A good mid-range GPS watch for runners
One minute review
The Polar Pacer Pro is definitely one of the best running watches in its price bracket, a perfect watch for serious runners and a decent tool for outdoor sports enthusiasts.
With its onboard GPS, it can keep track of your runs, delivering accurate information on pace, distance, cadence, elevation, running power, and more in the Polar Flow app. Race Pace looks at your training history, your goal time, and the distance you’re aiming for, and sets you a recommended pace to hit. The Flow app offers detailed information on elevations during runs, heart rates, and other metrics, and although it’s tough to export data to compare one workout to another, you can dive deep into individual training sessions.
There are more features on other sports profiles, such as counting strokes during swimming sessions (both pool and open water) and power during cycling. The watch has plenty of GPS credentials, able to track routes in impressive detail and return you to the start point of your journey like other GPS watches, although this is done by a simple arrow, as the watch can’t display full-color maps.
Other tools include accurate sleep tracking which is used to determine your ‘Nightly Recharge’ score or recovery level and assess if you’re ready for a demanding fitness session. If you love endurance exercise, especially running, the Polar Pacer Pro is excellent for its price, able to offer a wide variety of fitness metrics and break them down into simple, actionable advice. Highly recommended.
Polar Pacer Pro: Price and Availability
The Polar Pacer Pro costs $299.99 in the US, £259 in the UK and AU$495 in Australia. It can be found on the Polar website (opens in new tab), and plenty of third-party retailers stock the watch, such as Amazon and Australia’s Wildfire Sports (opens in new tab).
Polar Pacer Pro: Design & Screen
- Clear, bright 45mm screen
- Easy and intuitive five-button design
- Companion app ergonomically designed
The Polar Pacer Pro is a very well-designed watch, with a bright 45mm, 1.1mm thick Gorilla Glass screen that’s easily readable in bright conditions. I certainly never had any issues glancing at it on sunny runs to check my progress, and it shone out well in darkness. Improved backlight management means the watch can adjust the nits output to save on battery life.
The rest of the watch is just as well designed, with Polar’s typical five-button approach marked by its bright red “ok” button, framed by up, down, light, and a pause or menu buttons. Being used to Garmin’s similar five-button functions, it was a bit of a shock having different functions mapped to different locations: I was constantly pressing the wrong button to pause runs my first week, though I can hardly fault Polar for that.
Once I was used to it, cycling through different statistics on the watch was intuitive and easy to do. The basic watch face remains, while the rim of the watch displays daily activity, Nightly Recharge score, recommended daily workouts, weather, and total weekly activity. The design of the Polar Flow app is similarly ergonomic. It’s easy to access all your key data scores at a glance and tapping each one opens up more detailed graphs and metrics.
The watch is well designed, comfortable and durable. It’s not super-bulky despite its wide watch face, sitting well on the wrist, and its silicone strap is comfortable.
- Design score: 4/5
Polar Pacer Pro: Features
- Limited smartwatch functions
- Amazing in-depth fitness and running metrics
- Loads of other multisport modes
Although you can access weather and simple notification features, the watch isn’t a full smartwatch: there’s no option to download third-party apps, run games or view content that isn’t a display of a stick-feature performing an exercise.
This is a performance tool, and won’t replace a more well-rounded smartwatch such as an Apple Watch. It can control the music on your phone, so there’s no need to use your handset during runs, but it can’t store tracks on internal memory.
But enough of what it can’t do: what Polar offers is an advanced suite of health and fitness features. Some were highlighted earlier in the review, but this is clearly a watch made for runners. The level of detail you get out of your running metrics rivals the metrics from competitors such as Garmin: burned calories broken down minute-by-minute, detailed maps of your routes, hills you’ve climbed, and power you’ve exerted during your runs (the latter of which Garmin can only give you with an additional heart rate monitor). The only thing missing is an exported 30-day training report to tie it all together.
Heart rate zones allow you to monitor and adjust the intensity of your exercise. Whether it’s running, swimming, cycling, dancing or skiing, Polar has a sports profile for you, and many include specialist metrics, such as stroke counter during swims and power during cycles. You can also customize your own profiles, although it’ll only treat these like it does any stationary sport, in terms of calories burned and heart rate zones.
You can get simple, actionable advice from this watch: the Polar Pacer Pro can recommend cardio and supportive exercises, such as stretching, and display the individual moves and routines on your watch for additional guidance. Your sleep tracking feeds into a Nightly Recharge score, which can provide hints that you’re ready for a demanding cardio session or you need to keep things light. You can input calorie intake with the Fueling function, which will also set reminders to eat more carbohydrates to fuel your racing or drink more water.
- Features score: 3.5/5
Polar Pacer Pro: Performance
- Great tracking accuracy and workout recommendations
- Decent battery life
- Nightly Recharge score’s a little blunt
The Pacer Pro is fast and accurate. I measured the Polar Pacer Pro against the GPS on my phone, using the free app MapMyRun, and Google’s pace and duration matched up almost exactly with the Polar Pacer Pro (barring the extra 10 seconds it took me to fiddle with my handset to pause tracking). It’s my benchmark, and I’m satisfied with the watch’s accuracy, even though it lacks the multi-band GPS of more expensive watches such as the Garmin Forerunner 955.
I tried the Pacer Pro’s Race Pace and TrackBack feature, as I ran in an unfamiliar environment one weekend and I was pretty impressed. However, the one gripe I had with TrackBack is that it displays a simple arrow rather than your position on a full-color map and I missed my turning once, although it was easy to ID and double-back. I imagine it would be of great use on a trail, rather than a winding road full of cul-de-sacs. Music was easy to control on the go, whether I was using Audible or Spotify.
The battery life, advertised to last a full week, ended up lasting approximately five nights before needing a charge. It’s not quite the full seven days as claimed, but plenty to be going on with – and that’s with several runs using the watch’s onboard GPS.
I did learn to dread the message ‘Nightly Recharge compromised’ on the watch face if I’d had a bad night’s sleep: I’m not the most restful sleeper, and the burned orange message ended up causing me more stress than it was worth.
It’s a useful reminder to rest and prepare appropriately, and the app provided several handy tips on what training was appropriate for my rest levels, but a few times I stopped wearing the watch simply because I was sick of the negative feedback. Every fitness tracker has this problem, and there really needs to be a kinder way to deliver feedback on your sleep.
FitSpark’s workout recommendations, however, were more useful. I’ve used them before on the Polar Vantage V2 and they’re great for giving you additional guidance if you want to switch up your training, or you don’t have a plan to stick to.
- Performance score: 4/5
Buy it if…
You want a stripped-down sports watch
Don’t need smart features? This is a watch with performance at its heart.
You’re a runner
If you’re mainly into running, this is a great affordable watch with loads of fantastic metrics.
Don’t buy it if…
Money’s no object
Not on a budget? There are better running watches out there, although this is fantastic for its price bracket.
You want full-color maps
Want a GPS watch with turn-by-turn directions on full-color maps? Grab one of the best Garmin watches (opens in new tab) instead.
Garmin Forerunner 255 (opens in new tab)
The closest match to the Polar Pacer Pro from Garmin’s camp, the 255 is a phenomenal GPS running watch.
Coros Pace 2 (opens in new tab)
Another mid-range running watch that made its way to our best-of list, this is a terrific addition to your wrist.