We have tested heart rate monitors and name Garmin Forerunner 235 as best in test. This is an easy to use running watch with a built-in heart rate monitor. It has advanced, practical properties and the watch even counts how many steps you've taken today, distance, calories and also keeps track of your sleep, both in regards to quality and quantity. Best triathlon watch is Garmin Forerunner 735XT, a user-friendly watch with good battery time and the ability to pair with your phone. We name Polar M400 HRM the best budget choice, a reasonably priced watch which is easy to use and feels robust and user-friendly.
Over the last few years, heart rate monitors and GPS monitors have become increasingly important aids for a large number of runners, cyclists, swimmers and keep fit enthusiasts. Regardless of your level, a good heart rate monitor watch with a built-in GPS can help you to achieve new levels in your training. Today there are many affordable models with intelligent functions available that make training more enjoyable and more effective – it’s a bit like having a personal trainer wrapped around your wrist. We help you decide what to buy regardless of your level, from absolute beginner to elite.
The Garmin Forerunner 235 has many similarities to its predecessor the 225, such as the simple wrist pulse measurement, its user-friendliness and its auto-scroll function. However, the Forerunner 235 features a number of practical and very useful functions that we had previously only seen on significantly more expensive monitor watches. For example, calculating the final time of different competition distances and your estimated VO2 max (the maximum oxygen uptake ability of the body). These functions require a longer usage time since the values adapt themselves to you and your state of fitness. The watch also calculates the effect of the exercise and the approximate recovery time after the exercise session. The Forerunner 235 helps you with performance-oriented exercise as it keeps track of your personal records. If you want to go further, you can (although it’s a little time-consuming) create advanced exercise sessions and exercise programmes in the Garmin Connect app.
Via pairing to the phone, you can receive notifications of messages, calls and social media. You can even control the music that is played from the watch and receive audio prompts regarding speed and distance. In addition to the standard GPS, the watch also has support for the Glonass satellite system, which provides better reliability in Scandinavia. After testing the monitor during a number of exercise sessions and running competitions, we can state that the satellite positioning is very reliable. Despite the fact that the watch has a built-in pulse sensor it is light and feels good on the wrist. There are several reasons to use the watch for more than just your exercise sessions, since it has a built-in activity meter and measures your average pulse over the last four hours. It also calculates your current number of steps, distance covered, calories expended and keeps a check on your sleep in terms of both quality and quantity. The watch is also available in a less expensive version as the Garmin Forerunner 230, with the only difference being that your heart rate is measured using a traditional chest band instead of with an optical sensor on the wrist. Regardless of which version you choose, this is one of the best and most affordable heart rate monitor watches available on the market.
Garmin are hardly strangers to the multi-sport watch market. But alongside the Fenix series, which officially falls in the leisure category, the Forerunner 735XT was the first purely multi-sport watch from Garmin for a long time. And here it's clear how much technology has advanced since the top model Forerunner 920X, both in terms of hardware and software. Externally it gives a slightly plasticky impression and is almost confusingly similar to the Forerunner 235 runner's watch, but you can't mistake the feeling of quality once you actually get your hands on the device. The external measurements are extremely neat for this type of watch, and it never feels clumsy on your wrist. Nor is the watch missing many features. Certainly, it could do with an altitude meter and built-in thermometer, but you can at least buy a sensor for the latter task.
If you also invest in one of Garmin's more top end pulse straps, you get everything from pulse measurement while you swim to more data than you can possibly need about your running. The watch finds the GPS quickly and measures circuits exactly, and the built-in pulse meter is rarely wrong. The screen lacks a touchscreen function, but is sharp and clear. Despite the neat size, the battery is powerful enough to cope with all of your exercise sessions and the time in between without having to be charged more than once or twice a week. The available sports offer pretty much something for everyone. And if something's missing, there are both extra training profiles and new dials and extra functions to download via your computer or phone. The latter is preferable, as you also get your training sessions, steps and sleep data automatically synched with your phone. And in the other direction, the watch also displays notifications from your phone, which functions extremely well. There's quite simply a lot to like in the Forerunner 735XT. If you want more options than a pure runner's watch, this is a neat and relatively affordable alternative to cover most needs.
