If you already exercise with a smartphone, smart watch, fitness tracker or some other Bluetooth-enabled device, a Bluetooth heart-rate monitor could be a smart choice. These heart-rate monitors use wireless technology -- Bluetooth is the most common -- to send workout data right to your phone or other device. Some also include wrist units. Most are compatible with several popular fitness apps, making it easier to keep track of your workouts.
For most users, the Polar H7 (Est. $55) wireless heart-rate monitor is a versatile, accurate, inexpensive choice. It connects to most smartphone apps and is compatible with most exercise gear that's designed for use with a wireless heart-rate sensor. The chest strap is available in black, blue, or pink.
The Polar H7 gets experts' top rating for accuracy in tests that pitted it against an electrocardiograph. They also give it great marks for versatility and features. The H7 works with most iPhones and Androids, including the Samsung Galaxy. Like most Polar monitors, it also connects via Bluetooth with gym equipment that can accept data wirelessly from heart-rate monitors. One drawback: Bluetooth has very limited range through water unlike another commonly used wireless technology called ANT+. So even though the H7 is water-resistant, swimmers might be better served by another wireless heart-rate monitor such as the Wahoo Tickr, detailed below.
Ease of use is another of the Polar H7's strong points. Users say the chest strap, available in two sizes, is easy to position and comfortable to wear. Most also report little trouble pairing their devices with the tracker, though some grouse that it can take a little while. Users can change the batteries themselves, but some warn that the juice can drain quickly unless you remove the sensor from the chest strap between uses. Others say when you change the battery you might need to reset the sensor first by shorting the battery contacts to successfully re-pair with your smartphone. Most owners seem pleased with the build quality and reliability, though customer service gets mixed reviews. Polar backs the H7 with a two-year warranty.
The Wahoo Tickr (Est. $50) is similar to the Polar H7, but this wireless heart-rate monitor supports both Bluetooth and ANT+ wireless technology. That makes it compatible with a greater range of devices, including Garmin GPS devices and some additional smartphones.
Experts say the Tickr heart-rate monitor is accurate, and PCMag.com's Jill Duffy calls it "a good and reliable device." Like the Polar H7, the Tickr connects wirelessly with several health and fitness apps, including Wahoo's RunFit app. However, it doesn't connect with the range of gym equipment that the H7 does. Wahoo offers two other souped-up versions of the Tickr with additional features: The Tickr Run (Est. $80), which has a treadmill mode and tracks more running data such as stride and form, and the Tickr X (Est. $100), which adds built-in memory, cycling cadence and rep counting.
As for ease of use, owners say the Tickr is easy to set up, but like most similar devices, they report occasional problems pairing the device with their smartphones. They say the chest strap is comfortable, and the battery is user-replaceable like the one in the Polar H7. The Tickr has a one-year limited warranty. We give the H7 a slight edge for its ability to link to more exercise equipment, but if that's not a concern for you, the Tickr is certainly worth a look.
If you prefer an arm-based wireless heart-rate monitor, reviewers roundly praise the Scosche Rhythm+ (Est. $80). The Rhythm+ heart-rate monitor does not use a chest strap, but an armband. Unlike most arm-based heart-rate monitors, the band goes on a user's forearm instead of around the wrist. The band comes in red, orange, blue, green, pink and black.
Like many Bluetooth heart-rate monitors that don't use a chest strap, the Rhythm+ gets mixed reviews for accuracy. Users are divided over whether it's as accurate as a chest strap, but most seem to agree that it's better than heart-rate monitors worn on the wrist. The device "seemed accurate, based on other heart rate data I've collected over the recent years while exercising," says Duffy of PC Mag. Beyond heart rate, the Rhythm+ tracks stats such as calories, distance and pace. It connects to most Bluetooth-enabled smartphones and tablets. It also supports ANT+ wireless technology, used by Garmin devices, some smartphones and some exercise gear. Scosche doesn't have its own fitness app, but the Rhythm+ supports many third-party apps.
