Aug 132012
 

Chis Dwyer is the creator of One ___ at a Time. His blog One ___ at a Time is a big adventure into the little-known endurance sport of astro-athleticism and all things “stickin-it-to-the-man”. It intertwines his passion for planetary salvation, athletic empowerment, home-energy renovation, community enrichment, and general mischief. Chris is a regular and favorite blogger, Ironman extraordinaire, and close friend of us here at Fitness Electronics Blog. Today he is reviewing the Garmin 910XT, and giving us his real life experiences with the GPS multisport watch.  Check out his website at http://oneblankatatime.blogspot.com

 

For the last six years, I’ve merely trained and raced with a low-frill, yet trusty, Nike heart rate monitor and a not-so-trusty bike-mounted Sigma odometer.  Prior to this week, I was a complete virgin to GPS watches. The good news is that I’ve lost my GPS virginity and have found each experience with the Forerunner 910xt radically better than that first clumsy encounter. This review is certainly not exhaustive of all the features on the 910xt, but merely an introduction to the equipment coming from the perspective of someone who is generally a minimalist when it comes to training with gizmos.

Why I Don’t Have a GPS Watch
Being a triathlete, the Garmin Forerunner 310xt had been on my Christmas wish list for many years. But I could never bite the bullet financially, hearing tales from the tri community that the 310xt had trouble logging swim distance/pace. The satellite connection was supposedly erratic when the watch went under water. In truth, the 310xt “isn’t really a triathlon watch, but a multisport watch”, confessed the Garmin rep at a Spinning conference I attended in Miami. I felt almost-duped. She asked me, “Then, why don’t you just get a GPS watch for runners and forget the bike mount and the swim capabilities altogether?”  Instead, I decided, “I’ll just wait till the bugs are worked out, so I can get what the ‘triathlon watch’ is supposed to be.”

Why I Got the Forerunner 910xt
My good friends at the Fitness Electronics Blog were sweethearts last week and asked if I wouldn’t mind testing the Garmin Forerunner 910xt. It seemed like a peace offering given in place of what I really wanted—them, riding with me, in my first ever do-it-yourself ultra-distance triathlon I called DWYRMAN. Unfortunately, they couldn’t come due to their newborn baby, the bar exam, and general life craziness.  DWYRMAN was supposed to be a celebration of summer with some of my best cycling, swimming, and running friends. The course was to circumnavigate five state parks with lakes around Cincinnati, passing through Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, totaling 5 miles of open water swimming, 190 miles cycling, and 32 miles running. It was all theoretically possible based on my tinkering with maps and recon rides over the years. My Fitness Electronics Blogger friends thought the 910xt would be a cool addition to the DWYRMAN in their absence.

How the Forerunner 910xt Faired
As the host of DWYRMAN, my mind was primarily focused on making sure everyone was having a good time, being safe, and getting our mission accomplished. While riding without my glasses, I had difficulty navigating the digital architecture of the zillions of features. The additional stimuli on my wrist completely flustered me. I had a hard time figuring out what all the numbers meant and which of the six buttons did what. It was just information overload. Race day is not a good day for one’s first orientation to new gear. So when we got to the first open water swim, I had to ask for tech support from my buddy Rob, a Garmin-devotee, and he changed the settings for me to “open water swim mode. This is where it got cool.

We took off toward the opposite shore of the lake. When we got to the other side, the watch indicated that I had gone 506 yards. Rob’s watch said 501 yards, but I’m pretty sure he swims straighter than me, which could explain the discrepancy. Then we turned 90 degrees and swam along the shore and traced out a triangular path. The watch indicated ~28:00 and ~1600 yards back at the boat ramp, so we called it a “Kentucky mile.” From the image below, you’ll see I forgot to hit STOP on the watch.

At the upper left vertex of the triangle, the satellites think I went up on shore, but I didn’t. So the map features have bomb-dropping, but not fly-swatting, precision.

Throughout DWYRMAN race day, I basically ignored the watch except for the open water swim sessions. I’ve come to discover that there is basically a six-workout learning curve for a newbie to figure out the full power of A) the watch in the field and B) the Garmin Connect data analysis back home. I needed two workouts in each triathlon discipline to finally have that eureka moment.

The Hardware
The night before DWYRMAN, John handed me a zip lock bag containing the Forerunner 910xt contents: 1) watch (with the rubber wrist-strap option)

2) heart rate monitor

3) USB recharger

4) ANT+ device

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strike 1 – The Software
I first went to the Garmin website and try to find a “Quick Start” manual, which was easy. But then I devoted 45 frustrating minutes proving that despite meeting the system requirements, my MacBook with Mac OS X 10.4.11 operating system was incapable of downloading the second of the two necessary software packages – 1) Garmin Connect for analyzing your data, and 2) ANT+ hardware installation (for wirelessly uploading the watch’s data to your computer).

