now, Google doesn’t give OEMs too much wiggle room in terms of the customization of Android Wear. Thus, the on-device software package that ships on the M600 will seem incredibly familiar to those who have used an Android Wear device in the past. Polar does include a good amount of its own watch faces, but only two of them display activity data on the screen. Plus, none of Polar’s watch faces are customizable, so you’ll need to download a third-party watch face if you’re looking to give your M600 a unique look.

While Polar’s implementation of Android Wear is familiar, we’ve also experienced quite a few bugs. We’ve paired our M600 with the Galaxy S7 Edge, HTC 10 and Nexus 6P throughout this review period, and we’ve found bugs and inconsistencies when paired to each device. For instance, the first time we paired the device with our HTC 10, an error would occur whenever we tried deleting emails from the watch. Perhaps the most notable bug we’ve discovered occurs when pairing the watch to a new phone. Our M600 has frozen up during the pairing process multiple times, forcing us to restart the watch and start the pairing process from the beginning. This wouldn’t be an issue if it happened just once or twice, but the fact that it happens multiple times during each setup is obviously an issue.

Related:

Best Android Wear watches

3 weeks ago

Aside from the software bugs, we’ve been quite impressed with the device’s OS. With Android Wear, you’ll get notifications from as many applications as you’d like, voice commands, silent alarms, music playback, and much more. Plus, if Polar Flow doesn’t offer a certain type of functionality, you can simply download your favorite third-party fitness tracking app and use that instead. Fitness stats might be more streamlined in Polar’s own Flow app, but other options are there if you need them.

Polar M600 review

Oh, and because this is an Android Wear device, all of your fitness activity will also be recorded in Google Fit. Google’s fitness app is simplistic and intuitive, though the fitness-focused crowd will be much better off using Polar Flow.

The combination of Android Wear and Polar's own software makes things too cluttered

This, however, makes this combination a little bit confusing for most users, especially those who have already enjoyed previous Polar models. The M400 software was updated recently so that it could provide notifications to the user via beeps (the M400 does not have vibration feedback) and through a simple text display using its typical digital watch screen. To that end, having Android Wear and all that it brings makes notifications and app connections a lot better, but when you can use just about any other fitness tracking software over Polar’s own built-in app, things seem just a little too cluttered in the end. Polar already does a great job with their own app, which makes it all the more confusing. We’re all for freedom of software choice, but we don’t expect existing Polar users to really go for the M600 simply because it has Android Wear, especially considering the M400 is much of the way there and costs much less.

Read more: The best fitness tracking apps for Android

The Polar Flow app is where you’ll be spending most of your time, and that’s a good thing. We’ve found the app to be a joy to use over the past few weeks. It’s well designed, intuitive, and gives you plenty of granular information without coming off as cluttered.

The app is divided up into three main sections: Feed, Activity and Training. The first section, Feed, is basically a timeline of your daily activity, which displays a snapshot of your activity statistics for each day. You’ll be able to see your total active time, calories burned and total steps taken. And if you connect with friends, you’ll be able to see, comment on and thumbs up their activity.

The next section, Activity, is where you’ll see your daily, weekly and monthly activity. Daily activity is displayed in a unique clock-like view, showing your activity type for each time of day. It’s a good way to visualize just how lazy or active you tend to be at certain points in the day. Additionally, Polar Flow will tell you how much time you’ve spent lying down, sitting, standing, walking, or working out for each day, which has also proven to be quite useful. Many fitness apps simply tell you how much exercise you’ve done for each day, but not many will tell you how long you’ve been lying down or sitting. As for week and month views within the Activity section, you’ll see a graph in each section which displays your activity levels overtime, as well as a percentage detailing your daily goal completion average.

If you need to look back on any previous activity, head to the Training section of the app. You’ll get a simple calendar view on the top of the screen, where you can navigate to a specific day and get detailed information on each one of your workouts.

Aside from the few hiccups here and there, we’ve been huge fans of the M600’s software package overall. The combination of Polar’s robust fitness tracking features and Android Wear make for an all-around great fitness tracking experience.

Gallery

Should you buy it?

Polar M600 review

The crux of the M600 is how it fits into the giant world of fitness trackers, and unfortunately that’s the device’s biggest downfall. Without looking at its price point, the M600 is a well-performing fitness smartwatch that’s packed with features. Not only does it offer up an accurate heart rate monitor and GPS capabilities, it’s also compatible with tons of third-party applications thanks to Android Wear. While the software package as a whole may be a bit buggy sometimes, the software package overall has impressed us over the past few weeks.

In a world where Garmin's vívoactive HR is available for around $200, it's tough to recommend the M600

We also need to talk about the M600’s price point, though, and the fact that it costs about $80-$100 more than some of the higher-end fitness trackers out there. The Polar M600 is available for $329.95, and there are a few reasons for that steep price tag. GPS fitness trackers always cost quite a bit more than ones without this feature. Plus, since this is an Android Wear smartwatch, that also warrants a higher price tag. But in a world where Garmin’s vívoactive HR is available for a little over $200 and boasts just about the same feature set (minus the Android Wear part), it’s tough to recommend the M600.

It’s also hard to recommend this watch to anyone that is already a part of the Polar ecosystem. Sure, there might be users out there who will really want Android Wear on their existing watch, and that’s quite literally what the M600 is. But in the scheme of sheer fitness tracking, the M600 doesn’t offer anything too different from the company’s existing trackers. Because of that, any current Polar users will probably find the price way too high to change it up.

If you’re looking for a true fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid and don’t mind paying upwards of $300 to get that experience, you should absolutely buy the M600. But if you’d rather save some money and don’t mind living without Android Wear, we’d recommend passing on this one and going for the vívoactive HR.


What are your thoughts? Does the Polar M600 have you interested? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Next:

The best smartwatches

3 weeks ago

Polar M600 review

Throughout the past few years, we’ve had to choose one or the other – fitness trackers or smartwatches. Dedicated fitness trackers might be better at tracking your daily activity and heart rate, but they normally lack things like voice commands and proper notification support – two features normally found only on smartwatches. Sure, there’s always the option of buying a fitness tracker and a smartwatch, but that’s not a very elegant solution for those who are looking to wear just one device at a time.

But what if you don’t want to choose between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker? That’s where the Polar M600 comes in.

With a built-in GPS, optical heart rate sensor and plenty of other essentials found in higher-end fitness trackers, the new Polar M600 certainly brings a lot to the table. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the device, though, is the fact that it’s running Android Wear, Google’s smartwatch OS.

Does the M600 offer up enough to warrant its high price tag? Or should you opt for something else? We find that out, and more, in our full Polar M600 review.

