Garmin FR 945 vs Polar Vantage V

It’s been a while since I haven’t used the Polar Vantage V which was sitting in my drawer, being only charged from time to time. When Polar pushed it’s new update 5.1.4, it woke me up and since I was staying home most of the time, I didn’t feel that I look too weird wearing two watches all the time. That started a comparison between 945 and Vantage V that I wasn’t able to do before because, even though I tested them during my running sessions, I didn’t have daily stats from wearing the devices at the same time (sleep for example or daily activity).

It’s a long story, though may not be complete, since there are so many aspects you can evaluate on those devices, but bear with me, it might worth your time if you consider buying one of those two devices. Or you can skip to final thoughts…up to you.

Contents
General View
Day to day wear & activity
Sport usage
Heart rate accuracy
Smart watch usage
Sleep analysis
Garmin Connect vs Polar Flow
Integrations
Final thoughts
PS: For Polar Product Management
PPS: For Garmin Product Management

General view

Side by side the watches look nice, being similar in size and close in weight. Garmin 945 is 47 x 47 x 13,7 mm and weights 50g, being a bit lighter than Vantage V which has 66g and measuring 46 x 46 x 13 mm.

In the pictures, it looks like the Polar Vantage V is a bit larger, but that’s only because the way the front picture is created and that’s also because Polar decided on an unusual strap – lug fit, which makes the watch comfortable to wear but less flexible when put on a table. The Garmin 945 has a plastic case, which makes it light and easy to wear, but less stylish than the Finish design which in my opinion looks great on hand, being more suitable for formal wear.

Also, the Forerunner 945 case doesn’t look like it allows changing the battery, if you ever think of keeping the watch that long that the quality of the battery will deteriorate.

The screen size is the same – 1.2” with a resolution of 240×240 pixels, which is decent but not great when compared with Suunto’s 9 or even more with the smartwatches like Apple Watch, Samsung for example. But let’s face it, until the recent Fenix 6, the sport watch industry was kind of using the same size and resolution 1.2” and 240×240 pixels.

The screens are easy to read in visible light, not that much inside in darker rooms. To address this with Garmin, you can use the lighter background and then things get better in the darker environments.

Garmin 945 light background – easy to be seen in darker environments

When it comes to fonts and typography, I like the Polar ones more – but that can be addressed with Garmin by using a different watch face, so not much of a deal.

The problem with Polar is that the display is difficult to see in darker environments – Polar knew that and since is doesn’t allow you to change the background, they tried to bring the light up every time you turn your watch to look at the display. And it does that regardless of the moment of the day – with different levels of success – in bright sun, you don’t need that but it doesn’t matter – in darker rooms, it might not be enough, but you don’t have a setting for intensity of the backlight – if you want it brighter, you need to push the light button and that should be enough. But nothing in between, no possibility to turn off the gesture based backlight – although there is a workaround with setting the watch in DND (Do Not Disturb) and you won’t get backlight at any gesture.

Garmin offers a lot more in terms of customization – you can define your “policy” for non-workout or workout sessions, have the backlight only auto activated by wrist gesture after sunset and before sunrise and also the intensity level.

One important difference – Polar has a touch screen besides the 5 buttons and the touch screen works decently – it’s nice, but I don’t feel is adding any benefits to a sport watch. The drawback is that you need to take care of the screen touches, it may change some settings without your notice, though in general benign settings. Also, in the shower it’s better to lock the screen as the warm splashes of water may be seen as genuine user commands.

Drop down settings menu, activated by touch – Polar Vantage V (nice addition in FW 4.0 Oct 2019)

The screens of both watches are Gorilla glass covered, so prone to scratch; if you want them to look pristine, add some screen protectors for any of the devices.

Day to day wear & activity (24/7)

Using these watches 24/7 is something that some people may not do, since they are using the watches only during sports activity, but for me this is one of the important aspects because the watch (almost) never leaves my arm – I wear it all the time.

I won’t go that much into the customization of the watch looks, because there is one clear winner – Garmin. With a multitude of watch faces installed (and others being available to be downloaded), with all the details you can turn on/off, FR 945 is a beast that you’ll have to tame by reading the manual and testing all the settings. Polar is just simple and effective, with two options for watch (digital/analog) and watch faces for: time, activity, cardio load status, continuous heart rate tracking, training summary, nightly recharge, FitSpark.

With all it’s flexibility Garmin offers, I was very happy with Polar’s simple approach – the only things missing for me was the possibility to add more than one alarm in Polar – I know this is a limitation all Polar watches have, but in this day and age to only have one alarm is kind of lame (or maybe it’s just me …). I liked the alarm notification for Polar, starting progressive with vibration and adding in time also the sound, Garmin offers options to go for vibration/sound or both but I like better Polar’s approach which mixes things in a nice way.

Activity tracking is one important component of these watches job and they perform very well at that albeit differently.

Garmin measures steps, floors, intensity minutes, distance and calories, has a move reminder (visual and audio) if you don’t move for one hour. You can define your target of steps (and floors) for every day, or let Garmin choose for you (using some trends to motivate you).

Garmin Connect Web display of stats for Steps/Floors

Polar as a concept of measuring activity (described here) which translates all your activities into equivalent steps and distance – the measurement against your level target (Level 1 to 3) being a percentage displayed on tha watch in also in the apps (mobile and web).

