The Polar Pacer is a self-confessed ‘no nonsense’ GPS running watch. It sticks to the basics, but it’s a watch that can track more than runs, and shares a lot of the same features as the pricier Polar Pacer Pro.
This is a £169/$199 watch that offers multiple sports tracking, training features like Polar’s useful FitSpark suggested workouts and its FuelWise smart fuelling assistant for endurance athletes. It als promises to cover you for a just shy of a week’s worth of training and monitoring.
That price puts it in the same multisports watch realms as the Garmin Forerunner 55 and the Coros Pace 2. The specs sheet isn’t far off the Pacer Pro ($299/£259) either, so could going for the non-Pro Pacer get you a great Polar watch for less? We’ve been putting it to the test to find out.
Here’s our full verdict on the Polar Pacer.
Polar Pacer: Design and screen
A key theme we’ve seen with Polar recently is that it’s decided to get more playful with case colors, and it’s more of the same with the Pacer.
It comes in four case and strap color combinations including the deep teal version we tested and we’d say we were big fans of.
The watch band has the look of something more high grade, but it is definitely a silicone band with a pretty standard traditional watch buckle keeping it in place. You can also quickly swap bands with a simple pin mechanism around the back you can press and slide to release it from the watch case. Polar is also introducing new ocean material bands if you like the idea of throwing on a more planet-friendly option as well.
That watch case is a 45mm sized plastic one that measures in at 11.5mm thick, making it identical in stature to the Pacer Pro. It’s bigger than the 42mm-sized Forerunner 55 and Coros Pace 2, though it still feels dinky and light to wear.
It’s the same story on Polar’s other watches and that’s actually the same quality and size display used on Polar’s vastly more expensive Grit X Pro and Vantage V2 watches, which says more about those watches than the Pacer really.
The screen offers strong visibility outdoors in bright outdoor light and there’s Gorilla Glass also in place to offer some extra screen protection. There’s a backlight to illuminate that small screen at night, but we just wish there was more of that screen.
It’s not a touchscreen display, but it does stay on 24/7 and there’s physical buttons with a nice, grippy textured finish that does mean they’re nice to handle even when things get a bit sweaty. Polar says the Pacer has two times faster processing power and seven times the increased internal RAM compared to the Polar Vantage M2 , which definitely felt a bit sluggish in the performance department when we tested it.
Does it dramatically change what it’s like to use the Pacer in comparison? We’d say no, but it’s good to see Polar has acknowledged that the speed of switching between screens needed to improve.
You’re getting a watch with a 5ATM water resistant rating, which does mean it’s suitable for swimming and we can confirm it’s also to wear when you jump into the shower too. We will say that we did have some issues with the first watch we tested when we took it for a pool swim, which somehow caused the screen to crash and we were unable to charge or turn it in on after that.
Our second watch survived another trip to the pool – but that’s not a good sign on the durability front and hopefully just a one-off.
Polar Pacer: Sports tracking
Polar wants you to think of the Pacer as a running watch, but it has tracking abilities beyond that to help make it a nicely affordable multisports watch.
There’s 130 sports modes with handful on offer on the watch and the rest available to add from Polar’s companion Flow app. On the sensors front, there’s support for GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS satellite systems with assisted GPS support also included to help get a faster signal fix. Polar includes the same Precision Prime HR sensor technology it includes it top-end Polar watches with scope to pair up an external heart rate sensors here too.
Barometer and compass sensors don’t make the cut, which means you miss out on features like Polar’s Hill Splitter analysis and getting that extra hit of outdoor data. You’ll need an external running foot pod sensor to get running power measurements and unlike the Pacer Pro, you don’t have the ability to upload routes or turn-by-turn navigation, but you can turn on a back to the start mode.
On the software front, you’re getting Polar’s great FitSpark suggested workouts, Training Load Pro insights and the new walking test to assess current fitness level for new, aspiring athletes. It does lack the cycling performance test found on Polar’s Vantage V2.
Polar’s FuelWise fuelling reminders makes the cut, which is designed to remind you when to refuel on activities that last over the hour mark. It’ll also use the onboard heart rate sensor to break down the energy sources fuelling your workouts.
So how well does it perform as a sports watch? We’d say solid overall bar our pool swimming malfunction. Outside of those missing mapping and navigation features, we’d say the performance is on par to what we experienced with the Pacer Pro in terms of that exercise tracking.
Outdoor run tracking compared: Polar Pacer (left) and Garmin Epix 2 (right)
On runs, indoors and outdoors, it felt comfortable to wear and grabbing a GPS signal got snappier over time as it does generally once the watch gets more familiar with locations.
It didn’t entirely match up from a distance tracking point of view, but did offer identical average pace, though quickest pace and cadence data seemed off on most of our runs in comparison.
Outdoor run tracking compared: Polar Pacer (left) and Garmin Epix 2 (right)
In terms of the heart rate data, it was a similar story to what we experienced with the Pacer Pro. It performs well for steady paced runs, but those inaccuracies start to creep in at higher intensities and it’s usually those rogue maximum heart rate readings that are the main issue. Thankfully, you can pair up an external sensor to improve things.
Post run, you can see insights like your running index, training benefit, how high or low your cardio load was in that session.
You’re also getting a breakdown of energy sources, so you can see whether it’s carbs, protein or fats fuelling your runs. That’s driven primarily by the heart rate sensor, so it really boils down to sensor accuracy to give you useful information on that front.
Treadmill run tracking compared: Polar Pacer (left) and Garmin Epix 2 (right)
We put it to the treadmill running test and found it over reported on distance compared to the Garmin Epix 2, which has been calibrated over time, and the treadmill tracking. That meant elements like pacing was off, though heart rate tracking seemed solid overall.
