What is the best HRM – Sports Heart Rate Monitor Comparison

the5krunner-WAHOO-Fitness-TICKR-X

Source: me

I’ve tested a few sports heart rate monitors (HRM) recently and used many over the years. Here’s a quick post to say which I think is the best.

Firstly I’ve only looked at these from the point of view of sports-usage, rather than medical accuracy & usage. You’ll find a lot of Polar HRMs used by Sports Scientists and medical professionals.

For us sports people we need to look at what would be the best HRM for the gadget & stats world that we at least partly inhabit.

If that world is Polar or Suunto or IOS or Android then your ‘best’ HRM will need to support Bluetooth. Going forwards that’s going to be Bluetooth 4.

The Garmin world is ANT+, plain and simple.

Some older monitors would use proprietry or other analogue signals and some monitors will support both bluetooth and ANT+.

What criteria do I use?

  1. Accuracy & range & lack of spikes/drop-outs
  2. Comfort (which would include size and type of strap)
  3. Special functionality
    1. Wrist usage
    2. Data caching
    3. Multi-protocal/band signals
    4. Special data (eg cadence, ability to send RR/HRV and other efficiency measures of your technique)

Polar H7

  • What is it? Bluetooth chest strap.
  • What’s good about it? Accurate, comfortable
  • What could be improved? Other than its size there’s nothing that needs to be improved, it does what it sets out to and it does it well.

Wahoo TICKR-X

  • What is it? Bluetooth & ANT+ chest strap
  • What’s good about it? Accurate, special cadence and running sports efficiency, caches swim data, ‘tap’ functionality which can control music or lap markers. It starts caching data as soon as you put it on, so you don’t need to activate it with any other watch or device.
  • What could be improved? It could cache the RR/HRV data as well as the other efficiency data. It could makes its efficiency data compatible with, for example, the Garmin HRM-RUN.

MIO Link

  • What is it? Wrist based bluetooth & ANT+ strap.
  • What’s good about it? Can transmit an ANT+ signal to an adjacent watch underwater.
  • What could be improved? RR/HRV data may not be fully accurate, it could cache the data and a better display could be added. Battery life is fine if regularly charged but rechargeable battery life is always an issue to someone.

Garmin HRM-RUN

  • What is it? ANT+ chest strap
  • What’s good about it?  Accurate, special cadence and running sports efficiency. this is the most accurate of the Garmin series of straps in terms of drop outs.
  • What could be improved? Other than its size there’s nothing that needs to be improved, it does what it sets out to and it does it well.

Suunto SMART Sensor

  • What is it? Bluetooth chest strap.
  • What’s good about it? Accurate, comfortable, very small. Appears sleek and well-made. Caches data and later bust-uploads it back to movescount. Must initiate/terminate the exercise-to-be cached with a smart-device (currently iOS +Ambit only) so it also exposes you to the risk that your smartphone will run out of battery while you are swimming.

I use a bluetooth based HRV app every day and I find it quite interesting how quickly and easily the bluetooth devices are found. The Suunto is VERY quick to be found and works perfectly 95% of the time…which doesn’t sound a lot but it is the best of them all, including the Polar. It is the most realible hassle-free Bluetooth connection IMHO.

In terms of accuracy all of these models are super-accurate for sports usage. The Suunto is the only one that regularly reports 0% errors in HRV data sent to FIRSTBEAT for me. But that does NOT mean that it is any more accurate for your normal Sports-HR recording. If you use HRV it might be important.

For underwater usage the TICKR-X is the most reliable all round performer. The Suunto appears good but if you forget to turn on the data recording you have to go back to your locker or bring MOVESCOUNT poolside somehow (of course you are fine if you have an Ambit). The Polar is great underwater too. The MIO is OK underwater if you position it just-right but of course in the ANT+ world it relies on your Garmin being able to accept an ANT+ signal in swim mode (only possible in OWS mode on the 920XT)

For me the best strap is the WAHOO TICKR-X it does just about EVERYTHING I want a HRM to do in the Bluetooth & ANT+ world that I co-inhabit. It’s also great as it cold save me having a cadence sensor on my bike and it’s great that it gives me running efficiency data. However the only 3 reasons why this product is not perfect is a. It’s a tiny bit big (fair enough for what it does) and b. it does not support Garmin 620/920 protocols to display those metrics and c. it does not store all the special data so I would be tied to a smartphone to see that data. And me relying on a SMARTPHONE is never going to happen. So, just change those last 2 points and it will be the only HRM you will ever need.

So I revert back to my early morning Suunto for getting my HRV right first time, every time. There are also a few glitches in the smartphone app that mean that I cannot YET rely on the Suunto for swim data usage but that will come in 2015.

For others who hate chest straps the MIO is an obvious choice. HOWEVER the imminent MIO FUSE will provide VERY significant updates to what the MIO LINK offers and will make it a much more attractive device. Review to follow.

Really, wrist based caching of accurate RR swim data is the only way to go for innovation in the swimming world. I don’t think we will get there quite yet.

Interesting: The Suunto tells me (on the app) what the charge of the battery is. What a great feature! Such an easy way to eliminate the battery as a cause of any problems you might be experiencing. I think the Wahoo may be the same from memory.

Boring: Or you could just use one of the really old Garmin hard straps or an old Analogue Polar. Cheap as chips and reliable.

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