Polar tracks your activity against your selected level and translates this into steps

As a personal preference, I like Polar’s approach a little more, because it allows people that are not walking/running (or making explicit steps) to measure their daily physical activity – let’s take for example strength sessions, cycling or swimming which in Garmin’s case won’t contribute with steps for the goal but obviously should be considered physical activities.

DateSteps GarminSteps PolarActivity % GarminActivity % Polar
23-Mar8324843583101
24-Mar938892219488
25-Mar1457915554146157
26-Mar1453914036145146
27-Mar1416513778142145
28-Mar84601241685128
29-Mar1505711296151176
30-Mar744673537488
31-Mar1449613716145166
1-Apr1491417253149182
2-Apr1790017921179173
3-Apr1667618763167170
4-Apr1098814026110108
Two weeks (almost) of activity compared

So, as it looks the number of “steps” from Polar is higher than Garmin’s – that being one of the complains of the people on the internet about Polar’s inability to rightly count steps – actually Polar doesn’t count steps but converts your activity level into “nominal steps”.

Garmin vs Polar – Steps & Activity Level %

Basically, if you look at the activity level (and not at the steps, which may be misleading for those that practice static sports), Polar has a higher level measured … and over those 13 days Polar registered a 11% (average) higher activity level value than Garmin.

It might be worthy of being mentioned the fact that I used Polar on my right hand and Garmin on my left, myself being a right handed guy …

Now, let’s look at other controversial subject – the total number of calories per day reported by the two watches. Usually, Polar reports a higher number.

DateCalories GarminCalories PolarPolar/Garmin %
23-Mar2693315517%
24-Mar2558318324%
25-Mar329335598%
26-Mar3060350915%
27-Mar319934819%
28-Mar2637352234%
29-Mar2956366224%
30-Mar2498313726%
31-Mar3043356017%
1-Apr3269372814%
2-Apr3163367716%
3-Apr3047369621%
4-Apr2719342526%
Total Calories reported by Garmin and Polar over 13 days
Visual representation of total calories reported by the Garmin and Polar

I don’t have any ways of identifying who’s right and who is not .. I should go to a lab to make some measurements, but my common sense says that the values provided by Polar are too high – I’d say that if I eat those calories (those provided by Polar) everyday I will fast get fat.

Garmin says that they measure a RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate) of 2250 calories/day. The one calculated for me by different websites (including myfitnesspal.com) is around 1950 calories/day.

Polar doesn’t mention that BMR/RMR anywhere, protecting their algorithms. Polar says trust me https://www.polar.com/en/science/whitepapers/smart-calories and has a whitepaper dedicated to Smart Calories here. So my takeaway is – don’t look at Polar’s calories when you decide the slice of cake you eat! 🙂

In terms of looking at your activity data, both Garmin and Polar provide you with a lot of details and statistics, the way the information is presented differs, but you can get an idea of how you did over the day.

Garmin Connect Web provides a long list of pages (with details) for every statistic collected
Polar provides a easy to read data insight of your day

During my usage in parallel of the two devices, I found that Garmin is collecting more information about your activity and displays that in either the mobile app or the web app, not to mention the widgets available on the watch. Polar seems to collect a less impressive list of data (for example no climbed floors), but displays them intuitively and a bit more actionable I’d say. On the other hand, Garmin added some gamification in the app, allowing you to have contests with friends, ranking you and even giving you badges for doing some activities and sports.

As a nice aspect, Garmin has a feature called Abnormal Heart Rate (https://www.garmin.com/en-US/blog/general/setting-alerts-for-abnormal-heart-rate/) which is available for 945, giving you notifications when the HR is either above the max level (when resting or not doing intensive activities) or below the min level defined by you.

Garmin also offers period tracking in the apps (mobile and web) with a ConnectIQ widget also available on the watch.

It’s just a matter of preference, I enjoyed both and I felt the same level of motivation to do my daily activities – Garmin has a bit of edge here because many of my friends have Garmin devices and competing with them sometimes is more fun.

Sport usage

The sport usage for both watches is straightforward – you have a start button, you select the sport you’d like to track and go for it. Polar comes with a longer list of predefined sports (130), I only tried a few, but basically those are (slight) variations of the same sport profile collecting HR data and move data (with GPS on). There are specific sports like swimming (open or pool) which have some customization and offer you specific statistics for the sport, but you couldn’t make that much of a difference between badminton and boxing. The list of sports profile for Polar is available here https://support.polar.com/en/polar-flow-sport-profiles, but you have to take care that on your watch you’ll have to “move” those that you’re interested in with the help of the mobile Flow app or Flow web. More details about managing the sports profiles available for the watch here. Regarding Garmin, you’ll have a shorter list of sports, but more flexibility of managing those directly from your watch, you can add/remove/edit screens directly on your watch. I don’t think normal people will miss any sport profiles with any of the two watches, you only need to make sure for Polar that you have defined the profile on your watch before going out (if you don’t have access directly to your phone).

When you have a training plan defined for running for example, your watch will take the predefined workout and present that as a option to execute on that session; Garmin has also the possibility to select other workouts from your training calendar, giving you more flexibility. More details about those options are available here. Polar used to offer a similar level of flexibility with M400/430 and V800, not anymore with Vantage.

