Every individual differs physically and physiologically but what’s undeniable is the trove of information hidden within our heart rate. PulseOn is the company that intends to help consumers make sense of the value of heart rate monitoring with their accurate and reliable wrist worn heart rate monitor.
Based in Finland, the PulseOn team comprises experts in sensor technology, physiology, algorithms and mobile technology. The company’s Indiegogo campaign did not meet their intended goal of $150000 but the team will be delivering nonetheless.
I received my PulseOn HRM about a week back and put it to the test. How did it fare? Read on.
LOOK AND FEEL
The tracker unit case is made of PC-ABS plastic and the display is of PMMS plastic. The PulseOn is a tiny square of display that measure about 3cm by 3cm. The actual display space is only about a third of the face of the unit.
PulseOn has a clasp not common in the trackers on the market.The strap is made of knitted elastic fabric and it allows some slight stretch, presumably to allow for that snug fit. Unlike the more commonly seen watch clasp and Velcro, the watch buckle is something more commonly observed in backpacks. I did experience discomfort putting on the wearable and wondered who in the right frame of mind would do something like that? Over time, I began to appreciate the practicality. While standard watch clasps are fixed in size, this PulseOn design holds firmly and allows the extra stretch bit of stretch and fit.
Unfortunately, the area where the removable strap connects to the watch hinge is through Velcro strips and this extra sinking in of the strap does cause some discomfort.
The strap is attached to the PulseOn HRM using velcro only. A hard pull on the elastic strap can caused the Velcro-ed to detach; not a nice way to lose a $200 tracker.
The watch hinge is made of stainless steel and allows for the removal of the elastic strap. I’m presuming there are plans to introduce varied straps in the future. There are only 2 buttons on the watch which are situated at the side of the tracker though you might be forgiven for thinking that the display is touch screen enabled because it’s so slick.
The back of the PulseOn shows the charging ports and a total of 4 optical sensors though I’ve only seen 2 green LEDs light up. PulseOn uses multiple light wavelengths to achieve accurate readings in different skin tones. Scosche RHYTHM plus has yellow coloured optical sensors together with green LEDs that supposedly provides better reading on those with darker skin. I would think PulseOn is doing the same with their HRM tracker unit.
The charger is clothes-peg like. It did get some practice to clamp the charging pin accurately on the charger. Charging duration to go from flat to full takes slightly more than an hour.
While the PulseOn is pretty thick, it feels light and when worn during a run, i could hardly feel it.
While the PulseOn looks watch like, it is not something I would wear when I go out. For the simple reason that it must be worn pretty high up the wrist for accurate HR readings. Plus I needed to constantly press a button to see the time. It’s just too much trouble if you know what I mean. I could whip out my smartphone instead.
FUNCTIONS AND DATA PRESENTATION
Heart rate monitoring
For the purpose of this review, a LG Nexus 5 running stock Android 5.0 was paired with the PulseOn HRM; HRM is short for heart rate monitor. To access the iOS compatibility, iPhone 4S was used.
Upon unboxing, I was prompted to update the software for the PulseOn HRM via my smartphone. This is good news because it means the PulseOn product can be updated and further improved.
Firstly the accuracy of the HR monitoring function of the wearable. For this, I used a Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Sensor connected to the Polar Beat app. I then went on a 24 minutes run outdoors and these are the results. Bear in mind that this run included steep up-slopes, down hills of varying speeds.
While not identical to the HR tracked by the HR7, the HR data recorded by PulseOn does look similar. PulseOn’s own test indicated a correlation of 0.9882 with ECG.
Average HR from Polar H7 is 164 and average HR as indicated by PulseOn is 164. One thing I noticed is that when worn, the PulseOn takes a while to register the correct HR reading. For example, my HR at that moment could be 140 but the wearable would indicate a low reading before climbing to about 140 after about a minute. So patience is required. The calories burned differ somewhat but I would assume different companies have their own secret formulas of calculation.
I proceeded to take a moderate paced walk (5km/hr) on the treadmill and noticed that the HR readings from the watch is consistently close to that of the Polar H7, varying by only few beats if any at all.
When the user goes running with the PulseOn connected to the smartphone, the watch can further track the distance of the run using the smartphone’s GPS. Distance tracked by Polar Beat app is 4.5km. Distance as indicated on PulseOn app is 4.3km. Give and take, it’s acceptable. Both apps tap on the smartphone’s GPS.
The running route would be indicated on the app map if the PulseOn was connected to the smartphone during the run.
There are 2 modes for the watch, sports and standard. In standard mode, users can access time, current HR reading and latest workout stats.
