The Polo Tech Shirt from Ralph Lauren and OMsignal is a form-fitting smart shirt meant to replace wrist-worn fitness trackers like the Fitbit Charge HR$144.83 at Amazon. Lined with a strip of silver-based sensors, it measures heart rate, breathing, and calories burned as you work out. It then relays that data to an iOS app via a small black box transmitter—a device that snaps onto the shirt at the side, near the bicep. The concept—and design—is undeniably attractive, and the shirt works pretty much as advertised. That said, it costs a whopping $295, and comes with two big catches: It only works with iOS devices and is designed for men only.
Design and Style
The Polo Tech Shirt comes in four sizes. Small measures 35 to 38 inches around the chest; medium is 38 to 40 inches; large is 40 to 42 inches, and extra large is 42 to 44 inches. I reviewed a small, since it’s recommended that you size down in order to ensure the snugness necessary for the sensors inside the shirt to sit against your skin.
Once you put it on, the Polo Tech shirt is tight. Really tight. The fabric, made of 70 percent polyester, 21 percent nylon, and 9 percent spandex, feels similar to a scuba suit. Thankfully, a crew neckline and short raglan sleeves with flattened seams ensure the shirt remains friction-free as you work out, while mesh at the sleeves and underarms keep it nice and breathable. That said, it’s a real pain to peel off after a trying workout.
Since it’s a Cheap Ralph Lauren shirt, you’ll find a bright, large, yellow emblem of the familiar Polo player screen-printed on the upper left, across from a Polo Sport logo on the right. There’s a larger version of the Polo Sport logo across the back. The minimal yellow-on-black look works well, but I wouldn’t recommend wearing the shirt for evening exercise outdoors, as it can become difficult for cars to see. Ralph Lauren also warns against wearing the shirt during contact or combat sports like boxing, football, hockey, or wrestling, or any water sports.
The black box transmitter that houses the electronics is made of hard black plastic. It latches onto the left side of the shirt, just below the ribcage, via a panel covered with five contact pins. Despite sitting on the outside of the shirt, it remains reliably in place (and out of the way) during workouts.
The box itself houses an accelerometer and a gyroscope. Three additional sensors are woven into the fabric of the shirt itself, across the chest. They’re extremely flat, which is why the shirt needs to be super-tight to work. It’s also a possible reason why there’s no version of the shirt for women (which doesn’t make it any less disappointing).
The total Polo Tech package comes with a Polo Tech Shirt, the black box, and a USB charging cable. You use the charging cable to recharge the black box, which has a tiny USB port on its right side. Ralph Lauren suggests up to 30 workouts are possible on a single charge.
In order to wash the Polo Tech shirt, you can just put it in a regular washing machine with cold water. The black box is not machine-washable, and must be removed before putting the shirt in the laundry. If dirt gets into the contact pins, you can just use a moist cloth to wipe it away.
App and Performance
To start using the shirt, first you need to charge the black box. Then download the free Ralph Lauren Polo Outlet Tech app from the Apple App Store. Make sure Bluetooth is activated on your phone or tablet, and follow the simple instructions for pairing. You’ll need iOS 8 or later for it to work, and you’ll need to create an account with OMsignal, the company that provides the sensor technology for the shirt. The app is iOS-only for now, but an Android one is slated for release at some point in the future.
The app looks just as good as the shirt. It’s designed with a clean, intuitive interface that’s appealing to look at and simple to navigate. The main screen shows your heart rate, breathing rate, and calories—indicated by red, blue, and yellow bubbles, respectively. There’s an On button, but you’ll know the shirt and box are working when you can see your vitals on the app’s home screen.
Tabs on the bottom of the app screen allow you to easily access a number of different functions. Live brings you to the home screen with your biometrics; you can also access the settings menu from this page. Test allows you to perform a two-minute recovery to gauge how quickly you can recover to a normal breathing and heart rate after a workout, or a five-minute workout readiness test to see how well-rested you are before starting a workout.
The My Workout page is where you’ll spend most of your time. It details all the readings the black box collects and breaks them down into easy-to-understand charts and graphs. You can identify your average heart rate and breathing rate, as well as your maximum heart and breathing rate. You also get information about your level of exertion, power, and effort spent, and see how long you stayed in endurance, fat-burning, performance, max effort, and warm-up zones.
My Workout also lets you set a goal and manually observe your biometrics. Or you can follow a series of workout videos tailored to your specific exertion levels. The videos, featuring trainer Chris Ryan, will increase or decrease in intensity depending on your readings, which you can see in real-time, splashed over the video. The workouts are divided by category—Agility, Cardio, and Strength—and last around 25 minutes, with cool-down and warm-up phases bookending them. The videos are very helpful, and can be done with free weights or with your own body weight, but they speed by quickly and there’s no way to pause or rewind. Chris Ryan’s explanations are detailed and helpful, but it’s no fun when you’re struggling to pay attention to a tiny screen between heaving breaths, so it can be difficult to keep up.
Thankfully, you don’t need your connected phone or tablet with you every step of the way; if you’re not within range of your device, the black box will automatically transmit your readings when you are.
Compared with other smart clothing, like the OMsignal Up & Running Kit with OM Strength Sleeveless Shirt and the Hexoskin Smart Shirt, the UK Ralph Lauren Polo Tech is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. It’s attractive, comfortable, and works well. But it’s still very expensive, and it leaves women, and Android users out in the cold.
For now, you’re still better off picking up a wrist-worn fitness tracker like the high-end Fitbit Surge$240.26 at Amazon or Garmin Vivoactive$199.92 at Amazon, or the inexpensive Misfit Flash Link$19.99 at Dell. You can wear any of these trackers all day, as opposed to just during workouts, and they are available to many more potential users.