Polar Vantage V review: Advanced technology and coaching help athletes achieve their best

  • Editors' rating
    8.4 Excellent

Pros

  • High quality fit and finish
  • Long battery life
  • Accurate heart rate sensor
  • Comfortable strap
  • Running power right from the wrist
  • Full featured Polar Flow service

Cons

  • Bulky for sleep tracking
  • Limited notification support
  • No onboard music support

The Apple Watch is arguably the best smartwatch available, but when it comes to advanced data collection for serious athletes it doesn't compare well to dedicated GPS sports watches. These rugged data wearables are made by the likes of Garmin, Suunto, Polar, and Coros.

The Polar Vantage V was announced last fall and I've been running with one for the month of March. This high end Polar multisport watch was designed as the modern successor to the reliable Polar V800 from 2015.

I am currently training for the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll half marathon taking place on 9 June and after evaluating several training plans and wearables, I've selected the Polar Vantage V and Polar's plans to help me achieve my PR in 2019. My motivation to achieve a PR just after I turned 50 is driven by my desire to help families with children battling cancer through the St. Jude's Children's Research hospital. One of my aunt's just died from cancer and another is actively fighting it right now so I would be extremely grateful to anyone donating as little as $1 to help us all join with families as they battle this terrible disease.

See also: Fitbit Versa review: Finally, a smartwatch that can make Fitbit proud

Choosing the Polar half marathon training plan

Before I get into the details of the hardware, software, and experiences of the Polar Vantage V, I wanted to share a bit with readers on the process of evaluating training plans. I never run inside and thankfully living in the mild climate of Washington State allows me to run outside every day of the year so I was not looking for any plan that included treadmill running. I also do not belong to a local fitness center and prefer to stick to bodyweight exercises for my cross training. I do enjoy biking to the train every day so cycling is a possible exercise to include as well.

Regular readers may know that I recently wrote about the Stryd power meter and I personally believe power is a great metric for my training since I live on a hill and almost every run I make includes hills. However, there are currently no training plans based upon power that sync to a GPS or smartwatch. I could use paper or PDF versions of these training plans, but then there is no way to sync the plan with the data collected to measure progress and such. I imagine as the popularity of power increases we will see developers work to bring power training plans to wearables.

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In the past, I used half-marathon and marathon training plans from RunKeeper. This year I also looked at plans from Stryd (they don't sync to wearables or even the smartphone app), Garmin (great free plans that have pilates, yoga, and other activities), and Strava (10-week plan that focuses on running with some cross training). All the plans have benefits and are sure to help one achive their goals.

I chose the Polar training plan because it was a 15-week plan with various run lengths, including intervals, strength training with bodyweight exercises, dynamic stretching, and static stretching. The strength and stretching portions include videos and timers that you can watch on your phone that serve as a personal trainer to help you get through the session. Everything syncs from the watch to the plans with race predictors, recovery data, and much more. In the three weeks that I've been training, my half marathon predicted finish time has gone from 2:21:30 to 2:02:00 so I'm gaining confidence in my ability to get down to 1:50 and set a PR in 2019.

Specifications

  • Display: 1.2 inch color touchscreen, 240x240 pixels resolution, Gorilla Glass
  • Materials: Stainless steel front case and silicone band
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth Low Energy, GPS, GLONASS
  • Water resistance: WR30 rating for 30m water resistance
  • Sensors: 3-axis accelerometer, optical heart rate monitor with nine sensors, vibration motor, barometer
  • Battery life: 40 hours with GPS and heart rate enabled, 320mAh battery
  • Dimensions: 46mm diameter x 13mm thick, 66 grams

Hardware

The Polar Vantage V has a 1.2 inch color display and unlike Garmin's high end sports watches this one is a touchscreen. However, you also get five buttons for navigating the watch and when in active sport tracking mode the touchscreen is disabled. I prefer to use buttons when in active mode, but would like to see the option for people to make that choice themselves.

The display is nothing like an Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch, in terms of brightness, color, and resolution, but it comparable with my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus and looks great in full sunlight. I ran a couple of times in Florida and had no problem seeing the display during my runs.

There are five physical buttons on the Vantage V, two on the left and three on the right, with the center right one colored red. The top left button is the light button that toggles on the backlight, shows the battery status when in time view, and can be used to lock/unlock the touch display manually with a press and hold. The bottom left button is the menu/back button that also serves to cancel selections, return to time view from the menu, and also initiate a sync to your phone with a press and hold. Syncing your data is not automatic so you need to press and hold this lower left button after you are done with your workout to sync it to your phone and the Polar Flow service.

