Opinion – Five years and fewer features

OK so it’s actually been a little over 4 years, but let’s not allow that to spoil some sensationalism. The V800 launched May 2014 and the Vantage V will be available in November 2018. This is being heralded as a huge failure by everyone. Let’s put that in perspective though, reviewers survive through a constant stream of new stuff being launched to feed their need for content. That’s not a good reason to launch a new device every year or two. Customers needing a training device have not received any genuinely helpful advances in over a decade, and one might argue that some core training functionality has gotten worse in that time. Sure, it’s in colour now, but did the addition of colour help your fitness? Did colour help you hit your intervals? Probably not.

I was born in the previous millenium. Further into it than I like to think about if I’m honest. In those days it was a good thing for purchases to last. I still have the CD player I got in 1997, although have since upgraded the amp, which was almost 40 years old when I replaced it. It still made quiet things really, really loud. You know what? That CD player and amp didn’t once get a firmware update that hosed functionality. They didn’t slow down inexplicably after 3 years when a new model arrived (lookin’ at you Apple!). They just work. My Sonos usually works too, although sometimes it doesn’t. Often I can’t control it because the app is initialising – my CD player remote didn’t need to initialise, I press a button and it does its thing. I also didn’t need to give the manufacturer the right to listen and record and and all sound in my house and keep the recordings for any reason they see fit. Why does Sonos want recordings of me swearing about their app?

Polar have, consiously or not, given us a device that they supported for over 4 years. This means that athletes could concentrate on training for 4 years, and spend their money on whatever it is that helps them train. In those 4 years I’ve spent enough with Garmin upgrades to pay for a trip to Club La Santa in the suite with the hot tub. I’m still fat and lazy, the devices aren’t working.

Now to the second point, “they removed a bunch of functionality”. Why yes, yes they did. Good on them. The “total rewrite” of their OS probably wasn’t as hard as is being reported. If you look closely the new OS is exceptionally similar to the old one. They ported a load of code is what they did. Personally I think they removed features to make a point, not because they couldn’t put them in in time. I’m not saying they could compete with Garmin on features, and neither should they. What I’m saying is that they understand how to put navigation into a watch, they’ve done it loads of times. No, launching a watch with just the core training functionality sends a message. That message is to remind the world that the primary, core purpose of this watch is to train with. Polar are really good at training, they have a whole research division working on cracking that nut. Functionality will return, I’m sure. People will complain until it does, probably on my comments pages (and MAN have you all commented a lot on this Polar launch!). In the mean time the Vantage watches might be the best out there for running workouts. Once I get one I’ll try it out, but I feel pretty confident they’ll deliver the features at launch in a solid working device.

And this time, there’s not even a USB port to fall out. #winning.

34 Comments

  1. Maybe you’re right but not in this price.

  2. Agreed, so long as that core training functionality at launch includes the ability to pre-program structured workouts, using HR, pace and power zones as targets and continues features like race pace.

    A watch that jettisons the gimmicks and focuses on being a serious training tool could carve out a real niche for itself in the market. But will these watches offer much by way of running workout features which Garmins don’t already?

    I suspect people were also (perhaps unfairly) looking for stellar GPS performance given the reputation of the V800.

  3. I think you’re engaging in wishful thinking here. Although HR seems promising and of central importance to accurate metrics, the new GPS chip is a risk…..early issues still not fixed by Suunto and it creates a dependency on Sony for firmware updates…plus they’ve added GLONASS into the mix which might make the situation worse (can one set GPS only?). Also, the antenna design is new,
    so the comparison to the v800 is shaky at best….
    On features, just a basic nav function would be really useful…do hope it gets added…

    • GPS potential issue is the main worry for me. The only one! It’s why I went with the V800 over the Fenix line.

  4. Couldn’t agree more.
    I see the noise about 40hrs or 30hrs workout on the V…I don’t understand when anyone train without stop for lets say 24hrs.
    It’s like the old Pixel war on the old cameras Nokia got to a point where they had 40MP camera on a phone, and it wasn’t made any different to 99.999% of us…

    • Ultras, need long battery life for ultras

      • 40 hours is plenty. If you don’t stop long enough to charge and eat within 40 hours you’re in trouble!