It wasn’t until after DWYRMAN that I resorted to using my wife’s newer MacBook (with the Mac OS X 10.6.8 operating system).  It took about one hour to install the softwares and upload my first workouts. Since that first lengthy installation process, uploads from the watch to the ANT+ have been wireless and easy, which is cool. All you do is turn the watch on when it’s within 5 feet of the ANT+. By the time I checked my email for the day, my first 15 workouts were uploaded from the watch to my desktop. Details of each could be explored ad nauseam. The details are where it gets really fun and nerdy.

The Summary page in Garmin Connect shows all workouts and is sort-able– by date, sporting discipline, duration, etc. Workouts show up as “untitled” files, but can be re-named by route or date or whatever you like. They can also be exported as *.CSV files for easy manipulation in common spreadsheet software like Excel.

 

 

As soon as the workout is over, it’s fun watching the data re-tell the story of the workout.  Where was I trying my hardest to keep up with traffic? Did I let my heart rate sink too low while coasting down that hill? How long was that potty break at the gas station?

One weakness of the watch showed up in while lap swimming. The screenshot below is from a swim that lasted about 60 minutes. It included an extended warm up drill and then some 100 yard repeats—all freestyle, mind you. So, why does the 910xt think that I threw in a length of backstroke after completing a length in 0.0 seconds? I can only hope that the quirks like this average themselves out over the course of the workout.

 

Pros:

  • Accurate swim distance
  • Comfortable heart rate strap
  • Heart rate signal detected almost immediately
  • Heart rate strap is waterproof
  • The fully charged battery lasted just over 15 hours on day one of DWYRMAN
  • Not overly big and clunky like older Garmin watches
  • Can measure everything important in a multitude of ways:
  • Heart Rate (beats/min, % of max, zone #, average),
  • Speed (Instantaneous, average)
  • Pace (instantaneous, average)
  • Strokes, Power, Cadence, %Grade, Altitude, Position,
  • Communicates with other ANT+ devices (which I didn’t test)
  • Once you upload your data, at the GarminConnect.com website, you can name your routes, share them, and compare them to previous performances
  • The data analysis experience was clean and intuitive there
  • Personalized settings so I could share the watch with my wife who has her own settings

 

Cons:

  • Heart rate fabric feels wimpy and prone to stinking (compared to my durable 6 year old Nike HR monitor strap)
  • Heart rate monitor does not work under water
  • “Multisport” setting is not a convenient setting for a non-traditional triathlon sequence like DWYRMAN (i.e. bike-swim-bike-swim-bike-swim-bike-swim-bike-swim-run-bike)
  • Menu/buttons are hard to navigate for a newbie—(Would it possible to engineer a Blackberry-like trackball or scroll-button? It could be a business opportunity for the sinking ship that is Blackberry’s maker, Research in Motion. Or maybe touchscreen is the way and RIM is just doomed.)
  • Tough to read while riding the bike. The bike mount accessory (~$15) could be helpful but too timely to operate for a speedy race day transition. I’d rather just have a dedicated bike computer.
  • The Mode button is difficult to push without simultaneously pushing the “Scroll up” button, which is the top secret button sequence that inconveniently locks all keys when you don’t want it to
  • Can take several minutes to find a satellite connection
  • Battery did not last the claimed 20 hours on a full charge
  • The data experience at Garmin Connect was not a social experience like the experience at strava.com  or trainingpeaks.com, which deserve their own review in a future blog.

 

Conclusion
My favorite feature is the accuracy of the swim workouts, whether lap swimming or open water. Everyone knows they need to do more open water swimming and we’d all love to look at something other than the black lane lines at the pool. The watch can also push you to swim faster than your previous workouts by setting up the Virtual Partner feature. This is where it stands out from all other Garmin watches.

My second favorite feature is the post-workout analysis. It’s so convenient that much of my training diary is basically written for me in a thorough and objective way. However, the analysis feature I was most hopeful for, but didn’t find, was a method of measuring and displaying the duration of time I spend in each heart rate zone. Even my low-frill heart rate monitor does as much. And that’s the most important metric I keep track of in my training diary. With the 910xt it would be possible to export the Garmin Connect data to an Excel spreadsheet and make the calculations myself, but it seems like an easy enough feature for Garmin to include in a future software update. Their inclusion of their “Training Effect” metric is a poor substitute that lacks the transparency and objectivity of a more thorough heart rate analysis.

After I conquered the initial software hurdles and figured out how to navigate the plethora of options, I really came to enjoy training with the 910xt. Then I made the mistake of letting my wife try it. She’s been hoarding it ever since.

