The Polar Vantage V ($549 bundled with Polar H10 belt) was known by a few rumored names before its official release – think V850 and V900. At one point, there was even talk on some online community sites that Polar has thrown in the towel for the premium wearables race since they haven’t announced any product update to the venerable V800 since 4 years back – the equivalent of forever in the world of wearables.
The lead up marketing for the Vantage series was covert and hinged heavily on teasing and even more teasing. But alas, the announcement date clashed with the unveiling of the Apple Watch Series 4 and thunder was stolen, somewhat.
Polar Vantage V was to be Polar’s all-in-one solution for athletes. Kick ass optical HR sensors, training and recovery feedback, native running power, all packed in a decent looking package.
I was lucky to get my hands on both the Vantage V and M end October but ultimately decided to just focus on the Vantage V for this review. After close to a month of use with the Polar Vantage V, here’s what I have to say from sunny Singapore!
POLAR VANTAGE V LOOK AND FEEL
The Polar Vantage V is a breakaway from Polar’s mostly geometric shaped watches in recent years – think Polar V800, M430, M400, A360 and so on. The Vantage V is clean in appearance and exudes a sense of robustness as reflected by the weight of the device and also the punchiness of the buttons.
The back of the watch case is mildly textured, similar to that of the watch strap. You can hardly feel the transition from watch case to strap due to the faultless fit.
Perhaps the markings on both watch case and strap serves to reduce incidences of a perfectly smooth surface sticking to skin, allowing breath-ability to a certain degree.
The Precision Prime optical heart rate sensors are housed in the back of the watch and you can see both red and green lights.
The electrodes serve as charging points as well as skin contact measurements that supposedly “rule out any motion artifacts that might disturb the heart rate signal and produce unreliable readings.” The heart rate sensors will not turn on when the watch is not worn.
The display has an adequate display to “bezel” ratio which enhances the appearance of the watch rather than making it look ridiculously small; as is the case with the Polar M200.
The inscriptions on the bezel serves its purpose when the watch is placed in analog mode instead of digital. On a side note, the inscription does elevate the aesthetics of the watch to a certain degree.
The watch display views great under bright sunlight. However, visibility in low light, especially during night runs, can be a pain. By default, wrist flick triggers the back light to turn on, albeit at a miserable illumination level. I almost always had to further bump up the brightness by pressing the top left-hand button to activate maximum brightness. Polar has promised more improvements to backlight in future updates though I don’t see why this should have happened in the first place.
*Update 12th Dec: Back-light illumination level has been bumped up in a firmware update and is now just a notch lower than manual activation of the back-light via the top left hand button.
Also, I found the fonts a tad small for viewing and I have perfect eyesight. Surely someone at Polar should have noticed this.
5 textured buttons control the functions of the watch along with a touch display and only 2 of the 5 buttons have pre-fixed long press functions. These are the functions of the 5 buttons.
Top left: Brings up maximum backlight
Bottom left: Access settings. Long press initiates manual sync. When in sub-menu, long press brings you back to watch screen. During workout, short press pauses recording while long press cease recording.
Top right: Scrolls up
Center right: Functions as select button. Long press brings up training profiles. During workout, short press functions as lap.
Bottom right: Scrolls down.
Clearly, some of the buttons are under-utilised while others are over-used.
Touch display response is prompt, even faster than the physical buttons. This might be due to the fact that there’s limited scrolling at present. User interface is a tad cumbersome. For example, touch display allows you to scroll left, right, up, down, and select. But, it doesn’t allow you to go back which you’ll have to depend on the heavily used bottom left hand button.
Do take note that the touch display is rendered near useless with wet fingers. Furthermore, touch capability is deactivated during exercise recording mode.
I found it a pity the watch doesn’t ship with quick-changeable options, something I know a lot of people will appreciate. Just look at Apple’s gamut of accessory strap options and the numerous strap options for Garmin, Suunto, and Fitbit. Ironically, the less powerful and cheaper Vantage M has quick change straps.
Based on my own user experience, the watch lasted slightly more than 6 days on a full charge with:
- Continuous wrist HR turned on throughout
- Daily orthostatic tests
- About 4 hours of GPS enabled workouts
As of publication, Polar has yet to implement smart notifications. Thus, battery life may seem longer now compared to after smart notifications implementation as constant Bluetooth connection to mobile device does sap battery life.