In an effort to bring both our readers and viewers the most comprehensive review experience possible, the Polar M600 was reviewed by two different members of Android Authority. Both Joshua Vergara and I (Jimmy Westenberg) collaborated on this review.

We have both been using the Polar M600 as our main fitness tracker for roughly three weeks.

Show More
Related:

Best fitness trackers

3 weeks ago

Design

It’s clear that Polar set out to create a true fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid device with the M600. While that may be the case on the software front, this thing doesn’t look anything like the other smartwatches currently on the market. Rather, its overall shape and size bares a slight resemblance to Garmin’s vívoactive HR, mostly because of its big, bulky design. In fact, the M600 is actually quite a bit bigger than the vívoactive HR. It measures 13mm thick, compared to the vívoactive HR’s 11.4mm.

Don't miss:

Garmin vívoactive HR review

September 19, 2016

One of the biggest downsides of a bulky device like this is that users could potentially feel less inclined to put it on every day. Especially for sleep tracking, this isn’t the most comfortable device to wear on your wrist, so try to keep that in mind if you’re looking for a comfortable, wrist-mounted activity tracker.

Polar M600 review

On top of the size issues some may have with the M600, the design of the device is quite bland, overall. While there are a few things that help the device stand out, such as the chrome bezels on the left and right edges and Gorilla Glass 3 screen, we can’t help but think that the M600’s design feels a bit uninspired. Polar might not be in the business of creating fashionable fitness accessories, but it’s hard not to compare it to the work Fitbit is doing with its latest activity trackers.

Polar M600 review

One of the more positive aspects of the M600’s design is support for interchangeable straps. This means if your strap breaks for some reason, you can pick up a spare on Amazon for about $30 without replacing the whole unit. The M600’s straps remind us a lot of the ones found on the Moto 360 Sport. They’re very rubbery and tend to collect a lot of dust and fuzz. It’s a small gripe, really, but should still be kept in mind if you own any dogs or cats.

See also:

Moto 360 Sport review

March 4, 2016

Forget ever using the M600 with a suit or even a button up shirt

Smartwatches often try to toe the line between style and functionality, given that they often need to be quite thick in order to accommodate the technology underneath the screen. The problem with the Polar M600 is that it makes no such effort. For a watch that is supposed to be useful in more than just active situations, we felt like we could only use the watch when we were exercising or outdoors. Forget ever using the M600 with a suit or even a button up shirt – while we don’t have any problem letting others know we are active people, this fitness watch finds a way to make it a little too obvious.

The M600 also carries an IPX8 waterproof rating, which means it’s suitable for swimming up to 10 meters. This is certainly one of the more positive aspects in the design department, as it means you can not only track your swims, you also don’t need to worry about it getting wet if you’re near a pool.

Polar M600 review

Now let’s talk about the display. The M600 sports a 1.3-inch TFT display with a resolution of 240 x 240, resulting in a pixel density of 260ppi. We’ve been quite happy with the quality and responsiveness of the display, though it does seem a tad small compared to the overall size of the device.

The M600 has two physical buttons – one right below the display and another off to the left. The leftmost button acts as a home button, which can also be used to wake up the display if you don’t want to swipe to wake it. The button below the display is the activity button, and pressing it will bring you to Polar’s built-in training application. From here, you get two options – Training and My day. The Training section is where you’ll go to select which workout you’d like to perform, and the My day section will give you a snapshot of the current day’s activity. You can only see your steps, distance and calories progress from this screen though; for everything else, you’ll need to open the Polar Flow app on your phone.

Features and performance

Polar M600 review

The Polar M600 is one of the most feature-rich fitness trackers we've tested

The Polar M600 is one of the most feature-rich fitness trackers we’ve tested. As for daily activity tracking, it’ll keep track of your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, resting and active heart rate, and sleep. In order for the M600 to track any of these things, you’ll first need to download the Polar Flow app on your Android or iOS smartphone. Once that’s downloaded, sync your M600 to the app and you’re ready to start tracking.

It’s also worth noting that Polar Flow has a desktop client and a browser version, too, if you’d rather look at your activity history on a computer. It’s definitely refreshing to see a fitness-focused Android Wear device with a robust companion app. While Google Fit and Moto Body are easy to use, simplistic applications, Polar Flow is much more to our liking. More on that later, though.

Polar M600 review

Before you take the M600 out for its first workout, we recommend opening up Polar Flow and navigating to the Sport Profiles section. This is where you’ll be able to load up to 20 different sport profiles on your M600 to select before you start working out. You can ‘only’ load 20 onto your device at one time, but there are over a hundred to choose from. Some of the most common Sport Profiles are running, hiking, walking, spinning, road cycling, jogging, indoor cycling and strength training. It can also track other sports like baseball, hockey and football, too.

We should clarify something here – the M600 may be able to track your activity during your Finnish baseball match or judo training class, but it won’t give you granular feedback based on that specific sport. For instance, it might be able to track your activity during your rowing class, but it won’t give you stroke rate or stroke count information.

Unlike Fitbit and some Garmin devices, the M600 doesn't come with automatic activity recognition

Whichever sport you choose to participate in, though, you’ll need to remember to tell the device to record your activity beforehand. Unlike Fitbit and some Garmin devices, the M600 doesn’t come with automatic activity recognition. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember to record your workouts manually, but it’s only a few more buttons.

Polar M600 review

This is where we’ve found the Polar ecosystem to be one of the best in the fitness game. While the M600 may not be able to figure out automatically what kind of workout you’re performing, it will take into account the rigorousness of the current activity and put it towards your overall fitness for the day. And to that end, Polar does not solely rely on step counts in order to figure out users’ overall fitness. Instead, it uses a combination of sensors to know if the user is lying down, sitting, standing, walking, running, or otherwise being active. Based on the aggressiveness of activity, it will put the steps toward its overall count.

More importantly, however, the device will add it all to an overall percentage that, when completed, means that optimal fitness has been achieved for that day. We feel this is much better than other fitness trackers that rely only on steps (looking at you, Samsung, and your ridiculous 6,000 step goal by default) because it takes into account how rigorous the said steps are. Think of it this way: let’s say you paced around for a long time during the day and hit 10,000 steps – because you weren’t really exerting a lot of energy in doing so, you might only get to about 60% of the day’s overall optimal fitness.

See also:

Gear Fit 2 review – can Samsung get fitness tracking right?

July 11, 2016

Polar M600 review

The M600 will also let you know if you’ve been sitting down too long. Every 55 minutes you’ll get an inactivity alert, and that’s when it’s time to get up and take a walk, stretch or light jog. If you don’t get up and move within five minutes, you’ll get an inactivity stamp on your Polar Flow timeline.

The M600 has been quite accurate in terms of step, calorie and distance tracking

But how well does it perform? Throughout our testing, the M600 has been quite accurate in terms of step, calorie and distance tracking. Thanks to the built-in GPS, accurate distance tracking shouldn’t come as a surprise on the M600. This is especially good news for runners and cyclists who need accurate distance metrics, and the Polar Flow app does a great job at displaying this information.

When you’re done recording a workout, you can head into the Polar Flow app and view your past exercises in the Training section. Once you select your workout, click on the map, then use the slider on the bottom to scroll through your route. Polar Flow will give you granular details based on where you were in your route, how fast you were going, your pace at that time, and your heart rate. You can see a good example of this in the screenshots attached below.

If you’re at all familiar with Polar’s other products, you’re probably aware that the company has made a name for itself by producing high-quality, accurate heart rate monitors. With that said, it should come as no surprise that the M600 sports a very impressive optical heart rate monitor, complete with six LED lights.

Polar M600 review

Throughout this review period, we’ve tested the M600’s heart rate monitor against the Wahoo TICKR X. From what we’ve been able to gather, the M600 has one of the most accurate wrist-mounted heart rate monitors we’ve used thus far. When comparing it to the TICKR X, the M600 was never off by more than 4bpm or so, even during high-intensity workouts. We usually see wrist-mounted heart rate monitors slip up when reaching upwards of 160bpm, but we’re happy to say the M600 experienced no such problems.

Take a look at the screenshots attached above. The two on the left are from the Polar Flow app, while the two on the right are from the Wahoo TICKR X. As you can see, the M600’s heart rate monitor had no problems keeping up with the TICKR X during the highs and lows of the workout. If you’d like a more detailed look at the M600’s heart rate recordings, see the screenshot below.

Polar M600 review

If you'd rather not use the M600's built-in heart rate sensor, you can pair it with a third-party chest strap

If you’d rather not use the built-in heart rate sensor on the M600, though, you can pair it with a third-party chest strap. Not only will this give you more accurate heart rate data, pairing a chest strap to the M600 is easy. Just press the center button on your M600 (the one below the screen), then tap Training. If your chest strap is turned on, you should see a connect option on your screen. Tap that, and you’re good to go. Your M600 will now use the heart rate data from your chest strap.

Another bonus: once your chest-mounted heart rate monitor is connected, you can take the M600 off. This is useful for those times when the watch is simply too big for the activity being done (like hitting a punching bag, as it is too difficult to get gloves on while wearing the M600). You will still get an accurate reading of the exercise being done via the continuous heart rate monitoring from the strap. 

Polar M600 review

While the Polar M600 doesn’t offer up automatic activity recognition, it does, however, record sleep automatically. There’s no need to tap a sleep now button or anything before you pass out. Just fall asleep with the device strapped to your wrist, wake up, and your sleep data will be recorded in the Polar Flow app. The M600 will record your total time asleep, restful sleep percentage, restful sleep time, and restless sleep time. Those are the only stats you’ll get by default, but since this is Android Wear, you can download a third-party app like Sleep as Android if you need more granular stats.

Also read: The best sleep trackers

From what we’ve been able to tell, the M600 is very accurate at tracking sleep, though we would have liked to see more sleep stats offered up by default. Polar Flow doesn’t display sleep cycle information, for instance.

Under the hood, the M600 sports a MediaTek MT2601 processor backed by 512MB of RAM. That’s par for the course when compared to other Android Wear devices on the market. Plus, it comes with 4GB of on-board storage, so you can save your favorite playlist locally for offline listening with a pair of Bluetooth earbuds.

Polar M600 review

The device also features a 500mAh battery, which Polar says will be able to get you about two full days of use or eight hours of training on a single charge. And for the most part, that’s absolutely correct. With moderate use, we’ve had no problems getting the M600 to last two full days, even with roughly an hour’s worth of exercise tracking on each day. If you’re constantly receiving notifications, replying to text messages or using Google Maps to navigate from your watch, however, the device will probably last closer to one full day.

Compared to the other Android Wear devices on the market, the M600’s two-day battery life is very impressive.

Polar M600 review

A quick tip – turn on Do Not Disturb when you sleep. It’ll keep the notifications from coming in and the alarm will still go off. After getting into this habit for just about any wearable, we’ve found battery life to be much closer to the claims that the various companies make. Two days is great for the Polar M600, but we could have done away with the proprietary charging cable that Polar uses for most of their peripherals. A microUSB connection would have worked just fine, as it did with the previous M400. Why they felt the need to go to a completely different charging connector is beyond us.

 Polar M600
Display1.3-inch TFT display
240 x 240 resolution, 260ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Processor1.2GHz dual-core MediaTek MT2601
RAM512MB
Storage4GB
Battery500mAh
Heart rate sensorYes, optical heart rate sensor with 6 LED lights
GPSYes
Other sensorsAccelerometer, Ambient Light Sensor, Gyroscope, Vibration motor, Microphone
Water resistanceYes, IPX8
Suitable for swimming, up to 10 meters
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.2
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
SoftwareAndroid Wear
NotificationsCall, text, calendar alerts, and more
CompatibilityAndroid phones running 4.3 Jelly Bean or higher
iPhone 5 or later running iOS 8.2 or higher
Dimensions and weight45x36x13mm
63g

Software

Polar M600 review

One of the most unique aspects of the M600 is its software, and that’s mainly due to the fact that this is one of the first fitness-focused Android Wear devices we’ve seen thus far. The Polar M600 is running Android Wear 6.0.1, version 1.5.0.3062003.

Polar M600 reviewAs we all know by now, Google doesn’t give OEMs too much wiggle room in terms of the customization of Android Wear. Thus, the on-device software package that ships on the M600 will seem incredibly familiar to those who have used an Android Wear device in the past. Polar does include a good amount of its own watch faces, but only two of them display activity data on the screen. Plus, none of Polar’s watch faces are customizable, so you’ll need to download a third-party watch face if you’re looking to give your M600 a unique look.

While Polar’s implementation of Android Wear is familiar, we’ve also experienced quite a few bugs. We’ve paired our M600 with the Galaxy S7 Edge, HTC 10 and Nexus 6P throughout this review period, and we’ve found bugs and inconsistencies when paired to each device. For instance, the first time we paired the device with our HTC 10, an error would occur whenever we tried deleting emails from the watch. Perhaps the most notable bug we’ve discovered occurs when pairing the watch to a new phone. Our M600 has frozen up during the pairing process multiple times, forcing us to restart the watch and start the pairing process from the beginning. This wouldn’t be an issue if it happened just once or twice, but the fact that it happens multiple times during each setup is obviously an issue.

