Best Polar watch 2021: running and multisport watches do NOT begin and end with Garmin or Fitbit

From simple to superlative, Polar offers a good range of running watches that suit many different fitness needs

best Polar watch
(Image credit: Polar)

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

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 its innovative approach and unique design solutions.

Polar's main competitors are Garmin and Suunto. However they also have to compete with the more lifestyle-y best 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 has to constantly push 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, which is 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.

best Polar watch

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 V, offers a feature not any other watch on the market can do (yet): 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 M, which is almost identical to the Vantage V when it comes to looks and functionality, only missing out on features like 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 M can be bought for little over half price of the Vantage V.

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.

best polar watch

The Polar Flow app shows workout summaries in a clear and easy to understand way 

(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.

Best Polar watches, in order

best polar watch: polar vantage V

(Image credit: Polar)

1. Polar Vantage V

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

• Read our Polar Vantage V review here

The Polar Vantage V is a peculiar flagship smartwatch. First of all, it most usually retails for less than the likes of Garmin Forerunner 945 or the Suunto 9 Baro 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.

best Polar watch: Polar Vantage M

(Image credit: Polar)

2. 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.

best polar watch: Polar Ignite

(Image credit: Polar)

3. Polar Ignite

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

• Read our Polar Ignite review here

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.

best polar watch: Polar M430

(Image credit: Polar)

4. 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.

best polar watch: Polar M200

(Image credit: Polar)

5. 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.