Polar Vantage V2 review: big on recovery but struggles to go the distance

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The Polar Vantage V2 is the second generation of Polar’s flagship multisport watch aimed at serious runners, riders and swimmers.

It comes with a beefed up 100-hour endurance battery, a lighter, sleeker design, improved touch screen and button controls and the most complete suite of performance, training, recovery and sleep tools we’ve seen on a Polar watch to date.

Add smart fuelling recommendations, route guidance and hill tracking to the mix and you have a potent combination.

Many of these features are already part of the Polar Grit X, and at £449.99, it’s a chunk of change cheaper than other flagship watches like the Garmin Fenix 6, Coros Vertix and Suunto 9.

It’s even £70 cheaper than its closest Garmin rival, the Forerunner 945.

So is it the best bargain training tool going? We put it to the test to find out, in our Polar Vantage V2 review.

Polar Vantage V2: Key Features

  • 52g
  • 47mm case
  • 1.2-inch, 240 x 240 pixel display
  • 40 hours GPS battery life
  • 100 hours tracking in low GPS mode
  • 7 days smartwatch battery
  • 8-LED optical heart rate
  • GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS
  • Running power on the wrist
  • 130 sport modes
  • FuelWise fuelling recommendations
  • Hill Splitter segmented insights
  • Turn-by-turn navigation
  • FitSpark workout recommendations based on recovery
  • Nightly Recharge sleep and recovery insights
  • 22mm replaceable straps
  • Water resistant to 100m

Polar Vantage V2: Design, comfort and customisation

Polar Vantage V2: Design

The Vantage V2 has a refined design with a sleek, almost-one-piece aluminium alloy and reinforced glass fibre polymer casing.

It’s 14g lighter than the first generation Vantage V – down to 52g from 66g – 12g lighter than the Grit X, and 13g lighter than the Forerunner 945. That makes it one of the lightest devices in this £400+ premium tier.

It’s marginally more comfortable on the wrist too, thanks to a new smoother, swappable silicone strap. It’s easily on a par with its competitors for all-day and all-night wearability, crucial for making the most of the sleep and recovery features.

The 1mm larger 47mm case packs the same size 1.2-inch, 240×240 pixel colour touchscreen display as the original Vantage V. But it now comes with an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the brightness to make the always-on V2 display easy enough to read in all light conditions. Though don’t expect the vibrant colours and pin-sharp legibility you get on top end smartwatches.

Polar Vantage V2: side on

Thankfully, Polar’s familiar five-button controls are now much more responsive and the touchscreen feels less laggy too. So it’s generally easy to use on and off the move, fixing a major bugbear we had with the Vantage V.

In the durability stakes, The V2 meets military standards (MIL-STD-810G) and is now water resistant to 100m whereas the original V and the Garmin Forerunner 945 are limited to 50m.

The strap and casing feel robust but it’s worth noting that our screen picked up a small nick from general daily usage. On the plus side, the anti-fingerprint coating does a great job of keeping grubby paw prints off the screen.

At launch there are also three different colour options to choose: black, green and grey-lime. And Polar has tried to up its personalisation game here too, though it’s still limited to a small selection of customisable watch faces, colour themes and interchangeable straps.

Another small detail we love: the Vantage V2 ships with the same charging cable as past models, so if you’re upgrading you can charge with your old wires.

Polar Vantage V2: Sports tracking

Polar Vantage V2 run tracking

With 130 dedicated sports modes, the Vantage V2 has pretty much everything covered but the core of this watch is still running, cycling, swimming and triathlon. Here are the highlights:

Swim tracking

In the pool, the Vantage V2 offers a competitive array of stats with wrist-based heart rate, automatic stroke detection, lap tracking, distance, pace, strokes, rest times and SWOLF efficiency scores. Open water swimming mode also tracks distance and strokes.

It’s easy to select pool length from the start screen and you can add custom lengths. Data screens are fully customisable for each sport profile so you can make priority metrics larger and easier to read mid-swim. Though unlike on Garmin, you have to do this in Polar Flow rather than on the watch.

