A heart rate monitor is a tool that measures the heart rate in real time. Although originally conceived as a medical device, to its scientific use has been added in recent times the sport.
Thanks to a rapid technological evolution, today the work of these devices goes far beyond the simple heartbeat monitoring, since the collected data is sent to another device (clock, smartphone, computer) that analyzes and interprets them, sending back useful information: physical form, level of activity, personalized training, forecasting of results in competition. And to all that we add the connectivity with the mobile, with access to social networks and specific applications depending on the chosen sport.
Total, that today the pulsometers sports are mini-computers with so many possibilities that it is easy to get lost between technical specifications, and in the end, one does not know what to buy.
Why do I need a GPS? Will I get a smart band to measure my workouts? Does it compensate me to invest time in learning to manage the schedules? These are common questions, and for that reason, in this purchasing guide, we are going to break down the main characteristics of these devices, explaining what each thing is and what it is for. So you can make the right decision and buy the best heart rate monitor for your case.
Heart rate monitor, wristband or watch, what does each one do?
Although many times they are used as synonyms, and the same device can combine characteristics of one and another, there are several concepts that should be clear before we get lost in the hundreds of options available in the market.
An analogue pulse meter measures the pulse. Already. It neither analyzes the data nor tells you what you have to do with them. At most, the first ones were combined with a pedometer or a calorie counter.
An activity bracelet or smartband monitors all your movements throughout the day, including your sleep rhythms. This way you can calculate your state in a lot of detail, put daily challenges and record the achievements made every day. This dynamic is very motivating, and more and more people use it to help maintain healthy habits.
A smartwatch or smartwatch is a small instrument that is worn on the wrist and linked to a more powerful device, usually a smartphone. This type of watches have many more features than a bracelet (they vary depending on the model), including the option of having GPS, and are recommended for athletes who seek to train systematically and more or less professionally.
The 10 best heart rate monitors for 2019
GPS yes or no? Do you use it for swimming? Can I connect it to my mobile? Here is a table of our selection of the best heart rate monitors for you to compare the basic features at a glance.
The Sigma PC is a pulsometer without frills, the simplest available in the market. Here you will not find apps with exhaustive programming or more motivation than what you impose on yourself. Precisely for that reason, it does not deceive: you get what you see, and its price, suitable for all pockets, reflects this.
It is a good buy if you want very basic information of your workouts, either because you do not pose a very methodical sports practice or just the opposite: you know perfectly what you do and you only need four data to plan your sessions.
The pulsations are captured thanks to a chest strap, which guarantees accuracy but can be annoying in practice. Still, it’s fair to say that an effort has been made with the design and the band is narrow and not very cumbersome.
Although in the instructions it indicates that it is waterproof, in practice you can not use the buttons under water because the mechanism gets wet. In return, it can be easily attached to the handlebar of the bike.
The design is basic and the management is elementary. At first, you have to use the instruction manual, but once configured is very easy to use. It offers three reading lines – pulses, time and a third to choose – and has large numbers, which facilitate visibility in movement.
This best seller is perfect if you have never had an activity bracelet and you do not know very well if you would take advantage of it. Willful allows you to try one for very little money, combining the design with some basic but very well developed functions.
The pulsations are measured by an optical sensor on the wrist, much more comfortable than a band but also less precise. And in addition to the heart rate records the distance travelled, has alert for sedentary lifestyle, calorie control, clock, alarm settings, pedometer, sleep hours, incoming calls … and the function “look for my mobile” which seems silly but is fantastic for the clueless who mess up the phone often.
Because with this bracelet you have to have the phone at hand. The device only has one button to handle the most elementary, the rest of the functions are controlled from the smartphone. The own app of Willful, VeryFit, is as basic and effective as the bracelet, although it is noted that in the translation they have pulled Google and the texts could be more careful.
In addition, there is control by gestures: the screen turns on with a twist of the wrist, a feature very resolution but that can be annoying if you move a lot at night and you incordia the light when sleeping.
