Polar Vantage M review

There's a lot to like about Polar's cheaper Vantage watch

The Polar Vantage M is a multi sports watch that's primarily going to appeal to runners. But there's also plenty on offer if you are all about your swimming, cycling or one of the others of the 130 sport profiles the M supports.

It's not a replacement for the Polar M430 (a running watch fave here at Wareable), instead sitting somewhere between that cheap running watch and the Vantage V, Polar's new watch that's built for serious athletes.

Just because there's a drop in price, though, don't think you're going to miss out on new metrics like running power or features that will help optimise your training. Polar has managed to support most of its new software additions, with just a few omissions.

Essential reading: Your running watch stats explained

You can still expect to find Polar's new heart rate sensor technology that impressed us on the Vantage V, 24/7 activity tracking including Polar's Sleep Plus sleep monitoring and big battery life. So you're not grabbing that charger on a regular basis.

The Vantage M is going to be much kinder on your bank balance if you're happy to sacrifice some features. It's priced at $279.95, so it's not quite as cheap as the M430. But it's significantly more affordable than the $499.90 Vantage V.

After running the rule over the Vantage V, I've been getting to know the Vantage M to see what it's made of. Read on for my full verdict on the Polar Vantage M.

Polar Vantage M: Design and build

Polar Vantage M review

If you view the Vantage M as the latest instalment in Polar's M series watches, then some pretty drastic changes have been made in the design department. It's a lot like the changes that have been made in the Vantage V in comparison to its predecessor the V800.

The blocky rectangular look is gone, replaced with a round watch case flanked by physical buttons on either side of the display. That display offers the same 240 x 240 resolution as the Vantage V, except you don't get a touchscreen here. Based on my experience though, it's not a feature I think you'll greatly miss.

Navigation with the physical buttons is perfectly straightforward. If there's one feature where a touchscreen is missed it's when you need to launch additional data screens from the shortcuts that appear below the time. Double tapping to open up your most recent training history works nicely on the Vantage V, but overall I could live without the swipes and the double taps on the watch face.

Polar Vantage M review

Polar Vantage V (left) and Polar Vantage M (right)

The physical buttons are different to the ones that feature on the Vantage V too, with Polar opting for the circular kind as opposed to the longer, flatter ones on the V. They lack the more textured finish present on the V's buttons that no doubt make them better to interact with when you're hands are cold, sweaty or you're wearing gloves. But in reality it doesn't create any problems sifting through those menu screens or starting to track a workout.

Along with the missing touchscreen display, you also lose that more high grade metallic casing. In its place is a plastic body that might conjure up thoughts of a cheaper looking, less durable watch. But it's just the right side of sporty chic that I actually grew to love it. Even more so than the Vantage V. It also has interchangeable straps (something you can't do on the V) that use a similar mechanism to Google's Wear watches and Garmin watches, which offer similar support, though it's initially a little bit fiddly to take them off. You've the option of swapping in additional silicone or woven bands, with pricing starting from $24.95.

Waterproofing is the same as the Vantage V so it's well equipped for indoor and open water swimming, and it uses the same disc shaped charging cradle that securely clips to the back of the watch when it needs powering up.

Despite the drop in the quality of materials, the design tweaks and missing touchcscreen display, the Vantage M is a light and comfortable watch to wear 24/7. I've had none of the issues I had with the Vantage V, where I felt the need to take it off on the odd occasion. This is lovely sports watch to live with.

Polar Vantage M: Sports tracking

Polar Vantage M review

Ultimately you're getting the very same sports tracking experience as you get on the Vantage V. There's 130 sports profiles, with 20 that can be added to the watch at any one time.

Core activities where you'll learn the most insightful metrics lie with running, cycling and swimming. Activity profiles like boxing or crossfit focus on heart rate and workout duration. Polar's strength training mode, for instance, doesn't offer the ability to track reps like you can on Garmin's watches or Samsung's wearables, so if that's an activity you're after better tracking for, then you'll be disappointed. You do also have that ability to pair additional cadence, speed and stride sensors to further the M's sports tracking abilities.

