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I don’t normally do reviews of wearables on this site. I’m much more comfortable writing about home technology topics like smarthomes, Home Assistant, and cord-cutting. A few months ago I bought the Polar Vantage V Titan. I like this watch enough to share my thoughts in the hopes it helps someone looking for a fitness watch with smart capabilities.
You can find a lot of reviews of the Polar Vantage series online. However, most of them are early reviews and don’t account for the numerous features Polar added over the last year (e.g. Fitspark, notifications, Strava integration). This review is an up to date of review of the Polar Vantage V with the latest firmware and features as of April 2020.
I’ve used fitness watches, fitness trackers, and smartwatches for almost 20 years. As an Android user, I’ve never found a smartwatch worth spending a lot of money on. I started of with a Samsung Gear S2. Although I was mostly happy with it, I was somewhat frustrated by the battery life (about a day) and the Samsung ecosystem needed to run the functions of the watch. I eventually passed the watch on to my wife (who had a Samsung phone at the time and didn’t mind the battery life so much) and she used for it years until she replaced it with the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 last year.
I switched to the ultra-affordable Alcatel Go Watch. This watch had only an iota of the features of the Samsung Gear S2, but it had the key features I wanted: 1-week long battery life, rugged and waterproof, and notification capabilities for most apps I cared about. It was only a so so fitness tracker. But I really did like how easy it was to switch cases and straps!
Over the years I’ve used multiple Polar products. I started with an old Polar S Series watch that paired with a heart rate strap for accuracy. It also paired with a foot pod for tracking running speed and distance. At the time I was running marathons and relied on this data to train. Since then I’ve used a Polar Loop (since replaced by the Polar Loop 2) and a Polar A360 (the A370 is the newest version). I generally like Polar products because of the advanced heart rate information, which has a big impact on how I train.
Why I was looking for a smartwatch/fitness tracker
Over the years I kept tabs on the Android smartwatch market, primarily looking at Samsung and Android Wear watches. I never saw anything that quite fit what I was looking for. The Android wear watches suffer from poor battery life, and the Samsung watches didn’t quite have the integrations I was looking for.
I was pretty happy with my Polar A360, but one day my son pulled so hard on it that the strap broke. Although I could replace the strap, I thought it was time to evaluate what I wanted out of a smartwatch and fitness tracker and see if I could find what I was looking for.
My fitness watch criteria
I’ve had the same basic criteria for a fitness smartwatch for years:
- Good battery life. I’d prefer around 5 days without needing a charge.
- Pairs with a chest strap. Optical heart rate monitors have improved a lot but still aren’t as accurate chest straps. This is especially true for weight lifting and HIIT workouts.
- Can track steps, elevation, and different types of workouts.
- Handles Android phone notifications well.
- Looks good enough for at least business casual (everyday wearing). If a watch is also going to be my fitness and activity tracker it also needs to be able to go well with my everyday outfits.
- 24/7 heart rate tracking. I’m obsessed with heart rate tracking and what it can tell you about your body.
- Automatic sleep tracking.
- Always-on screen. This is hard to find with my battery requirements.
- Durable (water and dust resistant).
- I’d like GPS, but not a deal killer since I always run/bike with my phone.
The primary sticking points of the years have been the battery life, pairing with a heart strap and an always-on screen.
Polar Vantage V alternatives I considered
Here are the watches I considered and why I ultimately did not choose them:
- Apple Watch – Great watch, but not Android friendly.
- Garmin Forerunner 945 – A good watch, and a strong contender for what I was looking for. It doesn’t look as good as the Vantage V to me. Also, doesn’t have a touchscreen. Unlike the Vantage models, it does play music, however, if that’s a feature you’re looking for.
- Garmin Fenix 6 – An amazing watch that remedies the looks of the Forerunner 945, but a quite bit more than what I wanted to pay for features (music, Garmin pay, Wifi, etc.) that I don’t need.
- Samsung Galaxy Watch – This watch has a ton of smartwatch features, but fitness tracking is only okay. Also, it doesn’t easily pair with a heart rate strap.
- Samsung Galaxy Watch Active/Galaxy Watch Active 2 – I actually think pretty highly of this watch, but it suffers from the same deficiencies as the Galaxy Watch. However, I did get my wife one and she loves it.
- Polar A370 – It adds 24/7 heart rate monitoring that my A360 did not have, but ultimately I decided I wanted a watch, not a bracelet/band. Also, it doesn’t have an always-on display.
