Geek runner dilemma (Garmin or Polar)

Over the last 2-3 months I spent less time training, definitely less than I would have wanted – Covid got in the way … but all came back to normal (almost) with the start of 2021.

For me, one of the big motivators for sport is the data of my training sessions and that depends on the input. Since I’m lucky enough to have a number of devices that are very nice – Polar Vantage V2, Garmin Fenix 6X and Garmin Forerunner 945 – it easy to create a dilemma – should I use Garmin or Polar? I was tempted to buy an Oura ring as well, but both Garmin Fenix 6X and Polar Vantage V2 have acceptable to good sleep analysis, so I saved the Oura money for the next watch .. be it Garmin Fenix 7, Suunto (maybe) or even an update of my Stryd.

For the period of time I stayed inside, Polar had a slight advantage, since it not only measures the steps you make, but also takes into consideration any activity (indoor cycling for example or strength sessions) to count against your activity target (more details here) whereas Garmin is very efficient at counting steps, but that doesn’t help too much if you’re not outdoor or running and might demotivate you after several hours of intense indoor cycling.

Side by side – Fenix 6X and Vantage V2

During the Covid-19 sickness period, I grabbed the Fenix 6X because it measures the Body Battery (more details here) and that was nice. The recent on-device sleep analysis that Garmin released on Fenix 6 family of watches is pretty similar in results with the sleep score Polar provides and the accuracy is much improved.

I’m aware that in terms of features, Garmin wins hands down, but not all of those features are important for me (music, payment) – some are, but I can live without for a while (maps are good when running/cycling in unknown places or hiking) so I can always take the Vantage V2 for a ride and not miss that much the functions Garmin has (maybe the “Resume Later” sometimes). I use Polar OH1, Polar H10 for HR measurements (I won’t rely on oHR, even though I’d say that Polar wins here because of lightness and maybe it’s sensor size) and Stryd for distance, pace and power.

Polar Vantage V2 is a very nice looking watch (from my point of view), light and comfortable – now has most of the functions you’d like to have in a running watch. Because it lacks ANT+ (most probably is a software limitation and not a hardware one), it has some limits for cycling, but I can live with that as well. I enjoy it for the lightness, the look and the intuitivity of Flow web app. As nice as it is, Flow is not without flaws – it’s very limited in activity search, it has only running plans, no routes editor, no equipment tracking, pretty closed system – but has very good graphs.

In terms of GPS accuracy, the distance measured by the Vantage V2 is very close or identical to the one measured by the Stryd footpod and since I have a Stryd footpod, I’ll use that for distance/pace/power. The native running power support is a missed opportunity at Polar (unlike Coros), even the Vantage V2 can only have structure workouts defined on the mobile app, but not on the web app .. it feels like the Polar development team is (too) limited in size, they can’t maintain the feature sync between their own platforms – I presume (read hope), they will eventually bring it in the web app .. I was actually dreaming of even having training plans based on running power.

Vantage V2 – close up

As for the Garmin Fenix 6X, it has all the features I could dream of .. cool stats, Threshold/FTP tests, Body Battery, multiple alarms(?!), long battery life, maps and navigation features … yes, it comes with a higher price but once you have it, you shouldn’t look around for anything else, right? It’s comfortable, I don’t mind wear it during night or running even if it’s close to double the weight of 945 or Vantage V2. As an outdoor watch, it has no rival … maybe Suunto 9 for Suunto fans (but the feature comparison doesn’t help the older S9), Grit X is not in my mind a real competition for Fenix when you can’t save your location or see your coordinates.

Fenix 6X – close up

Tough choice when you like them both? Maybe for some, they may have an easy choice praising the qualities of one watch or the other … but I like them both (and actually there was a period when I wore them both).

The decision is that for the next 3 months, unless something important comes in the way, I’ll use only the Vantage V2 and register for a running plan from Polar. I started today with a Running Test, which was nice .. to setup the HR zones .. I’m a bit afraid of the zones, they seem low for me .. but I’ll try .. I’ll re-take the test regularly to accommodate any fitness level changes.

Running test results – first step
HR zones – a bit too low, but that might be handy after Covid

The Half Marathon Polar plan seems rather low volume, usually 5 hours of running in a week, which is not too much compared with other plans (for example 80/20 Half Marathon Level 2 plan from Matt Fitzgerald that I’ve used in the past has 5-7.5 hours of training per week). One nice thing is that you get also supportive activities in the plan as well and that comes handy.

Low volume but you get supportive activities

I’ll probably write more about my journey and progress during the plan, next step would be the next Running test which I plan 3 weeks from now.

Author: Liviu Nastasa

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

7 thoughts

  1. I’m looking at the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro.
    The Polar is a nice looking watch and the Garmin looks huge next to it.
    I want to wear the Garmin at night for the sleep measurements, but it looks like I could hurt myself with it.
    Does your Garmin have the 51mm display?
    If the Fenix wasn’t so expensive I would have bought one by now.
    My 610 is dyeing a slow death and doesn’t sync anymore. It is 5 years old.

    1. The 6X is a big watch no doubt (51mm), but you have good options with either 6 Pro or 6s Pro – same functionality in a smaller size. I picked the 6X because of display size/resolution primarily and the longer battery life (22 days of use with some outdoor activities). In the recent months I’ve seen that Garmin had some interesting promotions, going to discounts of 30%, at least in Romania.
      If you want to stick with the Forerunner series, 945 is a very good option and is lighter. It might not have the looks of Fenix, but has most of the functions-eventually I think it will get the sleep on watch powered by FirstBeat (which comes closer to what Polar offers now). There are rumors of a new 955 coming, but don’t expect a very friendly price at launch.
      745 might be also an option, but without maps and the current price being still high – I’d pick the Vantage V2 over it.

      1. Great insights. Thank you. In the US I’ve never seen Garmin on sale. When new models come out they drop prices on the previous models. Now that my 610 won’t sync I don’t think I can wait much longer. The 6x is expensive but it does a lot more than just tell time.

      2. Depending on your budget, I’d say that you have a series of good options from Garmin (945, Fenix 6 and 6s pro). If you’d consider something else, Coros has some nice recent watches supporting very well the Stryd footpod, at decent prices. When Wahoo will update properly the new watch – Elemnt Rival – that might be also an option for triathlon – for now, it’s not there.

  2. Have you made up your mind? Which watch you’ve picked? I have a Vantage V and I am thinking about switching to fenix 6. I am a little worried that 6x will be to big and uncomfortable to run with. On the other hand I tried them on and 6x didn’t seem to be that big.

    1. I have both 6X and Vantage V2, but the daily driver is Garmin, because I’m enjoying the Stryd training plans integration. I still take VV2 from time to time for a run (in parallel) and I found it pretty accurate in distance measurement. Vantage V2 is lighter and looks stylish, but the features from Garmin are just so hard to beat and if you have the money, it’s just hard to recommend VV2 over Fenix 6. Battery life, maps, integration with Stryd, Final Surge, Training Peaks are all very nice. If you like Polar Flow, VV2 is better than VV, but doesn’t justify paying the full upgrade price.

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