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Polar’s new Vantage V and M smartwatches are its most attractive yet


The $499 and $279 devices give elite athletes prettier Polar options for their wrists. Polar's focus has always been on the elite athlete, and its newest family of devices doesn't change that, even though they may not look the part. Polar announced the new Vantage series of wearables today, which includes the $499 Vantage V and $279 Vantage M fitness watches. Borrowing many design aspects from Garmin, the Vantage devices look and feel way more wearable than any previous Polar devices, but they don't sacrifice fitness chops in the process. The past few Polar devices we've tested looked like bulky wrist cuffs, but that design is gone. The Vantage fitness watches look a lot like Garmin's Vivoactive 3, featuring circular cases, three side buttons, and 1.2-inch (30mm) round displays. The Vantage M is the more lifestyle-focused product of the two, so it has interchangeable bands that users can swap out depending on the occasion. It also lacks a touchscreen, whereas the Vantage V has a touch display (in addition to those three side buttons) and stationary bands. The Vantage V and M watches both have Polar's new Precision Prime optical heart rate monitoring technology, the latest iteration of pulse-capturing tech to come from the company. You can immediately see the differences between it and other optical heart rate monitors: underneath the watch are nine LED lights, a mixture of green and red hues lighting up like a Christmas tree, and four bioimpedance sensors that resemble tiny watch batteries. The red and green wavelengths in the optical heart rate monitor penetrate deeper into the skin to better assess blood flow, while the bioimpedance sensors measure your body tissue's resistance to electrical flow. These sensors, combined with new algorithms, help the Vantage devices glean more accurate heart rate readings. The heart rate monitor can track pulse all day long, or you can turn all-day heart rate off to use it only during exercise to save battery power. The Vantage V targets the most serious athletes, so it has a few extra sensors and features that the Vantage M lacks. Inside is an altitude sensor and technology that can estimate running power. Serious runners often track running power with dedicated foot pods or chest strap sensors to improve efficiency, form, and pace. With the Vantage V, runners don't need an extra sensor to measure running power as they watch can do so itself. While the Vantage V and M have the same case sizes, the V feels a bit heavier because of the extra sensors and the slightly larger battery inside. Polar estimates that the V will last for 40 hours of training with GPS and heart rate on, or about seven days of regular use. In contrast, the M will last for 30 hours of GPS and heart rate training, but it too can last for about one week of regular use on a single charge. Both Vantage watches receive smartphone alerts, track daily activity and sleep, and they're both waterproof, so they can track swimming as well. Both can also connect to chest straps via Bluetooth, allowing users who prefer a heart rate chest strap to wear it and track its data using the watches. Neither have music storage, though, so you won't be able to listen to music without your smartphone handy. Polar explained it was a sacrifice the company made to preserve the Vantages' relatively slim-and-light case designs, as well as their long battery lives. While that's understandable, some will balk at spending hundreds on a watch that doesn't have a feature that's crucial to many athletes. Both of the new watches will take advantage of Polar's updated Training Load Pro, which estimates the intensity of your workout using heart rate measurements and your personal information like height and weight. You'll get a Training Load reading after most exercises and a summary of what that number means in relation to the workout you just completed. Using more advanced algorithms, the new Training Load Pro should be able to better estimate intensity and tell you how to complete your next workouts to increase performance. Polar's Recovery Pro feature goes hand in hand with Training Load Pro, but it's only available on the Vantage V, since it's the device that's for the more serious crowd. Recovery Pro seems much like Garmin's Body Battery feature: it estimates how long your body needs to recover after a workout and when it's most appropriate for you to attempt an intense workout again. It's understandable that athletes in training would want Recovery Pro to inform Training Load Pro and vice versa — the intensity of your workout will influence your recovery time, and the amount of time your body has to recover will influence how hard you'll be able to push yourself during the next session. Both Training Load Pro and Recovery Pro use most of the information you provide Polar about yourself, as well as your recorded activity information, to get their scores, so you'll need to use the Vantage watches for about two weeks before you'll see the most accurate estimates from both features. The Vantage series presented me with the most pleasant surprise I've had from Polar in a long time. While Polar's wearables are on-par (and sometimes better) than Garmin's for elite athletes, most have been marred by designs that are only acceptable on a deserted trail or in an empty gym. For some, that's a small price to pay for a training device that meets all your needs. But as smartwatches become more popular, many users want one device that can transition well from the trail to the office. Polar made a conscious decision to only put smartphone alerts on the Vantage watches, rather than bogging them down with all the smartwatch features that come on other devices (think canned text responses, onboard apps, LTE connectivity, etc). The company likely hopes that its formula—fitness with a touch of smartwatch—will entice users to try out the new Vantage device family. The Vantage V and M watches are available for preorder today starting at $499 and $279, respectively.

Polar's latest watches know if you're maximizing your workouts


They also tout more accurate heart rates and measure your running power. Polar has a way to compete against ever more fitness-savvy smartwatches: offer exercise tracking that's difficult to match. It's launching two fitness watches, the Vantage V (above) and Vantage M (below), that promise more insights for particularly committed athletes. Both include a Training Load Pro system that melds cardiovascular, muscular and perceived loads into a single metric that gives you a sense of just how effective your workouts are. You'll have a better sense of whether you're overreaching or need to ramp up the intensity. The pro-oriented Vantage V adds a Recovery Pro system whose daily and long-term tracking help you understand when your body has had enough rest. The two watches also tout more more accurate heart rate monitoring that uses multi-layer optical sensing, electrodes and accelerometers to get both faster and more accurate heartbeat readings. Spring for the Vantage V and you'll also get running power data (a first on the wrist, Polar said) that helps you pour more work into every stride. Polar is taking pre-orders for the wristwear today, although you may need to brace your wallet for impact depending on what you're buying. The more mainstream Vantage M sells for $280, but the Vantage V will set you back $500 ($550 with an external heart rate monitor). The V's cost is easier to swallow if you're a serious competitor -- just know that it's likely overkill if you aren't chasing a place on the podium.