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There are hundreds of wristwatch heart rate monitors on the market today. Consumers enjoy great choice, but the numerous options can cause confusion.
To cut through the hype, we've carefully selected those that represent the best in terms of both features and value.
We do not accept products directly from manufacturers; we use our own funds to purchase the same “off-the-shelf” products that you do. And when we've finished our testing and consumer reviews, we donate all these products to charities and other non-profit organizations.
Our pick of the top five products are:
Andrew is a lifelong athlete who routinely pushes himself to the limit in training and sports, with a focus on elite rowing. He was a national champion and four-year member of the Harvard crew team, and he represented the US at World Championships. He has trained alongside some of the world’s top Olympiads, and his love for rowing has sent him to the most elite racing events around the world. Through his experience and network of colleagues, he has gained great insight into the best rowing equipment.
Some HRMs are two-piece models, with a strap around the chest and an associated wrist band that receives the signal. Others are single units that are worn just like a watch. The former is common (and usually cheaper), but the latter is certainly more convenient. How each monitor fits is extremely important; consumers want something that gives accurate feedback and is comfortable to wear.
The best heart rate monitors don't just count beats per minute (BPM). They also offer a variety of other settings and measurements that allow you to check all kinds of performance data and better manage your exercise routine and cardiovascular activity.
Modern wrist HRMs can provide a variety of valuable features: calorie counting, activity tracking, time/distance reports, text alerts. In this part of the ratings, we look in detail at what additional functions each model offers.
Nobody can put a price on your health, but how much your heart rate monitor costs has a major impact on your buying decision! Having looked at the various aspects of each HRM, it's time to make some value judgments.
A heart rate monitor helps tell you if you're working within your target heart rate range during exercise. This lets you know when you keep pushing yourself and when to slow down to avoid both under- and over-training. Target heart rate ranges vary by age and individual, but there are plenty of tools online to help you calculate yours.
One of the first things many owners notice about the Timex Personal Trainer Heart Rate Monitor is how light the wrist unit is. They also like the clarity of the screen and the easy-to-use buttons. Several thought it looked good enough to wear as an "ordinary" watch. Considering it's made by Timex, we're not surprised by this! Not all owners are as complimentary about the chest strap that must be worn in combination with the Timex. It's a simple, elasticated band, but there's no clip, so you must slide it over your head or step into it. Fit is a very personal thing, and there's a fair bit of adjustment available. Nevertheless, several owners say they find the chest strap to be a little uncomfortable.
Like the Timex, the Polar FT7 Heart Rate Monitor requires that a chest strap be worn for heart rate monitoring. However, the wrist unit will work as a stand-alone watch. Owners report mixed views on the style of the Polar, which comes in a choice of four colors. It's perhaps not always as clear as the Timex, but to be fair, it does display more information. In general, people are happy with the fit of the wristwatch, and the chest strap comes in for particular praise. The soft material flexes as you exercise, remaining comfortable in all kinds of different routines. It's also washable. There's a clip, so it's easy to put on and take off, and it will expand to accommodate chest sizes of up to 54 inches.
The Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band and Heart Rate Monitor bundle is another with a chest strap. However, it's different from the Timex or Polar in that the wrist unit is designed as a separate fitness monitor that works independently of the strap (if you don't want the HRM function). In terms of wearability, the Vivofit click-fit wrist unit is slender, attractive, and available in six different colors. It's designed to be simple, but not everyone found it so. A few owners complained it's a pain to put on and take off. The chest strap is flexible plastic at the front with an adjustable fabric back. Some owners find it a bit uncomfortable, and a few experienced unpleasant chafing when they wore it. (An alternative "soft strap" is available for an extra cost.) We're not sure of maximum size, but our research indicates that the included strap will fit chests of at least 48 inches.
Think about whether a sports watch or fitness band will be right for you. Devices worn on your wrist will have less consistency than those that fit around your chest, but fitness bands can be restrictive for certain activities.
Unlike the sleek Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band, the Mio Alpha Heart Rate Monitor Sports Watch is a "chunky" item. This is due, in large part, to the fact that the Mio Alpha Heart Rate Monitor/Watch includes no separate chest strap. All of the watch's mechanics take place in the wrist unit. It's available in three different colors, but these are really just accents for the bezel. Overall, this piece is quite dark, although the large digital display is nice and clear. The big benefit with HRMs like the Mio is the fact that the wrist unit is all you need. There's no chest strap to restrict movement or chafe the skin. However, it's extremely important for buyers to find a watch that fits well so that accurate measurements can be taken. Two band sizes are available. When the Mio comes in contact with the skin, its soft silicone is quite comfortable. However, a number of owners have said that the function buttons are awkward to operate.
