Heart rate monitors used to be the domain of doctors and professional athletes only. And, while the last decade or so saw a boom in popularity for ECG-grade chest straps aimed at consumers, the likelihood of every day Joe and Joanna Publics clipping one on before a gym session was minimal.
The advent of the next-generation fitness trackers and GPS running watches has seen a new wave of heart rate monitors flooding the consumer market, however β ones based on wrists rather than chests.
In the last 12 months we've seen the likes of Fitbit, Jawbone, Samsung, Sony and Apple adding bpm readers to their wearable devices and, while chest straps still prove more accurate in thorough testing, there's no doubt that for ease of use for casual atheletes, the wrist is where it's at.
And the genre has seen some real credibility added to it over the past couple of months with notable absentees, Polar and Garmin β the mainstream heavyweights of wearable fitness tech, finally adding HRMs to their wrist-based devices.
Here's our thoughts on the latest entrants to the ever expanding market.
WEAR β TomTom
TomTom teamed up with the bpm experts at Mio for its Cardio sports watches but its newest GPS running watch, the Spark, packs in HRM sensor tech from LifeQ.
And it's a move that has paid off. Take a look at our recently published TomTom Spark review and you'll see Wareable senior ed James Stables waxing lyrical about the bpm accuracy of the wearable.
"Our testing showed the TomTom Spark to be the most accurate optical heart rate tracker that's been put through Wareable's tests," says James. "Not only did the average heart rate data match up exactly to Garmin's chest strap, it was never more than 1bpm out."
Well played TomTom, if only the Spark wasn't so damned ugly.
NEARLY THERE β Garmin
The big news coming out of Garmin Towers back in May was that the GPS specialist unleashed its first ever heart rate monitoring running watch: the Garmin Forerunner 225, packing an optical sensor made by Mio.
"After more than 10 years of developing GPS running watches we are very excited to team up with Mio to introduce our first device featuring wrist-based heart rate," explained Dan Bartel, Garmin VP of sales.
Fast forward a few months and Garmin revealed yet another running watch with bpm smarts β the Forerunner 235. This time around though, it looks like Garmin has ditched Mio's tech and gone it alone with its own Elevate heart rate technology.
We're speaking to Garmin to find out more but there are rumours that Philips, who Mio are heavily involved with, is looking to launch its own sports wearable.
Either way, it's great that Garmin now has a couple of different options.
SQUARE β Smartwatches
We don't want to name names here (Apple, Moto, LG, Huaweiβ¦) but can we have an end to just slapping an inaccurate optical heart rate monitor on a smartwatch, just so there's something extra to beef up the feature list? Either do it properly or not at all.
Both the chaps in Cupertino and the Google clan are guilty of this β we've thoroughly tested all the latest smartwatches and, while we're often super-impressed by the displays, the notifications, the intuitive updates; never once have we celebrated a smartwatch's heart rate monitoring credentials.
Here's some choice quotes from some of our recent smartwatch reviewsβ¦
"Like many of its rivals, it has an optical heart rate tracker and, like many of its rivals, it's a totally useless feature."
"It's generally accurate but we'd generally trust the second reading over the first one which often is way too high."
"Although we found regular readings fairly consistent β don't even think about attempting to record your bpm on the fly; you need to be sitting still for this function to 'work'."
C'mon guys β you know you can do better.