Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Polar Vantage V2 Review: Sleek, Light & Durable Meets Outstanding Training, Trend & Recovery Tracking Capabilities

Article by Sam Winebaum

Polar Vantage V2 ($500)

The Vantage V2 is Polar's most fully featured multi sport training smartwatch yet and can be seen as the replacement for the iconic V800,and then some, and of course the original Vantage.

In fact to camouflage its existence while I tested, it was shown as a "V800" on Strava (and the V2 has a Live Strava Segments feature), 

No blocky heavy multi sport watch as the iconic and capable V800 was.. the V2 is slim at 13mm , elegant, weighs a mere 52 grams (20% lighter than the Vantage V1) molded of nano composite aluminum, and can get up to 100 hours of battery life with power savings options with close to 40 hours in best GPS/HR mode. 

Polar was the original fitness heart rate monitoring company in the 1980's and since has focused its products (watches and back end Polar Flow website and app) on providing deep trend based insights into training progress and recovery. Polar products are often used in scientific and medical studies due to accuracy and "cleanliness" of their heart rate data.

Key to Polar's view of cardiac and other metrics is the comparison of the short term to the longer term. I had my Grit X off the wrist for a week so I can't illustrate Vantage V2 live yet for this but above, from earlier data, you can see the critical comparison of Strain (purple 7 day cardiac load trend) vs.Tolerance the 28 day trend blue line trend with the bars indicating daily effort. 

After 28 days of continuous use you will see Strain and Tolerance values and color coding on the watch as shown on the Vantage V below. 
Essentially you want to build in the green (Productive), push into the orange occasionally as in top graph with key workouts and keep the Tolerance line gradually rising. And this is just one of the dozens of different views available in Polar Flow.

I have been a big fan of Polar's approach for several years now. Developed over decades, the Polar Flow ecosystem of app and especially the web view lack for absolutely nothing in helping the athlete track and deeply analyze their progress and well being.  Yet in front of all that, depth Polar also provides easy to understand overviews of training progress and recovery.

Vantage V2 New Features 

Leg Recovery Test
Leg Recovery Test gauges muscular recovery to go along with their Nightly Recharge (sleep quality plus autonomic nervous recovery). I have long felt that in addition to cardiac and sleep recovery the missing recovery element was how our leg muscles recover from effort and now we have that metric in the mix.
The leg recovery score feeds into Fit Spark along with cardiac load and Nightly Recharge helping inform the recommended intensity of strength and other workouts. I clearly need to work on my strength and mobility!

Running, Fitness and Cycling Performance Tests 
These tests help personalize your heart rate, speed and power zones. For running this is carried out by a 20 minute test  which goes literally from a walk 15 min/ mile to all out. I do not cycle much (or swim) so that test and swim features aren't covered in this initial review. 


The blue pace (12:02) above is your target pace at that moment, the white (11:26) your current pace with your current heart rate, sub max and max as currently calculated shown below. Go too fast or too slow for the target pace and the watch beeps and vibrates within a reasonable range. I was never called out as failing the test despite falling behind on the top pace but it sure warned me on the easier early paces to increase pace gradually.

I did the test this week on a smoky day at altitude on the Park City Rail Trail and got the following results 
The 172 Maximum Aerobic HR is what I typically see in the final mile of a race, the 49 VO2 Max what I also see as Garmin or Coros's estimate. After the test you can,, with a single touch in the Polar Fllow app, update your key metrics for HR and Power to set zones. Notice also that the Vantage V2 has power on the wrist. 

The V2 also now includes:

The breadcrumb route tracking with Hill Splitter and turn by turn directions of the GritX, Fuel Wise as well as Grit X's  deep weather forecasts. 

In the photo above (top) The Hill Spitter will show, for each loaded route, or otherwise as above each major hill on the route, both up and down and for loaded routes your progress on the hill

Hard to see as it was so sunny and I was angled awkwardly  but in the picture below I deliberately went off the loaded route and the Vantage alerted where the picture was taken. The correct turn is just after at the bridge railings seen at the top of the lower frame.

For much more, and clearer pictures/ video of Hill Splitter and route following using Polar mapping partner Komoot see our Grit X article. It is, as far as we know identical to Vantage V2.

Unlike other route following programs the Polar Komoot combination not only has roads but trails available (and it very rare it has not included any mapped trails) for turn by turn directions. Garmin does not as of yet provide trail based turn by turn directions topo maps and all,,but the Suunto 7 with its topo maps does.
From the Grit X article above an illustration of an upcoming trail turn popping up over Hill Splitter. Turn right at the junction 65 feet ahead.

