Heart Rate Monitor Watches Review
How to Choose a Heart Rate Monitor Watch
The top performers in our review are Polar A360, the Gold Award winner; Fitbit Charge HR, the Silver Award winner; and the Garmin Vivosmart HR, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a heart rate monitor to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
When you're in the middle of a workout, it's hard to tell if you've reached your peak performance or even if you're in the best heart rate zone. Exercising at your target heart rate with a heart rate monitor watch is the optimal way to burn calories and improve your workouts. Instead of stopping mid-run to count your heart beats, a heart rate monitor watch displays it right there on your wrist. Training with readily available information about your heart rate takes the guesswork out of your fitness regimen and lets you focus on your body.
Maximum heart rate is different for everyone, but the best heart rate monitors and their corresponding apps can help you reach your zone. Your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. For example, if you're 30 years old, you should try to workout at about 80 percent of your 190 bpm (beats per minute) maximum heart rate, which is 152 bpm.
Heart monitors can also remind you to take is easy during your workouts. If you're recovering from an injury, have a medical conditions or are training for a long distance endurance activity, keeping your heart rate low and high for set periods of time gives you the edge you need over your competition and keeps you at your healthiest.
Wearable heart rate technology generally works in one of three ways. Pulse oximeters are fingertip sensors you've probably seen in doctors’ offices. They measure your O2 saturation and your heart rate through the thin skin on your finger. ECG technology, or electrocardiogram, is also used my healthcare professionals and must be located close to your heart. ECGs measure the electric signals your heart sends out when it pumps blood through your body. The chest strap heart rate monitor watches on our lineup use ECG technology. The newer, more popular heart rate technology is PPG, or photoplethysmogram. PPG sensors use light to measure the rate of your blood flow. All of the wrist-based strapless heart rate monitor watches in our review use PPG technology.
The main differences between chest-strap ECG and wristband PPG watches are convenience and accuracy. Since ECG devices are worn close to your heart, they are more accurate than PPGs but require you to wear bulky monitors around your chest that work best in conjunction with water or sweat. PPG monitors are much more discrete and easier to wear, but this light-based technology is a slightly less accurate gauge of your heart rate. For both heart rate monitors, the higher your heart rate, the less accurate the device. If you want to learn more about heart rate tracking technology, check out the latest heart rate watch articles.
If you're looking to track your heart rate for health reasons, a wrist heart rate monitor watch isn't the option for you. Heart rate watches are a good way to keep track of your fitness but not a good way to indicate heart health. Check with your doctor for alternative treatments or devices that can give you the most accurate feedback.
In addition to heart rate tracking, most watches track other fitness metrics like steps taken, calories burned, active minutes and distance traveled. These are calculated by a built-in accelerometer through which the continuous heart rate monitor watch senses your forward, backward and side-to-side movements. Health professionals recommend you take at least 10,000 steps a day to stay healthy and fit. Tracking your steps and your maximum heart rate can help you reach your fitness goals and stay healthier in the long run.
Dedicated heart rate monitor watches aren't the only smart wearables out there that can track your heart rate. Other wristbands can track heart rate in addition to other fitness and activity metrics. Similar to heart rate monitor watches, some fitness trackers can track heart rate as well as steps taken, calories burned and active minutes. However, heart rate monitors are better equipped to accurately display heart rate and calories burned than fitness trackers. Calories burned calculations based on heart rate are more accurate than those based on steps taken and distance traveled.
Other devices with heart rate tracking technology include GPS watches and all-powerful smartwatches. Both of these devices have a plethora of features, including GPS, notifications, email, voice recognition, calendar updates and more. If you want to have it all and are not solely concerned with you heart rate, a smartwatch is the option for you. However, if you're an athlete wanting to train with the best heart rate technology, a dedicated device is more accurate, easier to use and designed specifically to help you optimize your health.
Heart Rate Monitor Watches: What We Tested, What We Found
When choosing a device to monitor your heart rate during exercise, accuracy and convenience are king. When the monitor doesn’t accurately measure your heart rate zones or is clunky and has a hard-to-navigate app, it’s very difficult to truly exercise smart.