Like the Mio, the Fitbit Surge Fitness Superwatch works without a chest strap. However, it's very different in terms of design. Although it's still relatively wide, it's much slimmer in appearance. There are three strap color options, and the overall look — smart yet simple — is quite fashionable. As with the Mio, there are two band options to accommodate different wrist sizes. It is intended as a multi-sports watch, and many owners give positive comments about its comfort, although one or two people did experience some skin irritation. Fitbit recommends "rest" periods and also supplies dermatological advice on their website.
The Timex Personal HRM provides this option! It also tells you how long you've been in the zone and how long it takes your heart beat to return to its normal resting rate. The Timex can also communicate with some other fitness equipment. For instance, you could keep an eye on your BPM while riding an appropriately equipped exercise bike. Instructions are considered by most owners to be clear and intuitive. The only problem seems to be that the watch will sometimes drop the signal from the chest strap. When this occurs, the watch resets and loses all information from the current session. It's a frustrating flaw, and it can't be simply attributed to low batteries.
Polar claims to have invented the heart rate monitor. Whether they're referring to the medical version or the more recent fitness version isn't clear. Given that prestigious background, customers expect a lot from the Polar FT7, and they're not disappointed. Minimum and maximum BPM are a given with all these gadgets, but the Polar will calculate yours for you based on your age. (You also have the option to set your rates independently.) There's a visual display of your actual rate between minimum and maximum points and an option for notification if you go above or below them. The Polar FT7 gives both maximum and average figures for every training period. Conveniently, it will sync with other fitness equipment that uses GymLink. One or two owners reported that their signal would drop between wrist and chest, but these complaints account for a very small percentage of all comments received. Most owners think the Polar FT7 is easy to set up and use.
If you read the promo material for the Garmin Vivofit, you could be forgiven for thinking that the heart rate monitor function is a bit of an afterthought. That's not exactly true, but the focus of the Garmin is on general fitness activity, goal setting, and tracking. As such, the heart rate information provided is minimal and part of an overall program rather than the major focus of this product. It is possible to buy the Garmin Vivofit Heart Monitor separately and pair it with other equipment that makes more of the information available. However, there are complaints from several owners that the chest strap is just not reliable and that the information it transmits fluctuates and is inaccurate.
If you are walking or running a trail, and using your heart rate monitor to track your exercise, be aware that there may be some inaccuracies due to lapse of signal between the HRM and its orbital satellite due to terrain obstructions.
Mio claims that their patented wrist HRM technology, with its optical sensors, is as close to laboratory standards as is possible with a 0.99 correlation to EKG readings. Because of the way it measures blood flow, it should maintain accuracy whether the wearer is exercising or at rest. As for the information available, the Mio Alpha is much like the Polar, offering maximum and minimum levels (visual and audio alerts are available), average BPM, and time spent in the "sweet spot" target range. Thanks to the Mio's Bluetooth connectivity and compatibility with smartphones, tablets, and a number of apps, heart rate information can be transmitted, stored, and monitored wirelessly. However, a number of owners do express concerns over erratic data readings, particularly during activities that involve regular hand movement.
The Fitbit Surge uses similar optical technology to the Mio Alpha, so while the former says theirs is patented, it's clearly a much-used and proven concept. Along with activity monitoring, the Fitbit Surge also tracks heart rate. Owners can set a "heart zone" (target range) to make sure they're working at the right pace. When it comes to sharing data, the Fitbit has its own app that will sync with a laptop and over 150 Android, iOS, and Windows devices. A couple of people were annoyed that it couldn't be set to stay in BPM mode, and there were a few complaints about data accuracy. (This seems to be the case with all HRMs!) However, the majority of owners are thrilled with this device.
Fitness bands that fit around your chest will have the best contact points for more accurate readings, but they should be moistened before you start working out.
While the Timex Personal Trainer Heart Rate Monitor is a relatively entry-level heart rate monitor, it does offer some useful additional features. All of our finalists can operate as normal watches (providing time and date), but if you program your weight into the Timex, it will tell you how many calories you're burning. The Timex features an "Indiglo" back light which allows you to read the screen in the dark. It's waterproof to 30 meters (although it won't transmit a signal through water), so you can use it as an HRM while swimming. The life of its lithium battery will supposedly last for years, though many owners have reported a much shorter battery life.
The Polar FT7 offers a calorie burning feature and, at the end of each exercise session, gives you this information along with relevant heart rate data. It will store up to ten sessions for you to review later. Like the Timex, it's waterproof, but it can't measure heart rate in water. The back light and low-battery indicator are also useful features. Polar doesn't make any claims about the life of its lithium batteries, but according to our research, some owners have maintained their lithium-powered HRM for several years without the need for battery replacement. However, if you do have to change the Polar's lithium battery, it's easy to do.