Garmin uses the same button to start/pause and end a workout, Polar has a different approach using two buttons, which makes the transition more challenging especially if you’re using both of them in the same period, but both are ok when dealing with workouts. What Garmin offers more is the stats on the pause screen (the data offered by Polar in pause screen is just HR, less than what they used to do in V800 for example) and also the possibility to “Resume later” which is nice if you make a longer pause for a cycling session, but don’t want to stop the session and also don’t want full GPS connection during the pause. With Polar, you have to accept either to split the session in two or have the watch connected (or trying to connect) with GNSS. Those may be minor things and most people may not notice, but if you get to use them with Garmin, you’ll miss those with Polar. Also, the recent Garmin watches (945 included) support both Ant+ and Bluetooth sensors, allowing you to use a wide variety of external connected sensors or devices. Polar Vantage V only supports Bluetooth for now, although some efforts were made by Polar to add ANT+ to it’s HR sensors in the recent year – so H10 and OH1 support both bluetooth and ANT+ connections.

During the workout, Polar has a black background which is readable in bright sun, not that much in the dim light or dark, but you could turn on the backlight for all the duration of your workout should you need that, the wrist move based light being a little slow and a little dim.

Garmin has (by default, but you can change that) a black on white background display during workouts, making it more visible in dim light conditions, also the wrist move activated backlight being more responsive that with Polar. Both of them have audible and haptic feedback (sounds and vibration) during the workout, both useful and powerful enough.

One thing that Polar nicely offers (and Garmin doesn’t) is that for structured workouts, you can have the lap markers and the phases separate and not interfering. For example, you cand 2-3 phases, and automatic 1km laps and those are not affecting one another.

Garmin on the other hand, if you have automatic 1km laps will measure those inside any phase of the structured workout so you’ll end up with a lot of laps that are not all 1km long. This may be minor for some, but for me Polar has a nice edge here .. because for Garmin I had to disable the automatic laps just because of that.

In terms of flexibility, Polar seems more “stubborn” and fixed in relation with your defined workout, especially if you have an structured workout. For example, if you have a warm up phase of 15 minutes and you feel that you’re good and can go to the next phase earlier than 15 minutes, you can’t do that with Polar Vantage (although this was possible in the past with V800), but you can end a phase earlier with Garmin. Also, if you have a HR based phase (but it doesn’t matter which is the indicator for the phase lock, could be speed), Polar is very strict and will beep and vibrate for any moment you’re outside of the defined zone – Garmin will do that for a minute or so, but will eventually give up and let you do whatever you’re doing after giving you some alerts. It’s just a matter of preference, you may like Polar’s approach – “you should execute exactly the plan” or allow a degree of flexibility like Garmin does.

Personally, I like Garmin’s approach more, because Polar’s strict constraints for the phases are not very much helping me, especially since I train on the streets and not on a track, and I care much about the sync between time, distance and where I am from home.

Instant Pace – one thing which I noticed when wearing both watches during running sessions was the difference from Polar Vantage compared with Garmin .. actually is more with Stryd, because Garmin was displaying the pace from Stryd. I saw a lot of variability in the pace number, with unjustified changes of almost 1 min/km in pace .. that’s too much, regardless of how much I was cornering on a street. I’m not saying that Garmin’s instant pace is good, because I didn’t measure it, but for sure Polar’s is unreliable, so you can’t just use that in a race (maybe I should have used the race pace feature to test it .. but I didn’t).

Pace and Power evolution with Vantage V (GPS + Glonass)

So, it’s confusing to look at the watch and see that much of a difference in pace, and I can tell you for sure, using the same track as previously, I didn’t have those big changes in the pace.

Pace and Power evolution with Vantage V and Stryd (actually Stryd)
Pace (Stryd) for one km [between 5:22 and 6:04 min/km with an AVG of 5:43 min/km]

Power from wrist is a nice thing and was promoted by Polar actively when they launched Vantage V, but since that’s relying on pace (GNSS accuracy) – that’s not very helpful. You could add a footpod (not necessarily Stryd) to stabilize the pace and have a decent reading of the power. Then, yes you may use the power .. but that’s just not different from Garmin Running Dynamics pod, which offers more statistics in addition to supporting the Garmin power. Yes, the power values from Polar are different from Stryd and from Garmin power .. but that doesn’t matter that much, if you use this consistently. Unfortunately, this brings the next topic – how well Polar promotes power as a training solution – can you have structured workouts based on power? The answer is NO, you can’t do that and that’s a disappointment since that could have been a nice differentiation from Garmin, which doesn’t support power natively but through ConnectIQ fields.

Power from Vantage(higher) compared with Stryd (lower) – similar to some extend

Since Stryd become one of the favorite tool for people to have a very good foot pod and power also, connecting Stryd with Garmin and Polar is an important aspect for a lot of people. With Polar Vantage, the setup is simple and straightforward, you just add the new device and from now on, if it’s in range, you’ll have this foot pod as being the primary source for distance, pace, cadence and power. All data comes simple and easy in the existing fields and nothing changes in your Flow configuration (you’ll have to be consistent when using the Stryd, because the difference in watts between native Polar and Stryd is big and that will affect your power ranges in the graphs). Polar is synchronized with Stryd power center, but only moves the “main” info: GPS, distance, pace, cadence and power. All the other supplementary (Form Power, Ground Time, etc) info is not stored (or visible) in Flow, nore it goes to Stryd Power Center. You may address this with an offline sync of the Stryd device using the mobile app – but that needs to be done after Polar has sent the data, otherwise you’ll get duplicates and not a merged session.

For Garmin, things are a bit more complex, since Garmin doesn’t have native support for power, but uses the app platform ConnectIQ. So, besides adding the sensor to the watch, you have to add one field (here you’ll find the instructions for Stryd Zones field which is very handy and nice, displaying also the power zone synced with the Stryd power zones).

