The Polar Vantage V is the Finnish companies latest top-line smartwatch, but can it go toe-to-toe with the high-end watches of its competitors? Let’s see!! FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT
Polar Vantage V Review – Have Polar Made a Garmin Killer?
Polar has had a bit of an underdog status over the last few years. While Garmin has continued its relentless march buffing the Fenix series, and allowing trickle down of features to its other watches, and Suunto releasing and also polishing the Suunto Spartan Series, the offerings from Polar in the M430 and the M600 have looked a little tired.
BUT the Finns have not been sitting wringing their hands, and have been developing two brand new watches: the Polar Vantage V and M series. To be clear, the Polar Vantage series feels like a device born out of a company that knew it had to nail the watch on the first iteration, with the latest 2019 firmware running on the Polar Vantage V they have.
I have worn a Garmin Fenix as my daily watch since the Fenix 2, came out, and feel that the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is one of the most fully featured sports watches on the market. So it might surprise you to hear that the Polar Vantage V has REPLACED the Fenix 5 as my daily wear watch! Read on to find out why!
Currently, the Polar Vantage V is available in three colours, white, black, and orange. Which I feel is a nice lineup, bright, subtle and colourful.
While I’m normally a fan of yellow straps, I do think that the orange colour and the gunmetal grey case are the sweet spot of the lineup
Let’s be honest here, Polar has been playing catchup in several important areas when it compares to Garmin and Suunto, but they have been playing a lot of attention to the areas where the now practically ancient Polar V800 was really having it’s lunch money stolen. As a result, there are a few salient points that should be raised where Polar has literally leapfrogged their competitors with the Polar Vantage V
- Effective integration of a touch screen, in a way that enhances the experience of using the watch
- Polar Precision Prime – The Polar OH1 demonstrated that Polar understand how to work with optical heart rate sensors, and have refined this with an additional sensor to be able to assist the watch in knowing it is in contact with the skin
- Running power, not integrated, but baked into the hardware. You can also still opt to use Stryd if you wanted/had the device
- User feedback, training feedback, with a dedicated widget is excellent
Polar Vantage V Review – Design
So what has Polar put in the box for us?
Inside the box, we have a couple of manuals, the actual Polar Vantage v, a charge cable -nothing really mind blowing
There are two versions of the Polar Vantage V, without the chest strap, and one with the Polar H10 heart rate monitor and chest strap.
As good as the optical HR strap become and the Polar “Precision Prime” sensor is excellent as we’ll see later. Optical HR devices are not able to do R-R variability and thus are still needed for the orthostatic tests, which a key to the advances training features on the Polar Vantage V.
From the front, the Polar Vantage 9 screen sits practically flush with the casing on the black version of the watch, made to feel all the larger with the glass border before the bezel
The Polar Vantage V really ups the style points with the very thin, brushed metal surfaces of the case, which practically disappear when viewed face on
As a result of the rough texture to the metal case, and the slim-line sides, I’ve actually found the Polar Vantage V quite resistant to scuffs and scrapes
Whilst I’ve never really been a fan of touch screens on watches, the Polar Vantage V does make good of the functionality, mainly through scrolling across long menus and some of the very detailed feedback that it displays after a workout.
To be clear, I have no issue per say with touchscreens. The Polar touch screen devices work well, as obviously do the Apple and Samsung touch screen watches. BUT that is because touch is their primary mode of input, and the whole operating system is built around it. Rarely have I seen a half way house that works. I’m pleased to say that the Polar Vantage V touch screen is more of an accoutrement to using the device, rather than the main feature. As such ,I was surprised to see how is adds to the device positively, rather than being an irritation, as I’ve found with similar sports watches such as the Suunto Spartans
Staying with the screen for a moment. The backlight has one setting, on or off. Which is a shame as the brightness isn’t bad, but fractionally brighter would be better from in the sun etc. Additionally when using the backlight in the dark, unfortunately, the illumination isn’t uniform. There are not deal breakers by any stretch, but definitely minor irritations
Back to the controls, on the RIGHT side of the case, we have the three buttons which navigate through the Polar Vantage V. The middle button in red works as a “select” option and also the power button. The two outside buttons mainly act as menu navigation.
