Recs for smallish fitness watch with decent wrist HR monitor?

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  • #14348
    djhutch
    Participant

    I just bought and returned a Garmin Vivosport because the heart rate monitor was so inaccurate (like almost no correlation with reality). I did love the size and comfort of the watch, and the GPS tracked well.

    I own a Ambit 3 with separate heart rate strap-style monitor but dislike both the large size of the watch and wearing a chest strap.

    I would like to get a watch with an accurate wrist-based monitor with GPS, ideally on the smaller size. Any recommendations for something you can verify works?

  • Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #14361

    Sadly the technology for the wrist based HR monitors is not well enough developed to accurately collect HR data. Even the most expensive of these watches, regardless of brand do not have good HR data from the wrist. At this stage of technology development you still need to use a chest strap if you want reliable HR data.

    Scott

    Participant
    todd.struble on #14382

    I can’t help directly (I use a chest strap), but check out dcrainmaker.com, the dude has reviewed every device for like the last 10+ years in considerable detail. But in general the sense I got from his site follows Scott’s advice: the HR strap is the more reliable, accurate way of capturing HR data. I’m not 100% sure but I think all of the Garmin optical hr monitors are basically the same. Here’s the relevant part from the device you returned:

    Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual. Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy. Position and how the band is worn are *the most important* pieces. A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug. It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts). You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

    Participant
    Alan Russell on #14393

    I use a Mio Alpha (original, not the 2 as the original has better battery life) for HRM which uses bluetooth to pass the data to my Ambit 3 Sport. I’m on my second Mio (the buttons aren’t all that durable), but I got my present one from ebay for £29. I got my first one in February 2016 as I was getting skin irritation from chest-straps, and I find the accuracy pretty much as good as a chest-strap. You can see a review on dcrainmaker.

    This would mean that you would be wearing two watches during training where you want HR monitoring (the Mio, and your Ambit 3 / similar). If you wanted to avoid this, I think your best option is the Suunto 9, though it’s expensive and not small.

    Alan

    Keymaster
    Scott Semple on #14476

    Below is an image comparing the data from the same activity using two different HR monitors. I recorded it using a Garmin Fenix 2 with an HRM-Run chest strap and the optical wrist monitor on a Whoop.

    Based on my limited experience, I would never train with an optical monitor. If the Whoop is any indication, optical monitors are just way too imprecise to be of any use for effective endurance training.

    A comparison between the heart rate data recorded by a Garmin Fenix 2 and a Whoop.

    To quote a Wareable article from 2016:

    …if you’re serious about your sport and data today, then steer clear of the wrist monitor. It’s a great way for entry-level runners and fitness fans to take control of their plans, but for those using the data to train, it’s not up to the task.”
    ~ Wareable, Optical HR Accuracy: The experts speak (February 12th, 2016)

    Keymaster
    Scott Semple on #14478

    Below is an image comparing the data from the same activity using two different HR monitors. I recorded it using a Garmin Fenix 2 with an HRM-Run chest strap and the optical wrist monitor on a Whoop.

    Based on my limited experience, I would never train with an optical monitor. If the Whoop is any indication, optical monitors are just way too imprecise to be of any use for effective endurance training.

    A comparison between the heart rate data recorded by a Garmin Fenix 2 and a Whoop.

    Keymaster
    Scott Semple on #14479

    Ack. Sorry for the double-post!

    Participant
    Alan Russell on #14492

    If you get a chance, try a Mio Alpha.

    Participant
    mmarkey21 on #15459

    Thought I’d piggyback on this thread instead of add a new one. I’ve used an Ambit 2 for a long while and want to upgrade to a gps watch with optical hr. I’m mostly interested in the 24/7 hr tracking, “stress/sleep” features, and elevation gain/loss features. I know that the chest strap is the way to go with HR, but honestly for my purposes something that’s “within the ballpark” for HR is fine with me. Has anyone used the Forerunner 645 for ski touring or trail running? Trying to avoid going with the Fenix 5 and would like to keep it under $300.

    Participant
    Reed on #15518

    I’ve been using a Garmin Forerunner 235 for the past few years. I also used a Forerunner 935 and Forerunner 645 temporarily this fall. I liked the 935, although it’s not cheap.

    • The 24/7 heart rate tracking is interesting, but I don’t find it very useful. When I have a harder week of training, my resting heart rate is elevated. When I’ve modified my training based on how I feel (take an easy day, take a day off), it’s been because of stronger signals that my body is sending, not because of resting heart rate.
    • I find it a bit annoying to have inaccurate data from the optical heart rate monitor. Wearing a chest strap is pretty easy and (for me) comfortable. Futzing with the sensor when I know I’m running at a 150 beats per minute rate, but the watch says 175, is distracting.
    • For skiing, a chest strap frees you up to have less exposed skin.

    My wife has the Forerunner 35 and likes it a lot. Same points regarding optical / chest strap apply to that watch.

    Participant
    l s on #18940

    Does anybody have a recommendation for a very simple watch that pairs with a chest strap sensor, logs the data, and easily exports it to a CSV file?

    I currently have a garmin forerunner35. i had one for about 2 weeks and returned it because the HR monitor didn’t work probably 80% of the time. the new one is not much better. the users manual says you can pair it with an ant+ chest strap, but mine won’t pair up. pretty frustrating. not to mention the garmin connect is almost worthless. it doesn’t provide the amount of time in each HR zone and won’t directly export the data to CSV. i currently use the goldencheetah workaround, but kind of annoying.

    basically, i want a watch that just does the heart rate data. i don’t want GPS on it. i don’t want it giving me badges (yay!!!), and i don’t want it providing some random assessment of my sleep.

    any recommendations?

    thanks!

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by l s.
    Participant
    deadpoint on #19212

    As has already been mentioned, you need to pair a chest strap with the watch to get the most accurate results period. I have a Suunto Spartan Trainer w/HR and over the past 18 weeks I’ve been training for an ultra, whenever I did not have the chest strap or pairing was lost due the battery the HR data was wildly inaccurate. When this would happen I’d just close my mouth and nose breath to stay within AeT.

    For those wanting something “cheap”, you get what you pay for. For a long time my “cheap” option was a used Garmin Forerunner w/HR from Ebay, it did the job but I know there where accuracy issues. If you’re going to invest in training for an objective invest in the equipment that will help make you successful. If a couple hundred dollars is beyond your reach, then search “nose breathing” on this site.

    Suunto supports XLSX data export via their MovesCount platform and Garmin will export splits to CSV from Connect, I can’t speak any others.

    Participant
    rachelp on #19213

    I also use the Suunto Spartan Trainer but I pair it with a chest strap as well. The only time I trust the HR data is for overnight sleep averages. The Suunto Spartan does track sleep but if you don’t want it to just don’t wear the watch at night. Somehow I turned step counting off (or it’s broken, doesn’t matter to me).

    A watch that was even cheaper (but it was huge on my wrist, the standard Suunto size, I have a small wrist) is the Ambit Run. It has fewer features and you need to pair with a chest strap for HR data. I used it with a Polar H10 and it worked well. It does have GPS, but you can just ignore it or probably even turn it off.

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