In my last post I shared my history with fitness wearables. Back in 2014 I began with the Polar Loop and upgraded to Polar’s flagship V800 less than a year later. After some time away from the Polar ecosystem, I recently purchased their latest flagship: the Polar Vantage V.
After two years with the Garmin Forerunner 935, which is a top notch watch itself, I want to explain the thinking behind my switch back to Polar.
The Nostalgia Factor
When it comes down to it, I cannot ignore the nostalgia factor. Polar was my wearable and platform of choice when I first started losing weight and achieving my fitness goals. I could have easily gone the popular route and purchased something like a Fitbit, or even a Garmin device; but, when Antoine told me about the Polar Loop, it all made perfect sense. Once I got the Loop I didn’t look back. So, I think fondly of Polar when I reminisce about my fitness and weight loss journey.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing to think this way. Nostalgia can bring back long lost memories and make us think about why we’re doing what we’re doing. My last post did that for me. I walked down memory lane, remembering why I got started with wearables. It also provided the necessary space to evaluate why I’m making my present moves.
Sure, memories can be jaded and color our past in a more favorable light than what was really true. I do that too often with other memories. But, that’s not the case here. I know why I got started with Polar and stuck with them for nearly three years (of the 6 that I’ve used fitness wearables). I respected Polar for what they were doing and only left because I didn’t want to keep waiting for the next thing (which coincidentally happens to be the Vantage V). If it weren’t for that, I would have stuck with Polar and never explored alternative platforms.
So, when I think of Polar and fitness, the memories are indeed fond. They’re not jaded memories, but the reality of what was. And these memories push me forward.
The Decision Making Process
When it comes to purchasing the Polar Vantage V, here’s how the entire process went down.
I first heard about the Polar Vantage duo of watches on DC Rainmaker’s blog when he shared his first look after Polar released the details about these new devices. My initial reaction was tepid. I was excited to see that Polar finally released new flagship devices after such a long wait. But that was about it.
Even with my excitement, I wasn’t sure this was the device for me. I was content with my Garmin Forerunner 935 and had no reason to upgrade. Instead, I was looking to expand my Garmin kit by adding the Running Dynamics Pod, HRM-Tri heart rate monitor, and Garmin Index smart scale (none of which I purchased). As I compared features side-by-side (thanks to DC Rainmaker’s comparison tool) I noticed I would lose lots of features by switching from Garmin back to Polar, particularly in the device’s initial firmware state. I mean, losing something as simple as smartphone notifications made it a nonstarter. That pretty much ended the discussion.
DC Rainmaker’s Reviews
A couple months later, in December, DC Rainmaker released his in-depth review of the Vantage V. After reading this review, I was convinced this was not a device I wanted to spend money on. But, I was cognizant of the fact that Polar had firmware updates planned in the coming months, so I took this initial review with a grain of salt. At the same time, I’ve learned to treat fitness tech as-is and make purchasing decisions based on the device’s present iteration, not what it could be with future/planned/promised updates. For the same price ($499) as my Garmin FR935, the Vantage V seemed to be a downgrade.
Then, in February, DC Rainmaker released an in-depth review for the Vantage M, the cheaper and less-featured alternative. His review of this variant was much more favorable. This got me to thinking that maybe I could consider a switch to the Vantage M, which was a good bit cheaper ($279) than the Vantage V. Still, this wasn’t an upgrade over my current watch, so it didn’t make sense to spend the money, especially knowing I would want the full feature set if I were to upgrade. I remember fondly the mistake I made with the M400 & V800 and didn’t want a repeat of that error.
The Internal Debate
After reading both of DC Rainmaker’s reviews, I shelved the idea of upgrading. But, the thought of these watches never left my mind. I kept thinking about the nostalgia of Polar and that maybe this could be the right move to make. I also had decided to not make any major tech purchases in 2019. Nevertheless, my mind remained unsettled.
I began discussing this with Antoine, whom I tend to bounce ideas off when I have thoughts ruminating in my head. His response went something like this: Have you pushed the current watch to its limits? If no, keep pushing with it and wait until the end of the year before making a switch. At least wait until after you’ve finished your 5k training program. I listened and valued his thoughts, but that didn’t stop me from continuing to think about these watches.
No, I had no immediate plans to upgrade, but I continued my research. I looked closely at both variants in the Polar Vantage series. The only considerable difference between the two is the lack of running power and recovery pro features in the Vantage M. I could live without those things, I thought. Running power is still fairly new & novel, so I don’t need it. And I’m not an athlete training daily, so I don’t need the recovery pro features. I’d still be able to track my training load. This thinking led to searching YouTube for more info. Outside of Polar’s own channel, I didn’t find many reviews that were helpful or more than an unboxing. Most of the reviews were done too early to the initial launch to still matter. But, I did find a video from Em Wizz Fitness (embedded below) that helped sell me on the merits of the Vantage M as a possible upgrade.
But wait, didn’t I say my Garmin was more full featured than either of the Vantage watches? Yup, I sure did. But I thought about that too. For as full featured as my Garmin is, how many of those features do I actually use and benefit from? I’ll never connect some of the sensors and devices I’m capable of connecting to. When it comes down to it, for the features and data I would use, Polar’s Vantage series goes head-to-head with my Garmin Forerunner 935. So, in essence, a switch would be more of a lateral move, and not a downgrade as I had first thought.
The Other Reviews
Let’s be frank, when it comes to serious fitness wearables, Garmin sits atop the food chain. Polar gets minimal mention in comparison. So, I had to dig deep to find anything of value concerning the Vantage M & V watches. But, I remained persistent and kept searching every few weeks for new(er) reviews. These searches led me to two blogs in particular: Titanium Geek and the 5k Runner.
I came across Titanium Geek’s review of the Vantage V first. Three things caught my attention with his review: 1) it was recent (published March 11, 2019), 2) it was in-depth with lots of pictures, and 3) he mentioned being a dedicated Garmin user. I appreciated the recent publication date for the review because it meant he had allowed time for Polar to release firmware updates before making any decisions or releasing his thoughts on this watch, which he does mention in the review. The depth was on par with DC Rainmaker, which was helpful for understanding his thoughts on the watch without necessarily regurgitating information from other reviewers. Finally, he concluded by stating that the Vantage V had replaced his Garmin Fenix 5 (basically a more expensive & metal version of my plastic Garmin FR935 with a few other bells & whistles).
Titanium Geek’s thoughts were measured and honest. He had no problem pointing out Polar’s flaws in this device, but he also showed where it shined. This statement in his conclusion sums it up well:
Yes the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is technically a superior device, (or should that be more capable?) but I’ve found the Polar Vantage covers 95% of the things the Fenix does which really matter to me…Titanium Geek
That’s the question I needed to ask myself. Does the Vantage series fit the needs of what matters most? As I stated above & pondered some more, the simple answer is yes.
The 5k Runner
The next review I came across was written by the 5k Runner. This review was written fairly close to the watch’s release date (November 2018), but they kept the review updated after each of Polar’s firmware updates. I found this helpful because it was an honest review of the device’s first iteration, with consideration given to the updates Polar had made over time. I also appreciated the fact that this review looked at both the Vantage M & V in tandem, pointing out their differences when necessary.
Like Titanium Geek, the 5k Runner came into their review as a Garmin user. The 5k Runner mentioned having used the Garmin FR935 (my current watch). They concluded the review by saying the Polar Vantage was the kind of watch designed for them, so they were going to use it over their Garmin. Specifically, the Vantage M was going to be their running and training watch of choice for 2019. For me, that was a strong vote of confidence. Read the quote below to see what I mean:
I like the Polar Vantage so much that I’m definitely going to race with it in triathlons in 2019. I’ve only ever previously used Garmin watches in triathlon/duathlon races.The 5k Runner
Another point in the review that stood out was their mention of Polar Flow versus Garmin Connect, the web and app platform for the respective companies. The review stated that Garmin Connect was okay, but Polar Flow was a platform designed for the serious athlete and did a better job of presenting data. Having used both, I could concur with those sentiments. So, I made sure to keep that bit of information in mind when making my final decision. Why? Because platform does matter.