If we move to the left side of the watch, there are the openings for the barometer needed for the inbuilt running power. The top button toggling the back light and the bottom watch menu/long press to sync
From the watch face screen, pressing the bottom button will take you through the main menu of the watch: Start Training –> Timers –> Orthostatic Test –> Settings
The Polar Vantage V has an interesting setup for viewing your metrics. Rather than a specific widget menu, you swipe, or click, across the watch face
You scroll through: Standard face –> Activity Tracking –> Training Effect –> Heart Rate –> Training history –> Sleep
The sleep widget face is a good example of the additional data. From this watch face, if you click the central red button, then you are loaded into the previous night’s sleep tracking data
You will get similar deep dive information on any of the other watch screens
If we flip the Polar Vantage V over can see one of the most interesting developments from Polar, their Precision Prime sensor, which is a distinct evolution from their Polar OH1 optical sensor.
The metal dots also work as the contact pads for the charger. There is a small magnet in the charger that helps the dock align to the back of the watch, and a little notch on the left the watch interfacing in the charger
The band on the Polar Vantage V can be removed, but it is not a quick release strap, and crucially can’t be used interchangeably with the Polar Vantage M stars
So that pretty much covers the overview of the Polar Vantage V, but what is it like to use?
Polar Vantage V Review – Specification
- Screen Resolution: 240×240 – with Corning Gorilla 3 glass
- Weight: 66g
- Bezel: brushed steel (as this matters to some people)
- Communication: BlueTooth LE – no ANT+ here, which will always be a deal breaker for some
- Sensors: Altimeter, Digital compass, Optical Heart Rate, GPS, GLONASS
- Battery – 320 mAh – Up to 40 hours training with GPS and optical heart rate
- Waterproofing: 30 m – not as much as some of the other units, but in keeping
- Activities: >80
- Standard features: Corning Gorilla 3 glass, GPS, Valencell HRM, 24/7 activity tracking, HRM works with swimming
While it is only a very small thing, due to using the Corning Gorilla Glass 3, Polar has a hydrophobic coating on the glass surface of the Polar Vantage V, something which I find makes the screen easier to view both in the pool, and if you end up doing a run in the rain!
Polar Vantage V Review – Manual
Polar have an INCREDIBLY in-depth electronic manual for their Polar Vantage V you can access HERE
Polar Vantage V Review – Using the Watch
As with every sports watch, the first step is to download the corresponding app. In the case of the Polar Vantage V, you are looking for Polar Flow – Here for iOS and here for Google. You’ll still need to sign up to Polar Flow, in order to get access and more importantly download the latest updates for the watch before you use it for the first time. This is very important, as mentioned previously there were some rather big holes in the Polar Vantage V when the device first came to market. As far as I’m concerned about releasing a smart watch in 2019 without smart notifications is just not acceptable – thankfully resolved now! – You can also update via the desktop apps
It’s really worthwhile pointing out two things, i) Polar is very honest about their estimated sync/update times when updating via the phone app ii) sync/updates can be a little slow if it says 15 mins, it means 15 mins. Go and grab a coffee
The main reason for the delay in this review coming out, is because I was waiting for the second major firmware update which brought with it the significant features of GPS Route Guidance and smart notifications (how someone can launch a phone WITHOUT notifications today is utterly beyond me)
When the new firmware landed, it also seemed to bring with it a Bluetooth bug, meaning the watch needed to be restarted frequently at least once a week. You can normally tell that the communications have fallen over as the watch will say it is not connected to your phone.
Won’t connect to other sensors either.
Yet will still receive smart notifications – certainly an odd one
Similarly, I’ve had several episodes where the Polar Vantage V would just curl up and die. – Edit this seems to have been resolved with the Late Feb firmware update
Polar Vantage V Review – Smart Watch Features
After the recent firmware update, the Polar Vantage V notifications can go toe-toe with the best in class. Now you’ll get all the Facebook birthday reminders and other daily distractions directly to your wrist
When an alert comes into your phone, the watch gives a small buzz, at which point, if you raise your arm you the watch activates, and displays the smart notification. The Polar Vantage V does NOT have the option for smart previews as we’ve seen from other Polar devices in the past. You either have notifications or not.
If you scroll down to the bottom, there is also the option to clear all existing notifications. This is not restricted to phone notifications. Any alerts from the Polar Vantage V, such as a reminder to do your morning orthostatic test, will also appear here.
The Polar Vantage V also has limited two-way communication with your phone, allowing you to see who is calling, and dismiss them if need be. It’s my sister, so of course, I’ll ignore that call!
Similarly given the two-way functionality, I do miss the “find my phone” option from the Garmin Fenix 5.
From a smartwatch perspective, i.e. a watch that something will live on your wrist most of the time, smart alerts, are thankfully not very intrusive. I say this, because there is no easy way activate a “do not disturb” mode on the Polar Vantage V other than going into the Polar app on the phone or digging into watches menus system, which is touch surprising as you can lock the watch simply with a long press of the top LEFT button?
Initially, I found the lack of smart previews a little annoying; I couldn’t just glance at my wrist and see what is going on – for one thing, the “rise to view” function can be a touch flaky at times. HOWEVER the longer I used the Vantage, the more I came to realise that NOT having the smart previews was actually less disruptive for me. I’ve found devices such as the Fitbit Charge series which merely alerts you to say there is a message slightly useless. The Polar Vantage V falls into a nice middle ground where the control over the notifications is returned to you.
Polar Vantage V Review – Activity Tracking
The Polar Vantage V has just one watch face, ok that isn’t fair, you can opt for digital or analogue faces but that is it. Instead, the data displayed varies around the watch face. You can see that with the activity tracking page
As mentioned above, the activity tracking on Polar Vantage V is quite straightforward. You activity simply goes to fill up the outer circle of the screen as you potter about your day.
If you hit your goal, in my case of the default 10,000 steps, the Polar Vantage V will buzz to alert you. But nothing further. If you want to dig deeper into your activity, as mentioned above, you hit the red button on the RIGHT of the screen. Giving your step count and calorie burn
I’m a big fan of the new training load status, and the additional data it brings. Polar clearly understand I am going to be much more motivated when I can constantly see my training load, and more horrific if I’ve had a busy week and it slips to detraining!?!
Further tracking is available as sleep monitoring on the Polar Vantage V. As with activity tracking; you access more data from the specific watch face
Even so, the info on the watch itself a textual representation of the data you’ll see on the app, covering Sleep Time, Actual Sleep and Sleep Continuity
If you sync and look at the Polar app, you get just the same data but with the addition of a sleep graph.
While the Polar Vantage does have 24×7 HRM, this data is not displayed in the sleep section, but in its own part of the app. At least there it is highlighted when you are catching zzz’s
The setup for sleep tracking is relatively minimal, just wear the watch. Polar Vantage V monitors your movement, and when registers the activity pattern associated with sleep, you get the recording. At the time of writing this, I haven’t had the time to compare with the latest Apple Beddit Sleep Monitor, but the Polar Vantage V is providing tracking within 4-7 minutes of the recordings of my existing Beddit Sleep monitor.
In the mornings, you have the option of providing feedback about how you slept
This is probably a good point to talk about the Polar Vantage Precision Prime sensor, as we’ve raised the point of 24×7 HR tracking. At first, glance, naming the sensor the Precision Prime seems a little… well like asking for trouble. Then you start to break is down.
Polar has basically redesigned things from the ground up when you compare with the Polar OH1 sensor
The Prime is comprised of five pairs of LEDs, and four sensors. It is difficult to see on the above picture, but each pair is comprised of a green and red LED. However Polar has found that the central pairing is not required, and to increase battery life has disabled one of those LEDs
Normally sports watch makers don’t actually shout about the accuracy of their optical HRM, as the chest strap has been the gold standard. Polar if sufficiently confident that they have designed a sensor accurate to within 1BPM of the true value.
|The accuracy of heart rate monitor:||± 1% or 1 bpm, whichever larger. The definition applies to stable conditions.|
Very impressive, but still not sufficient to remove the need for the Polar H10 for orthostatic testing
The reason Polar has needed to spend this much effort in developing the Prime in that movement artefacts are the big headache for optical HRM units. There are a lot of sources of noise when it comes to simply use light to measure capillary blood flow. Thus Polar has leveraged the charging dots on the Polar Vantage V to provide a filter function to the HRM calculation algorithm. The metal dots allow the watch to determine the strength of the skin contact.
