Best Polar watch 2021 for running and exercise with advanced training and recovery features

The best Polar watches can measure running power and offer a range of advanced recovery features to help you train more efficiently

Best polar watch can track many different sport principles, including yoga, a form of exercising this person is doing
(Image credit: Polar)

The best Polar watch is up there with Garmin, and Suunto watches in terms of build quality, precision and features. Some recreational runners might opt-in for Fitbits, but more serious athletes will seek out proper running watches, such as the Polar running watches on this list. The best wearables Polar has to offer are among the best running watches because they tend to be priced competitively and boast excellent build quality, among other qualities.

Polar has been in the heart rate monitor business since the 1970s, so we can safely assume they know a thing or two about the topic. The company manufactures mainly wearable tech and cycling computers and is renowned for advanced recovery and training features.

Polar's main competitors are Garmin and Suunto. However, they also have to compete with the more lifestyle-y Fitbit watches and bands, not to mention 'regular' smartwatches such as the Apple Watch Series 5 or the Huawei Watch GT 2. In an ever-growing fitness sector, Polar can't sit on its laurels and constantly pushes the boundaries of fitness innovation to stay on top of its competition.

And innovating they do. In 2019, Polar introduced the Polar Precision Prime technology, an updated heart rate sensor technology – available with the Polar Vantage family – combining optical heart rate measurement with skin contact measurement. This new technology overcomes problems with motion and offers precise optical heart rate monitoring. It's another reason why a Polar fitness watch could be a key weapon in your arsenal for getting fit in 2021.

How does Polar compare to Garmin? Find out here: Garmin vs Polar. You can read about the best Suunto watches here and find the best Garmin watch deals on the other end of the link we just provided you within this sentence. There are quite a few Polar watches featured on T3's best triathlon watch list too.

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Best Polar watches, in order of preference

the Polar Vantage V2 is T3's top choice for best Polar watchT3 Best Buy Award badge

(Image credit: Polar)

The best Polar watch for data-hungry athletes

Weight: 52 grams
Case material: Aluminium alloy with glass fibre reinforced polymer
Water rating: 5 ATM
Display resolution: 240 x 240 pixels
Battery life: Up to 40h in training mode (GPS and wrist-based heart rate) or up to 7 days in watch mode with continuous heart rate tracking
Reasons to buy
+'Always on' screen+Plenty of data top pore over+New tests are a great add-on+Better build quality than Vantage V+Precise
Reasons to avoid
-Button+touch navigation is still a bit confusing-Smart features mostly training-focused-Battery life is far from amazing

The Polar Vantage V2 might lack some of the more casual features of modern multi sport watches, such as on-board music storage and maybe even NFC, but truth to be told, the Vantage V2 is for the hardcore crowd and they might not care all that much about these filthy casual frivolities anyway.

The Polar Vantage V2 is a watch of many qualities. Its built quality is excellent and definitely a step up from original Vantage V, listed further down this list. It has loads of useful tests and data for serious runners, cyclists and triathletes to better their form and get ready for races more efficiently. Better still, most of the tests and data provided by the Vantage V2 can't be found elsewhere, making the watch all the more appealing for information-thirsty athletes.

It would have been great to see some improvements to the user interface and especially the navigation since the Vantage V but what can we do? Touch controls are still a bit laggy, although the screen feels a bit more responsive than the one found on the Vantage V. It's funny that Polar boasts about the ability to choose from four (!) watch faces for the Vantage V2 when Garmin has hundreds, if not thousands, of watch faces available to all of its watches.

I would certainly recommend the Polar Vantage V2 to anyone who would like to take their athletic performance to the next level: there aren't many wrist-wearables that provide quite as much data as this one.

Polar Vantage V2 vs Garmin Fenix 6 Pro: we tested and compared these two extremely capable multisport watches to find out which one is best. We also compared the Vantage V2 with the Grit X adventure watch here: Polar Grit X vs Vantage V2. FYI.

the Polar Vantage M2 is less advanced version of the Vantage V2 but has plenty of its own meritsT3 Award

(Image credit: Polar)

Polar Vantage V2 Lite – in a good way

Lens material: Hard-coated PMMA laminated lens
Display size: 1.2" (30.5 mm)
Display resolution: 240 x 240 pixels
Weight: 45.5 grams with the wristband
Battery life: Up to 30 hrs in training mode (GPS and wrist-based heart rate) or up to 5 days in watch mode with continuous heart rate tracking
Reasons to buy
+Buttons-only navigation works great+Plenty of decent sports features and sport modes+Strikes a good balance between style and sportiness+Well-priced
Reasons to avoid
-Usual accuracy issues (nothing major, though)-Not quite enough personalisation options

The Polar Vantage M2 strikes a good balance between style and substance: it has ample amount of features, both sport and casual, and despite all the premium features it has to offer, it doesn't cost the earth either. Although fitness wearables are never an investment, I reckon the Vantage M2 will serve its users well for at least a good few years.