Treadmill HR compared: Polar Pacer (left) and Garmin HRM-Pro Plus chest strap (right)
We also used it for some indoor rowing time, which doesn’t track movement, but will dish out reliable heart rate data. In the pool, it performed very well well from a tracking point of view when it didn’t die on us on the first test. Elements like distance tracking and average was nicely in line with what our comparison watch captured and you get a nice breakdown of swim stroke type and the contribution to your cardio and training load.
The core tracking experience overall is very good. The data felt good in most activities as well and you’ve got some useful training insights waiting for you in the Flow app. Then you’ve got features like FitSpark, which offers suggested workouts based on tracked sessions to make sure you’re achieving a good balance in your training and not just hammering out cardio sessions all of the time.
The new walking test to assess fitness levels is a similar story to what we found with the Pacer Pro. It’s very much designed for beginners, so trying to get heart rate up to 124bpm was a tall order when we are already at a reasonably fit level. It does give the Pacer more scope to be used for new runners or people who’ve never run before and really are starting from scratch.
If you can live without the navigation features you get on the Pacer Pro, the core experience you get on the Pacer is very similar based on our testing.
Polar Pacer: Fitness and sleep tracking
If you want to use the Pacer like a 24/7 activity tracker, you do have that ability, plus you’re going to get some of the best sleep tracking support that really tries to level that sleep tracking to understand what it means for your training and recovery needs.
We’ll start with activity tracking, which lets you track daily steps, active time, distance covered and also includes inactivity stamps when you’ve been sitting down for too long. We found step counts largely in line with the Garmin Epix 2 and Oura Ring 3’s step tracking with often some disparity in terms of how much distance was covered in that stepping time.
Step tracking compared: Polar Pacer (left), Oura Ring 3 (centre) and Garmin (right)
Like the Pacer Pro, this element of the Pacer doesn’t feel all that engaging or really feel like it’s contributing much to the overall tracking experience you get on the watch.
It feels like different story when you get in bed and start tracking your sleep time. It offers some pretty typical things like capturing sleep duration and breaking down sleep stages including that all important REM sleep stage. You’ll also get sleep scores and then there’s Polar’s Nightly Recharge measurements.
Sleep data compared: Polar Pacer (left) and Oura Ring 3 (right)
This takes heart rate variability measurements during sleep and also looks at general heart rate data and breathing rate captured by Polar’s optical sensor setup then matches that up with the other sleep data it records. It’ll then score you on whether your nightly recharge was good, compromised or poor to help you assess whether you’ve had ample recovery time to train hard again.
Readiness data compared: Polar Pacer (left) and Oura Ring 3 (right)
This is a feature similar to the readiness features you get from Oura, Whoop and now Garmin with its Training Readiness scores. The key here is that heart rate and sleep data is accurate to make it useful. We’d say those two things are on Polar’s Pacer in general. Baseline heart rate variability and breathing rate data that helps fuel assessments were similar to Oura’s and felt more reliable in most circumstances.
Those nightly recharge measurements can be useful guides to shape how you train, but it does seem like it comes at the expense of battery life, which we’ll get into later.
Polar Pacer: Smartwatch features
Polar has been making its sports watches more smartwatch-like, but it’s not quite gone to the level that Garmin has. The Pacer will let you view your phone notifications, weather forecasts, adjust watch face themes and control music playing on your smartphone.
These are the exact same smartwatch features that appear on the likes of the pricier Grit X Pro and Vantage V2, so at least Polar is being consistent here, but if you want features like music players, standalone apps and payments, there’s better watches out there for you.
Those features that are here work reasonably fine. Notification support is basic, the music controls jump into action when first and third party music apps are running and you’re paired to your phone via Bluetooth and weather forecasts are richly detailed and useful to have.
What’s perhaps more important is that you are getting rich third party app support. So this is watch that works with Strava and supports Strava Live Segments. It also plays nice with Adidas Running and Nike Running Club, so if you don’t love Polar Flow, you do have alternative options.
Polar Pacer: Battery life
The Pacer promises the same battery life numbers as the Pacer Pro, which is surprising given the Pro costs considerably more.
It’s 7 days in watch mode, 35 hours of GPS battery life and 100 hours in a power saving training mode where heart rate monitoring is disabled and GPS is sampled with longer intervals.
Compare that to the likes of the Garmin Forerunner 55 and the Coros Pace 2 and the Forerunner 55 offers longer 2-week smartwatch battery life, but just 20 hours of GPS battery. The Pace 2 offers 30 hours of GPS battery life and 20 days in smartwatch mode.
We found much like the Pacer Pro that with regular tracking, the Pacer generally hits around the 5-day mark before it starts notifying you to charge it up. If there’s less than 10% battery available you can’t even attempt to track a workout. It’s clear from our time that Polar’s power-hugging sleep tracking still has a noticeable impact on battery life and we were seeing a daily battery drop-off around 15-20% with noticeable drops overnight.
When it is time to charge, Polar has changed charging setups moving from the disc-shaped on it uses on its Vantage series watches for a smaller magnetic charger that doesn’t really herald any big useful changes on the charging front.
It’s a watch that can give you 5-6 days, which is somewhat short of the level of battery you’ll get from similarly priced Garmin and Coros watches.
The Polar Pacer is a running watch first and a good one, but it can do more, and it offers a lot of what you’ll find on Polar’s pricier watches for much less. If you can live without mapping and navigation features or some of the richer training insights and performance tests, then this is a solid little performer. There’s still some elements in the design we don’t absolutely love, but it offers good hardware and software for the money and is a good alternative to Garmin and Coros sports watches at this price.
- Small, light and comfortable design
- Good sports and HR tracking
- Useful training insights
- Battery drain overnight
- Big screen bezel
- Polar Flow is a busy app