The result is the collection of all details from Stryd (including distance, pace, cadence) in the Garmin files and syncing that with Stryd Power Center. One good thing is that you can specify when you’d like to use the data (distance/pace) from Stryd depending on indoor/outdoor activity – so a bit more flexibility, but also a need for more attention to configuration. Also, you can define the use of the Stryd by activity – if you’ll add the field in the activity configuration, you’ll have data from Stryd, otherwise no … it’s more flexible than Polar who thinks that I’ll wear the foot pod also when walking and tries to connect to it (and sometimes it really succeeds, because I’m near the Stryd, and loses the start of the walk).

Stryd data displayed in Garmin Connect Web

Polar has a unique feature – the FitSpark (https://www.polar.com/en/smart-coaching/fit-spark) which was added to the Vantage line after being tested by Ignite on the market. It’s nice since it takes into account your fitness level/history and also the nightly recharge score. There is an amount of variation in the proposed sessions – there are 19 different workouts in total.

FitSpark offers workouts from three areas (strength, cardio or supportive)

The result of the training looks similar to the phased workout and is very nice.

Bodyweight session from FitSpark

Unfortunately, you can’t add the FitSpark workouts in your calendar – you can only choose from the watch what you’re being offered and that’s it.

Regarding the GNSS performance, the reality these days is that both watches are decent, they use the same Sony chipset and the results in similar configurations (best accuracy, GPS+Glonass) are close. Since I use the Stryd with is reliable for measuring the distance and pace, the comparison below is actually between Polar Vantage V and Stryd. For HR, I usually used the H10 strap shared between both and therefore nothing to compare.

PolarGarmin & Stryd
DateDistance(km)CaloriesDistance(km) Calories
19-Mar7.44907.4586
20-Mar6.824436.8548
21-Mar7.194547.04536
22-Mar10.1264910.08764
25-Mar7.975297.95655
26-Mar6.564456.51535
27-Mar7.224767.04588
29-Mar7.415687.45611
31-Mar6.44706.36499
1-Apr7.945987.89658
2-Apr6.855146.83570
3-Apr6.845006.83368(*)
5-Apr5.64235.54462
Distance and calories for Polar/Garmin&Stryd
(*) loose band for FR945 and low HR affects the calories

From distance point of view, I’d say that Polar worked great – the aggregated “difference” for all workouts is 680 meters, for 94.32km run together – that like 0.72% which is amazing, considering that Stryd is considered very consistent and accurate in its measurements.

Calories from Polar lower than Garmin every time (with identical physical details)

From calories point of view, Garmin always counted more (with an average of 12.5%), with the same HR measurement and similar physiological values. This says that Polar favors the 24/7 calorie measurement (counting more calories there), whereas Garmin counts more in the workouts.

When we look at the walks, done with only the watches (no Stryd), the situation looks like below:

PolarGarmin
DateDistanceCaloriesHR AvgDistanceCaloriesHR Avg
19-Mar1.911871071.9415298
20-Mar1.931761071.9514689
21-Mar1.871651091.84139110
22-Mar1.891881161.93152106
23-Mar3.253421193.3425594
24-Mar2.612601192.6119795
25-Mar1.951871121.95159115
26-Mar2.12051082.07162100
27-Mar1.932101071.98167104
30-Mar1.962001061.9515097
1-Apr1.952071071.96159108
2-Apr1.952161181.96153102
Walk data comparison with Vantage and 945 (only the watches)

Looking at the distance, the difference is very small, over 12 sessions we have a difference of 180 meters which accounts for 0.71% difference – that’s nothing. The GPS track looks decent, not great, but acceptable.

Blue (Polar) and Orange (Garmin) tracks – not great – acceptable, when walking

If we count the calories, Polar has higher values because usually it has higher average HR values. Considering that both watches were reasonably tight on my left (Garmin) respectively right (Polar) hand, I’d say that under a similar stress Polar measures a higher number, maybe because the sensor digs deeper into your skin and has a better contact.

Calorie and AVG HR comparison – Polar calories are 25% higher, the AVG HR is not following the exact same trend

So, looking at the above figures, you might say that Polar and Garmin are using different algorithms for estimating the calories .. both in resting, daily activity and also during workouts. Strange enough, I couldn’t draw a line to say that Polar is overestimating in every situation, since for running, Polar was under Garmin at calories estimated .. but for all the others, Polar had a significant lead. For GPS, regardless of how many people were complaining about Polar Vantage V performance, I found it solid and reliable – maybe not great when looking at the tracks, but definitely not different from what 945 has to offer. If your comparison goes with V800 or Ambit 2/3, then we are talking about different generations and times – times that won’t come back.

Regarding usability, I found Garmin to be more complete and flexible, allowing a lot of configuration setup but also being intimidating for new users, whereas Polar is simple and effective – if they would only address some annoyances, they would win the heart of many looking for a sports watch with not that many bells and whistles which just works fine.

For example – one minus for Polar is the fact that if you record a session by mistake, after you end it, you don’t have the option to discard it from the watch – you may do that from the mobile or web app, but you can’t decide that the session doesn’t need to be saved. You do have the option if the session is very short, like one minute or less – I noticed that Polar prompts you to discard it because it looks like a mistake, but you don’t have the option on the watch for longer sessions.