See also: Apple Watch Series 4 back on my wrist: Unnecessary, but indispensable

The top right button is for up and the bottom right is for down. These two buttons change the watch face in time view, move through lists, and adjust selected values. The center right button is the OK button and is red. It is used to confirm selections, enter pre-training mode with a press and hold, and show more details shown on the watch face when applicable time views are active.

I've been running with the Polar Vantage V all month and I still don't have a good flow for button use. I often hit the right center button to end my run (it is colored red and is the button you use to start the run), but that serves as a just a lap button. You have to press and hold down the bottom left button for more than three seconds to save a run, a single press of this button pauses your workout. I understand this prevents accidentally ending a workout, but it is still taking me time to learn.

It's also a bit awkward to use the right upper and lower buttons to scroll through time view when you swipe right and left on the display to perform this same action. There is a bit of jumping between the touch display and buttons so I try to live with navigation just with buttons most of the time as that is also what I am used to on my Garmin watch.

The watch band is a non-standard band, but it can be swapped out for other bands and there are already third party inexpensive options on Amazon. The included Polar bands are very comfortable silicone material that is fairly malleable. Two loops secure the bitter end so there is no movement during workouts.

Polar is well-known for its heart rate technology with its chest strap monitors serving as the standard for years. While Polar still has chest straps and one is actually still required for orthostatic tests and for more detailed heart rate tracking, it has also been working to perfect wrist-mounted monitoring. The Polar Vantage V has Polar Precision Prime technology that uses five green LEDs and four red ones with four electrode sensors to verify skin contact. All of these LEDs and the sensors are designed to obtain reliable heart rate readings.

I compared the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus connected to a Garmin heart rate chest strap against the Polar Vantage V for the last month. My experiences show that heart rate matches closely, even during intervals. The Garmin shows more info on running dynamics with metrics such as vertical ratio, vertical oscillation, ground contact time, and more. Comparing power shows that Polar power is something like 30 to 50 watts, on average, less than that calculated by the Garmin heart rate strap. Stryd's power values come in about 50 less than Polar. There is no standard for running power so you just need to pick a platform and then use that as the basis for your workouts. A good Stryd workout for me is at 350 watts, which would translate to about 400 watts for Polar and 450 watts for Garmin strap or running dynamics pod.

The Vantage V is pretty thick and I found it sometimes hung up under me while wearing it to track my sleep. I ended up taking it off a couple of nights because it was just too big and clunky to sleep comfortably. The Vantage V is light at just 66 grams though (my Fenix 5 Plus is 86 grams), but all of this heart rate technology and a large battery make it something I don't really want to wear every night.

Advertised battery life is up to 40 hours in training mode (active GPS and heart rate monitoring). I was able to usually go a full week with the Vantage V that included three 30-45 minutes runs, 24/7 activity tracking, and smartphone notifications turned on. The four skin contact sensors also serve as the connection points to charge up the Vantage V using the included charging puck connected to a USB cable.

Watch software

The first thing you see when you lift up your wrist is the watch face. Make a choice to view analog or digital watch faces and then scroll through the different views to check out your data. You cannot edit or change the watch faces, and you cannot remove faces you do not want to see.

Here are the various watch faces and the data that appears. When you open the details, by pressing in on the center right button, you can view even more from the watch face.

  • Time: Just the date and time
  • Activity: Circle around the outside fills as you progress with percent shown as a number. Details show steps taken, active time, calories burned, and active time.
  • Cardio load status: Indicates if you are detraining, maintaining, productive, or overreaching. Daily training recommendations will also appear. Details include numeric values for cardio load, strain, and tolerance with a text description of this below the figures.
  • Heart rate: Current heart rate can be checked by pressing the center right OK button. Details show your highest and lowest readings for the day and lowest HR during sleep.
  • Latest training session: The amount of time that has passed since your last training is shown. Details include summaries of your training sessions from the last 14 days. You can also press OK to access even more details of your selected session.
  • Sleep: An overview of your last night's sleep is shown. Details show when you fell asleep, when you woke up, sleep time, sleep continuity, sleep breakdown, and feedback about your sleep.

Pressing the lower left, back, button launches the menu where you can access start training, timers, orthostatic test, and settings. Settings include physical (height, weight, max heart rate, and other specifics about you), general (pair and sync, continuous HR tracking, do not disturb, units, phone notifications toggle, and more), and watch (alarm, watch face digital/analog toggle, time, date, and first day of the week).

Unlike the Garmin I have used before, you cannot customize the training displays on the watch itself. All sport profile screens are setup on your phone and then synced to the Vantage V. This is only an issue if you don't have your phone and want to take on a new activity you did not plan for.

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Sleep tracking also requires that you be sleeping for at least four hours to track. Thus, you cannot measure naps with the Vantage V and maybe the assumption is that athletes sleep longer and don't take naps.

