Looking to purchase a heart rate monitor and would like some feedback.
March 31, 2011 9:53 AM   Subscribe

I am looking to get a heart rate monitor and would like some feedback from people that have had experience with the Polar and Suunto models. Details inside...

I recently borrowed my friend's Polar F11 heart rate monitor and after one workout I decided I needed to get one of these handy little things. I've started looking around and I was hoping for advice on brands and models, preferably from people with direct experience with the products.

A little background on me and my fitness levels and what I would like:
* I work out on average 4-5 times a week, doing a bootcamp/circuit training type class.
* I feel my fitness level is very good, and that I am not a 'beginner'. * I am not looking for a watch that has GPS (I think they usually add a lot of bulk.
* I am not looking for a watch that has fancy assisted training programs to 'guide' me.
* I would like a simple, comfortable monitor that can tell me where I am in my zone and which zone I'm in (fat burning vs cardio etc).
* I like the idea of being able to trend my workout data over time, but this isn't necessary.

These are the two models I'm looking at and I was hoping for feedback:

1. Polar FT40

2. Suunto t3d

I have heard both good and bad things about both companies, but I was hoping for some feedback from people that have had hands on experience with these. Did they break? Did they work well?

Also, if you have other brands models you would recommend, please do!
posted by groovesquirrel to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I use the Polar F6, which is super simple and super reliable. Tracks heart-rate and calories (insofar as that's possible) and gives you weekly summaries. I don't know that it will tell you which "zone" you're in; that's not a feature I use.
posted by grobstein at 10:06 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

This may have changed, but in the past I wouldn't even consider a Polar HRM because you had to send the chest strap to them and pay $ to have the battery replaced when it died.
posted by someonesomewhere at 10:09 AM on March 31, 2011

My wife has the t3d and uses it the same way as you intend to (she also wanted to use it for swimming, but apparently most HRMs don't work well in water). It will show how much time you spend in each of 5 (?) zones during a workout, but will not graph your heartrate's ups and downs over the course of a workout. It will let you store a certain number of workouts before it runs out of memory. I forget how many, but it's a low number.

The watch itself is about as user-friendly as you'd expect a complicated gadget with a tiny B&W display and 4 buttons to be, which is to say, not very. She does not find the chest strap to be particularly comfortable, but she puts up with it.

She also has the sync dongle for her computer, which lets her upload data (which makes keeping data on the watch less of an issue). None of the Scandinavian HRM makers have very good support for Macs, fwiw, but Suunto does have driver software that automatically uploads your workout data to their website, MovesCount. The website is pretty nice for tracking your workouts, but the driver software seems to be buggy and has forced some hard reboots (fortunately, you don't need to keep the software running all the time). Can't speak to how well this works if you're on Windows.

My wife wound up with a t3d after the t3c that she originally had (earlier version of same) got water under the face, which Suunto replaced without quarrel.
posted by adamrice at 10:40 AM on March 31, 2011

The majority of bad HRM reviews seem to be people who had erratic functions. If you use a dab of conductive gel such as aloe vera you should have solid performance with either of those (or even a crazy cheap HRM).
posted by anaelith at 10:46 AM on March 31, 2011

Response by poster: @ adamrice: Has she had any troubles with the Suunto chest straps breaking or losing contact? A friend switched from Suunto to Polar because the strap broke on her 3 times. That was really my biggest concern regarding Suunto.
posted by groovesquirrel at 10:56 AM on March 31, 2011

Like grobstein, I have the Polar F6 and agree with his assessment. I've put it through hell and it's still working great after 3 years. I just need to dampen the contacts on the chest band and it's good to go. You can set heart rate and VO2 limits manually, so that if you hit a certain target, it will give you an alarm.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:59 AM on March 31, 2011

I always suggest Polar to people if they work out at gyms. The majority of the gyms I know of have equipment that can also read Polar signals (tread mills, bikes, ellipticals etc)

I use the cheapest Polar watch and chest strap for spinning to monitor when I redline for intervals, and it's worked great for years. I take a fancier one out when I go cycling.
posted by straight_razor at 11:07 AM on March 31, 2011

groovesquirrel—the chest strap has held up fine. I think she would have needed conductive gel for it to pick up a signal when she tried swimming with it, but other than that, I think it has been reliable.
posted by adamrice at 11:55 AM on March 31, 2011

I have no complaints about whatever POLAR it was I used.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:12 PM on March 31, 2011

I use the Polar FT4, which is basically a half step down from the Polar one you're looking at. It's my second Polar model and the only reason I got a new one was because my first one did not have a pause button (running in the city means stoplights which means I need a pause button). I only use it for running.

Both Polars have worked great for me, and I love the simplicity of them. I think my current one is kind of ugly, but it does what I need it to do. Battery replacement is an issue - I think the battery in my first one lasted two or three years. The strap on the current one is fine - where it connects around my chest there's a tag that can rub the wrong way, but I like it better than the older, harder strap (which would give me rub burns during the summer). I recommend Polar to people who are looking for a HRM.

Honestly, at the level you're looking at, you'll probably be fine with either.
posted by bibbit at 1:17 PM on March 31, 2011

I use the Polar F6 for CrossFit training and running. It is simple, easy to use, and easy to ignore when I'm in the zone on the track. I work out enough that I generally have to replace the battery in the wrist unit once a year and the chest strap about once every three. It's a solid piece of gear.
posted by phoebus at 1:48 PM on March 31, 2011

I have an older Polar model (sd200? probably discontinued by now). I've had it for about 6 years and it runs like a champ. No complaints.
posted by hawkeye at 6:55 PM on March 31, 2011

I've had three Polar HRMs in the past 10 years or so: a bottom end one that just showed heart rate and one zone, and two higher-end cycling ones. They all work just fine, except the first one didn't have a coded transmitter (often picked up other people's transmissions or got confused by power lines) and it was a huge pain in the ass to send and pay for the transmitters to get replaced on all three. If I squirted some normal water (not special gel) on the transmitter before putting it on, it would pick up my heart rate fine.

The FT40 looks fine to me. It's got a coded transmitter that has a user-replaceable battery. However you are paying $80 or so for the ability to transfer the data to a computer. If you don't need that, the FT4 or FT7 will save you some money.
posted by meowzilla at 12:45 AM on April 1, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your insight!
posted by groovesquirrel at 9:14 AM on April 1, 2011

I used to have the F4, but now I have the RS100 which I chose primarily for its independent stopwatch feature, allowing for pausing at junctions etc, but without resetting the whole session. You can set your zones, it has avg HR for the session, and some other info without getting too nerdy.
posted by poissonrouge at 12:35 PM on April 2, 2011

I had a suunto t3c...and then upgraded to a t6...

The straps are way better now then they were 2 years ago. I highly recommend it.

BUT...another question I have which may be relevant is:
PC or Mac?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:57 PM on April 2, 2011

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