The better the contact, the less external light will be hitting the sensors, and the less noise filtering required, further filtering is determined from the accelerometer to try to deal with motion artefacts. Difficult to achieve, but seemingly to be effective, perhaps Polar wasn’t over selling things with the Polar Precision Prime namings
It is going to be interesting to see how the competitors respond if nothing else
Polar Vantage V Review – Cycling
Let’s look at cycling as the first sport with the Polar Vantage V. Press and hold the red button to shortcut to your last sport. So here cycling. That first launch screen confirms everything is good to go. HR locked (green circle), GPS searching (red circle), bike sensor (red so searching).
The GPS+ GLONASS chipset acquired lock quickly, if fractionally faster than the Garmin Fenix 5. Given a shared chipset with Suunto, the acquisition time was about the same!
Once all set, hit the red side button again and enjoy the ride!
How did the optical HRM do for Polar?
Well, certainly a mixed bag there! Vibration from cycling is notorious for interfering with wrist-mounted optical sensors… so it is interesting to see if the metal contacts of the Polar Precision Prime have been effective. Certainly, the Polar Vantage V agrees with the 4iiii and Wahoo TICKRFit, both of which are protected from road vibrations to a greater degree. The Garmin Fenix 5 was alright at the start, and then clearly got lost.
Thankfully on zwift, things are better
Also of note, as this is the first activity we’ve done, when you have completed your work out, you get a recovery advisor which pops up at the end of every activity telling you when you are good to go again
This is based off both your current efforts, or training load, but also the feedback from the orthostatic tests
You can actually set the Polar Vantage V to set reminders in the morning, which can actually be quite helpful when I’m half dead brushing my teeth in the morning!
As mentioned the Polar Vantage does need to be connected to a chest HRM which is able to R-R variability to determine your recovery status. About 45 secs lying down, then standing up, and waiting to see how long it takes for your heart rate to return to resting
To my mind Polar have previously released the best focused running watch with the Polar M430 – yes it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the current generation of watches, but for the price, a great bit of kit. With the Polar Vantage V, Polar have taken that great running pedigree, further enhanced the optical HRM, and now added wrist-mounted running with power!
During a run, you have access to various metrics, time elapsed, pace, distance, heart rate, altitude and now power. Which is initially set up on a different data field page
The initial screens set out on the device are all clear and very legible for the most part, and well, more importantly, they are logically set out.
All of which is quite good, it isn’t, however, possible to adjust the fields on the device, but you can easily make the changes from the Polar Flow app as long as your phone is with you. To get the Polar Vantage setup, just as you want, does take a bit of extra work compared to other devices – particularly Garmin’s Fenix
OK, but enough of the setup, sometimes a run can be overly complicated! To the fields!!
I’ll be honest I really prefer having the powered running built right into the watch, and no need to sideload apps etc. Yes, I might not have more detailed information on the run, that Stryd gives such as GCT while running along, but for the price, the inclusion of power alone is going to make the Polar Vantage V a device of considerable interest for many
At the end of a run, you get a breakdown of your power zones on watch; such is the level of integration with the Vantage. I think it is quite fair to say that the power function here is given equal time to that of heart rate monitoring
But pretty graphics are only so good. What is the quality of the data?
Much like the Garmin Power Pod, the actual power readings are very different when comparing the Stryd output with that of the Polar Vantage V. HOWEVER the actual traces seem to mirror each other reasonably along the run. We see significant variation compared to the Styrd though
Running with power is definitely here to stay, but it still seems that determining accuracy is still being debated
One thing which IS missing from both the running and cycling functions of the Polar Vantage is Strava Segments. This is another scheduled feature which is still being worked on. Polar does have an amazing device here, but without a doubt, it is being held back by software and firmware developments
So in terms of going for a run, how does the optical HR fair? The Polar Vantage and OH1 align nicely pretty much all the way through. The Wahoo TICKRfit is a touch odd at the start, but after about 1 mins comes in line.
The Garmin Fenix is doing its own thing as ever
It is worth while noting that the graphs have a 2-second smoothing applied to them, to make the trends a touch clearer. When we do that, while we can see that all the heart rate traces (save Garmin) are now within the same ball park. I wonder if one of the reasons for the Wahoo TICKRfit being slightly different as that is was run on the opposite arm?
