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Polar Vantage M

Polar Vantage M

Polar has announced two new watches to lead its multisport range. Out go the Polar V800 and the Polar M430 to be replaced by the Polar Vantage V and the Vantage M. Both sport a fresh design, improved tracking and battery capabilities and arguably bring Polar more up to date in the ongoing tussle for multisport watch supremacy.

If the Polar Vantage V is aimed at elite athletes or anyone who’s serious about marginal gains, then its sibling, the Polar Vantage M, is all about bringing solid data to the everyday sports enthusiast. And by that we’re thinking the kind of people chasing PBs at parkrun rather than for a living!

The Polar M400 and M430 were hugely popular devices so the Vantage M has some strong heritage but also a lot to live up. So, is this a big step forward? We got hands-on with the Polar Vantage M at the European launch to find out if Polar just set a new benchmark for mid-range multisport watches.

Polar Vantage M price and release date

The Polar Vantage M is expected to go on sale at the end of October, priced at £249 / $279 (around AU$390).

That’s a chunk more expensive than the Polar M430, which you can pick up for £174.50 / $229.00 / AU$329, but not quite up there with the Garmin Forerunner 645, which will cost you somewhere in the region of £345 / $400 / AU$550 without music.

Design




We said it about the Vantage V and it’s true of the Vantage M too, Polar has really upped its game here in terms of style. The design is much more refined, subtle and sophisticated than its previous watches, which, while capable, were never going to win any awards for looks.

The big shift is a move from the blocky, rectangular watch face to a more traditional round design, not unlike the Garmin Forerunner range.

The centerpiece is an always-on, color Gorilla Glass display that’s surrounded by a stainless-steel bezel that’s black on the black watch and silver on the others in the range.

The screen itself doesn’t quite fill the full width of the display but it is plenty big enough to allow for your stats to be presented in a clear and legible size. It’s even big enough to accommodate graphs when it comes to the heart rate and pacing zone.

In terms of sharpness and brightness it’s not quite Apple Watch 4 crisp but it’s perfectly adequate. We found it easy to read in most light though perhaps we would like the brightness of the screen light to be punched up a touch.

Unlike the Vantage V, the Vantage M doesn’t pack a touchscreen, instead the watch is controlled with five round, relatively small, side buttons. These have what Polar calls an ‘anti-slip’ surface that’s designed to make them easier to use on the move.

While we found the watch easy to control on the move we weren’t 100% sure this was down to the anti-slip. There’s certainly not as much of a grip feel as you get with the buttons on the Vantage V, which actually have grooves.

What we did love was how light the Vantage M felt. At 46mm it’s the same width as the Vantage V but comes in slightly thinner at 12.5mm and, weighing in at 45g, is 21g lighter too. That’s also 6g lighter than its predecessor the Polar M430. And there’s a noticeable difference.

Why does this matter? While we were fans of the M430’s workout skills it wasn’t a watch you really wanted to wear all day and certainly not in bed. With the Vantage M that’s something you might consider, which is obviously vital for unlocking the sleep tracking and all-day activity tracking features.

The Polar Vantage M (left) compared to the Polar M430 (right)

The Polar Vantage M (left) compared to the Polar M430 (right)

In terms of fit, the watch comes in two sizes: small/medium and medium/large with well-spaced strap perforations that should make it easy to size for most wrists. The strap is significantly thinner than the M430 and that makes it feel less bulky on the wrist. Overall, it’s a more comfortable watch to wear than the M430.

You can also switch out your strap for a textile wristband that comes in orange, petrol or white, but these cost extra.

Alternatively, because the Vantage M has a standard 22mm lug – like you’ll find on most watches – you can actually buy any off-the-shelf strap that fits that size.

As it’s a multisport watch it won’t surprise you to hear that the Vantage M is also waterproof.

There’s no built-in barometer so altitude and elevation are measured by GPS. This is also why you don’t get baked-in power tracking with the Vantage M, as the barometer is a key sensor in Polar’s power equation.

One last thing on the design, there’s a new round charging cradle that gets rid of the annoying charging cable that used to drop out of the Polar M430.

