Best Wrist Heart Rate Monitor 2017 – Review and Comparison
Monitoring your heart rate can tell you a lot about your performance and overall fitness. More and more fitness watches and bracelets, even the low cost ones, are now being fitted with built-in heart rate monitors. The traditional wearable heart rate monitor is a chest strap. Though it is one of the most accurate ways you can monitor your heart rate changes, it is bulky and often inconvenient. This is especially so if you want your heart monitored through the day and not just when you are working out. A wrist heart rate monitor is the next best option.
In this type of monitor, pulse-reading sensors are embedded in a fitness band, bracelet or watch. You can then get your readings during workout or at any time during the day as long as the watch or band is on your wrist.
The biggest issue with these heart rate trackers is accuracy. Even the best wrist heart rate monitor will be a few points off compared to a chest strap. But some wrist sensors are better than others.
With this in mind, we put together a list of the 5 top fitness trackers with heart rate monitors that score highly on accuracy, convenience and ease of use.
1. Fitbit Surge
Fitbit surge comes in an uninspiring matte design with a rather awkward looking screen. But underneath the simple rubber strap and LCD screen, the Super Watch (they don’t call it a Smartwatch) is not all that bad. It is equipped with GPS to help you track your runs outdoors, provides all-day activity tracking and can be used to track different types of sports and activities.
One of its best features is the PurePulse heart rate monitor. The heart rate sensor is located at the back of the watch, where it can easily monitor blood flow. It uses LED light to detect the change in the volume of blood. These changes are put through an algorithm to provide a fairly accurate heart rate reading.
The heart rate monitor comes in handy when you want to optimize your workout sessions. Every person, mostly depending on age, has a target heart rate zone which is 50 to 85 percent of their maximum heart rate zone. Your Fitbit Surge will show you when you have reached your target zone, which is where you should try to maintain your pace.
Aside from workout sessions, the heart rate monitor can be hugely beneficial in keeping you aware of your general health. Since it stays on 24/7, it is always measuring your heart rate even when you are in the office or asleep at home. Your resting heart rate, and how it changes over time, can reflect your current and future health.
In terms of accuracy, Fitbit Surge scores close to 5/5. It is not as good as a chest strap but thanks to its algorithms and sensors, it performs better than many other fitness trackers.
- Scores highly on accuracy.
- Provides both on-demand and continuous heart rate monitoring.
- Poor design
2. TomTom Spark 3
TomTom Spark 3 is one of the best GPS watches around. In this new edition, the makers have added route exploration, a feature that uses an in-built compass to map your runs and help you find your way around. The design is quite simple though it does come with the convenience of swappable straps.
At the back of the watch sits an optical heart rate sensor. Like in other fitness watches, it uses light to detect how much blood is in your blood vessels and how it changes as the heart beats. Simply by virtue of this technology, TomTom Spark 3 is not perfect in heart monitoring accuracy. But compared to a chest strap, it performs quite impressively.
Problems arise only occasionally especially when you are engaged in a high intensity workout. Overall, it is one of the most accurate fitness watches you can buy today.
The biggest advantage of heart rate monitoring is that you can engage in zone-based training, which can help improve your performance and fitness level. Using the watch you can train in zone-specific workouts such as sprints, endurance workouts, fat burns, speed training and easy beginner mode. This way, you can optimize your workouts to achieve exactly what you are after.
Unfortunately, the watch does not put the same effort in daily activity tracking. The heart rate monitor and readings are designed specifically for use during workout sessions. That is why the TomTom Spark 3 is ideal for serious runners and athletes rather than the casual jogger.
- Highly accurate heart rate sensors.
- Easy to use
- Does not provide continuous monitoring
3. Garmin Forerunner 235
Garmin is a powerhouse when it comes to fitness trackers. It has a range of wearables covering everything from outdoor dog training to dedicated bike training. The Garmin Forerunner 235 watch is among the best of the bunch, made for both casual users and serious athletes. The chunky watch has a cool design that is right at home on the track as it is in the office.
The optical heart rate monitor is located at the back. You can turn the watch over to see the green lights that help detect blood volume changes. Garmin uses its own proprietary optical heart rate monitoring technology, a fact that has helped make it one of the most accurate wrist heart rate trackers.
When you are getting into a serious workout session, the watch offers five different zone-based exercises; Aerobic Threshold, Active Recover, Temp, Sub Lactate Threshold and Lactate Anaerobic Threshold. Selecting one of these zones allows you to achieve a specific goal with your workout.
The only downside is that the watch does not compute maximum and target heart rate zones for you. The default ones available are based on age. If you want to set your own maximum heart rate, you have to measure it yourself and enter it manually. It is a shame that the Forerunner 235 cannot use personal heart rate readings to adjust maximum and target heart rate zones.
The heart rate sensor is not just for grueling workouts. As long as you are wearing your watch, it can tell you what your heart rate is. Simply scroll to that specific display on the watch face and see how your heart is doing. Note that the sensor does not have continuous heart rate tracking, a feature designed to save power. Instead, it takes measurements on-demand.
