When searching for a training watch, there is a wide spectrum of features and price points to choose from. I typically hone in on Polar and Suunto for their class-leading functionality and outdoor sports capabilities. With the Polar RX800cx in hand for the past six months, I’ve been able to track and improve my running and cycling performance, but is this watch overkill for the casual athlete?

Polar RS800cx Multi Features

  • Heart rate monitor (obviously)
  • Soft-touch WearLink heart rate belt
  • G3 GPS device and armband
  • Advanced tracking (map, fitness, weather, altitude)
  • Altimeter and barometer measurements
  • Thermometer
  • Complex training management
  • OwnIndex fitness test
  • MSRP: $439.95-$519.95 (depending on package)

Polar RS800cx Multi (HR & GPS) Review

The RS800cx is a training watch for serious athletes. While watching the Winter Olympics earlier this year, I couldn’t help but notice that nearly every cross country skier or biathlete was sporting this watch with its huge face giving them detailed performance data on-the-fly. Comparing my training to their training would be akin to trying to compare a Chevrolet to a Lamborghini. In other words, we’re in different worlds. That said, can an everyday athlete take advantage of all that the RS800cx has to offer? I think so… lets dig in.

One of the most impressive features of the RS800cx is its overall comfort. This is achieved via a lightweight design that’s built ergonomically so as not to cause a fuss during activity. I’ve worn this watch backcountry skiing, running, trail running, road biking and mountain biking and it has never once felt bulky or awkward. It’s lightweight design simply disappears.

For over 8 months, I wore this watch every day as my regular timepiece and the subdued styling fits in just fine for casual wear. Well, casual wear for a known athlete. Some people would feel odd, but I had no issues wearing it day-in/out. The only downside of using it for regular wear is that the standard “home” screen features a huge dot-matrix area that takes up nearly half of the screen with a POLAR logo. There’s no way to change that other than creating a custom image of your own, but no workout data can populate that section of the screen while in time mode (kind of lame and the biggest negative aspect of this watch).

The initial workout does require acquiring all devices that you wish to use. For my tests, I used the WearLink heart rate band and the G3 GPS unit. Finding the devices is a fairly simple process — all you have to do is enable GPS in the workout settings, turn on the GPS and wait 15-20 seconds for it to acquire the signal. Once acquired, each device is represented by a small icon on the screen so you know it’s working.

The RS800cx can track many important metrics of your workout. For me, one of the primary reasons to have this watch is its ability to compare both speed/distance data with altitude changes. For all my typical activities, altitude ascent/descent plays a HUGE role in the overall workout and is sometimes critical to awareness during races.

While I have now used this watch hundreds of times for my training, the value of it was most apparent during the RAGNAR Wasatch Back race where I depended on it to help me maintain a proper pace for the long-haul. Personally, I like knowing my distance for training but for race day, I’m going to pace myself using my heart rate, so distances weren’t as important. I ran with the GPS for my first leg, then without it for the final two, which again confirmed my personal preference not to need GPS during the actual race.

With all the data captured via this device, even a screen as large as the one on this device can’t display everything all at once. You have several screens that can be scrolled through by the simple click of a button. While in workout mode, there were a few data points I felt were missing and the most obvious one was the total descent. You can view the total ascent, but not the total descent on-the-fly. It’s available post-workout, but not during the activity — I guess sacrifices have to be made somewhere and that appears to be one of them.

After the workout, you can view gobs of data and then download that data to your PC using Polar ProTrainer 5 (included) for further analysis. This brings up another major flaw… no Mac support. While Polar has introduced Mac support to use PolarPersonalTrainer.com, it’s not yet compatible with this device (a complete bummer). I was able to find an old PC and download my workout data via the IR device, but it takes forever and the connection has been problematic. I’ve been just fine with the summaries provided by the watch, but if you are a serious athlete, you’ll want to get familiar with Polar’s training software for analysis and workout creation/management.

The beauty of this device for serious athletes is the ability to create set workouts and then send them to the device. This is an obvious feature for Olympic athletes or serious training. While I train hard for races and events, my training is a bit more free-form and not all that regimented. I’m OK with that and the watch continues to track my progress in spite of not being militant about my workouts.

Good RS800cx

  • Measures every imaginable performance metric
  • Locking barometer option to normalize ascent/descent should weather change mid-activity
  • Analyzes your workout to an amazing level of detail
  • Watch wears well and is comfortable enough for daily use
  • Soft heart rate strap is comfortable to wear
  • Can measure performance via Polar software — including GPS map overlays (too bad it’s PC only)
  • Hard-core athletes will rejoice in all the data
  • GPS can be worn with the armband or in a pocket (rear cycling jersey pockets are great)
  • Some folks complained about the watch face scratching easily, but I’ve beat this thing up for months and don’t have any noticeable scratches

Bad RS800cx

  • All software is PC-only
  • Large RS800cx logo on home screen can’t be changed to anything useful and takes up a ton of screen real estate
  • Wearing multiple units (watch, heart rate strap, GPS) can get old over time
  • Start/stop button is easily pushed when wearing around (button lock feature comes in handy)
  • Altimeter/barometer reading is only viewable during activity mode
  • Descent rate not visible during workouts — only ascent
  • The band is a bit stiff near the watch body and can break if stuffed into a tight space (like carry-on luggage… yup, happened to me)

Bottom Line: Polar RS800cx Multi

With this kind of watch, there’s bound to be a huge list of good and bad aspects. While the RS800cx delivers on hard-core performance training, it does miss the mark on PC-only compatibility and the other gripes are really minor inconveniences (being realistic). If you are nuts about tracking details and eat up your workout data for breakfast, you will love this watch. If not, you’ll still love it, but may feel like you’re using an elephant gun when a .22 is all that’s required.

Buy Now: Find Polar Watches at REI

About Author

A Seattle native, Jason developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 --sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for a great review! I’m a budding ultra runner and am looking to find a heart rate monitor/GPS that I can use for runs longer than the 10 hours my Garmin 305’s battery allows!

    • Oh so true, Jay! It’s like going back to 1995 when you use it. It’s PC-only at this point and the RS800cx isn’t yet compatible with PolarPersonalTrainer.com and I’m not sure when it will be. Great watch, but sad that the software is so archaic.

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