Polar Grit X review: Going the distance?

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The Grit X sees Polar venture into new watch territory. After bringing back the Vantage name for its V and M multisport watches in 2018, its latest attempt to keep up with Garmin’s swathe of sportswatches is to launch its first outdoor watch.

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It incorporates a lot of what the Vantage V brought us, like running power and training insights, all driven by its new heart rate sensor technology. It now brings navigation and route building, more data to delve into when you’re tackling hills, along with smart fuelling reminders to help keep tabs on when to tuck into an energy gel or take in some water.

The Grit X also costs less than outdoor watch rivals like Garmin’s Fenix 6 series or the Suunto 9. The Grit X has all the tools it seems to make it a great alternative, so how does it stack up in the real world?

A familiar look

  • Measures: 47 x 47 x 13mm / Weighs: 64g
  • 22mm quick release band compatible
  • 1.2-inch, 240 x 240 colour display
  • Waterproof up to 100 metres

It’s fair to say the Grit X doesn’t look like an outdoor watch in the traditional sense. Put it alongside a Fenix or a Suunto and it simply doesn’t carry that same heavy duty build. That’s not to say it isn’t equipped to withstand the rigours of a trail run or hike. Though it has more in common with a Garmin Forerunner watch if you want a sense of how it looks and feels to wear.

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So what actually makes this watch built for the outdoors? Polar says it’s passed the MIL-STD-810G standard – that’s a military grade test – for things like humidity, extreme temperature and drops. It’s got an ‘extreme’ high strength stainless steel case. It’s also got the highest rating of any current Polar watch, having been deemed safe for a dip to 100 metres depth. At 64g, it’s very light for an outdoor watch too.

It measures in at 13mm thick, matching Polar’s Vantage V watch. That does make it around a millimetre slimmer than a Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, not that you’d notice. While the Polar brandishes a larger 47mm case than the one found on the Vantage V, it still manages to have that feel of a more compact watch that doesn’t look at all bulky. Even on slim wrists.

The focal point of the watch is a 1.2-inch always-on colour display. That’s exactly the same screen Polar used on the Vantage V. It’s also touchscreen, though responsiveness is very similar to what we got on the Polar Ignite – i.e. it’s a bit laggy and slow to react to presses. There’s a strong argument that this is a watch that would’ve been fine just with button controls.

From a visibility point of view, we can’t really have any complaints here. It holds up well on runs in bright outdoor light and there’s also a backlight with decent luminosity when you’re heading out at night or in the early morning.

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There’s five buttons integrated into the design and, thankfully, these are an upgrade to the stickier ones on the Vantage V. Now you’re getting a more textured finish that makes them a lot easier to press.

Holding that toughened up case on your wrist is a 22mm strap that can be swapped out for another of Polar’s strap options. It’s all silicone, though the outer has the look of something more fancy. There is the option to dress things up with optional leather and woven bands.

The Grit X comes in two sizes – a small and a medium/large option – which dictates the length of the watchband only. There’s also your pick of either a black case with black strap or a green strap with a silver casing. The latter definitely gives you a bit more in the way of attractiveness. Ultimately though, the Grit X is a watch that looks more like a running watch than it does an outdoor watch.

Still sports features aplenty

  • Polar Precision Prime heart rate monitor
  • Over 130 sports profiles

From a sports tracking point of view, you’ll pretty much getting everything that Polar provides in the Vantage V (although it misses some features like Polar’s Recovery Pro insights and being able to perform an Orthostatic test).

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There’s built-in GPS, Polar’s Precision Prime heart rate sensor technology for continuous monitoring during workouts. You do also have the ability to pair external sensors like chest straps as well as cadence and power sensors for cycling (though the watch lacks ANT+ support, which might be a deal breaker for some).

You’ve got your pick of over 130 different sports profiles, including swimming and outdoor activities like mountain biking and hiking. You also get running power metrics without needing an additional foot pod sensor. Polar includes its useful FitSpark feature that recommends workouts based on activity logged to ensure you are not neglecting your conditioning sessions in favour for more cardio.

For Strava fans, there’s a Live Segments screen that will buzz when you’re near a segment, letting you see real-time performance data for running or riding the segment (though you need to be subscribed to Strava’s Summit subscription to use it). The likes of Running Index and Program also boost its appeal for runners.

There’s fitness tracking too, with some of the richest sleep insights you’ll find on a wearable platform. Whether it’s exploring sleep stages of delving into how well you’ve recovered from your day during sleep. These are the kind of insights that position it as a great tool for people who exercise a lot. If you care about step counts, that’s there too. Though we found it had some major over-reporting issues (registering at times 2,000 more steps – even from very little activity).

Those core sports features in general work as well as they did on the Vantage V. GPS signal pick-up is nice and snappy and mapping is accurate. You’ve got plenty of data fields to pore over and there’s a quite detailed breakdown of a session, giving you everything from heart rate zones to pace zones. There’s a nice summary of energy used in a session, breaking things down by carbohydrates, protein and fat.

Those insights like many features on the Grit X are driven by heart rate. Polar introduced its new Precision Prime sensor tech on its Vantage watches, which didn’t generate the most reliable results. On the Grit X, accuracy is generally good but not without issues. While continuous readings during the day seemed fine from an accuracy point of view, it wasn’t entirely the same story for workouts.