One aspect some people may ask about is how the watches are supporting navigation and there you have a big difference – Garmin 945 has full offline maps on the watch allowing you to have turn by turn navigation and many other possibilities (generate a route directly on your watch and use it step by step), whereas Vantage V added route navigation but that’s basic. The distance back home is nice, if you don’t want to get lost, but it’s nowhere near Garmin’s capabilities of “back home”, especially on a hiking where you need a path not only the direction to home. The fact that Vantage V doesn’t have a compass makes it work only if you’re moving .. so you have to move to get some directions. So here, the balance is obviously leaning to Garmin, which is a clear winner. For track and local town runs you may do fine with Polar, but you can go much more than that. The route definition for Polar is not easy, you have to use other external tools to create those, followed by an import. Maybe that will change when they will release the outdoor device (Grit X?) and the integration with Komoot will come. But till then, and even after, Garmin is a clear winner here.

The statistics offered by both watches at the end of the workout are nice and informative with a decent level of details, but I tend not to spend much time looking at the watch but enjoy the larger screen of the phone or computer to look at the workout results.

In terms of extended stats, Garmin offers a lot more, detecting and highlighting various records or changes of performance indicators: so, if you’ll have access to your 5k, 10k, 21k and full-marathon records or any changes of your Lactate Threshold or VO2max – this will be shown on you watch and also recorded in Garmin Connect (mobile and web).

Garmin Connect web – display of records

Also, Garmin platforms collects also details about your used gear (be it shoes, bike or something else) and tracks their use in the workouts – it’s nice and useful if you’re interested to know that by the number of km run you should retire some shoes .. you don’t have to act on it, but at least you’ll know that you run with that pair more than 800 km for example.

Gear gallery in Garmin Connect web – nice feature

Adding this in Polar Flow wouldn’t be difficult, but never made it to their list .. so people learned to find workarounds with Strava, Runnalyze and others.

If you’re into adventure and hiking, than Garmin offers more with magnetic compass, barometer and altimeter that can be calibrated (not available as an option for Polar), maps and guided navigation (better that what Polar offers). For outdoor, even though 945 is not Fenix, Garmin is just a clear winner – this is not the area where Polar offers more than just the basics to do trail running or common hiking, without any fancy stuff – it’s not their game.

Battery life is good on both, with Garmin leading – it gets more than 6 days with a charge, Vantage V is able to last 5 days with the same level of usage (daily walk with GPS, 4 running sessions per week – 2.5 hours with GPS). Garmin 945 battery charges faster, amazingly fast.

So, in terms of sport activity usage, I’d say that both of the watches are very good, with a slight edge to Garmin which offers more versatility and supports with the platforms (and First Beat algorithms) more indicators for your workouts: lactate threshold (details here), VO2max (details here), recovery time (details here). I know that Polar has the VO2max determination and Running Index as well, but the tools and support offered by Garmin is a lot more consistent – guided tests for lactate threshold, automatic changes for HR zones based on the LT for example or max HR. More details about Garmin’s toolset here https://www.garmin.com/en-US/performance-data/running/.

It’s not like if you choose Polar that won’t be enough to measure your progress or be motivated – because you do, the Polar Flow web is a great partner, but Garmin just offers a lot more there (should you need it or be interested in it).

Heart rate accuracy

This is a very disputed subject on any forums, second only to GPS accuracy, I’ll make only some common sense comments here, based on my experience:

  • the optical sensors from both Garmin 945 and Polar Vantage V are perfectly fine for daily activity tracking – I haven’t seen abnormal measurements there
  • the oHR on both is decent and reasonable to use for low intensity workouts (steady running). I haven’t done cycling or swimming to comment on their ability to measure HR in water or when shaking much your hand
  • for HIIT or other challenging workouts, the best experience comes with external HR sensors – Polar OH1 worked just fine for me (I know there are some delays compared with the H10/7 or Garmin HRM, but those are not material – see my comparison here), also the H10 that I used (when properly moisturized) gives great results under all circumstances. You may prefer Garmin HRM for extended stats, but for high intensity sessions, go to an external strap if you want performance. Both 945 and Vantage V may work fine there, but if you have access to a good external strap, use it.

Smartwatch usage

Both FR945 and Vantage V are sport watches so we can’t compare them with the Apple Watch or Google Wear devices, but they do a decent job of keeping you connected with the phone and it’s apps.

Garmin does a better job here, regardless if you’re a iOS or Android user, because it allows much more customization in the settings, allowing you to select what type of notifications you want to receive during working outs and outside of working outs. The selection is not very granular but allows: phone calls, phone calls + messages, all notifications still offering more than the all or nothing approach from Polar which only allows notifications outside workouts. So, if you’re running somewhere and your phone is with you on silent, you won’t receive any notifications from Polar but you could from Garmin (which I enjoy – I only keep the call notifications for both scenarios).

Polar’s options for phone notifications – simple

For Polar you need to move fast, you need to turn the wrist to look at the notification, you can still look at it later but the management of the notifications is so more complicated that with Garmin. If you have an Android phone you are offered more flexibility, you can define which apps may send you notifications or not, but for iOS you’re stuck with all or nothing in terms of notifications. Support for character sets in Polar is not that great, so if I receive messages with Romanian characters, I’ll see some empty spaces or funny images. Garmin on the other hand fully supports Romanian as a OS language (not that I’m using that), but that brings also full support for messages written in Romanian.

