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Polar Vantage M2 Review | One of the best triathlon watches but…

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Polar Vantage M2 Review

It’s now more than two years since the Vantage series of running/triathlon watches were launched and almost a year since the surprise addition of the adventure-focussed Grit X. The arrival of the refreshed Vantage V2 of 6 months ago heralded new moves for the entire Vantage series and you probably won’t be surprised to see this Polar Vantage M2 review today. I’ve enjoyed a lot of running and triathlon time with the Polar Vantage watches but it’s getting ever harder for Polar to stand out as the number of quality competitors continues to increase.

The Polar Vantage M2’s rrp has risen to $300/£269, which is significantly cheaper than the premium Vantage V2 at £449, the Garmin 945 at £499, the Garmin 935 @£389.99, and the Wahoo RIVAL @£349. That makes the uber-well-featured M2 a no-brainer, surely? Well, not quite as the Coros Pace 2 spoils the party at under $200 and the ageing Suunto 5 is still worthy of consideration at £239.20. And if it’s just a casual running or triathlon watch you want then a decent triathlon app on the Apple Watch SE may cut the mustard for some of you and that Apple is the same price as the Vantage M2 (£269) and with many more smart features. Decisions, decisions…here is a summary review of the Polar Vantage M2 to help your decision-making and for those of you who want more details, to learn what’s new and how the competition stacks up, then scroll down for all that info.

Polar Vantage M2: Verdict
  • Price - 90%
    90%
  • Apparent Accuracy - 80%
    80%
  • Build Quality & Design - 95%
    95%
  • TRiathlon Features, Including App - 90%
    90%
  • Openness & Compatability - 85%
    85%
88%

Verdict: Far-reaching triathlon features, best used with H10 sensor

Polar Vantage M2 Summary Review

The Polar Vantage M2 is a great GPS triathlon watch packed full of advanced running & multi-sports features. It will almost certainly excel for all your indoor or outdoor sports and if you are looking for a sports-style watch to wear 24×7 then this is it and you will further benefit from the great insights that Polar will give you into your recovery, sleep and activity levels. A one-phrase summary of this Polar Vantage M2 review would be that it is “the best sub-$300 triathlon watch“, but…

The Polar Vantage M2 is one of the best-featured, mid-level triathlon and running watches that’s suitable for beginners and seasoned competitors alike. It holds up well at the price and many of you will prefer it over the typically more expensive Garmin equivalents.

The Vantage M2 has some sweet improvements over the previous model still packed into a lightweight, medium-format case with improved and impressive battery life, good screen and sufficient ‘smart’ connectivity features.

I’m a GB age-group triathlete and this is equally suitable as a ‘proper’ triathlon watch for someone at a similar level or for complete beginners investing in their first tri watch.

Vantage M2 supports power meters and other external sensors as well as complex structured workouts. Polar’s FLOW app and online platform are probably the best, although some might argue with that.

So where’s the catch?

Well, both the GPS and oHR could be better plus smart features are intentionally limited.

Absolutely. Garmin, Coros and Suunto all have similar accuracy issues and I use a chest strap and STRYD footpod to get the accuracy I need with them too. I used a Vantage M for the best part of a season and loved it…the Vantage M2 is even better!

Pros

  • Priced sensibly
  • An impressive watch+app platform that, for example, beats Coros
  • FITSPARK adaptive training guidance (super cool)
  • Lightweight, well-designed. good-looking sports format watch for training and racing
  • Will connect to modern pods, power meters and straps
  • Market-leading sleep insights
  • Fuel Wise carbs & hydration planning
  • Great physiology features which are ‘up there’ with those from Garmin
  • Great STRYD running power support with Zone lock and phased power workouts all supported
  • Follows complex plans and workouts, allows favourite workouts
  • Fully customisable single sport profiles including innovative screen types
  • Heaps more!

Cons

  • No ANT+ sensor connectivity (less of an issue in 2021 for modern multiband sensors)
  • No audible alerts (you can hear the vibrate alert…just)
  • GNSS/oHR accuracy improved by the recommended use of 3rd party sensors for pace & HR
  • Vantage M2 has Jazz Dancing and Beach Volleyball sports profiles. But no custom multisport profile for pool triathlon, nor Otillo nor a repeating brick profile for tri training. Tiny, yet embarrassing, omissions.

