If smartwatches weren’t important for triathletes before, the pandemic has made them basically essential. With today’s offerings, you can nearly replace a coach with these tiny wrist-top computers, and no two smartwatches typify that do-it-all, coach-on-your-wrist mentality than the new Garmin Forerunner 745 released in September and the Polar Vantage V2 released in October.
Both are updates to successful models—the 735XT and the original Vantage, respectively—and both have features that allow you to basically use just this one watch for swimming, biking, running, triathlon, coaching, and even testing in some cases. More than just a way to track your minutes, miles, yards, watts, etc., both the 745 and V2 can tell you what to do based on what you’ve already done, and both claim to “know” how you’re feeling maybe better than you do. From there, you can know what to do (or not to do) next.
Unboxed: Garmin Forerunner 745
Reviewed: Garmin Forerunner 745 Smartwatch
Reviewed: Polar Vantage V2 Smartwatch *This review is exclusive for Active Pass Members*
Smartwatch Reviews From a Triathlete’s Perspective
Garmin Forerunner 745
Battery: 16 hours training with GPS, 7 days smartwatch mode
Screen Size: 30.4mm
Bevel Size: 44 x 44 x 13 mm
It’s been four years since Garmin released the previous version of this watch, the 735XT, which was a huge favorite with triathletes because it had open-water swim, biking, and running, as well as multisport functions and advanced data fields for nearly any external device. The new 745 is still a great solution for triathletes because it doesn’t cost a (huge) fortune, but it now adds onboard music for Bluetooth headphones, running power with a footpod, two more hours of training battery life, track mode, and more that we’ll get to below. The 745 still sits second-in-command to the 945 in the Garmin hierarchy, and for $100 less than the 945 you’ll miss out on features like onboard/offline maps, more storage, and most notably nearly half the battery life of the 945.
Compared to the Vantage V2, you’re looking at a more compact, lighter-weight watch that is truly geared towards triathletes with a decent amount of “science” behind it, but it’s a little more swiss-army than deep data. The daily workout suggestions are surprisingly on point—even for very very fast athletes, something that’s rare to get right—and the training effect, recovery time, and performance condition features give very solid estimates on how hard you’ve gone in pre- and post-workout stats.
Where the 745 thrives is how it combines the aforementioned features, that’ll give you more of a zoomed-in glimpse into your conditioning, with features like training load and training status to tell you how your training is going on a more macro level. With enough knowledge (and assuming you wear it for all of your workouts/while you sleep), this would be an excellent way to self-coach at a certain level—thinking more like during base/strength phases. For sure you wouldn’t get as detailed as you’d want for a specific race date, though the “Garmin Coach” function helps to some degree with specific workouts and guidance, you’d still be getting a pretty surface level of focus if you tried to use the 745 and nothing else to help train you. That said, you’d still need to know a good bit about exercise physiology to really get this right, and at that point, you’d probably find yourself in conflict with some of the guidance, based on time constraints and workout specifics.
Polar Vantage V2
Battery: 40 hours training with GPS, 7 days smartwatch mode
Screen Size: 30.5mm
Bevel Size: 46 x 46 x 13 mm
While it hasn’t been that long since Polar released its wildly successful line of new smartwatches that (finally) brought them up to speed with the rest of the pack, the new V2 has a few features that stand out from the original Vantage from 2018. The V2 is almost like a half step up from the recently released, off-road focused $430 Grit X with a greater focus on performance testing/recovery. Much like the 745, it has open-water swimming, cycling, and running (it also has built-in running power, unlike the 745), triathlon mode, and a slightly wonky multisport mode for bricks and swimrun (while the 745 has both of those built in). Unlike the 745, it does not have onboard offline music, though it does control connected smartphone music and do smartphone notifications, but the interface for those smartphone functions is a little clunky, despite the touchscreen (something else the 745 does not have).
When the rubber meets the road, however, the Vantage V excels in the performance category with very sharp features like Training Load Pro (very similar to Garmin’s training effect), Recovery Pro (similar to Garmin’s performance condition, but more robust and requires an external heart-rate sensor), and Nightly Recharge (which is like Recovery Pro, but less accurate and requires it to be worn overnight). The running-with-power functions are also excellent, particularly if you do a serious amount of your workouts on trails, and honestly triathletes should be thinking about running with power as a very important feature. It also has a very singular Leg Recovery Test, which has you do a series of jumps to measure how ready your legs are for training.
Beginning with the Leg Recovery Test, this is where the Vantage V2 really focuses on testing, while the 745 focuses on a little more “black magic” and behind-the-scenes data crunching to give approximate workouts and guidance. Furthermore, the Vantage V2 boasts built-in, guided running and cycling performance tests (for estimated V02 max and FTP testing, respectively). The beauty behind these built in tests and the other data the Polar collects from the previously mentioned features, is that it creates a much more accurate training profile that any coach or maybe even a self-coached athlete would be able to use very very effectively. While the 745 does more guesstimates for their recommended workouts based on a few factors it analyzes as you train, the Polar uses tried-and-true testing along with some excellent science to give very accurate numbers to train/race with.
The Winner: Polar Vantage V2 by a hair
This one was super tough because neither of these watches is really heads above the other in any big way—it’s more of a matter of what you’re using it for. If you’re looking for a watch you can wear all day, even to the office, and do fun things like use widgets, play music, and more, the 745 barely has the edge. If you’re looking to really use your smartwatch to actually train (with the assistance of a coach or a strong self-coaching background), then the Vantage V2 has literally everything you’d need (like running power and deep, deep stats gathered from testing) to make that happen. For triathletes who are absolutely numbers hungry, the Vantage V2 will satiate that appetite.