Garmin’s options for phone notifications – more versatile

In connection with the phone, you can add for Garmin the fact that it has safety and tracking features that allow your connected watch to send messages (with your GPS position) to a list of emergency contacts in case it detects a sudden fall (or at your request). I won’t mention too much about weather app updates and other music/payment features that may be of interest for people.

Sleep Analysis

This is an interesting topic, or at least it was for me, where Polar wins because it put more focus on it. It talks more, it reports more and gives you more actionable info.

More details available here, where I collected more info on this topic.

Garmin Connect vs Polar Flow

This is a long story, because it goes both on web and mobile…we could see Polar Sync compared with Garmin Express, but that’s not that relevant, since the local desktop tools are only meant to help the updates of the devices when a large data exchange is required and they are doing a decent job, I haven’t had any issues with any of them. Of course, Express is more complex, because it gets to manage a lot more options and data, but nothing more.

The first impression you have when using Garmin Connect for the first time is that you have a lot of data collected there, similar in a way to what you may have seen with Fitbit (at least that was my feeling when I moved from Fitbit Charge 2 to Garmin Forerunner 920XT a long time ago). For example, in my setup (that I didn’t adjusted much), the dashboard displays the following info:

  • insights
  • connections
  • intensity minutes
  • sleep
  • floors climbed
  • weight
  • heart rate
  • steps
  • training plans

What do you do with all those? Glancing over a bit, going maybe into some details for sleep, recent activities (yours or your connections) and that’s kind of it. You can do a lot, but may feel overwhelmed with all the info provided that’s not very actionable.

Many options for widgets to be added in your dashboard in Connect web

So the product offers a lot of information, mostly in a similar look and feel (there are some areas like reports which weren’t yet revamped) and allowing you to do the analysis yourself or plan something. For your activities, you have a good tool in Connect to see a lot of details, to import and export your data.

Nice details, a lot of info – structured, not very actionable

The flexibility of importing and exporting data is great, since you may move data around with ease, adjust (trim) the activity. The only thing missing is the “automatic analysis” that Garmin may do for you and give you some hits how do you “look” and what to do next. The comparison tool is nice for those using the same tracks regularly, also the export and edit capability is great.

Regarding the planning and training, you may select a training plan – you have a lot of options there, covering running, cycling or triathlon – some of the plans being coached plans, some of the being fixed. The coaching plans are nice, because those adjust to your progress during training and have some degree of flexibility when proposing new workouts – it’s not like having a real coach, but it’s more than having to follow a fixed list of workouts regardless of your evolution.

The list of options is long and structured to fit most needs

Another option is to define your own courses using the map and the info Garmin has regarding routing – this is nice, since you can send the route on your watch and navigate it with full map support.

Route creation is great in Garmin Connect web

The tools offered by Garmin in the web app are very powerful and flexible – I haven’t seen so far things that I’d miss, but that created an expectation from other platforms. For example, I appreciated very much the advanced search in activities – for example, if you want to look over your longer than 25 km activities, you could select the range and type of activities, being able to look over the details of that particular list of activities.

Advanced search is gold when look in a large number of activities

PacePro seems to be highly appreciated now, being able to offer you support to define (and execute) a strategy for your race and adapt it to your preferences or abilities. If you have a particular track that you’ll actually race on, it can take also into account the terrain to adapt the pace (similar to running with power). More details available here.

Simple positive pace strategy for half-marathon

Usually, for me the Connect web is the place to go when looking at the various stats and trends, but not all of them are well articulated into guides .. what to do next, if you’re not happy with what you see on the screen.

Training status – nice report, but you need to read more to understand what to do next

The mobile app from Garmin mirrors most of the platform data on the mobile phone, being a powerful companion for viewing and editing a lot of data – for example you can define RacePace strategies, courses, workouts similar to what you can do on web. Except for some exports you can do on the web app, nothing is missing (or I didn’t miss) from the mobile app.

The only drawback of the Garmin mobile app is similar to the web – a lot of structured information, that can be overwhelming and not very actionable. Other than that, the apps are powerful and offer a lot of options.

Polar has two apps (mobile and web) which may look not very fancy in terms of interface, but they are decent and provide the information you need. The approach with the available options on different platforms is not very much balanced like with Garmin, but more on web, mobile than the watch. If I’d have to score the availability of options/customization/features on each platform (without comparing the platforms), I would say the the distribution is:

GarminPolar
Watch options9/105/10
Mobile App9/107/10
Web App10/1010/10
Options capability distribution between platforms for each Garmin and Polar

Basically, that says that if you have only the 945 with you, without the mobile app or access to the web app, you can do most of the things you’d like to do – no need for external support; for Vantage V, you’re limited in what you can do with only the watch, some of the adjustments need to be made on the mobile app or even the web app.

Default look of the Polar Flow web app

Half of the month I didn’t have daily activity, but only imported the activities from Garmin with RunGap app, but nevertheless the Polar approach is oriented to giving you a dynamic view or trend and not only a snapshot (like Garmin). Garmin offers a very detailed daily snapshot, but doesn’t provide much insight over the evolution (you may access some reports, if you really want) whereas Polar gives you by default a longer term overview of your activity.

Garmin has a screen similar to some extend, but not that nice and intuitive.

Garmin Connect Calendar view – has the info, but it’s not that nice (or recently updated)

If you go to a particular day in Polar Web Flow, you’ll have nice summary – the diary screen (below).

