Garmin Forerunner 965 vs Polar Vantage V3: stat-tracking giants go toe-to-toe

How does Polar’s contender stack up against Garmin’s undisputed king of the multi-sports smartwatch?

Garmin Forerunner 965 vs Polar Vantage V3
(Image credit: Matt Kollat/T3)

We waited a long time for Polar to drop the third iteration of its Vantage multisports smartwatch, and the Polar Vantage V3 didn’t disappoint when it finally pulled the pin. Good thing, because we have always been fans of the Vantage range and thought the V2 was a fantastic running companion, edging very close to the top spot if you are a fan of swim/bike/run antics.

That said, Garmin seems to keep getting things right with every version of its Forerunner series, and the Garmin Forerunner 965 now rules the roost thanks to a super-bright AMOLED screen and slimmed-down chassis. It’s still a big watch. But then it crams in an unfathomable amount of features, so we can forgive its size.

All in all, they are some of the best triathlon watches that excel in different ways, and to make things more complicated, there’s not much in it when it comes down to price. So, which one is worthy of your hard-earned cash? Having spent months with both on the wrist, we’ve pitched the two against one another to find out…

Garmin Forerunner 965 vs Polar Vantage V3

Garmin Forerunner 965 vs Polar Vantage V3: price and availability

Polar launches Vantage V3 multisport watch and debuts new sensing platform called Elixir

(Image credit: Polar)

Having only launched in March of 2023 and available now at Garmin UK, Garmin US and Garmin AU, the excellent Garmin Forerunner 965 hasn’t been subject to any massive discounts as of yet, so you will have to cough up the RRP of £600/ $600/ AU$ 999.

The choice comes down to a personal preference on colour, with Garmin offering a Carbon Grey bezel with Black/Powder Grey Silicone Band, a Black Case and Amp Yellow/Black Silicone Band or a Whitestone Case and Whitestone/Powder Grey Silicone Band. All watches have a titanium 47mm bezel that’s only available in one size.

The Polar Vantage V3 is available now at Polar UK, Polar US and Polar AU with an RRP of £519/ $600/ AU$ 899. It's available in one size only (47mm) and in three colours: Night Black, Sky Blue and Sunrise Apricot. Currently, there are no sizeable discounts applied to this, either.

You can also buy the Vantage V3 in a Polar bundle that includes the H10 heart rate monitor for £559/ $650/ AU$ 999. It says a lot about Polar’s confidence in its wrist-based heart rate sensing technology, which we will get on to later.

Winner: The Polar Vantage V3 is the cheaper watch.

Garmin Forerunner 965 vs Polar Vantage V3: specifications

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Header Cell - Column 0 Garmin Forerunner 965Polar Vantage V3
Weight52g (w/ strap)39g (w/o strap), 57g (w/ strap)
Battery lifeup to 23 days (smartwatch mode), up to 31h (GPS mode)up to 16 days (smartwatch mode), up to 61h (GPS mode)
Battery capacity488 mAhNo information available
Water ratingWR50WR50
Display size1.4-inch1.39-inch
Display resolution (pixels)454 x 454454 x 454
Case materialtitaniumaluminium
Lens materialGorilla Glass 3Gorilla Glass 3
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.1, Ant+, Wi-FiBluetooth 5.1
Positioningmulti-band GPSdual-frequency GPS

Winner: The Garmin Forerunner offers the more power specs on paper

Garmin Forerunner 965 vs Polar Vantage V3: design and build quality

Garmin Forerunner 965 review

(Image credit: Matt Kollat/T3)

The Polar Vantage V3 will feel like a very familiar beast to anyone with experience running the V2, or any other Polar wearable for that matter. The button layout is practically identical to its older siblings and it goes for the same general understated approach to design.

A polished aluminium bezel looks smart, and the bright red action button in the middle of the classic chronograph layout makes it look like it means business. 

Overall, it’s a fairly tough old cookie, although waterproofing is now down on its predecessor - the Vantage V2 had a WR100 rating (100 ATM), while the Polar Vantage V2 is 'only' rated to WR50 (50 ATM). This won’t be an issue for pool or open-water swimming, but it rules out diving.

Having worn both watches, we can say the Polar is arguably the more unisex of the two, with the face and bezel design looking slightly less masculine than most of Garmin’s offerings. 

This is further aided by some neat strap options, which are perforated to allow for better breathability on the wrist.

