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The Polar Vantage M ($279.95) is designed to
be a more affordable version of a high-end multisport fitness tracker (including Polar’s own Vantage V). It has all the
core components, like onboard GPS and heart rate monitoring, plus enough
special training features to keep runners satisfied. It also comes with some
fun extras, like breathing and stretching exercises. The Vantage M can help track and train in other outdoor sports, too, but is best suited for serious runners who sometimes also cycle and swim. Compared with pricier trackers, it lacks some metrics that help you focus on form, although you can add them by connecting a
separate run power meter. For the price, it’s a strong choice for a rugged and feature-rich running watch.

Design and Comfort

Polar’s line of sport watches still look pretty sporty, but they have become
slimmer and less boxy compared with what they were in years past. The Vantage M’s always-on 1.2-inch color display
has a resolution of 240 by 240. It’s not a touch screen, however, so you need to use the
buttons on either side to navigate the interface.

It comes in size small, which fits
wrists measuring 5.1 to 6.8 inches around, and medium/large, which fits wrists 5.5 to 8.2
inches around. The small size comes in black or white only, while you can get the medium/large version with a royal blue strap, or in a black-copper color that adds a copper
ring accent to the watch face. The bezel, buttons, and buckle are all made of
stainless steel.

The watch is light on the wrist, weighing 1.59 ounces with the strap, although at times it
feels bulky. Lately I’ve been wearing an old Garmin
Vivoactive
, which is slimmer by comparison because it
doesn’t have a built-in heart rate monitor.

The Vantage M has a WR30
rating, meaning it’s water resistant to about 98 feet. So it’s safe for both pool use
and open water swims. If you do a lot of swimming and want a higher rating, you
can get it from Polar’s Grit X (WR100) and Vantage V (WR50).

Battery Life and Charging

The Vantage M comes with a disc-shaped
cradle charger that snaps onto the back of the watch magnetically and charges
using a USB connection.

When fully charged, the watch lasts up to
30 hours in training mode, meaning the GPS (integrated GPS and Glonass) and
onboard heart rate monitor are both enabled. If you’re not actively training
but are using the heart rate monitor, the battery should last five days. Disable the
heart rate monitor, and you won’t have to recharge the watch for several
days more.

Polar Vantage M mobile app

Setup and Compatability

As with many other Polar watches, you can set
up the Vantage M with an Android or Apple mobile device or a macOS or Windows computer. Whichever device you choose, you’ll need to install the Polar Flow
app.

If you don’t yet have an account with Polar,
you need to create one and enter some details about yourself, such as birthday, gender, height, and weight. Those metrics and others come into play when the
app and watch give you training feedback.

The Vantage M is compatible with other
devices, too, such as an external heart rate monitors, stride sensors, and cycling sensors. You can pair additional devices right from the watch. I tested it
with a Polar H9 heart rate monitor and it worked
effortlessly.

A stride sensor (or run power meter) is
something that many advanced runners will want, as it adds in-depth running
metrics. The Vantage M captures cadence, distance, pace, time, and a few other
typical data points, but you’ll need a third-party device if you want to add
ground contact time, power, vertical oscillation, and other metrics. The Vantage M
works with a run power meter called Stryd ($219) that adds them and many more.
That’s an added expense, of course.

It’s worth noting you can get these same metrics
from other running watches, and even a few heart rate monitors designed for
runners. The Garmin HRM-Run
chest strap heart rate monitor ($99.99) and the new Wahoo Tickr X ($79.99) both record ground contact time and vertical oscillation, in addition
to the usual distance, elevation, heart rate, pace, and so forth. A few Garmin
watches in the Fenix, Forerunner, and other series also have them, such as the Forerunner 245 ($349.99). If you
focus on running form, you’ll either want to get the Stryd to go with the
Vantage M or one of these other devices instead.

Polar Vantage M varieties

Using the Polar Vantage M

I wore the Polar Vantage M for about a week
while also wearing that old Garmin Vivoactive I mentioned earlier. In
comparing the daily step counts, run distances, and such, they were close
in their readings.

I also put on the Polar H9 heart rate monitor
so that I could compare its readings with those coming from the Vantage M. At
rest (which is the only way I can look at them both simultaneously), they were
never more than 5bpm different. The longer they were on, the closer their measurements
were.

See How We Test
Fitness Trackers

As mentioned, the Vantage M doesn’t have a
touch screen, which is fine by me and probably anyone else who wears gloves
often. For this watch, you navigate the screens using five physical buttons,
two on the left and three on the right. I found the buttons intuitive, which is
saying a lot. I have a tendency to get lost with watch interfaces, but this one
makes sense. The top left button only turns a light for the watch face on or off. The lower left button brings you into menus and settings, and also
backs you out of options. The top right is for navigating up, the bottom right
navigates down, and the middle button—helpfully marked with a red line—works
like an Enter key.

Polar has some great training programs that
work across a number of devices. My favorite is steady state tempo training, a
run in which you keep your heart at a fairly low rate. I did this run
wearing the Vantage M, as well as a few free runs. The watch has many
different views you can put onto the display. I wanted to be able to glance at
my heart rate, so I stuck with one that shows running data with a heart rate
dial display at the top.

Polar Vantage M black copper variation

Extras and Smartwatch
Functionality

Polar’s Smart Coaching is a software feature
that essentially looks at an overall picture of your life, based on what it
knows about your activity, sleep, and training, and makes recommendations for
your wellness. A Nightly Recharge reading, for example, assesses how well your
sleep helped you recover from the previous day. There’s a fun breathing
exercise called Serene that uses an on-screen animation and vibrations to coach
you through a few minutes of deep breathing, which slows your heart rate and
trains your focus.

The Vantage M itself has some fun extras, too, like a
test to estimate VO2max, as well as stretching exercises. The stretching
exercises appear as small animations on the screen, and a timer runs as
you do each one.

A lesser-known feature of many Polar watches is the ability to put them into flight mode.
For people who work around sensitive Bluetooth equipment or in high-security
areas, it’s an important setting to have.

While the Vantage M supports notifications
from your phone, which you can enable or disable entirely but not fine-tune, it
doesn’t have other smartwatch features. It also doesn’t have apps that you can
install to customize your experience. 

Conclusions

The Polar Vantage M is a durable, light, multisport fitness tracker, though it’s really best for running. With built-in
GPS, you can go for runs without your phone, and its optical heart rate monitor
helps you both train and keep an eye on your health from a recovery standpoint.
Polar has some excellent options for training programs, as well as advice on
your training, VO2max estimates, and more. You miss out on advanced running
metrics that help you maintain good form, which some advanced runner’s
watches like the Polar Grit X and Vantage V offer, but if you don’t need them, then this is an excellent alternative.

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Further Reading

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