Activity trackers with heart rate monitors

May 10, 2015

Just yesterday I chanced upon an article detailing the accuracy of the heart rate monitoring function of the much sought after Apple Watch. Brad Larson, a software engineer, extracted the heart rate data of the Apple watch and compared it to that of the Mio Alpha wrist worn heart rate monitor and the heart rate data from both devices appeared similar.


Screen capture from Brad Larson’s twitter account.

Factors like ambient light, hair on skin, skin tone and even fit of the device impacts the accuracy of the heart rate monitoring functions of activity trackers such as Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Microsoft Band and Fitbit Charge HR. Bottom line is are activity trackers that combine a myriad of functions within a single device accurate for heart rate monitoring? Read on.

Basis Peak

polar H7 vs Basis Peak strava HR data copy

5 months back i reviewed the Basis Peak activity tracker and compared it with a Polar H7 chest worn heart rate monitor and this was what I got. I had the HR data transmitted to Strava app on 2 different mobile devices and put the data together.

Basis Peak HR line is red colour while that of the Polar H7 is blue. Good enough? I would think so. It’s important to take into account that the Basis Peak also measure 24/7 HR trend like the Apple Watch and was able to transmit HR data to compatible 3rd party apps like Strava, Polar Beat and Endomondo on the iOS platform.

Brad Larson might have shown that Apple Watch is almost as accurate as an EKG rated device like the Mio Alpha but the Basis Peak already achieved that nearly 5 months ago.

Fitbit Charge HR


In February this year, I had the good fortune of getting myself the Fitbit Charge HR and again compared it versus a Polar H7 chest worn HRM. While I had to do some back end editing as the HR screen captures were different in aspect ratio. I thought the HR data captured by the Fitbit Charge HR looked similar to that of the Polar H7 HRM as recorded by SelfLoops app on an Android device.

The Fitbit Charge HR does not transmit HR data to 3rd party apps so all collected stats has to be viewed within the Fitbit platform.

Microsoft Band


My most recent encounter with heart rate monitors within activity trackers was with the Microsoft Band; the tracker that does nearly everything short of making dinner. The heart rate monitoring function was compared against a Polar H7 HRM connected to the Polar Beat mobile app. Microsoft Band’s data is synced to Microsoft Health.

While I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the HR monitoring aspect, I have to admit the tracker scored splendidly in the GPS, activity tracking and smart phone notifications departments.

Jon Ham, a consultant with Scosche Industries, wrote 2 interesting articles detailing the factors that affect the accuracy of optical heart rate monitors commonly used in wrist worn devices with focus on the Apple Watch. It’s worth a read and you might pick up some advice on how to wear your heart rate monitoring activity trackers properly during exercise.

The aspiring athletes might scoff at the quality of HR data collected by activity trackers with heart rate monitors but it should more than suffice for the weekend exercise warriors. Companies like Mio Global and Scosche are making headway into the heart rate monitoring market with their wrist worn heart rate monitors such as  Mio Alpha 2, Mio Fuse and Scosche Rhythm+.

Chest worn heart rate monitor straps still have their benefits one of which is to collect heart rate variability data (HRV), a measure of fitness and recovery. Recently Wellograph became one of the first companies to include HRV readings in their Wellograph watch utilising optical sensors. In time to come, the market should see even more accurate and widespread use of optical sensors in mobile devices, activity trackers and smart phones.

Whatever your preference, remember it’s not about Apple Watch versus Basis Peak or chest strap versus wrist worn heart rate monitors. Heart rate is an excellent measure of physical activity intensity and should be used as such to ensure the maximum bang for your buck during exercise.

Stay fit, stay healthy.

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