Polar Vantage V, Suunto 9 Baro Titanium, and Garmin Forerunner 735XT comparison

I was interested in replacing my older Garmin Forerunner 735XT, with either a Polar Vantage V or a Suunto 9 Baro Titanium.  I didn’t see many reviews comparing those against each other, so I decided to create this for others.  All watches were bought with my own money, without sponsorship from any companies.  This will not be a full in-depth review of all features/functions from any of these devices.  It is just a basic overview comparison.

Appearance:  The Polar Vantage V looks nicer with a slick band that feels like a hybrid rubber/fabric material (although it is just silicone).  It measures at 46 x 46 x 13 mm and 66 g (with band).  The Suunto 9 Baro Titanium has a much thicker body and has a sports watch “look” of hefty durability, measuring in at 51.5 x 51.5 x 17 mm at 76 g (non titanium is just slightly less at 72 g).  The older Garmin Forerunner 735XT stands out as a Garmin GPS device, but is very light and comfortable to wear with it’s slightly smaller 44.5 x 44.5 x 11.9 mm dimensions coming in at only 40.2 g.  The Suunto is almost twice the weight of Garmin’s older model.  Granted there are hardware differences (including battery).

Battery: Speaking of battery – the Garmin website says up to 14 hours GPS and up to 24 hours in UltraTrac (without HR).  Polar steps it up with up to 40 hours in training mode (continuous GPS and HR).  The Suunto 9 really ups the ante with 25/50/120 hour recording.  Depending on the watch face selected these watches may or may not display remaining battery life.  My Garmin has an icon, Polar momentarily slides the battery icon in from the lift upon lifting wrist (then slides back off screen), and Suunto has both icon and percentage (with certain watch faces).

Display: All three watches have a color display, while only the Polar and Suunto are touch screen and they vary in crispness/quality.  Polar has a very nice 1.2” 240×240 pixels per inch display which is very easy to read in low light or daytime.  And you can press the top/left button to increase the backlight if needed.  Suunto a slightly bigger 320×300 and approximately 1.35”.  The older Garmin is 1.23” with 215×180 pixels.

All three watches have a “always on display” feature that shows the current time.  The Polar has a lift-to-wake type feature similar to Samsung or Apple that turns on the backlight for you to see the time better.  And like mentioned earlier you can always hit the backlight button to make it even brighter.  Very nice feature!  Suunto, meanwhile, seems to hibernate after a minute or two.  The time will continue to refresh, but the backlight does not come on and tapping the display doesn’t always “wake” it.  Pressing any button will turn on the backlight, though.  Garmin is similar in this situation, in that you need to press the backlight button to make it brighter (unless you enable the lift-to-wake function in the settings).

Sleep recording: The Polar is on top of their game when it comes to sleep tracking.  Not only does it record the time you go to sleep and wake up, but also light, deep, and REM sleep periods.  Additionally, it has “ANS Charge”.  In here it shows your average HR beats per minute (bpm), breathing rate average per minute.   While many sleep tracking devices will show you the above information, Polar takes it a step further with heart rate “beat-to-beat interval” and “heart rate variability” data.  The Suunto is much more basic with only displaying time asleep/awake, deep sleep, average HR bpm, and quality of sleep.

GPS accuracy: I’ve used all three (Polar, Suunto, and Garmin) at the same time during a walk/run this evening.  Suunto was strapped to my left wrist, Polar on the right, and Garmin was hand-held to reduce any cross interference. Garmin was a bit erratic (over several events). Polar was a bit more accurate on the path, but Suunto was much closer to the sides of the roads I traveled.  Each will have their differences, but for me the Suunto was a tiny bit more accurate.

From reading DC Rain Maker’s website, it looks like the same Sony GPS chipset is used in the Polar and Suunto watches.

HR accuracy:  They are all supposed to be capable of continuous heart rate recording (24×7).  I’ve found that any time I gently lift the Garmin and Polar to peek at the sensors they are flashing and checking HR.  The Suunto, on the other hand, seems to turn off the HR sensors anytime I’ve looked under the body of the watch, while still strapped to my wrist.  All watches were set to continuous in their various settings menus.  The Polar Vantage V not only has more HR sensors that should help improve accuracy, but also includes skin sensors to allow the watch to know if you are wearing it or not.

