The best monitors perform accurately, are easy to use and hold up well long term
Regular aerobic exercise is an important part of a healthy fitness regimen. It strengthens the heart, improves circulation and burns body fat. In order to maximize cardiovascular activity, you should monitor your heart rate. They usually consist of a chest strap and a wrist unit that resembles -- and often also doubles as -- a wristwatch. The chest strap is placed at the solar plexus, just below the breast plate, and transmits a pulse reading to the wrist unit.
The simplest heart-rate monitors read and display the user's heart rate. More advanced units can calculate calories expended during the workout and keep records to show a progression. Some heart-rate monitors come packed with additional features; those with GPS also allow wearers to calculate pace and distance. Some models can upload workout results to a website, which can add a social component to your routine. Advanced monitors may have smart training or "virtual trainer" capabilities, setting your workout for you based on your personal information and goals.
Of course, more features often mean a higher price. If all you want is a heart-rate monitor that'll let you keep an eye on your heart rate while you're exercising and little more, a solid-performing but basic monitor can be found for $50 or less. Highly featured watches, on the other hand, can cost $300 or more. Regardless of whether you want a basic or advanced unit, the best choices need to satisfy several criteria. Performance, of course, is key: A heart-rate monitor that delivers inaccurate results is of little value. Extra features also need to deliver what they promise.
Ease of use is similarly important. The best heart-rate monitor is apt to be left in the locker room if it's just too much of a pain to use regularly. Initial setup should be reasonably straightforward, and the learning curve for basic and advanced features needs to be manageable. Comfort -- particularly of the chest strap -- is another consideration.
Finally, we look at ownership. Does the heart-rate monitor hold up to the strain of exercise, and how does the manufacturer respond when questions arise or things go wrong or break? Cost of ownership is explored, especially since some units have parts that wear out or break such as batteries and wrist straps, and need a trip to an authorized servicer to replace.
The best available information in this regard includes feedback from expert reviewers and, in some cases, dedicated enthusiasts. We examine the body of user reviews at retail sites and elsewhere, which can reflect real-world experiences that might not otherwise become apparent in the time a reviewer typically has with a given unit. The end result is our recommendation of the best heart-rate monitor overall. We also single out the top-rated model for serious athletes and name a solid-performing but basic monitor for those on a tight budget.