Fitness Tracker buying guide

Best Heart Rate Fitness Tracker (Updated December 2017)

November 30, 2017

Last updated this post exactly a year back so it’s only appropriate to refresh the “Best heart rate fitness tracker” list for 2017.

We’ve seen the departure of a few wearable tech companies who called it quits and focused their efforts elsewhere; think Jawbone, TomTom and Mio Global. Those who are still around have pretty much upped their game and their product capabilities leaving consumers spoilt for choice. But buyers being buyers will always be picky and would only pay top dollars for their needs – think high performance versus all day activity tracking. Everyone’s needs are unique.

The purchasing of a heart rate fitness tracker is a very personal matter akin to buying a pair of fitting running shoes. Do your research, crawl through the reviews and put your money on the one that suits you best.

I’ve curated a short list of notable heart rate fitness trackers. The focus is an all round fitness tracking experience with GPS and wrist based HR measurement being pre-requisites.

The price ceiling is set at about $350 for this list so you won’t be seeing heart rate fitness trackers the likes of Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro ($549) or the Garmin Fenix 5X ($599); both awesome in their own ways.  Not all the wearables are from 2017 – some are from 2016 but noteworthy nevertheless due to price cuts.

I know many readers to my blog are either recreational athletes or people who are simply starting new at fitness tracking. The sky’s not the limit here, we’re pretty grounded. And even though Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed, rash buys usually result in returns where it’s possible to pick a barely used top of the line heart rate fitness tracker watch at a huge discount. Wait for it.



Garmin Forerunner 735XT

Garmin has officially reduced the price by a $100 so you can get it off retails channels at $349.99 or lower. You have to bear in mind this was roughly the retail pricing of the Forerunner 235 when that was first announced.

heart rate fitness tracker forerunner 735XT

This watch has multi-sport mode, is decently sized so won’t make you look silly, advanced running dynamics and ANT+ connection. It fits well and wears like a normal watch. Plus it has connect IQ compatibility.

The only drawback is that it doesn’t have altimeter so the new update for running power with Garmin’s Running Dynamics Pod or compatible chest strap HR monitors won’t be seen on this wearable.

I was torn between the Vivoactive HR and the Forerunner 735XT but decided to go with the latter based on aesthetics. Garmin does have the newer Vivoactive 3 but I wasn’t impressed with the lack of button controls and battery life to place it over the Forerunner 735XT.

Apple Watch Series 3

I’m currently using the Apple Watch Series 3 (non LTE version) and have yet to post my user review. Before than I was wearing the Fenix 5 or the Forerunner 935.

heart rate fitness tracker Apple Watch 3

I’m not a performance athlete and while Garmin’s offerings are awesome, I had little use for those features. The Apple Watch suit me fine in terms of fitness focused features and made me realise the importance of keeping fitness tracking simple.

The fact that it’s a full fledged smartwatch with numerous app compatibility is icing on the cake. Lotsa icing.

The Apple health platform is hardly sufficient but it’s so easy to install another app and track your workouts on another platform. The watch also allows connection to 3rd party BLE HR monitors so that’s a big plus.

I love the functionality but have little love for the battery life though I have to admit it’s an improvement over the series 1. The Apple Watch Series 3 also has a robust contact-less payment feature is also one of only two wearables on the heart rate fitness tracking list to store and play music.



Polar M430

Other than the look, this offering from Polar is a serious contender to make anyone’s list for a running focused GPS watch. The RRP is a mere $229.95 and you can usually get it a tad cheaper.

heart rate fitness tracker Polar M430 on demand HR

The M430 has Polar’s new 6 LED wrist HR measurement sensors; identical to that on the M600 and the OH1. Think of it as the trusty M400 but with wrist HR measurement sans the rusty charging port.

In a recent update, Polar enabled all day wrist HR measurements for this wearable. Coupled with Polar’s advanced Sleep Plus tracking, it’s not hard to see why the M430 is a robust fitness focused watch suitable for all day wear. The only drawback is the ultra-sporty appearance.

Suunto Spartan Trainer

Had it not been for an inadequate mobile app and minor design considerations, Suunto’s Spartan Trainer would’ve easily made my number 1 list for fitness focused watch. Pricing is competitive at just $279.

heart rate fitness tracker Suunto Spartan auto lap view

The Spartan trainer is  a full fledged multi-sport watch with a dedicated triathlon profile. Throw in BLE connection with 3rd party accessories including running power meters, you’d understand why this is one of the, if not already, best wearables money can buy presently.