Nice snapshot of your day – maybe not the best use of space (some waste there) – but informative
The daily training summary is nice and gives you a good aggregated overview

I found the daily activity screen to be very useful because it gives you access to all important information in a nice way – this is in my opinion the best summary for a day (it’s also replicated in the mobile app).

Daily activity screen – nice and informative

The activity analysis page is very nice as well, particularly when you’re using the structured workouts, because it highlights the compliance with the expected phases

Nice overview for the structured workout – you’ll see easily where you failed

Garmin tried also to mimic that approach, but the result is not that convincing – for example, for target pace structured workouts you’ll see the actual pace value against the average of the phase planed, but that’s not that easy to see as the color based approach from Polar.

Garmin’s approach on highlighting your compliance with the target during structured workouts

It’s not like you can’t understand how you did during workouts when looking at Garmin’s graphs, but Polar just had a more intuitive approach.

When you look over your activities, Polar has some limitations that I don’t understand – you don’t have true means of searching something except if you know exactly the date. No other search fields .. that might create issues to identify (and compare) all your marathons in the last 5 years.

Training history – limited search options

The mobile Polar Flow is a decent solution, having a similar approach in displaying data as the web version (with some limitations); it is a bit slow when synching with the watch – also the sync can be initiated only from the watch and is not automatic [there is a background sync that happens from time to time if your watch and phone are in range, but you don’t have any control over it]. Basically, the mobile app offers 80% of what the web can do, with the exception of sleep analysis and nightly recharge, where the mobile app is better equipped with data (the web flow didn’t get all the views that the watch or mobile app have).

It’s easy to see that the orientation from Polar is towards trends (dynamic) more than static data, most of the things being presented in correlation with time (be it during day, week, month).

Polar inserts more than data into screens, but also some insights about the meaning of those numbers – being more actionable. For example for training benefit, you may find some details here https://support.polar.com/en/support/training_benefit_feature.

Polar Flow web has also the programs, limited only to running but nice as an interface – allowing planning of your running sessions for the event and mixing those with support activities (which is nice). The programs adjust (a bit) in the early phases based on your execution, but are not that flexible as the coach programs provided by Garmin. Also, the programs provided by Polar are, as expected, only HR based.

Running program for half-marathon – screen in Polar Flow Web

The information gets to the Vantage and has priority over FitSpark sessions, but it doesn’t offer the same degree of flexibility that even V800 had or Garmin 945 has, with viewing sessions and full calendar, allowing to use programs from the calendar as you’d like.

Polar has a nice feature, the season planner, for some it might be interested, I wasn’t able to use it properly, maybe I’m not that well organized.

Also, Polar has something called Flow for Coaches, which is an extension of Flow offered for personal trainers and coaches who are using the platform to plan and manage the training of multiple athletes. That’s nice and also free, unlike the platforms like Final Surge, Training Peaks which offer this capability but only for paid users. What Polar is missing though is the ability to offer more for people who self train, if Polar can’t offer a wider variety of training programs on their own, they should let others do that and create packages to sell in the platform. I purchased plans on Final Surge and Training Peaks, I would do it on Flow, or import those purchased already – but more on that below, in the Integrations area.

Integrations

The Polar platform can be integrated with other platforms, for exporting data to Training Peaks, Strava, Runalyze, Final Forge and others, but has no integrations to get data imported in the platform, that is a limitation that keeps the Polar platform kind of isolated. There is an API for people to interact with the platform – details here https://www.polar.com/accesslink-api/#polar-accesslink-api, but that only allows data to be extracted and not imported into the platform.

There are two solutions available for those who sync their training sessions between platforms (for example Garmin Connect and Polar Flow) – I used successfully RunGap (link here) to move things between Garmin and Polar. RunGap is only available on iOS, for Android you may use for the same purpose SyncMyTracks (link here) – I didn’t use it, because I’m using primarily iOS devices. I don’t know what APIs RunGap or SyncMyTracks have used, if they are public or not, but, in my mind, Polar should consider opening up for import the platform since that Flow is one of their strengths and one of the reasons people use their devices.

Garmin had a more open approach, partnering with a lot of other platforms and having also an application platform in ConnectIQ. You’ll find all you need here https://developer.garmin.com/, the most important for me being the Training API which allows people to have their training plans managed on other platforms (like Training Peaks for example, or Final Surge – that’s not yet done) by always synced with Garmin and the watch. This is really neat, because not only you’ll see the results of your training the your platform of choice (you usually can do that with Polar as well), but you can also adjust and have the plans deployed in Garmin Connect and on your watch seamlessly.

Final thoughts

When choosing between the devices, as much as we would like to be objective counting aspects we can measure, it’s always about your preference, about brand awareness and admiration, about your friends (what are they wearing) and many other subjective elements.

If you only count the features and capabilities, Garmin Forerunner 945 is an easy winner because it has some many features and not that many (if any) flaws. It’s a great device, looks decent and you can change the looks with some accessible bands, the platform is a monster in terms of capability, albeit dry when looking about user engagement. If you need a sport device that has music on board, payments, a lot of customization options, then 945 is a great option – actually you can’t match it with offerings from other companies (Suunto, Coros, Polar, Fitbit).

Polar Vantage V is a very nice device as well, maybe better looking (in my view) and has all the qualities a sport passionate may look after and a nice platform. Actually, the orientation of Polar toward the user it’s visible in the apps (mobile and web), where all data is wrapped into something more actionable message. Sleep tracking is better if that counts for you. Vantage has some little annoyances as a device (backlight, just one alarm, limited customisation) but it works fine and is supported by a very powerful platform (which also has its limitations – not that open for partners). The price is lower than 945’s (usually, since both devices enjoy discounts), but you need to really like Polar to take the decision just looking at that, because Garmin wins at price per feature ratio.

