While modern smartwatches have made health tracking a priority, there’s still a subsection of watches that are all about fitness. You’ve seen them. They’re the hulking monstrosities worn by your really outdoorsy friend who’s always posting pics of their latest hike, ski trip, or running route. These fitness-first smartwatches generally have battery life measured in days instead of hours, superior navigational features, and in-depth metrics at the expense of features like contactless payments or cellular connectivity. This describes the $499.95 Polar Grit X Pro to a T — and hey, it’s not an eyesore!
Usually, it’s all about the metrics and GPS accuracy with this kind of smartwatch. I’ll dive into that in a bit, but it’s a big deal that the Grit X Pro looks as nice as it does. A lot of that comes from the colorways and smaller design flourishes. While the Grit X came in black and silver and green, the Pro comes in black, “Nordic” copper, and “Arctic” gold. There’s also a premium version, the Grit X Pro Titan. For $599.95, that gets you a lighter titanium casing and a perforated leather band. You can peep the entire lineup here, but each option looks more sophisticated than its Grit X counterparts. My review unit is the gold version, and when I look down at my wrist, it doesn’t look as obnoxious as other rugged watches I’ve tested over the years. The bezel has compass-inspired etchings, which gives it a much sleeker vibe. Another nice touch is the textured fluoroelastomer strap. You get the look of a woven fabric strap, but it’s still sweat and waterproof.
The stylishness of the Grit X Pro — as well as its more recent watches — is a step forward for Polar. I remember the days of the M600, which, uh, definitely put style second. For a long time, Polar’s wearables were either blocky and aggressively neon or so boring it wasn’t worth commenting. It’s encouraging to see the brand put effort into flipping the script.
Style doesn’t come at the expense of durability either. The Grit X Pro has sapphire glass over the transflective display and is water-resistant to 328 feet. It can also operate between -4 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s overkill for my daily life. In my three weeks of testing, I did not brave the Antarctic tundra, traverse the Saharan desert, or plunge deep into the Atlantic. But I did fall and bump into multiple objects, wear the Grit X Pro in the shower, and ran in freezing temperatures. The Grit X Pro did fine and has nary a scratch on it.
But while the Grit X Pro is a handsome and sturdy watch, it’s not the most comfortable option for smaller people. On the wrist, it looks a bit smaller than you’d expect from a 47mm stainless steel watch that measures 13mm thick. Don’t be fooled. It still snagged on too many sleeves and jacket cuffs. Rugged watches like the Pro are also much heavier than something like the Apple Watch Series 7. The Pro is hefty and dwarfs my wrist at 79 grams compared to my 40mm Series 7’s 38.8g. It’s more on par with other fitness watches. The 47mm Garmin Fenix 7, for instance, is the same size and weighs between 73-79g, depending on the model. Even though I expected the big size, as a petite person, it presents challenges. I have to strap big watches like this tighter to get accurate sensor readings during workouts. That meant the Grit X Pro leaves marks on my skin, especially if I wore it for sleep tracking. If I wanted this to be my daily driver, I’d have to make an effort to periodically take it off to let my wrists breathe.
My six-foot colleague Thomas Ricker was able to test the copper-colored version for a few weeks back when it was announced. As a self-described fan of vintage dive watches, he liked the color and weight and is more willing to overlook the large bezel, which is often seen as a status symbol in his circle of multisport fanatics. Like me, he still has to wear the Grit X Pro tighter than fashion-focused watches to ensure accurate heart rate and blood oxygen measurements, the same as he does for the Garmin Fenix 6 he regularly wears.
Although we both enjoyed the design, our differing experiences with comfort show why Polar — and other fitness watchmakers — really ought to make their products available in multiple sizes.
Besides comfort, I have a few gripes with the display. The transflective screen is way too dim for indoor use. I have terrible eyesight. It was fine outdoors on a sunny day, but while running on a shady day, I had to squint to see my stats. Side-by-side, the Garmin Fenix 7S’s transflective screen was much easier for me to read. The Grit X Pro’s backlight helps, but not as much as I’d like. The touchscreen was so laggy, you’d think it was an Android Wear watch circa 2015. Thankfully, you can bypass it via the Grit X Pro’s five physical buttons.
Battery life is long compared to an Apple Watch, but on the lower side for a watch with no OLED screen or always-on display. I got about a week on a single charge, with roughly 30-60 minutes of activity per day and backlight on low at all times. You can save some battery life by switching backlight brightness to “with light button only,” but for me, it wasn’t worth the decreased visibility. In my testing, 30-60 minutes of GPS activity drained the battery by about 3-5 percent.
I’ve complained a fair amount, but the Grit X Pro is still a good sports watch. It’s just not the best smartwatch. You won’t get NFC payments or cellular connectivity, and there’s no voice assistant to set your timers, either. You do get media controls but no onboard music storage or headphone pairing — so you need to carry your phone along. Push notifications are basic, though you can decline calls. If you want something that’s got more smarts, Garmin has better options in watches like the Venu 2 Plus. In lieu of smart features, the Pro opts for things like the ability to switch between GPS types like GLONASS and Galileo. You can clearly see where its priorities are.