Finally..we get music controls to the phone (but no music storage on board)

This is all packed into a 52g slim and  elegant all aluminum case watch (no polymers in the case as with the Vantage V1 and GritX) with a remarkable close to 40 hour battery life in full training mode.

We have long been fans of Polar's simple to follow yet very deep as you need or want to get approach to tracking literally everything important to performance and well being but found the V800 massive and blocky, the original Vantage V and rugged Grit X improved in comfort and lower weight but still noticed let's just say... 
With the Vantage V2 Polar clearly takes aim at the Garmin Forerunner 945 and Fenix 6 series with a far sleeker watch whose only really signifiant differences, as far as we are concerned are not having full topographic and road maps built in (plastic Forerunner 945 at $600 and metal Fenix 6 Pro at $700 and up), and potentially for some safety alerts if you carry a phone,  the ability to store music on board and  contactless payments. The only thing I truly miss are the Garmin Performance Condition metric early in a run and the topo maps as I hike and trail run a lot. At a minimum of $100 less with a superior battery life and training ecosystem you will have to judge if those extra features are worth it for your uses. 

It's other close competitor is the identically priced Coros Apex Pro which has a titanium bezel and sapphire (vs. Gorillla Glass) crystal, similar battery life but a far less extensive app only eco system and no music controls but equivalent GPS and HR accuracy.

Fit Spark
One of the many watch views gives you training suggestions based on your personal data (workouts, Nightly Recharge, and Leg Test).  The Fit Spark screens suggests workouts: cardiac, mobility, and core based on your Nightly Recharge. You can also use it to track strength workouts.

The mobility exercises are illustrated on the screen and timed.

Watch Faces
There are many potential watch faces so for each selected (on the watch) and swippable data view a unique look and the ability to select a highlight color. I picked red. 

The Vantage V has 5 buttons plus a touch/swipe screen. During workouts it is button operated. The buttons have a flatter profile with grippy surfaces.

I have only had the V2 for a week or so but have had the opportunity to test many features. Familiar with the key features of the Polar ecosystem Ifirst set out to evaluate what is different with the Vantage V2. 

Battery Life

Up to 40 hours continuous GPS and Wrist Based HR training 
Up to 100 hours with new power saving modes (1 or 2 minute vs 1 sec sampling, wrist HR off, and Screen Saver)
All Day Mixed Use Testing
A 3.5 day test with slightly more than 1 hour per day of GPS/HR training tracking, notifications, and sleep tracking on indicates approximately 5.5 days of battery life for that scenario of daily use plus an hour run per day.

Battery Run Testing
  • A 64 minute run inn Best mode with wrist HR and notifications on consumed 3% battery, indicating a 35.5 hour battery life. 
  • With the gauge at 78% at the finish of the run the display indicated 27 more hours of GPS/HR time remaining which would correspond to a 34.6 hour total battery life.
  • A Forerunner 945 run concurrently in its Smart mode used 5% battery indicating 21.7 hours of best mode "Smart" GPS/HR training.
Note that rounding of such low consumption percentages for both can affect the calculated battery life.

Leg Test

The Leg Test seeks to measure the impact of your training's muscle load. It's data feeds into 
Fit Spark so if you the test indicates more fatigue than usual it will put lower priority on strength and high intensity suggestions.

On the Run Views

There are dozens and dozens of data fields configurable in various ways as well as pre made views such as heart rate, power, altitude views and breadcrumb map view (if following a loaded route). Pardon the slow paces! I left watch running to take the pictures.
In very bright sun with sunglasses on I can easily see 2 data fields per view while running. For some reason Polar and none of the others are able to pull off Gamin's hyper visible fat digit 3 data field view (below).  The pictures were taken at exactly the same time, the paces are different as I left the V2 running to capture the pictures above. I do not see the ability to reverse white for black on the V2 screen as on the Garmin, 

GPS Track
These days most modern GPS watches have outstanding accuracy and the V2 is no exception.

Run #1
6.38 miles Vantage  V2
6.39 miles Forerunner 945

Run #2
5.65 miles Vantage  V2
5.60 miles Forerunner 945

These runs were both in wide open conditons. I will update with comparative runs on trails and with tree cover. 

Heart Rate

Run #1
Polar Vantage V2: 139 bpm average for the run. I do note an unexplainable early spike but this is common with almost all watches.
Forerunner 945: 142 bpm average

Run #2
Polar Vantage V2: 138 bpm average
Forerunner 945: 138 bpm average

Run #3
The 20 minute Run Test
This was a progression from a walk to all out.

Nightly Recharge
Polar's Nightly Recharge features are deep and best of all you get a simple score as shown above and all the details right on your watch, no app synch required,, when you wake up. We swear by the information provided by Nightly Recharge to help guide our day and know for sure that sugar (5 Oreo cookies before bed) affects the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS  Charge) score as shown below and above. ANS includes HRV, various HR values, and breathing rate.

