Polar has finally made a handful of watches that are on par—if not better than—other smartwatches in the endurance sports space. Their Vantage V was a nearly overpacked watch with built-in running power and advanced heart-rate functions. Their Vantage M was basically a non-touchscreen, non-running power version of the V at nearly half the price which felt almost mispriced with so many great features. The Grit X falls somewhere between with a big range of functions that triathletes could definitely use. We’ve already posted a basic review of the Grit X and an unboxing video, but below in a Polar Grit X extended review we take a closer look at the functions and how this watch compares to other watches in the Polar line. If you’re thinking of coughing up 400 of your well-earned dollars, there is a lot you should know before you hit add to cart: For some triathletes, the Grit X is a dream come true; for others it’s business as usual.
Polar Grit X Extended Review: The Rundown
Without looking at every single feature in the new Grit X, below we’ve broken down the most important tri-related functions and given an assessment on each.
- Open-water, pool swimming, cycling, indoor cycling, running, triathlon, and multisport modes mean this watch has literally all of the functions a triathlete needs. The multisport mode (for bricks or something that’s not simply swim/bike/run, like swimrun for instance) is super clunky: You need to select it as a mode, then your first sport, hit start, end each sport, then find the next one, and start it for each transition. It’s fine if you’re doing a simple bike-to-run long brick, but incredibly annoying if you have to swap quickly. Here, Garmin does an excellent job with a built-in swimrun feature and the ability to “create” your own brick, pre-workout.
- Running power without the need for an additional footpod is very cool, and Polar does well with their power statistics in both the post-workout rundown on screen and in their app. In fact, it’s nearly on par with something like the $200 Stryd powermeter in terms of analytics—accuracy notwithstanding. The on-watch power data screen is also very useful at a glance, something that Stryd only recently got right with their data screens on Garmin.
- FuelWise is a new function that helps you estimate how much fuel you’ll need during your session, based on length and intensity, before you begin. It also reminds you automatically or manually to eat and/or drink during the workout. It’s no nutritionist, but it’s absolutely better than nothing, because sometimes not bringing the right amount of fuel (and taking it when you should) is simply a matter of laziness/forgetfulness.
- Strong post-workout analysis that tells you how hard you worked, both aerobically and muscularly—a very very unique feature that takes some getting used to, but is actually pretty helpful for knowing how much recovery to take/what kind of nutrition you might need afterwards. If you don’t have a coach, this can help direct your second workout of the day, as well—particularly if you’re notorious for overdoing it.
- Excellent battery life that goes for roughly seven days in smartwatch mode with heart-rate monitoring and 40 hours in GPS/heart rate training modes. There are lots of options to extend both, which puts this more in the endurance sports category over the recharge-every-day lifestyle category. This is no Apple watch that needs to be docked nightly.
- Great recovery functions that combine each day’s training intensity/duration with the amount/quality of rest you got at night. To take full advantage of these features, it’s super important that you wear the watch constantly—something you may or may not want to do while you sleep. Again, for those without a coach or little contact with your coach, this can prove essential to planning your workout week.
- A simple-yet-very-effective weather forecast “mini-app” that lives on the main clock screen is actually one of the best I’ve used. It updates seamlessly (and often) via a smartphone and provides a quick glance at daily and hourly weather for the next few days—everything a training triathlete needs without the extra stuff they don’t.
- Very cool coaching/workout suggestions that tell you when you should be doing something like a strength workout and shows in the watch which exercises, little animated icons on how to perform each, and detailed instructions. For those who dislike the complexity of piecing together a strength training program and reading it off a phone or paper, this removes an often irritating barrier. Of course, it’s more like untargeted “fitness” training without a set goal or plan, but it can be a good option in a pinch.
- Like almost all training smartwatches, this syncs up to services like Strava, TrainingPeaks, MyFitnessPal and more. Polar’s own Flow app acts like the Garmin Connect app with fairly similar features. One BIG caveat here is that you cannot as of this writing upload another .fit or .gpx file into Polar Flow. This may seem sort of picky, but if you use a Wahoo or Garmin bike computer, you won’t be able to get all of that data into Polar Flow. And if it doesn’t make it into Polar Flow, you miss out on some of the tailored recovery advice because Flow doesn’t know precisely what you did on the other device. This is a small detail, but also a glaring one because not many people have Polar bike computers.