We found in our testing that the heart rate readings started very high at the beginning of workouts. It seemed to settle down and was more in line with the Polar H9 chest strap we tested it against. Though there tended to be one randomly high spike that skewed maximum heart rate data. This happened on more than a few occasions. It feels once again that if you want supreme accuracy, it’s still a case of grabbing that chest strap.

Staying on track

  • Real-time route guidance
  • Smart hydration and carb reminders
  • Extra data for climbs and descents
  • Barometric altimeter

Polar says the Grit X is built for the outdoors and it does that with a host of features. The first is the ability to plan routes and upload them to the watch giving you real-time guidance. It’s nothing groundbreaking in sports watch terms, but there’s not a lot of watches that offer that kind of functionality for the price.

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To plan those routes, you need to use an app called Komoot. It’s an app that’s aimed at explorers who prefer a big hike as opposed to a long cycle through the city. Once you’ve created a route, that needs to be synced over to Polar Flow and then synced to the watch. Then from when you go to track an activity, you should see the option to follow a route on your watch.

Getting that route built and synced isn’t the most straightforward job though. It was a little clunky building routes in Komoot and the routes didn’t always sync immediately. As an app Komoot works on an annual subscription or you can unlock ‘regions’: you get one region free (current region) and beyond that you have to pay up. So if you go away and are looking to use it, that’s more money to spend.

Once you’ve completed the compass calibration, you’ll see your current location and a line drawing out your route. You’ll get vibrations and pings to keep you on track but what is displayed on the watch is pretty basic. It did work well in our tests, but we were hoping for something a bit more impressive.

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If you’re planning to spend a lot of time traversing up mountains, Polar has also added a new feature it’s calling Hill Splitter. This essentially gives you additional metrics on the uphill and downhill sections of an activity. Though we found the feature hit-and-miss in terms of actually recording all of the climbs. It feels like a feature that could be useful, but it clearly needs some refining.

The last big feature is perhaps the most interesting: FuelWise. This smart fuelling assistant is clearly designed for ultra runners or anyone who is planning to hike and spend a lot of time tracking. The idea is that based on the duration of an activity you will get reminders to refuel and hydrate at the right times to ensure you stay well energised and replace your body with what it loses during an activity.

Polar does that in three ways. The first is through a smart carbs reminder that sends out reminders based activity duration, intensity by heart rate zone, and your carbs per serving. It also takes into consideration training history and works with activities that are a minimum of 90 minutes.

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There’s also manual carbs and drink reminders that are based on time (every 20 or 60 minutes). These manual features are better designed for those that have a better hold on refuelling plans. It’s important to explain that there are no sensors that can establish specifically that you are dehydrated or need to grab a chocolate bar. It’s using heart rate and the length of workout to determine those smart reminders.

These kinds of features are things that have been asked for on sports watches and in FuelWise, Polar goes beyond what we’ve seen before. It’s a feature that you’d need to spend some time with getting to know before wholly relying on it. You’re also relying on that heart rate sensor to provide accurate insights as well. It’s a feature that will also have appeal for anyone who races, if you want to build your own fuelling plan as opposed to relying on water and fuelling stations to remind you.

Simple smarts

  • Phone notifications
  • 2-day weather forecasts

Unlike Garmin, Polar doesn’t make a big fuss about piling on the smartwatch features. The features on offer extend to notifications from your phone and that’s your lot. Those will emerge from the screen below the watch face and thankfully don’t appear during workouts. You are able to respond to some notifications.

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Polar does makes a big deal about viewing weather forecasts, though – both daily and for the next two days – to help better plan your outdoor adventuring. There’s also weather notifications that have a habit of popping up on a too regular basis for our liking. Those forecasts are synced over from your phone, so you know you’re getting reliable insights into what’s in store for you on the weather front (well, if you trust your phone’s weather reporting anyway).

There’s no payments, additional apps, music features or anything of that nature. It was the same on the Vantage and it looks like Polar is choosing not to include those features in preference for focusing on its sports features.

Battery life

  • 346mAh battery capacity
  • 40 hours GPS battery life

Polar’s watches have generally always delivered strong battery life – and the same promise is made with the Grit X. It’s packing a battery that promises to deliver 40 hours when using GPS and heart rate. You can expect up to a week in normal watch mode using continuous heart rate monitoring and not a lot else.

There are also a variety of different power modes for individual activities to dabble with to enable longer time tracking. Climbing, for instance, offers the ability to change the GPS recording rate (from a second to two minutes) to lessen the load that GPS tracking has on performance.

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Due to current restrictions, we weren’t able to put those battery powers fully to the test, but we could get a very good sense of what the Grit X can manage. What we found is that during activity, it holds its battery well. In between that time, it’s a different story. A 30-40 minute outdoor run for instance knocked no more than 5 per cent off the battery. Yet it dropped around 20 per cent a day on occasions outside of tracking activities. That’s with continuous heart rate monitoring and notifications enabled.

We tended to get four days even without really intensive tracking, which is a couple of days short of that claimed week – if you want to achieve that then you’ll need to be more particular with the features that are enabled.

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