Polar Pacer Pro review: same watch in a slightly different package

There is no shortage of GPS running watches. Seriously. When I ran the New York City Half Marathon last month, I quickly lost count of the various makes and models of watches I saw on my fellow runners’ wrists. Runners are among the most eager to quantify their training data with technology – be it watches, smart shoes, smart insoles, apps or even a connected treadmill. So I was completely surprised when Polar billed its $ 299.95 Pacer Pro as a GPS watch specifically designed to help runners take their races to the next level.

The thing is, I can not really see how its features are so different from Polar’s other multisports watches. I also do not see how this is a watch that caters to runners.

In practice, we have pretty much seen this watch before. In terms of price, feature set and design, it reminds me a lot of the $ 299.95 Polar Vantage M2 from 2021. In fact, I would say that the two watches are so similar that I am amazed at why this watch is simply not the Vantage M3 .

It is not that there are no differences. Polar Pacer Pro has faster hardware and 5 MB of internal RAM. It may sound low compared to something like the Apple Watch, but it’s much more than what all other Polar watches have. One of my biggest issues with Polar watches over the years has been how laggy the screens and sync can be. Pacer Pro fixes that. The Pro also adds a barometer, which Polar says can help you measure the running power, also called your output, in watts. And although the Pro and M2 have screens of the same size, the Pro’s screen is easier to read. The case also feels a bit smaller, thinner and lighter. The way the straps are fastened is also different. The Pacer Pro uses Polar’s proprietary Shift adapter, while the M2 uses your standard spring release pins.

(A quick detour regarding the Shift adapter. I appreciate that it allows you to use standard straps you may already have. That said, it’s annoying. You’ll need a pen to pop the proprietary pin out and then swap in another set of ears just so you can use standard straps.It’s not easy to figure out just by looking and I had to Google a video tutorial.I also now have black pen ink all over my white review device.)

Aside from the Pro’s similarity to the M2, 99 percent of the features you get on the Pacer Pro are not new. Hill Splitter, FuelWise, Nightly Recharge, Fitspark, Training Load Pro, running performance tests, turn-by-turn route navigation – we’ve seen all of these before on other Polar devices. Sure, premium Polar watches like the Grit X Pro come with a little more (i.e. more dashboards, fitness test types, etc.), but it feels a lot like rearranging features without really adding new value.

Buttons and frames.

When Polar says that this watch will help running “pros” gain a head start, the average person would probably expect running-specific tools and insights – perhaps mid-range warnings to increase your cadence or reduce your intensity to maintain endurance. The closest thing to it on the Pro is the running power function. It’s meant to help you measure how efficiently you run, but of all the similar features I’ve tested on other running watches, this is not the most intuitive implementation of it. I was often amazed at what it meant during a run and how I should interpret this chart correctly afterwards.

The reality is that the vast majority of features on this watch are not just for runners. Turn-by-turn route navigation is useful for hikers, cyclists, hikers and anyone who is directional outdoors. Recovery insights like Nightly Recharge and training suggestions like Fitspark are good for anyone trying to make an exercise plan. Hill Splitter – a feature that contextualizes your ups and downs – also works for cyclists. The same goes for Fuelwise, which is a feature that helps you figure out your nutrition strategy for endurance sports. It is great for long distance runners but also for cyclists and hikers. This is not necessarily bad! Usually it is a good thing to have multiple features across multiple categories. It’s just a little misleading to market this as a watch to runners when triathletes, cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts on a budget would also get a lot out of it.

The walk test is the only new feature introduced on the Pacer Pro, and it was inaccurate in the test.

The one brand new feature that Pacer Pro introduces is the walk test. Polar markets this feature as an easy fitness test for people who are just starting out on their fitness journey who may not be physically able to perform Polar running performance tests. In total, the test takes about 25 minutes – a 5-minute warm-up, a 15-minute brisk walk on flat terrain and a 5-minute cool down. In the end, you are supposed to get an estimate of your VO2 Max score. (This score is often used as a means of measuring your cardiovascular ability and progress over time.)