One of the things which you don’t have to worry about so much with the Polar Vantage is battery life. Again in stark contrast to Garmin user define everything, Polar has the GPS recording fixed at the 1-second rate. You know you are going to get a reliable 40 hours of quality GPS data for that. However, there may be some in the ultrarunner camp who wish that you could sacrifice a little accuracy for greater battery life. This has been my opinion through the whole of the Polar Vantage V testing period. It isn’t perfect, but this watch has been built to do everything well for the average sports person up to amateur triathlete
Polar Vantage V Review – Swimming
Polar has matched Suunto here, bringing optical HRM into the pool. The Polar Vantage V does seem to lag a little compared to the Suunto, and similarly is reading ~10BPM low.
When in the pool, again the screens can be customised, but have all of the information most people want right at the start. Unfortunately, that customisation doesn’t really run to any useful swimming metrics
When you go for a pool swim, before hitting start there is an options menu which will allow you to select your pool length – either from the default 25m, 50m, and 25 yard and 50-yard pools, or custom pool size from 15 m all the way to 330m!!!
Then you do the whole splish splash thing. Given the limitations of the Polar Vantage V display when in the pool, it is an interesting surprise to find considerably more detail when you return to the Polar Flow on a desktop
We’ve got what I would consider all the missing data! Strokes/min, Swolf, the software even does an attempt at interpreting your stroke type. I think the lack of recording any front crawl says more about my lack technique post fracture rather than the monitoring of the Vantage V!
Polar Vantage V Review – Routing
With the 3.0 Firmware, along with smart notifications, we also received Routes and Back to the Start functionality.
Let’s deal with Routes on the Polar Vantage V.
You can go to any of your normal route creation sites. Or grab an existing route on Strava, and upload it to Polar Flow as a Favourite. Unfortunately, You don’t appear to be able to designate a past workout as a favourite on the Polar Flow App
A Favourite, such as a Route is activated from either the Favourites menu, or the cog when you open up a training sport
From there select your training plan, or Route
You will then be given the options of Start Point –> Mid-Route –> End Point to reverse direction –> Mid-Route to reverse direction
If you are starting the route midway through, you’ll be directed to the route via the shortest possible distance, which may not actually be possible!
You don’t get a map on the Polar Vantage, and you are literally following a previous GPS path. As long as you acknowledge that, things should be ok
You shouldn’t go too far wrong even in the middle of fields. If you did end up wandering off, you’d get appropriate prompts ‘On Course’ and ‘Off Course’ etc. to pull you back the course
Polar Vantage V Review – Conclusion
Polar has clearly done a lot of work to build a great first launch device. I think it is quite telling though that Polar still kept the M and V titles for the Vantage brand, melding together the M430 and V800 lines. I think that this new line may turn out the bit the hit that Polar needs
While I’ve been writing this review, I’ve had a series of little irritations with the Polar Vantage V. Pet peeves which just niggle, which make you think, no, I’m going to go back to my regular Garmin Fenix. But then you realise what is actually going on here
I think that the fact the Polar Vantage V “only” goes down to 30m water resistance is in keeping with the whole watch. The Vantage doesn’t QUITE have the reach of its competitors, but is MORE than good enough for 98% of the user base – do I actually need a watch which will go to 50m? NO!
More importantly, shock news – The Polar Vantage V has pushed my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus from my wrist as a daily wear. If I want to do specific training – such as with the Stryd and GCT data, I’ll return to the Fenix – and a chest strap, as that Garmin Elevate optical HR is terrible.
Overall the Polar Vantage V is just slightly more polished from a watch perspective than the other alternatives on the market, and has fewer significant irritations – exterior scratches less than the Suunto Spartans, reliable optical HR, unlike the Garmin units:
Yes the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is technically a superior device, (or should that be more capable?) but I’ve found the Polar Vantage covers 95% of the things the Fenix does which really matter to me – onboard device MP3 doesn’t matter to me, I have NEVER once used Garmin Pay, I don’t have any ANT+ only devices now and the Garmin IQ app/ watch faces I can easily live without. No, it is NOT perfect, so only 4/5 TG stars, but definitely a recommended device. With a bit more firmware development Polar should have a run away success with the Polar Vantage V, and as far as I’m concerned the pending Strava Segment firmware, due later in 2019 will make this a 5/5 watch