- Hill Splitter is a new function for the Grit X that gives you an automatic breakdown of how you trained on each hill during your run. It’s definitely an interesting statistic for post-workout, but doesn’t exactly provide much “actionable” data. Basically during the run, it detects if you’re climbing, then lets you know how long you’ve been going uphill. After the workout, it counts up the uphills and downhills and gives a few stats. It’s fairly accurate. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to load a route and have it tell you how far you have to go uphill/downhill to the top/bottom. That would be actually helpful.
- Mostly for trail runners/mountain bikers, Grit X has route guidance to help with navigation—something neither the Vantage M nor V has. The only downside here is you have to load the route via Komoot, which is slightly clunky, but it’s better than nothing. Also bear in mind that “route guidance” gives turn-by-turn directions and a breadcrumb trail, it doesn’t have any maps to help with landmarks like some upper-end Garmins and Suuntos.
- The touchscreen works…fine. It’s not the best smartwatch touchscreen we’ve used, but in a training-focused smartwatch, there are only a few times when you truly need it. Best uses: Scrolling through post-workout data and other long “lists” like weather or exercise descriptions; clicking buttons and icons on-screen is hit or miss.
- Other functions: Though not particularly useful to triathletes, the Grit X also has the “Serene” function that helps with guided breathing exercises; it also has “Fitness Test,” which is definitely not necessary for serious triathletes. The Strava Live section does a great job, and is on par with other smartwatches’ Strava Live capabilities.
Polar Grit X Extended Review: Why This Watch Is Better Than Other Polar Options
First off, it’s important to note that this is more of a trail/outdoor watch than the other offerings Polar has. The Vantage M and V are both super techie and science-y, but the Grit X does a much better off-road and has more features that triathletes might want without any superfluous ones that they might not be into paying for. That said, this is not a hardcore “outdoor adventure watch” like the Fenix series with barometric features, built-in maps, etc. To make a long story short, if you want on-board running power, you can either get the Grit-X or spend a little more for the Vantage V. If you don’t care about run power, the only big things you’ll lose by getting the far less expensive Vantage M are route guidance, the hill splitter function, the fueling functions, and a touch screen. The other lost features are fairly minor (Strava live segments and some battery life loss). Meanwhile, the Polar Grit X is a slightly cheaper, definitely dirtier version of the Vantage V.
Polar Grit X Extended Review: Why This Watch Is Better Than Other Brands’ Options
It’s almost unfair to compare the Grit X to something like Garmin’s Fenix series because the lowest end Fenix 6 is almost $200 more, but the Grit X actually punches into that weight class. While we’ll have a Fenix 6S v. Grit X head-to-head soon, the TL;DR is that most of the $600 Fenix 6S’s features are really not super important to triathletes who mostly swim, bike, and run. When you compare the Grit X to the Forerunner 645 in the same price range at $400, while the 645 does fine, it feels a little more utilitarian and unpolished when compared to the refined built-in features in the Polar that are pretty much plug-and-play. While the Garmin might feel a little more expandandable and customizable with more flexible sport modes and apps, when really pinpointing what triathletes want and need, the Polar is ready made for the multisport athlete without a lot of excess fooling around. Suunto’s 7 is far more lifestyle than the Polar, and the Coros Apex is a strong contender, but also feels a little less finished than the Grit X.
Polar’s app, Flow, is fortunately a high point that works as well, if not better than Garmin’s Connect or the Suunto app. Though it takes a little while to get used to, Flow has a very powerful post-workout analysis and a powerful workout creation feature.
Other very cool functions that we didn’t touch on in the list above include a display icon in the workout screen that tells you how much battery life (in hours) you have left in that sport mode. While the standard “30%” isn’t super useful when you’re heading out for a three-hour ride, not knowing if the watch will last, the beauty of this little unique indicator is you can switch on power saving features (less GPS sampling, no on-wrist heart rate) before you head out and potentially lose your data mid session. As someone who has done this more than a few times in the past, I really do love the comfort of this screen.
