Advertisement
Advertisement

Polar Vantage V review: Sadly, just too imprecise

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
439
inc VAT

The Polar Vantage V offers a hugely advanced feature set but it doesn't do the basics well enough for a wearable this expensive

Pros 
Stylish design
Interesting new metrics
Cons 
Expensive
Nowhere near the required accuracy
Advertisement

The Polar Vantage V is the third Polar device I’ve reviewed for Expert Reviews and, unfortunately, it’s the first time I’ll be giving one a thumbs down. The Polar M430 and Polar Vantage M are both excellent mid-range devices but the Vantage V’s jump to high-end is – unfortunately – a swing and a miss.
 
In short, it’s nowhere near accurate enough for a device of this price and I’ve tried two units to make sure I didn’t just get a dud the first time.

Polar Vantage V review: What you need to know

While the Vantage M is aimed at casual fitness fans, the Vantage V is aimed at professionals – or those that like to train as if they’re professional anyway.

That means it offers everything the Polar M does and more. Given the M already offered GPS, GLONASS, heart-rate sensing, training load, sleep tracking and VO2 max, that sounds very impressive indeed. The main extras are a bigger battery, Recovery Pro, a barometer, running power stats and a touchscreen.

Polar Vantage V review: Price and competition

All of these things come at a price of course and, while the Vantage M comes in at £250, the Vantage V goes for £440. There’s also a version that includes a Polar chest strap in the box for more accurate heart-rate tracking for £480. Amazon is selling the latter at a lower price than the former at the time of writing, so if you’re going to buy one, that’s the variant to choose.
 

 
Whichever one you opt for, a £400+ price puts it in direct competition with the more expensive Garmin models: the 645 Music, for example, which does almost everything you could want from a running watch, albeit without the running power estimate demonstrated here, which is something of a first in the space.

Polar Vantage V review: Design

Before we get onto its performance shortcomings, it’s worth highlighting something Polar absolutely gets right: design. I was a huge fan of the company’s M430 running watch, but it wasn’t a looker by any sane person’s definition. It was all sharp angles, bulky and bright orange colour scheme (for my review model at least).
 
The Vantage V fixes all of this with aplomb. While it retains the same number of buttons (two on the left and three on the right), the watch now has a stylish round face. Which would be more noteworthy if it weren’t virtually indistinguishable from the Vantage M.
 
Seriously. You have to have them right next to each other to tell the differences but they are there. For starters, the Vantage M has small round buttons, while the Vantage V opts for longer rounded rectangles. I can’t say that this makes it any more usable, though.

  
 
More importantly, the Vantage V watch is moulded into the strap, where the Vantage M has standard spring bar pins to easily pop in a replacement. This isn’t replaceable, which is a rare example of a higher-priced model taking away a feature rather than adding a new one.
 
Otherwise, it’s same old, same old here. While the Vantage V is 0.5mm thicker and 21g heavier, the dimensions of the watch face are the same and both watches share a 240 x 240 colour display. The Vantage V has a touchscreen but that’s a superfluous feature in my view.
 
Unfortunately, that also means it has the same mild issues as the Vantage M. The display isn’t hugely bright or vibrant, and the handsomeness of the watch is a little dented by the knowledge that much of the screen is taken up with thick bezels. Many won’t care or notice this, though, so it’s not the biggest design sin in the world.

Polar Vantage V: Performance

Speaking of sins, here’s the biggy. What good is a running watch when its data can’t be trusted? As should be obvious by now, given my love of the Polar M430, I’d rather have utility than good looks any day and this is where the Vantage V almost immediately falls down.
 
I tested two samples, just to be sure, and found neither could be trusted with the basics, let alone the more experimental stuff like running power. The heart rate tracking would often skew a little low and, more worryingly, would sometimes do strange things like this:

 
This trace was recorded during Gladstone parkrun. For those who don’t know, parkruns are timed and accurately measured 5km group runs, which makes them quite good for testing running watches. For some reason, my heart rate seems to shoot up from 120bpm to 170bpm in under a minute after ten minutes of running at a fairly even pace. Bonkers.
 
Still, other times it was far more consistent and, personally, I think heart rate is overvalued as a metric for runners anyway. What absolutely isn’t is GPS, and here the Polar Vantage V is worse.
 
Crystal Palace parkrun? 4.84km. Markeaton parkrun? 4.84km. Gladstone parkrun? 4.8km. Old Dear parkrun? 4.91km. Crane parkrun? 4.83km. Mansfield parkrun? 4.86km. Burgess parkrun? 4.88km. One parkrun may be the wrong length, maybe even two. But for seven to be 100 to 200 metres off is hugely unlikely.

 

True, 100-200 metres off a 5,000-metre course isn’t an enormous amount (it’s 2-4%, maths fans), and it’s not like this is the first wearable I’ve reviewed to have this problem. I had similar issues with the Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro and the Garmin Forerunner 235, with similarly iffy distances. My tolerance of this is inversely proportional to the cost of the product however and, I’m sorry, but a device that costs more than £400 should get the basics a lot more accurate than this.
 
You can also make a case saying that it doesn’t matter too much about accuracy, as long as it’s consistently inaccurate. I have two responses to that: the first is that it’s clearly nonsense in a product aimed at pros and the second is that, even if it weren’t, the problem extends to your behaviour on actual runs.
 
Because GPS is so far out, your average pace can’t be trusted either. Say you’re looking for a sub-25-minute time. You know, therefore, that you need to run at a pace of 4:59 minutes per kilometre to achieve that. Well, good luck figuring out if you’re going at the correct speed when the pace metrics keep jumping all over the place on your screen. For every one of the parkruns above, I expected a worse time than I ended up with, on account of its inability to measure a kilometre.
 
The other problem with this is it leaves me wondering how much the other metrics can be trusted. GPS is objective and simple to measure: how far is point A to B? Things like VO2 Max can only accurately be measured with specific equipment and specialist sensors so consumer fitness wearables that offer this sort of data generally only estimate such metrics based on the information you supply about your age and physiology couple with clever algorithms and sensor data.
 
Running power, which the Vantage V is the first wrist-based wearable to provide, is another such measurement. It’s an indication of how much effort you’re putting in that, in theory, is more useful than heart rate, because heart rate can only measure aerobic power and is unaware of context.

 
Running power is a more consistent measure of effort and it uses your weight coupled with the barometer and GPS sensors in the watch (to measure altitude change more accurately as well as speed) all crunched via Polar’s own equations.
 
That’s great: it means you can set your run to power rather than pace for a steady rate regardless of terrain but the problem is, put bluntly, if the GPS aspect of the measurement is significantly out, its estimates of running power are going to be as well.

 

It’s a real shame as, like the Vantage M, the rest of the package is pretty good. The watch lets you display up to four metrics on the screen as you run – everything from cadence and calories to pace and distance. Recovery tracking is great too, giving you at-a-glance information on whether you’re detraining, maintaining, productive or overreaching, with estimates on how long you need to rest before you’re good to go again.

If you get the chest strap bundle, you can make this more advanced using Recovery Pro. This will give you deeper, more personalised insights if you’re prepared to go through a four-minute orthostatic test three times per week while it reads Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Put the chest strap on, lie down for two minutes while your heart rate lowers, then stand up for another two and have the strap assess the heart rate jump. After that, you answer some questions about how you slept, how drained you feel and the general recovery advice is replaced with a bespoke one tailored to your heart and head.

That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, I had a few issues. The first is that the orthostatic test frequently failed for me, advising me that the chest pad needed to be wet (it was). Frustratingly, this would usually happen after at least 90 seconds of it diligently taking heart readings.

The second issue is that even when it does work after several goes, I found it often gave inconsistent results. On Saturday I did the seventh parkrun and the next morning’s test told me I was fully recovered and to ‘go for it’. I didn’t go for it, instead opting for an extremely lazy day, but the next morning I took another test where it told me I wasn’t recovered and that I should take it easy.

In other words, it’s a nice idea, because having text to interpret the numbers is certainly closer to having a running coach on your wrist. But, for now, it feels a bit too much like guesswork and I feel it’s no more useful than listening to my internal coach as I did on Sunday morning when I ignored its advice.

Like the Vantage M, smartphone notifications are bafflingly MIA but should be coming in an update due February 2019.  

Polar Vantage V review: Verdict

It’s common sense that, the more you spend on a product, the better it should be. That’s manifestly not the case with the Polar Vantage V and after testing two different watches to be sure, I certainly can’t recommend this as a pro solution.

It’s strange, as the version aimed at amateurs – the Vantage M – seems more accurate, and it’s available for nearly £200 less. For a pro solution, then, you’re best off looking at the options from arch rivals Garmin.

Read more

Reviews