As we've already mentioned, the Garmin Vivofit is much more focused on all-around activity than displaying BPM information. For instance, remaining stationary for long periods is not good for you, so the Garmin will alert you every hour via the "Move Bar" -- take a little exercise, even a short walk, and it resets. The Garmin can learn your routine, assign personal goals, and count calories, steps, and distance. It can even track your sleep patterns! All of this data can be recorded and reviewed with Garmin's own "Connect" app, which also gives access to challenges and the ability to compete with others who have the same device. These features are useful, but some owners have criticized the Garmin because they're restricted to Garmin's app. (Other popular fitness programs are not compatible.) This model is waterproof to 50 meters. The easy-to-replace batteries are claimed to last one year.
No matter the quality or cost of a heart rate monitor, no device is infallible. Expect some amount of dropouts in data.
Surprisingly, the Mio Alpha doesn't have a calorie counting function or a back light. The other major difference -- when compared to the Timex, Polar, and Garmin -- is that you have to charge the unit regularly. Mio declares that the device will run for over 20 hours per charge; some owners tell us that it will run for a couple of days without recharging. Potential buyers should be aware that, while the Mio will sync with numerous devices, there's no memory in the unit itself. If you want to capture data, it must be done "on the go." The Mio is water resistant, but the company cites no specific water depth. Owners tell us you can wear the device when swimming but not when diving. After submersion, the manufacturer says that watch should be rinsed and dried carefully. This precaution, coupled with the fact that you can't actually use the Mio for monitoring in the water, leads us to suggest that owners avoid using it in the water.
The Fitbit Surge requires regular charging. Owners tell us that they get between three and five days of battery life from their Fitbit device. This is another HRM with confusing waterproof data. It's rated at 5ATM, which equates to 50 meters, but oddly, Fitbit recommends that owners should not wear it while swimming. A major feature of this model is its built-in GPS. This allows you to set up specific exercise routines (track running, treadmill, etc.) and record data accordingly. You can also set it for specifics like weights, golf, yoga, cycling, tennis, etc. It will count calories, distance traveled, steps taken, and floors climbed. When you're done exercising, the Fitbit can monitor sleep and wake you with a silent alarm. (However, a number of owners have managed to sleep right though their alarm!) If it's dark, touching the screen will brighten the Fitbit. If you sync it with your smartphone, it will give you text and call alerts and allow you to control your music remotely.
If you're looking for a basic model from a well-respected brand, there aren't many better options than the $88 Timex Personal Trainer Heart Rate Monitor. Taste is a very individual thing, but we agree with numerous owners that this could be worn as an everyday watch when not used as an HRM. Not everyone finds the chest strap convenient, but you won't find a wrist-only monitor anywhere near this price. Much of the advantage of this heart rate monitor watch is found in its simplicity. Other products might provide more data, but the Timex is clear, easy to use, and delivers all the important information you need. It does have its critics, most of whom are unhappy with the watch's tendency to lose signal or who question its accuracy. However, the Timex has plenty of fans who are very happy with the performance and price.
At a cost of $69, the Polar FT7 Heart Rate Monitor offers a great deal for your money. Although perhaps not as big a name as Timex, Polar is a highly reputable brand in fitness HRMs. It may not be the most stylish wrist unit, but it gives you plenty of vital feedback, and the comfortable chest strap is easy to put on and take off. (Many owners say that they don't even notice it!) The Polar FT7 will also count calories burned, and while it doesn't give you as much data as some HRMs, it stores your last ten sessions and can interact with a range of fitness equipment. Some owners experienced connectivity problems between chest and wrist units. (This is a problem that seems to be common on this type of device.) Others questioned durability. However, the overwhelming majority love how easy the personalized Polar FT7 is to set up and use.
If you're looking for a high-quality, flexible fitness monitor with basic but useful heart rate information, you could do a lot worse than the $79 Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band and the HRM chest strap that is bundled with it. This multi-function wrist band comes is a range of fashionable colors and delivers all kinds of data to help your general fitness, from the clever "Move Bar" that gets you going if you've been still too long to the personalized goal-setting function. A wealth of other features are available via computer, tablet, and smartphone if you use the Garmin Connect app. (A number of owners have complained that the device ought to be compatible with other popular fitness apps, too.) The Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band can be a great help to those who are looking to improve general fitness. However, if your sole purpose is to monitor your heart rate, both the Timex and Polar offer more -- for less.
Hear rate monitors can help you by keeping you in check, so you don't over exert yourself or case any physical damage by going beyond your limit.
