If you are a runner or are into multi-sports, a Garmin or a Polar smartwatch is a great option. The companies are doing a splendid job at refreshing their offering on a regular basis.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
The highest spec device in the Garmin Forerunner line is now the 945. Released this summer, it comes with a plethora of updates over the 935 such as on-board storage for music, Garmin Pay, navigational mapping, a pulse oximeter, more performance metrics, new heart rate model, extra battery life and more.
The Polar Vantage V is no slouch either. Released just over a year ago it, too, overflows with fitness and wellness features. The company says this is its most advanced sports watch to date.
Both the Forerunner 945 and Vantage V are geared towards the serious fitness enthusiast. If you’re in two minds on which of these is right for you, read on for a run-down of their differences.
General and design
When it come to looks, these are two very similar animals. They are both round and come with a 1.2 inch (30.4 mm) diameter screen. Vantage V is built of more premium materials, though, including a stainless steel case and bezel which makes it more attractive and less sporty looking. The Garmin watch sticks to a fiber-reinforced polymer design.
Vantage also has an edge in terms of navigation. While both watches come with 5 physical buttons, you can use the touch-display on the Polar device to find your way around its menus.
However, the premium materials make Vantage heavier and this is despite the fact that its slightly smaller than the Garmin (46 x 46 x 13 mm vs 47 x 47 x 13.7 mm). The Polar watch measures 66 grams which is still a decent weight that will not obstruct your training, compared to the Forerunner which comes in at only 50 grams.
Another difference in design is to do with the display. The Garmin watch has an always-on, sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) screen which works well in all conditions. The Polar watch has an always on, color LCD touchscreen display which tends to lose some visibility in bright, sunny conditions.
Battery life is fairly similar at around 40 hours with GPS and continuous heart rate switched on. However Garmin is much better in smartwatch mode. It will keep ticking for up to two weeks, which is twice as much as the Polar watch.
The two are head-to-head, though, when it comes to water resistance. Both are good to depths down to 50 meters. This is more than enough for most people.
On to the sensors.
The Forerunner 945 and Vantage V share lots under the hood. They both come with an altimeter, accelerometer, heart rate, barometer and gyroscope. The main difference is that the Forerunner also comes with a pulse oximeter which tracks your blood oxygen levels automatically during the night, and on-demand during the day.
Garmin has some other extras, too. Whereas the Polar device taps into GPS/GLONASS, the Forerunner can also latch on to GALILEO. So in theory the 945 should be better at securing a satellite signal.
Other than that, the Garmin watch comes with built-in storage for music for up to 1,000 songs, contactless payments and WiFi connectivity. You won’t find any of these on the Polar device.
Here’s a table illustrating the design differences between the Forerunner 945 and Vantage V. We also threw in the Vantage M, which is the budget version of Polar’s high-end sports watch.
|Forerunner 945||Vantage V||Vantage M|
|Lens material||Corning Gorilla Glass DX||Corning Gorilla Glass 3||PMMA Lens|
|Bezel/case material||fiber-reinforced polymer||stainless steel bezel, case/fiber reinforced polymer back||stainless steel bezel, fiber reinforced polymer case|
|Physical size||47 x 47 x 13.7 mm||46 x 46 x 13 mm||46 x 46 x 12.5 mm|
|Display type||Sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)||Always on, color LCD touchscreen display.||Always on color LCD display.|
|Input type||5 physical buttons||Touchscreen + 5 physical buttons||5 physical buttons|
|Display size||1.2″ (30.4 mm) diameter||1.2″ (30.4 mm) diameter||1.2″ (30.4 mm) diameter|
|Display resolution||240 x 240 pixels||240 x 240 pixels||240 x 240 pixels|
|Weight||50 g||66 g||45 g|
|Battery life (base model)||Smartwatch Mode: Up to 2 weeks
GPS mode with music: Up to 10 hours
GPS mode without music: Up to 36 hours
|up to 40 h in training mode (GPS and wrist-based heart rate). Watch mode with heart rate: up to 7 days.||up to 30 h in training mode (GPS and wrist-based heart rate). Watch mode with heart rate: up to 5 days.|
|Water rating||5 ATM||5 ATM||3 ATM|
|Sensors||GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO, barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer, gyroscope, thermometer, heart rate, Pulse OX||GPS/GLONASS, altimeter, accelerometer, heart rate, barometer, gyroscope, ambient light||GPS/GLONASS, altimeter, accelerometer, heart rate, barometer, gyroscope, ambient light|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth, Wi-Fi||Bluetooth 4.2||Bluetooth 4.2|
|Music Storage||Up to 1,000 songs||No||No|
Activity tracking features
Most people who are looking to buy one of these two watches are serious about training. The good news is, whatever sport you are into they’ll have you covered. This info dished out will keep even the biggest data geeks busy. In fact, the host of performance and physiological metrics are too extensive to do a detailed comparison here. So lets delve right into the main advantages of each.