Polar Vantage M2 Review – Unboxing – Contents

You get the watch and a bespoke USB charger as well as numerous bits of paper. You may also get the recommended Polar H10 chest strap if you bought that in a bundle. Also included is a free iOS/Android app called Polar FLOW; an online dashboard also called FLOW, and optional desktop syncing software called Polar FLOWSYNC.

Polar Vantage M2 Review – So What’s New?

The M2 is a refresh of the earlier version but comes with several new additions that warrant the “Gen 2” name. Here are the additions and improvements

Polar Vantage M2 vs. Polar Vantage V2 – What’s The Difference?

Vantage M2 lacks these features that are found on V2

The Vantage V2 does have a premium quality shell which I like a lot. I’d buy the V2 just for that. The M2 has easily swappable standard 22m bands whereas the V2 will only fit proprietary straps.

 

DETAILED COMPARISON: Feature by feature comparison of V2 vs M2 vs M on Polar.com

 

Polar Vantage M2 vs Garmin Forerunner 935 (old tri) vs 945 (smart tri) vs 745 (small tri)

These are tricky to compare as there are multiple subtle differences and many broad similarities offered by features delivered in different ways.

The main difference is the price, with Garmin commanding a notable premium for its ‘complete’ triathlon feature set. That said, the Vantage M2 will do the job for 95% of aspiring triathletes but you might be thinking ‘what if?’, in which case you buy the Garmin.

Although this review is a little disparaging of the M2’s accuracy, the Garmins are similar on that front.

Both Polar & Garmin have good app-platforms and great health, fitness, sleep and physiology insights. Garmin will give you extra smart features, perhaps unrelated to sport but will you wear their relatively ugly watches on a 24×7 basis as that will be how you benefit from all those extra smart features & physiology/health insights.

If you want a feature-full and STRAIGHTFORWARD triathlon tool then go for the Vantage M2 if you want to play with every possible feature, via labyrinthine menus and with lots of external sensors (me!) then Garmin is always your choice.

Polar Vantage M2 vs Coros Pace 2

The main difference is that of a cheaper Pace 2 model but which has a relatively poor app and an unusual button+crown interface typically found on smartwatches rather than sports watches. Pace 2 does have a great feature set, yet perhaps their feature implementation could be improved in some cases eg sleep/recovery. Given the Polar vs. Coros choice, I would opt for Polar.

Polar Vantage M2 Review – Aesthetics, Interactions & Options

The 5-button interface works really well and it is certainly responsive enough, without the ‘lags’ like you find on some Garmin watches. To me, Vantage M2 comes over as a sweetly-made and visually pleasing sports-style watch. The watch is VERY EASY TO USE and understand, again this is a benefit compared to the Garmin triathlon watches which have complex menu systems.

If you are new to Polar Vantage, here are some examples of screens you will see outside of the workout itself. The screens are somewhat quirky but I do like that and they clearly deliver their message in nearly all cases.

 

Images : V2, screens are same

Before looking at some of the workout pages, let’s take a quick step back to FLOW where you configure your screens for those all-important workouts.

It is an almost de-facto standard across many round watches that you can comfortably have 4 data fields per screen – Polar does this too. Polar also lets you have 10 (ten) screens per sport, which is more than enough. Perhaps more interestingly there is an innovative, new type of ‘GRAPH’ full-screen data field.

In The Triathlon Sport Profile

 

Workout Screens

Here are images of those screens from FLOW shown on the earlier Vantage M

The full-screen GRAPH is available to show; power, speed/pace, elevation and HR. Whereas the Zone Pointer is only available for HR/speed/pace. You can also display the clock face during a workout as well as ‘back to start’ and interval/countdown timers.

 

Polar FLOW

Polar FLOW is arguably, and with caveats, the best athlete-focussed platform by any sports watch manufacturer. 2021 will see further improvements.

The FLOW app and online FLOW dashboard are good. FLOW doesn’t look quite as slick, modern and fancy as Garmin Connect but FLOW is probably better-geared towards your device admin and post-exercise stats than Garmin Connect. FLOW simply has LESS gumph and clutter to contend with. Both are good but, as an ‘athlete’, I have a slight personal preference to FLOW. At the same time if you want to do DEEP analyses of your workouts then neither Garmin Connect nor Polar FLOW has what you need and you will take your data elsewhere which both support.

This is NOT a review of Polar FLOW but Polar FLOW *IS* an important part of what you are buying into. So I will highlight some key points for those of you thinking of switching to Polar, especially because there appear to be commonly-held views that Polar lack certain types of complex workout functionality…which are untrue! It has the lot.

Polar FLOW App

Let’s start and give you a flavour with some selected images from FLOW for Android; iOS is highly similar.

Those few slides quickly give you the reassurance that Polar FLOW has real substance.

Polar FLOW Online

There IS more functionality available online than found in the app, including season planning, workout creation and workout scheduling.

Polar FLOW’s dashboard looks quite simple at first glance but, as you can see from the images below, there is a WEALTH of information and insights to be had when you explore deeper.

 

Take Out: I’ll keep it simple. FLOW is a comprehensive platform for athletes. I would definitely recommend the FLOW platform, although it does have faults and omissions. They all do.

Sensor, Battery, Other Tech Details

I will cover some of the internal technical components and external sensors that the Vantages can link to. Some of these details may be crucial for how YOU workout.

3rd Party Sensors, Polar Sensors

Vantage M2 supports Bluetooth SMART sensors and the following are ALL equally supported by BOTH Vantage models: dual-sided bike power meter (eg ASSIOMA); running power meter (ie STRYD – see this review); heart rate monitors like H10; cadence sensors; speed+distance+incline sensor; and running footpods.

Official Compatibility with 3rd Party Sensors is here: link to Polar.com

Battery Issues

Battery life is very good at over 30 hours of GPS recording time with oHR and per second running for the Vantage M2. You’ll probably get quite a bit less than that in real-life scenarios but enough to complete an Ironman.

The M2 now has a power save mode (GPS taken once a minute) and Ultra mode (GPS taken once every two minutes). If you combine these with any kind of screen saver and disabling the backlight then you will dramatically extend the battery life up towards the claimed 100 hours. The battery life will be further extended by using a chest strap.

Barometer, Altimeter

Both Vantage models have an altimeter and can give you altitude/elevation. However, the Vantage M2 derives that from 3D GPS+GLONASS positioning whereas the Vantage V2 also uses a barometer.

GPS / GNSS

The Sony Chip defaults to GPS+GLONASS with no option for GPS-only. You can instead use Galileo or QZSS but you will lower the battery life and not receive any material improvement to accuracy.

Predictive A-GPS is used by the Vantage to get an initial fix – this is NOT unusual.

Polar Vantage M2 Sports Usage – Review

I’ll cover the main triathlon sub-sports plus weights, taking a look at some of the practicalities and niceties of using the Vantage in each sport. ‘Special Features’ of the Vantage are covered in subsequent sections

Run Usage – Polar Vantage M2 Review

Polar Vantage M2 is highly suitable as a lightweight runner’s watch.

The Vantage M2 does not have audible alerts, although the vibration is faintly audible. Here are some other running features that will be key to some of you and unimportant to others:

Vantage V2

Laps and auto-laps work well. Polar treats phases of training/manual laps and auto laps differently and can record two layers of ‘laps/phases’ – that is different/better to how Garmin works. Flow further allows custom lap distances to be viewed on FLOW.

All data metrics that I frequently use are available and Polar recently re-introduced LAST LAP metrics.

When running outdoors with GPS, the instant pace that is shown is somewhat variable to the point where it can’t be relied on – true across all brands

Bike Usage – Polar Vantage Review

When cycling, a watch is best worn either on the handlebars or on the underside of your wrist. In either of those scenarios the oHR might not work well (or not at all) and the GPS antennae will be facing the wrong way. Indeed a watch is NOT great to look at when the text is relatively small and when you are going at some speed. Thus a larger, cycling-specific device is always a better option for frequent cyclists. However, for occasional or non-competitive use, a wristwatch is perfectly fine.

The same types of sports functionality are available for cycling as with running.

Most data metrics that I would use are available, the important ones are available.

Swim Usage – Polar Vantage Review

For OWS or Pool swim usage both are generally well-featured with the Vantage M2 (not yet tested/lockdown).

The Polar Vantage lacks some of the more peripheral swimming functionality when compared to Garmin’s pool swimming offering, for example, the ability to handle drill lengths and the ability to handle presenting data during rest periods between sets are not provided on the Vantage. Stroke rate, SWOLF and stroke type are shown on FLOW and lengths/sets are also automatically broken out.

One extra bonus over the Suunto 9 or Garmin Fenix 6 is that the Vantage M2 is less chunky and less likely to catch & rip a wetsuit sleeve.

Gym / Weights Usage

The flexibility of the WEIGHT/GYM sports profiles is somewhat limited. There are better apps and watches if the gym is the sport you take seriously. Such apps can count reps and guess at the exercise you are performing.

Triathlon / Duathlon / Brick Usage

Lots of non-serious, non-data-driven triathletes will find the Vantage M2 watch perfectly fine for triathlon training.

For a select few, however, some important but niche functionality is missing here. IMHO, Polar need to add additional sports profiles that support extended training bricks and less usual multisport events like Otillo, Pool Triathlon, swim/aqua-bike and aquathlon. Pool triathlons are popular, all triathletes do brick sessions and awesome multisport athletes do Otillo. Even AquaBike is now an ITU Age Group event.

Having said that, the Vantage has a generic ‘MultiSport’ profile and that EASILY allows consecutive sports to be manually chosen. That’s OK for training but not when racing.

Special Features

The Polar Vantage M2 has several ‘special’ features which each deserve a separate section in the review. To me a lot of these are WOWs. But I fully appreciate some of you will be more in the ‘meh’ camp. Each to their own.

Fuel Wise & Energy Sources – a special feature

The Fuel Wise & Energy Sources features trickle down from the Grit X and these images are of the Grit X but the functionality on the M2 is identical.

 

Fuel Wise is all about planning your carb and hydration intake and then bein prompted to do just that as you train or race. The new Fuel Wise features and similar ones from competitors always sound useful to me. I just find that I never quite get around to setting them up and using them as I exercise. There are several components to Fuel wise as well as the ability to combine automatic and manual alerts.

 

 

Special Features – Running With Power

In a nutshell: Both Vantage models identically support external running power meters (STRYD). Running power is handled natively with separate running zones and running power alerts.

Running power data fields are already built into FLOW/VANTAGE and are easily chosen.

Polar has completely separated out running power zones from cycling power zones and the power zones for running are either custom-defined or based on MAP, which Polar say is comparable to FTP. I’ve no idea why Polar has chosen to use MAP when few triathletes understand it. FTP/CP are widely accepted and used for a reason.

Recommended Reading: Running With STRYD Power on The Vantage

Take Out: VANTAGE/FLOW is an excellent platform for running with power. My favourite one. In the longer term, Flow would further benefit from the introduction of CP-related analyses.

Special Feature – SLEEP Plus & SLEEP Plus Stages

 

 

I was sceptical of the SLEEP Plus & Sleep Plus Stages features at first but have grown to like them. There is some great stuff here and Polar uses the sleep data to workout your readiness to train which then also feeds into the adaptive trainign recommendations…Wow!

The new additions to Sleep Score are SLEEP stages and NIGHTLY recharge.

Vantage M2 needs 3 days worth of data to start giving you the new details, then the main thing I regularly looked at was the Nightly Recharge Status. This tells you if you are good to go for your day. Apart from one correctly identified bad night’s sleep, my Recharge guidance every day for a month was that I was ‘good to go’; although that generic advice was often tempered with a note that I need to bear in mind that I had been training hard. 

Polar Sleep Plus – Some details

Polar’s Sleep Score covers from 3 aspects of your sleep namely, amount, solidity (interruptions, continuity & actual sleep) and regeneration (REM+Deep sleep). These are all calculated from a combination of wrist movements, HR/HRV and other data derived from those such as breathing rate. Apart from Polar’s Sleep Stages Plus, much of the science is well understood and, for example, I wouldn’t query Polar’s ability to calculate breathing rate from HRV…providing the captured source data is accurate.

A LOT of the metrics that Sleep Plus calculates are then available for you to drill down into after you wake up. I found there was a little too much info here.

The same sleep information is expanded upon the app and some of it is presented in a friendly and easy-to-read way, as shown below. However, the funny ‘star histograms’ did not seem to readily convey the insights to me and were somewhat confusing to my eye.

Sleep info is also available online with a new Sleep stages report

 

 

Special Features – Training Plans, Scheduling & Workout Creation

There are many gems hidden away on Polar’s extensive FLOW platform, these include the season planner; complex WORKOUT creation; TRAINING PLANS (running) and FITSPARK adaptive daily workouts.

Training Plans – Running

Polar’s existing adaptive training programs for 5k to 42k are sync’d through to the Vantage. I didn’t test these to completion with the Vantage but they seem to work. The ‘race time’ target for the end of the plan seems plausible.

 

Example of a phased interval workout as part of Polar’s HM plan for me

Clear omissions are POWER based running plans, cycling plans and triathlon plans.

Training Plans – Scheduling with the Season Planner

For those of us who follow our own plans or who want a coach to do it for us, the season planner is a neat and useful tool.

Image Source: polar.com

I’ve only had a quick play with the season planner for an hour and it is a powerful tool and easy to use.

At the overview level, it is a spreadsheet-like tool to balance and structure the various aspects/themes of your training over the year. In the above example, this would be where you plan your easy weeks, hard weeks, base training and so on.

Training Plans – Scheduling Favourite Workouts

You or your coach will then go on to build the structure of each week and assign specific workouts to specific day/times. If you or your coach already have a library of such workouts (as favourites) then it’s a simple case of drag, drop and sync those pre-existing workouts to your Vantage.

 

Training Plans – Creating Workouts

target types

Polar call the types of individual workout they support Race Pace; Phased; Interval; Calorie; Distance; and Duration.

Some of these are what others class as ‘complex structured workouts’.

Creating Workouts – Special Case: Complex Structured intervals

These are intervals workouts where specific phases (groups of intervals) can also be repeated. Alerts are given on the watch at the end of phase-periods/intervals and also when you are not in the correct zone but remember than the Vantage M2 has no audible alerts, so you only get the vibrate alert from the M2 – it works well enough but some of you wont be happy.

These workouts will suit many athletes and the workouts now also support POWER.

 

Creating Workouts – Special Case: Race Pace

One of the more useful ‘pro’ workout features is ‘Race Pace’.

Take Out: there is some great stuff here for coaches and the more organised amongst us who are self-coached athletes. With only a few minor exceptions this is a very powerful set of tools for the planning and execution of many types of workouts, from complex to straightforward ones.

 

oHR Accuracy & GPS Accuracy

Polar wants to be the best sports device for oHR and GPS accuracy. I have undertaken a lot of testing with all the Vantage devices over the last few years. Simply put, GNSS and oHR accuracy still need further improvement. The GNSS is pretty much the same as with the earlier Vantage M…sometimes slightly better and sometimes slightly worse, whereas the OHR seems to have got worse. I’ll show you a few very recent charts to back that up but there’s no point in me spending a long time to labour the point that I have found in multiple workouts.

These two oHR charts show the M2 is just wrong for a long endurance run and for a long endurance swim on an indoor trainer.

These four GPS+GLONASS show the M2 (yellow) performing correctly and certainly better than the other watches on test in these segments.

 

But I could have quite easily shown you this where, in green, the M2 is incorrect in a suburban environment.

In my standard repeated test, the Vantage M2 scored 73%, which is uninspiringly normal and on par with most Garmin Forerunners and unchanged from the Vantage M. You can look at a spreadsheet of all the results ever and/or look at the FIT/TCX files yourself, they are all linked to here.