The current COVID situation meant we didn’t get the chance to test the accuracy of these features in the water as we would normally do.

Bike performance

There’s not much new here, aside from the guided FTP test we discuss a little lower down. You get the familiar dedicated sport profiles for road, indoor and mountain biking where you can set custom heart rate, power and speed zones for each profile. Hill Splitter also works on two wheels.

Some but not all third party power sensors are compatible. You can find out if yours is here. Though you can’t broadcast optical heart rate readings to third party services such as Zwift. You need to link in a chest strap to do that.

Running

Running is extremely well catered for. With a comprehensive array of mid and post-run stats including the usual pace, distance, speed, heart rate, HR zones but you also get power zones, speed zones, Strava Live segments, heart-rate based fuelling recommendations, elevation gain and loss and Hill Splitter automatic hill tracking.

Running form metrics are limited without an external sensor but the cadence tracking performed reliably against the Stryd footpod.

After your run, Polar’s Running Index score also gives you a simple readout that lets you chart your progress from run to run.

Polar Vantage V2: Fitness and recovery tests

Fitness and recovery tests

Running performance test

The running performance test mimics lab-based fitness tests but uses your basic stats, along with GPS pacing and heart rate to algorithmically estimate your VO2 Max and important running thresholds.

The 40-minute outdoor test involves a 10-minute warm up and optional cool down, but the meat of it requires you to run gradually faster until you hit your maximum effort.

Results include your Max heart rate, VO2 Max estimate, Maximum Aerobic Speed and your Maximum Aerobic pace and you can choose to use these findings to automatically update your heart rate and power zones on your watch.

Running performance test and VO2 max

We took the test three times. Unlike lab VO2 Max tests where the speed of the treadmill shifts up after timed increments, this test relies on your real-time pace quickening almost second by second as you run. The reliance on accurate GPS pacing was problematic at times. You can see from the spike and drops in the pacing chart above, the number of times we had to correct our pace to run to the target.

Whereas in a lab test you can concentrate on sustaining your effort, you end up looking at your watch a lot rather than just running, and I found myself focusing a lot of mental energy on trying to hit the right pace.

And the results: without a lab test to compare them to, it’s hard to make judgements on accuracy. But going on my own estimation of my current fitness, I would say they produce a relatively accurate reflection of my own subjective assessment.

My VO2 Max dropped from Polar’s ongoing estimate of 68 down to 57. That’s a big drop but having run inconsistently for a month, it feels plausible.

There are things we’d change. For example, you can choose a starting pace for your test, the baseline to build from – this also happens in lab tests – but it’d be useful to allow your recent run data to be a guide here. We’d also prefer to see timed, incremental shifts in pace rather than ongoing gear changes which would allow you to manage that pace easier.

Our test result also failed to appear on the watch, even though it was showing in Polar Flow. And the option to update your sport profile settings appears in the Flow app not on the watch.

Leg Recovery Test

Another new watch-guided test also known as a jump test, this follows a well-known protocol for measuring muscle recovery, something that we’ve never been able to do a running watch before.

It involves doing three consecutive standing jumps while the watch’s motion sensors track the height. You set your personal baseline – mine was 8-inches – and then in each subsequent test, if any of your jumps fall below that, it negatively affects your score and is used to identify if you’re fully recovered. The results feed into FitSpark workout recommendations tools.

We tested this on consecutive days after running a trail marathon and it successfully picked up our debilitation on day one, showed improvement on day 2 and then on day 3 cleared us to run again and was an excellent proxy for how our legs felt. It’s not a replacement for your own judgement, of course, but a useful second opinion.

Cycling performance test

Riders can now follow a simple coached cycling performance to reveal an estimated V02 Max, FTP value and Watts/Kg value. The tests last between 20, 30, 40 or 60 minutes and the aim is to push the highest average Watts during this timeframe.

Serious cyclists and triathletes will be familiar with this particular sufferfest and there are plenty of other platforms already offering this but having all your data automatically in one place is useful.

