The Polar Vantage M gives you the option of 24/7 activity and sleep tracking, with a huge quantity of stats including heart rate. Plus, you can record your activity sessions across a broad range of sports including cycling, along with a GPS trace of where you’ve been.
Compact, easy to read sports watch
Wide range of sports covered
Lots of stats from watch and its companion app
No navigation or Strava Live
Black metal bezel prone to scratching
Quite short battery life
Heart rate measurement is not always accurate
Polar has a long history with heart rate monitoring for athletes, with its products predating the rise of the power meter as the tool of choice to measure effort. The Polar Vantage M, alongside the Vantage V, form its latest options for tracking activity and heart rate in a range of different sports.
Whereas the Vantage V and its titanium cased equivalent the Vantage V Titan give you similar functionality to the older, discontinued Polar V800, the Polar Vantage M skips some potentially useful functionality for cyclists like the ability to import routes and Strava Live segments. On the other hand, it weighs 44g as against 66g and costs £190 less.
The Polar Vantage M measures heart rate at the wrist using an array of five green and five red LEDs. There are pros and cons of this. It’s a lot more comfortable than a heart rate strap and you can set the Polar Vantage M to measure your heart rate continuously day and night.
That eats into the battery life a bit, but I still got over half a week between charges, even when that included a few hours of exercise.
But you need to wear the watch strap quite tight to get an accurate reading, Polar says that the watch should be positioned well above the wrist bone, although I was usually able to get heart rate readings with it positioned below. When exercising, Polar recommends that you should tighten the Vantage M even more. The recommended positioning may interfere with cooler weather garments like jackets and arm warmers.
If the strap is not tight enough, you can end up with drop-outs as you exercise or inaccurately high readings, although comparing the trace with a heart rate strap, I found the output to usually be accurate.
There are profiles to support over 130 different sports, although only your selected ones are downloaded. Select cycling and you get a start-up screen with the top third showing a rev counter for your heart rate, with coloured areas corresponding to your five heart rate zones. There’s also a numeric output which changes colour from white to blue, then through green and amber to red as your heart rate increases.
In the middle of the dial, you get distance travelled and current speed, while at the bottom you are shown elapsed time. If you know where you are going and aren’t using a power meter, that should be good enough. You can also scroll through a screen with time of day, one with current altitude, ascent and descent and another with max, min and current heart rate by pushing the up and down buttons on the right side of the case, which are two of five buttons used to control the Polar Vantage M.
In the background, the Polar Vantage M records your GPS trace. You can download this along with your heart rate data over Bluetooth to the Polar app, with a single button push starting the sync. From there you can automatically pass the data on to Strava or a range of training apps including TrainingPeaks, for further analysis. The trace is surprisingly accurate – more so than some GPS units I’ve tested.
Polar Flow app
The Polar Flow computer app gives you loads of stats. Not only do you get a record of each of your training activities as a diary, but even if you’ve not logged a session the background heart rate recording will highlight highs and lows in your daily activity.
There’s analysis of your training status and when you are under- or overtraining.
Wear the Polar Vantage M at night and you will get sleep duration and quality measurement too. Whether I’m a restless sleeper I don’t know, but the analysis consistently showed interrupted sleep and it did not always pinpoint when I went to sleep or woke up accurately.
I also used the swimming and running profiles in the Polar Vantage M. Running works pretty much like cycling, but you can get pace rather than speed displayed. Swimming accurately picks up lengths swum. Heart rate and total distance covered are accurate. There’s even detection of the different strokes you’ve used on each length.
I once selected indoor cycling by mistake and was disappointed to get back from an outdoor ride to find that there was no GPS trace of where I’d been or Strava segments ridden, although I could see my heart rate profile during the ride.
There is a range of different watch and strap colours available, with the straps being interchangeable. But I did find that the stainless steel bezel to the rugged plastic case was prone to picking up scratches, so the Polar Vantage M may begin to look a bit the worse for wear quite quickly.
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Paul started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2015, covering cycling tech, new bikes and product testing. Since then, he’s reviewed hundreds of bikes and thousands of other pieces of cycling equipment for the magazine and the Cycling Weekly website.
He’s been cycling for a lot longer than that though and his travels by bike have taken him all around Europe and to California. He’s been riding gravel since before gravel bikes existed too, riding a cyclocross bike through the Chilterns and along the South Downs.
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