Related:

Best Android Wear watches

3 weeks ago

Aside from the software bugs, we’ve been quite impressed with the device’s OS. With Android Wear, you’ll get notifications from as many applications as you’d like, voice commands, silent alarms, music playback, and much more. Plus, if Polar Flow doesn’t offer a certain type of functionality, you can simply download your favorite third-party fitness tracking app and use that instead. Fitness stats might be more streamlined in Polar’s own Flow app, but other options are there if you need them.

Polar M600 review

Oh, and because this is an Android Wear device, all of your fitness activity will also be recorded in Google Fit. Google’s fitness app is simplistic and intuitive, though the fitness-focused crowd will be much better off using Polar Flow.

The combination of Android Wear and Polar's own software makes things too cluttered

This, however, makes this combination a little bit confusing for most users, especially those who have already enjoyed previous Polar models. The M400 software was updated recently so that it could provide notifications to the user via beeps (the M400 does not have vibration feedback) and through a simple text display using its typical digital watch screen. To that end, having Android Wear and all that it brings makes notifications and app connections a lot better, but when you can use just about any other fitness tracking software over Polar’s own built-in app, things seem just a little too cluttered in the end. Polar already does a great job with their own app, which makes it all the more confusing. We’re all for freedom of software choice, but we don’t expect existing Polar users to really go for the M600 simply because it has Android Wear, especially considering the M400 is much of the way there and costs much less.

Read more: The best fitness tracking apps for Android

The Polar Flow app is where you’ll be spending most of your time, and that’s a good thing. We’ve found the app to be a joy to use over the past few weeks. It’s well designed, intuitive, and gives you plenty of granular information without coming off as cluttered.

The app is divided up into three main sections: Feed, Activity and Training. The first section, Feed, is basically a timeline of your daily activity, which displays a snapshot of your activity statistics for each day. You’ll be able to see your total active time, calories burned and total steps taken. And if you connect with friends, you’ll be able to see, comment on and thumbs up their activity.

The next section, Activity, is where you’ll see your daily, weekly and monthly activity. Daily activity is displayed in a unique clock-like view, showing your activity type for each time of day. It’s a good way to visualize just how lazy or active you tend to be at certain points in the day. Additionally, Polar Flow will tell you how much time you’ve spent lying down, sitting, standing, walking, or working out for each day, which has also proven to be quite useful. Many fitness apps simply tell you how much exercise you’ve done for each day, but not many will tell you how long you’ve been lying down or sitting. As for week and month views within the Activity section, you’ll see a graph in each section which displays your activity levels overtime, as well as a percentage detailing your daily goal completion average.

If you need to look back on any previous activity, head to the Training section of the app. You’ll get a simple calendar view on the top of the screen, where you can navigate to a specific day and get detailed information on each one of your workouts.

Aside from the few hiccups here and there, we’ve been huge fans of the M600’s software package overall. The combination of Polar’s robust fitness tracking features and Android Wear make for an all-around great fitness tracking experience.

Gallery

Should you buy it?

Polar M600 review

The crux of the M600 is how it fits into the giant world of fitness trackers, and unfortunately that’s the device’s biggest downfall. Without looking at its price point, the M600 is a well-performing fitness smartwatch that’s packed with features. Not only does it offer up an accurate heart rate monitor and GPS capabilities, it’s also compatible with tons of third-party applications thanks to Android Wear. While the software package as a whole may be a bit buggy sometimes, the software package overall has impressed us over the past few weeks.

In a world where Garmin's vívoactive HR is available for around $200, it's tough to recommend the M600

We also need to talk about the M600’s price point, though, and the fact that it costs about $80-$100 more than some of the higher-end fitness trackers out there. The Polar M600 is available for $329.95, and there are a few reasons for that steep price tag. GPS fitness trackers always cost quite a bit more than ones without this feature. Plus, since this is an Android Wear smartwatch, that also warrants a higher price tag. But in a world where Garmin’s vívoactive HR is available for a little over $200 and boasts just about the same feature set (minus the Android Wear part), it’s tough to recommend the M600.

It’s also hard to recommend this watch to anyone that is already a part of the Polar ecosystem. Sure, there might be users out there who will really want Android Wear on their existing watch, and that’s quite literally what the M600 is. But in the scheme of sheer fitness tracking, the M600 doesn’t offer anything too different from the company’s existing trackers. Because of that, any current Polar users will probably find the price way too high to change it up.

If you’re looking for a true fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid and don’t mind paying upwards of $300 to get that experience, you should absolutely buy the M600. But if you’d rather save some money and don’t mind living without Android Wear, we’d recommend passing on this one and going for the vívoactive HR.


What are your thoughts? Does the Polar M600 have you interested? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Next:

The best smartwatches

3 weeks ago

Polar M600 review

Throughout the past few years, we’ve had to choose one or the other – fitness trackers or smartwatches. Dedicated fitness trackers might be better at tracking your daily activity and heart rate, but they normally lack things like voice commands and proper notification support – two features normally found only on smartwatches. Sure, there’s always the option of buying a fitness tracker and a smartwatch, but that’s not a very elegant solution for those who are looking to wear just one device at a time.

But what if you don’t want to choose between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker? That’s where the Polar M600 comes in.

With a built-in GPS, optical heart rate sensor and plenty of other essentials found in higher-end fitness trackers, the new Polar M600 certainly brings a lot to the table. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the device, though, is the fact that it’s running Android Wear, Google’s smartwatch OS.

Does the M600 offer up enough to warrant its high price tag? Or should you opt for something else? We find that out, and more, in our full Polar M600 review.

In an effort to bring both our readers and viewers the most comprehensive review experience possible, the Polar M600 was reviewed by two different members of Android Authority. Both Joshua Vergara and I (Jimmy Westenberg) collaborated on this review.

We have both been using the Polar M600 as our main fitness tracker for roughly three weeks.

Show More
Related:

Best fitness trackers

3 weeks ago

Design

It’s clear that Polar set out to create a true fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid device with the M600. While that may be the case on the software front, this thing doesn’t look anything like the other smartwatches currently on the market. Rather, its overall shape and size bares a slight resemblance to Garmin’s vívoactive HR, mostly because of its big, bulky design. In fact, the M600 is actually quite a bit bigger than the vívoactive HR. It measures 13mm thick, compared to the vívoactive HR’s 11.4mm.

Don't miss:

Garmin vívoactive HR review

September 19, 2016

One of the biggest downsides of a bulky device like this is that users could potentially feel less inclined to put it on every day. Especially for sleep tracking, this isn’t the most comfortable device to wear on your wrist, so try to keep that in mind if you’re looking for a comfortable, wrist-mounted activity tracker.

