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Polar Pacer Pro GPS Running Watch In-Depth Review

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was the Polar Pacer watch. This was an era before GPS, before optical HR, and before countless other metrics that we didn’t even know would exist someday. Back then, it was time to party like it was…err…1990. Because that’s about when the original Polar Pacer came out. However, fast-forward many years and Polar is reviving the brand with two new watches: The Polar Pacer & Polar Pacer Pro. This post is about the Polar Pacer Pro, whereas the less expensive Polar Pacer will arrive in a few months.

So what is the Polar Pacer Pro? Well, in a nutshell, it’s basically a Polar Vantage M2, but with almost all the features of the GRIT X series. So it adds a barometric altimeter, Hill Splitter, Running Power, Muscle Load, Strava Live Segments, and courses/routing. Thus, while Polar is branding and marketing this heavily as a running watch, practically speaking, it’s a full multisport watch.

The Polar Pacer Pro also has a new display, faster processor, and more memory. You won’t notice/care about the memory, but the processor is noticeably faster in some cases. And the display is better, albeit definitely not groundbreaking. And despite rumors to the contrary, it’s not an AMOLED/LCD display (like the Polar Unite or Polar Ignite), but a less flashy MIPS display like you’d see on a Garmin Forerunner or Fenix series (among many other watches).

As usual, this watch is a media loaner, and it’ll go back to Polar shortly. This review is not sponsored (nor does any company get to preview anything I review), and I don’t take any advertiser money from any companies I review. And as regular readers know, if something is crap, I’m gonna tell it brutally like it is – no matter the brand. Once this unit goes back, I’ll go out and get my own for any future testing needs. If you found this review useful, you can use the links at the bottom, or consider becoming a DCR Supporter which makes the site ad-free, while also getting access to a mostly weekly video series behind the scenes of the DCR Cave. And of course, it makes you awesome.

With that, let’s dig into the newness.

What’s New:

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The Polar Pacer Pro is largely about shifting higher-end features down-level to a sub-$300 price point. So in effect, almost nothing is ‘new to Polar’ here (except the walking test). Which is frankly how most brands are doing it these days (including Garmin). But more on that later.

Given that the last time there was a Polar Pacer product was 30 years ago, I’m going to skip 30 years of smartwatch improvements (as fun as that’d be). Instead, I’m going to use the Polar Vantage M2, which is also priced at $299. While one might try and argue the Polar M430, that’s five years old and well past stinky. No, the Vantage M2 is the right comparison. So, here’s how it differs:

– Added barometric altimeter
– Added faster processor, more memory
– Added new clearer screen/display
– Added wrist-based running power (no accessories required)
– Added Hill Splitter (hill repeat counter)
– Added route navigation
– Added Strava Live Segments
– Added Performance Tests (Walking, Running, Cycling)
– Added Polar SHIFT strap accessory compatibility
– Added Compass during activity/workout
– Added Smartphone notifications during workout
– Increased GPS battery life to 35hrs from 30hrs
– Increased waterproofing spec to 50m from 30m on Vantage M2

If I’ve got everything roughly straight in my head, the key differences the M2 doesn’t have that this does is a barometric altimeter, running power, performance tests, longer battery life, SHIFT compatibility, Hill Splitter, Strava Live Segments, and then Route Navigation.

So at this point, you can see that the Pacer Pro basically sideswipes any reason to buy the Polar Vantage M2. There’s literally no logical reason you’d buy that watch at the same price (both are currently $299). I’ve gotta wonder if this is Polar quietly killing off the Polar Vantage M lineup (note officially, they say they aren’t). Especially since the base Polar Pacer basically has almost all the same features as the M2, but at $100 less.

Either way, M2’s fate aside – what matters here is features vs not. And there’s absolutely zero reason to buy the Polar Vantage M2 at this juncture (and Polar confirmed the Pacer Pro has every feature the Vantage M2 does).

Now, how does it differ from the upcoming (May-timeframe) $199 Polar Pacer edition? Well, according to Polar, these are the differences:

– No Barometric Altimeter
– No Hill Splitter
– No Running Power
– No Route Navigation

In other words, it’s basically a Vantage M2. Actually, it has more features than that since it has the Running Performance test. In any event, I don’t have one of those watches yet, so I can’t make any opinions beyond the specs listed above.

Finally, what does the Polar Pacer Pro lack compared to the more expensive Grit X or Polar Vantage V2 (both of which are identical feature-wise these days, only differing in bezel/material differences)? Ask and you shall receive:

– No Leg Recovery Test
– No Orthostatic Test
– No Recovery Pro
– No Touchscreen
– No Trackback navigation
– No Outdoor Dashboards (Altimeter, Coordinates, Compass, Daylight times)
– No Audio Alerts
– Differences to design/materials

Got all that? Good. Let’s get into the box.

In the Box:

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First up, we’ve got the box – or rather, the box contents.

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Inside you’ll find the watch, a charging cable, paper pile, and strap adapters for the SHIFT straps (those were previously announced last fall).

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I’ll have more than enough shots of the watch itself in this review, so here’s a quick one before I potentially get this dirty or scraped up or something.

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Then we’ve got the charging cable. This is, unfortunately, new. It looks very similar to the Unite series charging cables, except that those are slightly rounded, so the two aren’t compatible.

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It’s not awesome. While the existing Polar Vantage series charging connector/cable isn’t necessarily the best connector on the market, it’s pretty solid and doesn’t draw any meaningful annoyance. Whereas this connector seems to constantly fail to either stay attached when I move something around on my desk, or, doesn’t ‘click’ right into place – making me constantly double-check alignment. Again, this isn’t a huge deal, but it’s a clear step back.

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Oh, and there’s that small pile of paper guides. You won’t need that either by the time you’re done with this review. It basically tells you to wash your wrist and watch every once in a while or you’ll die from dysentery like the Oregon Trail. Also, if you do something stupid like 32×800 repeats on the track, you might die too – in which case it’s definitely your fault (even if you use Polar Flow to create the workout).

Anyways, here’s how it compares to the Polar Vantage M2 (left), Pacer Pro (center), and Grit X Pro (Right):

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Above is straight-on, but you can see the display differences more easily at-angle, where the newer display is crisper and the blacks are darker/sharper. Taking comparative display photos is always tough, because the camera is essentially exposing properly for only one watch at a time.

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Got all that? Good, let’s get to using it.

Basics:

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This section is all about the basic usability, things like step/activity tracking, sleep tracking, and basic usability of the watch. By and large, nothing in this section has changed on this watch in many years of Polar watches. You can pick and choose any one to compare it to, and this stuff has basically remained stagnant (more on that at the end of the review).

To begin, the Polar Pacer Pro has five buttons to navigate all the functions (no touchscreen). Generally speaking, the left side has the back button (bottom left) and lock/menu button (upper left), while the right side has an up/down option and the middle is your confirmation/enter button.

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Arguably the biggest upgrade on the Pacer Pro is the new MIPS display. This provides more clarity than any of Polar’s current Vantage series watches. This display isn’t AMOLED/OLED/LCD (like the Ignite/Unite), but akin to what you’d see on other brands

I had no problems at all viewing it outside in direct sun, nor at sunset on an overcast day, without a backlight on. There is backlight though of course, which seems a bit more ‘clean’ looking than the Polar Vantage M2, meaning there isn’t as much white-light from under the black areas as there was on that unit. Overall, this isn’t a massive change for Polar, but more of an incremental one. This is kinda like the processor change – it’s not massive. And in fact, the first day I was using it, it seemed really quick. But it seems to have slowed slightly since then, to basically be the same in most situations as the Grit X Pro or Vantage M2. Only a few times will it be quicker.

Meanwhile, flipping it over you’ve got the optical heart rate sensor. As is tradition with Polar watches, every single watch seems to have a different optical HR sensor. This time they’ve gone back to the Ignite sensor, seemingly ditching the Polar Vantage V2/Grit X series sensor (probably a good idea based on the performance I see there). The sensor is used for both workouts as well as 24×7 tracking of heart rate.

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This also includes the tracking of sleep metrics, like breathing rate. Note that during a workout it goes into a higher power mode for more accurate HR measurement there. I point that out because if you don’t put it (like any other watch) into workout mode, you won’t get accurate heart rate measurements during high-intensity workouts.

On the strap side, the unit comes out of the box with a not-quickly-removable-strap. However, in the box was the Polar Shift adapter, which basically gives you a standard watch strap mount to connect your own straps to:

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Ok, back to the watch face, and you’ve got so-called ‘Dashboards’. These are basically different widget pages that display consolidated information about areas like steps, sleep, workout history, training, and more (such as weather, music controls, etc…). The way Polar designs their dashboards, is that the main date/time screen can be seen at all times on them, but you can iterate what’s shown along the bottom as a ‘preview’ of more detailed information about that dashboard page (e.g. steps/workouts/heart-rate/etc…). Here’s the weather page example:

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And then I can tap that to get more detailed weather information:

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The same is true for steps. And once I crack open the steps page, I can get more information about the step count for the day:

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Of course, all of this information is then synced to the Polar Flow smartphone app (as well as the Polar Flow web platform). This happens via Bluetooth on your phone, or a USB cable on your computer.