Polar Vantage V2: Navigation and mapping

The Vantage V2 comes with the same Komoot-powered route planning and turn-by-turn navigation as the Polar Grit X. You can also import routes from other sources via Polar Flow and load those onto the watch too.

The turn-by-turn guidance on the watch is easy to follow and guided us successfully through some very tricky off-road adventures. Though you don’t get TOPO maps like you’ll find on Garmin and that makes it feel a little sparse. And you can’t follow a course if you’re in low-power GPS mode.

Garmin’s implementation of Komoot offers much richer detail including estimated time to destination and a gradient chart of your entire course. Though that Komoot tool doesn’t offer turn-by-turn, so neither is perfect.

Polar Vantage V2: Sensors and accuracy

The Vantage V2 packs a full suite of sensors including built-in optical heart rate, GPS, accelerometer, barometric altimeter and compass, though with the notable absence of an spO2 blood oxygen sensor.

GPS accuracy

GPS accuracy

When it comes to tracking, the V2 features GPS/GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS. It also has assisted GPS that’s supposed to give you a quicker first fix, however, we found it was somewhat slower than Coros and Garmin to get an initial fix.

We tested the Polar Vantage V2 on a series of runs up against the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro and a Stryd Wind footpod. This included a 27-mile trail run in full GPS mode, a coastal trail marathon with lots of steep hills in low-power GPS mode. Plus a 40 minute progression run and a 40-minute interval session.

In full GPS mode, the V2 performed well against the Stryd footpod for overall distance and real-time pace. But the low-power GPS was woefully incorrect on our trail marathon, clocking seven extra miles.

Interestingly the Polar Grit X, – in full power mode – had the same issues on the day, registering six extra miles. By contrast, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro (also in low power GPS) was spot on.

You expect to take a hit on accuracy for low-power GPS mode but adding close to 30% additional distance is poor and makes it frankly unusable.

Hill Splitter and elevation

For runners and cyclists who like to hit the hills, the barometric altimeter is an important inclusion, on paper ensuring better accuracy of those vert stats. However, this threw up some interesting elevation results compared to the Polar Grit X, the Stryd and the Fenix 6 Pro.

In our first 27-mile trail run, the V2 clocked 10% more elevation gain and descent against the Grit X. The Hill Splitter feature registered wildly different readings with the V2 registering seven more climbs than the Grit X, close to 2 miles more climbing and half a mile extra descent.

On our second trail marathon, in low-power GPS mode, the V2 performed fairly well against the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro (also in low-power GPS mode), registering just 154 feet less climb but 250 feet less descent. Which makes the poor overall distance tracking performance even more strange.

It’s also worth noting that in low-power GPS mode, the Hill Splitter completely failed. The V2 tracked just one climb and no descents. Despite a run total of more than 5,000 feet in elevation gain and loss.

Heart rate accuracy

heart rate accuracy

With so many features relying on heart rate, accuracy here is more important than ever. The Polar Vantage V2 packs the same 8-LED optical array as the Grit X, with Polar’s Precision Prime technology that’s supposed to reduce your reliance on a chest strap.

We tested the heart rate performance on a variety of runs, up against the H10 chest strap, including two hilly trail marathons, the running performance test and an interval session.

On our up and down trail marathon, the V2 had a tendency to read a lot higher, with a higher Max HR – 180BPM vs the H10’s 165bpm. What’s more, there were half a dozen notable spikes that pushed into the top zone which weren’t there on the H10, hugely affecting average heart rate.

However, the conditions were cold which can negatively affect optical heart rate performance.

HR comparison

During our Running Performance Test where the intensity increased gradually, the V2 coped better with no spikes but also clocked a slightly higher Max HR and average HR than the H10, though this time only 4BPM in both instances.

On the interval session, the V2 matched the H10 almost beat for beat and outperformed the Apple Watch Series 6 optical heart rate performance.

It all adds up to an unpredictable and less-than-perfect optical heart rate performance, similar to our experience with the Polar Grit X as well.