    • More hours means less need to take it off and recharge! Which is great. I don’t get people with apple watches that need recharge every day…

  5. So less is more! (Pity the price isn’t reflecting the philosophy.)
    Luckily I still have my old Polar S210 with HR strap (1999?) for those who require an upgrade from the Vantage-V. (Which was an upgrade from my Timex Ironman, which was an upgrade from my Casio, which was an upgrade from my Lanco)

    Me? I will most probably go over to Suunto which can support my various activities. Heck – it is 2018 when I last looked. (And yes, I was born in the sixties and even do run barefoot still at times!)

    (Apologies if the above sounds sarcastic / disrespectful, it is also a bit TIC)

    • ” I will most probably go over to Suunto which can support my various activities”

      Not a fan of structured workouts then? Everybody’s needs are different I guess, but my S625 supported those a long while ago so who is downgrading now? 🙂

  6. Despite Polar efforts, to get the recovery-pro feature working it requires accurate HRV (Heart Rate Variability) which in 2018 could not be reliably obtained from OHR. So to your point, why moving to a OHR while for training purposes: all what is needed is a chest strap (e.g. H10) in combination with (very) accurate V800 GPS ? (I faced myself drawbacks of chest strap (chafing), so for longer endurance runs I use OH1 (on upper-arm), interval work is done with chest-strap, since those runs are relative short, not causing skin damage).
    To me Polar has been forced to gimmick-up to OHR as default HR monitor, and had to introduce the latest/greatest OHR in the market (associated with by patents), while the overall watch is not completed due to limited capacity of engineering resources. Interval timings, navigation, no need functional code needs to be developed, it is porting existing firmware to new platform, so the reference SW is there (functionality wise).

    Actually I want the completed (features and GPS-accuracy wise) Vantage V, but then without the OHR, (thinner/lighter/cheaper device), because of its modern looks and that my V800 wears out soon, and maybe there will be good application of power based training.

  7. Back to basics – I love it!

  8. Simply “Back to start” ;)))

  9. As a V800 owner I’d like to point out a few. First, I’d count not 4 but 2 years of support. Features that were to be done 3 months after release were constantly pushed and it took 2 years for the watch to become complete as promised. Second, I don’t believe in Polar taking the training features seriously. Pace zones? Unusable. Structured workouts? Can’t do intervals with a set pace, only in zones. Looks like nobody ever took a training plan and tried to do it using the watch. No lap marks in structured workouts for external analysis. Third, Vantage. 40 hrs gps means ultra. But no navigation. So what for? Why not just take V800 and work on it so it does real serious training stuff. Hr and power from wrist? Why not use stryd and h10 for top accuracy? Training and muscle load? A while ago I stopped using it. One session without the watch cause it failed and the whole load and recovery thing is messed up. Just because you can’t import anything into Flow. So, all in all, I’m really not sure who Polar’s stuff is for.

    • I use a V800 and always do pace based workouts. I just set my pace zones to the different zones.
      Zone 1 Walking/rest
      Zone 2 Easy
      Zone 3 Threshold
      Zone 4 Interval
      Zone 5 Repetition
      Every month of so I do a 5k time trial to set the zones (use Jack Daniels vdot calculator).
      I do agree that not having the phases marked as laps is very annoying. I have given up manually doing them in trainingpeaks afterwards. I am hoping that this will change as flow has been acting a little funny when trying to select different phases in the post workout screen (on a computer, the app doesn’t have enough data, it’s just an overview).

      • I tried to do it but in my case the zones overlap so no joy. And in the first place I did not need zones but just average pace for intervals. Can’t do it with polar structured workouts 🙁

  10. Back to basics seems like a good idea, but this is not what polar is doing(pretty much everyone actually). They are adding useless stuff like touchscreens, color screens, mp3 players, notifications and etc. I’m quite sure they would add instagram and twitter instead of hr measuring if it would get them more money. So atleast for me, it seems like training functionality is just something they “have to add”, as a nuisance.
    Yes, it may sound like a grandpa talking (30 actually), but as a training watch, I want a watch with decent screen size, all button operated, clean of useless “extra features”.

    Currently own a v800 and the only thing missing is a optical hr to get my morning heart rate. Everything else works perfectly and Im not paying ~500 euros for that morning hr.

    Reminded me of time when choosing between two polar watches, one had backlight and the second had something other(cant remember) 🙂

  11. They need to fix flow before I would consider “joining” them for another four years. TCX export of pace when not using GPS as source doesn’t work. CSV export is correct but TCX is random numbers around actual average. I’ve been discussing this with Polar support for three years. They still not accept it being wrong even with compelling evidence.