Surprisingly, it does not store this reading. So you cannot even access a history of your recorded resting heart rate readings, which would be really helpful in health monitoring.
- Heart rate monitor has high accuracy.
- Great watch design.
- No customized heart rate zones.
4. Withings Steel HR
The Withings Steel HR is one of the coolest fitness watches you can buy. It comes with a snazzy analogue style that looks great whether you pair it with your workout wear or office suit. It is accompanied by a smartphone app that allows you to access your past data and set new goals. Furthermore, it is waterproof (rated at 5 ATM) meaning you can swim or shower with it without any worries.
The Steel HR offers two levels of heart rate readings, one during the day when you are going about your normal activities and the second when you are working out.
During the day, the optical heart rate sensor measures your heart rate at specific intervals. This helps save power (as compared to continuous tracking) but it comes with one downside. When you scroll through the screen to see the heart rate reading, it shows one that is a tad too high before settling back down after a few seconds.
Heart rate monitoring during a workout is more consistent. At a glance, you can see how you are doing and which heart rate zone you are in. Later, you can open the accompanying Health Mate app to see data on specific heart rate zones including the time spent in each zone and your maximum heart rate.
One thing to note is that the watch does not collect heart rate readings when underwater. So even though you can swim with it, you will not be able to track your heart rate at that time.
- Great design.
- Provides both all-day and workout heart rate monitoring.
- Not as accurate as other trackers especially for all-day monitoring.
5. Polar M600
Polar has made a name for itself in the running watch business. They created the first wireless heart rate monitor as far back as 1977. Today, they have some of the best fitness products in the market. The Polar M600 is powered by Android Wear and a host of other powerful features runners and fitness lovers will enjoy.
The heart rate tracker is a major improvement from the previous A360. Placed next to a chest strap, the Polar M600 holds its own whether you are out on a casual jog or engaging in a grueling gym session.
The only problem is that it does not respond as well to rapid changes in heart rate, for example moving from a casual run to a sprint. If you want even more accuracy, the Polar M600 can be paired to a chest strap. You can use their own H7 strap or connect with another one such as Wahoo.
The heart rate tracking feature is designed for workouts, rather than monitoring your resting heart rate. To see your heart rate, you have to enter training mode. When working out, the M600 will indicate what heart rate zone you are currently in.
Default heart rate zones are very light, light, moderate, hard and maximum. You can also create customized heart rate zones.
- Accurate, though not perfect, heart tracking sensors.
- Ability to create customized heart rate zones.
- Does not provide continous heart rate monitoring.
What to Look for in a Wrist Heart Rate Monitor
Heart rate monitors were once the reserve of expensive smartwatches. But as they have become a more basic component in fitness tracking, they have started appearing in just about every fitness watch. Since they all claim to be super accurate and amazing, how do you know which one to buy?
For one, there are some brands that are generally trustworthy in terms of the quality of their heart rate monitors. Garmin, Polar and TomTom are some names that come to mind. Pay special attention to their newer releases as they tend to contain the latest technology that increases accuracy.
Here are a few more things to look for when shopping around for fitness watches and bands with heart rate monitors.
This is the single most important aspect to take into account when buying a fitness tracker with a heart rate monitor. A chest strap will always be the best way to track your heart rate. But if you want the convenience of a wrist heart rate tracker, you have to go with a fitness watch or bracelet.
Wrist heart rate monitors have come a long way. A couple of years ago, they used to show a huge disparity when compared to a chest strap tracker or a medical EKG device. Now, many feature more accurate technology with the best showing a slight disparity of only 1 or 2 beats per minute (bpm).
2. Ease of use
A wrist heart rate monitor is supposed to be convenient. When working out, a single glance at your watch face should give you the information you need such as current heart rate and heart rate zone. If you have to keep scrolling or swiping to get what you need, that is not convenience.
3. Continuous vs. on-demand measurements
Most heart rate monitors will feature both continuous and on-demand measurements. Continuous trackers monitor your heart rate throughout the day, providing important information on how your resting heart rate changes over time. On-demand trackers only measure heart rate when you ask for it or activate it during workouts.
The one you choose will depend on your needs. If you want to keep track of your overall health, a continuous heart rate monitor is ideal. If on the other hand your priority is workout performance and training, an on-demand tracker is perfect.
Fitness trackers range in cost from as low as $100 (£80) to as high as $300 and more. If you are looking for something that balances between value and affordability, look for those in the $150-$300 range. Many feature fairly accurate heart trackers.
You would be hard-pressed to find a fitness monitor that does not have its own app. Garmin has Garmin Connect, Samsung has S Health and Withings has Health Mate. Buying a heart monitor with an accompanying app allows you to easily access your heart rate data, see your progress over time, set new goals and do much more.
Which heart rate monitor of the five listed above is ideal for you? Leave your comments below.