Both of these watches come with upgraded heart rate monitors. The 945 with the new ELEVATE heart rate module, Vantage with Polar Precision Prime which fuses three different methods to improve heart rate tracking. Both watches will also track heart rate under water. While top of the line for wrist-based fitness devices, the readings are not however chest strap quality.
Some runners purchase the Vantage V because of a metric called Running Power. This is a single digit that accounts for terrain, form, and fatigue and tells you how hard to move. It helps you tweak your pace allowing you to go strong without hitting the wall. The 945 can also measure this but it requires an external sensor such as Stryd. Vantage V does all the calculations natively from the wrist, no need to connect it to any sensors.
The Polar device is also better at assessing your readiness to train. Its Training Load is more comprehensive than Garmin’s because it combines muscular load, perceived load and cardiovascular load into a single number that lets you know how hard you are working out.
Perhaps more importantly, a recent update has brought Nightly Recharge, Sleep Plus Stages and Serene to the Vantage V. Arguably the most interesting of the lot is Nightly Recharge. This is an overnight recovery measurement that shows how well your autonomic nervous system calms down during the early hours of sleep. The info is tied in with your daily activity stats to let you know whether to take a days rest, train as usual or push harder. You even get raw data on heart rate variability, beat-to-beat interval average and breathing rate.
Garmin has plenty to offer, as well. In fact it comes with a total of 18 Firstbeat metrics including: Anaerobic Training Effect, Real-Time Performance Condition, Calories Burned, Training Load, Tgraining Status, Training Load Balance, Workout Labels, Recovery Time Advisor, Quick Stress Level Test, All-day Stress & Recovery, Heat and Altitude Acclimatization, Body Resources, Race Predictor and Respiration Rate.
Some of Garmin’s advantages include the Pulse Ox sensor which you will not find on Vantage, longer battery life and support for maps. Garmin also has a more comprehensive software platform although some prefer the zone/color coded reporting and layout of Polar Flow. The 945 is better, though, at syncing with the app as it can also tap into a WiFi signal.
These are both high-end fitness smartwatches that offer some of the most comprehensive fitness tracking around. Which ever you choose, it will have you covered 24/7.
In terms of looks, the two are very similar. The Polar watch has a more premium metal design with touch-screen functionality that holds up to all manner of daily use and bashing around. It is slightly heavier, though.
In terms of activity stats and performance metrics, both have plenty to offer. The recent addition of Nightly Recharge means you can use Vantage V to view your heart rate variability and readiness to train. This makes its recovery metrics much more useful. Plus there’s Running Power, detailed sleep statistics and more. Its explanations and insights are also easier to understand.
The Forerunner 945 also has a few things going in its favor. This includes the Pulse Ox sensor, on-board storage for music, contactless payments and longer battery life. Does this justify a $100 higher price? Perhaps. But if you’re after more bang for your buck and are not bothered about these features, you won’t be disappointed with the Vantage V.
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