The Vantage V2,, when combined with the Polar Flow ecosystem, is now the most sophisticated yet accessible, seamless and capable single platform run training system available, one that illustrates your progress over the long term, helps guide in highly personalized ways and tempers "over doing it" with actionable data and built in tests, and tracks everything with high accuracy. 

The watch itself is very light and thin, all metal, has superb battery life and is elegant so it can go from any workout to anything else seamlessly and does scream big bulky sports watch

With new test Run and Leg Recovery test capabilities, close to 40 hour training battery life, route following and Hill Splitter, Fit Spark, Nightly Recharge, mobility and core exercises built in new music controls, and notifications the picture is complete and the Vantage now competes with any other top end watch and system out there. We won't comment on its cycling and swimming capabilities as they were not tested so far but if running is any indication.. 

Sure topo maps on board would better serve trail running and hiking but.. unlike some competitors Polar will give you turn by turn directions on those trails (rare that we have found any missing over in Komoot their mapping partner). There is no music on board but you can now control your music from your phone and we for sure always run with a phone. 

The Vantage V will for sure continue on one of my two wrists as its predecessors Vantage V and Grit X did and now more comfortably and capably so yet!

The Polar Vantage V2 is available at as of Oct 7, 2020

Polar Grit X (RTR Review)
Priced $70 less, heavier and thicker, and lacking some of the sophisticated testing and other new features of the V2, the more outdoor focused and potentially somewhat more rugged Grit X (due to its wider bezel) is less comfortable on the wrist but still a great Polar option.

Garmin Forerunner 945 (RTR Review
The 945 is clearly the closest competitor. It includes the full on board topo and road mapping, on board music, pulse Ox and safety alert features the Vantage V2 lacks. If you hike or are in the mountains it is somewhat better choice although its battery life lags its is an all polymer non metal watch  is $100 more and can be considerably more if you go with the identical featured (to the 945) metal Fenix 6 Pro and $100 more if you go with the topo less Fenix 6. Garmin screens are somewhat more legible in very bright sunlight. The Garmin ecosystem is fine but no comparison to Polar Flow depth and easy of use. While having a strong sleep recovery module it does not compare to Nightly Recharge.

Coros Apex Pro (RTR Review)
Priced identically, the Apex Pro has superb battery life, all the essential on watch training features of the Vantage, very good overall accuracy,, and for the same price provides a sapphire crystal and titanium bezel as well as pulse Ox. Heavier and less comfortable,,, the watch lives in an app only more limited ecosystem with less focus on long term trends or Nightly Recharge although its data is exportable. 
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no charge for testing. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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Unknown said...

Hi Sam,

I'd like to ask if you recall your review on the original Saucony Freedom ISO, i found your review to be exactly descriptive of my experience with it.

Is there any shoe out there which you have tried and felt, offering that same(or more) level of response/bounce as that original Freedom ISO with it's full cake of Everrun midsole?

Apologues for commenting about shoes on a post about a watch, i saw this was your latest post hence why i posted here 😅🙌


Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Unknown,
Thanks for kind words. You could look at the newest Freedom 3. Not quite the wild bounce but a far more controlled and polished shoe. ASICS shoes such as Novablast with FlyteFoam Blast have quite a bit of bounce as well but it is higher stack and drop. The new Dynablast also to consider. Lower stack than Nova but still not a 4mm drop shoe.
An intriguing one especially if you run some trails too the Inov-8 Terraultra G 270. Considerable midsole AND special insole too bounce tempered by a thicker trail type outsole.
R#views below
Sam, Editor
Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our index page with links 100’s of in depth shoe and gear reviews HERE. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews.
Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated!

MikeJordanInsurance said...

Does the new Polar have smart watch or smart notifications features?

Michael said...

Hi Sam,

I just received the V2 and love the design and interface. Do you use the orthostatic test as part of your recovery?

Also, I still have my Fenix 6, and am wearing both right now. Is probably overkill, but I want to see how the two compare over a month. Plus, I've been with Garmin so long and in their ecosystem it's kind of hard to leave.


Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Michael,
Glad you are enjoying V2. It is so comfortable, stylish and capable I do not use the orthostatic test. I do religiously follow the Nightly Recharge info which will take some time 3 nights to build up and give you the comparative scores. The only thing and I mean only thing I miss from my 945 is the Performance Condition score which as I often wear 2 watches I can still see for key runs
am, Editor
Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our index page with links 100’s of in depth shoe and gear reviews HERE. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews.
Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated!