Polar Pacer Pro Review – Polar Pacer & The Competition Compared
Finally, it’s back to basics time. Running.
Polar re-jigged its current products and lowered prices to create two good running watches – the beginner runner’s Polar Pacer and the committed runner’s Pacer Pro. Except someone in the Features Department slipped up and left too many features in. Inadvertently, it seems, Polar created a rather competitive beginner/improver triathlon watch with the Pacer Pro coming in at £259.00 (€/$299.90 rrp)
For newbie runners, Polar nicely avoids the complexity of a Garmin Forerunner Watch and beats the visual experience offered by Coros Pace 2 and its partner app….oh! and it has done that with the Pacer (non-Pro) for a highly competitive price of £169.50 (€/$199.90 rrp)
Let’s start off with a summary review of the Polar Pacer Pro and I’ll expand on some of the more interesting topics afterwards
Verdict: GOOD ⭐⭐⭐⭐ - Ticks all the boxes, including price - although if you need more confusing features, buy a Garmin.
Price - 90%90%
Build Quality & Design - 85%85%
Features, Including App - 80%80%
Openness & Compatability - 85%85%
Great running watches
Polar Pacer Pro Summary Review
Both Polar Pacer watches have a new generation of hardware with improvements over all previous Polar models. You will most easily see that in brighter and more responsive screens than found on either the earlier Vantage V2 or Grit X Pro.
Putting aside some minor new tests, the features on offer are all from the tried-and-trusted Polar stable. Boring but, hey, they’re proven to work!
With Pacer and Pacer Pro, you get two competent running watches that provide all the regularly-used running metrics that derive from the basics of HR, speed/pace, power, distance, direction and altitude plus the modern crop of physiology insights that cover detailed sleep analyses and assessments of your readiness to train. For a beginner, an improver and arguably even a very competent runner Polar Pacer Pro is a complete package.
If you want day-to-day training plans and guidance in each workout as you execute them then you’ve got that with FitSpark. If you want to see the cumulative effect of that as you progress then you will love the Training Load Pro feature.
Do you want to know your fat vs carb bun as you exercise? You’ve got it with EnergySources. Then, as an endurance athlete, you might also want smart feedback about when to take on board carbs…and you’ve got that with FuelWise.
Put all of that and more into the market-leading Polar FLOW ecosystem/app and you’re good to go.
In a nutshell: These are great running watches and the Pro model doubles as a good beginner triathlon watch. So good, in fact, that 99% of you will be perfectly OK with these watches when compared to Polar high-end watches. In creating these great watches, Polar may have inadvertently sabotaged its premium offerings. Hey…good news for you right?
- Great battery life
- Extra hill and elevation related features on the Pro version
- Running Power (Pro only)
- Smaller and lighter case than Vantage/Grit models with same sized screen
- Outdoors features are mostly on the Pro model (Hill splitter, route guidance and TBT from Komoot)
- Great support for most sports especially triathlon, gym and indoor classes
- Smartphone music control only
- No 3rd party watch faces (this might be added)
- No 3rd party plans and workouts (use Polar’s free Fitspark and Running Programs)
- Err. I’m struggling, help me out.
Background – Comparing Polar Watches
Polar has been in the sports tech game for many years and the PACER brand name was used by them many moons ago. Much has happened since then and Polar is now at a turning point in its journey. Its older M200 and M430 are now effectively discontinued and Polar are left with a fitness watch range covering runners from many different aspects.
- Polar Vantage V2 – €499+
- Polar Grit X Pro– €499+
- Polar Grit X – €429
- Polar Pacer Pro- €299
Polar Vanage M2 – €299
- Polar Pacer – €199
Polar Ignite 2 – €229
- Polar Unite– €149
To generalise, the cheaper models in bold lack the following: barometer, magnetic compass, MIL standard durability rating, and most outdoor & navigation features. The upper 4 models gain support for on-wrist running power, a wider range of fitness tests and the Recovery Pro feature.
Vantage V2 and Grit X models are a ‘standard’ size when compared to a Garmin. The Vantage M2 and Pacer models have a slightly smaller case and the Ignite 2 and Unite are smaller still.
The eagle-eyed amongst you would assume that the Vantage M2 and Pacer Pro are almost identical and you would be almost right. Pacer Pro has the outdoor & navigation features that the M2 lacks and the fitness tests too. However the Pacer Pro has new, faster hardware with a superior screen, superior memory, a superior CPU and it’s lighter to boot. The Vantage M2 is effectively a dead weight in the product range; worse still, as an older product it’s likely to be discounted.
Those same eagle-eyed people will have also spotted that the Pacer (non-Pro) beats the Ignite 2 in just about every respect…including price. Again, Ignite 2 is a dead weight in the lineup.
Techy Details: At 5Mb, the Pacer models have 6x the memory found on any other Polar watch and the CPU is 192MHz unlike all the others that max out at 120MHz. Every Polar watch has a 1.2″ display with a 240x240px resolution all that differs is the size of the case around it. Battery details are largely irrelevant in that they are all good with the Pacers giving you GPS time of 35hours vs 40hours for their top-end watches.
To summarise the techiness: The faster, smoother Polar Pacer models are the sweet spot of the entire Polar range. If you plan to do a triathlon or take running more seriously then get the Pro model and it will last you for many years. If you are a beginner or improver there’s no need for the Pro model.
Polar Pacer vs The Competition
If you use your smartphone a lot then you might consider a smartwatch that better integrates the two. The most obvious example is the Apple Watch 7 for iPhones. For Android phones then there are many decent choices, ranging from the Samsung Watch4 to the Suunto 7 or one of the many Fossil watches. If a $5 sports app meets your needs on either of those platforms then that’s the safest and cheapest bet to get you started. A sports watch is different and, err, is more sports-focussed. The differences often boil down to more buttons, a longer-lasting battery and lots of esoteric sports features that you might not understand or ever use. It’s hard to describe the many subtle differences in the smart features you will miss if you’ve used an Apple Watch for a year and then move to a dedicated sports watch. Whilst that sports watch WILL have MANY smart features they’re never quite as good or as clever as what Apple delivers. But the sporty stuff on offer from the likes of Garmin or Polar is better than the plain old Apple Workout app. So if you know you want something better than a smartwatch, Polar is one of several great places to start out. The BIG win for Polar is that they have one of the best smartphone apps and desktop platforms. Conversely, you will be confused by the intricacies of Garmin Connect and underwhelmed by the Coros app.
If you’re a bit too sporty and a bit too techy, like me, then you may well love what Garmin offers. Many reviewers are a bit like that but we sometimes forget that YOU are probably different.
Polar is a lot better fit for beginner and mid-level runners than most Sports Tech Reviewers will have you believe. Sure Polar hasn’t got last-lap NP for the power running profile but 90% of sports tech reviewers don’t know what that means either. Let alone the people that buy the stuff.
With the Pacer Series, Polar is perhaps aiming at people who want a sports watch just for sport and then to wear something else or nothing else for the rest of the day. Why do you need 24×7 monitoring? Why do you need atrial fibrillation detection? and so on. Just get a dedicated running watch for running…there’s zero point in buying a premium version as the watch probably won’t fit your lifestyle and so you won’t wear it as often as it would like you to.
Go on. Buy a Polar. Then just go for a run.
Polar Pacer Series – What’s New
There are some new things that I’ve touched on already plus these
- A new charging cable, I liked the old one. Grrrrr
- A redesigned Precision Prime optical sensor – 1 green LED light, 4 yellow LED lights, 5 red LED lights, and 4 light detectors.
- The green LED light and yellow LED lights are dedicated to the actual heart rate measurement,
- The red LED lights are for motion artefact detection.
- The great number of LED lights and detectors increases the likelihood of adequate skin contact and motion artefact rejection.
- Non-Wear-detection is based on a 5-minute period of no motion from the accelerometers and no skin contact from the LEDs/detectors
- Faster processor – 192MHz and 5Mb RAM, meaning it works faster and more smoothly than either Vantage or Grit X.
- The newish SHIFT strap mechanism supports moulded straps and lay-flat straps. For the first time, this is on 20mm straps.
- Updated Sony CXD5605AGF, single-banded/frequency GNSS chipset. Support dual constellation up to GPS+GALILEO with GPS+GLONASS recommended.
- Polar Pacer Pro has a premium aluminium bezel and buttons similar to those on the other premium Polar watches.
- A Beginner-level walking test is included to better estimate VO2max (Apple does something similar)
- 265mAh batteries are found on both Pacer models giving 35hours of GPS time. The 40 hours of GPS time on the Vantage/Grit models and lower times on the Vantage M and Ignite 2 account for the appropriate sizes of their batteries (346mAh, 230mAh, 165mAh respectively)
- On-watch storage is unchanged at 32Mb, these watches can never support standalone music.
- 50m waterproofing on the Pacer is superior to the Vantage M2, in itself if you are thinking of swimming then get the Pacer/Pacer Pro because of this.
Design, the Polar Pacer Pro has a more premium design with an aluminium bezel & buttons. In addition, the Polar Pacer Pro has a barometer and magnetometer, which enable running power from the wrist, route guidance and hill splitter. Finally, the Polar Pacer Pro also has a cycling performance test.
Summary: Q: What’s New? A: The hardware.
Polar – From a Product Line Up and Marketing Perspective – What’s Happening Here?
Polar’s line-up is a little confusing as there is a great deal of overlap and some redundancy with the products. My take is that the Ignite 2 and Vantage M2 are consigned to history, albeit a VERY nice piece of history in the case of the Vantage M2.
Whilst the Pacer Pro is broadly a like-for-like swap with the Vantage M2, the Pacer (non-Pro) represents a price cut over the Ignite 2. Indeed both products’ prices represent real-term cuts if inflation and likely inflation are both taken into account. So Polar is adapting to ever-increasing price competition and lowering prices in real terms, whilst their component costs and costs of manufacture are almost certainly rising.
More interestingly, Polar is saying that these are both Running Watches for runners. That’s true and they are good running watches. However, the fact that the Pacer Pro is also a pretty good triathlon watch might seem confusing at first. In fact, what the Pacer Series represents is that Polar has seen that it cannot compete as a main player in the specialist and demanding triathlon space.
I suspect, but don’t know, that a similar fate awaits the Vantage V2/Grit X end of the product line up too. Whilst I expect those products to be refreshed with next-gen hardware, like the Pacer Series I expect neither of them to materially change their feature set. What I do now expect to see is that V2/V3 and Grit X/X2 become more focused on different kinds of running with premium construction variants for those that can afford them. So we will see them focussed on UltraRunning, mountain running, track running, orienteering or whatever segments Polar chooses to target. They will still be fine triathlon watches just not marketed that way.
Q: Does that sound familiar? A: Well, yes. It sounds like exactly what Coros has been doing for a couple of years and it sounds exactly like what Polar originally did!
Remember, Polar sells significantly more watches than Coros.
For those of you new to some of the excellent Polar features I’ll cover a selection again below…
If you follow the Polar guided, adapted training you will become a better runner. Simple.
The watch makes sure you get the right balance of training to cover strength and mobility as well as to push you at different running intensities. These are far more than simple recommendations, they are based on your training history and how you adapt to it plus the recommendation follows through to a guided workout where you are coached all the way through it. It’s a great feature, well-executed
Polar also has free plans that are specifically tailored towards a race date and distance. Each plan has calendarised workouts and each workout has guided steps. Naturally, you can still build and schedule your own plan or get your coach to do it for you from his/her library of workouts.
Polar can guide you on race day when you have a specific race goal in mind. Like many other running watches, you are shown whether you are on track or behind. Perhaps Polar could work more on this for undulating courses?
Love it or loathe it, running power is here to stay. Running power is essentially a proxy for ‘how hard it feels’, taking into account the fact that you can run faster downhill for less effort.
Both Polar Pacer watches support running power but only Pacer Pro has an inbuilt, proprietary method of calculating it. I prefer what I believe to be a more accurate alternative ie the STRYD footpod, which both Pacers support.
If your running has a burst of intensity, Polar is able to automatically record those as a separate series of laps and there is a special screen that shows once you speed up (not shown). It’s cool stuff, even though it might feel hot and sweaty at the time.
Running A Route
You can create running routes for free within the Polar ecosystem. Alternatively bring them onto your watch from KOMOOT, Strava or elsewhere.
Pacer Pro will show you a complete route with turn-by-turn instructions plus an elevation profile to remind you of the agony to come 😉 However, if you go off track, Polar is only able to route you back to the track with a simple compass heading. That’s often fine but sometimes having a proper onboard map can help and only Coros Vertix 2 and Garmin Fenix have onboard maps (plus, kinda, some of the smartwatches like Apple Watch 7). The Garmin/Coros maps make those watches considerably more expensive. If you are thinking you will use maps a lot then consider that a watch is a very small format and is often under your sleeve. Further, if you are riding a bike you may find watch-based direction too far away from your eyes to be useful.
Running Hydration & Fuelling
You can set a simple drink or fuel notification. Fine, most sports watches and bike computers can do that.
However, Polar’s offering over and above that basic ability is impressive. Refuelling prompts can be dynamic based on the levels and durations of your exertions. ie If you’ve tried harder you’ll be prompted to refuel sooner than normal. Polar works it all out.
Then, at the end of your workout, you are given an indication of your likely usage of carbs or fat as a fuel source for your endeavours. If you are either trying to build an endurance base or trying to lose weight then training at the correct, low-intensity fat-burning level is essential. Polar tells you how you have done in that respect at the end of all your workouts. Consider: You may well find that your aerobics classes are FAR more carb-burning than you thought. Another interesting product is Lumen which measures your fat burn rate when at rest…Polar only estimates it from complex calculations derived from your heart rate and other factors.
Strava Live Segments
Most sports platforms easily send your finished workouts to Strava. Polar can do that and send you workouts to other places too.
However, if you are a Strava Subscriber then you can also benefit from receiving Strava routes and receiving ALL your Strava favourited/starred segments. The last of these is called Strava Live Segments and whenever you approach a segment it automatically pops up special screens on your watch that guide your effort over the segment…essentially to see if you can beat your best time or the best time ever. It’s probably more of a favourite cycling feature but lots of runners use it and it does add an extra level of achievement and motivation into your running routine if you fancy giving it a go sometime.
There really is a lot more than that select list of features I covered above. You can control the music on your phone from your watch and you can see notifications on the watch too. Weather features are always handy for our outdoor sports.
Polar Pacer Pro and Polar Pacer Specifications – comparison to Vantage M
|Polar Pacer Series – Full Specifications|
|–Activity & Sleep||Polar Pacer||Polar Pacer Pro||Polar Vantage M2|
|Serene™ breathing exercise||•||•||•|
|Nightly Recharge™ recovery measurement||•||•||•|
|Continuous heart rate||•||•||•|
|24/7 Activity Tracking||•||•||•|
|Sleep Duration and Quality||•||•||•|
|Steps and Distance||•||•||•|
|FitSpark™ training guide||•||•||•|
|FuelWise™ smart fuelling assistant||•||•||•|
|Training Load Pro||•||•||•|
|Muscle load||•||•||via 3rd party sensor|
|Perceived load||•||•||in Polar Flow|
|Running power from wrist||via 3rd party sensor||via 3rd party sensor||via 3rd party sensor|
|Speed and distance from the wrist||•||•||•|
|Running cadence from the wrist||•||•||•|
|Route planning and turn-by-turn guidance powered by Komoot||•|
|Wrist-based heart rate measurement||•||•||•|
|Heart Rate zones||•||•||•|
|Strava Live Segments||•||•|
|Polar Fitness Test||•||•||•|
|Polar Fitness Test with wrist-based heart rate||•||•||•|
|Running Performance Test||•||•|
|Cycling Performance Test||•|
|Training Benefit||•||•||in Polar Flow|
|Back to Start||•||•||•|
|Route and elevation profiles||•|
|Altitude, ascent/descent – barometric||•|
|Altitude, ascent/descent – GPS||•|
|User-adjustable training displays||•||•||•|
|A-GPS with GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS||•||•|
|GPS Power save mode||•||•|
|H9/H10 heart rate sensor required||•||•||•|
|Training diary||in mobile||in mobile||in mobile|
|Heart rate sensor mode||•||•|
|Watch face colour themes||•||•||•|
|–Cadence sensor Bluetooth® Smart features|
|–Speed sensor Bluetooth® Smart features|
|–Stride sensor Bluetooth® Smart features|
|Average stride length||•||•||•|
|Setup via mobile||•||•||•|
|Training time with power save options||100h||100h||100h|
|Weight without wristband||23g||23g||28g|
|Date and weekday indicator||•||•||•|
|Time of day (12/24h)||•||•||•|
|Bike settings for three bicycles||•||•||•|
|GPS Power save mode||•|
|Running Index analysis||•||•||•|
|Instant activity and training analysis||•||•||•|
|Advanced activity and training analysis||•||•||•|
|Sport profile settings||•||•||•|
|–Polar Flow for Coach|
|Coach – athlete interaction||•||•||•|
These specs are sourced from Polar
Techy Tidbit: The Pacer Series is Designed in Finland and manufacturing is by Polar. Pacer Pro is manufactured in China and Pacer is manufactured in Malaysia.
Polar Pacer Plus Accuracy Tests
From what I see so far; the elevation tracks are good, the heart rate tracks are often not good, and the GNSS tracks are ‘normal’ for the industry.
Polar suggested I use GPS+GLONASS even though GPS+GALILEO is theoretically more accurate. It’s a slightly new chip for Polar so we can’t assume that it performs like previous ones and there could be more improvements to come. My standard 10-mile test produced an industry-average result and that tied in with what I saw elsewhere. Some other early owners report good GPS. Instant running pace for GPS was often significantly different to actual pace, though lap pace should be fine.
Generally, I found good old fashioned tarmac to yield relatively stable HR results but when I went on the soggier ground or when I went cycling the results were notably worse.
I’ve not made a definitive call yet on the GPS+GLONASS accuracy and have been comparing it on rides and runs against Apple Watch 6, Garmin Epix 2, Stages Dash M200, Wahoo Bolt 2 and the Garmin 935. Whilst it’s definitely not the best of that bunch it’s certainly a better than average performer as these charts indicate
Optical HR though is very sensitive to personal factors and I almost always seem to bring out the worst in EVERY vendor’s optical heart rate monitors for the wrist. No doubt, Polar will be similar. But it could work perfectly fine for you.
Bottom Line: You will only get very slightly better accuracy from significantly more expensive watches…and they still have a notable degree of inaccuracy. (All of them)
Polar Pace Pro – Options
Polar Pace colour options – Night Black, Cloud White, Deep Teal, Purple Dusk,
Polar Pace Pro colour options – Carbon Gray, Snow White, Midnight Blue, Autumn Maroon, and Aurora Green. Aurora Green available later in 2022
Both have a 20mm band and Pacer Pro comes with a SHIFT adapter that allows the use of any, non-Polar 20mm band. I’ve used that in all the photos in this review.
Can You Recommend The Polar Pacer & Pacer Pro?
Reviewers and die-hard Polar fans will be disappointed as there is not too much new here in terms of features. However, Polar seem to be gradually shifting to announce more significant feature releases separately from their watch launches [see: 1, 2, 3, 4], with some exceptions. Polar has a good, history of adding features to products, although die-hard Polar fans and reviewers might bemoan the speed at which this happens. But it does happen.
You will also read that some challenger sports watches can iterate new features much more quickly than Polar. And that’s true. However, you have to look at the accuracy, the detail of what’s delivered to you and the way in which it is presented. Taking a supposedly simple measure like ‘calories’ most vendors will disagree with its magnitude, however, Polar has decades of research in sports-related areas and is generally trusted more than others to be accurate. Yes, of course, there are exceptions.
Q: Will I use these watches myself?
A: Probably not is the honest answer. I’m using a Garmin 935 and Garmin Epix 2 right now plus an Apple Watch 6 (not 7), a Wahoo Bolt Gen 2 and a Stages Dash M200. I ‘do’ triathlon plus this blog so I have other needs and those fit my needs, my partner prefers and uses Polar watches FWIW.
Polar Pacer and Polar Pacer Pro – Price, Discounts & Availability
- Polar Pacer Pro is £259.00 (€/$299.90 rrp) – the links take you to various buying options
- Polar Pacer (non-Pro) is £169.50 (€/$199.90 rrp) – the links take you to various buying options
Pacer Pro is available from major retailers and the non-pro version is on pre-order only from Polar.com until mid-May
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