During activities each device is going have their differences, just like the GPS.  In my trials I found the Garmin to be about 10 bpm different than the Polar or Suunto, which were within 4 bpm of each other.  When checked against my FDA approved arm cuff blood pressure monitor, Polar shows exactly the same heart rate, and Suunto is 1 bpm higher, so very good.  Garmin was low by almost 20 bpm in this test.

Step counter:  All of these devices will count your steps during the day, just as one would expect from a Fitbit, Apple Watch, or many other devices over the last few years.

Sunrise/Sunset times: Each of these sports watches can tell you when the Sun will rise or set.  Suunto takes the prize for this feature.  One of the watch faces will not only tell you the specific time for both Sunrise/Sunset, but also has a neat way of showing it on a 24-hour ring.

Compass:  Seems only the Suunto 9 Baro has an actual compass (magnetic) built-in.  Both the Garmin Forerunner 735XT and Polar Vantage V get their directional heading data from GPS.

Barometric data: Both Polar and Suunto have a barometer internally, while the Garmin depends on GPS telemetry to determine altitude changes.  Suunto take this a step further and allows you to see both the Altitude (example 401 ft) and the barometric pressure (30.06 inHg at the time of this writing).   Suunto will even show you a chart to watch the pressure increase/decrease over the last 12 hours.  Suunto will even alert you of possible weather changes.  It just vibrated and alerted me while typing this up.  When comparing the barometric pressure of the Suunto to Weather Underground and my personal weather station at home, it is very close. Weather Underground shows my location at 30.02 inHg, and my weather station shows the inches in mercury just about the same, so looks like I can trust it.

Water resistance: All three are designed to go for a swim with no problem.  Garmin’s 735XT has a 5ATM rating (50 m), where Suunto takes the crown here with its 100 m capability.  Polar falls in last with “just” 30 m pressure resistance (I say “just” as it is still very capable to go to the bottom of any swimming pool and even durable enough to take SCUBA diving).

Running: Both Polar and Suunto are great new tech for runners.  They will show pace, distance, duration, heart rate data, and much more.  Polar’s Vantage V introduces Power, which is like what cyclists have had on bikes for the last few years.  It takes several data points to give you an approximation of performance by a power rating.

Notifications: They are all able to push phone notifications to the watch to alert you of incoming phone calls, emails, and text messages. With the Polar when I receive a new text message it will only show from whom, and what it is (example “Picture” if they sent a photo to me, but not able to see the actual picture).  From there I can do three things: “Mark Read”, “Clear”, or just ignore it and go back to home.  Suunto will display the same thing, but without the options to mark read or clear the notification.  I did not compare the phone notifications on the Garmin Forerunner 735XT.

Polar has a strong vibration to alert you.

Quick summary: Here is a recap in pros/cons format between the Polar Vantage V and Suunto 9 Baro Titanium watches.
                PROS                                                         CONS

Polar sleep data very informative Suunto has a much weaker vibrate
Suunto GPS accuracy slightly better Suunto does not seem to have a true 24/7 HR monitor
Polar appearance, buttons, weight Polar has a bug that is easy to reproduce which could happen during an activity if not careful
Polar has true 24/7 HR monitoring  
Suunto has a faster, easier to use UI  
Polar phone notifications a bit better  
Suunto barometer data, including weather alerts  

BUGS: As of 14 January 2020 I’ve found (and reported) a reproduceable bug with the Polar Vantage V.  When on the home screen (current time) and you press/hold the right middle button (red) to quickly go into an activity (shows Run with current HR and locating GPS) it will crash and reboot the watch if I scroll through the activities or swipe from left-to-right to return to home.  It does this 100% of the time for me, so be careful.

Update (16-Jan-2020): Polar reached out to me and suggested a factory reset of the Vantage V.  Even though it was a brand new device that was just setup, I followed their recommendation and it does appear to be resolved (at this time).