Since Polar invented the first heart rate monitor watch in 1977, the company has been at the forefront of analysis and coaching and the Polar M400 is no exception. It can seem simple at first glance, but when you explore the functions further, you begin to appreciate the great potential of the watch – for example, a finish time calculator that calculates your finish time over various race distances, a step frequency meter and maximum oxygen uptake ability (VO2 max) measurement. You can also have customised exercise programmes in order to get you moving towards your target: five kilometres, a mile, a half marathon or a marathon. To be able to keep track of your progress, the watch remembers your personal records and you can follow your daily and long-term physical activity in the Polar Flow app. A multitude of information is stored in the app and the web service, such as how many daily steps you have taken, how long you have spent on various activities, how intense your exercise sessions have been and your daily calorie consumption. You can also find out how many inactivity warnings you have received and what your sleep pattern is like.
It takes a relatively long time to locate a GPS signal if you don’t stand absolutely still, but the measurement is precise when it gets underway. The display is rational and it’s easy to read the 3 or 4 information fields. If you want more information during your exercise session you quickly browse to another data page with the press of a button. If you pair your phone with the M400, the watch will remind you of meetings, show incoming calls, SMSes and notifications from social apps. The watch is well constructed and robust but can feel slightly stiff on the wrist, especially if your wrist is on the slim side. The heart rate sensors on the heart rate band can be changed, which allows it to be simply and hygienically used by several people. The watch is watertight down to 30 metres, which is very good for a watch in this price class. Overall, the Polar M400 gives you lots of opportunities to develop in your running for a very attractive price.
The Fenix series from Garmin has always been about showing how much you can actually squeeze in to a small unit while having batteries that last for ages. And the Fenix 5 is no exception. Here is the mid-range model Fenix 5, flanked by the slightly neater Fenix 5S (the same functions, a smaller format and slightly less good battery life) and Fenix 5X (larger, better battery and also a map function). The Fenix 5 includes pretty much everything you can think of (except for navigation, which you can find in the 5X). A huge battery, really quick and accurate GPS, compass, altitude meter, temperature and support for accessories both via the established ANT+ technology and Bluetooth. The only thing it's actually lacking is a built-in music player, which according to Garmin would affect battery life too negatively. It's also lacking a touchscreen, but here Garmin provide many intelligent shortcuts that make all functions amazingly accessible.
Externally, the Fenix 5 is much neater than its predecessor and is well built and relatively luxurious in terms of design. Garmin has also extended the design into the strap, which can be easily replaced without tools so that you can quickly adapt the watch to all occasions. Inside, you'll find a stable link to your telephone, to automatically synchronise exercise sessions, steps and your sleep log with Garmin's web service and also to get notifications from your phone delivered to the watch. Every training form and activity you can imagine are covered and you can even add more via the ConnectIQ app store. The price is a little scary, but you do get perhaps the most complete multi-sport and leisure watch on the market.
The Forerunner 920 XT is Garmin’s flagship model for triathletes and has been given a real facelift compared with its predecessor. The watch has a new, excellent colour screen, better response in the buttons and a more flexible bracelet. The chest band has also been updated and now also records run dynamics such as cadence, vertical movement and ground contact time. Using this data the watch helps you to improve and optimise your running technique via sound warnings and vibrations. The watch also helps you to improve your physical fitness by calculating the maximum oxygen uptake ability of the body (VO2 max) and recommending a recovery time after the exercise session. It also provides the functionality to calculate future running times, which are relatively accurate. For example, the Forerunner 920 XT predicted 3:23 prior to our tester running the Stockholm Marathon and the actual time was 3:28.
Garmin have improved the interface, information is intuitive and it’s easy to switch between different data fields on the track. The watch is compatible with an ANT + power meter for use on a bike and the swim functions work in both pools and in open water. Outdoors, GPS is used for rate and distance measurement, while the accelerometer measures this data indoors. The accelerometer also identifies the type and number of swimming strokes. Garmin have put a lot of thought into everyday functions, for example, pedometers and sleep monitoring. You are given a daily step target that’s automatically adapted to your activity level. The GPS receiver is fast, but we would have liked to see an even clearer presentation of when connection has taken place so that you don’t miss it. Via Bluetooth, you can receive SMSs and email directly to the watch, and you can use the Garmin smart phone app to wirelessly transfer exercise data to Garmin Connect, where you get detailed graphical statistics. You can also download further apps for extended functionality. We’re impressed – this is the ultimate triathlon watch.