For some, the biggest advantage the Mio Alpha provides is the fact that no chest strap is required. As a result, however, some find the watch to be a bit bulky. (Visually, it couldn't be more different from the sleek Garmin!) The Mio Alpha claims a high degree of accuracy, but according to owners, accuracy depends on the exercise. If your wrist is relatively still, accuracy is rather dependable. However, the integrity of the data could potentially be compromised if the wrist moves around a lot during exercise. The Mio Alpha offers a multitude of settings, and when paired with other devices via Bluetooth, owners enjoy plenty of feedback. However, there's no memory in the unit itself. Some owners don't like the fact that it needs regular charging, and a few were unhappy with the accuracy of readings. Overall, however, most owners are delighted with their Mio Alpha Heart Rate Monitor/Watch, citing ease of use, comfort, and reliability as major benefits. The unit is priced at $0.
At a price of $237, the Fitbit Surge Fitness Superwatch needs to provide some significant benefits in order to compete with our other finalists. Fortunately, it does. Although not everyone agrees, we like the Fitbit's modern look and screen clarity. Legibility is important when a device gives you as much information as this one! As a heart rate monitor, the Fitbit delivers all the data you would expect and gives you the ability to set personalized "heart zones" so you can get the precise feedback you need. It also offers a GPS system that allows you to customize data gathering to suit individual sporting activities. It provides all kinds of time and distance information, records sleep patterns, and offers message alerts and music controls. Regular battery charging every few days isn't popular with everyone, and some people experienced skin irritation from the strap. Overall, however, the Fitbit Surge receives plenty of praise.
Each finalist on our list has its benefits and would undoubtedly suit a large number of consumers, but our "Best of the Best" winner is the Fitbit Surge Fitness Superwatch.
We like this watch's sleek appearance and were quite surprised that some people find it to be too big. True, it may not be discreet, but it's not exactly bulky, either -- especially when compared to some of its competitors. Perhaps the most important feature here is clarity. A number of owners have praised the Fitbit for how easy it is to read in a variety of situations.
When it come to actual heart rate monitoring, the Fitbit uses advanced LED technology to measure the blood flowing through your wrist. As such, it does not require a separate chest strap. (A definite advantage over older-style HRMs!) A few people reported skin irritation. The manufacturer is aware of this potential side effect and offers advice on its website about the problem. (Fortunately, skin irritation is a side effect that affects very few users.) The vast majority of owners find the Fitbit to be very comfortable.
Once you've entered your personal information and range preferences into the watch, it provides a multitude of measurements, including maximum and minimum BPM and projected recovery time. The Fitbit's GPS allows you to tailor feedback to the sports/workout type you prefer. It gives all kinds of time and distance statistics, counts calories, and even includes a built-in altimeter. Thanks to its compatibility with over 150 computers, smartphones, and tablets, consumers are able to aggregate and use the data in an enormous number of ways. When you're done exercising, the Fitbit will even monitor your sleep patterns and wake you when you want it to. When synchronized with a cell phone, it can alert you to text/voice messages and give you control over your music.
In spite of its price ($237), many owners think the Fitbit's all-around capabilities make it an excellent value for the money. Skin complaints aside, the only negative comment that crops up with any frequency relates to a fluctuation in the data received. This seems to be an issue with every heart rate monitor watch — not just the ones in this review — and the problem should even out over time. While it's undoubtedly a bit expensive, most owners love this motivational device for its ease of use and the excellent feedback it provides.
Because the Fitbit uses advanced LED technology to measure the blood flowing through your wrist, it does not require a separate chest strap.
Each of the HRMs on our shortlist provides a good deal for the price, but the Best Bang for Your Buck award goes to the Polar FT7.
It may not be the best-looking watch in the world, but owners do get to choose between five different colors, and it's not as large or bulky as many other HRMs on today's market. The easy-to-read screen gives a good amount of information, and the buttons are simple to operate. (This comes in handy when you're exercising!) While some people aren't thrilled that the Polar FT7 must be paired with a chest strap, you're not going to find a wrist-only model in this price range. The Polar FT7 has received a number of compliments for how easy it is to put on and its general level of comfort. If there's a down side, it's that readings can be inconsistent.
The range of data available, while nowhere near the Fitbit, is still quite comprehensive: maximum and average BPM, time in zone, and calories burned are all provided. The FT7 automatically sets your target zone and will also interact with any Gymlink-enabled fitness equipment. A maximum of ten sessions may be stored in the FT7's memory for later review.
An inexpensive heart rate monitor such as the $69 Polar FT7 might be expected to have occasional flaws. There have been incidents of transmission signal breakdown, but this problem is commonly found in HRM equipment. Some consumers also question the Polar FT7's longevity. However, complaints are massively outnumbered by positive comments. For those who want a modest amount of fitness feedback for a reasonable price, the Polar FT7 Heart Rate Monitor is tough to beat.