I spent 30 days and nights with the Polar Vantage V2 smartwatch, a featherweight fitness tracker that excels at heart-rate training and recovery data. But the coolest experience happened post-testing.
For me, tracking exercise and sleep and workout thresholds is fun — for a while. There’s a gaming element to it that makes workouts feel more purposeful. But eventually, I settle on scanning the data for differences in how it felt versus the actual numbers.
Polar’s Vantage V2 goes above and beyond the usual multisport smartwatch basics with its new performance tests and recovery tracking. Throughout testing, its wrist-based heart-rate tracking proved more sophisticated and less finicky than those I’ve tested previously. In fact, it made our Best Fitness Watches of 2021 list for heart-rate training.
Additionally, it has more casual features like text notifications, music controls, and customizable watch faces.
In short: The Polar Vantage V2 smartwatch ($500) welcomed me to a new generation of fitness trackers. It’s the first I’ve felt comfortable wearing all day thanks to its streamlined build. The battery lasts for days, so charging it was a rare occurrence.
Throughout a variety of workouts, the Vantage V2 provided reliable monitoring with minimal snafus. But best of all, the new elements of recovery and training zones made it my new workout companion beyond this review.
I spent more than a month with this on my wrist to fully explore its various functions and to accumulate enough data to explore its fitness overview. Read on for the main takeaways as well as details on its core features.
Polar Vantage V2 Smartwatch Review
I wore the Polar Vantage V2 for 5 weeks straight. Day and night, I tracked exercise, daily activities, and sleep. I mostly used this watch for running and mixed in a few resistance workouts. Additionally, I took several of the watch’s built-in tests, accessible from the watch itself, and one max-effort test.
Coming off an injury-induced lull in running made it easy to oscillate among the watch’s four phases of training: Detraining, Maintaining, Productive, and Overreaching. I have a more personalized training routine through a coach at Team Run Run, so I skipped following the brand’s Polar Flow workout plan (more on that below).
Although, one nice aspect of following one of Polar’s plans is that it automatically prompts you to start the assigned workout under the Start Training menu, saving a few scrolls to find the appropriate one.
The training stages can be comedic at times depending on your view. One friend commented the watch’s results like “Compromised” sleep or “Detraining” sounded like backhanded compliments, but in the end, they motivated me.
As soon as I put it on my wrist, I was pleased with how minimal it felt. The Vantage V2 weighs 1.83 ounces, about 28% lighter than my Suunto 9 (admittedly an older model). Throughout testing, I was able to lift kettlebells without interference from the watch band or fear of damaging the watch face.
The Vantage V2 has five buttons. Some screens have more swipe up-down options than others. After more than a month, I still fumble with trying to remember how to access certain screens on the run.
Under the rushing water of post-run showers, I discovered new screens and options. And strangely, on different occasions, the watch entered flight mode and even set a countdown timer. Needless to say, the touchscreen is sensitive.
Polar Vantage V2 Specs
- Construction: Aluminum body, Gorilla glass display, silicone strap
- Battery life: 40 hours of continuous tracking
- Power save-mode battery life: Up to 100 hours
- Connected GPS: GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and QZSS systems
- Main features: 100m water resistance, Bluetooth connectivity, HR sensor, touch display
- Weight: 1.83 oz. (52 g)
- Price: $500 (or $550 with H10 heart-rate sensor)
Major Tracking & Training Features
Setting up the Polar Vantage V2 includes choosing which metrics to record and whether you want other functions, like text message notifications (no) or prompts when you come across a Strava segment (sure, why not?). There’s also an alert to get up and move if you sit or stand still for too long.
Polar Flow, the companion app and website, works to show off all the data in one place and chart the ups and downs of training. For tracking, sports like running and biking are broken up into more specific styles, and indoor training can range from powerlifting to “Body and Mind.”
The V2 (and Polar Flow software) track an entire day’s activity and sleep. Tracking a day’s activities is great for those who work on their feet or always take the stairs. Over time, those small actions add up and create a load on muscles that have already been taxed during a run or workout.