While more than 130 different sports can be tracked, you can select those you want to see in the pre-training screens on your phone and then sync them to the watch. I currently have jogging, hiking, cycling, mobility (static), mobility (dynamic), strength training, core, running, multisport, other indoor, and other outdoor shown on the Vantage V.

Smartphone app

The smartphone app offers up a subset of what you see on the Polar Flow website, with some specific watch settings available under the More tab. The real power of the smartphone app is found in the ability to edit sport profiles. You can have up to 20 profiles synced to the Vantage V at one time and as stated above I have 10 synced at this time.

Select a sport profile and then choose to edit it. Options exist for automatic lap, training sounds volume, units to report heart rate, speed/pace, and power, heart rate zone settings, additional views (back to start, pace, power, timers, etc.), altitude, and auto pause. GPS is either off or high accuracy with no optional setting between these two options.

You can have up to eight training views on your Vantage V with up to four areas of the display showing data. I've been running with two screens of four pieces of data each, along with the additional views using the toggles below the panels setup. Since this current training plan uses heart rate zones with phased training targets, its own view shows up that lets me know which phase I am in, what my target and actual heart rate are, and how much time is left in this phase. It's proven to be a great way to stay in phase and I like this training method. I wish the same was available for power zones though and hope to see that in an update.

You can view training summaries and all the nitty gritty details of your data on the watch itself and also on the smartphone app. Daily activity, sleep, and more are also available in the smartphone app.

Polar Flow website

The Polar Vantage V watch experience might be surpassed by watches from Garmin or Suunto, but in my experiences the Polar Flow online service is like having a virtual coach and cannot be beat. I live in the diary, progess, and programs tabs while occasionally browsing the feed, explore, and community tabs. At this time with my focus on half marathon training I am not looking to participate in activities with others.

The diary section of Polar Flow shows you what you have completed and what's on your training calendar, a summary list of your training history, your 24/7 activity details that include sleep, steps, and more, your recover status with the highly anticpated Training Load Pro that is designed to help you prevent injuries through overtraining. It's proven to be valuable to me as I actually felt my legs feeling poorly when I ran in an overtraining situation as I tried to push things to make up for down time. The Training Load Pro module helps you optimize your workouts to achieve the right balance. Avoiding caution can set you back for a long time and even prevent you from racing so this is a valuable service.

The sleep data is interesting, but not as practically useful as that provided by Fitbit and Garmin. Those two companies use the heart rate monitors to provide REM sleep data, while Polar focuses on actual sleep and interruptions. It is definitely useful and valuable data, but it is taking me longer to figure out its value.

The progress section of Polar Flow gives you your training report, activity report, running index report, and cardio load report. These all show trends of your data and help you train for success. I love seeing my half marathon prediction drop by 19.5 minutes already in three weeks in the running index report.

The programs tab shows you where you are in your current training program. You can shift workouts here, but I found it more useful to do so in the smartphone app since you can move workouts across weeks. I sometimes have work trips or other obligations that prevent me from completing a planned workout. Using my smartphone I can move these around to make sure I complete them some time and the great thing about Polar is that all of this is used to calculate real-life status of your body and progress.

Pricing and availability

You can purchase a Vantage V now for $499.95 in black, orange, and white. There is also a bundle with the Polar H10 heart rate strap for $549.95. If you don't care about running power, want to use standard straps, and have a bit less battery life then you may want to consider the Vantage M for just $279.95.

Conclusions

The Polar Vantage V is the first wearable that integrates power without requiring an external heart rate strap or footpod, but power is not yet integrated into its training plans or even into the viewable data to any real extent. I've been comparing Polar power with Garmin and Stryd since running power is not standardized like cycling power. The values are just interesting at this time, but are not yet serving much of a purpose beyond being collected and analyzed after the fact.

I'm hoping to see Polar roll out some updates to its training plans that integrate power or at least improve the Polar Flow website to make power a more prominent data point for tracking and evaluation. I've been thinking of the Vantage M as a sports watch for a considerable savings give that 30 hours of performance time is just as good as 40 hours for me since I typically run from 30 minutes to 90 minutes.

Very basic notification support is provided on the Polar Vantage V, but in order for me to use it as a daily wear watch and capture my movement and heart rate 24/7 I need to see better control of the notifications on Android smartphones. This functionality is capable of improvement through a software update.

As always, if you want to check out the most comprehensive review online for the Vantage V, make sure to visit DC Rainmaker's review.

I'm hoping to keep using this watch for the entire phase of my half marathon training so I can then write about the full training experience and the results obtained with the help of the Polar Vantage V. If you have any questions on this GPS sports watch, please let them in the comments section and I'll respond. I will also be testing out the cycling function and other sports in the future.

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