- Polar Ignite – This was almost the watch I was looking for. The more I looked into it, I realized I didn’t want a touch screen only interface, especially when I’m working out. Also, it was pretty early in its firmware cycle when I was choosing and still had a lot of bugs. And no real always-on display.
Why I chose the Vantage V
Before I get into the reasons I chose the Vantage V, let’s take a look at the key specs of the Vantage M, V, and V Titan. These 3 watches mostly look the same and have almost the same feature set, with a few key differences.
Polar Vantage specs
|Feature||Vantage V||Vantage M|
|Battery life||40hrs in training mode||30Hrs in training mode|
|Running Power||Yes||Needs third-party sensor|
|Display||240×240, always-on touch display||240×240 always-on display|
|Wristband||Custom Polar Bands||Any 22mm wristband|
|Fitspark Custom fitness workouts||Yes||Yes|
The key differences between the two watches are in bold. I think the biggest difference is that the Vantage M doesn’t have a touch screen, and is missing a couple of features and sensors.
There is a third product in this line, called the Vantage V Titan. It is made out of Titanium and comes with a special band which, along with the titanium material, makes the watch lighter and gives it a more premium look. This is actually the model I have. Other than that, it’s the same as the Vantage V.
What I like about the Polar Vantage watch
I chose the Polar Vantage V over the other watches for the following reasons:
- Battery life – I can go a week of regular use without having to charge it.
- Always-on display – I don’t have to do a special wrist turn or press a button just the see the time. It is easily viewable in all light conditions, and there is a backlight just in case.
- Premium look – I think this watch looks pretty good. I don’t mind wearing it with blazers and button-up shirts or more casual attire.
- Touchscreen and button controls – Often smartwatch touch screens can be fickle. Although I prefer the touchscreen interface, it’s nice to know the buttons can do everything as well.
- Polar ecosystem – I’ve become very accustomed to the Polar Flow ecosystem. The data, charts, and interface were already very familiar to me. I like having a good app and a great website where I can view and analyze my data and configure the features of my watch. The Polar V Vantage actually unlocked all kinds of new features in Polar flow due to the advanced data the watch collects (more about this later).
In the end, it was clear I was really looking for a very good fitness watch that also had a few smart features, not a smartwatch with fitness features. Notifications are the only smart feature I really want, and this device handles them well.
Using the Vantage V
Using the Vantage V is a pleasure. Using the Polar Flow interface in the app or on the web can get a little confusing. Not because it is badly designed, but because there is so much to see and do. But after using it for a little bit it is pretty straight forward.
You can set up a list of workouts (sport profiles) that can be activated from your watch. I have about 15 workouts from treadmill running to circuit training to basketball. Each of these workouts can be customized to change things like:
- Lap distance – Useful for walking, cycling and running sport profiles)
- Speed setting – Do you want MPH or minutes per mile? For cycling I like MPH, but for running I like minutes per mile.
- GPS data recording – You can decide which sports should track your movements via GPS.
- Watch face training views – This is my favorite part. You can decide what data is displayed while you are working out. You get four choices per screen/watch face and can have multiple watch faces, each with different data, that you set up for viewing during a workout.
The practical affect of this is I can do things like setting up my runs to automatically track GPS, keep lap data at .5 mile intervals, and have it display distance, heart rate, pace and duration of workout on one screen. Whereas when I’m running on a treadmill I have no need for GPS tracking or the duration of the workout (it’s on the treadmill display) so I can change the data I’m seeing and spare the battery. Once I set them up I don’t have to change anything on the watch. Just pick the workout and go.
You simply select the workout you want to do and go! Workouts can use the optical sensor, which is pretty accurate, or a Bluetooth strap (I have the polar H10). If you have the strap on, it syncs in seconds.
The screens on the watch give the right amount of data and are always on and easy to see during a workout. The touchscreen and notifications are disabled during a workout, so you must use the buttons. The buttons are just hard enough to press where they aren’t easily activated accidentally (which has happened to me with other watches a lot when I’m wearing weightlifting gloves) but aren’t annoyingly hard to use.
The band feels comfortable and is easy to clean and quick to dry after a workout. I usually rinse it off and lay it down while I go shower, and then it’s dry and ready to put on by the time I’m dressed.
This smartwatch has excellent activity tracking. First, you choose one of the activity goals. Then the watch combines your workouts and regular activity (walking, sitting, standing, etc.) and tracks, on a percentage basis, how close you are to reaching your activity goal.