Overall, it's a solid performer. I focused largely on tracking for running, swimming and some of the workout modes that offer more basic metrics. It's easy to use and the data it serves up was very reliable on the whole too.

Running

Polar Vantage M review

Most of our time with the Vantage M was spent running. On the treadmill and outdoors, it's a really nice watch to run with. It's comfortable to wear, the data is well presented and you can quickly get a sense of how you're performing during your run when you raise your wrist to check in.

I put it up against the Garmin Forerunner 935 and was pretty happy with what it served up from an accuracy point of view with GPS tracking and those running metric basics. Speaking of metrics, the Vantage M does support running power like the Vantage V, but you'll need a third party sensor like the award-winning Stryd to view that data. Polar's running power support requires GPS and a barometer sensor, with the latter absent from the cheaper Vantage. Even without running power though, you're still getting a whole lot of data that's going to satisfy both beginner runners and those who are starting to think more seriously about their running.

Swimming

Polar Vantage M review

I could just refer to you the swim tracking on the Vantage V because it's exactly the same here. You're getting the same metrics and performance albeit from a slightly smaller and lighter watch. In fact that drop down in size and weight makes it a better fit for using in the pool.

I've not put it to the test in the open water yet, but what I can say is that it's well equipped for indoor pool sessions. It's straightforward to pick the pool length at the start of your session and see real-time data like distance, pace and duration. Polar claims that it can deliver accurate heart rate data in the water too, but I'm still putting that to the test to see whether it can deliver that data reliably.

After a workout is completed and synced to Polar Flow, you can see your max pace, distance, fat burn and even a breakdown of your swimming styles. I deliberately switched from freestyle to breast stroke each lap and the data reflected that in the app.

Polar Vantage M: Heart rate accuracy

Polar Vantage M review

Polar has been making a lot of noise around its new heart rate sensor technology, which appears in both its Vantage M and V watches. If you want a full breakdown of how the tech works, head to our Vantage V review. Essentially, Polar's new Precision Prime Technology uses improved optical sensor technology incorporating green and red light LEDs to more deeply penetrate the skin and take more reliable readings. It also uses electrodes to ensure it only takes readings when it's in close contact with the skin. So the idea is that you reduce (or even remove) the chances of those issues that can impact on readings.

Read this: Best heart rate monitors to buy

I tested this in the very same way I did on the Vantage V. Pitting it against a heart rate monitor chest strap, I used it on all my runs (indoor and outdoor) to see how it performed for steady paced running. I also put it to the intervals test on the treadmill to see if it suffered in the same way other wrist based optical sensors do when you start jumping from different heart rate zones in short bursts.

Looking back at sample data for one steady one hour run, the Vantage M produced an HR average of 157bpm and a max HR of 179bpm. In comparison, the chest strap produced a 159bpm average and a 175bpm max HR. That was pretty consistent with all of my runs. Usually no more than 1 or 2 bpms off on the average bpm; it usually reported a higher max HR, but no more than 3 or 4 bpm out.

Polar Vantage M review

HR testing: Polar Vantage M (left and centre) and chest strap (right)

When it came to the interval testing, the average HR readings were pretty much always on the money. The max HR readings tended to be higher on the Vantage M (at most, 6 bpm) but a look back at the graphs show that it's dishing out pretty reliable data on the whole. It's not perfectly identical with a chest strap, but this is certainly one of the best performing ones I've used and proves that wrist based monitoring is getting better, when many thought it was always going to a struggle to draw parity with chest straps.

Polar Vantage M: Training features

Polar Vantage M review

It's here where you see to see a bit a drop in the features included in the two Vantage watches. The M lacks Recovery Pro features and things like Strava Live Segments. It is capable of measuring running power, but as mentioned you'll need to do that using a third party sensor.

