Review (Head-to-Head) : Polar V800 vs. Garmin 920XT

Polar V800 -

Polar V800 – 920XT

The Polar V800 and Garmin 920XT are 2 of the top 3 triathlon watches. Which do you buy? Note: The Polar V800 is MUCH improved since it was released so many reviews are dated.

Suunto’s Ambit3 is the third of the 3 top watches. And probably you WILL want to buy one of these 3.

Almost all of the reviews you read will go through most of the watches’ features. So what? Many of the features are non-triathlon gimmicks or features of questionable triathlon usage.

Pros and Cons

Polar’s V800 might have a 10 hour longer battery life in real-world usage scenarios than the 920XT. In YOUR scenario either watch will get you from the start of the race to the end of it and if you are using a battery eating feature like Garmin’s livetracking then why not just turn it off?

Garmin ‘wins’ on the waterproofing. It can go 10m or so deeper to 50m. But the last time I looked, most triathlons involved staying within about 2m of the water surface.

Both will give you stroke detection functionality but I usually (but not always)know what stroke I’m doing.

Polar V800 -

Polar V800 – 920XT

Both support custom pool lengths with Polar handling a 20m minimum pool length and Garmin 17m…again, so what?  For the 8 people that will be affected by those minimum pool lengths; sure it’s important to them, but virtually every pool length falls within the limits of what each watch can readily handle.

Polar used to have the edge with underwater HR recording but now both do it fairly well (although 3rd party software support issues still exist with Garmin’s revised FIT file format). Garmin’s HR recording solution for swimming is expensive.

Garmin, perhaps, has the slight edge with pool swimming as it has a special screen which appears between sets and another screen which allows you to say you were doing drills. The drill screen I’ve found to be next-to-useless as I keep inadvertently entering drill mode when swimming normally causing data to be ‘lost’ but, to be fair, I do use the special interval screen…but that’s when I’m standing around doing nothing, waist deep in water waiting to get swimming again! But a nice ‘repeat-on’ timer is added which is genuinely useful from time to time.

Garmin also ‘wins’ with live tracking front and with custom IQ apps. It has running and cycling dynamics to further ‘pull ahead’ from the V800. Except; livetracking is for your partner watching you race/train and the custom apps frequently interfere with the watch’s normal functioning. I’ve turned them ALL off. Running dynamics are mostly gimmicky except cadence but the Polar can do that anyway!

Polar V800 -

Polar V800 – 920XT

Polar can do nice things like displaying HRV while you train and also has other tests and more superior recovery information. The V800 has much better lap-screen information and much a better exercise-summary screen. Again, very peripheral stuff that isn’t going to make you much faster. But peripherally nice.

Both devices support power meters. The Garmin can give you more involved cycling dynamics metrics with some specific and VERY expensive power meters that YOU probably won’t buy but, like the running dynamics metrics, I don’t really use them. Do you?

Garmin supports ANT+ sensors whereas Polar supports Bluetooth SMART sensors. There are more ANT+ sensors for sale now but in the future there will probably be more Bluetooth ones. It doesn’t really matter. If, for example, you want either kind of cadence sensor you can buy one easily.

“What about power meters?” you shout. Well fair enough there’s currently a more diverse ANT+ power meter choice. But don’t forget that there are increasingly more dual-band power meters which will work with both. Oh yes and also don’t forget the 4iiii Viiiiva V100 – that converts power meters’ ANT+ signals to Bluetooth. (4iiii are about to rectify lack of left|right power balance support in the next firmware release). So pretty much any power meter can probably be made to ‘work’ with Polar.

There is perhaps one quite niche power-usage display metric scenario that I would actually use if Polar could match Garmin on. But the alternatives that Polar offer and workarounds make it effectively irrelevant in deciding between the two products for me.

The Big Negatives

Neither can use GPS to tell you how fast you are running right now. The instant pace is inaccurate on both watches. Which you might find surprising for a £250/$350 sports watch.

(EDIT) Garmin do now allow footpods to correct this issue on the 920XT as do Polar. Unfortunately Polar’s £50, foot-mounted stride sensor is the size of a golf ball. Workarounds with other footpods are reported by others as ‘troublesome’ but I found them OK.

The V800’s GPS track is generally more accurate than that of the 920XT. The 920XT can be MUCH LESS accurate than other Garmin devices. Putting instant pace to one side, both are accurate enough.

So why Do Garmin Sell More?

People like me buy them I suppose. ANT+ sensor inertia, laziness. (I have a V800 too).

Wowed by all the supposedly useful features.

I think that’s part of it. Garmin tend to start out with a fully featured watch with some of those features, ahem, not working. 6-12 months of bug fixing later and they are mostly hunky-dory. Look on the support forum. At least Garmin are open about bugs.

On the other hand, Polar tends to adopt a more open approach about future plans than Garmin, saying when new features will be introduced. But that approach does Polar no favours with the buying public. People want jam today, not tomorrow. Even if the jam doesn’t spread properly.

Both products are still being incrementally improved and most are generally functioned-up and bug-free (Feb 2016).

Real Differentiators

Polar v800 iOS and Android Smart Notifications

Polar v800 iOS and Android Smart Notifications

The black Polar V800 looks much better as a watch than the 920XT. It feels bigger but also feels better made. Oh! and it’s cheaper. The screen display of the 920XT is probably a tad nicer with its slightly higher resolution.