The Polar Vantage V deserves high marks in the aesthetics department. It isn’t the best looking watch I’ve ever used but it’s a respectable upgrade from Polar’s previous offerings. However, due consideration should have been accorded to the fonts. Small details such as this mar the overall experience of using the watch and Polar could take a leaf out of Suunto’s book.
PRECISION PRIME WRIST HEART RATE
To test the new Polar Precision Prime optical heart rate sensors, I’d compare the recorded HR data versus that as captured by a Polar H10 chest strap HR monitor over 4 types of activities.
- Long run
- Strength training
- Swimming (Added this because Polar claim that the Vantage V can measure HR in water)
I don’t do triathlon but I guess most readers to this blog run, swim, and perhaps strength train so hopefully the 4 activities listed above sufficiently tests Polar Vantage V’s Precision Prime sensors.
I’d be surprised if the readings weren’t decent for hills intervals since I’ve have had pretty good experiences with the Polar M430, M200 and even the M600. No complaints here.
I’ve used wrist HR monitors that claim to measure HR underwater but I’ve yet to meet one that works properly. Until the Polar Vantage V that is.
I’m skeptical of wrist-based HR readings in the water because of the challenges but the Polar Vantage blew my socks off completely.
For those of you who are concerned whether your Polar chest straps can transmit real time HR readings to the Polar Vantage V, it doesn’t. But, it does offer a decent measurement of your HR during swim activities in real time.
Here’s the strength training HR as recorded by the Vantage V and compared versus the Polar H10.
I’m less harsh on the performance of optical HR sensors when it comes to strength training simply because the constant flexing of the muscles really doesn’t help with sensors trying to read heart rate from the wrist.
In my opinion, the Polar Vantage V put up a decent performance again.
I had issues with Polar Vantage V on my trail runs so I actually repeated the same 10km trail run at a slower pace just to be sure. Here’s the same run on another occasion when the Vantage V did perform up to mark.
The poor wrist heart rate readings has happened a few times and it always take place towards the second half of a 1 hour trail run; when I’m dehydrated and pushing pretty hard. After extensive usage, I can’t say I’m impressed with Vantage V’s optical HR sensors during my long runs.
The Polar Vantage V’s HR recording prowess is impeccable in swimming but in all other aspects, I wouldn’t say it’s the best optical HR sensor I’ve come across.
POLAR VANTAGE V GPS ACCURACY
The Polar Vantage V is both GPS and GLONASS enabled. Unlike the Garmin watches, you can’t select whether you would like to turn off GLONASS or not and GALILEO GNSS (Global navigation satellite system) is not supported for now.
I have a few places where I normally run and it involves Singapore’s famous MacRitchie trail and a nice 6.7-6.9km loop near where I reside. So here goes:
I completed 4 loops of the Mac Ritchie 10km trail but only 3 was recorded in full. One of the trail run was cut short because battery on the Vantage V was very low and apparently went into low power recording mode. GPS was cut off leaving the optical HR sensors running. Strange as I assume runners would’ve preferred leaving the GPS on and the optical HR sensors off.
This low battery recording mode was confirmed by Polar Support who stated that “Vantage will begin to disable features to conserve battery life, including GPS.”
Here are the four 10km trail runs and the distance as recorded by the Vantage V.
10km runs on 4 separate occasions.
- 6.79km (Watch stopped recording distance mid-run in very low battery mode)
This is the 6.7-6.9km route where I normally do my hill intervals as measured by Google maps and the subsequent distance recorded by the Polar Vantage V.
I also did a few sessions of 5km run where the Vantage V recorded accurate distances on all occasions even though the tracked route differed somewhat.
5km stadium run
Distance aside, the tracked route seems to follow where I’ve run when after review. There were hiccups as should be for most GPS wearables but on the whole, Vantage V’s GPS performance seems consistent but not stellar.
As the Polar Vantage V also features A-GPS, remember to sync the watch to Polar Flow before your GPS workouts to ensure prompt GPS signal acquisition.
TRAINING LOAD PRO AND RECOVERY PRO
I personally think it’s great that Polar is paying so much attention to recovery, targeting an area that is both essential yet receiving very little attention – the right balance between training load and recovery ~ Daniela Schaefer Olstad, Senior Researcher Ph.D. Polar.
The purpose of the Recovery Pro is providing an estimate for your training versus your recovery efforts in order to stave off injury for the user. This is in line with the IOC’s statement on training load in sport and injury risk.
