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Wahoo Tickr Fit Review | Best Optical Heart Rate Monitor?

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In this Wahoo Tickr Fit Review we will take a look at the first arm-worn optical heart rate monitor from Wahoo Fitness.

Wahoo generally provide good, innovative products that are compatible with a wide range of other sports products.

Background

Optical heart rate monitors located on your wrist, ie with a sports watch, are prone to potentially significant errors. It’s hit-and-miss as to whether an optically-based watch will work with YOU. But the same technology worn further up the arm, usually on your upper arm, will probably work VERY well for almost all of us.

Optical HR technology is now relatively mature and well understood by manufacturers. Some device manufacturers buy-in the optical sensor from companies like Valencell but, in this case,  Wahoo seem to have decided to go it alone to some degree.

Accuracy is a big issue but so too is battery life. There is a ‘need’ in some parts of the consumer market for 24×7 heart rate monitoring. I’m not entirely sure how well-justified that ‘need’ is but, hey, if you guys want it, the manufacturers try to let you have it.

Accuracy and battery life also fit into overnight heart rate monitoring. Providing the battery can last 10 hours, or so, this use-case might support checking sleep quality and sleep cycles especially when combined with a motion sensor. But if an optical HR monitor can be sufficiently accurate to produce HRV (RR) data at resting levels then further insights may be offered to athletes looking to quantify recovery, adaptation and readiness-to-train in some fashion. This can already easily be accomplished with a chest strap but I don’t know anyone who would wear a chest strap EVERY night…maybe an arm band is a more practical alternative?

Background: Manufacturers & Products

MIO made the first optical wrist bands. We then saw the Scosche Rhythm (and Rhythm+) arm band. There are cheap OEM/generic bands waiting to hit the market in Q1.2018. Polar produced the OH1 arm band in 2017 and, in January, Scosche released their 2018 version, the Rhythm 24. Most new sports watches incorporate an optical HR sensor.

Wahoo make excellent cycling products, including the ELEMNT and KICKR. They also have a good pedigree with their innovative TICKR HR chest straps which have innovative feature like providing cycling/running cadence. I have a rather neat Wahoo Tickr-X (reviewed here). Let’s see what Wahoo’s first foray into all things optical is like.

Wahoo Tickr Fit Review

This will be a relatively short review as the product is relatively straightforward. Let’s go.

Unboxing & Contents

 

In the box you get the optical pod and straps of two lengths. There is a proprietary charging cradle that will plug into a standard USB port.

‘Quite’ long

The straps are just over 20cm and just over 30cm long. However, 20cm and 30cm are the maximum arm circumferences each will support.

Nice blue button – you won’t miss that.

The sensor array comprises 3 green LEDs. Sometimes a mixture of light colours is thought to be best. Only Polar has a 6 LED sensor array (green only).

There is a multi-coloured LED on the exterior to indicate if the TICKR FIT is turned on and its status.

There’s a blue on-off button on the side.

You get paper as well. To summarise the quickstart guide: “turn it on” then “pair it”

Usage: Pointers and Comments

Exterior LEDs

Let me tell you about the exterior LED first of all. Most usefully note these:

The Strap

The strap is more important than you might, at first, think. The original Scosche Rhythm had issues with strap longevity and the current Polar OH1 has issues with strap flippability when pool swimming – I have both of those devices.

The Tickr Fit’s strap feels like it will last. I’ll try to remember to update wear issues in a couple of months.

This is how you fit the strap, with the fluffy Velcro on the outside.

 

Here are the width of each of the main bands:

The OH1 is thinner as it does not work by fastening with velcro.

You could use the Wahoo’s narrower strap in the Scosche but NOT the other way round.

My upper arm does not sweat much and what sweat there is seems to be more than adequately wicked away by the strap design.

Strap official specs: Small 260mm x 25.4mm and Large 375mm x 25.4mm. Length includes the fastening rough, velcro tab.

Wearing It

You can probably wear it however you want and wherever you want; as long as you don’t cover the sensor array! There should be no need to overtighten the Tickr Fit to get a good reading.

Turning It On

The blue button needs a good press and hold for 3 seconds; I would imagine it is unlikely to be turned on by accident.

The Blue exterior LED initially flashes but turns solid quickly thereafter. Presumably once a HR signal is detected.

Pairing

You know what to do folks…

Suunto Spartan Trainer – Awesome and already paired via Bluetooth Smart

You should be able to pair the Tickr Fit to any Bluetooth Smart or ANT+ compatible device, including many Apple and Android apps. You would pair it as an external HR monitor, just the same as for a chest strap.