Polar M600 review

On top of the size issues some may have with the M600, the design of the device is quite bland, overall. While there are a few things that help the device stand out, such as the chrome bezels on the left and right edges and Gorilla Glass 3 screen, we can’t help but think that the M600’s design feels a bit uninspired. Polar might not be in the business of creating fashionable fitness accessories, but it’s hard not to compare it to the work Fitbit is doing with its latest activity trackers.

Polar M600 review

One of the more positive aspects of the M600’s design is support for interchangeable straps. This means if your strap breaks for some reason, you can pick up a spare on Amazon for about $30 without replacing the whole unit. The M600’s straps remind us a lot of the ones found on the Moto 360 Sport. They’re very rubbery and tend to collect a lot of dust and fuzz. It’s a small gripe, really, but should still be kept in mind if you own any dogs or cats.

See also:

Moto 360 Sport review

March 4, 2016

Forget ever using the M600 with a suit or even a button up shirt

Smartwatches often try to toe the line between style and functionality, given that they often need to be quite thick in order to accommodate the technology underneath the screen. The problem with the Polar M600 is that it makes no such effort. For a watch that is supposed to be useful in more than just active situations, we felt like we could only use the watch when we were exercising or outdoors. Forget ever using the M600 with a suit or even a button up shirt – while we don’t have any problem letting others know we are active people, this fitness watch finds a way to make it a little too obvious.

The M600 also carries an IPX8 waterproof rating, which means it’s suitable for swimming up to 10 meters. This is certainly one of the more positive aspects in the design department, as it means you can not only track your swims, you also don’t need to worry about it getting wet if you’re near a pool.

Polar M600 review

Now let’s talk about the display. The M600 sports a 1.3-inch TFT display with a resolution of 240 x 240, resulting in a pixel density of 260ppi. We’ve been quite happy with the quality and responsiveness of the display, though it does seem a tad small compared to the overall size of the device.

The M600 has two physical buttons – one right below the display and another off to the left. The leftmost button acts as a home button, which can also be used to wake up the display if you don’t want to swipe to wake it. The button below the display is the activity button, and pressing it will bring you to Polar’s built-in training application. From here, you get two options – Training and My day. The Training section is where you’ll go to select which workout you’d like to perform, and the My day section will give you a snapshot of the current day’s activity. You can only see your steps, distance and calories progress from this screen though; for everything else, you’ll need to open the Polar Flow app on your phone.

Features and performance

Polar M600 review

The Polar M600 is one of the most feature-rich fitness trackers we've tested

The Polar M600 is one of the most feature-rich fitness trackers we’ve tested. As for daily activity tracking, it’ll keep track of your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, resting and active heart rate, and sleep. In order for the M600 to track any of these things, you’ll first need to download the Polar Flow app on your Android or iOS smartphone. Once that’s downloaded, sync your M600 to the app and you’re ready to start tracking.

It’s also worth noting that Polar Flow has a desktop client and a browser version, too, if you’d rather look at your activity history on a computer. It’s definitely refreshing to see a fitness-focused Android Wear device with a robust companion app. While Google Fit and Moto Body are easy to use, simplistic applications, Polar Flow is much more to our liking. More on that later, though.

Polar M600 review

Before you take the M600 out for its first workout, we recommend opening up Polar Flow and navigating to the Sport Profiles section. This is where you’ll be able to load up to 20 different sport profiles on your M600 to select before you start working out. You can ‘only’ load 20 onto your device at one time, but there are over a hundred to choose from. Some of the most common Sport Profiles are running, hiking, walking, spinning, road cycling, jogging, indoor cycling and strength training. It can also track other sports like baseball, hockey and football, too.

We should clarify something here – the M600 may be able to track your activity during your Finnish baseball match or judo training class, but it won’t give you granular feedback based on that specific sport. For instance, it might be able to track your activity during your rowing class, but it won’t give you stroke rate or stroke count information.

Unlike Fitbit and some Garmin devices, the M600 doesn't come with automatic activity recognition

Whichever sport you choose to participate in, though, you’ll need to remember to tell the device to record your activity beforehand. Unlike Fitbit and some Garmin devices, the M600 doesn’t come with automatic activity recognition. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember to record your workouts manually, but it’s only a few more buttons.

Polar M600 review

This is where we’ve found the Polar ecosystem to be one of the best in the fitness game. While the M600 may not be able to figure out automatically what kind of workout you’re performing, it will take into account the rigorousness of the current activity and put it towards your overall fitness for the day. And to that end, Polar does not solely rely on step counts in order to figure out users’ overall fitness. Instead, it uses a combination of sensors to know if the user is lying down, sitting, standing, walking, running, or otherwise being active. Based on the aggressiveness of activity, it will put the steps toward its overall count.

More importantly, however, the device will add it all to an overall percentage that, when completed, means that optimal fitness has been achieved for that day. We feel this is much better than other fitness trackers that rely only on steps (looking at you, Samsung, and your ridiculous 6,000 step goal by default) because it takes into account how rigorous the said steps are. Think of it this way: let’s say you paced around for a long time during the day and hit 10,000 steps – because you weren’t really exerting a lot of energy in doing so, you might only get to about 60% of the day’s overall optimal fitness.

See also:

Gear Fit 2 review – can Samsung get fitness tracking right?

July 11, 2016

Polar M600 review

The M600 will also let you know if you’ve been sitting down too long. Every 55 minutes you’ll get an inactivity alert, and that’s when it’s time to get up and take a walk, stretch or light jog. If you don’t get up and move within five minutes, you’ll get an inactivity stamp on your Polar Flow timeline.

The M600 has been quite accurate in terms of step, calorie and distance tracking

But how well does it perform? Throughout our testing, the M600 has been quite accurate in terms of step, calorie and distance tracking. Thanks to the built-in GPS, accurate distance tracking shouldn’t come as a surprise on the M600. This is especially good news for runners and cyclists who need accurate distance metrics, and the Polar Flow app does a great job at displaying this information.

When you’re done recording a workout, you can head into the Polar Flow app and view your past exercises in the Training section. Once you select your workout, click on the map, then use the slider on the bottom to scroll through your route. Polar Flow will give you granular details based on where you were in your route, how fast you were going, your pace at that time, and your heart rate. You can see a good example of this in the screenshots attached below.

If you’re at all familiar with Polar’s other products, you’re probably aware that the company has made a name for itself by producing high-quality, accurate heart rate monitors. With that said, it should come as no surprise that the M600 sports a very impressive optical heart rate monitor, complete with six LED lights.

