Best heart rate monitors review 2014
Gone are the days when monitors simply relayed your current heart rate. Nowadays, you’d need to be chief technician at NASA to maximise the features of some wrist-based technological training tools.
Key when purchasing this training mainstay is not to be seduced. As triathletes, many of us are fuelled by competition, caffeine and data. Heart rate monitor (HRM) manufacturers know this. They realise integrating a feature that measures how long your feet strike the ground may ultimately be of no use to you whatsoever, but it’ll pique your interest, draw you in and, before you know it, you’ll be spending £400 on an HRM – all in time to train for your first triathlon on your borrowed MTB!
So be realistic. If you’re new to our sport and training by heart rate, an entry-level model that offers accurate heart-rate data, the ability to input training zones and a stopwatch is enough. If you’re breathing down the neck of Sebastian Kienle and break your training year down into macrocycles, microcyles and the like, you can justify the extra spend on features like swim metrics, wireless connectivity and GPS. As you’ll discover, the more you spend, the greater the number of multisport features. That’s why many of the more affordable HRMs on test are run-specific. That’s fine. You can still use them on two wheels.
What you’ll also find is a new era of heart-rate measurement. Some have left the chest strap in the locker and chosen optical sensor technology. It’s an interesting development and one that’ll be seen on the Apple Watch. Our main concern is accuracy but, in general, we were surprised with the results. As you’ll discover by reading on…
... and don't forget to check out our other 2014 round-ups: best aerobars, best run jackets, best turbo trainers, best tri bikes, best tri bike shoes, best wetsuits, best lightweight run shoes, best trail shoes, best energy bars, best bike jackets, best bike helmets, best TT helmets, best recovery drinks and best tri-suits.
Price: £59 from www.sigmasport.com
Germany company Sigma has been producing cutting-edge HRMs and bike computers for over 25 years. The problem is, their technical approach has often been eclipsed by a lack of style and usability, leaving the more streamlined and easy-to-use Polars of this world to take centre stage. Does this change with the RC1209? Possibly not, with looks and interface a basic affair. You switch between functions via five solid buttons and, for the price, the checklist is impressive.
Yes, you receive heart rate, you can input zones and there’s the traditional calorie counter. But, via some technological miracle, the chest sensor measures speed and distance too. For the tech-heads, info’s collected and sent to the watch via an R3 transmitter. Accuracy’s pretty impressive based on comparisons with our benchmark, the Garmin 620, and unlike GPS it doesn’t drain the battery.
Verdict: Great value for money and highly usable, 82%
Garmin Fenix 2
Price: £389 from www.garmin.com
The success of the 910XT has overshadowed the impressive package that is the Fenix, perhaps because incarnation no.1 seemed pitched at outdoor enthusiasts. Well, with chapter two’s addition and upgrade of swim, bike and run features, that’s set to change. You can track stroke count, distance and even type of stroke, both indoor and out; if your power meter’s ANT+ compatible, it displays your wattage; and, with the addition of the RUN-HRM chest strap, you receive all the dynamics featured on the new 920XT (review here), including race predictor, VO2max and ground contact time.
It hasn’t forgotten its adventure roots as it can also track hiking, mountaineering, skiing and parachute jumps! The navigation mode will even put your assigned waypoints on a map. As you’d expect, the Fenix 2 links up to Garmin Connect for further analysis.
Verdict: Great HRM, but Garmin’s tri-specific 920XT is better, 84%
Garmin Forerunner 15
Price: £149 from www.garmin.com
The FR15 is a bulbous-looking beast with pixelated numerics reminiscent of Casio circa 1980s. That retro finish will please some; others, like this tester, feel it cheapens the aesthetic. There’s no doubting the substance, with GPS pick-up and retention impressive and an activity tracker from the Garmin Vivofit, which measures your daily steps.
Many triathletes may feel this is too ‘health and fitness’ for their performance lifestyle but, as we noted in our 920XT review, daily steps monitoring can come in useful to ensure rest days really are rest days. (That doesn’t apply to parents. We know they don’t exist!) Its eight-hour battery life signposts its run pedigree (there are no swim or cycle functions), which might deter short-course athletes looking for a touch more ‘multisport’ from a £150 spend. You can download your results to Garmin Connect via USB though not Bluetooth, which is a shame.
Verdict: Better models at a better price in the Garmin range, 74%
Bryton Amis S630
Price: £240 from www.brytonsport.com
Bryton’s S630 doesn’t begin life well, that square shape feeling cumbersome on the wrist. Mind you, you can’t knock the feature list, which is impressive at this price point. GPS covers the three disciplines and there’s a triathlon activity option to switch between legs. Disappointingly, satellite pick-up is slow though, especially in built-up areas. The metronome’s useful for working on stride rate, but it can become monotonous.
Programmable intervals are a boon for speed training, though we’d recommend turning off the notifications feature. Via Bluetooth Smart it communicates messages and calls, but we exercise to escape family and work, not be chased by them. Functions are activated via buttons and touchscreen, the latter working fine with thin-fingered gloves, less so with thick ones. The included bike mount certainly adds value. You can analyse your results on the Bryton app, though it’s not as usable as some here.
Verdict: Loads of features for the price, but many lack substance, 75%
Epson Pulsense PS-500B
Price: £169 from www.epson.co.uk
Fax machine? Check. Laser printer? Check? Optical heart rate monitor that measures activity levels on a daily basis? Uh, check. Epson’s entry into the sports training tool market may be a surprise, but they’ve made a decent stab with the PS-500B. It’s an HRM/activity monitor that tracks steps, distance, calories, heart rate and sleep quality. Like the TomTom below, it’s opted for the optical sensor path, with similarly good accuracy, despite the occasional anomaly when cranking up the cadence.
With this aortic feedback you can train to intensity, with five blue LEDs below the screen that flash depending on which zone you’re in. It’s a neat touch and saves switching on the backlight when running in the dark. Distance and speed are measured via accelerometers. Unlike GPS, you receive instant readings, but it’s not as accurate. You can send your data via Bluetooth to the smartphone app, which offers basic performance analysis.
Verdict: A touch basic for data-heads, but an impressive debut, 80%
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