Elemnt Bolt – Awesome

You should be able to simultaneously pair the Tickr Fit with many ANT+ devices AND one Bluetooth Smart device. You can only ever have one active Bluetooth Smart pairing although you should be able to have made several Bluetooth Smart pairing. Having multiple Bluetooth pairing is not generally advisable as you may well find that your device will not pair because it is currently inadvertently ACTIVELY paired to, for example, your smartphone. I guess once you ran out of range of that smartphone it should pair up to the other device you are wearing (I’ve never tried that!) but some sports watches REALLY want you to have all sensors paired and active before heading off.

Garmin 935 – Super Great

Devices like Wahoo’s Elemnt bike computer or Garmin’s high-end watches, like my Forerunner 935, can all pair to either Bluetooth or ANT+ sensors. They all seem to prefer to initially connect to the Tickr FIT via ANT+. I’m fine with that, despite other people suggesting that a Bluetooth connection is better.

Zwift compatibility? A: Yep.

Polar Gym Link compatibility? A: No.

Battery & Charging

 

Battery life is very good and stated as 30+ hours.

The cradle is slightly magnetic and this holds the Tickr Fit to the cradle whilst charging

Charging whilst recording HR is not possible as the sensor must point into the cradle whilst charging.

However if you turn the device on and then place it on the cradle it does not turn off and may still transmit (although there will be nothing to transmit). This behaviour is irrelevant at present but IF caching is introduced in the future then you may want to preserve one continuous session interrupted by a period of zeros whilst charging…there could be some ULTRA running scenario here that I can’t quite think of.

Caching / Memory

The Tickr Fit probably has the hardware to cache heart rate. Such a feature is NOT enabled at present (if it exists).

Caching/Storage is possible with the Polar OH1 and Scosche Rhythm 24.

Underwater Use

The strap complies to IPX7.

You could probably get a signal to travel underwater to a sports watch if you wore the Tickr FIT immediately next to the watch.

HRV App Usage

The Tickr Fit does NOT appear to be able to connect to apps that require a HRV-enabled heart rate monitor (I only tried Bioforce HRV)

Accuracy – Provisional

So far I have seen no reason to think this is not sufficiently accurate for running and cycling usage.

Here is a more formalised ‘test’ at different levels of running intensity

Some turbo shinanigans

, Tickr Fit started about 10 mins in

Possibly  a slight under-reading at the higher effort level?

And more…summing up my testing frustrations (and a great device!)

Boring, Boring, Boring. Review Data Comparison

The following is a slideshow of various ( ) HR charts. I’ll add more over time if anything interesting crops up. There has only been one low level turbo session where the Tickr Fit was a couple of beats under where it should have been. I’m not overly concerned with that. Then another where the HRM-TRI was wrong at the start!

Comparisons Wahoo Tickr Fit Review

Here are some thoughts on the comparison to the Polar OH1 and the Scosche Rhythm+

Fit vs OH1

The Polar Oh1 is a very much smaller device. You can see that the profile of the Polar OH1 and Tickr Fit is lower than that of the Scosche.

Fit vs. Rhythm+

I think the Scosche Rhythm+ has had its day. Good bye and thank you for the ride. It was good.

There is some new v3 firmware for the Rhythm+. Some older Rhythm+ devices are not upgradeable and even when upgraded there are reports of the new firmware trashing the device. And all the new firmware brings is a few peripheral features like providing cadence. Here are some sobering notes to that effect (Link to: licomatic.com). Advice: If it ain’t broken don’t fix it. 🙂 You’ll break it. Although that will then give you an excuse to buy the Tickr Fit :-). The point being is that the Tickr Fit beats the Scosche Rhythm in every material respect I can think of.

Comparing the Tickr Fit to the OH1 is different again. Both are equally as accurate but the Tickr easily wins on battery life. Then again the OH1 can very readily be used for swimming where it caches HR unlike the Tickr Fit.

The OH1 also has caching functionality for gym use via the Polar beat app. But the Polar is Bluetooth Smart only.

Summary

Clearly this Wahoo Tickr Fit Review finds a great optical heart rate monitor.

The key areas where the Wahoo Tickr Fit wins are

Whilst the broad price level IS currently justified (Jan 2018), some of the alternative products offer a broader range of functionality. Whether or not you need those functionalities is another matter entirely. There could be longer term downward pressure on prices as cheaper, unbranded dual-band products start to come on to the market throughout 2018.

My hope is that Wahoo will use the Tickr Fit to do more with the optical technology AND that they already have extra hardware capabilities built in to the product that hopefully will be enabled in future firmware updates. Don’t buy on that hope though!

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