 

 

We have been doing a lot of trail running this year in preparation for our first 50 mile race in Madison, Wisconsin, in September. She loves it so much, she just ordered the 910xt for herself, (since we have to give the demo watch back to Garmin, of course). Her rationale was that the battery life, unlike other Garmin models, would last long enough for the 50 miler cut-off time of 13 hours, which the other Gamin GPS watches would not. Also, since most of her training is on trails in Cincinnati parks, without the GPS it would be tough to measure distance and altitude, which are important metrics to her. All-in-all, my earlier excuse for holding out for a great “triathlon” watch is no longer valid. It’s even family-friendly.

Chris

As always,

Happy Training!!

 

May 092012
 

 

Garmin announced the Forerunner 210 in October of 2010. The 210 is one of of four Garmin running watches released in 2010. These included the 110, 210, 410, and 610. These products all have GPS, and are targeted mainly to runners. With the 210, Garmin offers three models; a black model that comes with the watch only and sells for $199.00, and a men’s black or women’s teal color that comes with a heart rate monitor strap, and sells for $249.99.

Before we get started, we should tell you a little bit about us and how we perform product evaluations. We have a group of 4 people who do the evaluations of all of the gear. One person is the lead on a piece of gear, but everyone gets a chance to evaluate the product. We have 2 guys and 2 ladies, so it’s a good mix of people. It gives us better insight, and we get a better review overall. Everyone has an input to the review, and if there is a major disagreement, we will note it in the review. If you want to know who these people are, check out our About Us page. Four of us are seasoned triathletes, and 2 of us are are also full time Pilates instructors. Jennifer Lynn, who is a guest blogger, is a full time Pilates/spinning instructor. All swim, bike, run, do Pilates and Yoga, and use all of the gear on a daily basis. Many of you have read the FitnessElectronicsBlog disclaimer, but here it is in case this is your first time reading one of our reviews. For the record,  we are in no way connected with Garmin or any of the companies whose gear we review. We remain disconnected, in large part, because we love playing with the latest technology, and we couldn’t keep our hands off this stuff if we tried.  Garmin gave us the watch for a 60-day trial period, and after our review, we box it up and send it back.  No give-us-gear for a favorable review, or anything like that. We call ‘em as we see ‘em. It keeps us honest. Typically, if we like the product, we will buy it to have around, use, and be able to check out software updates and answer questions.  So, enough with the babble. Let’s get to the review.

 

What’s in the box?

Here is the product box for the Forerunner 210 with Heart Rate Monitor Strap:

Here is what’s inside:

 

Here is a closeup of the Garmin strap:

This gives you an indication of the thickness of the watch:

A side view:

The display is easily readable. The display resolution is 52 x 30 pixels:

Here is a size comparison. The watches from left to right are Suunto Quest, Garmin 405, Garmin 910XT, and the Garmin 210:

A side view:

 

So what are the features?

Here are the major features of the watch:

  • Unit dimensions, WxHxD: 1.8″ x 2.7″ x 0.6″ (4.5 x 6.9 x 1.4 cm)
  • Display size, WxH:  1.0″ x 1.0″ (2.5 x 2.5 cm) diameter
  • Display resolution, WxH: 52 x 30 pixels
  • Weight:  1.8 oz (52 g)
  • Battery: rechargeable lithium-ion
  • Battery life:  3 weeks in power save mode; 8 hours in training mode
  • Water resistant: yes (IPX7)
  • GPS-enabled: yes
  • High-sensitivity receiver: yes
  • Basemap: no
  • History: 1000 laps
  • Waypoints/favorites/locations: 0
  • Routes: 0
  • Heart rate monitor: yes (some versions, including the version we tested)
  • Bike speed/cadence sensor: no
  • Foot pod: yes (some versions)
  • Automatic sync (automatically transfers data to your computer):no
  • Garmin Connect™ compatible (online community where you analyze, categorize and share data): yes
  • Virtual Partner® (train against a digital person): no
  • Virtual Racer™ (compete against other activities): no
  • Courses (compete against previous activities): no
  • Auto Pause® (pauses and resumes timer based on speed): no
  • Auto Lap® (automatically starts a new lap): yes
  • Auto Scroll (cycles through data pages during workout): no
  • Multi-sport (changes sport mode with a press of a button): no
  • Advanced workouts (create custom, goal-oriented workouts): no
  • Pace alert (triggers alarm if you vary from preset pace): no
  • Time/distance alert (triggers alarm when you reach goal): no
  • Vibration alert: (choose between alert tones and/or vibration alert): no
  • Interval training (set up exercise and rest intervals): yes
  • Heart rate-based calorie computation: yes
  • Swim metrics (stroke type, stroke count and pool lengths): no
  • Training Effect (measures impact of an activity on your aerobic fitness): no
  • Customizable screen(s): no
  • Barometric altimeter: no
  • Unit-to-unit transfer (shares data wirelessly with similar units): no
  • Power meter compatible (displays power data from compatible 3rd party ANT+™-enabled power meters): no
  • Temperature (displays and records temperature while you ride): no
  • Shock Resistant: yes
  • Sport watch: yes
Here is the battery life chart from the owners manual:

So how does it compare to other Garmin running watches?