Recommendation

So my recommendation is NOT to be wowed by the features too much unless you think you require something relatively unusual for your training. The reality is that either watch will do the job nicely and even if there is some specific element of functionality that your choice can’t perform then it won’t affect your training much (well not at all probably).

I would choose the Polar for its 24×7 aesthetics and it feels better made. But the Garmin does have more niche features.

Go on. Be different.

Garmin 920 XT £263.00 Link $419.00 Link
Polar V800 £225.78 Link $336.99 Link

NB: Black Friday 2015 had the V800 down to £180!!

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0 thoughts on “Review (Head-to-Head) : Polar V800 vs. Garmin 920XT

  1. Thanks for the REAL comparison review! Its hard to find reviews that have both positive and negative opinions and real world testing as opposed to the standard list of features and only who the product is best for. And opinions not influenced by the amount of advertising space purchased.

    I just wanted to comment on the Garmin vs Polar brands as opposed to specific watches. Garmin comes from the GPS industry and the public knows the name because its devices have been used for many years in vehicles. Garmin is also more readily available in the big box stores and the retail market in general so people see it more and recognize it. Polar is a fitness watch and when I was first introduced to it, 20 years ago, one of the best HRM out there! Polar started creating fitness / training watches and they are still doing that! The general public is not as familiar with the Polar brand and if they were I bet they would choose Polar vs Garmin! Garmin pushes the bells and whistles more than Polar does because in my opinion the most important feature of a fitness watch is that it should WORK! The biggest FAILS of Garmin watches is the battery dies, they break easily or they just don’t work properly if at all!
    Garmin has always been known for having an awful battery life in its watches. In fact it’s so bad you’re charging it more than your smartphone and over the course of a year the battery life is noticeably shorter than the when you bought it! You can’t stop midway in your 4 hour ride to go home charge your watch and make sure there is enough power to get back out and finish it! Your watch should be able to keep up with you!
    The Garmin watches break easily and its always right after the first year which is perfect because you already know when the new Garmin watch comes out with new features! Essentially, the warranty is gone, watch is done! Whether the watch charger broke and it won’t charge at all, A button fell off and needs to be replaced or even if its just the strap that breaks, its more money you’re spending on it.
    I live in Canada and it gets cold in the winter but we still run all throughout the year, rain, snow, nothing stops us. I have seen many people get moisture in their Garmin watch screen, most likely from the cold weather and when it happens you can barely see the screen making it useless because in the winter you’re running at night and its hard enough to see already! And how many times do you go to see the data and you don’t find out until after you upload it to the computer that it wasn’t working? When I cant get an interval time or pace, or any of the data from a race / workout once then yes its frustrating but when it happens ALL THE TIME its a HUGE problem!
    Reliability in the the products you train/race with should be there and Garmin launches watches with new bells and whistles because if they didn’t the conversations would be about how they have no quality or reliability! Bright Lights Shiny Things – Sorry, I forgot what I was commenting about… Oh yes it was this; the new Garmin watches all have these features, you will rarely, mostly never use! Having a feature you can’t won’t or don’t use is stupid! Polar, has always been more reliable and their background is fitness / training watches and in the long term you will be happier, training more, and saving more money! “Polar products are just like the song says, “A cheerleader, whose always there when you need her!”

    ALTERNATIVE SUGGESTION
    These watches are expensive but you can get some of the same data and save money! As a coach & athlete, I go with a basic watch with Chrono and 2 Interval Timers and use it 90% of the time! It also helps you learn to run, cycle and swim using instinct and feel by removing all the gadgets, data and distractions when training! For the data use an app on your smartphone or a fitness band along with the basic watch to get data and review it afterwards. There are a lot of apps to choose from: Strava. Map My Fitness, Endomondo, Training Peaks, and more!
    I use the Timex Ironman Sleek 250 Full Size with touch screen (http://www.timex.com/watches/ironman-sleek-250-full-size-t5k588) because its great for running/biking intervals (haven’t used it swimming before), I can see it and it hasn’t let me down once! Just make sure to adjust the touchscreen sensitivity setting to the right place for you because I tend to smack it harder than most and others use a more gentle tap and have to turn it up. Battery Life is also 3-5 YEARS depending on how often you use it. The bells and whistles are great when testing fitness monthly, you don’t need it every workout!

    I am the head coach of Lions Valley Athletics and Elite Duathlete and competed for many years including 12 Duathlon World Championships.

    DU Smithy

  2. The main difference between these watches expect for dynamics in Garmin in the ecosystem on which you collect your data. It is seldom wise to change ecosystem because the systems don´t talk to each other. I don´t know if Polar can auto-upload to Strava, if it can then Strava can be applied as a base station for collecting the valuable training data.

    • Good point. Polar supports strava. although, to be fair, most ecosystems link to strava and, if not, you can usually get there easily via tapiriik or syncmytracks. exceptions will be specific metrics like running power or running/cycling dynamics (garmin) or recovery data (polar) . ultimately I think the data store will be google fit (or similar), that will then have EVERYTHING in it eg activity data (steps etc) and health reading data (eg BP, rhr, sm02)

    • IMO they are similar in terms of build quality/construction/materials HOWEVER I agree with your comment that the Garmin FEELS a bit cheaper. Certainyl the 920xt is better build quality than other plastic forerunners (630/235 etc). In terms of the durability of the glass then I don’t really know as I have not scratched either. Garmin seem to have sorted out earlier problems of misting up of the display in the 910.

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