Data Export & Connectivity

Your watch syncs to iOS and Android easily enough and the charging cradle/disk also enables the PC-based FLOWSYNC to sync via a computer.

Different flavours of Android will likely have their own connectivity nuances.

Links to external services

Polar now has more than adequate ways of getting your data out of FLOW and on to somewhere else, most COMMONLY to STRAVA. FLOW would benefit from a DROPBOX link for those of us who work with other software or who just want an offline backup.

Unlike Garmin’s FIT files, Polar export running power or bike power as the same thing: ‘power’. This potentially can cause issues elsewhere but the other major platforms that interface with Polar now seem to understand what they need to do to avoid the two lots of power data becoming mixed together in their systems.

Polar store autolaps and manual laps separately. It looks to me like autolaps are exported from FLOW unless there are manual laps/phases present.

Tips, Tricks, Tidbits of Info

I’ll add interesting tidbits here as they come to my attention

Does this Review of the Polar Vantage M2 find it’s the Best Triathlon Watch?

Define: ‘best’?

Both Vantage watches are certainly candidates for the ‘Best Multisport Watch’ in some category based on their feature set. I’ve linked to a detailed post about that below.

Both ARE properly able to execute support for a triathlon race and, with only minor reservations, support you entirely though your training. If you want a smartwatch with other fancy features (not sport-related) then there are many options elsewhere…good luck!

Q3.2021’s Best Triathlon Watch – isn’t it obvious ? Garmin, Polar, Apple & more

Polar does lack some peripheral triathlon features that SOME of you might consider being important. These are

  1. No sport-profile support for Otillo, pool-based triathlons and other unusual triathlon races (Polar’s Multisport mode DOES allow you to quickly switch between custom sports)
  2. No extended brick profile run-bike-run-bike-run…etc (Multisport mode allows you to quickly switch between custom sports)
  3. No support for H10 HR data cached when swimming. No support for older 5KHz underwater HR signals. (Polar Vantage only supports oHR for swimming)
  4. Some swimming features like swim workouts and the ability to better manage rest intervals
  5. Triathlon training plans
  6. Running gait dynamics or cycling pedalling dynamics
  7. No ANT+ support. Most new PMs are dual-band. I can only see the Zwift scenario where this could be a real issue (H10 does simultaneously support a head unit AND the Vantage). Yes, by using BLE to link to a PM will lose special ANT+ power metrics.

 

Is the Polar Vantage M2 the Best Running Watch?

Just as with the criteria for the best multisport watch you can find a smarter, tech watch elsewhere. Could you find a better running watch…I mean just for running, none of the other smart stuff? Maybe not.

The Vantages tick LOTS of boxes for the keen runner, these are:

There is no other ‘great’ omission just several smaller ones. You can bet that the omission of ‘X’ will, for sure, annoy someone who will then write a comment below saying that s/he won’t buy the Vantage because of that. Fair enough.

Polar Vantage M2 Review – Summary & Opinions

The Vantage M2 makes a compelling case as one of the go-to tri watches at its price-point. Alternatively, if you want the most features then you will always get the same Garmin that everyone else has. Consider the aesthetics, Polar Flow and power support of the Vantage M2 before making the hasty choice of an alternative model.

This is going to be an easy call for some of you. And a considered call for others.

M2 has more than enough new features to make you choose it over the earlier Vantage M but perhaps not enough for the upgrade.

For a new triathlete, I could list 20 or 30 useful sports features and capabilities: lightweight, good sporty looks, multiple sports profiles, sensor support, complex training plans, adaptive training plan, detailed recovery stats, detailed sleep stats, fuelling support, running power support, complex workout creation and execution, great battery life, great app, great web platform, good price-for-feature ratio, running plans, favourite workouts, sensor calibration, numerous configurable screens, and so it goes on.

Simply put. It’s a good triathlon watch.

 

Buy Polar Vantage M2, Review, Price, Availability & 10% Discount

Until the end of April 2021, Vantage M2 is only available directly from Polar at the full retail price. After that all authorised Polar dealers get stock.

The Polar Vantage M2 retails at $300/GBP270/Eur300

 

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