    Best hardware out there but software is no way near what’s needed.

    • what exact definition of pace do you want polar to produce? what exactly is instant pace when your footpod has no forward motion yet your body is moving forwards?

      polar/suunto will always be missing features comapred to garmin. which do you miss?

      vantage seems to have much of the stuff I personally need for training but we are all different.

  12. If you think that Polar intentionally left out features, rather than because they couldn’t ready them in time, you are ignoring the history of Polar watch releases. I have an m400 which was launched in October 2014. In January 2015, they announced they would support wrist based cadence and speed measurements at some point. The cadence measurements weren’t released until January 2016 and the speed based measurements wren’t released until January 2017, a full 2 years after they announced them. Whatever you may think of Polar, their firmware development team moves at the pace of molasses, at least for their mid to lower end watches. I’m sure the V800 gets a lot more attention.

    Don’t make the mistake I did of buying a Polar watch based on what they claim will come in a future update, because that update will take a heck of a long time to come, if it ever comes at all. Buy only based on what it is able to do today and based on what I’ve seen, both Vantages are going to be missing features at launch that don’t warrant the price they are charging.

  13. I disagree with your initial assessment. I find the FirstBeat metrics to be useful for measuring training load. (I think their race predictor is a bit wonky) but outside that my old 205 Garmin would do most of the things I want, but I think the reductions in form and other technologies are helpful.

    I find it odd that you report on this stuff while complaining at the same time. My biggest complaints with the technology reviewers is that they almost never revisit products 6months later or outright ignore certain players in the market. I can’t for the life of me figure out why Amazfit gets ignored in this review space.

    • Personally I’m ignoring Amazfit because I don’t see a good reason to look at them. They have essentially created a clone of a Garmin but with nothing particularly new or interesting. They also did this without spending years of work and millions of research dollars. They are cheaper because they can afford to be. I’ll look at them once they are proven in the market and I’m not risking my money on something that may stop working at any moment due to the collapse of the company and therefore platform. My assumption would be that if they become any more than a minor player the major players would close them down with patents and copyright.

      To your other point, I find the Garmin implementation of Firstbeat to be worse than useless. It gives almost no useful insight into my real training load, and the performance indicator 5 minutes into a run is entirely derived from speed rather than fatigue. The race predictor gives me a 3:23 for marathon – I’m not even close to dreaming about a 3:23 with my current fitness and would suggest that a 4h time would still be pushing my limits if I trained for 6 months. Your numbers might align better with your performance, but I can assure you that’s not due to science or the robust algorithm in use. It’s pure coincidence, and more likely based on the fact that the algorithm outputs numbers in line with what most runners may be able to achieve +-5%.

      • Cloning a high end sports watch isn’t much easier than doing it the first time. All the important technology is widely available. Polar and Suunto would come out with a Garmin “clone” if they could. They have access to the essential technology; they just don’t have the development resources to do it. Amazfit, on the other hand, has the resources of one of the world’s largest tech companies behind it (Xiaomi dwarfs Garmin). There’s no reason to assume that Amazfit is violating Garmin’s IP just because it has a similar form factor. And keep in mind that just because Garmin might have a patent doesn’t mean it’s something that would ever hold up in court. Many IP lawyers estimate that only a small percentage of patents are actually valid.

        Regarding Firstbeat: Is the 5k estimate more accurate? Because the marathon estimate SHOULD be wildly optimistic for all but the most highly trained runners. It’s based on your aerobic fitness, and very few runners have the miles in their legs to run a marathon at a pace that their aerobic fitness would support. An easy way of seeing this in practice is that “marathon pace” is often the same thing as long run pace for average runners, whereas for faster runners, “marathon pace” is a difficult workout pace that they’d never hit accidentally on a normal run.

      • Sorry, but I think it has to do more the the fact the GPS players – outside of Garmin, Polar, Sunnto – don’t “take care” of the sport reviewers, if you get my drift.

        So I ask again. Why continue this site if all you are going to do is complain about how the new watches are fancy but nothing new?

        And why do you always tell people NOT to buy proven technology and instead urge people to buy the latest and greatest?

        • i’m going to defend dave here a bit (and reserve the right to slate him another time 😉 )

          the players outside of G.P and S i agree are rubbish at supporting reviewers (there is the odd exception). i think it’s because of their size. I think they get wound up by the cost of a PR agency and the cost of giving away all the devices but, to be frank, i don’t think most reviewers would want to keep most of these devices in any case. not because there’s anything wrong with them but because we have our own anyway. the cost comes, in reality, in supplying the ‘big boys’ (not dcr but the corporate review sites) where these guys expect freebies and give them to their friend after spending a day with them (#supposedly)

          I think we have to get a wide variety of views on stuff. Us readers are generally a clever lot so we like to make our own opinions merged from those of others. (BTW the Polar does have new and innovative stuff in it and, yes, does omit other stuff). i like to read the views of people that i disagree with.

          I think Dave’s angle on this site is that he wants to help relatively uninformed buyers not end up with an old lemon or pay over the odds for adevice that is about to be replaced. having said that i suspect VERY many of his readers are well informed but just want some juicy leaks.

          #discuss

          • Yes that’s pretty much what the site is about. Regarding Peter’s question “Why continue this site if all you are going to do is complain”…there are 100,000 people a month reading about my complaints. I don’t want to let them all down now, do I? 🙂 If I can pull my finger out a bit I’ll have a couple of non-complaint posts this week. That said I did just buy a treadmill so new toys might prevail…

  14. @JR
    yes that’s a good point about the 5k/HM/M time predictions.

    *IF* FB is so good at predicting anaerobic and aerobic fitness then WHY can’t they extrapolate properly aerobic fitness to longer distances. My predcted M time is about 2:50-3:05 which is somewhat optimistic and i do a fair amount of aerobic trianing ! (but not enough)
    having said that some of the other FB stuff seems ‘about right’ to me.

    i’m not sure there is that much IP in a previosuly widely used form factor. but point taken

    • I think you might be underestimating the volume of training that is required to hit a marathon time that shorter distances predict. Leaving aside Firstbeat, you see the same thing from the IAAF tables, the VDOT calculators, and other “equivalency” tools. It’s actually less about cardiovascular fitness than about simple muscle endurance. It requires a lot of pounding to toughen up the legs.

      FWIW, I ran my 5k pr in 2009, and I was running 90 miles/week at the time. I ran a marathon the same year about 15 minutes slower than my “predicted equivalent” of my 5k time. I didn’t get a marathon time in line with my 5k PR until years later, when I was comfortably running 110-120 miles/week. You see the same thing in the U.S. with recent NCAA grads. A lot of guys who were stars at 5k/10k on the track decide to try the marathon in the first year after they graduate, and very few run anywhere close to what their track times would indicate.

      • i’m not underestiamting the volume – i agree with you. FB are underestimating it !!

        but why?

        • Ah, I see. I don’t think FB actually treats their “predictions” so literally:

          “Race Predictor puts your VO2max score to work by offering a glimpse into how you might perform across a variety of popular race distances based on your current fitness level. Distances include 5k, 10k, half-marathon and marathon. As your fitness level changes, your predicted race times are automatically updated accordingly. Predicted times assume you have been training for that particular event, so don’t expect to just hit the road and match your predicted times.”

          I very much doubt that a heart rate based system could ever predict marathon performance accurately. I treat the marathon prediction (especially for experienced athletes whose VO2maxes don’t change much) as an indication that you might be able to get there with a lot of hard work. If treated that way, I think it actually is reasonably accurate. (Leaving aside the occasional bolt-from-the-blue miracle workout that momentarily drives my FB values through the roof before another week of routine running takes it back down.)

  15. I’ve found the FB predictions on a Garmin 645 to be ok for me as opposed to my old 620 which was somewhat optimistic to say the least! Currently it has me at 19:11 for 5k (I’ve managed 18:50 recently) & 1:28 for a half (finished on in 1:25:26 last w/end) so definitely in the correct ballpark. Will find out about its marathon prediction at the end of Oct 🙂

    • So it chose a number 21 seconds higher than you achieved for a 5k. For a field that’s supposed to tell you your best possible performance. To me that looks like it plucked some numbers out of the air and you’ve convinced yourself that they suit you. Mine says 21:16 for a 5k and my best ever time was just under 25 minutes. Coincidence and accuracy are not the same thing, and although a few people get numbers in line with their performance I would suggest a great deal more people get something which doesn’t at all line up with reality.
      Science is repeatable, this is not.

      • Haven’t convinced myself of anything I just said that the 645 is closer to my times that my previous 620 that’s all 🙂

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