This metric shows how recovered your body is, presumably from the last workouts and daily stress from work, and then provides feedback specific to the individual.
There are two Recovery Pro readings you can access:
A short version which you get after every orthostatic test.
A lengthier version which is embedded within the training load display.
Recovery Pro is unique to the Polar Vantage V and not the Vantage M. In order for the Recovery readings to appear, the user must enable “recovery feedback” in settings and thereafter do the orthostatic test for at least 3 sessions combined with a week of workouts. That’s what I did before I got my first reading.
The orthostatic test measures your heart rate and heart rate variability in order to derive your daily cardio recovery level. Upon completion of each test, you’ll be asked 3 questions:
- Level of muscle soreness
- Body strain level
- Sleep quality
The latest update has removed the audio beeps from the orthostatic test when the Vantage V first launched.
The watch only beeps upon the completion of the test but it’ll prompt the user via vibrations when test commences or when the user is required to stand up.
You can pre-set the days to do the orthostatic tests and a reminder will pop up on the watch when it’s time for the test. Sadly, this is also the only form of notifications you can receive on the Polar Vantage V for now.
The Recovery Pro feedback goes into detail what the user should or shouldn’t do; such as to train light and rest for the day or that the day is good for cardio training and so on.
Here are the standard readings you’ll see based on your body recovery levels. I’ve extracted the screen shots off Polar’s YouTube video on Recovery Pro.
Despite the upgrade of the optical HR sensors in the form of Precision Prime hardware, Polar still defers to the chest strap heart rate monitor for the orthostatic tests.
Users can access the Recovery Pro feedback in the Polar Flow app or the web platform even though the results are the same.
So, is it accurate?
I like to think Polar has done the necessary homework before delivering both Training Load Pro and Recovery Pro. Nevertheless, the most accurate litmus of recovery is really how you feel. And when complemented with science, such as Polar’s or Firstbeat’s, helps make training and recovery more of math than an art.
POLAR VANTAGE V RUNNING POWER
Polar Vantage V is the first wrist wearable to feature native running power.
The key consideration is really the accuracy of the running power from the wrist at a reasonable price. For comparison, I pit the Garmin dynamics running pod against the Polar Vantage V’s running power measurement and this is one of the test runs.
Running power measurements from both sources seem to hover around the same range. Now this is based on post workout analysis. During the run, it was obvious the running power measurements differed between both devices; not by 1-2 watts but by quite a significant margin constantly.
Interestingly, the running power measurements was disrupted towards the end of the run. I had the “good” fortune of being caught in bad weather mid-run, over 2 separate occasions, and can confirm that the running power readings from the Vantage V are affected by the change in weather; both altitude and running power, and in a big way.
In both instances for the Vantage V, running power exploded by 200-300% and altitude dipped. I understand the barometric pressure drop with the coming of rain but I was surprised at the magnitude which the Polar Vantage V’s readings suffered.
I did not experience such a prominent change with the Garmin running dynamics pod in the same situation.
According to Polar Support:”The Running Power feature on the Vantage requires a GPS reading. If the GPS is compromised due to poor weather, then it is conceivable that the power readings would be affected as well.”
Here’s another run where I pit the running power readings of the Vantage V and the Garmin pods for comparison. This run took place with no change in weather so the running power graphs appear more consistent throughout.
The running power as recorded by the Polar Vantage V can be 50 watts higher than that recorded by the Garmin dynamics running pod at various points of the run. This is consistent with the comparison above when the Vantage V also recorded higher peak running power.
If you’re using a Stryd, it will overwrite the native running power measurements of the Vantage V. Here’s the running power comparison between the Polar Vantage V and the Stryd running power meter.
Similar to the Garmin running dynamics pod, the Stryd running power meter clocks a lower running power reading when compared versus the Vantage V. Also it doesn’t exhibit such wide fluctuations throughout the hills intervals.
One thing is certain. Without a standard benchmark, I can’t for the life of me judge if the Garmin dynamic running pod,the Vantage V is more accurate, or the Stryd is more accurate.
Unlike metrics like heart rate or cadence where it can be quantified easily, running power currently lacks a standard measure when it comes to practical usage. In no way am I saying this metric is useless. On the contrary, if you’re running flats and stick to either Garmin, Polar or Stryd and use running power to train and subsequently pace, I’m pretty sure you’ll be running decent races. The issue I have is the lack of a standard across the various brands.