But we’re yet to find a truly infallible optical sensor and the crux of it remains: if you want the most accurate readings from all of the performance features, you’ll still need to buckle into a chest strap.

Polar Vantage V: Activity, sleep and health tracking

Sleep monitoring

The Vantage V2 is, first and foremost, a sports performance tool but beyond training and racing there’s plenty to support general health and wellbeing. That includes activity tracking, inactivity alerts, guided breathing and 24-7 heart rate monitoring that lets you track things like highs, lows and resting heart rate (RHR) and the most detailed sleep tracking and overnight recovery insights you’ll find on a serious sports watch thanks to Sleep Stages Plus and Nightly Recharge.

Sleep tracking reveals sleep and wake times, total duration, time in each stage and offers an overall score. Nightly Recharge goes further reading the recovery of your autonomic nervous system to tell how well you’ve bounced back overnight at a much deeper level.

When it comes to sleep tracking accuracy, the V2’s sleep and wake times were largely accurate, though not without blips. Just like the Grit X, it sometimes thought we were asleep when we were really watching telly on the sofa. On the other hand, it was better than Garmin at clocking when we woke up rather than when we got out of bed and the ability to acknowledge when you’re awake is a good failsafe for this. It clocked interruptions well and the overall sleep score tended to match how we felt.

Beyond sleep, there are a couple of notable gaps in the V2’s health and wellness skills compared to the Forerunner 945. The lack of menstrual cycle tracking is a big one and there’s also no SpO2 sensor to measure blood oxygen levels.

Polar Vantage V: Smartwatch features

Smartwatch skills are still limited and this is still very much a training device. However, new features include 3-day location-based weather updates. You also get read-only smartphone notifications.

There are useful music controls for playing, pausing, skipping tracks and controlling volume on the wrist for any of your smartphone media players, including Spotify and Deezer.

However, unlike Garmin watches like the Fenix 6 or the Forerunner 945 and 745 there’s no on-board music storage, and no offline Spotify. That will be a big downside for many.

But there’s no contactless payments or apps like you’ll find on the Garmin Forerunner 945 and the Fenix 6.

Battery life

The Polar Vantage V2 packs the same 40-hour runtime in full GPS tracking mode as the Vantage V. But you now also get the endurance-friendly staying power of the Grit X, with an extendable battery life up to 100 hours with customisable lower GPS pulse rates.

As with the Grit X, you can helpfully customise the GPS power modes for specific sport profiles, and you can change power modes mid-session. You also get a pre-exercise indication of the remaining battery life based on your selected power settings, though it doesn’t go as far as the smart battery suggestions on the Suunto 9.

In our tests the Vantage V2 initially lasted 4 days of general usage before it needed recharging. That was with 6.5 hours full GPS tracking and everything else switched on.

During the 5-hour marathon test it used 22% in full GPS mode. So if that scales, you’re looking at 20-25 hours full GPS, way below the stated battery life.

Even after a factory reset which we’ve previously found to fix battery problems on the Grit X, we only squeezed 5 days’ general usage with only one 40 minute run included. That’s not a great performance.

In low-power GPS mode over a 6.5 hour trail marathon, we used up 19% battery life. Again, if that scales equally that’ll fall well short of the quoted 100 hours low-power GPS battery life.


Polar Vantage V2

By Polar

The Vantage V2 is a small but solid upgrade to the original Vantage V. A sleeker, lighter design with improved buttons and touchscreen controls and the consolidation of all the best new Polar features since the original. The performance and recovery tests offer training insights you won’t find on other watches and the music controls are a welcome addition. The battery life performance against Polar’s claims was a big disappointment though there’s ample longevity here for most runners. Throw in the competitive price and bang for buck you’ve got one of the top value all-round multi-sport watches you can buy right now.


  • Insightful performance and recovery tests
  • Great sleep and recovery tools
  • Improved controls
  • Decent value
  • Battery way less than stated
  • Wildly inaccurate low-power GPS
  • No music storage
  • No mapping

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