The Polar Vantage M surely is a good-looking watch. The metal ring around the dial gives is a solid and expensive look, not bad for the mid price point.
The face is quite large at 46mm – it is sensibly larger than, say, the Garmin Forerunner 645. What I found deceiving is that not all the face is display: there’s a ring around the display that only has the second markers, which I have not found a use for yet. What I can think is that the watch is so large not to maximise the diplay, but to maximise battery life. With a declared 30 hours in training mode (with GPS and heart rate) it is absolutely impressive.
At only 45 grams, it is very lightweight compared to its size. It is also quite comfortable on my mid-sized wrist.
In terms of sensors and hardware, we find GPS and GLONASS and a wrist heart rate sensor that is the only one on the market that combines optical sensor and bio-impedance technology, which overcomes erratic readings caused by movement.
The display is good but not great, and one of my biggest issues with this watch is how low the brightness is (both in standby and in active mode), so that it makes it difficult to read at a glance, especially in sunlight. A firmware update was released recently that supposedly increased the brightness during sport, but I honestly haven’t noticed the difference.
The interface is easy to navigate: there are 5 buttons and no touch screen, which I find a plus in a sport watch.
There is also not much of an interface to navigate: the watch has the bare essentials, and I’d be surprised if you do much more than actually track your runs with it and leave all the data navigation to the Polar Flow app.
Here’s a quick run-down of the buttons and their functions.
On the left side, from top to bottom:
on the right side, from top to bottom:
Overall is quite simple to navigate – the only issue for me is that these buttons are on the opposite side of similar buttons on Garmin watches so it took a few mistakes before I got the hang of it.
To start a run you press menu, start training, select your sport, runnning and press start.
You’ll be presented with the first of the “training watch faces” that is either standard or personalised by you. In order to personalise them, you change the sport profile setting in the Polar Flow app. You can add up to 4 fields to each face, and there are a few full face screens.
Overall the personalisation and overall availability of information is great.
You can set up automatic laps, or you can mark them manually by pressing the start button. You press “back” to pause and hold it pressed for 3 seconds to end your workout.
I don’t know if it’s me, but the watch never automatically synced after a workout: you can start a sync by keeping the back button pressed and opening the Polar app on your phone.
Once that is done, you can finally get to one of the best features of all Polar watches: the Polar Flow app.
Polar Flow is both where you analyse the data of your training and your overall level of fitness, and where you can plan your complete training plan. More on this later.
On the screenshot above you can see how you look at your workout: you can compare immediately for each point of your run how your heart rate was, cadence, speed, altitude… and you’ll see that point highlighted on the map.
Speaking of map, Polar Flow also has another nice function that is “relive your run” where it creates a little video following you around your run and alternating a cursor that runs along your course that sometimes stops to show you Google Street View images of some of the locations. You won’t really use it to watch your usual loop, but it’s very neat for reliving your holiday runs, or maybe your destination marathon.
The other thing you can do in Polar Flow is to plan your whole training schedule. You can use one of the programs developed by Polar; you can set when your race is and what distance – and the app will populate a training plan for you that will allow you to peak on race day. You will then have your watch guide you session by session, telling you how far to run, how fast and will have alarms that alert you if you are running too fast, too slow, if your heart rate is too high or low… It’s a great feature that I already liked on the now old Polar M600.
Overall, the Polar Flow app is great and will give you as much data as you want.
For the advanced athlete there are fuctions such as Training Load Pro, which analyses how much you are straining your muscles and cardio (separately) and gives you an indication if you are straining your body too much (hindering progress) or too little (losing fitness).
This watch is an endurance athlete’s watch and not a fitness tracker. Things that stand out to me are:
What I mean by not being a fitness tracker, is that the watch does not try to do everything (for example counting the reps while lifting weights) – but it focuses on what it can do and it does it really well.
Accuracy is what you expect from a Polar watch.
I never had issues with GPS accuracy (my non-scientific approach feels that it has less issues than my Garmin 645) and for wrist-based HR it’s the same story in all the devices I have tried.
HR is accurate in the long run (pun not intended!), but it lags a bit in picking up the heart beat during interval sessions and sprints.
The battery life is great. I have not done any activity that would require 30 hours of continuous GPS and heart rate measuring, but basing this on the fact that the watch lasts me almost a full week with 3/4 session of sports in there makes me a believer of the fact that you will be able to track your full ironman without worrying about the Vantage M dieing on you.
I think the calorie count on the Polar Vantage M is more accurate than the Garmins (I feel they are too “generous” in terms of how many calories I burn in a session) and the step coount is in line with what I measure with other watches and fitness trackers.
Here it comes: there are no interesting functions!
As of today, January 2019, the watch does not have smart notifications – but a software update scheduled for March will add this functionality. I don’t really miss them, but also because I use this watch only for training.
This said, it is a competent 24 hour activity tracker.
I think Polar managed to find a sweet spot in the market with this watch.
It is a no-frills performance watch. Stripped of a lot of functions such downloadable apps and watch faces, it provides a tremendous amount of tracking and information. This is what I would compare it with.
It has a similar price point to the Garmin Forerunner 235 and Garmin VivoActive 3. It has more running/multisport functions out of the box but has way less “extra functions”. The battery life is not even comparable.
The aforementioned Garmin 645 has a similar range of functions and even more, but with a much higher price.
In conclusion, did I like it ?
I think it’s an incredible running GPS watch for the price. If you are looking for a tool to measure and improve your running (and cycling, swimming…) I strongly recommend it. If you are looking for a more lifestyle watch, you probably better look elsewhere.
We purchased a Vantage M using our own money. This did not influence the outcome of this review, written after running more than 50 miles with it.
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