Another plus: With the Vantage V2, feedback for my overall training and recovery is displayed on the watch, so there’s no need to pore over numbers on the website later (but you can if you’d like).
My favorite tracking aspect was the Cardio Load Report. The chart showed spikes into Overreach after long runs, dipped to Maintaining after recovery days and short workouts, and yes, slipping into Detraining provided extra motivation on some cold days when I’d missed a workout.
Another chart shows how the cardio load compares to strain and tolerance, with periods of straining creating more tolerance.
Polar Vantage V2: Pre- & Post-Workout Tests
A few simple tests track workout load and recovery progress. Polar Flow recommends doing them either before or after workouts to assess training load and needs.
Leg Recovery Test: With hands on your hips, bend down and jump straight up. You can bend your knees when landing, but keep your hands on your hips. It’s straightforward and feels a little silly in public. The results usually coincided with how I felt, though at times my legs felt more tired than the results showed.
Fitness Test: Lie back and let the watch check your heart rate. It returns with an estimated VO2 max, which, with permission, will update your profile. This estimate regularly comes in lower than the VO2 max reported in the max-effort Running Performance Test (see below).
Sleep Tracking: First off, sleep is the most important part of physical and mental recovery. This ended up being something I looked over frequently, almost daily. The recording seemed good at finding when I fell asleep versus when I laid still for long periods, and it spits out more specific summaries of deep sleep, REM sleep, etc.
Fun feedback: Some nights came back “Compromised” because I never slept through the required 4-hour block. I noticed I was briefly waking up around 5:15 a.m. most weekdays. It turns out, that’s when my neighbor leaves for work.
Benchmark Performance Tests
Additionally, Polar has a few tests to more accurately chart progress and adjust your training benchmarks. The two main tests are for cycling and running, which push you to your limits to find your peak performance.
The Cycling Performance Test is a one-hour threshold ride for updating your training zones. Shorter versions can provide estimates as well, which is good for setting initial metrics or assessing performance in the midst of an already-intense training plan. Ideally, this is performed on an indoor bike, so the conditions are consistent and there’s a power meter involved.
It includes a warmup, with short sprints included to prime the body for what’s ahead. Afterward, there’s a VO2 max result, as well as FTP for a power-to-weight ratio, which inform and can update the watch’s personalized heart-rate zones.
Because most of my workouts were runs and these tests are best performed on repeatable courses, I chose the Running Performance Test. There are submaximal options, but I chose the all-out test for this review. It requires maintaining 85% of your max heart rate for roughly 6 minutes for a base reading.
The test includes a warmup, notifies you when your heart rate gets up to speed, and vibrates to let you know you can begin the actual threshold test. Once started, the watch screen slowly but continuously increases the pace.
Another notification comes once you’ve held the sustained effort above the 85% threshold. From there, you can increase your pace along with the watch or, as I did, turn it into a finishing sprint.
Vantage V2 Pros & Cons
- Lightweight, low-profile aluminum watch body
- Tie-in Polar Flow software provides a detailed overview of training data
- Polar Flow syncs easily enough, even if it misses auto-sync
- Customizable features
- Navigation mode
- Button/swipe navigation can be tedious
- Showering with it can set alarms or turn on airplane mode
- For the price, some will miss other features
Cardio fiends and those who want a more holistic view of their training and recovery are those who’ll get the most from the Polar Vantage V2 smartwatch.
The heart-rate tracking seemed superior to the generation prior, with no outrageous spikes or dips during workouts. This is my new running companion. It’s barely there while running and tends to stay on. I won’t wear it for sleeping beyond the review, but that’s a personal preference.
As with most smartwatches, the Vantage V2 is just the hardware. Polar Flow is the software and has a lot to offer. Even if you use other tracking programs like Strava, it’s worth checking out the training overviews that Polar Flow provides.