Features

Kicking off with the basics, the Polar Vantage M can be loaded with more than 130 sport profiles for tracking everything from running, cycling and swimming to CrossFit and hiking. Each of these has slightly different algorithms to adapt to the challenges of that sport and help deliver more accurate data. Though we’re yet to test how it fares for something like HIIT CrossFit sessions.

As you’d expect, many of the key features from the M430 have been carried over. There’s 24-hour activity tracking, continuous heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking and access to Polar’s adaptive, personalized run training programs for distances from 5k up to marathon.

The watch syncs with the Polar Flow app and web tools, where you can review your stats, delve deeper into your data and plan training.

Outside of getting sweaty, the Vantage M also pairs with your phone for smart notifications.

Improved optical heart rate?

One of the main upgrades is the addition of what Polar calls Precision Prime wrist-based optical heart rate. It’s a mouthful but in essence this is Polar’s most advanced optical sensor setup yet and it claims it’s also its most accurate ever.

Flip the Vantage M over and you can see the difference. There are nine LED sensors (4 red and 5 green) that provide additional optical channels using several colors and wavelengths of light to penetrate deeper into the tissue, to better sense the pattern of blood flow.

This is paired with 3D acceleration readings and measurements from four bio-impedance sensors that together can spot rogue movements and also the quality of sensor-skin contact, both of which can create noise that affects the accuracy of your heart rate data.

We got to test the Vantage M optical heart rate very briefly against a Polar M430 paired with a Polar H10 chest strap and the readings we got were virtually identical. An average heart rate on the Polar Vantage M of 144BPM against 146BPM on the H10. Anecdotally during the run, the two devices were largely within a beat or two of each other and often spot on.

This of course needs further testing, but alongside the research we’ve seen from Polar’s own tests this might mean those of us who aren’t shooting for the Olympics can finally ditch the chest strap without worrying.

For swimmers, the Polar Vantage M’s optical heart rate will track your BPM in the water, while there’s also GPS support for open water swimming.

One of the standout features of the Polar Vantage V, the ability to track running power from the wrist, doesn’t feature on the Vantage M, though you can pair a third-party sensor such as Stryd and have this data fed onto your watch and into your training load insights.

Training Load Pro

What you do get on the Vantage M is some very advanced insights into your training load, the impact of your most recent sessions on your fitness progress and training effectiveness.

Training load isn’t a new concept but for the first time Polar has separated out load into three areas: cardio load (how hard your cardiovascular system has worked), muscle load (how much your muscles were stressed during a training session) and perceived load (how hard you think you worked).

Muscle load can only be tracked if you’re using a third-party power sensor, but cardio and perceived load come baked into the Polar Vantage M.

This data is crunched and turned into an at-a-glance overview of your current training status. You can see if you’re Detraining, Maintaining, Productive or Overreaching.

Via the watch and the app, Polar will then make recommendations about what you should do next, for example consider a light cardio workout instead of an all-out beasting on the track.

There are two new metrics as well, Strain and Tolerance. Strain measures the average daily load from the past 7 days to give an indication of fatigue, while Tolerance looks at how intensively you’ve been training over the past 28 days.

In isolation these figures might not seem that useful, but research has shown that when the ratio of strain to tolerance tops 1.5 you’re entering the ‘more likely to get injured zone.’ And the M will tell you when you’re in danger of entering that, um, danger zone.

Hands up, we haven’t yet been using the Vantage M for long enough to put these features to the test fully in real life. However, on first impressions, the theory at least suggests this could be an extremely useful feature for helping to optimize training and lowering injury risk. And the presentation of the data is easy to understand and apply.

Battery life

When it comes to staying power, the Polar Vantage M claims a very competitive 30 hours of workout time using full GPS and optical heart rate.

We’ve not had it for a full week yet, but a quick calculation suggests that this should cope with a week of training on a single charge. That’s based on one 2-hour and four hour-long training sessions in a week, plus day to day usage. But we’ll put that to the test in our full review.

Early verdict

On first impressions Polar has produced an exciting tool for multisport enthusiasts here. In looks alone the Polar Vantage M is a leap on from the blocky and slightly outdated Polar M430 design.

With improved wrist-based heart rate and some standout training features on top of everything that made us a fan of the M430, the company might just be onto a winner.

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