Polar Grit X Extended Review: Why This Watch Is Not As Good As Other Brands’ Options
While this is a great watch for triathletes and especially those who like to hit the trails, it’s not perfect. First off, in a time where most smartwatches do music and contactless payments, Polar’s watches are still much more training focused than lifestyle as they’re missing both. While it does a great job of showing smartphone notifications via a Bluetooth connection (which has gotten vastly better than when we reviewed the Vantage M and V last year), it’s still not a do-everything smartwatch like some of Garmin’s and Suunto’s offerings. For instance, phone notifications don’t show up automatically, you have to swipe up or flick your wrist to view them. Not a big deal, but it’s not as effortless as Garmin/Suunto. Similarly, some of the really cool features on the Grit X like FuelSmart and the preloaded workout options are fun, but they can’t replace a real nutritionist or coach—these are just a best guess based on history and some good math.
There are also a few small details—like the clunky “multisport” function that forces you to select a sport, hit start, then hit stop and select, find, and start the next sport between transitions. The triathlon mode works great for race day, but if you’re doing a repeating brick, a duathlon, or a swimrun event, you’re kind of stuck scrolling and stopping and starting when you go from leg to leg.
Again, fair warning that you cannot—as of this writing—import other activities, like a bike ride from your Garmin or Wahoo into Polar Flow. There is no way to upload into the Flow app or website a .fit or .gpx file from either platforms or an online training platform like Strava or Training Peaks. To put it in perspective, this means you can pull everything out from your Polar and Garmin or Wahoo and put it all into TrainingPeaks or Strava, but if you want to use the very cool recovery/guidance features in the Flow app (and therefore in the watch itself), you have to just enter in mileage and pace and calories by hand into the Flow website, losing all of the other robust stats you’d collect from your bike computer. Garmin Connect, for instance, does allow you to import data files from other devices, so it’s an odd missing feature that Polar users have been asking for for a while. One way around this is to use the Grit X as a bike computer—it does a good job of reading power from Bluetooth cycling power meters (not ANT+, though).
The only other little good news/bad news feature on this watch is that there’s not a ton that you can do—in terms of workout set up or sport set up—from the watch itself. Some people may appreciate the fact that the Grit X’s interface is quite simple, allowing quick navigation and use, but others may feel frustrated by the inability to edit sport modes, data screens, and create workouts on the watch. You need to use the app for a lot on the Grit X. That said, the app is pretty good, but you just need to make sure everything is set up before you head out the door. Also, the watch’s basic interval/countdown timer setup is slightly clunky and buggy.
Polar Grit X Extended Review: Who Should Buy This Watch?!
Basically, there are triathletes out there who either already use running power or should be using running power. The biggest reason someone would use running power is that they train in an area with lots of hills, lots of trails, or some other factor that prevents them from using heart-rate and/or speed as reliable training metrics. Do you go to the track or another flat measured/reliable spot for all of your big run workouts? Then, you won’t really need power for running. However, if you run or race on hilly courses and need help pushing or pacing yourself when elevation comes, running with power is a huge boon. For me, I love running with power, but I hate having to connect and charge a bunch of devices—I find it takes a lot of fun out of the run. While some can argue the accuracy of a wrist-based running “power meter,” it’s at least consistent enough to help pacing, say, a hilly run leg in a tri to help prevent from going out too hard or fading at the end. Same thing goes for trying to tempo/interval on trails—minutes/mile and heart rate will lead you astray almost every time.
In that same vein, something like FuelWise helps me get out the door quicker without being reckless about my nutrition/hydration. It’s no nutritionist, but it’ll likely prevent you from bonking or doing damage to yourself. The Hill Splitter feels like a neat idea, but doesn’t really offer a lot of practical use aside from post-run “oh that’s cool” stats—though it could if it was refined a little bit.
I love the fact that this watch is an all-in-one device that lets me train with much less fuss. It almost feels like its got my back when I try to do something stupid (like go for a two-hour run on a 5% battery charge and no water). There are a few things that take some finagling, but to answer the question, at least for me: “Does this make my tri-life better and easier?” I’d say yes, for sure.
Senior editor Chris Foster is a former pro triathlete and a constant destroyer-of-all-things-gear. He has broken, lost, ruined, and abused more triathlon stuff in 15 years than most people will in a lifetime. Though he no longer races professionally, his recent “age-groupiness” combined with a long history of playing with tri things gives him a unique perspective into what works, what doesn’t, and why.
While most of the products tested are provided at no charge by brands, none of the reviews’ content is swayed or previously approved as a result of any promotional payment, agreements, or otherwise. We at Triathlete take that editorial line very seriously in order to provide an unbiased account of everything we review.