A lot of factors, including age and gender, go into calculating your activity accumulation. One really cool thing is how the 24/7 heart rate monitoring plays into your activity tracking. Say you are walking. If you are walking uphill and your heart rate is up for a sustained period of time, you’ll get more credit for that walking than you would get for walking on a flat surface or a decline where your heart rate isn’t as elevated.
Notifications work very well. You use the Polar Flow app to select which notifications you want on an app by app basis. You can set a quiet time where you won’t receive any notifications as well. The notifications are easily visible on the screen (the watch also vibrates) and if they are longer than one screen you can simply scroll to see the entire notification. They show up close to instantaneously on my smartphone and watch.
Vantage V Data
Here’s where I’m blown away by this watch. There are so many things I could go over, but I’m going to give an overview of the data across the following categories: activity, training, sleep, and cardio load.
Vantage V activity tracking
The activity tracking is excellent. The Polar Vantage V tracks step, workouts, and heart rate and combines them to calculate what percentage of your activity goal you met in a day. As I described previously, heart rate is combined with activity (like steps) to determine how strenuous the activity is. In the Polar flow web app, you end up with many useful ways of looking at your activity in a day and over time. Here are a couple of examples:
Daily activity tracking
This page is an example view of my day’s activity. At the top of the page you can see what percent of my daily activity goal I completed, how long I was active for, how many calories I burned, how many steps I took, and how long I slept. This was a particularly active day for me, as I did my normal workout and played basketball with my sons.
The chart shows my heart rate throughout the day (including during workouts and sleeping). It notes my lowest heart rate while sleeping (48bpm) and while awake (58 bpm). It also notes my highest heart rate of the day (159 bpm) which occurred during a treadmill run. You can see that I did 3 workouts on this day (treadmill run, basketball, and stretching) and you can even see when I did them and for how long. In the activity score section in the bottom right you can see how much time I spent laying down (including sleep), how much time I spent sitting, standing, and moving). It’s a great snapshot of my activity for the day!
Activity report (trend analysis)
Whereas the previous display showed my activity over the course of a day, this chart shows my activity over the course of a month. Above the chart shows my average daily activity goal completion percentage, my total active time, steps, and calories burned. You can also see how many hours I slept on average (I sleep less than your average, but I just wake up early. I don’t use an alarm).
The bar graph in the chart shows how many hours each day I was active (darker blue indicating more intensity to my activity). The line graphs specify how many calories I burned and how many inactivity stamps (sitting down for more than an hour straight) I incurred each day. You can change what’s drawn for the bar graph and line graphs using the controls below the chart.
Vantage V training data
Tracking my training is the primary reason I wanted a fitness watch. I have been spoiled by being able to accurately track my training for years with fitness bracelets, but not a fitness watch. Just like with activity tracking, the Polar web app has many charts and graphs to analyze your training, but I’m only going to focus on a couple.
This page details one training session where I chose the “Multisport” sport profile. This sport profile allows you to combine multiple activities into one training session. For this session, I did circuit training, followed by the elliptical (cross-trainer) and then stretching and cool down (body & mind). You can see the aggregate duration, average heart rate, cardio load (which I’ll get to later), and calories for the whole session. However, you can also see these metrics for the individual parts of the workout by clicking on them. The heart chart at the bottom breaks my heart rate into the workout segments.
Training report (trend analysis)
The Training report screenshot above gives an overview of my training for the entire month of March. It shows the number of workouts, how many hours I worked out, and other metrics. The bar graph is set to show the duration of each of my workouts, but it could also show distance, calories, and other statistics. The bar graph shows my heart rate average for each workout as well as speed. You can look at data for a month or for a week. Filters can also be changed to show data in week increments instead of day increments. This is a really good way to analyze a month’s worth of training.
Vantage V sleep data
I’ve had sleep trackers before, but none with as accurate or detailed information as the Vantage V and Polar flow. I understand my sleep patterns and quality at a much higher level of detail than I could previously, even with other Polar products. Let’s take a look at a couple of the sleep tracking screens.
Daily sleep data
There’s a lot to information presented on this page, starting with the sleep time (I got a lot of sleep for me this night). Then you get a number that represents your actual sleep time. This is your overall sleep time minus times at night when your sleep is interrupted. The next data piece presented at the top of the page represents how fragmented your sleep was. I’m a light sleeper so I often have fragmented sleep cycles. This is followed by an overall sleep score Polar computes from many variables (on a scale of 1-100) and a place for me to rate how well I thought I slept.
