Review: Polar CS600X Cycle Computer
- by Danny Beveridge
- Published: 15 April 2011
The CS600X is Polar’s top-of-the-line bike computer incorporating heart-rate, altitude and even power functions. It comes with a comprehensive training software package to analyse your recorded data and has the ability to run all sorts of training programs out on the road. Most users, however, will be looking at the CS600X with a view to using it as an entry-level power meter.
In Australia, the Cadence Sensor is included with the CS600X while the Power Output Sensor (power meter) is sold as an optional extra. There have been many reviews of this device that focus on its power-meter functionality. These reviews are easy to find if you’re interested in them, but the opinions have been mixed. During our review period, the current power meter version was retired and in July will be replaced with a brand new method of power measurement. In keeping with BNA’s tradition of bringing you the most practical information, this review will look at what other reviewers often neglect – the core functions of the CS600X as a bike computer, heart rate monitor and training system.
As a Heart Rate Monitor
Polar have a long and proud history of making excellent heart rate monitoring systems. With that reputation, we had high expectations of how it would perform. You need not worry, the CS600X picks up your heart rate under all conditions and displays it with the highest possible accuracy. We have never come across any measurement system that does it better. Why is this important? Well, since the current magnet-based power measuring device is known to be less than 100% accurate, you need the heart rate to be precise and fast. A sloppy heart rate monitor coupled with a sloppy power meter will give you absolutely no reliable information. If you can’t get an accurate reading in at least one of those metrics, you’ll have very little meaningful data.
To labour the point even further, (especially if you’re looking to enter the world of heart rate based training imagine this: You’re pushing along very hard when suddenly the tempo is upped by just 1km/h. For you, already on the limit, you’ve reached your breaking point and within a few minutes you’re dropped – the difference in speed might have been only 2%. In heart rate terms that might correspond to only a couple of beats per minute and, quite simply, many cheap heart rate monitors are not accurate to that degree; the Polar is.
Since training zones and thresholds can be very close together, with a huge physiological difference in just a few bpm, an accurate heart rate monitor is essential. Unless you have a high degree of accuracy, there’s no point using a heart rate monitor. That’s why athletes pay for a Polar unit while other brands can offer the same features at a third of the price.
As a Bike Computer
The Polar CS600X, like many bike computers, has wireless speed and cadence sensors and it also displays temperature and altitude data. Much of this information can be viewed as a graph during your ride. We had some problems getting the sensors to talk to each other, but it appeared that the test unit had already been partially set up previously. The documentation indicates that when the unit is “fresh” the automatic setup process should be quite straight forward. In any case, we got it working with a little guesswork.
The speed and cadence readings felt very “live” and accurate, which you would expect at this price level. The temperature reading seemed to be accurate too. Also, the Polar’s barometer (used to measure altitude) has inherent challenges to overcome – air pressure is not perfectly steady over the course of a ride and this causes fluctuations in the apparent altitude. This is just a qwerk of how barometers work (even 747’s have to calibrate their altimeter before every flight) and there’s no easy way around that. This has a flow-on effect to the readout of gradient/metres gained/etc; but even if not perfect, it’s quite nice to have these features.
Display/Ease of Use
The display unit is actually rather small compared to competing systems, but this doesn’t make it too difficult to read. The screen is clear and has a backlight for night riding. As mentioned, the CS600X includes graphing functions which are a neat feature and, despite their low resolution, a surprising amount of information can be gleaned from them. Unfortunately the screens are not totally customisable; only certain functions can be displayed together. There may be some underlying technological reason for this, but it’s rather annoying.
The wireless connectivity is reliable and we didn’t experience any dropouts during the testing period. The automatic resetting of the trip timers is another nice feature which contributes to the ease of use.
The CS600X is compact through offers good readability
The software Polar have included with this device is quite remarkable. The software package will graphically display important data over a period ranging from a few seconds to a month. It’s fairly customisable too which makes it much easier to read quickly. It’s also possible to export all ride data points to Excel where you can manipulate it however you wish. For example to plot a graph of how long you maintain certain heart rates. The value of this information is that while riding, you can take a look at your heart rate and have a fair idea of how long you’ll be able to maintain this effort. If you start to exceed these limits, you will also be able to recognise how your training is helping you improve.
The PC-based (sorry Mac users!) training program also gives you the ability to create training plans based on the data it has already collected. Be warned though, it takes a significant time investment to set up and use these features. Another issue to consider is that unless you train on a velodrome, intensity is often influenced by outside factors (i.e. traffic) and we found this often interfered with the prescribed exertions.
Polar Pro Trainer 5 screenshot
On the whole, the Polar software is one of the most well regarded systems available and our experience backs up that reputation. In truth it may be overkill for the amateur, but both the professional and the data-geek will not complain about a lack of features.
At the heart of the matter, the Polar CS600X is an excellent heart rate monitor with a great training software package. It’s also a full-featured cycling computer with speed, cadence, altitude and other metrics, though some of them only offer novelty value. While you could probably buy a good heart rate monitor, training program and cadence-enabled computer for less than what the CS600X costs, the advantage the Polar unit offers is integration. After all, analysing metrics is a time consuming task, and that is without having to integrate data from mulitple input devices.
To finish the cost/benefit debate, it would be fair to say two things:
1. If the Polar CS600X is out of your price range to begin with, it is possible to get its best features at a lower price; Polar offer a whole range of cycling computers with varying features and price points.
2. While you can easily compare features across similar products, quality cannot be determined from a features list. The CS600X is a quality computer. If you wish to “invest” in quality and value it highly, you will get what you are after.
What about the Power Meter?
By a long way, with the optional power sensor has been the cheapest way to get into training with power. However, having trialed the CS600X without power, we’ve come to a strange conclusion: since the heart rate measurement is so accurate and current power meter is so inaccurate (relative to other brands) maybe this unit is really suited to the rider who isn’t interested in power. To put this another way, it may be helpful not to look at the CS600X (with power) as a “cheap power-training tool”, but as an “high-endheart rate training tool”.
The Australian distributer has noted that the power version is no longer available pending the release of the new pedal based power sensor which is a collaboration between Polar and Look. We can expect this to be released during the Tour de France and while the price is not yet available, the Polar P5 Power Sensors Video provides an insight into the technology. The new system will be compatible with existing CS500, CS600 and CS600X.
The Polar CS600X Cycling Computer retails for $549 RRP and includes the Cadence sensor. Polar products are available in Australia through Pursuit Performance.
Polar CS600X Cycle Computer Competition
Bruce Phillips of Thornbury, Victoria was the lucky winner of the guessing competition. The prize was kindly provided by the Australian Polar distributer, Pursuit Performance.