Polar M600 review

Throughout this review period, we’ve tested the M600’s heart rate monitor against the Wahoo TICKR X. From what we’ve been able to gather, the M600 has one of the most accurate wrist-mounted heart rate monitors we’ve used thus far. When comparing it to the TICKR X, the M600 was never off by more than 4bpm or so, even during high-intensity workouts. We usually see wrist-mounted heart rate monitors slip up when reaching upwards of 160bpm, but we’re happy to say the M600 experienced no such problems.

Take a look at the screenshots attached above. The two on the left are from the Polar Flow app, while the two on the right are from the Wahoo TICKR X. As you can see, the M600’s heart rate monitor had no problems keeping up with the TICKR X during the highs and lows of the workout. If you’d like a more detailed look at the M600’s heart rate recordings, see the screenshot below.

Polar M600 review

If you'd rather not use the M600's built-in heart rate sensor, you can pair it with a third-party chest strap

If you’d rather not use the built-in heart rate sensor on the M600, though, you can pair it with a third-party chest strap. Not only will this give you more accurate heart rate data, pairing a chest strap to the M600 is easy. Just press the center button on your M600 (the one below the screen), then tap Training. If your chest strap is turned on, you should see a connect option on your screen. Tap that, and you’re good to go. Your M600 will now use the heart rate data from your chest strap.

Another bonus: once your chest-mounted heart rate monitor is connected, you can take the M600 off. This is useful for those times when the watch is simply too big for the activity being done (like hitting a punching bag, as it is too difficult to get gloves on while wearing the M600). You will still get an accurate reading of the exercise being done via the continuous heart rate monitoring from the strap. 

Polar M600 review

While the Polar M600 doesn’t offer up automatic activity recognition, it does, however, record sleep automatically. There’s no need to tap a sleep now button or anything before you pass out. Just fall asleep with the device strapped to your wrist, wake up, and your sleep data will be recorded in the Polar Flow app. The M600 will record your total time asleep, restful sleep percentage, restful sleep time, and restless sleep time. Those are the only stats you’ll get by default, but since this is Android Wear, you can download a third-party app like Sleep as Android if you need more granular stats.

Also read: The best sleep trackers

From what we’ve been able to tell, the M600 is very accurate at tracking sleep, though we would have liked to see more sleep stats offered up by default. Polar Flow doesn’t display sleep cycle information, for instance.

Under the hood, the M600 sports a MediaTek MT2601 processor backed by 512MB of RAM. That’s par for the course when compared to other Android Wear devices on the market. Plus, it comes with 4GB of on-board storage, so you can save your favorite playlist locally for offline listening with a pair of Bluetooth earbuds.

Polar M600 review

The device also features a 500mAh battery, which Polar says will be able to get you about two full days of use or eight hours of training on a single charge. And for the most part, that’s absolutely correct. With moderate use, we’ve had no problems getting the M600 to last two full days, even with roughly an hour’s worth of exercise tracking on each day. If you’re constantly receiving notifications, replying to text messages or using Google Maps to navigate from your watch, however, the device will probably last closer to one full day.

Compared to the other Android Wear devices on the market, the M600’s two-day battery life is very impressive.

Polar M600 review

A quick tip – turn on Do Not Disturb when you sleep. It’ll keep the notifications from coming in and the alarm will still go off. After getting into this habit for just about any wearable, we’ve found battery life to be much closer to the claims that the various companies make. Two days is great for the Polar M600, but we could have done away with the proprietary charging cable that Polar uses for most of their peripherals. A microUSB connection would have worked just fine, as it did with the previous M400. Why they felt the need to go to a completely different charging connector is beyond us.

 Polar M600
Display1.3-inch TFT display
240 x 240 resolution, 260ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Processor1.2GHz dual-core MediaTek MT2601
RAM512MB
Storage4GB
Battery500mAh
Heart rate sensorYes, optical heart rate sensor with 6 LED lights
GPSYes
Other sensorsAccelerometer, Ambient Light Sensor, Gyroscope, Vibration motor, Microphone
Water resistanceYes, IPX8
Suitable for swimming, up to 10 meters
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.2
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
SoftwareAndroid Wear
NotificationsCall, text, calendar alerts, and more
CompatibilityAndroid phones running 4.3 Jelly Bean or higher
iPhone 5 or later running iOS 8.2 or higher
Dimensions and weight45x36x13mm
63g

Software

Polar M600 review

One of the most unique aspects of the M600 is its software, and that’s mainly due to the fact that this is one of the first fitness-focused Android Wear devices we’ve seen thus far. The Polar M600 is running Android Wear 6.0.1, version 1.5.0.3062003.

Polar M600 reviewAs we all know by now, Google doesn’t give OEMs too much wiggle room in terms of the customization of Android Wear. Thus, the on-device software package that ships on the M600 will seem incredibly familiar to those who have used an Android Wear device in the past. Polar does include a good amount of its own watch faces, but only two of them display activity data on the screen. Plus, none of Polar’s watch faces are customizable, so you’ll need to download a third-party watch face if you’re looking to give your M600 a unique look.

While Polar’s implementation of Android Wear is familiar, we’ve also experienced quite a few bugs. We’ve paired our M600 with the Galaxy S7 Edge, HTC 10 and Nexus 6P throughout this review period, and we’ve found bugs and inconsistencies when paired to each device. For instance, the first time we paired the device with our HTC 10, an error would occur whenever we tried deleting emails from the watch. Perhaps the most notable bug we’ve discovered occurs when pairing the watch to a new phone. Our M600 has frozen up during the pairing process multiple times, forcing us to restart the watch and start the pairing process from the beginning. This wouldn’t be an issue if it happened just once or twice, but the fact that it happens multiple times during each setup is obviously an issue.

Related:

Best Android Wear watches

3 weeks ago

Aside from the software bugs, we’ve been quite impressed with the device’s OS. With Android Wear, you’ll get notifications from as many applications as you’d like, voice commands, silent alarms, music playback, and much more. Plus, if Polar Flow doesn’t offer a certain type of functionality, you can simply download your favorite third-party fitness tracking app and use that instead. Fitness stats might be more streamlined in Polar’s own Flow app, but other options are there if you need them.

Polar M600 review

Oh, and because this is an Android Wear device, all of your fitness activity will also be recorded in Google Fit. Google’s fitness app is simplistic and intuitive, though the fitness-focused crowd will be much better off using Polar Flow.

The combination of Android Wear and Polar's own software makes things too cluttered

This, however, makes this combination a little bit confusing for most users, especially those who have already enjoyed previous Polar models. The M400 software was updated recently so that it could provide notifications to the user via beeps (the M400 does not have vibration feedback) and through a simple text display using its typical digital watch screen. To that end, having Android Wear and all that it brings makes notifications and app connections a lot better, but when you can use just about any other fitness tracking software over Polar’s own built-in app, things seem just a little too cluttered in the end. Polar already does a great job with their own app, which makes it all the more confusing. We’re all for freedom of software choice, but we don’t expect existing Polar users to really go for the M600 simply because it has Android Wear, especially considering the M400 is much of the way there and costs much less.

