So, is the new Polar Vantage M running watch worth £249?
Liz Connor gives her verdict on one of the year's most hotly-anticipated running gadgets
With more of us focusing on wellbeing and self-improvement, it's safe to say the running watch market is booming, and there are new versions each year that offer better insights, superior coaching and sleeker designs.
The latest heavyweight contender is Polar's Vantage M, a successor to the brand's popular M430 model, which boasts a whole slew of upgraded Bond-like features, getting everyone from pro-athletes to weekend warriors excited.
So how does it fare? I took it on a 10K run to find out everything you should know ahead of purchasing...
It looks as good as a 'fashion' watch
The M430 wasn't the prettiest smartwatch on the block, but Polar have really upped their game when it comes to striking that all-important balance between a watch that looks good on the track, and in the office.
They've phased out the blocky rectangular screens and opted for a traditional round watch face instead. Much like it's big contender, the Garmin Forerunner 235, the Gorilla Glass screen is pretty hefty in diameter, with a crisp colour display set in a slick stainless steel bezel.
It's easily Polar's most fashionable watch to date, and while it isn't obvious you're wearing something fitness-led on your wrist, it manages to stay super lightweight at just 45g. It's also completely waterproof, and can hold its own in wet and rugged conditions.
There's no touchscreen for scrolling through notifications on-the-go (you'll have to pay an extra £190 for the Vantage V model for that), but there are five satisfyingly textured buttons handy for quick tapping during a sweaty workout.
The soft silicone sports strap was comfortable enough to wear throughout the night for sleep insights, and it can easily be snapped off and replaced with different colours too.
There are features to help you run faster and smarter
It's not a case of all style and no substance; the Vantage M is also a serious running tool crammed full of features designed to help you run better.
Its big USP is providing PB-chasers with elite-level metrics, which is all thanks to its next-level heart rate monitor. Underneath the watch there are nine LEDs that use different wavelengths of light to penetrate deeper into your skin for a more accurate heart rate reading. This is paired with four raised electric sensors that measure the quality of the skin contact to provide further insights to improve your data, such as if the watch is slipping up and down your wrist during a high-tempo workout.
Basically, if you're still relying on wearing a chest strap to get better BPM insights with your current wearable, this watch will help you ditch it. For swimmers, the improved optical heart rate also will track your heart rate in the water too.
Another impressive feature is the measure of your 'training load', which looks at how your cardiovascular system performed, how stressed your muscles are and how hard you think you worked, to give you an overview of how effective your training is. The insights will tell you, at a glance, whether you're detraining, maintaining or overreaching your goal.
Rather than just monitoring your run-by-run performance, a 'strain' measurement analyses the average load from the past week to give an indication of muscle fatigue, while 'tolerance' looks at how intense your training has been over a whole month. Using these insights, the watch will give feedback on when you're overtraining and at risk of injury, recommending you take a rest day or try a lighter workout instead.
Coaching plans and personalised data
The watch syncs with an easy-to-use app, where you can get detailed graphs of your stats post-run - like cadence, your pace, heart rate and the altitude of your course. You can also use the app to set up a bespoke coaching plan for distances from 5K up to a marathon, and an in-app calendar makes it really easy to see when your next run is approaching.
As someone who doesn't stick to any one kind of fitness, I was impressed by the fact you can load the watch with different sport profiles (there are 130 altogether) like circuit training, pilates and boxing. Each setting has a slightly different algorithm to help deliver more accurate data, which is a step up from other wearables I've tried.
When you're not training, it'll also do all the usual basics - track steps, monitor your sleep length and quality - and can be paired with your smartphone for notifications on incoming calls and updates from your apps.
At £249, the Vantage M doesn't come cheap, but if you're a serious runner on the road to a marathon next year, this could very well be the pocket coach to get you into the fast lane - and do it while avoiding injury.
I was really impressed with both the post-run analytics and the battery power - allowing for 30 hours of continuous training with GPS and optical heart rate measurement. My only small bugbear? The brightness and clarity of the screen isn't quite on a par with other high-end smartwatches I've tried. If you're relentlessly chasing a faster finishing time though, and you've got the budget to boost your chances, this is a pretty nifty Christmas present to put on the self-gifting list.
The Polar Vantage M is available to buy now. Visit polar.com