During our tests, we had a group of both male and female expert reviewers that represented a variety of exercise levels, ages and overall health levels test each device. They switched between left and right wrists and wore the watches and chest straps according to manufacturer recommendations.
Heart Rate Accuracy Test
To test how accurately the monitors report heart rate, each reviewer wore one heart rate monitor watch per day. We recorded each device-tracked heart rate and compared it against a manually tracked heart rate to determine how accurate it is. We checked the reviewers’ heart rates multiple times throughout the day, during different segments of exercise regimens and while participating in a variety of activities, including jogging, cardio, kickboxing, walking, resting and more.
App Ease of Use
Eight of the 10 heart rate monitor watches work in conjunction with free accompanying apps. If you don’t want an app-based heart rate monitor, the Suunto Quest and the Timex Ironman Road Trainer don’t require linked apps. However, tracking your heart rate with an app is a good way to keep tabs on your progress over time.
We scored each app’s interface and ease of use based on its features, convenience and functionality. Each expert reviewer assessed how easy data is to access, if the app has graphs and charts, how customizable the interface is, how long data is stored, and which personal metrics are measured.
The best apps are the Fitbit and Garmin apps. The Fitbit app displays your information daily, along with progress charts that include continuous heart rate measurements recorded during custom rest and training zones.
Lower-performing devices only allow you to record heart rate via the app, not the device itself. They also don’t allow for manual exercise entries, have short histories and require you to enter a training mode for heart rate charts. These devices and apps don’t record your heart rate all day long and are clunky and less customizable. Should you want to check your heart rate during a run, you’d need to bring along your phone, open the app, wait for it to link or sync, then view your heart rate. While data presented in the app is in real time, we still found it to be an inconvenience.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison from the manufacturers. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a Heart Rate Monitor Watch
The best heart rate monitor watches can do more than just monitor your heart rate. Depending on your fitness preferences, different apps and design options are better suited to your favorite sports. Your preferences for app functionality and device design are important, as they determine how easy and convenient your heart rate monitor watch is to use.
Apps & Connectivity
Top heart rate monitors come with connected apps from the manufacturer. These apps display your data, keep track of your goals and motivate you to exercise more. Third-party apps, such as MapMyRun and Endomondo, are also compatible with some heart rate monitors, so you don't have to start from scratch if you've already been tracking your fitness with them.
Bluetooth heart rate monitors either automatically or manually upload your data so you can view your progress over time. The best heart rate monitors also work with iPhone, Android, Windows smartphone and tablet devices.
Your watch’s design is very important, depending on what activities you participate in. If you want to wear your device all day, a wrist-based heart rate watch is the best option and is as easy to wear as a watch. If you want a more accurate device to wear only when working out, a chest-strap heart rate monitor is the better option. Chest straps are hard to wear all day but are much more accurate. Wristbands are much more convenient but are slightly less accurate.
If you're a swimmer or tri-athlete, a waterproof heart rate monitor watch is the best option. Try to find one rated for at least 3 ATM, or 30 meters. Lightweight heart monitor watches are also easier to wear than their heavy counterparts, whether or not you have small wrists. Heavy and bulky wrist watches tend to catch on your clothing and irritate or weigh down your wrists during long runs.
Heart Rate Monitor Watches: Our Verdict and Recommendations
The Gold Award goes to the Polar A360, as it uniquely guides you through workouts, all with a sleek design and easy-to-use touchscreen. The incredibly long battery life lasts days longer than competitors and tracks individual workouts effortlessly.
Fitbit Charge HR is our Silver Award Winner because of its overall accuracy, convenient app interface and number of helpful tracking features. This wrist-based heart monitor watch is slim, lightweight and packed with powerful sensors to give you accurate information without impeding your workouts. The charts and graphs are continuously updated and are seriously motivating.
Our Bronze Award Winner is the Garmin Vivosmart HR because of the waterproof design, touchscreen interface and insightful app. This smartwatch, fitness tracker, heart rate monitor watch hybrid features the best of all worlds while still maintaining the level of accuracy you need to improve your heart rate training.