One look at Amazon’s reviews would reveal that this watch is good but not stellar; could’ve been if I might add. As for the reasons why, check out my full review of the Spartan Trainer. I passed this over for the Apple Watch because I found the all day activity tracking aspect lacking.

Fitbit Ionic

I’m only recommending the Fitbit Ionic because the watch in its current state is still an unfinished product waiting to get better IF Fitbit delivers on the app platform and sleep apnea tracking materialises.

heart rate fitness tracker fitbit ionic front and side profile

Unlike Android Wear or Apple Watch, there aren’t voice command features on the Ionic, plus contactless payment is enabled but limited at present. There are a lot of things you can do on other smart watch platforms which you can’t on the Ionic at present.

All that being said, the Ionic does deliver a fundamental fitness tracking experience with the limited sports profiles; hardly excellent but it’s not bad. There are quite a few shortcomings for this wearable when it comes to fitness tracking but it easily trumps everyone else in all day activity tracking.

11 Comments

  • Reply Eric Ende August 26, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    Using HR data to help drive intensity during HIT training and to measure overall intensity drives dramatic fitness improvements…check out our Phyzseek app!

  • Reply Julien October 16, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    For running only, would you recommend FR35 or M200 ?
    Thanks

    • Reply Michael S October 17, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      Hi Julien,

      In terms of specs, both are near identical. I’ll list in here:
      FR35 display 23.5 x 23.5 (square) vs M200 (26mm diameter [circular])

      FR 35 has virtual pacer, interval training, pace alerts, HR zone alerts etc
      M200 has running programme training benefits, running index, and fun running displays that allows the user to “race against the marathon world record or see what your Cooper’s test result would be with your current pace.”

      I’ve been using the FR35 and found it more than adequate for regular usage. I’ll only receive the M200 this few days and can only do a comparison then.

      Hope that helps.
      Mike

  • Reply Lim Meng Teck October 25, 2016 at 1:08 am

    Dear Michael,

    I am surprised that vivoactive HR is not in the list consider its reasonable price point and all-rounder functionality. Only downside for vivoactive HR is its screen visibility in dim lighting in order to extend the battery life.

    • Reply Michael S October 27, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      Hi again Meng Teck 🙂

      The Vivoactive HR, while superior in functions, is a device I thought is too chunky for daily wear. Plus the fact that it doesn’t offer “every second recording” compared to the 2 other Garmin offerings made me drop it.

      Have to agree with you though, it’s all rounded.

      Mike

      • Reply MarkL January 31, 2017 at 3:39 pm

        It does offer “every second” tracking in one of the recent firmware updates.

        • Reply Michael S February 1, 2017 at 12:50 pm

          Ah yes you’re right Mark. Thank you very much for the update!

          Mike

  • Reply Tessa November 14, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    Hi Michael,
    Which would you recommend more between the Charge 2 and Vivosmart HR? I’m also considering the Huawei Fit and Xiaomi Amazfit but there aren’t that many reviews on those yet. Your feedback is appreciated! Thanks

    • Reply Michael S November 15, 2016 at 11:25 am

      Hi Tessa,

      The Charge 2 measure HR once every second during workout whereas the Vivosmart HR measures in smart mode; periodically measures ranging from once per second to once per 5 or 6 seconds thereabouts.

      Also, being a later entrant to the wearable tech scene, the Charge 2 has advantages in the inclusion of more features such as activity identification, meditation and so on. Also, the Charge 2 can tether on the connected smart phone device’s GPS.

      If it’s comparing price for features, the Charge 2 wins hands down. You have to be mindful that the Vivosmart HR is a year old device compared to the Charge 2 which has been on the market about 2-3 months only.

      Look around for the mobile apps, that can make a huge impact on your user experience as well.

      Mike

  • Reply Tareq June 30, 2017 at 1:10 am

    Is it a big difference between the HR monitor on charge 2 and m200 regarding accuracy?

    • Reply Michael S July 1, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      That depends on the user. With optical HR sensors, it’s hard to say which is more accurate without the adequate sample size comparisons. Probably the main difference between the 2 is that one wears like a wrist strap (Charge 2) while the other is watch sized.

      Mike

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