As we said, the 210 is one of four models recently released by Garmin. These include the 110, 210,410 and 610. The main differences are shown in the table below:
110 210 410 610
Display resolution, W x H 52 x 30 pixels 52 x 30 pixels 124 x 95 pixels 128 x 128 pixels
Touchscreen no no no yes
Waypoints/favorites/locations 0 0 100 100
Bike speed/cadence sensor no no yes(optional) yes(optional)
Foot pod no yes(optional) yes(optional) yes(optional)
Automatically sync (auto transfer your data) no no yes yes
Virtual Partner (train against a digital person) no no yes yes
Virtual Racer (compete against other activities) no no no yes
Courses (compete against previous activity) no no yes no
Auto Pause pauses and resumes timer based on speed) no no yes yes
Auto Scroll (cycles through data pages during workout) no no yes yes
Advanced workouts (create custom, goal oriented workout) no no yes yes
Pace alert (triggers alarm if you vary from preset pace) no no yes yes
Time/distance alert (triggers alarm when you reach goal) no no yes yes
Vibration alert no no no yes
Training Effect no no no yes
Interval training (set up exercise and rest intervals) no yes yes yes
Customizable screens no no yes yes
Unit to unit transfer no no yes no
Price $179.99 $199.99 $249.99 $349.99
Price with heart rate monitor $229.99 $249.99 $299.99 $399.99

So what is the big difference between the 110 and 210? Mainly the addition of interval training and the capability of adding an optional foot pod in the 210.

The interval options are set on the watch, not in Garmin Connect.  You can set warm up, interval, rest, and cool down times or distances. They must either be all times, or all distances. You can also set the number of intervals.

The pace option can also be changed to mph in case you want to use the watch on a bike.

Using the watch

The watch is very easy and intuitive to use. To go for a run, press page/menu. the watch will take a minute or so to get a GPS fix. Once you have a GPS satellite fix, press the start/stop button to start the timer. When you are done with your run, press start/stop. That’s it! If you want to save your workout, press and hold the lap/reset button. During your run, your distance, and pace or speed, along with your workout time, are shown on the display:
The display can be changed to show current, average or lap speed or pace at the bottom of the display.
If you want to use the watch indoors, it’s pretty simple. Press the page/menu button, and the watch will start searching for GPS. Press it again and it will ask if you want to use indoors.  Select yes, and you are ready to start your indoor workout:
Here is James putting in an indoor spin workout with the watch at Studio S:

Here he is wrapping up his interval spinning workout:

Some cool things to do with the Forerunner 210:

If you want to create an interval workout, you can’t create it in Garmin Connect.  It needs to be created on the watch. To do this, you press and hold the page/menu button, select Interval, then Set. Next, enter a distance or time interval, and press OK. Select Distance or Time for your rest interval, then enter the value. You can enter a warm up and cool down if you want to. To perform your interval, press the start/stop button. If you have a warm up programmed, you will need to press the lap button to start the first interval.

You can set heart rate alerts. Press and hold the page/menu button, and select HR Alerts. Enter your high heart rate alert value. You can also select a HR zone. press OK. Enter the low HR value or zone. Press OK. The alert will sound when you are above or below the set values.

Accessories and sensors

The Forerunner 210 is compatible with the following Garmin accessories:

 

Garmin HRM Strap. This heart rate monitor strap uses the 2.4 GHz ANT+ wireless communications protocol.

 

 

 

Garmin Premium HRM Strap.This heart rate monitor strap uses the 2.4 GHz ANT+ wireless communications protocol. The battery life is approximately 4.5 years when used for an hour a day.

 

 

 

Garmin Foot Pod

 

 

 

 

Saving Your Workouts

So how do you review and analyze your workouts?  The Forerunner 210 is fully compatible with Garmin’s logging and analysis software, Garmin Connect. To upload your workout, connect the USB charging cable to your PC. Next go to the Garmin site at connect.garmin.com. If you don’t have an account, you will need to create one. Once you are logged in, in the upper right hand corner of the page is the upload button. Click that and you will be taken to this screen:

I clicked “Upload All New Activities”. I can then click on the details of the workout, which displays this screen from our recent trail run:

I ran out of screen, so here is the rest of the workout:

You can see that there is a lot of really useful data here. Heart rate, distance, pace, elevation, lap split times, and a map are just a few of the items and screens that you can view. Tutorials on Garmin Connect is covered in some of our other reviews and posts, so we won’t go into a detailed review of GC. This is just intended to give you an idea about your analysis possibilities. The data can also be uploaded and viewed on other sites like TrainingPeaks.

Thoughts, Opinions and Summary:

Pros:
  • The watch felt good on our wrists. It is soft and comfortable, and the watch doesn’t feel too big.
  • The heart rate monitor strap felt good, and did a good job of picking up heart rate without any issues. In the past, we have some issues on hot days, when your shirt gets too wet, or under some really dry conditions with a dry fit shirt.
  • Using the watch is easy to use. The display is easily readable, and it is backlit at night with the press of a button. This makes moving through the menus and settings straightforward.
  • The watch works with the optional running foot pod. This is great if you are indoors or want to know running cadence.
  • Uploading is easy with Garmin Connect. I really like Garmin Connect when I want to analyze and study my workout. It is web based, so you can upload on any computer.
  • We like the interval feature, and heart rate zone readout.
  • The interval feature is a plus over the 110, but you need to program it on the watch. Higher feature watches allow you to create a workout and download it to the watch. This allows more flexibility, but programming on the watch is ok.
  • The manual  is pretty good, not great.
Cons:
  • Only supports 1 person at a time. All of the settings assume only 1 person uses the watch.
  • It can be used on a ride, but the optional cadence/speed sensor does not work with the 210.
Conclusion:
This watch fits nicely into the Garmin lineup. it sits above the 110, and below the 410 and 610. Garmin’s watches are well made, and if you’ve used one, the others function very similarly, so you’ll feel right at home.
So, the the question we always ask each other is, “If it were our money, would we buy this watch?” The answer is, if we were looking for a GPS watch with these features, in this price range, we would definitely buy it. Of course, we are always drawn to the high end watches with all of the features and gadgets, but for a mid range watch with these features, ease of use, and price, we say yes. It also works well inside, so if you are a gym rat who is into running, this could well be the watch for you. Also, having settable heart rate zones and alarms is really nice as it provides us some much needed assistance at keeping our heart rates in our desired training zone. All-in-all, the 210 is a good-looking, mid-budget, GPS enabled training/racing watch with accurate heart rate training features.

We will leave you with a few videos of the Garmin 210.

This video is the Forerunner 110, but the only differences are the ones listed earlier in the review:

This video shows how to get set for your first run:

And here’s how to use Garmin Connect:

Happy Training!

 

May 032012
 

Today we are continuing on our  journey to learn more about heart rate monitors, and the best way to choose the right one. Today we review the Polar H7 Low Power Bluetooth 4.0 Heart Rate Monitor.

 

Before we get started, we should probably have a quick discussion about Bluetooth Low Energy. So what is Bluetooth Low Energy?  Bluetooth Low Energy is a feature of the latest Bluetooth specification, Bluetooth 4.0. Different manufacturers call it by different names; Bluetooth Low Power, Bluetooth Low Energy, and Bluetooth 4.0. Thew advantages of Bluetooth Low Power is that they consume a fraction of the power of  classic Bluetooth products. So why should you care? Because products that use this new Bluetooth protocol may not be compatible with old phones. As an example, the Polar H7, which uses Bluetooth Low Energy (which we will call BLE from now on), is only compatible with the iPhone 4S and the Motorola Razr Droid. So even though all other smart phones have built in Bluetooth, those phones are not compatible with the Polar H7. To solve this problem, Polar makes two versions of Bluetooth heart rate monitors. Polar makes the Polar H7, and the Polar Wearlink+ heart rate monitor straps. The main differences are shown below. This was taken directly from the Polar site:

You can see that the Polar Wearlink+ is compatible with Symbian, Blackberry, and Motorola Droid phones. This review will cover the Polar H7, connected to an Apple iPhone 4S.

 

What’s in the box?

Here is the product box:

Here’s what is inside the box:

The product includes the Bluetooth heart rate monitor strap, transmitter, manual, and box.

 

So what are the features and specs?

The Polar H7 heart rate sensor is designed to be used with a smart phone, or connected to one of the Polar training computers. The features are shown below:

  • Compatible with iPhone 4S and Motorola Droid Razr
  • Bluetooth Low Energy transmission
  • Compatible with Polar training computers, including the FT series, RS100, RS200, RS300, RS400, CS100, CS200, CS300, and RCX5
  • Also compatible with Polar compatible gym equipment using the 5 Khz coded protocol
  • Can transmit up to 30 feet
  • Battery life up to 350 hours
  • User replaceable battery CR2025
  • Soft, washable strap

 

Using the Polar H7

Before I could use the strap, I needed to decide what software I would use to log my workouts. I found that Endomondo and CardioMapper work, but I also found a trick on the internet that will get you up and running with Runkeeper. It seemed to work for me. Here is the video:

I used the Polar H7 with MapMyRun, RunKeeper, and Endomondo. It worked well with all three apps. I have included a few screen shots for fun:

The strap connected to all three apps, but to get it to work with RunKeeper, I needed to follow the video shown above. The strap felt great and worked well, with no dropouts or issues.

