Back to Polar with the Vantage V2, back to the question of GPS accuracy and navigation performance. How good is the GPS? How useful is the navigation?

One of the things that Polar has not explicitly said about the Vantage V2 but seems quite clear is that it has a new GPS antenna design improving its performance. (Similarly to the Polar Grit X, which already showed better performance than the Vantage V.)

The Problem with (Judging) GPS Accuracy

GPS accuracy, much as people love to discuss it, is much more difficult to judge than often assumed. A scientific-statistical analysis would need a larger data set than usually available. And even with that, how would one judge accuracy? By distance alone? Not likely. By closeness to roads, trails, paths? How would that be calculated?

The only thing we can really do well is capture some impressions. Does a watch consistently show more deviations, more erroneous jumps in GPS track, than another?

In single examples, it could still be due to issues not of the watch, but of the conditions – but it does give an impression, at least.

The other thing that can help, and is particularly interesting with Polar’s current watches, is navigation performance. How well does it work to follow a route, especially under conditions which make GPS reception problematic?

Polar’s Odd(?) Navigation

With the Vantage V2, same as the Polar Grit X before, I find navigation a particularly interesting question.

Polar has set up navigation on these two top models to work through Komoot.

Komoot

Create routes you want to follow in Komoot, have this service/app and Polar Flow connected so that the routes get synced to your Polar Flow account, then sync routes you want to use with your Polar Grit X or Vantage V2.

That way, you don’t only have the routes saved (and other routes easy to explore, a decent system for creating routes, etc.) in Komoot, you also get turn-by-turn directions.

This part of the set-up is rather nice (even if you have to create a Komoot account for that and should get the Komoot World Pack to have all regions unlocked – otherwise, you cannot sync routes for anywhere but your one free region).

Follow the Line – and the Directions

The way that navigation works on the watches is a mixed bag.

Simply put, if you can follow the line of the route and the directions well, it’s nicely unobtrusive and simple. If there are any issues, starting with the need to reach the start point (or distinct points on the route if you start navigation somewhere on the route), then Polar does not make it easy.

Good GPS reception is all the more important for the navigation to work well – and an easy time navigating is a good sign for the GPS’s performance.

Thus, when I was in Florence again with a Vantage V2, off I went for runs.

Navigation Experience

One thing was odd with the navigation on the Vantage V2: In the old town with its tight paths and quick, small turns, there were no turn-by-turn directions.

Before and after, on longer roads, they were back (at least most of the time).

Considering the extremely limited view to the sky, it was utterly surprising – as always – to have GPS reception there at all.

It worked well enough, having the route navigation screen active, that I could tell what turns were next coming up and that I could follow them through pretty much all of the old town.

The one time a “Wrong Direction” notification came up, it looks like I had actually taken a turn too soon, maybe because the GPS was not showing my position on the route exactly enough. That’s not really a worry in those conditions, though.

Yes, the recorded track meanders – but it is also so good that it becomes apparent where I turned right (west) earlier than I should have.

I was expecting rather more issues and feel that the performance was at least as good or a bit better than that of the Suunto 7’s navigation (which is the latest I had used there).

Of course, the track meanders a fair bit instead of following the actual paths, but that would very nearly be within the range of inaccuracy to be expected on open ground – and the surroundings there are about as far from open ground as one can possibly get.

Other issues with navigation were only the usual:

Sometimes, there was no notification for a turn where I would have expected it. It’s possible that I overheard it, but since they are set to be shown 30 meters before the turn and until the turn has been made – and I was looking at the route navigation screen the whole time – that’s unlikely to have been the problem.

Sometimes – and this may have been the reason behind the one arrow pointing in the wrong direction, which I discuss at length in the video – turn-by-turn direction notifications popped up so quickly after each other, I barely noticed the first one before the next was shown.

Thus, when a right turn came up, immediately followed by a left turn, I only caught a short glimpse of the arrow right, then was shown the arrow left even where I still had to turn right.

Only having the arrows pop up (while on another display than that for navigation) would thus not have worked well. But, when I need to navigate complicated terrain, I will be on the route navigation screen to see the route, not worry about my heart rate or other performance statistics.

As usual, on the open ground along the river and in the hills, there is little to complain about
Looking at the route does make it pretty clear that, the way it was set up, there was a left turn coming up there, after the turn right. And the V2 also worked quite well with the loss of GPS in the underpass on the east of the railway station square.

All in all, navigation all along this route worked very pleasantly – and not because I have run here before, but because the direction pop-ups and the route line made it easy to just follow.

GPS Tracks: Vantage V2, Suunto 9 Baro, Coros Apex

Comparing between watches, the usual caveats apply: This was at the same time, at least. The watches were on opposite arms, though, in slightly different positions.

(Vantage V2: left wrist; Suunto 9: right wrist; Coros Apex: across my right hand.)

I also have to add that the Suunto 9 Baro was on an experimental firmware with a GPS algorithm that is not on public watches and that counts GPS more sensitively… meaning also that it could produce more errors. You’ll see.

Oh, how it all meanders – in line with standard GPS recording. Some issue getting onto the more-open square , rather great performance (from everything) running loops in the other square; every watch shows where I wanted to go past the east of the little round chapel but had to go back because there is no path there.
Through the old town “canyons,” everything is similarly same-but-different. The Suunto 9 seems to have cut one corner towards the south (behind the Signoria), but most differences are probably just because the watches were on opposite wrists.
Very similar tracks, as always and as is to be hoped, on open ground. The ‘tunnel’ coming back to the Arno caused some issues, most noteably for the Suunto 9
Few, if any, issues here, especially on the way back – and not using the underpass that time.
The other run, having taken the underpass at the railway station square: Not an issue there, either.

GPS Tracks: Polar Vantage V, Grit X, Vantage V2

Another set of GPS tracks, this time all from Polar watches – but from different days.

Different days mean different GPS constellations overhead, so that there could have been effects from that.

I do feel that these tracks show a tendency, though…

Here it becomes truly obvious that the one “wrong direction” on the Vantage V2 was me turning too soon. And on the other hand (or really, a bit further south), I managed to take the turn I wanted to take when I was running with the Vantage V2, unlike before.

Interestingly, things don’t look all that different between watches in the old town of Florence, except for the parts where I ran differently on those different runs.

Remember how I said that single errors on single runs don’t count for much? This is a great example, given the error that the Vantage V produced that one time. Otherwise, the tracks here are rather good as always… but I feel that the Grit X and now the Vantage V2 perform better than the Vantage V ever did.
And the same continues here. All in all, no track is horrible, but the Vantage V was worse than the newer Polar watches are.

To reiterate: Such single examples (and comparisons across different times) have to be taken with a grain of salt. The Polar Vantage V2 is certainly more than just a little software improvement on the original Vantage V, though.