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Polar Vantage M review: Mostly heading in the right direction

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
250
inc VAT

The Polar M430 was a great but ugly wearable. The Vantage M fixes its looks and keeps most of the functionality

Pros 
Much better looking than the M430
Solid performer
Good battery life
Cons 
Hidden thick bezel
Not the brightest colour screen
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I really liked the Polar M430. So much so, in fact, that I still use it as a sense check for other wearables. Its GPS has proved so consistently accurate that wearing it alongside whatever watch I’m wearing that day has proved a handy way of seeing if the newcomer is badly off the pace or not.

The problem is that the sartorial faux pas of wearing two watches is multiplied when you look at the M430. Technically, you can wear it at all times, but you wouldn’t want to – especially not the bright orange model I was sent. As I said at the time, it has a face that only a parent conglomerate could love, making it good for the trail but a terrible idea for the boardroom, lest you be mistaken for a prisoner on day-release. 

The Polar Vantage M is the M430’s spiritual successor and it fixes that problem right off the bat with a stylish, circular face and a more understated, less chunky appearance. Does it maintain everything else that made the M430 a solid recommendation? Let’s find out.

Polar Vantage M review: What you need to know

The Polar Vantage M is a multi-sports watch aimed at casual athletes, but that doesn’t mean it’s short of features. Aside from packing GPS and GLONASS support to accurately measure distance and pace, and a heart-rate sensor, it can assess your training load, measure your sleep and give you a VO2 max estimate.
 
So what are its shortcomings? Chiefly, that Polar has a more advanced model, the Vantage V, that does all of the above, while throwing in more battery life, muscle-load sensing, running power estimates, Recovery Pro, a barometer and a touchscreen. For the amateur, these features are good to have, rather than essential.    

Polar Vantage M review: Price and competition

The Polar Vantage M costs £250, which is a little pricier than its predecessor (£150) but cheaper than the Vantage V, which costs £439.
 
Moving away from Polar’s range, the main rivals to the Vantage M would come from Garmin. You can read more about which Garmin watch is right for you here, but, at this price, the chief competitor would be either the Vivoactive 3 or the Forerunner 235.

Polar Vantage M review: Design

At a glance, it’s hard to imagine that the Vantage M came from the same company as the M430. Gone is the bulky rectangle encased in a cheap-looking strap and in its place is a handsome circular watch casing.
 
This is a watch you could quite happily wear all the time and the rubber strap it comes with is comfortable, too. Plus, if you decide you need something a bit lighter or more fashionable, it’s easy enough to change. Just prod in the pogo pins at the end and replace with one more to your liking.
 
There are a couple of clues that this is a Polar wearable, though. For starters, it has the same number of buttons – two on the left and three on the right – and they behave exactly the same way. On the left are a backlight button and a back key, while the right has two navigation buttons and a ”go” key.

 
It’s all pretty straightforward and, while it makes the watch look a touch messier than an all-touch design might, to my mind it’s considerably more practical. Touchscreens simply aren’t cut out for serious running, thanks to their fiddliness and failure at the first sign of liquid. That’s a bit of a problem for runners who sweat or expose themselves to a little rain. That would be every runner, then.
 
The black-and-white screen of the M430 has also been replaced with a 240 x 240 pixel, 1.2in always-on colour display. The colours aren’t particularly vibrant, however, and it’s worth pointing out that the handsomeness of the watch is partly down to a trick of perception. The screen is mostly black precisely so it can blend in with the half-centimetre thick bezels that surround the face of the watch. Still, the wearer is really the only person who knows that, so it’s hardly a deal breaker.

Polar Vantage M review: Performance

The decision to run every day in Advent has given me plenty of time with the Polar Vantage M and it’s been mostly positive so far, taking on most of the good features of the M430 without many drawbacks. In fact, let’s get the two problems out of the way first.
 

Notifications are no more. I was so surprised that Polar would drop this that I assumed I was just being dense at first but, no, they’ve really gone. No emails, texts or WhatsApp messages. That feature, apparently, will be coming in February 2019.
 
It’s actually quite hard to tell when your GPS has locked on and you’re ready to go, which is due mainly to the colours being quite faded on the screen. When it’s locked on, a tiny circle around the compass changes from red to green. Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s not really a problem, but suffice to say my first run was all over the place because the watch isn’t clear about when it’s safe to set off.

 
Sound minor? I agree. Everything else is positive. You can customise the watch to show up to four different metrics of your choosing on one screen while running. I favour time, distance, average pace and current pace, since you ask, but you can also drop in things such as heart rate, cadence or calories. Distances have seemed accurate enough so far, although one particularly wooded parkrun came up 0.15km short.

The Polar Flow app diligently records all of this data, along with your sleep patterns in a quite detailed fashion, and once again you can automatically import or export this to Strava, TrainingPeaks, MyFitnessPal, Nike+ Run Club or Google Fit. Brilliantly, you can also sync it with Google Calendar, ensuring you don’t miss the training runs you want to commit to.

The battery life should also be more than enough for most people, with the 230mAh battery promising up to 30 hours of GPS and heart rate-fueled training time. Unless you’re into ultramarathons, that should be plenty – as long as you don’t lose your charger. Once again, the charger is proprietary: a little plastic dish that clips onto the back of the watch.

Are you better off buying a cheaper M430 if you don’t care about the looks? Well, that depends on the kind of runner you are. The Vantage M does offer quite a few new features including Training Load Pro, GLONASS, power zones, multisport training and swim tracking, as well as being lighter and more comfortable for extended wear. For casual runners, those are perhaps more in the “nice to have” category than in the essential camp but this, combined with its much-improved looks, would certainly tempt me to upgrade.

Polar Vantage M review: Verdict

The Polar M430 was a triumph, but one that made you pick your brains over whether to wear it when you weren’t training. The Vantage M is positively stunning by comparison, and packs in everything I loved from its predecessor into a far more aesthetically pleasing package.
 
Dropping notifications is baffling, but that should be rectified soon. Otherwise, there are no major drawbacks, other than the fact it has a more feature-packed sibling in the Vantage V. Given that it costs an extra £189, though, I’m pretty confident in saying that Polar has made the cuts in all the right places. As a non-pro athlete, I know which I’d buy.