Thoughts, Opinions and Summary:

So, after using it for a while, what did I think of the hardware? The device paired easily, and the strap felt good. As is typical, I wore the strap for the day to gauge its comfort. I also used it during workouts, and it definitely felt as comfortable as any strap on the market. The Bluetooth connection was great, with no signal or dropout issues noticed in my data. I think as time goes on, more applications will support the Bluetooth Low Power heart rate monitors. Claimed battery life is better for the BLE heart rate straps than the standard Bluetooth HRM’s, but we have not verified the battery life of the Polar H7.

 

Pros:

  • The connection was great.
  • The strap was soft and comfortable.
  • Claimed battery life is excellent for a Bluetooth HRM.
  • Works with other Polar training computers and gym equipment using the built in 5KHz radio.

 

Cons:

  • Not as many apps support BLE protocol yet.
  • As with any phone application, all of the data that is based on GPS location information, such as speed and distance, is only as good as the GPS capabilities of the phone. The iPhone is pretty good, but not as good as a good GPS HRM watch.
So would I recommend the Polar H7 Bluetooth Low Energy HRM? Definitely. If you are using an iPhone 4S (and also if you are thinking about buying an iPhone 5 when it comes out), this is the HRM to buy. The retail price of the Polar H7 is $79.95.
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Apr 092012
 

For those of you just joining us, we are on a continuing journey to learn more about heart rate monitors, and the best way to choose the right one. Our website covers all types of electronics and tech stuff, but overwhelmingly, triathletes and runners come to our site to check out heart rate monitors and GPS watches. We have so many questions about how to choose the right heart rate monitor, we thought we would put together a series of posts covering all of the details. Today, we are discussing widely available heart rate monitor strap options that work with smartphones.

And don’t forget - We also have other continuing blog posts from Jennifer on How to Train With a Heart Rate Monitor, and from James on High Intensity Training…Will It Lead To Higher Performance?

Back in part 2, we covered a few simple ways that heart rate can be measured. The two options that most people choose when buying a heart rate monitor are to buy a HRM watch (maybe with GPS),  or they will buy a heart rate monitor strap that works with a smartphone. If you buy a HRM watch , you are typically limited to the software and analysis tools that the manufacturer supplies, or a few third party apps. If you decide to buy a HRM strap, and use your smartphone as the display, you may have more apps and analysis options to choose from. This doesn’t mean that the apps are better or higher quality; on the contrary, the big three watch manufacturers, Garmin, Suunto and Polar, make some pretty good software analysis tools. But if you want other app and logging options, or you really only want to spend money on a HRM strap and use your phone to display and log your workout, then this post about HRM strap options may be of some interest to you.

This post is meant to give you an idea about what HRM strap options are available. We will cover the the most popular heart rate monitor straps that work with the most popular smartphones. Remember, this is meant to be an overview, not a review. Reviews of these heart rate monitor straps and the apps that they work with with be the subject of future posts.

Here are some of the most popular and widely available HRM straps:

The Wahoo Run/Gym Pack for iPhone is a heart rate strap made to work with all iPhones. It uses an ANT+ dongle that plugs into the iPhone 30 pin connector.  The unit is powered by a 3V replaceable coin cell. The Wahoo Run/Gym  Pack works with over 83 iPhone apps. You can find the full listing here. The retail price is $119.99.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wahoo Fitness Blue HR heart rate strap is a Bluetooth Low Power heart rate strap made for the iPhone 4S. It is not compatible with earlier 3G and 4 iPhones. The unit is powered by a 3V replaceable coin cell, and the unit is waterproof up to 5 feet. The Wahoo heart rate strap works with over 83 iPhone apps. You can find the full listing here. The retail price is $79.00

 

 

 

 

 

The Sports Tracker Bluetooth heart rate monitor strap is a Bluetooth heart rate strap made to work with Android and Nokia Symbian phones. The unit is powered by a rechargeable battery, and a USB charger is included.The Sports Tracker HRM is compatible with the Sports Tracker Android app. The retail price is 69.90 euros.

 

 

 

The Zephyr HxM Bluetooth heart rate monitor is a Bluetooth heart rate strap that works with Android 2.0 and later phones. The unit is powered by a rechargeable Lithium Polymer battery that lasts 30 hours between charges.It comes with a USB charger cradle, and takes 3 hours to fully recharge the battery. The unit is compatible with Endomondo, Run GPS, Athlosoft, Bike Dashboard, SportsTrackLive, eCoach, and ZephysOpen software. The retail price is $99.00.

 

 

 

The Polar WearLink+ heart rate monitor with Bluetooth technology works with Android phones.. The unit is powered by a 3V replaceable coin cell, and is water resistant. The unit is compatible with Endomondo, Cardio TRAINER, SportsTrackLive, RunKeeper, Runtastic, i do Move, Sportypal, Run.GPS software. The retail price is $79.95.

 

 

The SmartHRM Bluetooth heart rate monitor strap for Android works with Android phones. The device can store data up to 7 days of data. It vibrates to let you know whether you are under or over your target heart rate zone.The unit is compatible with JogTracker, JogTracker Pro, Jogger, and SmartHRM Fitness apps. The retail price is $99.00.

 

 

 

 

The SmartHRM WiFi for iPhone heart rate monitor connects to iPhones via WiFi, not Bluetooth. Because of this, it works with all models of iPhones. The unit is compatible with SmartHRM Fitness, CardioMapper, and SportyPal software. The retail price is $129.00.

 

 

The wireless protocol that is used for the HRM straps listed above is ANT+,  Bluetooth, and Bluetooth Low Power, also called Bluetooth 4.0. So what is the difference, and why is this important? Well, if you buy an HRM strap that is ANT+, you will probably need to connect an external dongle to your phone. The Wahoo Fitness Run/Gym Pack for iPhone works with all iPhones, but it requires a dongle that plugs in to the phone.

 This can be an issue depending on how you carry your phone. To eliminate the dongle, Wahoo Fitness also makes the Bluetooth BlueHR, which uses the Bluetooth Low Power protocol, but it only works with the iPhone 4S (and probably new unreleased models). This is because Apple only supports Bluetooth Low Power in the 4S model.

SmartHRM WiFi uses WiFi to connect to all Apple iPhones via WiFi. This may limit the number of apps that work with the SmartHRM WiFi.

Sports Tracker, Zephyr and the SmartHRM Bluetooth all use the older Bluetooth standard, and only work with Android phones. They do not work with Apple phones.

So confused yet? Well, you should be. There are many different protocols out there. Do you get a HRM strap and use it with your phone, or do you buy a dedicated HRM watch? If you are in a hurry to buy, and know that you want a HRM strap to work with your phone, and are ready to pull the trigger, then “How do you choose?”  Well, one way would be to choose a model above based on whether it works with your phone.If you decide on one, make sure to look at the compatible software apps.  Many apps can be downloaded , and you can find more information about each at the software developers site. Research before you buy. Because of the sheer number, and their complexity, there is no way to quickly cover everything in one or two posts and do it justice. We will be covering individual HRM strap reviews, and also individual app reviews in future posts. One thing to note is that, if you have an iPhone, the Wahoo Fitness HRM straps are compatible with the most apps, 83 and growing. This gives you a lot of flexibility.

And last, to wrap things up for today, a few final things to consider. If you change phones often, make sure your HRM choice works with your phone choice going forward.  If you are a die hard iPhone or Android user, and are going to stick with your current platform, you should be ok going forward. Otherwise, you may be buying new hardware in a year. Also, are you sure you want to carry your phone on every workout or run? Try carrying your phone with you on your workouts before going out and purchasing hardware. Check the display. Can you see it or hear it during your workout? After trying this out, you may change your mind.  Also, remember that your phone is not waterproof; typically a HRM watch is.

That’s it for today. I will leave you with a few videos of the HRM straps, so that you can get more familiar with some of the HRM’s.

So for now,

Happy Training!

Here is a video of the Wahoo Fitness Run/Gym Pack:

Here is a video of the Wahoo Fitness BlueHR:

Here is a video of the Sports Tracker:

Here is a video of the Polar Wearlink+ Bluetooth HRM:

Here is a video of the SmartHRM HRM:

Here is a video of the RunKeeper app software:

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Apr 022012
 

Our website covers all types of electronics and tech stuff used by runners, triathletes, and all kinds of athletes, but overwhelmingly, most people come to our site to check out heart rate monitors and GPS watches. So we thought we would put together a series of posts covering how to choose a heart rate monitor. Today we are covering a few different methods of measuring heart rate. 

In part 1, we covered a few basic questions for those of you who have never used a heart rate monitor. We answered some simple questions around the benefits you can get from using a heart rate monitor. Today we are going to cover the basic types of measuring heart rate, and what the pros and cons of each are. So here are the types of heart rate monitors the measurement methods that seem to be popular:

Pulse Wave Detection

These devices are the units that slip over your finger that you find at your local hospital. A sensor slips over your finger, or clips on your ear,  and measures heart rate using some sort of pulse wave detection, like measuring the doppler shift of a transmitted signal. They can also use transmitted light, and look at the received light to determine heart rate.The issues with these type of detectors is that, in the past, they usually use more energy, so you need a rechargeable battery or other power source. The issue for an athlete is that with all of the movement, it is hard to keep the sensor from coming off. There are some novel technologies out there; one of them being technology from Valencell called V-LINC. V-LINC measures heart rate using technology that is built into audio earbuds.

