Sports smartwatches: Garmin fēnix 6 and Polar Vantage V in comparison
Smartwatches are now a highly differentiated product category. The range of products includes a wide spectrum of devices - from inexpensive fitness trackers and sports watches to models with a mobile radio modem and internal storage - which cover various application scenarios. In this review, we focus on two high-priced models, which, however, tend to be aimed at more active users or athletes. Not only is this evident in the sensors used but also, and especially, in the data collection and evaluation. At this point, we'd like to openly point out one circumstance: No physicians or sports scientists were consulted for this review, so the evaluations of the corresponding training systems and parameters can only be based on how our own bodies feel. Compared to the last review, there was a clear shift in focus away from endurance sports to strength sports, both watches were tested in two strength units and one endurance unit.
The Garmin fēnix 6 is a multisport smartwatch with very extensive gear. In this way, the model is equipped with an optical system for measuring oxygen saturation in the blood. This function is particularly interesting for alpinists, since oxygen saturation provides information about the status of acclimatization and planning a route based on this information can potentially prevent the occurrence of altitude sickness. Oxygen saturation in lowland areas is not primarily intended for the absolute determination of the training status - in contrast to the heart rate, for example - which significantly limits the actual added value of the function in lowland. According to the manufacturer, the Polar Vantage V comes with a particularly powerful heart-rate sensor but doesn't measure oxygen saturation.
Workmanship - Metal pleases with Garmin and Polar
Both the Garmin fēnix 6 and the Polar Vantage V convince with good workmanship, which can be demanded in view of the asking prices. Overall, the fēnix 6 looks much more bulky; the contrast between the metallic bezel and the watch's black body in our model contributes to this. The bezel is made of stainless steel, screws are visible and the five buttons, also made of stainless steel, protrude from the black body of the watch.
The Polar Vantage V, on the other hand, looks much more inconspicuous and almost sophisticated. The model is also made of stainless steel but is painted black and comes with elongated, rather discreet buttons. The wear comfort of both models is good, but it must be noted that both devices come with a plastic bracelet. This is practical for sports and sits well on the wrist, but in our experience, it often becomes rather too tight.
Handling - fēnix 6 convinces even without touch functionality
The Polar Vantage V can also be operated with touch input if desired, and the model comes therefore with a touchscreen. Touch inputs are generally well recognized, whereby water splashes can trigger inputs when the screen lock is deactivated. Operation errors due to bending your wrist can occur just as with the fēnix 6.
The fēnix 6 can also be operated in most cases in a self-explanatory way but follows a somewhat different concept and is much more configurable. Not only the dials can be displayed, as usual, but also other small applications such as a location-based weather radar widget. Both the fēnix 6 and the Vantage V can be used for navigation; unlike more expensive Garmin models, the fēnix 6 doesn't support maps, but it offers more options compared to its Polar competitor.
Both displays are easy to read in sunlight as well as in the dark. The lighting of the Vantage V shows clear screen bleeding, but this really isn't disturbing. The displays are not classic LCD models but MIP displays, which means that our measurements of contrast ratio and brightness are also of limited value. With a maximum brightness of 30 cd/m², the Garmin fēnix 6 is theoretically superior to the Vantage V with its 15 cd/m²; the contrast ratio is comparable at 11:1 (Garmin) and 13:1 (Polar).
Powerful sensors in both smartwatches
Both models are equipped with a powerful heart-rate sensor that not only measures and displays heart rate but also heart-rate variability. As usual, the optical sensors on the wrist are somewhat slower than a chest strap, but the accuracy is no cause for criticism. Garmin and Polar each include a barometer in the smartwatches, which allows the altitude to be determined independently of a GPS signal - at least under constant weather conditions. The fēnix 6 also comes with a compass. Furthermore, both models recognize the number of steps taken, as is now common in the low price segment too.
The location of both watches is determined independently of the smartphone. In direct comparison to the Garmin Edge 500, the quality of the recording is convincing, whereby the quality of the data capture on the fēnix 6 makes a better visual impression - although this is probably also due to a corresponding smoothing of the data.
Training as core competence of the fēnix 6 and Vantage V
During strength training, the Garmin fēnix 6 can certainly stand out from the Polar Vantage V. In addition to an automatic recognition of repetitions, the corresponding program offers a good possibility to display the break times without starting a new lap. The automatic recognition of repetitions works surprisingly well, but it is inevitably better for explosive exercises than for sets with a slow execution. The number of repetitions achieved can be adjusted after the set. The Polar Vantage V comes with some training programs where exercises are displayed directly on the watch, which is likely to be more relevant for beginners than ambitious athletes.
Both models support the tracking of different sports - and even in one unit. The evaluation is extensive with both systems and can be done through an app as well as through corresponding web interfaces. In our opinion, the evaluation is, in principle, much more useful for endurance athletes, since the performance calculation for weight training would essentially have to be based on the achieved weight and the number of repetitions. When jogging or cycling, on the other hand, the direct relation between training performance - i.e. primarily the intensity (which describes duration and speed) - and the heart rate achieved in the process can be measured and evaluated directly by the watch. In weight training, on the other hand, an athlete's performance should not be primarily limited by endurance, nor do heavy sets necessarily lead to an extremely strong increase in heart rate. Garmin and Polar calculate, alongside the calories burned, the training load as well. The load has been integrated as a rather central concept by both manufacturers.
Load as a parameter of the sports watches
Not only sport puts strain on the body but also everyday life. The analysis of heart rate and heart-rate variability should provide an insight into stress levels. Garmin summarizes the concept of load under the name Body Battery. According to the manufacturer, the value is calculated from the heart-rate variability, stress, sleep quality and activity data, and in our opinion, it is quite accurate. In this way, short or restless nights are recorded just as accurately as with the Polar Vantage V, whereby the fēnix 6 also shows the stress level of the last hours. If desired, the fēnix 6 can also use the data from the oxygen saturation measurement to somewhat determine the breathing rate during sleep, whereby Garmin also records the sleep parameters but doesn't display them quite so centrally.
While both models can display notifications from the smartphone, the fēnix 6 can also be used to control music playback. In contrast to the Pro version, however, direct music playback is not possible. In the absence of a mobile radio modem, a purely self-sufficient operation and, for example, performing telephone calls is not provided, but the model from Garmin does at least have a Wi-Fi module.
Both watches are suitable for tracking sporting activities in detail as well as for obtaining an overview of the general activity level, sleep quality and stress levels. Compared to the M430, Polar has made great progress both visually and in terms of workmanship. While the Vantage V convinces with a slightly better handling and also a lower weight, the fēnix 6 offers a slightly larger - and also expandable - range of functions, which makes the fēnix 6 the perfect companion for high mountain tours, not least because of the optical measurement of oxygen saturation. However, even for experienced users, the fēnix 6 requires an adjustment period.
In terms of price, the Vantage V is currently about 200 Euros (~$220) less than the fēnix 6, whereby the price-performance ratio of both models is, in our opinion, reasonable. The concrete purchase decision, especially for a smartwatch, should also depend on the visual aspect. The Vantage V is fundamentally more discreet and more suitable for the masses, whereas the fēnix 6 is also available in several variants.