The charts on this page are where things get interesting. The horizontal bar chart shows all the times and durations of sleep interruptions during the night. Most people have their sleep interrupted a lot more than they think because they don’t remember most of them. The sleep distribution chart on the lower left of the page quantifies my sleep time and interruption time (46 minutes!). To the right of that chart is a 3-day running log of your sleep time. You can switch this chart to show sleep continuity or actual sleep.
Sleep report (trend analysis)
Analyzing my sleep trends over time is where things get interesting. The Sleep report displays the average time I fall asleep and wake up, how long I sleep, and my average sleep score. Then, this report starts to take sleep data to the next level.
The next two numbers are my deep sleep and light sleep average. According to Polar, deep sleep is when you are hard to wake up. It’s the stage of sleep that restores your body, supports your immune system and affects muscle growth, memory, and learning. It should account for about 15% of your sleep. Light sleep is the stage of sleep when you are easily woken. It contributes to mental and physical recovery, although to a lesser degree than deep and REM sleep.
Speaking of REM sleep, it is the next stat presented. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is when you dream. REM sleep restores your mind and improves memory and learning. For most people, it accounts for 21% of your sleep.
Last but not least is a representation of long interruptions. Polar defines a long interruption as any interruption lasting more than 90 seconds.
Then you get to the stacked bar chart. This takes every day of sleep and combines the various phases of sleep into one stacked bar per day so you can see how your sleep has been and how long you’ve been sleeping.
Vantage V cardio load data
This is the most significant data for me. I’ve had fitness trackers that showed me various forms of activity, training, and sleep data but nothing that has tracked my “cardio load.” You can see your cardio load for each workout by looking at a training screen. I’m going to focus on the cardio load report for this section.
Cardio load is another word for TRaining IMPulse, or TRIMP. This is your cardiac response to a training session. The higher the bar (in the lower chart) the harder the session. Days with multiple bars are days where I had multiple training sessions with my Polar Vantage. My running sessions tend to have the highest cardio load, while my weight lifting and stretching sessions are the lowest.
Polar uses cardio load to calculate two important variables: strain and tolerance. Strain is how much you’ve strained yourself lately. It is the running average daily cardio load over the last 7 days (purple line on the chart). Tolerance is how prepared you are to endure cardio training. It is the average of your daily cardio load from the past 28 days (light blue line in the chart).
The theory is that in order to improve your fitness your strain should regularly be higher than your tolerance. The top chart in the image above graphs the relationship between your strain and tolerance over time. It shows when you are detraining, maintaining your fitness, improving your fitness, and possibly overtraining. Polar says you shouldn’t stay in one zone the whole time and a little bit of every zone is good sometimes. Good, because I hit all four zones this month!
I’ve really just scratched the surface of the data available in Polar flow. It really is quite impressive. I should add that a lot of the daily information is available right on the watch. Almost all of the information in the web app is available in the Android/iOS apps. I know Garmin watches have similar capabilities, but this is perfect for me. The cardio load tracking really motivates me.
Vantage V disappointments
By now you can tell I’m a big fan of this watch, but I do have a few things I wish were better:
- Watch face options. You really only get two watch face options: digital and analog. No fancy backgrounds or styles or anything. However, this probably helps stability and battery life.
- The watchband is not quick-change nor a standard 22mm. You have to buy watch bands specifically made to fit the Polar Vantage V and they aren’t the easiest bands to change. The Polar Vantage M does have a standard 22mm quick-change band.
- The screen could be brighter. Sometimes the screen is a little hard to see. But it does have a backlight and that fixes everything. Most times it is just fine.
- Notifications are disabled during workouts. It would be nice to still be able to get them. The touchscreen is disabled during workouts as well, but that doesn’t bother me.
As smart home technology keeps expanding its reach, I may write more wearable tech reviews. Since writing this article, I also purchased a smart NordicTrack Treadmill and reviewed it. If you’re in the market for a treadmill, check out that article.
Overall, I’m extremely happy with the Polar Vantage V Titan. It is has been a great fitness watch, fulfilling every workout need I’ve wanted. The advanced metrics are a casual or more competitive athlete’s dream. I didn’t even touch on many of the features of the watch like fitspark, nightly recharge, and recovery pro. The smartwatch features are just enough to appease me. And it looks pretty nice! I’m confident I made the right choice and this will be my everyday watch for a few years.
If you are in the market for a fitness watch, this is definitely one you should check out!
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