While several reviewers say the Rhythm+ is more comfortable than a chest strap, some say it's still not as unobtrusive as a wrist-based monitor. A few owners grouse that the cloth strap can get soaked with sweat and slide during intense workouts. Duffy calls the forearm placement of the Rhythm+ "awkward" and says the Velcro on the strap is "a magnet for dust bunnies and dog hair." On the bright side, she says the monitor was easy to turn on and pair with her phone. Most reviewers say the Rhythm+ maintains a reliable connection with their phones. It is waterproof up to 1 meter and can be used for swimming. The monitor has a limited one-year warranty.
If you're a runner who doesn't mind paying a premium for a sport-specific, feature-packed wireless heart-rate monitor, reviewers say the Garmin Forerunner 235 (Est. $330) is the way to go. Available in black and gray, black and red, and blue, the watch is lightweight and goes beyond workouts to become a full-fledged activity tracker that also adds a dash of smart-watch functionality.
The Forerunner 235 has a wrist-based optical heart-rate monitor that can track your heart rate all day. Experts note that optical heart-rate sensors are highly accurate when you're at rest or are lightly active, but they can lag during high-intensity exercise. This is borne out in tests by CNET.com's Dan Graziano, who found that the Forerunner 235's optical sensor was nearly as accurate as a chest strap during an easy run, but lagged during an interval workout. Moral of the story: If you're very concerned with accuracy, stick with the chest strap, but the built-in optical sensor is fine if you just want a baseline. If you're in the former camp, consider pairing the less costly Garmin Forerunner 230 (Est. $250) with a chest strap such as the Garmin Premium Heart Rate Monitor (Est. $45).
For the data-driven runner, the Garmin 235 tracks everything you would expect: distance, pace, time and heart rate. It has built-in GPS to track your routes. But it also features activity tracking that can give users a fuller picture of their daily activity by tracking steps, calories and sleep. Data can synced via Bluetooth with the Garmin Connect app or website. The unit has basic watch functions such as time, date and alarm, but adds music control and notifications such as email and text alerts when paired with your smartphone.
The Forerunner 235 is water-resistant to 50 meters, but experts caution that there are no swim-specific tracking features. Though it's meant mostly for running, it also has a bike mode and a multipurpose "free tracking" setting. Most reviewers like the large, color LCD display, but a few say it's too dim to easily read in lower light. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery reportedly offers good battery life; Graziano measured battery life at 11 hours with GPS turned on. Users say the unit is lightweight and the rubber strap is soft and comfortable enough for continuous wear. Garmin backs the Forerunner 235 with a one-year limited warranty.
If you can't skip the chest strap, or you want a more versatile Bluetooth heart-rate monitor that still has all the bells and whistles, reviewers say the Suunto Ambit3 Sport (Est. $270) is ideal for a wide range of activities. Available in white, coral, blue and black, the watch comes with an included chest strap.
Few reviewers report accuracy complaints regarding the Ambit3's chest-strap heart-rate sensor. The unit's GPS also "fared near the top of the heap" in tests by Jediah Porter at OutdoorGearLab.com. Like most high-end heart-rate monitors, the Ambit3 Sport can track runners' speed, pace, distance and routes, but it also has extensive swimming and cycling modes, as well as multisport tracking for triathletes and other activities. Data syncs with the Suunto MovesCount app and website, which Porter says is "easy to use and reliable" for tracking workouts. Note that if you're a serious hiker or climber who doesn't mind a bulkier unit, the Suunto Ambit3 Peak (Est. $360) [B00N1WXL28] has a built-in altimeter to track altitude gains.
The Ambit3 Sport is water-resistant to 50 meters. It has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and reviewers say battery life -- up to 24 hours with GPS, according to Outdoor Gear Lab -- is admirable. The backlit LED screen is reportedly easy to read with large type, and the wrist unit itself is "elegant and intuitive," requiring users to perform more complex tasks on MovesCount, Porter says. Still, the watch is "far from dainty" on a woman's wrist, according to Elizabeth Palermo of LiveScience.com, and at 2.8 ounces, it's almost double the weight of the Garmin Forerunner 235. Some reviewers also report problems with pairing the Ambit3 and the heart-rate strap or their phones, but this is a common complaint for fitness devices.