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