This is a good idea for beginners. Brands like Polar tend to be intimidating as they, let’s face it, target athletes who already have good habits in place and know what they are doing. Polar running test is no joke either. It’s a 30-40 minute run at an ever-faster pace until your lungs hurt, your legs burn, and you fall into a sweaty pile on a nearby bench. It would be challenging and not so useful for true beginners.

But in my test, the walking test was far away. To begin with, go at a pace where your heart rate is at least 120 beats per minute (bpm). According to my Apple Watch, my comfortable walking pace is around 17 minutes per second. mile (or 3.5 miles per hour). My heart rate at that rate was only around 100 bpm. To get up to 120 beats / min I had to hoof it with 14 minutes per. Several times the clock admonished me with a message that said, “Do not run!” But I was not. And because of my problems, the watch told me I had a VO2 Max score of 28 – which by Polar’s definition is bad for my age and gender. Before this test, Polar and Garmin both put my VO2 Max score at around 39-40.

You get Polars Precision Prime heart rate measurement.

Granted, the puzzle test is intended for beginners who have just started. It’s probably not designed for people like me who already run several times a week, so it could have distorted my results greatly. Still, I can not say that it has instilled in me confidence.

I admit that I really like a very functional GPS watch whose biggest crimes are obscure marketing and being a little boring. In every other respect, the Pro is your typical Polar fitness watch. Battery life was excellent and matched Polar’s seven-day estimate without any problems. The screen, even though it is not beautiful and cursed with huge frames, is incredibly readable in direct sunlight. In my running tests, the GPS tracking was spot on with my Apple Watch Series 7 and Garmin Fenix ​​7S. The heart rate monitor was also mostly reliable and exactly what you would expect from a multisport fitness watch. It may have struggled to accurately image my heart rate during the gait test – at times it was around 15 bpm off before correcting itself. But as I mentioned earlier, this particular test was not Polar’s finest work, nor was it intended for someone like me.

Fitspark is a great feature that helps you figure out what type of workout you should do based on your history. Nor is it the first time we’ve seen it.

The worst I can say is that the Polar Flow app is intricate and its smart features are limited – but those are not new complaints either. The Polar Flow app is still hard to navigate, even if it gives you good insight without bombarding you with a wall of data, as Garmin sometimes does. You can get push notifications, set timers and control your music, but you do not get more advanced features like security alerts or NFC payments. Just as the features are things we’ve seen a zillion times before, we’ve also seen the weaknesses of the Pro before.

In fact, I’m taking it back. The pro’s biggest crime is that it makes Polar’s current lineup confusing as hell. At $ 299.90, the Pacer Pro is competitively priced for the advanced feature set it offers. Multisport GPS watches are an expensive category, but you get most of the same features as the $ 499.95 Grit X Pro. And as I mentioned earlier, there’s really no reason to buy the M2 anymore, because the Pro is basically the same with more updated hardware.

Running power is not new, but it is the most running-specific feature available on the Pacer Pro.

I would say that the calculation may change if you find a heavily discounted M2. But in another twist, Polar will soon also release a cheaper beginner-level Pacer watch. That watch costs $ 199.95 and is almost identical to the Pacer Pro. It just lacks the barometer that enables running force measurement, Hill Splitter and turn-by-turn navigation. If these features do not appeal to you, you are better off saving the extra $ 100.

I’m glad Polar offers more of its advanced features at a lower price. I really am. The Pro is a good GPS smartwatch and I would happily recommend it to runners, triathletes and multisport athletes who do not want to spend much and do not care about a host of bells and whistles. But I could also say that about the Polars Vantage M2, Pacer and $ 229.95 Ignite 2. I wish Polar spent a little more time clearly differentiating each watch within its lineup. Although Garmin’s watches also share a wealth of overlaps, you can just watch a Venu, Fenix ​​and Forerunner and have a good idea of ​​who each watch is aimed at. It’s much harder to do this with Polar’s watches at all levels – and it’s a disservice to both consumers and all the things Polar does well.

Photograph by Victoria Song / The Verge