The timing of this release from Polar is somewhat curious, as the Vantage V2 comes just a handful of months after the release of the Grit X, a rugged multi-sport watch designed for performance training as well as off-trail adventuring. While the Grit X is an outstanding watch for multi-sport training and mountain athletics, the Vantage V2 is a more attractive option for pure running-focused users. The watch takes almost all of the new features introduced on the Grit X, adds a few new tools to make it even more training and performance-oriented, and assembles them in a lighter and lower profile package. (See our Grit X review as a point of comparison to the Vantage V2.)
Polar also has the most robust desktop app on the market available in Polar Flow, and the Vantage V2 collects a flood of information for processing and analysis through this app. Polar Flow excels in combining multiple data fields into mega-graphics. In the example pictured below, we see heart rate, pace, wrist-based power, cadence and an elevation profile all mapped on top of each other, with the ability to scroll back and forth between specific moments within the activity. Over a period of several weeks, your performance data combines with 24-hour physiological metrics to develop a very precise coaching and guidance platform, either for daily workout suggestions or long-term race planning.
Many of the specs between the Grit X and Vantage V2 are identical – there is no difference in size, battery life, screen display and operation, or activity tracking. The advanced optical HR/SaO2 sensor mechanism is the same in both devices. The Vantage V2 includes the hill splitter, fuel wise, and energy source features first used on the Grit X. Even the wonky Komoot navigation platform carries over from the Grit X to the Vantage V2 – this is an area where we were hoping to see some improved functionality over Komoot’s fee-based operation. The key new features added to the Vantage V2 are a running performance test, leg recovery test, recovery pro guidance, and music control from the wrist.
Before getting to the new running-specific features, a note about the music control: we really love how this works. It differs from many wrist-based music players in that the watch itself doesn’t store songs, so it won’t work unless there’s a phone in your pocket. However, since we almost always run with a phone anyway, this isn’t an inconvenience at all, and the upsides are great. You can have a massive amount of songs or podcasts at your disposal, and you aren’t confined to a single music service like with other watches. You don’t take up memory and burn battery life on the watch by continually updating and modifying playlists, and it’s easy to jump from one playlist to another without accidentally pressing a lap split or pausing your activity file. If you are someone who regularly runs with music, the Vantage V2 works like a dream.
Perhaps the most intriguing new feature is the running performance test, which claims to give the most accurate assessment of VO2 max. You can do the test at a sub-maximal level or an all-out level, but the idea is to replicate a true laboratory-style VO2 max test that is done to exhaustion. If you’ve ever done one of these tests on a treadmill, you know how horrifyingly miserable they can be — that’s the goal of your new training watch. You start with a warmup, then the test guides you through a progressively faster pace, and your goal is to match the pace while staying in specific heart rate zones until you can’t do it anymore. Once you’ve hit a predicted submaximal heart rate (roughly 80% of your predicted max HR), you can choose to stop, but if you want a more accurate test, you can keep going and ratchet up the intensity until you collapse. (Good times!) Afterward, you get an updated calibration of both your VO2 max and sub-max, and these can be set as the new parameters to guide your training plan.
The resulting values from our test were comparable to predicted VO2 max calculations we’ve seen on other devices, which brings up a question of why a run to exhaustion test is necessary – especially since they’re kind of excruciating to perform. By way of comparison, our Garmin devices give an estimated VO2 max value after each workout; there’s a noticeable upward trend when we increase our speed sessions, and a decline when we do a lot of consecutive slow runs. Our VO2 max readings between Polar and Garmin are only a point or two apart, but Garmin doesn’t require an official test session to come up with it. It’s also interesting to note that Polar’s Running Index VO2 max predictor, estimated after each workout, was a few points off of the more accurate running performance test result, so if Polar can tweak the Index algorithm to more closely estimate VO2 max without need of a specific test, that would be wonderful.
On the other hand, we were really impressed with the leg recovery test, as a simple measure that seemed to correlate very well with our own subjective assessment of whether our legs are ready to work hard. Basically, before your workout, you jump three times on cues from the watch spaced about 15 seconds apart. The watch measures the vertical displacement of your center of gravity with each jump, and if there is a significant decline in performance by your third jump, the watch recommends a modified workout intensity for the day.
The lower profile and lighter weight are significant improvements, and make the Vantage V2 one of the most comfortable watches we’ve worn for 24-hour use, across all brands. We were hoping for some efficiency improvements in basic watch operation, but we still find Polar’s overall user interface to be somewhat clumsy. There are a lot of small quirks that cause frustration, such as the touchscreen spontaneously changing displays, a less-than-intuitive menu navigation process, an excessive number of button presses for simple items like setting an alarm, inconsistency with accessing notifications from the touch screen, and the inability to get notifications during activity. If your primary intention is to have a first-class training watch, then these things aren’t huge issues. But if you want to combine performance with easy use as an all-day watch, Polar makes this a bit tricky. It’s especially disappointing because we are highly impressed with how Polar devices guide training based on a massive reservoir of data and metrics – in these regards, the company is second to none.
The final new addition on the Vantage V2 compared to the Grit X is the Recovery Pro feature, which uses activity history, test results, and ongoing physiological metrics to assess how well you are recovering between workouts. This is beneficial to help prevent overtraining and to decrease your injury risk by pushing too hard for too many consecutive workouts. Recovery Pro combines the daily recovery metrics with your long-term training load, and uses this info to create personalized training suggestions, while providing insight to your longer-term training and recovery balance. We found that it took 3-4 weeks before the Recovery Pro guidance seemed to be in sync with what we were subjectively feeling or objectively performing (in terms of speed or intensity) in our workouts. This speaks to how the Polar system’s guidance becomes more advanced and more precise as it learns about you over an extended period of time.
Above all else, this long-term assessment and guidance rooted in physiological, objective, and subjective data gathering is where Polar really differentiates itself as a brand in the GPS multi-sport watch category. If you love having a wealth of information at your disposal and using the data as a guide for daily and long-term workout plans, the Vantage V2 is clearly one of the best options available.
The Polar Vantage V2 is now available at www.polar.com.
Basic Summary: A successor to the Vantage V watch geared towards data-driven, high-performance endurance athletes. The Vantage V2 includes a number of features first introduced on this year’s Grit X watch, plus three new assessment features and music player controls. All this is done in a significantly lighter and sleeker casing, making the Vantage V2 much more comfortable for all-day use.
- Weight: 52 grams
- Face dimensions: 47mm x 13mm
- Satellite systems: GPS+Glonass, GPS+Galileo and GPS+QZSS
- Lightweight aluminum case and Gorilla glass lens
- Battery life:
- 40 hours with 1-second GPS mode
- 100 hours in power save mode
- Always-on, color touch screen display
- Wrist-based optical HR sensor with 24/7 monitoring
- Interchangeable watch band
- Smart notifications to watch (disabled during activity)
- Water resistant to 100M
- Barometric altimeter and weather predictor
- Full activity tracker features including steps, stairs, calories, active time, sleep tracking
- Music controls from wrist, with any phone-based music player
- Customization through Polar Flow app or web service
- Up to eight data screens per activity, with up to four customizable fields per screen
- Downloadable maps through Komoot with wrist navigation and back to start tracking
- Programmable workouts and HR zones
- Wrist-based running power
- Fuelwise smart fueling assistant
- Hillsplitter post-run analysis
- Running performance test
Smart Coaching Features:
- Training Load Pro
- Personalized running programs
- FitSpark suggested workouts
- Running Index VO2 Max
- Leg recovery test
- Recovery Pro
- Smart calories