Is there a reason why you shouldn't get the Polar Vantage M2? Admittedly, if you need a hardcore running watch, you might find the Vantage M2 a tad bit too fashion watch-like. Just to clarify, it really isn't one, but Polar is certainly trying to make the Vantage M2 more appealing to smartwatch users by offering certain colour variants (looking at you, Champagne/Gold Vantage M2).

However, under the hood, you'll find an adroit – but not Android, thankfully – multisport watch that can effectively help you get better in whatever sport you practice.

How does the Vantage M2 compares against the Vantage V2? We compared the two here: Polar Vantage M2 vs Vantage V2

the Polar Grit X is the best Polar watch for the great outdoors

(Image credit: Polar)

Best Polar watch for the Great Outdoors

Weight: 64 grams (with wristband)
Case material: Stainless steel
Water rating: up to 100 metres
Display resolution: 240 x 240 pixels
Battery life: up to 40 hours in training mode
Reasons to buy
+Multiple functions that help you navigate training, recovery and relaxation+Durable construction+Trail-specific features
Reasons to avoid
-Hefty price tag, especially if you go for a non-standard strap-Not the most comfortable watch to wear during the night

Packed full of features, this watch still only weighs 64g. It’s easy to navigate with touchscreen options. Having an hour by hour weather forecast is just one click away, with weather icons on the screen showing  you what to expect. This means the need to take your phone when you’re training is reduced even more. All this watch needs is a camera so you can snap your shots, and then the days of running with a phone will be gone.

You get so much more than training stats with sleep insights, recovery suggestions, workouts (tiny figures animate how to do each exercise) and wellbeing. You even get WeatherWatch, so essential for trails, hills and mountains where micro-climates are always changing. All of this is backed up with even greater insights in the Polar Flow app, so whether you’re a tech-head or mindful runner it’s a brilliant buy.

the polar vantage V is a Waterproof watch with long battery life for triathlon or running trainingT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Polar)

Waterproof watch with long battery life for triathlon or running training

Weight: 66 grams (with wristband)
Case material: Stainless steel
Water rating: up to 50 metres
Display resolution: 240 x 240 pixels
Battery life: up to 40 hours in training mode
Reasons to buy
+Running power on wrist+Accurate heart rate sensor+Ideal for triathletes
Reasons to avoid
-Touchscreen + five buttons navigation can be confusing at first

The Polar Vantage V is a peculiar ex-flagship smartwatch. First of all, it most usually retails for less than the likes of Garmin Forerunner 945 or the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium which can be a big plus to many people out there. It also has some very unique features which might arouse some runners out there, especially the running power metric, measured on the wrist.

It also looks a bit more like a fashion watch as opposed to a multi-sport smartwatch. As default, the strap colours you can choose from aren't black and even more black, but bright orange, vibrant blue and white. Polar doesn't want you to blend in. They want their watches to stand out and be seen.

There is a lot to love on the Polar Vantage V. It has a large touchscreen display, hidden under Gorilla Glass lens and no less than nine sensors on the back. It uses a GPS+GLONASS tracking system, which doesn't pick the signal up as fast as the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, for example, but it does the job just fine.

The battery will last long enough, too, it has enough juice in there for 40 hours of tracking, so considering average use, you will be able to go between two charges for a good week.

And of course, the Polar Vantage V has all the fitness tracking features you'll ever need, and more, like sleep stage tracking, Nightly Recharge (which shows you how your body was able to recover from stress or training), Serene (guided breathing exercise), steps and activity tracking.

Since it is a Polar watch, the Polar Vantage V focuses a lot on recovery, too, with features like Training Load Pro, which measures cardio, muscle and perceived load, all on the wrist and without any external straps or pods needed. All this for not a lot of money.

Special mention: Polar Vantage V Titan

The Titan variety of the Polar Vantage V comes with identical features as the standard version, but the strap feels more premium and the tech is housed in a titanium case, making the watch lighter overall (the Titan is only 59 grams with the strap).

The look of the Polar Vantage V Titan is also refined, compared to the standard version, and looks more serious, if not sombre. The Titan is also tested against Us military standards, so you can rest assured it stands the test of time. Not like you are going to throw it around all that much, but just in case.

the Polar Vantage M offers a lot of bang for your buckT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Polar)

5. Polar Vantage M

A lot of bang for your buck

Weight: 45 grams with wristband
Case material: Glass fibre reinforced polymer
Water rating: up to 30 metres
Display resolution: 240 x 240 pixels
Battery life: up to 30 hours in training mode
Reasons to buy
+Almost all the features of the Vantage V+For cheaper
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life is less impressive-Only water rated to 30 metres

The Polar Vantage M is the top choice for price-conscious multi-sport smartwatch buyers who are more inclined to use the watch for running and other outdoor based activities.