There's still plenty here to get your analytical teeth into, though. From the watch you'll get insights into Training Load Pro data giving you a heads up on whether your training is productive, or you're overreaching and should think about easing off. If you decide to use a third party sensor to track running power, you'll also have access to muscle load, giving you another layer of data related to the strain you're putting on your body.

There's also plenty of heart rate based training features here too and if you're willing to spend some time inside the Polar Flow web app, there are plenty of graphs to delve into and start seeing where you can make improvements.

It's refreshing to see how much Polar has kept here and the feature that does stand out most are those training load insights, which are easily viewable on the watch. You can see your cardio load for a single session in your workout summary with a star based system indicating cardio load status.

Polar Vantage M review

That cardio load status looks at the relationship between your short term cardio load (strain) and long term cardio load (tolerance). From that you can see whether your past training will affect your performance that day. Now I had some question marks about how reliable this was on the Vantage V I tested, but the data seemed more reliable on the M. I decided for instance to throw in more running sessions, specifically more intervals than I'd normally plan to do in a week. The watch was able to identify that and see that I was overtraining and not giving myself enough rest between high intensity sessions.

It's feature that I've found useful on Garmin's watches, but with a reliance on heart rate data, I've always questioned how reliable those insights were based on Garmin's not so perfect wrist based heart rate sensor. Polar's heart rate sensor certainly feels more reliable for a system that requires high quality heart rate data.

Polar Vantage M: Activity tracking and smartwatch features

Polar Vantage M review

Polar's 24/7 activity tracking skills have evolved over time. Features like continuous heart rate monitoring, Polar's new Sleep Plus insights and seeing the benefits of activity tracking are all included here. Inactivity alerts will be added at a later date, so you will soon get a nudge when you've not been moving enough.

There's nothing groundbreaking here as far as what Fitbit and others offer in this space. Instead it's offering richer data, more useful insights and a more comprehensive overview of your day (and night). From a motivational perspective, it'll let you know when you've hit your daily goals and offers a nice activity ring on the watch face so you'll quickly realise if you're on track to smash your step goal for the day. I do still feel the experience on the phone app is a little clunky, though – there's a lot of rich data here, but it's perhaps not presented in the most intuitive way.

Polar Vantage M review

If you're hoping that the M will stop you from investing in a smartwatch, well the bad news is that it's not equipped to double up as an Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch alternative. Notification support (which is not yet live), is pretty much all you're getting in this department. It won't control your music playback or let you download apps or widgets. If those are features you desire from your sports watch, you're not getting them here.

Polar Vantage M: Battery life

According to Polar, the Vantage M will give you a sizeable 30 hours of battery life, which is 10 hours less than the Vantage V offers. But when you consider the M430 offers 8 hours with GPS and heart rate, that's still impressive numbers.

Based on my experience that battery life claim is very much on the money. I've not had to touch the charger (it uses the same one as the Vantage V) for a couple of weeks. That's with 3-4 tracked running sessions using GPS and heart rate. An hour-long run barely makes a dent in the battery. It's got seriously good stamina and if you love big battery life, then the Vantage M certainly does not disappoint.


Polar Vantage M
By Polar
The Polar Vantage M might cost less than the Vantage V, but that doesn't mean you get a vastly inferior sports watch. The design changes are not drastic enough to dramatically alter the experience of wearing the M 24/7 – in fact some ways it's nicer to live with. You get pretty much all of the same features, or at least a good blend of the best the Vantage V has to offer, at a more affordable price. The price puts it against the likes of the Vivoactive 3 Music or one of Suunto's Spartan Trainer watches. If you care mostly about sports tracking and training insights, this is the one to go for.

Hit
  • Comfortable design
  • Easy to use
  • Great battery life
  • Useful training insights
Miss
  • Running power requires additional sensor
  • Some syncing issues
  • Some missing features from Vantage V
  • Lacks smartwatch features


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