All I can say with regards to Polar Vantage V’s running power readings is that it seems to be in the same range as that recorded by the Garmin running dynamics pod.
Interestingly, you can’t set a power zone to run in on the Vantage V. Also, native running power does not appear for treadmill runs on the Polar Vantage V. Polar Support can’t say for certain whether or not an additional variable will be added that will allow it to track power without GPS.
But, if you’re skeptical about running power altogether, then the Vantage M might be a better value for money consideration. Plus that has compatibility with 3rd party running power sensors.
ALL DAY ACTIVITY TRACKING
Besides a multitude of sports profiles you can access and customise, the Polar Vantage V watch will also track all your activities throughout the day. Sleep is captured with Polar’s proprietary Sleep Plus.
When the continuous HR option is turned on, the watch will also read and record your HR throughout the day. You can then see your lowest resting HR during sleep and your lowest HR during the day.
DATA ANALYSIS AND MOBILE APP
There are 2 ways to access all the data whenever you buy a Polar wearable. It goes by the name of Polar Flow and there is a web platform and a mobile app version.
The web platform offers more details compared to the app and allows you to export and edit workouts or subscribe to training programs.
The mobile app has less details than the web platform but should suffice for that quick after-workout review.
Of course, you can also access the data directly from the watch but you’ll get even less details, no access to editing options, and no map view.
CONCERNS ABOUT THE VANTAGE V
Polar has lined up a whole list of upcoming and future updates. If you’re keen, you can refer to the firmware update schedule here.
- Inactivity alert
- Route import
- Strava Live segments
- Back to start
- Route guidance
- R-R recording test
- Interval timers, stop watch, countdown timer (updated 12th Dec 2018)
- Smart notifications
Some of the features are already present in Polar’s aged wearables so it is perplexing, frustrating even, why buyers have to wait for these updates.
The watch doesn’t have ANT+ so you’re resigned to a full suite of Bluetooth training accessories. This might affect those on the Garmin platform looking to jump ship.
The default display background is black and that’s not changeable at present. A pity because it would have made visibility much easier on the eyes.
Also, I take issues with some of the ridiculously small fonts on the watch which I found straining to read even though I have 6/6 eyesight. Even the countdown timer runs on a ridiculous tiny fonts even though the entire screen is left nearly empty.
The wrist flick activated back-light is dismal and I always had to bump up the brightness by activating the illumination button. This needs to be fixed. *Improved as of 12th Dec 2018.
Battery life is listed as full, half full, low and very low. Percentage indications would have been more useful. Or perhaps something like what Suunto did – indicate duration of usage left for workouts. Otherwise you’ll be left with GPS being cut while optical HR continues midway through your workout.
Swim workout needs a lot of work in terms of distance tracked for pool swims and presentation of data; the Polar Vantage V is consistently off in in terms of distance swam in my usage.
And running power does not appear for indoor workouts such as treadmill running.
POLAR VANTAGE V IN A NUTSHELL
$499 is a big price to pay for an yet-to-be-completed wearable. When I buy a product, I like it to be completed and improve with time, not nearly ready and improve over time. I’m using a retail ready unit and not a beta so what I get is pretty much what you’ll get as well.
The key selling point of the Polar Vantage series is the Training Load Pro,Recovery Pro, native running power, and the new Precision Prime sensors. I like to think those keen in performance will appreciate the Vantage V’s features more than the recreational users. Perhaps, this is Polar’s way of appealing to a niche group of users who value performance feedback rather than bells and whistles.
The million dollar question is really how long Polar will take to exploit the full potential of the Vantage V before the competition catches up.
I had a lackluster experience with the Suunto Spartan series in its early days and I’m getting the same feeling with the Vantage V now, albeit much better. Even if the Vantage V is eventually completed say some time in 2019, I can’t deny that I do miss the convenience offered by Garmin’s wearables; the Connect IQ capacity, on board music, and contact-less payment especially. All of which the Vantage V will never be able to offer due to both hardware and software limitations.
Yes, there were numerous moments of frustrations using the Vantage V but it’s still early days and I want to give this watch a bit more time. So you can expect updates to this review in another month of so.
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. If you’re interested in the watch, you can purchase the Polar Vantage V from Amazon where there’s usually a small discount, great return policy, and free delivery depending on where you reside. In return your purchase helps to offset the costs associated with the running of this site. Take care and train hard!