You get all the perks of a decent sport watch here, in fact, most of the features that are offered in the Polar Vantage V, apart from the Orthostatic Test – which would require a H10 heart rate strap anyway – and the running power measurement.

You also miss out on the barometer and the audio alerts and get slightly less impressive battery life, but the watch will still last up to 30 ours in tracking mode, and it's highly unlikely you will train for more than 30 hours at a time without being able to charge the watch.

What's the best, though, is that the Polar Vantage M very often retails for under £200 and for that price, you get a great range of features and excellent sensors, coupled up with a good screen, whilst the watch being very light altogether.

the Polar Ignite is fitness watch people who prefer to exercise indoorsT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Polar)

One for indoor fitness enthusiasts

Weight: 35 grams with wristband
Case material: Glass fibre reinforced polymer
Water rating: up to 30 metres
Display resolution: 204 x 204 pixels
Battery life: up to 17 hours in training mode
Reasons to buy
+Navigation is easy to get used to+Built-in GPS
Reasons to avoid
-Materials used makes it feel cheaper than it is

The Polar Ignite can be considered the little sibling of the Vantage family; it has the nine-sensor setup on the back and all the new features, like Serene and Nightly Recharge. In fact, the aforementioned features were first introduced in the Ignite and then rolled out later to the Vantage models.

Although the screen is a decent enough size, many features that the Vantage models have displayed on the watch itself have been delegated to the Polar Flow app, like the Training Load Pro and Training Benefit. So, you still get all these extra features, but you will need to sync the Polar Ignite with your phone first to access them.

The watch is super light, only 35 grams with the wristband, and as a matter of fact, it can feel a bit underwhelming for a £175 smartwatch. The polymer case is a bit – in need of a better word here – flimsy and cheapish looking. Saying that, the touchscreen and one button navigation works well and the screen is not all that bad to look at either.

the Polar Ignite 2 is an adaptive trainer with great accuracyT3 Award

(Image credit: Polar)

Adaptive trainer with great accuracy

Weight: 35 grams
Case material: Glass fibre reinforced polymer
Lens material: N/A
Water rating: up to 30 metres
Display resolution: 240 x 204 pixels
Battery life: up to 5 days in smartwatch mode
Reasons to buy
+Advanced training suggestions+Ambient light sensor+Built-in GPS
Reasons to avoid
-Hardly any updates since the Ignite-Watch feels less premium than similarly priced fitness watches such as the Fitbit Versa 3

It’s hard to summarise what's not quite right with the Polar Ignite 2. To some degree, it’s still a perfectly adequate fitness wearable and very similar to the Polar Ignite, a watch I really liked. On the other hand, it fails to offer anything new so I wonder what was the point of re-releasing the same watch, two years later?

Even more strangely, Polar already has a watch for the market the Ignite 2 is clearly aimed at, the Polar Unite, a fitness watch that looks the same, is a bit cheaper and less competent but serves its purpose just fine. For a price you can get an Ignite 2, you can also get a Fitbit Versa 3 or a Garmin Venu Sq (or Sq Music), both being either more popular or more capable than the Ignite 2.

Would I recommend the Polar Ignite 2? Well, yes and no. I recommended the original Ignite and since the Ignite 2 is very similar, I guess I can recommend the new watch too. The training tools are good, the sensors are not too bad either and the smart features are also okay. But the lack of updates since the Ignite is a bit disappointing, not to mention the increased competition, which makes me wonder how many people will actually choose the Polar Ignite 2 over its competitors.

the Polar M430 is a decent basic running watchT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Polar)

8. Polar M430

One for the runners

Weight: 51 grams
Water rating: Up to 30 metres
Display resolution: 128 x 128 pixels
Battery life: up to 8 hours in training mode
Reasons to buy
+Built-in GPS+Sleep tracking
Reasons to avoid
-Low resolution screen-Chunky

The Polar M430 is geared towards serious runners. Because if you aren't a serious runner, you can get a Fitbit Versa for cheaper than the Polar M430, and the former looks less like an oversized fitness tracker, whilst still tracking all the basic fitness metrics.

But in case you are an avid runner and would like to own a running watch that clearly communicates to others around you that run often, you should definitely choose the Polar M430. It does most of the tricks the more expensive models can do, like the Polar Fitness Test, which estimates your VO2 max levels, and even tells you your Running Index, which is a measurement of how well you run.