PS: For Polar Product Management

If Polar would add the following small (or bigger) things in their device/platform, I would use Polar Vantage V (or Titan) every day – but without those, it’s just hard to justify why I’d select Vantage over the 945:

  • (simple) add more than one alarm
  • (simple) add gear tracking in the Flow platform
  • (simple) more flexibility for structured workouts on the watch
  • (simple-complex) add power based structured workouts – this should make a difference
  • (complex) make Flow APIs for integration with other platforms, to allow coaches to market their training programs through Polar Flow
  • (simple) add more search capabilities in Flow (web)
  • (simple) add a user forum and interact with your users more 🙂

Would that be enough for all? Maybe not, all those looking for music, payments and other nice things like adventure devices will still look somewhere else, but definitely Polar would have a bigger success.

PPS: For Garmin Product Management

This is to say that Garmin is not perfect, even when it enjoys that much success – it looks like with the current rich feature set, the next generations (955 and later) will enjoy even more success – they may get the larger screen from Fenix 6, some power management (like Fenix 6) and even LTE for a higher independence from your phone. But there are areas to improve, in my mind:

  • add Sapphire screen option, since the watch is so versatile and can be used as an outdoor companion (as Fenix) – it may add some weight, but also improves the protection
  • add some coaching abilities, like putting the collected data to work for the user by generating some advice and not just numbers (“You improved your stamina with this workout. Balance it with this and that…”). It’s like getting more personal, it won’t replace coaches or personal trainers.
  • improve sleep analysis -> Garmin can do better with defining a score or something more actionable based on the data they collect.
  • make some of the Garmin Connect (web and mobile) workout analysis screens more intuitive when looking at structured workouts, how much I did right, how much I didn’t, what should I do differently

Author: Liviu Nastasa

Passionate about software development, sociology, running...definitely a geek.

8 thoughts

  1. Very great summary! I can support everything an have only little remarks:
    You can import trainings in Polar Flow with RunGap (IOS) or SyncMaTrack (Android)
    Polar has a free Polar Coach area. Coaches can plan the trainings, see the results and sending comments to the athlet.

    1. Thank you for the comment, you’re right, I used RunGap for importing the workouts from Garmin Connect into Flow, they will contribute to stats and cardio load and that’s fine. I don’t know what APIs RunGap used to do this integration, it would be great to see other integrations as well. Polar Coach is nice if you have a real coach, but if like me you’d use a running plan purchased online, defining it one by one can be a tedious job and you won’t see it as a program inside Flow, but just a long list of workouts. I’ll update the section related to integrations.

  2. Hi. Thanks for the in depth review.
    I am an amateur runner, running mainly on the road, but I do not want to exclude road or biking from my options. Considering that I am using the watch coaching, and do not need the extra smartwatch features, what do you think would be my best choice of a running watch: Garmin frn 245 with chest strap or Polar Vantage V ?

    1. Hi Cosmin,

      First of all, for high intensity running sessions I’d recommend a chest strap or an arm one (like Polar OH1).
      It doesn’t matter how light the watch is or good the oHR is, there are limitations with both watches – FR245 or Vantage V – for wrist heart rate during HIIT sessions.

      My personal choice (based on the experience so far) would be Vantage V for all the nice athlete oriented features it has and also for the Flow platform, which even if is not perfect, is more intuitive than Garmin Connect. You may see some discounts now for Vantage V, which looks more stylish and has the features that I like. That said, you may want to look also at Polar Grit X (https://www.polar.com/en/grit-x) which has an updated hardware [higher contrast screen, better GPS reception (some say), some nice new software features, only missing Recovery Pro] for less money than Vantage V.

      FR245 is a nice watch as well for running if you find it at a great price, but I would still favor Vantage V (or Grit X).

  3. Thanks for the answer, mate. I already have a vivoactive 3 that I use, but it’s not geared towards athletes and the recovery part is non existent. Polar Grit X would above 400 pounds, while I can find the Vantage well unde 350 pounds. I will think about it, though, as the screen on the Grit X looks smashing 🙂

  4. Hi
    I have read many reviews and comparisons, but none of them really went in-depth with the software platforms. You did a nice job on that, not only counting features, but writing about their relevance to an everyday-user.
    Great job man thanks!

  5. Thank you for your very thorough comparison of the 2 watches I am specifically considering to replace my Polar M600. Though the M600 does almost everything I need, it is getting dated. I would stick with Polar but for some reason they don’t include a music player like most all other brands do(?). Lastly, do you know if the FR945 can do manual laps? Sometimes I want to record a specific leg of a run but it’s not possible for M600 which only does 1km laps. All the best!

  6. Polar has a very nice ecosystem and if you’re use to it – Vantage V have good prices now, after the release of Vantage V2. No offline music on Vantage V2 as well, just music controls … but I need to admit that I only used Spotify on my Garmin devices only 2-3 times over the last 2 years. It’s not that I don’t enjoy music .. but it doesn’t play an important role in my decision when selecting a sport watch. FR945 has manual laps – similar to Vantage, and even more .. you can advance through phases in a structured workout on Garmin, whereas you can’t do that with Vantage V (Polar wants to have you more disciplined).

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