By time I was done with this review, I considered both watches to be worthy cross grades from my Garmin FR935. Notice I said cross grade, not upgrade. No, Polar will never compete in a feature list with Garmin. Polar is adamant that they are not competing on a feature-by-feature basis. Instead, they are concerned with excelling in the things that matter most, and they are focused on the things that matter to me. So, as it stands, either device would serve me well today and going forward. With that, I was ready to make the switch.
Now is a Good Time to Switch
But, was now a good time to switch? That was a question I had to think through. I had recently started a 5k training program in Garmin Connect that would take me until July 4th. Would I abandon it? Maybe I’d follow Antoine’s advice and upgrade after I finish. I could use the upgrade as an opportunity to move on to a new goal.
I ultimately decided to upgrade now. Here’s why.
When I look at the current state of my fitness, it’s pretty abysmal. Let’s just be honest. I’m still out of shape and slowly working my way back into a state of greater fitness. For all intents and purposes, I’m at square one. And, as I thought about it, square one is the best time to switch.
Starting at square one allows me to track my progress from the beginning. If I waited to switch I’d be further along in my journey and the data wouldn’t necessarily carry over between platforms. By starting at zero, I will have a historical record of this data, which will be something I can share with others and use as a case study for how an everyday guy can go from overweight to fit, with the data & charts to prove it.
Sure, I can get the same data in Garmin Connect, but not nearly as clean as Polar presents it in Flow. And that leads me to the next point.
A Superior Platform (for Me)
When it comes down to it, I find Polar Flow to be a superior platform to Garmin Connect. Polar Flow organizes the data well and it just works. If I want to look at the details of a workout and its segments (say the actual working portion of my workout, ignoring the warmup & cool down), I can do that very easily in Polar Flow. Yes, I can do it in Garmin Connect, but it’s cumbersome and inexact. I have a better time exporting my data to SportTracks or the like if I want to read the data like I can in Flow.
There are also little things I like that matter to me. I like Polar’s simplified view of how my day looks with inactivity stamps and my movement throughout the day. The sleep data doesn’t try to do too much. For example, Garmin tries to determine which stage of sleep I’m in, which I don’t 100% trust to be accurate. There have been times when I know I was laying in bed wide awake that it registers as sleep. Polar keeps it simple. Polar’s diary view is a better quick glance at how I’m doing month-by-month. And so on.
I even find things like Polar’s running program to be better (for me) than Garmin Connect. Garmin’s 5k adaptive plan is only for 5k training, which is cool. But what about when I graduate beyond that? Where do I go? Yes, Garmin has training plans, but none of them are adaptive. With Polar, I can start with a 5k and move all the way up to a full marathon, which each level adapting to my training. Not to mention, Polar includes videos showing various stretching, core, and strength exercises I can do to supplement my running. Those were quite handy when I owned my V800 and used the running program before.
All of these little factors play a role in making my decision to move back to Polar from Garmin. For me, I’ve found that Polar Flow is the ecosystem I want to be in because it works best for me.
So, with everything considered, there’s no better time than now to switch. As soon as the Vantage V arrives (which it will have by time this goes live) I’ll abandon my Garmin 5k plan, transition to Polar’s 5k running program, and not look back.
The switch to the Vantage V was not an easy choice. It required much research and soul searching. I switched now because it seems like the best time to make the move given where my fitness currently stands. As a device, the Vantage V ticks all the right boxes for me and how I plan to train & get fit.
In the end, I chose the platform that I believe will work best for me and my needs now and going forward. And I will talk more about those plans in my next post.