Starting out on a fitness journey can be intimidating. You need to push yourself to see and feel results, but you don’t want to overdo it and wind up injuring yourself or losing steam. A new fitness tracker from Polar aims to help you find that balance. Designed for beginners and those who are getting back into working out after taking a break, the $149.95 Polar Unite includes many of the features found in Polar’s more expensive fitness watches, including heart rate and sleep tracking, but leaves out some outdoor and sport-specific tools beginners might not want anyway. It delivers personalized workout options each day, based on your fitness level, training history, and sleep recovery stats. The pre-made workout options range from 20 to 90 minutes and the Unite even provides animated instructions on screen to help you follow along. The Unite is a functional fitness and sleep tracker with a big, bright color touch screen, but the Editors’ Choice Fitbit Charge 4 offers more functionality including an integrated GPS to map your exercise route without a phone, Spotify controls, mobile payments, and better battery life, all for the same price.
Design, Specs, and Setup
In Polar’s wearable lineup, the $149.95 Unite sits closest to the $229.95 Ignite. Both offer wrist-based heart rate tracking, FitSpark daily training guidance, Nightly Recharge sleep recovery stats, Serene breathing exercises, a Fitness Test that measures your VO2 Max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during intense exercise), and notifications from your smartphone. They’re also both water-resistant to 98 feet, and safe to swim and bathe in.
As for where they differ, the Ignite has an integrated GPS, Running Index metrics, and Training Load Stats while the Unite does not, making it better suited for runners. If you mostly see yourself working out at home, the gym, or a fitness studio, you shouldn’t need an integrated GPS anyway, so it makes sense to save money and opt for the Unite. With the Unite, you can still bring your phone along on runs and use its GPS to track your distance, route, and speed via the Polar Flow app.
In terms of design, the Polar Unite has a casual look with a black glass, fiber-reinforced polymer case and bezel, and just one physical button, located on the left side. The Ignite has a more expensive look, with a metal bezel in your choice of silver, copper, rose gold, or black.
The Unite comes with either a black, white, pink, or blue wristband with a snap and slip buckle like the Apple Watch Sport Band, as opposed to the Ignite’s regular metal buckle. The Unite’s textured silicone wristband is comfortable and feels secure.
Polar also offers mint and blush silicone accessory bands for $22.95, woven ones for $34.95, and a leather one for $39.95.
The Unite measures 1.7 inches in diameter, 0.4 inches thick, and weighs just 1.1 ounces. That makes it wider and thicker than the Ignite, but a touch lighter. Its 240-by-204-pixel color touch display is bright and easy to read.
As for battery life, Polar says the Unite can last up to 4 days with continuous heart rate tracking enabled, a day less than the Ignite. In testing, however, the Unite lasted less than three days on a charge.
In my first 24 hours testing the Unite, during which I tracked two strength training sessions, a short walk, and short mobility session, it went from fully charged to 70 percent battery life. In comparison, the Fitbit Charge 4 still had 85 percent battery life after 24 hours.
After less than three days of continuous wear, the Unite’s battery got down to 5 percent and the watch said it needed to be charged and stopped tracking my activities and sleep.
To set it up, you first charge it, turn it on, download and open the Polar Flow app (available for Android and iOS), then bring your watch close to your phone. When I did that, the app quickly found the Unite. I pressed Pair, then pressed confirm on the watch face. The first two times I did this, it wouldn’t connect. I’m not sure why it initially had trouble connecting, but on the third try it worked. After that I didn’t have any trouble syncing the watch to the app. To manually sync them and send your data to the app, you can press and hold the button on the side of the watch.
When setting up the watch, you can select your preferred units of measurement (metric or imperial) and time format (12- or 24-hour). You also set the time, date, select your gender (male or female), your birthdate, height, and weight. It will then ask you to select your training background (occasional, regular, frequent, heavy, semi-pro, or pro), which wrist you plan to wear your watch on, how many hours of sleep you try to get each night, and your activity goal (level 1, 2, or 3).
Interface and Navigation
The Unite’s interface is uncluttered, with mostly white text on a black background and colorful accents. It’s easy to navigate with swipes and taps on the screen.
It doesn’t have an always-on display, but the backlight is supposed to automatically switch on when you turn your wrist to look at the watch. In testing, this gesture worked most of the time but every time. If it doesn’t work, you can always press the button on the side to light up the screen.
The side button has a number of other functions as well. From the main watch face, pressing it brings up the menu from which you can start tracking a workout, or access the Serene breathing exercise, stopwatch, countdown timer, Fitness Test, or Settings. When you’re in the menu, you can press the side button to go back.
A swipe down from the watch face brings up a quick menu from which you can set an alarm, enable a screen lock, Do Not Disturb, or Airplane Mode. A swipe up from the clock face brings up your smartphone notifications. When swiping up and down, the screen feels a bit laggy, and you sometimes have to swipe several times to bring up the quick menu or your notifications.
Swiping left and right lets you view different watch faces, which feature your activity status, heart rate, latest training sessions, Nightly Recharge status, and FitSpark training suggestions. On the activity watch face, there’s a bar graph around the screen and a percentage indicating your progress towards your activity goal.
You can tap any of the watch face screens for more information. When you tap the latest training sessions watch face, it brings up a list of workouts you’ve tracked, and you can tap each one for a detailed summary. When you tap into the FitSpark watch face, you can access suggested workouts based on your training history, fitness level, and current recovery stats.
