As the optical heart-rate monitoring has improved, the technology has increasingly become a must-have feature for most serious fitness trackers. One notable holdout from this club was Polar, probably because it made a name for itself in chest-worn heart rate straps and, as such, had a little more to lose than other firms. With the launch of the A360, however, the company has finally decided to embrace the world of "strapless monitoring," although it's gone to great pains to say that its version is much better than everyone else's.
The first thing you'll notice about the A360 is that it's the prettiest barebones fitness tracker that has popped up recently. With a rectangular color LCD display that's taller than it is wide, you'll be put in mind of Huawei's TalkBand B2 or the second-generation Microsoft Band. The device will display the time, as well as all of your vital statistics vertically, which sets it apart from a large proportion of fitness trackers and smartwatches on the market. The statistics that the device can track is, perhaps surprisingly, a little limited, since it'll only monitor your daily activity, steps, calories, workouts and sleep.
Polar promises that the A360 will last for twelve days on a charge as both a general activity tracker and with an hour-long fitness session every day. One of the ways that it can offer two-week life is by not adding continuous heart-rate monitoring to the device, and it'll only watch your heart during workouts. Another absentee from the spec list is GPS, although it'd be a stretch to see a watch with that sort of tech for this little cash. On the upside, the firm is pledging that the A360 has Jawbone-style smart coaching to make suggestions that'll benefit the user's overall health and wellbeing. It'll also come with the usual Polar tweaks, including access to the Flow app, smartphone notifications and the option to use a chest strap, should you want to.
At first blush, there's plenty to like about the A360, since it can pull double duty as a barebones fitness tracker and as a smartwatch. Although, there is a risk that by trying to do too many things at once, it'll struggle to do any of them very well. Then there's the fact, as we've said, the unit will only check your heart rate when you're exercising, meaning that all-day devices like the Basis Band and Sony SmartBand 2 are better for the heart-conscious amongst you.
The price, too, could be problematic, since its priced for $199 / €199 -- roughly the twice the price of the Loop 2. Unfortunately, you could get a similar setup from the A300 and a chest strap, since that pairing would only set you back $179.95. Sure, it's more cumbersome to carry around two devices instead of one, but since they do almost the same job, it's a fair comparison to make.
If you're not deterred, you can grab one of these when it launches in November with a choice of white or black silicone bands. Those looking for something more colorful can wait a little longer for pink, green and blue wristbands to come on sale "shortly afterward." Naturally, we'll get one of these in for testing as soon as we can so that we can tell you straight if it's better to just buy a $199 Android Wear device and deal with the shorter battery life.