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The pattern is largely the same for the other data sets, like heart rate. In this case, you’ll see your max heart rate as well as both daytime and sleep minimums. In this case, I suffered through the running test a few hours ago:

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And again, you’ll find all this up on Polar Flow too:

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One area that’s a bit different though is the sleep pages. At first glance, it seems similar, but as you dig deeper into it you’ll get a slew of sleep information. This includes both the Sleep Plus Stages and Nightly Recharge. The first piece covers aspects like what time you went to bed/woke-up, and then your estimated sleep phases. Whereas the Nightly Recharge looks at how recovered you were that night. Note that nightly recharge takes three days’ worth of data before it starts showing the goods, and that the longer you wear the watch (at night) the better/more accurate it becomes.

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As you open the main dashboard page you’ll get a flood of sleep-related data to dig into:

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And all of this is also more easily viewed in the Polar Flow app too:

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In terms of sleep accuracy, the Polar Pacer Pro correctly identified the time I fell asleep and the time I woke up, as well as any time I was awake. It also guesstimated at my sleep stages. As I’ve talked about numerous times, sleep phases/stages is at best, in a clinical setting highly wishy-washy, and that’s with full medical equipment and a trained team doing the analysis. Thus, it’s not something I put much faith in at the wearable level, nor do I have any means to accurately test this on a day-to-day basis.

Beyond that, there are a few other dashboards, and you can tweak which pages are shown within the settings, to either include or skip dashboard pages as you scroll through.

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In terms of some quick smartwatch basics, you’ll see text messages show up automatically, assuming you’ve got it paired up and in-range of your smartphone:

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And while the watch doesn’t have any music storage on it, you can control the music on your phone. You’ll see that it does pull the correct icon for the app it’s controlling, so you can see the Spotify icon shown there. I can skip/rewind/pause/play on the main screen, as well as tap the volume icon to increase volume.

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And again, just to be super-clear here, there’s no music storage on the Polar Pacer Pro itself, it’s merely controlling music on your phone.

With all those basics covered, let’s dig into the sporting side of the unit.

Sports Usage:

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The Polar Pacer Pro is by far the most capable sports watch Polar has ever made at this price point (or, anywhere near it). It’s only missing a handful of less critical features from their higher-end $400-$500 GPS watch lineup. In this section, I’ll dig into how all the sports-focused features work, since undoubtedly if you’re buying this watch, it’s for the sports aspects.

First up, to choose a sport, you’ll either long-hold the red button, or press the lower-left button and choose to start training (or, start a test – more on that later). Once you’ve done that, you’ll be shown your sport profiles, and it’ll start searching for heart rate, and GPS (if an outdoor activity).

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The Polar Pacer Pro can store up to 20 sport profiles on it, with each of these profiles having customized calorie burn, data fields, and other settings (like auto lap). These sport profiles are configured on Polar Flow, which is accessible from your smartphone app or the website itself. There’s a boatload of profiles to choose from, though for the most part many can be pretty similar. The main differences tend to be customized calorie burn to that given activity.

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As noted though, this is where you can customize data fields and other settings, for example making a custom profile for trail running with data pages that are unique, versus another profile for road running.

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Once you’ve got that all settled, you’ll long-hold the bottom left button to sync it back to the watch. The sync takes perhaps a minute most of the time, from a smartphone. It’s a bit faster if doing it on a computer via USB cable.

Back on the watch, you’ll see the icons turn green when it has GPS and heart rate lock. You’ll always want to wait for those before starting. In most cases, you’ll get heart rate lock in 1-5 seconds, and I’ve been getting GPS lock in 10-15 seconds (zero problems there). If you decide to depart the platform before those lock, you’ll generally have poor results for much of your workout, since it’ll struggle to find lock. If you’ve got any paired sensors (like a Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor or power meter, or a Bluetooth Smart heart rate strap), it’ll show a blue icon for those.

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As for sensor types it supports, it’s the same as before, they are:

– Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Straps
– Bluetooth Smart Cycling Power Meters
– Bluetooth Smart Cycling Cadence & Speed Sensors
– Bluetooth Smart Running Footpods
– Bluetooth Smart Running Power Meters

Now the Polar Pacer Pro doesn’t require any running power meter accessories to get running power, it does it internally like the Polar Vantage V & Grit X series has. However, for cycling, you will need an external power meter. I tried connecting it to a pair of Garmin Rally pedals and a pair of PowerTap P2 pedals, and neither worked. This is par for the course with Polar and power meter support. I don’t really know what to say here, this hasn’t changed in years. Polar used to be really good on Bluetooth accessory compatibility, but these days it’s like they just don’t care anymore.

To pair sensors, you’ll head to the general settings menu, and then sensors from there. Note that if you have a Polar heart rate strap already in your Polar Flow account, they actually automatically pre-pair them to your watch. Meaning, if you’ve got a Polar H10, it’ll actually automatically stick the sensor details into the watch when you turn it on. Again, the blue pairing icon on the start screen is your indicator that it’s using that instead of the optical sensor.

For all my testing I used the optical HR sensor on the back of the unit (since I already know the external Polar H10 chest strap works perfectly fine). So with that set, let’s head out for a simple run first. As you’re running you’ll see your data fields shown on the watch, and you can iterate through the data pages to see other configured pages.

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While I lack many hills, I did get to poke briefly at Hill Splitter, which was added to the Polar Grit X two years ago. That’s a hill-repeat counter of sorts that automatically detects climbing up a hill, and shows you stats for that specific climb.

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This is substantially different than something like Garmin’s ClimbPro, in that ClimbPro is predictive and based on a planned route (showing you distance/height till top of climb). Whereas Polar’s Hill Splitter is all about what you’ve done on this current climb. So Garmin is better for going on a 50KM trail run in the Alps with a planned route, whereas Polar’s is better for a Tuesday night hill repeat session in your neighborhood.

Even if you load a route up on the Polar Pacer Pro, it won’t give you that per-climb guidance. However, it will give you turn-by-turn guidance if that route comes from Komoot. If you want more details on how that works, see my detailed navigation section in the Polar Grit X Pro review, as the functionality is the same here.

Now, in the event you loaded up a structured workout (which you can create on Polar Flow), then it’ll show the specific targets for those as well. I did a set of 800 repeats this past weekend with it, whereby it guided me through each workout stage, including both work and recovery sections. In this case, I did a workout with running power targets for each chunk. Polar running power hasn’t changed any in the last few years, but it’s great to see it included at this price point built-in.

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In this case, it automatically iterated from section to section, effectively pressing the lap button for me. But in non-guided workouts, you can press the lap button to create a lap manually, or you can do auto laps based on the sport profile settings (which can, and likely will, differ between sports). Polar also supports concurrent automatic and manual laps, in case you want to do different analysis later on.

Post-run, you’ll get a summary of your work on the watch itself, here’s a gallery of that:

And then all of this is synced to Polar Flow as well as 3rd party sites like Strava or TrainingPeaks.

During my workouts I had zero issues in terms of display visibility or button responsiveness. For pacing stability, that was a bit iffier. So, this is a good time to look at one of the two Polar Performance tests I did and why that matters, which were the walking test and then the running test.

First up is the new walking test. The theory behind this is that the Polar Pacer Pro can determine your VO2Max from just walking for 15 minutes. Though, as I’d find out, you have to walk really darn fast to keep the watch happy. First up, you’ll warm-up for 5 minutes:

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Then, it asks you to speed-up to keep your heart rate above 121bpm (or, at least 121bpm in my case). And you’ll stay at that for 10 minutes. I’d point out that for more fit individuals, you might find this challenging. In fact, so did Polar. For the entire test duration, every few seconds it was yelling at me not to run. I wasn’t running (not even close), but, apparently my fast walking speed made it think I was. But keeping my HR high enough was tricky.

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At the end of the test, it said my VO2Max was 48. Generally speaking, when I test (either lab or on other watches), I float in the 58-61 range. So, this was substantially lower than that. Massively lower.

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So, the next day I went out and did the Polar Running Test. I figured on this I’d probably test a little bit lower than normal, since this has been my 4th consecutive day of running, but that’s fine. The Running Test starts off with a 10-minute warm-up, and then resets back to a painfully slow 20-30 minute build from fast walking up all the way up to dying while running. It’s basically a ramp test, whereby you fail when you can’t maintain the requested pace any longer. One issue I’d note is that with the GPS wobble, I saw instant-pace responsiveness that was a bit weird at times. That mattered in the run test, because as I’d make long/lazy turns on the path (not 90° angles), the pace might drop (or rise) significantly, which in turn upset the run test app that would warn me if I spent too much time out of zone. It reset once actually, and I had to start again early on in the first test. But the second test went fine.

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In this test, I scored 56, which is about where I figured I’d be on slightly sore legs. Fresh legs/recovery would probably have put me at 58 or so.

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Either way, this is hugely different than the 48 from the new walking test.  I asked Polar about the discrepancy on my walking test, but didn’t receive any answer as to why there was such a discrepancy. It’s an odd miss for a company that generally gets physio-type sports metrics/testing right.

After your workout you can review all of this information – both tests and regular workouts – on Polar Flow. In the case of regular workouts, those will also sync over to any 3rd party connected platforms you’ve set up like Strava or TrainingPeaks. And of course, you can just view the details right in the Polar Flow app itself:

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As for the tests, those too show up in a dedicated section for suffering (testing):

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And after all that, you can go back to your dashboards and get suggestions from FitSpark for stretching or other supportive workouts:

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Each day it’ll give you a suggested cardio workout, and then after you’ve completed that (or any other workout), it’ll give you a supportive or strength workout. These aren’t tied to a specific training plan (like building towards a marathon), but rather, aimed at giving you a ‘Workout of the day’ concept. And doing so in a way that doesn’t get you injured.

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Depending on the type of workout you choose it’ll give you the specific steps and guidance in the watch itself. There are cardio-focused running workouts with different intensities. And then there are core type workouts too, and for those, it’ll give you the specific moves to do, along with animations and text for each one:

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Again, if you’re on a structured training plan towards a specific-season race, this frankly isn’t for you. Instead, it’s for folks who don’t have a specific training plan, but just want to keep active in an endurance-sports-focused manner. The watch won’t mess around, it’ll throw down solid workout suggestions, so don’t think you’re just gonna get a bunch of 30-minute easy-peasy stretching workouts.

Meanwhile, if you’re on a structured training plan, then you’ll probably be using the Cardio Load status portions. But first, you’ve got the Weekly Training dashboard, which shows you your training load each week (in my case, resetting yesterday), inclusive of the exact HR zone breakdowns.

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However, in concert with that is the actual Cardio Load dashboard. This shows you whether or not your training is productive. On the main dashboard page you’ll see a quick overview, and then once you dig into it, you’ll get the exact details of what it thinks about your workout habits:

Note that the core difference here to the Polar Vantage V/Grit series is that those also have Recovery Pro tracking, whereas the Polar Pacer Pro doesn’t have that. Still, it’ll give you general guidance about whether you have too much load or too little load, which can be used as a proxy for recovery thoughts.

Meanwhile, the full Recovery Pro on the higher-end units does require a chest strap at least three times a week to get the full Orthostatic test and associated recovery data. Still, you can use the Nightly Recharge data on the Vantage M2 (as discussed earlier in the basics section) as a pretty good proxy for recovery.

GPS & HR Accuracy Testing:

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There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I don’t place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy. In the case of the Polar Pacer Pro, Polar confirmed the GPS chipset is the same as found in the Vantage M2 series (which, is basically the same as all their recent watches – based on Sony).

Meanwhile, for HR accuracy testing I’m typically wearing a chest strap (usually the Garmin HRM-PRO, or Polar H10) as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the bicep (lately the Whoop 4.0 band and/or Polar Verity Sense). Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

We’ll start off with relatively easy workouts, before getting into more complex workouts. First up is a steady-state run, which wasn’t in super-complex GPS conditions. This is compared to a Polar H10 chest strap, and a Garmin Descent G1 watch on the other wrist (basically an Instinct 2 Solar but for diving). Here’s that HR data set:

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This is actually a textbook-perfect case of when optical HR can do better than chest straps in early spring/fall conditions. In those cases you’re often wearing lighter clothing, and thus sweat less early on. So you see here the Polar H10 was actually wrong for the first few mins, but the optical HR sensors were correct (both Garmin and Polar). Within a few minutes all three converged. You do however see a few drops/spikes from the Polar Pacer Pro though about 1/3rd of the way through the workout. Though, these only lasted a few seconds, and then went away.

On the GPS side of that workout, at a high level things look fine.

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However, as you zoom in, none of the units did particularly well for the underpass, including both approach and exit of it. For this section, the Garmin Descent G1 was offset more than the others.

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However, a minute or so later, we’d see me swimming in the canal from the Polar Pacer Pro. This should have been easy pickings for GPS here, since it’s a straight path with virtually no meaningful tree cover this time of year. Again, this isn’t bad, it’s just meh.

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Next we’ve got an interval run, with 800s tossed into it, as well as being both in the trees and the open. This was compared against the same set of watches and HR straps, except, I added the Whoop 4.0 band to the mix as well. As you can see, the Polar Pacer Pro optical HR nailed this one. Whereas the Garmin Descent G1 had some substantial issues at the peaks of each interval (what’s odd is that it seemed to track the initial ramp of each interval where sensors fail). There were a few very minor nitpicky bobbles from the Polar Pacer Pro, but again, you can’t even notice them unless you really squint and look close. Solid job here.

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On the GPS side for this set, I was largely in the woods (or under tree cover). And again, at a high level things look OK – albeit you can see hints of trouble brewing down below:

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None of the units had major failures here, but again both the Polar Pacer Pro and Descent G1 just wobbled a bit off-track, usually by upwards of 15-25 meters. Below you can see that in the lower-left section it was the Polar missing the turn, whereas in the mid-section it was the Garmin being offset.

 

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And then here in deeper woods, both the Descent G1 and Polar Pacer units were offset from the track. Albeit, the Garmin Instinct 2 did stay on-trail, which is notable because in theory the Descent G1 and Instinct 2 are the same watch under the covers.

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Next, we’ve got the running test I did. In theory this should be a relatively easy optical heart rate test, since the rate of change is exceptionally low (ok, painfully low). It’s usually rate of change that impacts optical HR the most (so a sudden sprint for example). And indeed, this was pretty much spot-on with the Garmin HRM-PRO chest strap. The Whoop had some bobbles during the ramp portion for a minute or two, but otherwise they all matched.

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Again GPS-wise I was mostly in the woods here, albeit on largely straight paths.

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As with before, we see some off-track issues from the Polar Pacer Pro, such as this section below in the lower right where it gets really wobbly as I’m walking (almost instantly at the exact spot I transition from hard run to cool-down, it goes askew). And then stays offset through most of the way across the wetlands.

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In this other section, we see both the Apple Watch Series 7 and Polar Pacer Pro trade turns in being offset, though, the Instinct seems to nail this section. The Apple Watch’s failures are largely the age-old Mario Kart cornering it does every once in a while (exhibited here at low-speed turns). Whereas the Pacer Pro’s issues were just being offset from the track. Though, the majority of the workout was largely correct.

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Lastly, we’ve got an indoor cycling workout on a Peloton Bike. This wasn’t a super intense workout, but is nonetheless a good test to double-check. This is compared to the Descent G1’s optical HR, and the Polar H10 chest strap (paired to the bike). In this set, it trends well enough, however, you see about half a dozen HR spikes throughout. This is something I’ve seen on other recent Polar watches with a slightly different optical HR sensor (Vantage & Grit X series), though haven’t seen it much on the other datasets from the Polar Pacer Pro. Again, it’s minor here, but does stick out when it happens.

Set4-HR

Ok, so overall aside from a few minor issues, the optical heart rate on the Polar Pacer Pro did well for me in my testing, and again seems to mirror my sentiment that the recent Vantage M2 & Grit X Pro sensors aren’t quite as dependable as the sensor used here and originally in the Polar Ignite 2. In these cases, it’s performed quite well, even across demanding intervals.

As for GPS, it’s a solid ‘meh’. It did better than the Garmin Descent G1 (dive-focused watch), but generally was beaten slightly by the Garmin Instinct 2. It didn’t have any massive errors, but just wasn’t write-home-great either. I worry that for a device positioned to compete for the next 1-2 years, it might have challenges doing so as other vendors implement dual-frequency GPS at the mid-range tiers. I think you can get by without dual-frequency as long as your regular GNSS performance is fine, and this is right on the line of ‘fine’. Again, not bad, just not great.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks, and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Wrap-Up:

DSC_9963

The Polar Pacer Pro is a conflicting watch to me. From a usability standpoint, it largely works well and does exactly what it says it’s going to do. If I compare it to existing higher-end Polar watches, they basically just gave you almost no reason to buy their higher-end units – with only a few features missing. And the display is definitely more readable – which is good. The part that leaves me conflicted is that in many ways I feel like this is mostly just re-arranging the (features) chairs on the deck. Exempting the new walk test that clearly didn’t work, there’s nothing new from Polar here. And I worry, not enough movement to excite potential buyers away from the competition.

What makes this even more conflicting is that in the grand scheme of things, Garmin & COROS also do the same in terms of taking higher-end features and shifting them downstream to cheaper watches. Except the fundamental (and massive) difference is the speed at which that happens. Polar is essentially taking features from 4-7 years ago and shifting them down-level. Whereas when Garmin iterates to the sub-$300 level, it’s taking features from 1-2 years ago and making them available. If we look at this watch purely from a running standpoint (which is how Polar explicitly markets it) – it has a very challenging time competing with the $199-$299 competition including Garmin & COROS (especially in Garmin’s case with PacePro, or COROS’s case with the $199 pricing). And I only expect that gap to significantly widen over the course of 2022.

The more I think about it, I think Polar’s mistake was actually trying to revive the Polar Pacer branding for this watch and billing it as a “Runner’s Watch”. Yes, it works good for runners, but from a runner’s standpoint, it’s just not competitive to the other options. Instead, where it is incredibly competitive is as a triathlete/multisport watch. It’s a very very very good deal there, and while COROS is much cheaper at $199, COROS can’t hold a candle to Polar’s performance tracking and daily activity aspects (or even the Polar Flow app/platform).

I don’t know how to tie all that up into a nifty bow to complete this review in a single satisfying paragraph, other than to say that sometimes it’s not about the technology or the features, but how you frame the intentions. And in this case, no matter how good the tech is, it’s framed for the wrong audience. But if you’re a triathlete, it’s a hidden gem.

With that – thanks for reading!

Found This Post Useful? Support The Site!

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

If you're shopping for the Polar Pacer Pro or any other accessory items, please consider using the affiliate links below! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. Even more, if you use Backcountry.com or Competitive Cyclist with coupon code DCRAINMAKER, first time users save 15% on applicable products!

Here's a few other variants or sibling products that are worth considering:

And finally, here’s a handy list of accessories that work well with this unit (and some that I showed in the review). Given the unit pairs with just about any Bluetooth Smart sport sensors, you can use just about anything though.

Wahoo RPM Sensor

This dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart sensor will transmit cadence not only to your bike computer/watch, but also 3rd party apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, and more.

Wahoo SPEED Sensor

Speed sensors are primarily useful for offroad usage. I don't find much of a need for one while road-cycling, but for mountain bike trails they can help alleviate speed/distance issues with poor GPS reception in dense trees.

This is a strap I often use in testing/comparisons. It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, but it also supports the 5kHz analog heart rate transmission for older gym equipment. Also, it has workout storage/recording in it and supports two Bluetooth connections.

This is a great strap, especially if you're going to the gym. It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, but it also supports the 5kHz analog heart rate transmission for older gym equipment. Note that it only accepts a single Bluetooth connection, versus dual-connections for the Polar H10.

I'd argue the Polar OH1 Plus is the best optical HR sensor out there. So while it might seem odd to get this when your watch also has a optical HR sensor, this one is just better most of the time. Plus, it also has workout recording storage. Dual ANT+/Bluetooth.

The Polar Verity Sense is the newer variant of the Polar OH1 Plus. And while it might seem odd to get this when your watch also has a optical HR sensor, this one is just better most of the time. Plus, it also has workout recording storage. Dual ANT+/Bluetooth.

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter! That gets you an ad-free DCR, access to the DCR Quarantine Corner video series packed with behind the scenes tidbits...and it also makes you awesome. And being awesome is what it’s all about!

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!

Found This Post Useful? Support The Site!

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

If you're shopping for the Polar Pacer Pro or any other accessory items, please consider using the affiliate links below! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. Even more, if you use Backcountry.com or Competitive Cyclist with coupon code DCRAINMAKER, first time users save 15% on applicable products!

Here's a few other variants or sibling products that are worth considering:

And finally, here’s a handy list of accessories that work well with this unit (and some that I showed in the review). Given the unit pairs with just about any Bluetooth Smart sport sensors, you can use just about anything though.

Wahoo RPM Sensor

This dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart sensor will transmit cadence not only to your bike computer/watch, but also 3rd party apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, and more.

Wahoo SPEED Sensor

Speed sensors are primarily useful for offroad usage. I don't find much of a need for one while road-cycling, but for mountain bike trails they can help alleviate speed/distance issues with poor GPS reception in dense trees.

This is a strap I often use in testing/comparisons. It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, but it also supports the 5kHz analog heart rate transmission for older gym equipment. Also, it has workout storage/recording in it and supports two Bluetooth connections.

This is a great strap, especially if you're going to the gym. It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, but it also supports the 5kHz analog heart rate transmission for older gym equipment. Note that it only accepts a single Bluetooth connection, versus dual-connections for the Polar H10.

I'd argue the Polar OH1 Plus is the best optical HR sensor out there. So while it might seem odd to get this when your watch also has a optical HR sensor, this one is just better most of the time. Plus, it also has workout recording storage. Dual ANT+/Bluetooth.

The Polar Verity Sense is the newer variant of the Polar OH1 Plus. And while it might seem odd to get this when your watch also has a optical HR sensor, this one is just better most of the time. Plus, it also has workout recording storage. Dual ANT+/Bluetooth.

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter! That gets you an ad-free DCR, access to the DCR Quarantine Corner video series packed with behind the scenes tidbits...and it also makes you awesome. And being awesome is what it’s all about!

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!

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121 Comments

  1. Rodrak

    Hi Ray,
    still no phone notifications during activity?
    Cheers!

  2. Kristof

    Hi Ray,

    Are there audio alerts when you above heart rate zone or only vibrate?
    Thanks!

  3. Stuart

    “But if you’re a triathlete, it’s a hidden gem.”

    Except for the whole “I tried connecting it to a pair of Garmin Rally pedals and a pair of PowerTap P2 pedals, and neither worked. This is par for the course with Polar and power meter support” thing. For me, power meter support is THE number one thing I’m going to look at. Heart rate sensors are relatively cheap; I’ve no qualms about replacing that if I need to. But power meters? It’s upwards of $AU900 for dual sided power meters. Still a lot better than the $1500+ it used to be (still is, for the dual sided Garmin Rally), but I’m not going to spend that money if I absolutely don’t have to.

    There’s also the whole ANT+ vs Bluetooth thing (it’s still the case, I believe, that ANT+ is preferred for power meter connections?), but not even connecting to sensors that support Bluetooth.. that’s a complete deal breaker for me. I’m not going to bother looking at the support for multisport activities if power meter support is dicey (to put it politely).

    • Yup, I agree, there’s no valid reason for them not to support pedal power meters properly. Especially since they were the first ones to do it years ago when things were a mess standards-wise.

      These days, things are pretty straightforward (albeit disjointed, but at least it’s a known game – none of these companies have changed anything in years).

    • Scott M

      Any reason to think it’s new to this generation of Polar watches (e.g., new Bluetooth chip)? I use Garmin Vector 3 pedals and my Vantage M without problems. Honestly, use it with a PowerTap hub and Saris trainer just fine as well.

    • Flo

      Hey Ray, could you by any chance try if the Viiiiva strap ant+ to BT conversion works? I’m in the same boat like Stuart above, the stages ant+ powermeter is definitely more expensive to replace than a head unit or watch. Any info on this very appreciated.
      Flo

    • Tony C

      I’ve just done a ride with Garmin Rally single sided and the Pacer Pro had no problem connecting or recording. This suggests it may be dual sided that Polar has issues with.

  4. An do

    Polar website advertises that this watch also has a race time predictor. Something that keeps me still using Coros Pace 2 as second watch when running. Was waiting when Polar comes with this. Is it somewhere in menus?

    And do you know is there any hope to get new software tweaks for VV2 too? Race time predictor and so on.

    • Frank

      Pacer (and other recent Polar watches) have a ‘race pace’ function, which gives you a target pace for a pre-defined distance and time and is different from a ‘race predictor’ (which was on Polar M400 and estimated your finish time).

    • Agnes

      You have race predictor in the Polar Flow desktop version, at Reports/Running Index

  5. Paul

    Hi, how is this for structured workouts? I’ve got a polar m400 (which is obviously ancient now but just seems to work faultlessly) and a feature which polar seem to lack is support for more specific structured workouts, say X mins at X pace. You’re stuck using their zones for HR or pace which just seem too vague compared with the flexibility of Garmin’s and Coros’ offering. I fully accept my watch is too old to get a feature like this, but at some point I’ll need to replace mine and it’s something I’d like the replacement to have.

    • Zsolt

      Hi Paul,

      in last October I also asked them for this kind of change at least on Polar Flow web site
      in order to provide us the option to specify exact intensity target values (HR, Pace, Power).

      They forwarded my request to their developer(s).
      In the last 6 months nothing has happened.
      Probably this change request is a very complex one which demands the involving of NASA scientists too.

      As Ray always notices, probably Polar/Suunto has huge lack of enough developers.

      Despite the aboves I’ve ordered my Polar Pacer Pro 🙂

  6. runner-33

    The Pacer Pro does even have more features over the Vantage M2:

    – Newer wrist HR sensor (Vantage V2/Grit X/Unite type with orange LEDs, not Vantage M2/Ignite 2 type with green LEDs; it’s closest to the Unite with the silvery background of Vantage V2/Grit X)
    – Compass (during activity)
    – Smart Notifications during training (ok, that’s pretty minor, but still nice)

    Did Polar comment on feature updates for the M2? Such as Strava Segments or Running Test?

    • They didn’t mention any upcoming M2 updates (despite a lot of conversation back and forth).

      The sensor is actually the older Ignite sensor (Polar confirmed that it’s identical), so I didn’t list it as either upgrade or downgrade in the list. Just sorta lateral. However, in the longer text I feel that it is an upgrade, since I didn’t have as good a luck with the other newer sensor.

  7. Frank

    Has Polar said anything about the small new features (walking test, notifications during workouts) coming to Vantage V2 or Grit C Pro?

  8. Britrict

    Does this watch offer a Swimrun activity mode?

  9. miCoachFans

    well done Polar, you just killed vantage m/m2.

  10. Matthew B.

    Ray,

    A somewhat tangential question to the post. What do Polar (and probably more so Suunto) do? They are being trounced in almost every angle by Garmin, Coros, and (indirectly) Apple Watch? I know there still is a die hard contingent of fans of both brands… but I can’t imagine it’s a large part of the market.

    • Yeah, it’s incredibly challenging. In some ways, I think Polar/Suunto really have to figure out how to best use the limited resources they have. Be it reduction of scope of hardware, or perhaps geographies, or some other area.

      The thing that’s hurting Polar/Suunto isn’t actually lack of the fancier features like music, voice, or contactless payments. I rarely hear that. Instead, it’s the lack of core athletic features. Stuff like PacePro or ClimbPro on Garmin. It’s the same thing that’s been hurting Wahoo with bike computers (and Wahoo is now taking steps to address it).

      I suspect the walking test was a relatively easy dev thing to do, since it’s likely semi-template like. However, I just don’t see where it’s useful. The core audience for a $300 sports-focused watch (not health/fitness watch) doesn’t care about doing a walk VO2Max test. They’re going to run. Or ride. Period, full stop.

      So whatever hours were spent on that could have been spent on something else. Perhaps improving Hill Splitter. Or perhaps adding Strava Routes integration. Or digging into better pacing like Pace Pro. Or, or, or.

      Often, as is th pattern, Polar will announce these new features/watches now, and say “by end of year” these new features will come to existing watches. So they’re stringing along folks, who might just say “Nah, I’ll just buy something new that just came out instead.”

      And ultimately, that gets to resources. Is there a need to focus on all these tiers of hardware that are re-arranging the same sets of features they’ve had for half a decade? Or, should they simplify and really focus on a predictable and sustainable release cycle. If it’s getting dev resources to Oulu, then again, look elsewhere to find those resources.

      Obviously, it’s easy to look at COROS and see how quickly a company can be spun up and releasing feature (I do it too). But it’s also important to note that their cost structure is vastly different. Of course, that’s business in a connected world. Such is life.

      Thanks for being a DCR Supporter!

    • davidn

      I wish Polar/Garmin/Suunto would start making long-lasting ‘green’ watches, rather than trying to bring a new one out every ~2 years, with features that seem largely useless during a run (As a mountain runner (no ultras), I still rely on heart rate – the rest is just garbage).

      Give me a watch that lasts 10 years, gets occasional updates and is made with fair materials and fair working conditions and I’ll happily pay 1’500$ for such a watch. Even without mapping.

    • Tams

      It’s a major problem with almost the entire tech industry. Some parts have actual performance improvements that do require new hardware to be enjoyed, but even then, the old hardware almost always still works, or is only slightly broken.

      And I’m sure there are viable business models that could centre around occasional main hardware releases, and then for continued sales rely on accessories and services (though, please, no more unnecessary software-as-a-service junk – it’s what will happen though).

      And yes, some accessory makers will suffer, but surely there’s room for them too?

    • Jan Nápravník

      Hi Matthew!

      I am probably one from the small group of these people, so just to illustrate – I run over 4k trail/year, double of that of cycling and then some nordic skiing etc…I have used M430, then some Suuntos (borrowed from a friend) and now I am eyeing these Polars, as they managed (in my opinion) to improve in all impotant areas (to me, I understand many people would disagree). Really, music, NFC, running power and so on…thanks, but no need for that, I also don’t need my watch to tell me to drink or eat or monitor sleep. All I wish for is core functions, but executed perfectly – precise GPS, long lasting battery, LIGHT weight, barometer, readable display. That is basically it. And for now, I would say it is something that Pacer Pro or some Coros models are very close to. But hey, a lot of (majority?) of people want more functions, more bling or more whatever, given how Garmin is doing compared to Polar. Just my two cents.

    • Laurence Everitt

      Yes, I totally agree. For the dedicated athlete, core features that work is all we need.

      I’m sure companies could add such a watch to their product line, while pampering to the social/smartwatch majority they seem to be totally focused on.

      We need updated versions of watches like v800 and Ambit3.

  11. An do

    Im familiar with Race Pace but my question was about Race Time Predictor function. Its stated on Polar website for Pacer Pro. Would like to know does it actually exist too.

    • Yeah, I think the Pacer Pro site is just re-wording what is Race Pace for marketing purposes. I don’t see any other function aside from that.

    • Oskars

      Race predictor can actually be seen at the website running index section

    • Good point, I guess the marketing seemed to imply it was an on-device thing.

      As an interesting side note, I thought it was quirky that the Running Index isn’t calculated for the Running Performance test. Meaning, if you look at the Race Predictor page, it skips/ignores the day (and run) I did with the performance test.

    • Johan

      Polar did, my M400 is still working fine.

  12. Darren Manley

    Well, I’m disappointed 🙁

    I itching to upgrade from my Vantage V and was hoping this would have more of the “fancy” tests that the V2/Grit X Pro have. I’m returning to running from having some leg issues (DVT in my left calf, neuropathic pain in both legs) and wanted to access the advanced recovery tests in the V2 or Grit X Pro and was hoping the Pacer Pro would have some of these tests. Looks like thats a hard no, it actually loses some tests.

    Seems I’ll be looking for a V2/Grit X Pro sale instead.

  13. m_d

    Hi Ray, thanks for the excellent review.
    In terms of HR sensors, how would you rate the pacer pro compared to the polar M430 sensor (which is the same as in the polar OH1).

    I still use a polar M430 and am relatively happy with it, even though I would appreciate a fresher look and new features (and slightly better battery life). I recently tried the Coros Pace 2, but at least in my case the accuracy of the HR sensor was disappointing, compared to the M430. I ended up returning the Pace 2 and continuing with the M430.

    • It’s been a few years since I’ve used the M430, but when I tested it, it tested exceptionally well. I’d say that sensor might be slightly better than this sensor, but it’s hard to say without going head to head.

      But I think it’s fair to say that the Polar Pacer Pro sensor is better than any of the COROS optical HR sensors. COROS is very good at lots of things, but they haven’t quite nailed optical HR to the same level as their other features.

    • m_d

      Thanks for the feedback!

      … needless to say, if you find the time to compare the M430 and PacerPro HR sensors, That would be very interesting!

  14. Hans

    I need a new watch, VV went to watch haven.
    Was looking at VV2 or perhaps new 955.
    Now i am even more confused.

  15. Nepeandon

    The walking test is not actually new to Polar. Their ProTrainer software for the PC included the UKK walking test (reference here: link to ukkinstituutti.fi ). You walked 2km as fast as possible and then entered your time and heart rate at the end in ProTrainer, and it would estimate your VO2Max and a fitness index, and would give you an exercise prescription (sessions per week, recommended intensity, etc.). Polar seems to like updating old ideas – the leg recovery test was on the V800 under a different name, and you can even find the precursor to Hill Splitter in the old AXN series of watches from about 2005.

    • Rui Pereira

      I think Polar released this version because the AW also estimates your VO2Max for walking activities. Anyway I think it’s a cool idea as long as it’s consistent with itself.

    • Yup, I’d agree that Apple adding it, probably pushed Polar to add it. And also agree, I think it’s perfectly fine as long as it matches what the watch is saying in other estimates.

      This version is different than the ProTrainer one though, in that it’s time-based, as opposed to distance-based. Obviously, that’s not that big a deal per se, but notable

      The challenge though is that with a test like this where distance relative to time is the decider, you’re less testing someone’s aerobic capacity than you are their ability to move their legs in a walk pattern quickly. In other words, you’re testing their speed-walking skills, not their aerobic capacity. At least if someone’s aerobic capacity is higher than lower.

    • Nepeandon

      “… you’re less testing someone’s aerobic capacity than you are their ability to move their legs in a walk pattern quickly.”

      Exactly. Any of these manufacturers’ algorithms that combine heart rate, speed and distance are necessarily measuring the combined effect of aerobic capacity (VO2Max) and movement efficiency (for running it’s known as “running economy”). To derive an estimated VO2Max number, the manufacturers have to make some assumption about your movement efficiency, and the obvious assumption is to assume that you are average. The fact that both you and Des got much lower VO2Max estimates for the walking test than for a running test simply reflects the fact that you are much more efficient runners than walkers, which is not at all surprising given the sports you do. The fact that you struggled to keep your heart rate high enough during the test is another sign of this. Personally, I wish the manufacturers (Polar, Garmin/Firstbeat, etc) would stop calling these things VO2Max, as it leads to the unfortunate and incorrect assumption that the number should be the same across all activities. But marketing being marketing, it’s probably too late for that.

    • Rui Pereira

      Yes, I’m a bit older than DC but even adjusting for a lower HR I would have to at least be jogging to get higher than a 110-120 HR. Even with a fast walk it’s hard for me to get that high, unless it’s some pretty good grade. Now imagine having to hold that pace for several minutes.

    • Nepeandon

      I actually took up race walking for a time when I was too injured to run. I quickly discovered that they are very different sports, and that even though I was a decent runner with a 2:43 marathon to my name, I was a very mediocre walker. Middle aged ladies in our local race walking club could literally walk circles around me. It took me a year of training with the club before I could get my heart rate up to the 140-150 range while walking. The error Ray makes in his review is to assume that his walking VO2Max and running VO2Max should be the same. Because they are different he concludes that there must be something wrong with Polar’s algorithm. In fact it’s Polar that’s correct; his VO2Max for walking actually IS a lot lower than for running. That’s not surprising, given that he doesn’t train for race walking.

    • At a high level, I agree that different sports have different VO2Max values (e.g. cycling vs running is usually a unit or two different). But practically speaking, science shows these are largely minor differences. This is why in the pro athletics world, there are largely only two ways VO2Max tests are done: Treadmill running and indoor bike. And whether you’re an NFL athlete, a tennis player, or some other pro sport athlete, you’ll do a VO2Max test in one of those two ways.

      The difference between 48 and 57 is massive in the VO2Max realm. And ultimately, Polar themselves doesn’t bill this feature as a “VO2Max for Competitive walking”, they actually bill it as a way for beginner runners to get a feel for things:

      “Starting with the new Walking Test, beginners and inexperienced runners can easily estimate their initial aerobic fitness based on their VO2max – the ultimate figure to illustrate how much oxygen the body can absorb and use during exercise” *From their main press release.

      But, it’s just not accurate. If the qualification for that test was to be an Olympic level walker, then what’s the point of the test? Since it’s not going to accurately capture either me or a beginner runner, or even a walker. This seems like a solution without a problem, on a watch that’s not targeted at that group anyways. I can see what Apple has it, because it’s a broader focus area. But this is the Pro edition of the Polar Pacer watch, the higher end model of a watch that’s already heavily sports-focused.

      *https://www.polar.com/en/about_polar/press_room/polar-introduces-the-pacer-series-two-new-generation-running-watches-with-powerful-training-tools-and-recovery-features

    • Nepeandon

      Ray, three points:

      First, I completely agree that Polar needs to do a much better job of explaining who the walking test is for, and equally important, who it is not for. The Finnish UKK Institute (whose test I suspect is the inspiration for Polar’s test) says the following: “The test is not recommended for highly fit persons who exercise intensively (aerobic training) and regularly (over 1 hour and 5 times a week).” Although Polar’s press release may mention that it’s for beginning walkers and runners, neither the user manual or the support page for the walking test say that, and that’s certainly a problem.

      Second, regarding testing protocols, treadmills and cycling ergometers definitely represent the vast majority of testing scenarios. This is probably for reasons of convenience, because those two modes can cover a lot of sports, and because other scenarios (e.g., swimming) are much more complicated to measure. But I have a hard time believing that someone like Eliud Kipchoge would have VO2Max numbers on both the treadmill and a bicycle that are just a point or two apart. The actual sport used in testing does make some difference, especially if the person being tested hasn’t trained in that sport.

      Third, you concluded that the walking test isn’t accurate because the result is much different from what you are used to seeing for your VO2Max for running. But you’re not the target audience, and you’re comparing running and walking. Unless you test a beginner and compare the results to a lab test using walking, not running, it’s impossible to say how accurate the test really is. Hopefully Polar will publish a white paper that addresses this at some point, but in the meantime I’d like to suggest an experiment: repeat the walking test, but also record the session on your Garmin watch using a sports profile that gives you a VO2Max value. I suspect that the number you get from your Garmin will be lower than usual as well. That might help settle the question of whether the difference is due to a problem with Polar’s algorithm or because of the difference in sport.

      In the end, the problem has become like the person who wears two watches and doesn’t know what time it is. In Polar’s case they now have FIVE different ways to estimate VO2Max: the lying down Fitness Test, the Running Index, the Running Performance Test, the Cycling Performance Test, and now the Walking Test. And Polar doesn’t do enough to explain which tests are appropriate for whom.

  16. ChrisTexan

    You mentioned the multi-sport “hidden gem” abilities at the price point (not trivial when comparing something like the Coros Pace 2, which, ultimately, is out of it’s depth for that purpose, thus a pretty big “plus” in the Polar column)… but I’m assuming you haven’t had a chance to actually test out it’s swim metrics and/or GPS abilities yet (probably a bit chilly? LOL). Hoping maybe another comprehensive comparison test in the upcoming months on the current field of multi-sport capable watches.
    (Also curious how well it handles transitions, and T(x) timing tracking, if it’s as capable and straightforward as something like the v800 was (is, in my case, LOL), or if it’s lacking in any fashion there). Appreciate the review!
    (Polar… get the freaking power meter sync fixed already (a “minus” I suppose in the multi-sport realm as many triathletes are using updated/modern PMs on their bikes now, which Polar seems to have frozen in time 5 years ago on their support)! (And turn on the ANT+ transmitter while you are at it))..
    .

    • ChrisTexan

      Swimming GPS abilities, I mean (where most of the Scandinavian brands seem to have fallen down in the Sony generation).

    • “but I’m assuming you haven’t had a chance to actually test out it’s swim metrics and/or GPS abilities yet (probably a bit chilly? LOL)”

      I might go out today – the sun shining in right now is tempting me. If not, I’ll be going over the next few weeks a boatload as I transition to warmer waters and likely put together an openwater swim test lineup again.

  17. Angela

    Will you be unboxing the lower level Pacer version on your site? I don’t feel as though I need the Pro version as I’m just getting back to exercise after several years off and currently have the Polar Vantage M. Was interested in your thoughts on the less expensive version or at least a side-by-side of advantages/disadvantages. Thanks again for your keen insight to all things electronics and running!

    • Yup, assuming they send one along, I’m happy to put it through its paces.

    • Angela

      Thank you! Ever since I did the upgrade on my Vantage M, my battery is dying in less than 24 hours so I’m hoping this one is released sooner than later in the month. I’m going to be at a loss without it on my wrist (I love using the sleep functions and serene functions as well as for exercise).

    • Steven Deckert

      Man, my vantage M is several years old and doesn’t appear to have lost any battery capacity. I’d replace it with the Pacer pro but it still works perfectly-battery lasts as long as my wahoo roam on cycling rides. I never use the optical HRM though. Wanna buy my vantage M so I can get the pacer pro and have routes/navigation?

    • Julien

      Be careful that Polar do not make your watch useless in a future minor firmware update…

      I bought a Vantage M almost at the launch and was happy with it. It worked well for running until they pushed the 5.2.4 firmware update in January which says : Minor Bug Fixes.
      After this upgrade, in almost all of my runs I had random disconnection happening of my external sensors (stryd + H10 chest strap). Stryd is able to reconnect after that, but not HR chest strap.

      I contacted customer service in January, they said it is a known bug introduced in their latest firmware update and they were working on it. I waited and contacted them again at the end of February, then in April, still same answer.

      I asked if they could revert the firmware to the old one which was perfectly working ; the answer was NO. And they thought they were generous by giving me a 30% discount code… Why should I pay for something they broke ?
      If this is not purposely pushing customer to buy their new product, I don’t know what this is.

      So yes in the end I bought a new watch, but not a Polar.

  18. Tom Kelly

    It’s tempting to upgrade to the Pacer Pro from my vantage M2 although I have been very satisfied with it. If I’d been buying about a half year later I’d have bought a Grit X Pro and have thought about upgrading to it.

    Although the Grit X pro still seems attractive it would be harder to choose between it and the Pacer. Other than materials it looks like the main advantage of the Grit X Pro over the Pacer is being able to see GPS coordinates and availability of compass display when not training. Not sure but there might also be advantage in how the compasses work (if the Grit X Pro is magnetic). The sunrise/sunset display on the Grit X pro would be nice to have, but not as high a priority for me as the navigation features.

    I’ve always used Polar products and am satisfied with the Polar Flow application, training program, fit spark, and associated monitoring and recording features.

  19. Polar or Garmin?

    You made a comment or 2 about Polar not compatible with the Garmin power meter (and/or other products).

    From what I have seen it’s actually Garmin not letting their products (at least a good handful or more) be compatible with competing brands.

    A follow on to this point, I used to be able to export my activities from Polar Flow then upload the gpx to Garmin Connect. … Then it wouldn’t work, because the gpx file said Polar. All I had to do was edit the text file and remove any Polar references.

    • I think in this scenario you’re describing two different things:

      A) Compatibility with 3rd party sensors being iffy (what I discussed)
      B) The ability to import a workout from another device into the training log (what you discussed)

      I’ve long argued that Garmin should allow more importing into Garmin Connect, and they do actually allow that in limited scenarios. However, it’s kinda difficult to criticize Garmin for that while concurrently ignoring that Polar doesn’t allow it at all.

  20. JM

    Have not had any issue pairing Assioma pedals or a Wahoo smart trainer to my Vantage V2. As a Garmin owner, I’ve noticed in general Garmin is more inclined to limit connectivity with non-Garmin devices (can’t use a non-Garmin HR strap to test hrv stress on the Edge, can’t connect some Garmin watches to smartphone apps for HR tracking, etc.). Perhaps the problem lies with Garmin instead.

    • Yeah, I don’t know why Rally isn’t working when Vector 3 was/is. But, what I do know is that consistently, Polar fails on 3rd party sensor connectivity. I mean, there’s only like 4-5 pedals out there, so this isn’t hard. And when I’ve tested other Polar watches over the past two years, I consistently see failures in the trainer realms too.

      Part of the problem is the BLE spec for power devices sucks with vagueness and unnecessary complexity. Every company in the space admits it sucks. But since Polar doesn’t support ANT+, that’s what they’re working with. And Polar seems to consistently take a very spec-heavy approach. So if something isn’t perfectly in alignment with what they expect, they reject pairing. I just don’t have these sorts of BLE connectivity issues with any other devices out there, except Polar.

      As for general 3rd party connectivity, it’d be objectively impossible to say that Garmin isn’t the most open in the entire industry. I mean, we just have to look at all the sensors types it supports.

      Here’s the list for Polar:

      – Heart Rate Straps
      – Cycling Power Meters
      – Cycling Cadence & Speed Sensors
      – Running Footpods
      – Running Power Meter

      And here’s the list for Garmin:

      – Headphones
      – Club Sensors
      – Heart Rate Straps
      – Cycling Speed/Cadence
      – Running Foot Pods
      – Temperature Sensors
      – Cycling Lights
      – Cycling Radar
      – Cycling Power Meters
      – Garmin VIRB Action Cam
      – Shimano Di2
      – Shifting (e.g. eTAP)
      – Extended Display
      – Running Dynamics Sensors
      – Muscle O2 Sensors
      – Xero Laser Locations
      – inReach
      – DogTrack
      – Smart Trainers

      And that’s only the native list of sensors supported, and I only listed them generically, when many of those support dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart (any time a standard exists). Then you get into all the Connect IQ supported sensors, stuff like

      – Running power meters (Stryd, RunScribe, etc…)
      – Supersapiens
      – Dexcom CGM sensors
      – etc…

      And that list is massive, with companies you’ve never heard of doing all manner of things (sport and silly).

      Finally, in terms of broadcasting to apps, virtually all Garmin watches made in the last 2-3 years now support dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart broadcasting of HR from the watch to any app out there, and even include pace and cadence while running. Polar just rolled out true BLE HR broadcasting last summer/fall for their most recent devices, and as I noted then, it’s a wee bit finicky at best.

      The point being – there are plenty of things we can be upset at Garmin about, but objectively speaking, it’s nearly impossible to be upset about sensor compatibility.

    • JM

      Those are interesting points, but reading them makes it all the more vexing that my Garmin watch’s broadcasted HR won’t show up on Trainerroad, Strava, or other apps that the Polar simply connects to. And the Edge 830 still has problems consistently holding a Wahoo trainer connection umpteen updates later, whereas the Polar hasn’t once dropped or spontaneously switched to the Assioma. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to be annoyed about with Polar, and maybe Garmin’s newer and yet-to-be released devices don’t/won’t have these issues, but for now I can only speak from experience.

    • Which device are you referring to that doesn’t connect to those platforms?

      I’ve shown all the recent Garmin devices connecting to all those platforms (specifically those platforms actually).

    • Steven Deckert

      I must be lucky too, my vantage M connects to my tacx trainer and assioma pedals just fine.

  21. Sean K.

    Polar’s priorities seem to be in a cycle of existing customer upgrades from one tier to the next, with no interest in offering compelling competitive products. I mean, that’s their prerogative I suppose. They just seem stuck in a four year rut when it comes to the current Polar Vantage V/V2 platform feature set. Who knows, maybe they live by a four or five year plan and that’s it until the next cycle with a Vantage V3, rinse & repeat.

    As another person here mentioned, Polar (Suunto as well?) seems constrained in their ability (financially/staffing?) to keep with current trends/standards in sporting technology. Polar seems very insular in their attitude to ecosystem compatibility as well. It’s almost as if they are content to limit their customer base and product features into this self defined niche. I mean that’s okay, but it’s why I chose Garmin.

    Sean

  22. giorgitd

    So are the multi sport capabilities fixed – i.e. must be selected as a group such as ‘triathlon’ or ‘aqua bike’ and not selected as a sequence of individual activities – ‘pool swim, transition, outdoor bike, transition, outdoor run’? In either case, is run (duathlon) supported?

    • giorgitd

      Ugh…run-bike-run (duathlon) supported?

    • fneu

      The software seems to be very similar to the Vantage series watches, which have specific profiles for triathlon, duathlon, biathlon, and maybe others. They also have a generic “multisport” mode. In this mode, you can string any activities together by pausing the watch and selecting a different sport. The duration of the pause is tracked as transition time.

  23. tedus

    One more thing you might ask Polar – since they got a list on their website: is the battery changeable. On the webpage it says so only for v’s – vantage v/v2 and the v800. Why? who knows. But in my book the option to do so is a big plus.

    How it is in the pool would also be nice – all watches i had are rater… meh.. in counting laps – sometimes even worse then me.

    thx for the review.

  24. GuiDe

    Hi,
    I don’t understand why there’s no altitude information on the dashboard and what is the idea of the barometric
    sensor if you can’t access the data. Or does it mean it’s like the first Grit X, you have access to data but only when tracking an activity.
    Well I keep looking at it as it really does look like Polar does an exceptional job at recovery stuff, but as I’d like to use the watch in the mountains, it’s still a shame that you don’t have access to altitude metrics whenever you want. A bit disappointing and not understandable. That’s not the hardest engineering stuff to have on the watch.

    • guide

      And thanks for the review !

    • roger

      According to the Polar website there is an Altitude dashboard.

    • The dashboard is basically a widget from the watchface menu.

      The V2 and Grit X Pro have these new dashboard widget pages with ABC (Altimeter/Baro/Compass) type info.

      The Polar Pacer Pro doesn’t have this higher end dashboard (it’s not on my watch, and that matches what Polar said to me in e-mails as well).

      However, you can view your workout altimeter information mid-workout, as well as afterwards. Just not from a dashboard view whenever you want.

  25. okrunner

    Though I know very little about Polar watches having never used or owned one, it would appear from the naming and feature set that Polar is attempting to directly compete with the Coros Pace 2 only, having given up on trying to compete with Garmin. I suspect Coros sits at #3 in the market behind Garmin and Apple and they believed that the only way to stay relevant was attack the #3 position as they don’t have the cash and R&D to compete with Garmin and Apple. Ray, though you criticized Polar’s naming, Coros essentially did the same thing with the Pace and Pace2, despite it being fully multisport capable. Maybe this keeps the typical Polar user happy instead of jumping to Coros at $199. But, long term, I don’t see how Polar keeps up with Coros based on the rapid development Coros has had, plus at $300 it doesn’t lure anyone away from the Pace 2 at $199.

  26. The Dude

    What is the likelihood that Apple releases an endurance sport focused watch with longer battery life this year? I’m not in a rush to replace my aging Apple watch and I’d rather not contribute to the e-waste problem by purchasing any other brand. Apple excels at extending the life of their products (I use an Apple Watch Series 1) and I have some faith that when I do part with an Apple product it has a good chance of being recycled – even if partially.

    • Bloomberg News say that’s possible.
      However they simply could have got their years mixed up and, seriously, the hype around a ‘fenix competitor’ could merely be extra dust-proofing already added to the AW7 last year.

      there are quite a few apps and accessories you could get that could make your apple watch ok for a weekend adventure (click the bio link to my site…Ray please delete if not appropriate)

  27. Dex

    Personally, I much prefer the Polar’s simplicity and focus on key metrics over the feature count of some other watches. I switched from Fenix 6 Pro to Grit X Pro. I like its way of providing a clean overview of detailed training effort and performance data, planning tools and recovery estimates. This is what I expect from a sports watch and I am ready to pay a high-end price for it. It certainly does not give me a full support I may need during outdoor activities, like mountaineering and trail running over the unknown terrains, but neither does Fenix or any other device.

  28. Martin

    Thanks for the in depth review 👍

    I recently got a Vantage M2. This would be a decent upgrade but I don’t really need it, prefer the look of the M2 and don’t like that they changed the charger.

    The Pacer Pro watch looks more like a V2 than M2, buttons, casing and supplied strap width look identical

    Regarding the HR and GPS accuracy, after extensive research I picked the M2 over the Grit X Pro and V2 as the OHR looks to be more accurate and GPS accurate enough. I have found it very accurate when comparing to Garmin Dual Chest HR strap.

  29. JImBeam

    Now that the battery of my Vantage V died, I am struggling to decide whether I should wait for the V3, buy the Pacer Pro or pay for a battery change. The problem is that some of the features I really need like Recovery pro are not included. In some cases the Pacer Pro feels like a step back and what I want for my money is a substantial upgrade.

    So in the end, I´ll just pay the battery change and wait some more.

  30. Dan

    I do kinda wish Garmin followed these more minimal design principles for their higher-end watches. I don’t need my $1000 multisport watch to look like a nerdy, bulky G-shock with unnecessary chunky styling. Harmon needs to go a bit more classy and understated.

  31. chk

    can see you were being extremely kind in trying to rescue Polar with your Wrap-Up. I hope Polar does not forget there are leisure runners like me who are happy with the Ignite level of fitness/running watch.

  32. Andrew

    Is there a technical reason why the watch screen isn’t larger and closer to the bezel diameter?

  33. Antti K

    Thanks you for the detailed review!

    I’d like to ask what the actual size of the watch is with the included strap adapters? One thing to point out that normal watch sizes are typically indicated by a lug-to-lug measurement, which sports watch reviews never seem to do (or specify how the measurement is taken).

    I find my Vantage M to be impractical/bulky for everyday use, which is why I’m interested in the Pacer Pro, as it’s atleast quite thin. It’s a shame that Polar doesn’t provide smaller sized cases for their higher specced product.

    Anyway, loving your reviews.

    • Thanks. Generally speaking, I don’t tend to include all the exact width sizes unless there are multiple iterations/models. Merely because it seems most people find that info on standard-issue spec stuff. Though, I can see the validity in including it.

      I don’t have my fancy measuring tool today, but I do have a simple ruler. The width across the center appears to be 145mm, but add an extra 1mm to each side for the buttons sticking out. Since it’s round, the same distance top to bottom.

      The lug to lug measurement is messy on this watch, cause it lacks lugs. The band simply exits the bottom of the watch, with no extra lug. However, if you bend the strap so that there are the softer portions of the strap that are bendable, and then the portion attaching to the watch, that’s about 5mm on top and bottom that are rather hard/molded material and thus in effect, the lugs. So basically, ~155mm would be the lug to lug.

  34. Andrea

    One question: in the new Pacer, if you pause during a training, can you see the current data so far? Eg: distance, time, calories, averages and so on. On my Vantage M if you pause you can’t have any of those information, and it’s stupid, and irritating.

    • runner-33

      When paused, Pacer Pro shows distance, elapsed time, time of day, estimated battery runtime and battery percentage.

    • Andrea

      Thanks. Better than the Vantage M, but still beyond my understanding why one can not browse all data while paused. During long runs or rides I would like to know eg the cumulated elevation so far, I can’t have it unless I’m recording the data. Would love to hear from Polar the rationale behind this. At the end of the day the reason one spends hundred of euro for a watch is actually to HAVE MORE DATA.

    • Mandla Mhlutwa

      Please advise – how can I get my Pacer Pro to do that – mine does not show the stats.
      Thank You

  35. Brett

    Hey Ray, Thanks for reviewing this unit! Currently in the market for a new watch (In Garmin 935 currently) and mostly needing an upgrade for better battery life (for the occasional 100 mile run). After reading your review, it seems like this Pacer can punch near the Coros Apex Pro. Would you agree? The Apex just went on sale for $399, and the boxes I am looking to check for a new watch are battery life, ability to run custom workouts (mainly just various distance or time intervals), ability to follow an uploaded route. Sounds like the Polar software is pretty solid as well, so is there anything that makes the Apex 100 dollars better than the Pacer?

    • Frankwin

      Hey Brett,

      The main difference between Coros Apex Pro and Polar Pacer Pro is the comfort in daily use by the lesser weight (59 vs 41) and better screen, also the better heart rate sensor. Shit in is shit out. Good heart rate measurements evolve in good other metrics like cardio-load and running power.

  36. Nils Freytag

    Hello
    Does the Pacer Pro have the full swim metrics?
    thanks a lot for the review

  37. Sean K.

    I’d love to see Polar in this Pacer/Pacer Pro software and future Vantage 3 plans to leverage existing Polar structured workout integration to add two way sync with:

    Training Peaks
    Final Surge
    Intervals.icu
    etc.

    Suunto is already supporting two out of the above three with their SuuntoPlus Guides and I’ve just learned that Final Surge is in development testing. What’s remarkable is that Polar is something like 5 x the revenue of Suunto. Not to mention much larger staffing.

    There is an excellent list of some suggested improvements to Polar software / hardware in this recent blog posting. I’ve also added my thoughts in reply:

    link to liviunastasa.com

    Sean

  38. Bernard

    Hi, thanks for the review. I got the Pacer Pro to replace my Vantage V and really liked all the extra features. What was very disappointing was the battery. After a day of use with two runs of total 3 hours it was down to 60%. Does not give me the confidence it can hold up om my planned 100k race and I don’t want to charge every 2-3 days. That is why I returned it. Sad to say that it was the reason I now switched to Garmin (Fenix7x). I did not want to leave Polar (have been using Polar over 7 years) but I also wanted a bigger screen and bigger battery….. and better GPS…

  39. Rayn

    What i’m missing within the whole Polar System is a good cycling computer. Or instead (if they don’t want to update there old one) the possibility to upload workouts from other devices to Polar Flow.

    Sometimes i think Polar is always some steps behind or doesn’t hear what the customer is really looking for. I think a corporation like Hammerhead and Suunto is doing right now would help Polar also.

  40. SilverPolar

    Is the Watch too new for Strava? I did only see Polar as the watch name on my Strava workout, as on my previous Polar M430 it is showing the full watch name.

  41. Mike

    Great review! Is this (and other) Polar watches FTMS compatible such that they will sync with apps like Nike Run Club, Zwift or Strava and transmit in-session data while I workout?

  42. Patrick

    Is there any chance that Polar, or any of the companies in this industry will ever make a small bar mounted companion head unit to be used as a display for these watches? I like using my Polar watch as a cycling computer. It does what it needs to. But I don’t want it on the handlebars. A simple screen on the bars that works in conjunction with the watches such as the one reviewed would make it a more viable alternative for cycling.

  43. Patrick

    Thanks for the response. I guess it’s continue as is, or take the plunge into cycling specific computers. Decisions, decisions.

  44. Tyler

    I’m looking for a new watch for the beginning of summer mileage and onwards for cross country and next track season. I’ve been looking at the Polar pacer pro, Garmin 245, or Coros pace 2. What would you recommend best overall?

  45. Newbietri

    Hi Ray

    I’m trying to decide between the Polar Pacer Pro or the Coros Pace 2. I’m predominantly a runner, but looking to get into OWS and my first sprint triathlon this year. Which watch would be best in that situation?

    Thanks for the great reviews.

  46. Derek

    My FR235 is aging fast, so looking at a replacement. Having had the M400 the clear downgrade going from the M400->FR235 is the monumental delay in “out of zone alerts”. I can be well outside the HR limit I’ve set on the FR235 (over 10bpm out) before it decides to let me know, by which time the grade has changed again.. so it’s alert is already out of date, which is really infuriating on highly undulating ground (which is all I have to train on). There are days/workouts where I’m happy to have “lazy” alerts, and there are other days when I want nice tight alerts, what I really want is to be able to choose through a setting.

    How does this watch do on that front?.. is it relaxed/responsive or even better.. user selectable?

  47. David Phillips

    In quite a few of your photos it looks as if the bezel is cutting off part of the displayed information (eg the nightly recharge shot, and the running test results.
    I am still using my M430, so I don’t have experience of newer watches, but I was extremely surprised to see that the data doesn’t fit the screen.
    Is this a zooming issue, or does the bezel really cover over parts of many of the data screens?
    thanks in advance

  48. Jan

    Do the Pacer Pro have an temperature sensor? I didn’t find something about it, but the M2 also have this hidden feature.

    • pR

      Not sure if that’s done by separate sensor (nor barometric), but you can find this hidden information about temperature in Polar Pacer Pro as well.

    • Jan

      Thanks.
      This makes sense. Many Casio watches have triple sensors (baro, alti, temp). Seems it is the same technologie.

  49. José

    When running, I would like the Polar Pace Pro to tell me each 1 km my speed average. Is it possible? Thanks in advance for your help.

  50. Larkin

    Hey Ray,
    thx for the awesome review. This looks like exactly the watch i am looking for. Currently i am using the Coros pace 2 and the only two things i dislike are it’s design and the missing navigation. So the Pacer Pro seems to check all the boxes.
    You wrote a little bit about what Polar claims the battery can do. Did you verify those claims? Because i’ve heared mixed things about the battery of this device.
    That is actually the only reason why i am still hesitant.
    Cheers Larkin

  51. Gentle Gigant

    Hi Ray, I have one question: in the new Pacer, if you pause during a training, how long this pause can last? Is it infinite or it’s has limited duration?
    Thanks

  52. Larkin

    Hey guys,
    i got two questions for the guys already owning the Pacer Pro:
    Do you still have to do a “gesture” to see the notifications, or will the just show up on the screen?
    Did anybody try out the indoor Rowing mode and does the Pacer Pro count the strokes?
    Cheers Larkin

    • Peter

      Hi,
      Yes, you have to do gesture to see them, anyway it just displaying the small bouncing red dot.
      Not the Indoor Rowing, but I tried/ususaly use the Canoe profile. Strokes are not counted. More sadly that stride sensor no more supported in this profile. It is a step back, because my old M430 can use the stride sensor in Canoe profile, so I coild countx strokes with it.
      I wrote to Polar, but I got just general answer.

    • Larkin

      Thx man. I feared as much. I guess i will revert back to garmin. There is just too much going wrong in the whole UX with polar. :/