I’ve tried out a few fitness trackers over the last year with varying degrees of enjoyment. The technological developments across the board are becoming increasingly impressive whilst at the same time, the benchmark level for both functionality and aesthetics gets higher.
Maybe five years ago, consumers were content with focussing on functionality or a nice design (the same could be said for most fitness products), now people want both. The factors are no longer mutually exclusive as technology means you can fit a lot of impressive tech into a sleek and nicely designed piece of kit. And rightly so, most of it isn’t cheap and the competition is getting increasingly harder.
This recent iteration of Polar’s smartwatches marks a massive shift in their products. Previously I would have put the Polar wearables firmly into the function over design category. Now, with the Vantage range, they’ve created something that’s up there with some of the nicest designs in the smartwatch market. But does it come at a cost?
What is it?
The Vantage M is Polar’s lower-priced (£249) entry into their latest multi-sport range. The higher-end version being the Vantage V,(which comes in at about £429). Whereas the V is focussed more on athletes, the M is a sort of halfway house between that and a more general activity tracker.
What is it meant to do?
Quite a bit actually. The fact that it can be classed as a cheaper alternative to the Vantage V shouldn’t dissuade you, as the difference in functionality is probably less than you might think (Polar have a handy comparison tool here). Here’s the list of the main features available.
- Polar Precision Prime – accurate wrist-based heart rate tracking
- GPS tracking – you know what that is
- Training Load Pro – works out the strain of your training sessions
- Running index – used to work out your VO2 Max
- Running programme – a personally developed running programme
- 130 different sports profiles – you can update these via the companion app (Polar Flow)
- Swimming metrics – heart rate, swimming style, distance, pace, strokes and rest times
- Smart calories – based on your individual data
- Training benefit feedback – basically just an on-screen notification about how your training went
- 24/7 activity tracking – steps, distance, calories and sleep along with a personalised activity goal for each day
- Phone notifications – as you’d expect
- Sleep Plus – the timing, amount, and quality of your sleep
- Continuous heart rate – an accurate overview of your heart rate throughout the day
How does it look?
This is perhaps the biggest thing to talk about in terms of the Vantage M. Historically Polar haven’t made the most appealing looking devices when it comes to functionality and lifestyle, with the previous M range devices being the kind of things you keep in your bag until you’re actually doing some sort of exercise.
The Vantage M is a very nice looking piece of kit. The older rectangular style of the M430 and the M600 has gone, replaced with a subtle, circular face surrounded by five buttons.
When not in use I have the watch face dim to the point where the digital readout is just readable. Basically it looks like a smart digital watch that could easily be worn with a smart suit.
Once activated by pressing one of the buttons, the screen comes to life. Still looks very nice but I would say that the digital display in the M doesn’t appear to be as crisp as some models that I’ve used recently. Apparently it’s the same 240 x 240 display as the Vantage V. So I can only assume the lack of clarity may have something to do with battery saving.
The strap it comes with is your average plastic/silicone style, nothing special there. It does the job but you can always buy new ones (silicone and woven) for about £25.50.
Lastly, the screen itself isn’t a touch screen. For the price this might be a bit surprising, but to be honest I much prefer using the buttons anyway. The interface is extremely easy to use.
Does it work?
Firstly, as a fitness watch, it’s a lovely wearable. I tend to use it mainly for running and CrossFit workouts but I’ll stick the tracker on record regardless of what I’m doing. I have it linked up to Strava so it automatically updates any runs I do as well.
For running it’s great. Picks up the GPS signal quickly, seems to be recording the distance correctly and it’s also set up to give handy updates on pace every kilometre.
For CrossFit and other gym workouts it does the job. I never tend to use fitness tracker data unless it’s running anyway and it’s nice to have a record of how often you train and for how long for.
The interface gives a good amount of clear and quick data for the more general fitness aficionado. This includes your daily activity %, how long you last slept for, current heart rate and a more detailed overview of your training load – basically a snapshot of how much strain you’re putting on your body.
Ultimately though, as with most fitness trackers, the wearable is just an overview of the data stored – which is massive. If you delve into the Polar Flow system via the app or the website you start to understand how much insight Polar can give. You just have to be willing to put the time in as it can be a bit confusing initially and to be honest, it’s entirely dependent upon the level of exercise you do.
One of the biggest wins for the Vantage M is the battery life. Even after a marathon and a couple of days of workouts I still had a fair bit of battery left. I never actively think “oh no, I need to charge it now”, I just do it occasionally when I think about it. Apparently it’s meant to have 30 hours of battery life, which is actually understating it if my experience is anything to go by.
Do I like it?
Yep, I’m a very big fan of it in fact. Although I do love a bit of data, I lack the patience to sit and set up complex profiles using a smartwatch and an app. I like things that I can pick up quickly and start using without unnecessary effort. The majority of insight from the Vantage M actually just comes from the Polar data tools and algorithms, you don’t really have to do much. So it’s there if you need it. Which is nice to know.
My favourite aspect of it is the design. I’ve had it on for the past few weeks and I still like the look of it on my wrist. I’ve never been particularly bothered about watch designs, but it’s definitely one of the nicer timepieces I’ve worn.
Who’s it for?
To say it’s a smartwatch designed for the general fitness person is actually underselling it a bit, as the amount of data you get out of it is far beyond watch your average person would ever need. The additional features in the Vantage V are definitely tailored towards actual athletes trying to shave seconds off their times. Therefore I’d probably say it’s a piece of kit for semi-serious athletes that don’t watch to have a separate watch for sport and for smart wear.
Not many. There aren’t many smart features like WearOS on it, so there’s not much point getting one if that’s what you’re looking for. You’ll also need to buy an additional sensor if you want to get some of the more detailed data insights out of it like running power.
Aside from those, I think it’s actually a very nice fitness wearable that’s well worth a look.
For more info head over to the Polar website here.
Note: We received a sample of the Vantage M for testing purposes.