While this isn’t the smartest watch, it’s got a nice mix of fitness tests, recovery and training data, and navigation options. Polar’s added new watch faces, such as an altimeter, compass, and dusk / dawn times. These are great if you love hiking (and they look nice too). There are also new options to view your route, altitude, and add fueling reminders right from the Route selection menu. For the spontaneous among us, Polar’s also added mid-workout options. For instance, you can view elevation, switch routes mid-way, and access alternate ways to get back to where you started an activity. You can either reverse your route or pick the “via beeline” option, which finds the fastest way back. There’s also the option to link up with Komoot to load pre-planned routes and get turn-by-turn navigation on the wrist.
These are appealing if you, like me, are prone to getting lost. To test the turn-by-turn directions, I loaded up a new Komoot route. My wrist buzzed with directions pretty much in real-time. At one point, I purposefully went the wrong way and got a friendly buzz telling me I was off track within a few feet. Reversing the route also worked well, though I disagree that beelining it got me there faster than my usual preferred way. Still, I was impressed and, after trying it, was more inclined to explore new areas. What I don’t love is it’s a finicky feature to set up. You need to have the Komoot app, and the linking process between both apps was tedious. (Trust me, the bored guy in this tutorial video could’ve been my doppelganger during setup.) Syncing was slow, and it also takes longer to get an activity started because you have to navigate to a special Routes menu before starting an activity. And in sub-freezing weather, I wasn’t a fan of the extra time needed — or the fact that I need two apps to make the most of this feature.
The fitness tests were neat, but only the most hardcore nerds will get the most out of them. There are four tests total: the orthostatic test, leg recovery test, running performance test, and cycling performance test. The Running performance test, for instance, is essentially a guided VO2 Max test to determine your best training zones and measure your progress over time. Altogether it takes between 30-40 minutes (about 20 of which are warm-up and cool down), and you basically run as hard as you can ‘til you feel like keeling over in a breathless heap. The cycling test is a functional threshold power test and measures the max power you can maintain for 60 minutes. (I didn’t test this because while I enjoy the occasional spin class, you can’t make me cycle for an hour.) The leg recovery test has you jump up and down three times to measure how well they’ve recovered from activity. The orthostatic test is the easiest. You lie down, link up with a chest strap, and measure your readiness based on heart rate variability. It’s part of Polar’s Recovery Pro feature, which gauges your cardiovascular system’s recovery based on the test, training load, and a few questions. These are all incredibly in-depth if you’re into data-based training — but it’s a little overkill.
Accuracy-wise, the Grit X Pro held up well against the Apple Watch Series 7, Garmin Fenix 7S, and the Runkeeper app on my phone. A 5K (3.1 miles) route planned on Komoot registered as 3.01 miles on the Grit X Pro, 3.1 miles on the Fenix 7S, 3.03 miles on the Series 7, and 3.04 miles on Runkeeper. These are all consistent results, and the Fenix 7S recorded some extra distance as I initially botched ending the workout. The GPS maps produced were also nearly identical, with only one small section that all four struggled with. For heart rate, the Grit X Pro struggled a bit with sharp intervals but not in a major way. Think a 1- to 2-second lag behind the Series 7 and Fenix 7S. Otherwise, mid-run checks were all within five beats per minute, and the activity max and average rates were all on par.
I also dig how granular Polar gets with its data. It’s most similar to what Garmin offers, but I’d say with an extra focus on building baselines, evaluating cumulative training loads, data-based testing, and fueling. But the one thing I don’t love is the Polar Flow app. Polar prefers to bombard you with as many data points as possible but doesn’t always think about the presentation. Charts, for example, take a lot of reading to understand. Actually, all Polar metrics require you to do a decent amount of reading. I’ve tested multiple Polar devices over the years, so I’m familiar with the app’s quirks, but it’ll take newbies a while to get used to the mess. The one saving grace is you can rearrange which information you see first.
All in all, the Grit X Pro is a mixed bag. There’s a lot I like about it, but there are also the many quibbles I’ve detailed throughout this review. But the thing that gives me the most pause is the price. The Grit X Pro’s steep $499.95 price tag makes sense in the category until you look at the $429.95 Grit X. Thanks to a very recent firmware update, it has the vast majority of the same features. It’s confusing enough that Polar had to put out its own blog about the differences between the Grit X, Grit X Pro, and $599.95 Grit X Pro Titan. I’ll save you time. Most people would be perfectly happy saving the extra $70 with the Grit X. Anyone looking for a better smartwatch experience or preloaded maps will be happier with a Garmin. But if you’re that person who loves fitness testing and could use a little extra navigational help? The Grit X Pro will at least make sure you look good while you crush your fitness goals.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge