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The Best Heart Rate Monitors Without a Chest Strap

by
author image Randy O. Williams
Randy O. Williams has written for "Sports Illustrated," ESPN.com, "The Los Angeles Times," "Washington Post" and "The Hollywood Reporter," among other publications. He is the author of the book, "Sports Cinema — 100 Movies: The Best of Hollywood’s Athletic Heroes, Losers, Myths and Misfits."

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The Best Heart Rate Monitors Without a Chest Strap
Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

When high-tech meets fitness, consumers can be overwhelmed by the latest gadgets and features. For heart-rate monitors, however, the issue is simple: The balance between comfort and accuracy. “I’ve been conducting VO2 Max tests, heart diagnostics for 18 years. The biggest complaint I get from my clients, especially women, is that they hate that chest strap,“ said Richard Diaz, owner of the Diaz Human Performance Centers based in Camarillo, California. Heart-rate monitors without a chest strap aren’t as accurate, though, because they aren't as close to the ticker itself. Still, technological advances have narrowed the gap considerably. While costs can vary from $50 to $500, requiring the consumer to balance desired features with their budget, all models can provide an average heart rate in beats per minute, which is useful for training and fitness measurement over time. Here is a rundown of some popular wrist-located monitors.

Mio: Alpha
Photograph Courtesy Mio Global

MIO: ALPHA

Many are calling this strapless model a game-changer. “The Alpha is a terrific design having sensors under the watch that are identifying how much blood flow is under your skin,“ Diaz said. “It has a unique way of doing it, just by touching a certain part of the device. It does it continuously so you don’t have to stop and gather information.” In a world of increased mobility and convenience, being strapless and Bluetooth- enabled and offering continuous-read data while monitoring standard features such as pace, calories burned and distance traveled, the $199 Alpha is fast becoming a best-seller. “The beauty of the Alpha is that the heart-rate reading is comparatively more accurate than any other (non-chest) monitor on the market,“ Diaz added.

Sportline: Solo 965
Photograph Courtesy Sportline

SPORTLINE: SOLO 965

In charting and advancing your personal fitness efforts, the Sportline Solo 965, at just under $100, offers a durable, steady watch that monitors your heart rate with its Any Touch Technology. “We have had it for a while. It has been a good value for our customers," said Tom Connell, senior athletic buyer for the Sport Chalet retail sporting goods chain based in La Canada, California. The 965 model has a Fit Trac memory feature that records resting heart rate over time and shows users how they are improving their fitness condition. It also counts your steps, calories burned and distance covered with a built-in pedometer that also measures speed.

Timex: Health Touch Plus
Photograph Courtesy Timex

TIMEX: HEALTH TOUCH PLUS

This model offers heart-rate measurement in three formats controlled by a simple fingertip touch. Priced at $90, the Health Touch Plus uses a distance sensor that bases its calculations on the natural swinging motion of the arm. “I prefer the Health Touch Plus because it allows me to be able to obtain data in several different modes about my heart during my workouts, and do it without an annoying chest strap,” said Jeff Bettencourt, a recreational runner from Fremont, California. "The fingertip function provides accurate enough details that I am recommending it to friends."

Suunto: Ambit 2
Photograph Courtesy Suunto

SUUNTO: AMBIT 2

Those who like more of everything will get it with the Ambit 2 ($399). In addition to providing detailed heart-rate monitoring, it has a compass, altimeter and a bevy of fitness apps. “I prefer more detailed analysis and a lot more features and apps," said Jim Davis of Alameda, California. "The Ambit 2 is the top of the line, and the price is worth it. Great GPS and multisport fitness data details include really solid reads on heart rate with its real-time graphs.”

Oregon Scientific: SE138
Photograph Courtesy Oregon Scientific

OREGON SCIENTIFIC: SE138

The SE138 ($69.99) is a breeze to operate. Strap on the shock-resistant wrist unit and place your fingers on the conductive plates. In just seconds, it displays your current heart rate on the large LCD screen. Long-time jogger Geoff Nathanson of El Segundo, California, likes the SE138 monitor because it’s lightweight and easy to use. "Plus, it is untethered, so I have the freedom to exercise as I want," Nathanson said. "I also like the bonus of the stopwatch and the calorie counter. Overall it's a great product and a regular part of my workout.”

Honorable Mentions: Soleus: Pulse
Photograph Courtesy Soleus

HONORABLE MENTIONS: SOLEUS: PULSE

Brand-new on the market ($149), the Pulse offers real-time heart display with three Heart Rate Measurement Zones and a programmable, aged-based target system. For those who prefer multitasking, other features include programmable target weight/calories/steps monitoring, a chronograph and a measurement component to track daily and weekly steps.

Oregon Scientific: Gaiam Fitness Trainer 2.0- SE332
Photograph Courtesy Oregon Scientific

OREGON SCIENTIFIC: GAIAM FITNESS TRAINER 2.0- SE332

With its stylish look and heart-rate readings without a chest strap, the Fitness Trainer 2.0 ($99.99) is designed for optimal style and comfort in a heart-rate monitor. Its soft, silicone strap and large display add to its convenience and ease of use. With just the press of your fingers to the watch bezel, the Fitness Trainer reads your current heart rate to give you a snapshot of the effectiveness of your workout.

SYNC: Burn
Photograph Courtesy SYNC Burn

SYNC: BURN

SYNC’s signature product functions like a wristwatch and allows you to measure your heart rate at any time simply by pushing a button on the device. Press and hold the large front button to see your heart rate, percentage of maximum exertion and a small heart rate graph. The Burn ($130) then takes those readings into account when it calculates your calorie burn. This model is easy to sync to your iPhone via Bluetooth Smart.

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