Image from mobilehealthnews.com

 

Check out these videos that go into more detail about this product:

This technology looks promising enough to get Best Buy to invest. Check out this link.

Standard Heart Rate Monitor Strap

By far the most popular method of measuring heart rate during exercise is by using a heart rate monitor strap. Here are pictures of typical heart rate monitor straps:

Polar Heart Rate Monitor
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Mar 232012
 

Our website covers all types of electronics and tech stuff used by runners, triathletes, and all kinds of athletes, but overwhelmingly, most people come to our site to check out heart rate monitors and GPS watches. So who are these people? We have beginners looking for a simple heart rate monitor, all the way up to the seasoned runners and triathletes looking for advanced GPS watches and multisport GPS watches that work with power meters. We try to cover products that are of interest to all of these people. Today, we are starting a multipart series on how to choose a heart rate monitor watch or GPS heart rate monitor watch. This should be applicable  whether you are a beginner or a seasoned athlete/triathlete. If you already have a heart rate monitor, and you are looking for new ways to use it, check out Jennifer’s blog series Beginning Heart Rate Monitor Training. Even though it is called “beginning”, there is a great deal of advanced training in her weekly blog posts.

So today we are going to start with just a few simple questions. These questions are very basic, but they’ll get more complicated and cover more info in future posts.By the end of the series, hopefully you’ll know exactly what you want, and you should be able to pick your hardware based on what you’ve learned in the posts. As always, before we get started please remember, “Always consult your physician before undertaking any exercise plan.” So enough with the legal warning stuff.

Here goes:

“I am not a runner or serious athlete, so why do I need a heart rate monitor?” Well, if you are just out for general exercise, and want to know if you are in your aerobic target zone, a simple heart rate monitor can tell you that. Many of these devices can tell you how long you were in each heart rate zone, which can help you to improve your fitness. If you want to know if you are working too hard, or not hard enough, it’ll tell you. If you are trying to lose weight, most heart rate monitors can tell you how many calories you burned during your exercise. If you want to know how far you’ve gone, and whether you are getting faster, a GPS heart rate monitor watch can tell you that.

“How does a heart rate monitor work?” Most heart rate monitors have a chest strap that pick up electrical heartbeat signals on the skin of your chest, and transmit this data wirelessly to the watch, where your heart rate is displayed. There is a battery in the heart rate monitor strap to power the transmitter, and on in the watch to power the watch. On many watches, the heart rate data can be stored and downloaded to a computer later for analysis. This is great if you want to track your progress over time.

“Is using a heart rate monitor watch complicated?” There are simple ones, and there are watches that display and log just about anything you can imagine. Typically, the more features, the more complicated it will be to use, and the more expensive it will be. It’s like buying anything; you can get the basic model, or you can get all the bells and whistles. Just remember that as you get more into training, the more features you may want. There are also different models for different sports. Don’t worry – we’ll help you choose the right model. That’s what this series is all about. Using a heart rate monitor can be a blast, and you’ll get more fit and confident about your capabilities.

That’s it for this post. If you’re new to HRM’s, and are confused about features and how to use them, were are here to help. If you are a seasoned pro, and want to keep up on all of the latest in technology, check out our in-depth reviews. Above all, if you have any questions, let us know and we’ll try to get them answered.

Next time, we will talk about all of the different ways that are available to measure heart rate. We will also cover different methods of storing and displaying your heart rate. We will cover a relatively new way that is becoming more popular,  using a heart rate monitor strap with your iPhone or Android phone instead of buying a watch. We will also be covering the basic features you will need, and more.

Happy training!

 

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Dec 222011
 


Are you looking for a great gift idea for the cyclist in your life? Look no further than the Garmin line of bike computers. Garmin currently makes three different versions of bike computers; the Garmin Edge 200, the Garmin Edge 500, and the Garmin Edge 800. The Garmin Edge 200 retails for $149.99 (check here for a cheaper price), and measures time, distance, speed, location and calories burned. At the end of your ride, you can upload your workout to Garmin Connect for analysis,mapping, and sharing. Here is a quick video that shows the Garmin Edge in action:

The Garmin Edge 500 has all of the features of the Garmin Edge 200, and also includes an altimeter, the logging of an optional wireless heart rate monitor, and it works with third party ANT+ enabled power meters.The Garmin Edge 500 retails for $249.99 (click here for a lower price).

 

 

The Garmin Edge 800 has all of the features of the Garmin Edge 200 and Garmin Edge 500, along with GPS navigation with color street maps. You can use Garmin’s free BaseCamp software to create a route and load it into the bike computer. The Edge 800 tracks and measures just about anything you would want to. The Edge 800 retails for $449.00 (click my Amazon link here for a cheaper price). Here is a video of the bike computer in action:

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