The Polar M430 is heavier than the Polar Ignite but not too heavy with its 51 grams. The screen is a good size, too, although the resolution is fairly low so the display is a bit blocky. You won't get silky smooth animation here and you will miss out on non-running features as well, like the Serene breathing exercise or the Nightly Recharge metric.

But all the negative stuff doesn't matter to you, since you probably wouldn't use all that casual stuff anyway. What you need the M430 for is running, and for that – especially considering the friendly price point – it's more than adequate. You'll get built-in GPS and wrist based heart rate, which is really all you need to track running.

the Polar M200 is an even more basic running watchT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Polar)

9. Polar M200

Gets the basics right

Weight: 44 grams
Water rating: suitable for swimming
Display resolution: 1342 pixels (roughly equates to 36 x 36 pixels)
Battery life: up to 6 days
Reasons to buy
+Cheap+Wrist based heart rate+Built-in GPS
Reasons to avoid
-Screen is not great

The Polar M200 is a tricky device. It looks big and the screen is housed in a large case so you'd think 'Oh boy, for under a £100 I'll get a running watch from Polar with a large screen!' Well, you'll get a screen, but it's definitely not a big one.

Cryptically enough, this is what Polar has to say about the display of the M200 on its  website: "Visible area diameter 26 mm, 1342 pixels". Now, using basic calculus, we can work out that equates to roughly 36 x 36 pixels. And, admittedly, the screen is not big or sharp.

But, ignoring the issues with the screen, for the very friendly price point, you'll get integrated GPS and wrist based heart rate, which is not too shabby for a watch sold for under £100 most usually.

A great thing about the screen, though, is that it consumes less energy, therefore the 180 mAh battery in the Polar M200 will last for up to six days. Not to mention, the M200 is also suitable for swimming, so you don't have to worry about not getting it wet either.

And of course, you get all the usual perks of a fitness tracker as well, like sleep tracking, step counter, inactivity alerts and even smart calories.

a 3d render of a polar watch with the components of the watch visible over a teal-coloured background

There is a whole load of tech going into each Polar smartwatch

(Image credit: Polar)

How to choose the best Polar watch for your needs

Polar – unlike Garmin – has a straightforward lineup of watches. The company's current offering consists of 5 main smartwatches and they all have significantly different capabilities from one another.

The cream of the crop model, the Polar Vantage V2, offers a feature not many other watch on the market can do (apart from the Coros Pace 2): it measures running power on the wrist. Granted, running power will only be a gimmick for non-hardcore runners, but for them, it's a real bonus that's worth the premium price.

Saying that, all Polar watches are priced reasonably and can be bought for under their RRPs very often, making them very competitive on the market. The Polar Vantage V often retails at around £350 and can go as low as $450 in the US, which is a really good price for a competent smartwatch like this.

Even if you don't want the best Polar watch on the market, one step down is the Polar Vantage M2, which is almost identical to the Vantage V when it comes to looks and functionality, only missing out on features such as some of the tests and the running power which, as we mentioned before, might not be all that important to the vast majority of runners. All the better, the Polar Vantage M2 can be bought for little over half price of the Vantage V2.

Go for the Polar Ignite if you will use your new Polar watch mainly for tracking fitness activities like HIIT sessions or even yoga classes. It has the updated Polar Precision Prime sensor, all the new Vantage features and can be bought for around £160/$199.

If you just want a no-frills running watch, you can choose either the Polar M430 or M200. The latter really is the basic model and can be bought for around £80/$90. For that money, you'll still get built-in GPS and wrist heart rate, which is pretty good.

person looking at the Polar Flow app on a running track

(Image credit: Polar)

The Polar Flow app

The main appeal of the Polar Flow app is the summary screens, let it be the account of all your daily or individual fitness activities. Polar watches don't automatically synchronise with the phone, you need to long press a button on the watch to start the process.

Once sync is done, though, you can get a glance view of the activities very easily. The Polar Flow is user friendly and the learning curve is not steep at all. The only – let's say – peculiar thing is the chart on the top of the Activity page. It either shows you a line chart or a 24-hour clock with your activities but in a way that's not necessarily understandable straight away.

You can, however, get to the Training page from the main Activity page by tapping on the activity's icon on the main timeline. This is quite handy and once you're on the individual activity's page, you can see all the key metrics at a glance.

In general, the Polar Flow might not be as motivating as the Garmin Connect's badge system, but it does the job nicely.

Matt Kollat
Matt Kollat

Matt is a fitness fanatic (a.k.a. fitness and nutrition writer) who's been rambling on about all things health and fitness for over two years now here at T3. His achievements include a short-lived fitness podcast called Fit Mentality Podcast and being a judge on the Fit&Well Awards 2021. In his free time, he works out at home, runs, cycles and loves a good ol' walk around the city. He writes about general fitness stuff, fitness tech, workouts, workout gear/equipment, nutrition and much, much more.