Most runners use a GPS watch to track pace, distance, and time of their runs. GPS watches have become so ubiquitous that brands now offer multiple models – and there are multiple competing brands on the market. Garmin is one of the most popular brands – as well as Garmin competitors such as Polar. This article will compare Polar vs Garmin and help you choose the best running watch for you.
About Polar watches
Polar watches are smart sport watches, designed to track your running performance. The watch features a GPS and heart rate monitor, plus metrics including training load, heart rate, and VO2max. Polar is one of the top Garmin competitors on the market.
What makes Polar watches great
Polar watches connect with multiple satellites, including GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, and QZSS. This feature increases accuracy, even in locations where basic GPS may be poor.
Polar is the gold standard for heart rate monitors – and their optical heart rate monitors are no exception. When it comes to Polar vs Garmin heart rate monitor accuracy, Polar is slightly superior. Gear testers report more accuracy with the optical heart rate monitor on Polar watches, especially in situations like cold weather.
Polar running watches work well for the multi-sport athletes. Polar watches feature over 150 sport tracking profiles, from basics like running to niche sports such as standup paddleboarding.
Areas of improvement
As of early 2024, Polar running watches do not quite have the battery life of competitors like Garmin or Coros. Polar watches consistently do not have quite as long of battery life as similarly priced models from other brands. This could be due to the improved heart rate monitoring – it takes more battery power to support accurate optimal heart rate sensors.
General price points
When comparing Polar vs Garmin, you will notice that many price points overlap. Polar’s introductory watches cost $229 (Pacer model). Their mid-level Pacer Pro model features a $329 price tag. Their top-end model, the Vantage V3, costs $599 (or $649 if you bundle a chest strap heart rate monitor with it.)
Best Polar watches
Polar Vantage V3 ($599): The newest edition in the Polar Vantage series features an AMOLED-screen, dual-frequency GPS, downloadable maps for navigation, and biosensors for heart rate. These top-end watch also is sleek and aesthetically pleasing.
Polar Pacer Pro ($329): The Pacer Pro features tools to measure running power, heart rate, and other performance metrics, as well as GPS tracking. This watch gives you all the training metrics you could want – in a lightweight, sleek smartwatch.
Polar Pacer ($229): This budget-friendly, entry-level watch provides all the basics you need: accurate GPS, sleep tracking, and an optical heart rate monitor. This watch is user-friendly, which is great if you want run tracking without extra metrics or features.
About Garmin watches
Garmin running watches allow you to track both sport activity and overall health. Garmin’s GPS is industry standard – accurate and reliable. If you want a holistic look at your running, including how stress or your menstrual cycle impact your training, then consider a Garmin watch.
Similar to Polar, most Garmin running watches support various sports. Depending on the model, your watch can record running, treadmill running, cycling, snow sports, swimming, triathlon, strength training, and more.
What makes Garmin watches great
There is a reason that Garmin running watches have been popular for a couple of decades. Garmin watches work well and are easy to use! Additionally, Garmin continues to innovate features for their watches and their apps to keep up with the latest training trends.
Garmin’s app (Garmin Connect) communicates with Garmin watches to provide health and training data. You can see your pulse ox levels, recovery status, body battery, stress, daily steps, sleep, breathing rate, and more. The app can also assess your training performance, from productive to detraining, and estimate your race times.
Garmin Connect also allows you to track important health metrics, including hydration and your menstrual cycle. From a performance perspective, Garmin easily communicates with most training platforms, including Final Surge and Training Peaks.
Areas of improvement
The optical heart rate monitors on Garmin are improving, but are still not as accurate as a chest strap. If you rely on heart rate zones for your training, you may want to use a chest strap or arm band heart rate monitor. (I pair the Polar Verity Sense with my Garmin.)
General price points
Garmin offers a GPS smartwatch for everyone, with several models on the market. All Garmin watches feature enhanced battery life, optical heart rate sensors, GPS or multiple satellite connections, push notifications on the watch, and smooth syncing with the Garmin app (and, therefore, Strava, etc).
Entry-level Garmins (Forerunner 55) cost $199. Their mid-level options (Forerunner 255, Forerunner 265, and Instinct) range from $299 to $450. Their top-end options (Fenix, Forerunner 965, and Epix) come with a $599 to $1099 price tag.
Best Garmin watches
Garmin Forerunner 265 ($449): The newest edition to the Forerunner series features a bright AMOLED screen, music player, pulse ox sensor, and multi-band GPS for enhanced accuracy. The newest Forerunner also offers a morning report and daily suggested workouts based on your metrics. You can also purchase the 265s, which features a smaller screen.
Garmin Forerunner 55 ($199): The Garmin Forerunner 55 is one of the best entry level GPS watches on the market. It tracks all the basics – pace, time, distance, heart rate – and offers activity profiles for cross-training as well. It’s simple to use, making it an ideal option for a new runner.
Garmin Fenix 7S Pro Solar ($799): The Garmin Fenix is a top-level, multisport watch, with accurate tracking and an outstanding battery life. The Fenix 7S Pro Solar features solar charging, which uses the sun to extend battery life during activities. The watch also has special features such as a flashlight, navigation maps, ECG, and more. While it’s a luxury at this price point, it offers all you could possibly want in a GPS smartwatch – in a durable yet aesthetically pleasing package. If you want a top-end running watch, Garmin may edge out in the Polar vs Garmin comparison with all the Fenix has to offer.
Which is right for you, Polar or Garmin?
When comparing Polar vs Garmin, you can see that each watch has its pros and cons. Both Garmin and Polar watches are reliable running watches. Regardless of which you choose, you will not end up with inaccurate run data or a watch that stops working after a couple of weeks. Ultimately, the difference comes down to what features you want: a performance-only watch with Polar, or a performance plus health tracking watch with Garmin?
Whether you choose Garmin or Polar, you want to choose a GPS watch that matches both your budget and your training needs. The more expensive watches are not automatically better. If you want a basic running watch to track runs, the Garmin Forerunner 55 or Polar Pacer will meet those needs. The more analytics and features you want, then the fancier model you will need from either brand.
Pair your watch with smart training
Ultimately, a GPS watch is a training tool. Garmin or Polar running watches do not replace a smart training plan or good recovery habits like sleep. Your watch is a tool to help you understand your training and recovery – not an automatic guarantee for improved performance. While a watch may record all the data, you can still benefit from following a training plan, working with a coach, and using a training log.
Want to learn more about running watch stats? Listen to the Tread Lightly Podcast! Co-host Amanda Brooks of Run to the Finish and I discuss all things running, including episodes on running watch stats and gear reviews.