The Unite offers basic watch face customization options. In the Settings menu, you can select from a digital or analog watch face, and pick a color theme. I went with the digital watch face, and a pink theme to match with my review unit’s pink band.
Activity and Fitness Tracking
To start tracking a workout with the Unite, just press the side button, select Start Training, then swipe to select the activity you want to track.
By default, there are 12 sport profiles on the Unite: running, trail running, cycling, mountain biking, swimming, strength training, body & mind, walking, hiking, downhill ski, other outdoor, and other indoor. In the app, you can customize the list with up to 20 sport profiles. Polar gives you more than 100 sport profile options to choose from — everything from baseball to roller skating. You can remove any of the preset options and replace them with whatever you want from the list, and reorder them as you see fit.
The Unite doesn’t have a GPS, so if you want to track your speed and distance via the Polar Flow app, you’ll need to bring your phone along during outdoor workouts. Just make sure your phone’s location services are turned on, and give the Polar Flow app permission to always access your location.
When tracking a workout, the stats you see on the watch screen differ depending on the type of exercise you’re doing. When tracking a walk, you’ll see your heart rate and duration, plus your distance and pace if you have your phone with you. When tracking a strength training session, it shows your heart rate, duration, and calories burned.
To pause tracking, you can press the side button once, then tap the screen when you’re ready to continue. When you want to stop tracking, just press and hold the side button after pausing.
The Unite’s FitSpark workout recommendations can be helpful, especially for those who are new to the world of fitness and looking to establish a routine. Within 24 hours of wearing the Unite, I tracked two strength training workouts and a short mobility session (all done on the Tempo Studio home gym I’m also testing), plus a walk with my dog. After that, FitSpark suggested I do some cardio, core, or mobility, and gave me four different options to choose from: a 48-minute cardio exercise to develop speed and stamina, a 1-hour moderately intense cardio session to improve aerobic fitness, a 25-minute core workout, and a 23-minute dynamic mobility session.
You can click into each suggested workout for a summary so you know what you’re in for. Because I’ve been doing so much strength training lately, I decided to try the dynamic mobility session. The watch said to start with a five-minute warmup, then do three rounds of the following six exercises for one minute each round: ferris wheels, inchworm, groiners, scorpion, hip roll, and calf stretch. You can click on each exercise for an animated graphic showing how to do it, and a written description.
When I pressed start, the watch said to warm up, but didn’t tell me what to do specifically, so I alternated walking and jogging in place. On the screen, it displayed a five-minute countdown timer and my heart rate. At the end of the warmup, the watch vibrated five times to count down the remaining seconds.
Before starting the actual workout, the watch let me review the exercises again. When I pressed start, it went through the moves one by one. On the screen, a countdown timer showed how many seconds until I was to switch to the next move. If you forget how to do the exercise during the workout, you can click the name for the animation and description.
Unite offers several coaching features in addition to FitSpark, including the Fitness Test and Serene breathing exercises. I detailed those two features in my recent review of the $429.95 Polar Grit X, latest addition to Polar’s multisport GPS watch lineup, so I won’t reiterate that information here.
When you wear the Unite to bed, it will track your light, deep, and REM sleep, and interruptions. In the morning, you can sync the data to the Polar Flow app (just press and hold the button on the side of the watch), to see how long you slept, what time you fell asleep and woke up, how much time you spent in each phase, and a graph of your sleep structure.
Polar also gives you a daily sleep score from one to 100, based on how your shut eye compared with “indicators of a good night’s sleep according to current sleep science.” The company says the typical sleep score is around 70 to 85.
After one poor night’s rest, I logged 6 hours and 16 minutes of sleep (including 3 hours and 40 minutes of light, 52 minutes of deep, and 1 hour and 8 minutes of REM sleep), plus 37 minutes of interruptions. The app gave me a sleep score of 55.
After tracking your sleep for three nights, the Unite fills in your Nightly Recharge status, showing how your body was able to recover from training and stress during the night based on information it collects about your sleep and autonomic nervous system. If your Nightly Recharge status is poor, it might advise you to take it easy and train lightly that day. If your status is good, it might give you the go-ahead for a strenuous workout.
Comparisons and Conclusions
If you’re just starting out on a path to fitness, investing in a wearable like the Polar Unite that can help encourage you to get moving is a smart move.
The Unite tracks your active time, calories burned, exercise sessions, heart rate, and steps, and makes it easy to see your progress towards your daily fitness goal. At night, you can wear it to bed, and it will track your sleep stages and the activity of your autonomic nervous system to offer daily feedback on how well you recovered from your training sessions and other stressors the day before. It then can deliver personalized workout recommendations, based on your previous training and recovery status, with animations on the screen to help you follow along.
Many will prefer the Unite’s classic round watch face and color touch screen over the Fitbit Charge 4’s rectangular, black and white display. Aesthetics aside, the Fitbit Charge 4 offers some nice features you won’t find in the Unite, like a GPS, Spotify support, and mobile payment support, for the same price. Both are good choices, but the Charge 4 remains our Editors’ Choice for its balance of functionality and price.
Polar Unite Specs
|Display Type||Color Touch Screen|
|Heart Rate Monitor||Yes|
|Battery Life||3 days|