That said, it’s very difficult to bash Garmin’s build quality because the slightly elevated asking price buys a hardy titanium bezel with some neat machined details that indicate what the various buttons do. Speaking of buttons, there are five of those, meaning you don’t have to use the touchscreen functionality if you don’t want to.

Aside from that, there’s the same level of waterproofing, and both watches use a Gorilla Glass screen for added durability.

Winner: It’s a draw, as both are built to go the distance and look good doing so.

Garmin Forerunner 965 vs Polar Vantage V3: features

Garmin Forerunner 965 review

(Image credit: Matt Kollat/T3)

We could spend all day running through the number of features that both of these watches offer, as they provide a comprehensive list of training, recovery, sleep and general health data that helps the wearer make informed decisions about the day’s activities.

For example, the Garmin Forerunner 965 includes (but is not limited to) all-day heart rate, stress, steps and respiration tracking, heart rate variability and VO2 max estimations, dual-band multi-GNSS system access, offline maps, and sleep monitoring.

Similarly, the Polar V3 now offers a new Elixir sensing platform, which includes ECG, SpO2 and skin temperature sensors, as well as wrist-based optical heart rate monitoring. What’s more, it is packing CPU improvements that make it faster and slicker to operate than anything that has come before it. The UI still isn’t perfect, but it’s much better.

If it is a pure fitness smartwatch you are after, both offer a plethora of excellent features and activity tracking, although it is worth noting that we found the Garmin Forerunner 965 to be generally more accurate during any given activity.

Polar Vantage V3 review

(Image credit: Matt Kollat/T3)

Polar’s heart rate monitoring is a little wild and can easily overestimate how many calories have been burned during a workout. Garmin also offers a seemingly unending array of built-in workout and activity profiles that Polar can’t quite match.

But again, the pendulum swings the other way in so much as we love Polar’s built-in tests, with things like the Leg Recovery Test, Fitness Test, Performance Test, Orthostatic Test, Running Performance Test, Cycling Performance Test, and Walking Test all available from the wrist.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Garmin goes the extra mile and offers things like Garmin Pay, allowing contactless payments without the need for your phone, as well as music from your favourite providers.

Polar has upped the ante with its built-in storage and now provides offline maps for more precise navigation, allowing it to rival Garmin for the first time in this respect.

However, Garmin’s smartphone app and ecosystem are generally more insightful and easier to use, with the watch automatically synching via Bluetooth whenever the watch is close. Polar still hasn’t quite got this right, and the level of granular detail you can go into is in no way as nerdy as what Garmin offers.

Winner: Garmin simply offers more, and its app is better.

Garmin Forerunner 965 vs Polar Vantage V3: battery life

Polar Vantage V3 review

(Image credit: Matt Kollat/T3)

Both watches offer really solid battery life that makes rival smartwatches from Apple, Google and more look decidedly lame. If you use the Garmin Forerunner 965 as a simple smartwatch, it will last a staggering 23 days. The Polar Vantage V3 can manage 16, by comparison.

That said, Polar’s slightly thinner GPS satellite offering means it can last almost double the 31 hours of Garmin’s Forerunner 965 when using GPS tracking functions. 

In normal use, where we wore both watches for a number of months, working out a few times a week indoors and throwing in a smattering of outdoor activities, both happily lasted a week before requiring a charge.

Obviously, if you are more into your hardcore endurance endeavours, we’d say opt for the Polar, as it will last longer with GPS running in the background. But we’ve managed to get massive battery life out of most Garmin watches simply by fettling a few options in the power menus.

Winner: Polar Vantage V3 on pure battery life, but it’s a very close race.

Garmin Forerunner 965 vs Polar Vantage V3: verdict

Garmin Forerunner 965 review

(Image credit: Matt Kollat/T3)

It is very difficult to separate the two, as they are both genuinely excellent multi-sports smartwatches. If you are on a really tight budget, then the Polar Vantage V3 probably just about nicks it, but we feel the additional features of Garmin’s almost faultless Forerunner 965 make it well worth those extra pennies.

Garmin has heart rate, GPS location, and calorie tracking locked down, while its ecosystem and app are extremely simple to use, but offer a ludicrous level of detail if you really go hunting for it. The user experience is also slicker than Polar’s and Garmin’s graphics are just sharper and more premium feeling - even if they are a little garish at times.

What’s more, the addition of a crisp AMOLED screen now brings the Forerunner 965 to life like it never has before, which only elevates it above its predecessors… and most of the competition.

Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. When he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing. He's also a man who knows his tools, and he's provided much of T3's drills coverage over the years, all without injuring himself.