Read more: The best fitness tracking apps for Android

The Polar Flow app is where you’ll be spending most of your time, and that’s a good thing. We’ve found the app to be a joy to use over the past few weeks. It’s well designed, intuitive, and gives you plenty of granular information without coming off as cluttered.

The app is divided up into three main sections: Feed, Activity and Training. The first section, Feed, is basically a timeline of your daily activity, which displays a snapshot of your activity statistics for each day. You’ll be able to see your total active time, calories burned and total steps taken. And if you connect with friends, you’ll be able to see, comment on and thumbs up their activity.

The next section, Activity, is where you’ll see your daily, weekly and monthly activity. Daily activity is displayed in a unique clock-like view, showing your activity type for each time of day. It’s a good way to visualize just how lazy or active you tend to be at certain points in the day. Additionally, Polar Flow will tell you how much time you’ve spent lying down, sitting, standing, walking, or working out for each day, which has also proven to be quite useful. Many fitness apps simply tell you how much exercise you’ve done for each day, but not many will tell you how long you’ve been lying down or sitting. As for week and month views within the Activity section, you’ll see a graph in each section which displays your activity levels overtime, as well as a percentage detailing your daily goal completion average.

If you need to look back on any previous activity, head to the Training section of the app. You’ll get a simple calendar view on the top of the screen, where you can navigate to a specific day and get detailed information on each one of your workouts.

Aside from the few hiccups here and there, we’ve been huge fans of the M600’s software package overall. The combination of Polar’s robust fitness tracking features and Android Wear make for an all-around great fitness tracking experience.

Gallery

Should you buy it?

Polar M600 review

The crux of the M600 is how it fits into the giant world of fitness trackers, and unfortunately that’s the device’s biggest downfall. Without looking at its price point, the M600 is a well-performing fitness smartwatch that’s packed with features. Not only does it offer up an accurate heart rate monitor and GPS capabilities, it’s also compatible with tons of third-party applications thanks to Android Wear. While the software package as a whole may be a bit buggy sometimes, the software package overall has impressed us over the past few weeks.

In a world where Garmin's vívoactive HR is available for around $200, it's tough to recommend the M600

We also need to talk about the M600’s price point, though, and the fact that it costs about $80-$100 more than some of the higher-end fitness trackers out there. The Polar M600 is available for $329.95, and there are a few reasons for that steep price tag. GPS fitness trackers always cost quite a bit more than ones without this feature. Plus, since this is an Android Wear smartwatch, that also warrants a higher price tag. But in a world where Garmin’s vívoactive HR is available for a little over $200 and boasts just about the same feature set (minus the Android Wear part), it’s tough to recommend the M600.

It’s also hard to recommend this watch to anyone that is already a part of the Polar ecosystem. Sure, there might be users out there who will really want Android Wear on their existing watch, and that’s quite literally what the M600 is. But in the scheme of sheer fitness tracking, the M600 doesn’t offer anything too different from the company’s existing trackers. Because of that, any current Polar users will probably find the price way too high to change it up.

If you’re looking for a true fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid and don’t mind paying upwards of $300 to get that experience, you should absolutely buy the M600. But if you’d rather save some money and don’t mind living without Android Wear, we’d recommend passing on this one and going for the vívoactive HR.


What are your thoughts? Does the Polar M600 have you interested? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Next:

The best smartwatches

3 weeks ago

Nokia’s new Android phones made in “close partnership” with Google

While it will come as no surprise that Nokia-branded smartphones will be available in H1, 2017, it might be a little surprising to hear that Google has had significant input into them. HMD Global Oy, the Finnish ‘startup’ founded by industry veterans to bring Nokia feature phones and smartphones to market in 2017, has officially entered the market today.

While feature phones are the only Nokia-branded phones currently available on Nokia’s site, the switch to Android in 2017 will see Nokia phones exposed to a vast new audience. But HMD hopes to expand that audience even further by convincing loyal Nokia feature phone owners to finally upgrade to a new Nokia smartphone when they become available.

HMD hopes to convince loyal Nokia feature phone owners to finally make the leap to a smartphone: a Nokia smartphone.

According to its press release, “HMD has a significant global foothold including Americas, Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa, India and China from day one.”

If the company manages to not only tap into the strong nostalgia for the Nokia brand held by current smartphone owners but also to encourage Nokia loyalists to take the plunge into the smartphone world, they could have a winning strategy on their hands.

Nokia’s new Android phones made in “close partnership” with Google

HMD’s strategy

But HMD isn’t relying simply on goodwill and the Nokia feature phone business, which it also acquired in its 10-year exclusive licensing arrangement with Nokia Oyj, as its key ingredients for success. HMD Global CEO Arto Nummela told Reuters that its first forays into the Android smartphone world have been conducted in close partnership with Google.

The details of that partnership are not public, but it would be easy to guess the kinds of advice Google would have for a new player in the Android space, especially one that casts as long a shadow as Nokia. For instance, if we see a Moto-esque “stock Android+” on the new Nokias, with a few custom tweaks on top, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

We will be extremely true to the Nokia brand. The Nokia brand is known for simplicity, ease of use, reliability and quality.

As Nummela told Bloomberg, “we will be extremely true to the Nokia brand. The Nokia brand is known for simplicity, ease of use, reliability and quality. These are the elements that we will deliver together with amazing industrial design.”

The new Nokia need only focus on three much-loved Nokia characteristics to get back in the game and stand out: best-in-class battery life, outstanding durability and user friendliness. Extensive customizations to stock Android will only make things more complicated and slow down the update process.

No one wants to see a Nokia phone cast in the same mold as the ill-fated BlackBerry Priv.

The era of pointless software gimmicks is gone (or should be) and no one wants to see a Nokia phone cast in the same mold as the ill-fated BlackBerry Priv. As great as that phone was, it tried too hard to do too much and ended up falling short.

Fortunately, Nokia doesn’t have as much legacy software baggage to bring to the Android platform with it as BlackBerry did.  As much as Nokia needs a firm break from Microsoft, some aspects of that period in the company’s long life should absolutely remain, like the Nokia Lumia’s excellent camera reputation.

Nokia’s new Android phones made in “close partnership” with Google

But will it work?

HMD, in my opinion, need simply focus on bringing what Nokia has always done well to the Android platform. That alone will garner it a significant following and reduce the risk of expensive and possibly poorly-thought-out “innovations” that might derail Nokia’s successful return to the smartphone market. (Of course, some folks think Nokia should innovate rather than play it safe.)

