When it comes to watches, people tend to think of them in the traditional form (be they quartz or mechanical), or go to the other end of the spectrum with full-on “smart” watches of the Apple and Android varieties. Sure, those get some fitness tracking in, but it’s more an afterthought. What about a watch that is purpose-built for that task? There are options out there, but the stuff from Polar has quickly become some of my favorites, and my now-constant gym companion. Lately, I’ve been spending time with a more recent release, the Polar Vantage M.

Now, longer time readers will realize that I’ve tested a few watches from Polar – the Polar A300, the Polar M200, and the Polar M600. Each one of those, I liked better than the previous one. Well, except for the M600, but that’s more because I really have not found a good use case for me to have a smart watch notifying me all the live long day. That, combined with the built-in USB connector for charging on the A300 and M200 lead me to give those the nod, in terms of what I wanted to use. With the arrival of the Polar Vantage M, however, I think I’m finally ok with relying on a proprietary (magnetic) charging cable. Why is that? Well, I’m glad you asked!

Those metal pips in the middle of the HR sensor are the charging connectors…

In a word, it comes down to functionality. Polar does offer some more intense training watches (as do other brands), but the Vantage M brings some of that down to a more approachable format (and UI) so even us casual-but-regular gym bums can find some utility. First up, and this is key, is the super crisp and colorful display. This is one area that the M600 did have a leg up, but here, Polar puts color to good use, but not overpowering. Additionally, there’s a two-level backlight – a dimmer one when you bring your wrist up (which also activates a temporary battery charge display, noice) and then a brighter one triggered with the button at 10 o’clock. This screen can show a variety of information, “scrolled” through by the pushers at 2 and 4 o’clock. Want more details? Press the 3 o’clock pusher, and there you are, you’re drilling into the deets. A key component of many of those is the heart rate (HR) monitoring, which has some nice tricks up its sleeve.

On the Polar Vantage M, you can choose to have the HR monitoring just active while you exercise (via the variety of profiles you can set the watch up for) or have it be continuous. I played with both, and the continuous is pretty nice for getting those additional cardiac details throughout the day (and while you’re sleeping). Ultimately, I ended up back on only-while-exercising mode, just to preserve battery life. It definitely gives you some great detail, and is something you could certainly trend over time if you’re keeping tabs on what your heart is doing.

I was pleasantly surprised by how accurate the sleep tracking Polar Vantage M is even with the continuous HR turned off. I compared this against my trusty Fitbit One (which you manually put into sleeping mode) and the numbers came up crazily close to each other. So, big props to Polar there. Of course, if the HR sensor is going, it’ll get an even better picture, including tracking your HR on a graph as you sleep.

Another thing that really surprised me on the Polar Vantage M was it figuring out distance while I was on a treadmill. If you’re running outside, that’s one thing – it can use it’s GPS to determine what you travel. On a treadmill, that’s something else. Turns out, it’s clever math. It knows your stride (which you could make further accurate with a stride-measuring pod) and cadence, and it knows your height. From that, it calculates out the distance travelled. As compared to what the treadmill itself told me, it was pretty close on (the watch would report 1.05 miles when the treadmill said 1.00), and is another definite step up from the previous (non-smart) Polar watches. Also a step-up is how it puts countdown timers right on one of the dials (that’s what you see in the header image) with quick reset/restart. So, say you’re doing a 2-minute interval training, you can just keeping hitting 2-minute cycles with a single button press each time.

In short, there’s a lot of really spectacular capability built into the Polar Vantage M, which I’ve covered here in terms of what I found the most useful and impressive. For a more comprehensive list, check that out down below. One last specific thing to call out, is the strap on the watch. With the prior Polars that I’ve enjoyed, they relied on a one piece strap that stretched and formed around the central puck, due to the built-in connector. Freed from that, Polar was able to use a standard setup, with 22mm lugs receiving the quick-change spring bars on the included strap. Aside from maybe mixing some color in, though, I don’t know why you’d change the stock star out. It’s thin, it’s flexible, it’s waterproof (good for swimming and sweating), and it’s got this great texture to it. IE, anything and everything you’d want in a synthetic strap. Sure, I may be eying some other colors to mix things up, but really, Polar did a great job on this strap as well.

Suffice to say, I am very, very definitely a fan of the Polar products. They work, they work well, and they bring a lot of capability to the table. In this case, you get all of this capability (of which I’m perhaps using only half, but the watch doesn’t make you feel dumb for it) is only $279.95 which feels like a tremendous value to me. Sure, basic step trackers get you going, but something like the Polar Vantage M keeps you going and gets you motivated. If they ever come up with a simple tracker that (a) slips into a pocket and (b) plays nicely with a workout watch like the Vantage M, well, the Fitbit’s days in my pocket may be numbered. Shoot, the Polar even has a silent wakeup alarm (only one, though you can snooze it) which is a key – killer – use of my Fitbit. So, sure, I’d like the option to not have to have a tracker on my wrist all day (and I know, I don’t, but I’m a completist like that) but if I did, I wouldn’t mind it being the Polar Vantage M. polar.com

Review Summary

  • Brand & Model: Polar Vantage M
  • Price: $279.95
  • Who’s it for? You want something more than a basic step tracker, but don’t need a full on smart watch. Just like you’re doing more than basic exercise, but you’re not necessarily training for a triathlon.
  • Would I wear it? Indeed – every day I’m at the gym, it’s on my wrist
  • What I’d change: Why not let us set more than one alarm?
  • The best thing about it: All it can – and does – do at a sub-$300 price point really makes for an approachable, usable fitness watch.

Features from Polar

  • Polar Precision Prime: Get accurate wrist-based heart rate tracking even in the most demanding conditions.
  • Training Load Pro: Quantify the strain of your training session and see how your training strains your body.
  • Sport profiles: Polar Vantage M supports over 130 different sports. Add your favorite sports to your Polar Vantage M in Polar Flow.
  • Swimming metrics: Follow your progress in the pool. Polar Vantage M automatically detects your heart rate, swimming style, distance, pace, strokes and rest times. Distance and strokes get tracked also in open water swimming.
  • Phone notifications: Stay connected with notifications from your phone. Get alerts for incoming calls, messages, emails, calendar events and more.
  • 24/7 activity tracking: Polar Vantage M tracks steps, distance, calories and sleep and gives you a personalized activity goal for each day.

Smart Coaching Features from Polar

  • Running Index: Find out your running VO2max and follow how your running performance is developing.
  • Running Program: Get a personal and adaptive training plan that fits you and your goals.
  • Smart Calories: Know exactly how many calories you’ve burned based on your weight, height, age, gender, your individual maximum heart rate (HRmax) and how hard you’re training.
  • Training Benefit: Get motivating feedback immediately after training describing the effect of the session.
  • Continuous Heart Rate: Get a comprehensive view on how your heart behaves during your day. Continuous heart rate monitoring gives you even more accurate calorie burn and activity data and tells you the lowest and highest heart rate of your day.
  • Sleep Plus™: Sleeping well will help boost your recovery and performance. Polar Sleep Plus™ automatically detects the timing, amount, and quality of your sleep.

ByPatrick Kansa

A big data developer and leader with a penchant for gadgets, books, watches and beverages. You can find my work on WristWatchReview, Knapsack.News, and Slushpile. If you're on Twitter and/or Instagram, you'll find me there as @PatrickWatches.

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