In sports mode, users can access current HR, current workout intensity, distance (needs connection to smartphone GPS), present time and duration of workout. Calorie burned is not available even though that information will surface in app.
Unlike wrist worn HRMs like Scosche RHYTHM plus or Mio Link where the HRM is merely a transmitter and smartphone presence is a must, PulseOn users can exercise without smartphones as the PulseOn HRM stores up to “tens of hours” of data which can be synced and downloaded at a later time.
The other notable feature about the PulseOn is the recovery duration recommendation based on the user’s tracked HR data, with Firstbeat providing analysis and insights. Another product that makes recommendations on whether the user is ready for exercise is the Jaybird Reign which relies on heart rate variability (HRV) readings.
I’m nowhere near a professional athlete but I do clock my runs regularly and my step count is in the region of 120k weekly. So I was surprised when PulseOn recommended that I rest for 67 hours until my next work out. That’s close to 3 days of rest after a 24 minutes run even though I felt fresh the very next day. Ouch. The good thing is the clock counts down like a timer in app.
I went for an even faster and longer run the very next day and the PulseOn app suggested I rest for 11 hours till full recovery. PulseOn’s support site stated that I should repeat the test a few times to get a good result and eventually once a month. We also have to understand recovery depends on many factors like sleep, nutrition and earlier training loads.
The PulseOn is also water resistant to 1m. That means it’s safe to go swimming. The million dollar question is whether it tracks HR underwater.
“PulseOn is waterproof until 1 meter (3 feet) under water. However, we have not yet validated the performance of the heart rate measurements in water, and especially cold water may cause reduced blood perfusion and therefore compromised heart rate accuracy. “
So it’s a no…for now. At least we understand the implications of water and blood perfusion.
Tilting the smartphone in landscape mode reveals more details like the HR trend, and even workout summary over time. Features like monthly and yearly view of workout are not yet available. Currently for the Android smartphones, there are no apps that connect to PulseOn HRM though the company has announced the offering of an open API which should see PulseOn transmit HR data to 3rd party apps.
iOS users can rejoice knowing that the wearable transmits HR data to 3rd party apps on the Appstore. I was able to use the wearable as a Bluetooth heart rate monitor device on Polar Beat, Endomondo and Strava app with ease. When connected, the display shows the Bluetooth connected screen.
I personally felt the user interface (UI) of the mobile app unpolished. On so many occasions I had to tilt the smartphone to landscape just to check if there’s any more information I’m missing out. Take for example the the workout screens. In potrait, i see a summary, in landscape I see another that includes Vo2 max scores. As a user, I found it a hassle to be portrait-ing and landscaping all the time while going through my data.
A recovery run I did a day after showed a VO2 max value of 40.5ml/kg/min which is not far off from the reading I had a day before at 40.4ml/kg/min.
Battery life is advertised as roughly 3 days in idle mode and 10 hours in sports mode. I believe battery optimisation is still a work in progress. I’ve tried wearing the wearable to sleep and when I wake up about 8 hours later, it’s flat.
PulseOn has a very comprehensive FAQ page which I believe might help to fill up your pockets of queries should you decide to purchase one.
IN A NUTSHELL
- Accurate wrist worn heart rate readings
- Waterproof to 1 m
- Analytics powered by Firstbeat
- VO2 Max estimation
- Exercise recovery duration recommendation
- Can be used to track average HR during sleep
- Connects to 3rd party apps on iOS
- Display on during exercise events
- Create laps during exercise tracking with double pressing the left button
- Mobile app needs improvement
- Lack of support for Android 3rd party apps
- Lack of web access
According to the rep from PulseOn, the company has some plans in the pipeline without firm dates of implementation as yet.
- Step counting utilising accelerometer in PulseOn
- Web access functionality
As a standalone app, the PulseOn app reminds me of the Polar Beat app, without the sharing option. There is no account signing in so that means the user does not have web access to comb through the details.
Connection to 3rd party apps is nice but that would mean losing out on the insights from the PulseOn app, plus the display of the PulseOn becomes a Bluetooth connection display icon which effectively renders the display useless.
Currently the tracked data cannot be exported.
In focusing on producing an accurate wrist worn HRM and helping users make sense of all that HR data with leading edge insights, PulseOn has carved a niche for themselves in the wearable tech scene. From what I’ve seen, there is potential. The insights provided by the PulseOn app is a winner. Unfortunately the mobile app needs to be beefed up to make the user interface seamless and meaningful. Web access could be another area to look into.
The must-have feature for the next generation of fitness trackers seem to be heart rate measurement of some sort. You can see it in Jawbone UP3, Basis Peak, Mio Fuse, Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge.
At a time when wearable tech flood the scene, the buyer is king. Choose wisely.