Polar is one of the best-rated manufacturers in the market of sports watches and smart bands. The brand is a guarantee of quality, even in a simple model like the A360.
The pulsation meter is on the wrist, and we already know what that means: sacrifice accuracy for comfort. It offers the possibility of linking it to a chest strap, which can be the solution at the moment of sports activity. It is also submersible, but little else. Underwater measurements are minimal, so if you practice swimming as a regular sport, this is not your device.
Logically, for that price does not have GPS, although you can synchronize with the phone for outdoor activities.
In any case, the A360 is an activity, not a training, heart rate monitor. The bracelet records the heart rate throughout the day and measures the sleep rhythms to give you an idea of your status regularly. The problem is that, if you have all the meters and notifications activated 24 hours, the battery life is reduced exponentially.
In short: a simple smart band, for people who need to motivate themselves with small daily challenges.
Thanks to some great advertising campaigns, Fitbit has managed to popularize the activity wristbands and placed among the top positions in the minds of consumers. That they have been able to create that hype does not mean that the Fitbit Charge 2 is just a facade: quite the contrary. It is the best-selling model of the brand and fulfils what it promises. It is a very useful tool, especially for people with a tendency to a sedentary lifestyle.
That said, let’s insist on the concept: it’s an activity bracelet, not a tool for advanced training. It monitors the heart rate throughout the day, counts calories burned, weight goals, offers simplified measurements to encourage physical exercise, reports on daily progress. is designed for healthy physical activity, nothing more (and nothing less). In addition to pulse measurement, you have guided breathing sessions to lower the heart rate and make small relaxations throughout the day.
The routine of measuring daily advances can be almost addictive, which makes this type of product perfect for more or less usual athletes, who need to see results continue to motivate themselves. If the objective is competition at a medium-high level there are more specialized devices in the market, but of course, you can take advantage of this.
The Polar A300 HR has been on the market for a couple of years and it is still selling. This data already says a lot about its quality, it is a hybrid of heart rate monitor and smart band, with the best of both versions. The only thing that strikes you is that you do not have a heart rate monitor on your wrist and you have to use a chest strap to measure your heart rate. Moreover, it includes a pedometer, activity monitor, calories burned, sleep quality. It also takes care of the connectivity and shows the notices of the mobile with the possibility of using alarms by vibration, something very simple but not all devices has, and it is very useful when you train with headphones or in places with environmental noise.
Having no GPS is especially recommended for indoor activities. It can be used in a pool, since it registers the pulsations underwater, something that many more expensive watches do not do. In return, it does not measure the number of lengths or type of stroke, nor does it allow swimming training to be personalized.
As for the design, you can choose between different interchangeable straps, all with an elastic point that facilitates the adjustment on the wrist and allows easy removal to charge the watch, via USB connection.
The Polar M430 is the “big brother” of the A360, since it incorporates GPS to similar characteristics, somewhat improved. Probably the most remarkable is that they have polished the connectivity problems and this model synchronizes without problems with other devices.
It is a light and sporty watch, with good usability, a simple charging system and anaesthetic to wear all day. The heart rate meter is integrated into the wrist but, like all Polar models, it allows to integrate a band like this one for greater precision.
The M340 responds very well for daily fitness activities and is water-resistant, but also includes advanced training for runners, designed for those runners who, without being professionals, want to start beating their own brands. This is helped by a GPS that opens the door to outdoor sessions.
In short, this watch combines everything you expect from a wristband – tracking activity, sleep registration, etc. – with the characteristics of a smartwatch that goes a little beyond the basics: advanced measurements, control and training design, etc. As usual in Polar products, it is not a cheap watch, but it is reliable and resistant.
Garmin was the first brand to launch devices with integrated GPS for sports. And, as experience is a degree, their watches are synonymous with quality and high performance. The Vivoactive HR has a multi-sport vocation and is promoted as a device to be “with you during any activity”, both inside and outside. It gives the impression that they have wanted to reach a more general “gym” audience, without renouncing the more intense athletes, who are their main buyers from the beginning.
Probably, if only used in Zumba classes are missing many of the features of a device that, in addition to operating as an activity bracelet, is useful to train almost any sport. It includes, of course, the most obvious functions for runners and cyclists, but it also has specific programs for other sports, such as golf, rowing or skiing. And it also offers quite complete metrics underwater (with chest strap for heart rate), saving one detail: the measurement of distances in open waters is a bit lame.
Surprisingly, there is no specific program that allows changing sports automatically, which makes triathlons remain outside of that long list of suitable sports.
Suunto is a Finnish brand known for its high precision compasses and for its sports watches and diving instruments, a field where they have always done an interesting work of innovation. Therefore, it should not surprise us that swimming is one of the strengths of the Ambit3 Peak Sapphire, something that is not easy to find and that makes it perfect for triathlons .
The price already tells us that we leave behind the simple bracelets and enter the field of high-end watches, which in this case include specialized features for a race, cycling and swimming. The Ambit3 Peak can be programmed in “multidiscipline” mode, to combine several sports in the same exercise, or to focus all the efforts of the session in a single exercise.
The heart rate is measured with a sensor attached to the wrist or on a belt.
With a long-lasting battery that delivers what it promises, this Suunto also offers advanced features for outdoor activities. In addition to the essential GPS, the barometer measures weather changes and incorporates storm warning, a very interesting feature when moving in the middle and high mountains. It also informs of the hours of light, exact location, an altitude of the route.
As expected in a TomTom, the strong point of this device is the GPS, which makes it a perfect machine for outdoor activities: hiking, climbing, trail, any variety of mountain biking, winter sports. Particularly interesting skiing features, a sport that usually does not have special attention in this type of gadgets: among other possibilities, it has automatic ski lift detection and descent summaries, in which you can check the distance, speed and slope maximum of the last section performed.
It is also submersible up to 40 meters and, although in theory it is used for pool measurements, outdoor activities are still its strong point: rapids descent, canyoning, caving, etc.
In addition to the heart rate monitor integrated into the wrist, GPS has added a compass and an altimeter, which provide statistics in real time. It allows you to load routes, explore alternative paths and have advanced training modes. To that we add common features in an evolved smartwatch: activity monitoring 24 hours, training objectives, recovery indicator. and of course connectivity with the phone and several alarms. As a curiosity, it has an integrated music player, with a 3 Gb memory to load songs.
We reached number one on the list by the big door. Although its name indicates that it is very thought for runners, in practice the Garmin Forerunner 920XT HMR is a multisport watch with GPS and an almost unlimited capacity of personalization.
It is the model that replaces the Garmin Forerunner 310XT. The updates include a barometer, route tracker, wifi connectivity, vibration alarm, swim stroke counter, height quantification. But improvements have been noted in the price increase, and it is fair to say that the previous model gives the opportunity to take a good device with a much smaller outlay than we are talking about, so you may want to consider it as a purchase option as well.
But let’s go back to our number one. What has the Forerunner 920XT? Well, it has everything: besides functioning as a fitness bracelet, it includes advanced features, such as recording six factors of race dynamics, maximum oxygen consumption estimation, real-time activity monitor and intelligent notifications. The list of functions of training is kilometric, one of the most interesting is the possibility of training in a swimming pool or open water conditions. It also offers details as useful as a metronome of sound and vibration alerts to guide training in cadence.
It is perfect for training triathlon, with programs for runners, cyclists and swimmers. Depending on the activity there is a specifically designed heart rate monitor – Garmin HRM Tri that offers additional functions to measure the state and recovery time, as well as the race potential, with a prediction of times for different distances.
In summary: without neglecting almost all the possibilities imaginable in both a bracelet and a watch, the Garmin Forerunner 920XT puts a clear emphasis on sports and allows training to achieve great challenges.
The main reason for using a heart rate monitor is based on the idea that sports training should be personalized. By logic, the goals of one person are not necessarily valid for another: the goals of who goes to the gym three times a week are not the same as who trains for a triathlon. So why should they use the same device?