Whatever HMD decides to focus on, manufacturing shouldn’t be a problem, with iPhone assembler Foxconn handling the manufacturing of the new Nokia phones. HMD Global will focus purely on design, distribution and marketing. With 40 offices globally already, HMD is clearly not taking things slowly and the company has committed $500 million to marketing the new devices over the next three years.

HMD Global may just be able to pull off the resurrection of the decade.

With pre-existing relationships to retailers and carriers, a highly experienced management team, one of the strongest brands in the telecommunications industry, strategic partnerships with the likes of Google, Foxconn and Nokia itself, and an aggressive global approach supported by a still significant, if steadily declining, feature phone business, HMD Global may just be able to pull off the resurrection of the decade.

What would it take to make you buy a Nokia Android phone?

Going into 2017, these are the Chinese smartphone makers to look out for

2016 has been the year that Chinese-based smartphone companies started to slowly expand their presence in the U.S, or at the very least announced plans to expand in 2017. While hardcore Android fans may be very aware of these companies, including Huawei, ZTE, LeEco and Xiaomi, they are just beginning to make themselves known to the general consumer.

What will it take for these companies to get as well known and as popular as their rivals like Samsung, HTC, LG, and Lenovo/Motorola in the United States and North America? We think some of them will have more success than others in 2017.

See also:

Best Chinese Android phones

3 weeks ago

Huawei

Going into 2017, these are the Chinese smartphone makers to look out for

There is a ton of opportunity for Huawei to bust out into the U.S. market in 2017, as it has virtually everywhere else on the planet. But there are also a lot of hurdles that the company will have to clear to be successful in one of the biggest smartphone markets in the world.

Huawei was recently named as the most profitable Android phone maker worldwide

Huawei was recently named as the most profitable Android phone maker worldwide by Strategy Analytics in the third quarter of 2016, and its recently launched P9 smartphone has shipped over nine million units so far. The company has announced plans to launch its next big flagship phone, the Mate 9, in the U.S. in 2017. If the phone does have a successful launch in the United States, some analysts believe Huawei would become the world’s top selling smartphone maker, period, ahead of Samsung and Apple. It’s also worth noting that Huawei has already begun slowly moving into the US market with its Honor sub-brand.

See also:

Huawei Mate 9 versus the competition

4 weeks ago

However, as detailed in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Huawei still faces the lack of support from U.S. wireless carriers. Some of them may still believe that the company could be working for the Chinese government to put in spy hardware and software in their devices, as detailed in a 2012 congressional report. Huawei has denied these charges.

In addition, the company will also have to alter its hardware to comply with the standards that are required by some carriers, particularly Verizon and AT&T.  There’s also the simple fact that the Huawei brand name doesn’t have the same cache as Samsung and other phone makers.

The bottom line:

Huawei will likely continue to be successful everywhere else on the planet in 2017, but it will be hard to make a big enough splash into the U.S. market in the next year with all of its challenges. That said, it will continue to push further into North America in the years to come.

Xiaomi

Going into 2017, these are the Chinese smartphone makers to look out for

After what seems like years of waiting, Xiaomi looks like it will have some huge U.S. announcements for 2017. At CES 2017, the company plans to announced a new product that will launch globally. Also, its Global Vice President Hugo Barra stated that U.S. network testing has started with the the company’s Mi 5 phone.

Like Huawei, Xiaomi has had great success in other markets worldwide, particularly in India. It is also not adverse to trying out some new designs for its smartphones. Its “concept” Mi MIX smartphone, which it is only selling in China for now, almost completely ditches the normal bezel for a nearly edgeless display that puts a much larger screen inside a smaller case.

See also:

Xiaomi Mi MIX review – all screen, almost all of the time!

2 weeks ago

Xiaomi still isn't a very well-known brand in the United States

Xiaomi also faces some of the same challenges as Huawei, the biggest of which is the lack of a well-known brand outside of select markets. However, it looks like it is making headway towards breaking into the major U.S wireless carriers, which is pretty much required for any smartphone company to have a wide success.

The bottom line: Xiaomi seems to be doing all the right things for a bigger presence in the U.S in 2017. Let’s just hope everything aligns correctly.

ZTE

Going into 2017, these are the Chinese smartphone makers to look out for

Unlike Huawei and Xiaomi, ZTE has made some strides in the U.S. carrier market, selling devices on AT&T’s no-contract carrier Cricket Wireless. It has also had success with selling unlocked smartphones in the country like the Axon 7 and it has even become the official smartphone for some NBA basketball teams.

However, ZTE also wants to generate a lot of grassroots support for its phones through its online community, through its forums, social media channels and contests like its recent design competition. The company will develop a smartphone with an adhesive back and eye-tracking features, based on the votes from its community on a number of device concepts.

ZTE has also had run-ins with the U.S. government

Like Huawei, ZTE has had run-ins with the U.S. government. Earlier this year, the company got hit with trade sanctions from the Commerce Department, which claimed ZTE had sent U.S. technology to countries like Iran. However, a few weeks later those sanctions got lifted temporarily, and the reprieves have been extended until at least February.

The bottom line: Assuming ZTE can get a permanent lift on these trade sanctions from the government in 2017, we think that the company will be a bigger force in the smartphone market in the next year. One thing we’d like to see is closer relationships formed with the big (non-prepaid) carriers, though its unclear if or when this might happen.

Related:

ZTE Axon 7 review

July 25, 2016

LeEco

Going into 2017, these are the Chinese smartphone makers to look out for

This is perhaps the most interesting of the four Chinese companies we are looking at in this feature. In October, LeEco held what can be described best as an odd press event to announce its formal launch into the U.S. market. In between using tons of buzz words, it actually announced some products, including two smartphones, the Le S3 and the Le Pro3.  However, it is choosing to sell these devices in the U.S., along with some smart TVs, via quick online flash sales.

See also:

LeEco Le Pro3 review

5 days ago

More recently, there’s been some doubts about the financial stability of LeEco. A couple of weeks ago, the company announced it had secured about $600 million in new financing. However, another business division that’s working on an electric car, Faraday Future, is also in jeopardy, with rumors that work on the car has stopped for now.

The bottom line: LeEco is still struggling to find itself in the US market. Combined with rumors of financial issues, it will likely be some time before it will be a big force in the smartphone industry — especially in North America.


Conclusion

With Samsung’s recent problem with the Note 7 recall, combined with other smartphone companies dealing with their own issues, the time may be right for large rivals from China to make a big play in the U.S. in 2017. Which of these companies do you think will be successful in the next year overall, and in the U.S. in particular? Which of these companies do you think has the brightest future in the years to come? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!