We want to say with this that the classification of “the 10 best” focuses on this case on the quantity and quality of benefits, but then everyone has to see what they really need. That is if you do not do competition training do you really want to spend pasta on a high-end smartwatch? That you know at least that you will not take advantage of half of its possibilities.
Once this point is made, and as in this website we are getting wet, here are our three recommendations by category:
The best heart rate monitor bracelet: Fitbit Charge 4
There was a close fight between the Polar A360 and the Fitbit Charge 4, but after an intense debate, we decided to keep the second one. Facing the Polar, the Fitbit Charge 4 offers extra features, it does not have those connectivity problems that users complain about and heart rate measurements are much more accurate.
In addition, this brand is the mother of all activity bracelets. If they are even used as synonyms! Or have you never heard of “take a Fitbit” to refer to someone who uses a smart band?
Precisely for this reason, we know that there are all the functions we look for in this type of device: continuous monitoring of the heart rate, calories burned, daily activity and sleep. Exercise record in multisport mode. Reminders to move and guided breathing sessions for relaxation. Connectivity with call, message and calendar notifications. And above all, a lot of motivation. All the features of this heart rate monitor bracelet are designed to maximize physical exercise in a normal and healthy way.
Although we recognize that the price, is not particularly cheap, we could not resist the design or the pull of the Fitbit Charge 4. Because, let’s be honest: training at the gym is great, but sometimes you also want to show off a little.
The best watch-heart rate monitor: Garmin Forerunner 920XT HMR
Number one on our list is there for something. The Garmin Forerunner 920XT HMR convinces us almost everything: the guarantee of one of the best brands in the market, the ability to customize training to the last detail, the benefits for outdoor activities, aesthetics, connectivity with wifi! the duration of the battery. Above all, it is valid for practically any sport, which works especially well for runners and triathletes, and which includes water activities in a specific section.
Because eye, that is off-road does not mean that it does not meet in specific circumstances. What he likes about this Garmin is that it gives good results in the practice of any discipline. The different bands adapted to each activity guarantee the accuracy of the measurements, which is essential when you are looking for professional or high-performance training.
To all this, we add the classic functions of an activity bracelet but, frankly: if you buy this wonder we assume that your problem is not a sedentary lifestyle and you are already motivated as a series, because if you are willing to spend more. What this device costs, is that you are a serious athlete, you have big goals in mind and you want to get the most out of it.
The best GPS heart rate monitor: Tom Tom Adventurer
Before making this list we would have recommended a Garmin or a Polar, but the truth is that TomTom Adventurer has convinced us a lot to cover this section.
It is a very complete watch that, although it works well in indoor activities, is clearly designed for outdoor use. The GPS is the best, combined with compass and altimeter ensures that we will not lose on any path, although we decide to leave the marked route. And, of course, it has heart rate control (on the wrist), calculation of age, fitness and advanced training modes, among other options.
All this without going crazy with the price, very reasonable for a watch of these characteristics. And, with the detail that it has a music player, it has become the definitive GPS heart rate monitor to go out and do sports, because you do not have to carry anything else by hand.
One of the aspects that does not convince us is that it does not respond well in the training in series or intervals, but the manufacturer has announced that it will be corrected in a future update. And with this we note another thing that we love: Tom Tom’s CM is very active in networks and forums, answering questions and taking notes of objections. If they really solve these problems in the short term, the Adventurer will make an important leap in quality, which guarantees that we have smartwatch for a while.
The best wristless heart rate monitor without band: Polar M430
As we have already said, a wrist heart rate monitor is usually less reliable than an external heart rate monitor, but brands are making a great effort in R & D to solve the problem. In this sense, the Polar M430 combines comfort and precision, with very tight measurements that serve as a reference both when calibrating the daily activity and in a more specific exercise.
Already the previous model, the M400, became the typical best-selling heart rate monitor for runners for the quality-price-performance ratio, but this has significantly improved both the measurements and other aesthetic and technical characteristics, such as battery and GPS reception. Of course, it is a watch designed for intensive use and for regular training.
If you are running cardio type activities and do not want to complicate wearing a chest strap (although it is also compatible with external Polar brand meters), it is undoubtedly the right wristband monitor so you do not have to spend a lot of money. For about £200 you get a comfortable, reliable tool, and designed to last.
The best cheap heart rate monitor: Willful Fitness Tracker
If your budget is not enough to make you a high-end model such as Garmin or Polar and you need to consider cheap heart rate monitors as an alternative, our recommendation is that you buy the Willful Fitness Tracker.
Despite its very economical price, it offers real-time heart rate measurement that is a fundamental characteristic for the measurement of any training or physical activity, although it is true that it can not offer the same precision as a model of top range. It is also one of the best-selling activity wristbands on Amazon.
The rest of the functions offered (distance travelled, calorie control, sedentary alert, clock, alarms, pedometer, hours of sleep) and its compatibility with the VeryFit app make it a fairly complete option as well as cheap.
Guide to buy the best heart rate monitor
We have already said it, but just in case we repeat it: the first thing is to think about what you want it for. It is not the same to prepare the San Silvestre of your town than to train the Ultra Trail of Mont-Blanc. If your thing is to go jogging a couple of times per week to vent and maintain the form, you may not need the best smartwatch on the market (although we recognize that it would look great on your wrist).
Therefore, first of all, realism. Do not spend £400 on a smartwatch that you will not take advantage of. Do not invest in a GPS if you do not leave the gym. Do not install apps that you do not know how to use. To understand us: do not buy a Ferrari to drive on secondary roads.
Now, if yours is to train hard and force your own limits, congratulations. It is an excellent time for sports because manufacturers have known how to see the vein and are bringing to the market authentic machines, with possibilities of customization unthinkable a few years ago.
Main functions so as not to get lost
Heart rate meter
Come on, the lifelong heart rate monitor. Here it is important to see the device that is used because there are two basic options:
External sensor They are usually pectoral bands or belts, although there are runners who put a sensor on the ankle. Not so long ago they were what they were, although many people complained that they were not comfortable and therefore they did not use them, or they reserved them for punctual stress tests. Nowadays the designs have improved considerably, and it must be said that they offer the greatest precision in the measurements. Essential if the sport involves aquatic activity.
Wrist sensor The system is a bit more complicated than counting the heartbeat: using an optical sensor the amount of blood pumped is calculated and the heart rate is deducted from there. As it seems, it is less reliable than a chest strap, but the technology moves fast and there are already really good sensors that come very close to the ideal. The lesser or greater lack of precision is compensated with the comfort, of course.
It is one of the elements that condition the price in a very clear way. If your thing is closed gym activity, you probably do not need it; but the moment you go outside, the quality of the measurements is very noticeable when it comes to programming the workouts. If you move around the city, you’ll take advantage of it. If you go to the mountain, you need it. Not only because of the information that you are going to give but because it can get you out of a serious problem if you get lost on the road or if you need medical help and you must give your precise location.
If you like to wear the watch all day, it is something that you have to contemplate and that will also be noticed in the price. Most watches state in their technical specifications that they can be used underwater, but there are many levels of quality. Some, more than submersible, are wet and will only endure a shower with difficulty. This data is usually indicated with the IP denomination and in these tables, you can see the different levels of protection, although the manufacturer does not always provide this information.
A good way to know what the device will endure is to look at how many meters you can submerge, counting on the fact that most manufacturers are very optimistic about the subject. With a resistance of 50 m you can start using it in the pool, and little else. From diving, we speak from 100 m.
If the connection with the loader involves removing the belt, extra care must be taken because the sealing usually suffers from the manipulations. If the strap is fixed and you want to change it or you need to replace the battery, go to a professional if you want to guarantee that you do not get water in the next workout.
Finally, if you sweat a lot do not think about it: you need a submersible watch. Otherwise, you may noticeably decrease your life.
Download data and social networks
Unless you buy an analogue heart rate monitor, the normal thing is that any device already has an integrated application for downloading data, either of its own design or with software compatible with the most popular apps. The program “chews” your measurements and gives you diagnoses and training proposals, which can be customized 100%.