The Spartan series is Finnish company Suunto’s successor to its earlier Ambit models, which were extremely successful. The Spartan Sport watches are hand-produced in Finland and are optimised for competition conditions. With 80 pre-set sport modes and sport-specific measurement values, the Spartan Sport is described as the new ultimate exercise partner. It includes pre-set programmes for everything from running, swimming, cycling and snowboarding to cheerleading and yoga. The Spartan’s software is continually updated with new functions and analysis tools. The Suunto website provides information on future updates together with suggestions for your own. It really feels like Suunto want to have a good relationship with their fans. You can plan and analyse your exercise session in depth with the online tool (and free app) MovesCount. Via MovesCount, you can also discover new routes with the help of heatmaps, then allow the route navigation feature of the watch to guide you.
In terms of design, the Sparta Sport is clearly one of the most attractive models on the market. With its competition-inspired and slimmed-down design and mineral glass screen, the watch really will decorate your wrist. It also feels unbelievably light and comfortable with a weight of only 70 grams. The Spartan watches have been equipped with modern colour touch screens with a wide angle that provide good outdoor visibility, even in direct sunlight. The screen has also been optimised to cope with environmental stresses and can be completely locked if required. The user interface has been designed to be informative and the resolution is excellent with crisp text and clear icons. The model is available in several different colours. The GPS connection is precise and fast, even where you are in a completely new location. Certain features are currently not available, but with a few software updates this watch will be poised to become a real bestseller that will be a winner in the long run.
Spartan is Suunto's series of sports watches intended to offer something for everyone. In many ways, the Spartan Sport Wrist HR is the same model as the earlier Spartan Sport, but with pulse measurement built directly into the watch too. Pulse measurement via the wrist works extremely well, but can be supplemented with a wireless pulse strap too, if you prefer. The watch, which is handmade in Finland, is a discreet but extremely well made object. It's quite substantial and significantly larger than its in many ways similar competitor, Garmin's Forerunner 735, which is in a similar price class. Nor does the Spartan Sport have the app support that Suunto was originally first to introduce, which Garmin's equivalent provides. With Spartan, you instead have a touchscreen as a complement to the buttons on the side of the watch.
That said, you don't get a bad or function-poor watch with the Spartan Sport. It has many forms of exercise for both multi-sport and ordinary fitness fans. 80 different sports, from running to triathlon and cheerleading, are available. When you need it, the watch finds GPS reception very quickly and saves your training sessions extremely accurately. After your session you even get a recommended recovery time. All sessions and steps are synchronised with the mobile app Movescount, which also gives you notifications about new emails, conversations and so on via the watch. The Movescount site enables you to change all watch settings and to easily add future exercise sessions to your schedule. The watch can keep track of your steps and pulse continuously during the day, but doesn't log your sleep and only saves the pulse data during a training session. Features such as sleep logging can instead be found in the almost identical Spartan Trainer, which was recently introduced for a significantly lower price tag. The Spartan Sport Wrist HR is quite simply a very good multisport watch, but rather expensive given what the competitors offer in terms of functions and even compared to what Suunto itself has introduced more recently.
With the Ambit series, the Finnish company Suunto has set a high standard for GPS watches for triathletes, adrenalin junkies and multi-sport fans. Its Scandinavian design is stylish, and with a mineral glass dial and one-piece composite case you’ll definitely want to wear the Suunto 3 every day. Analysing daily activities is also the idea behind the monitoring feature that provides you with information per day and week and calculates the total number of calories expended together with the recovery time. The GPS connection is precise and fast but takes longer when you’re in a new location. The navigation feature is excellent and can display direction with a compass needle as well as a graphical path.
The Suunto 3 uses the wireless transfer technology Bluetooth Smart, which makes the watch incompatible with power meters and other accessories that use ANT +. On the other hand, you can now connect an iPhone and Android phone in order to easily adjust data fields, share your activity with social media, receive notifications via email or new calls directly to the watch. However, it does lack a vibrate function. You can plan and analyse your exercise sessions in depth via the online tool (and free app) MovesCount. There are also apps to download directly to the watch for expanded functionality, e.g. Ghost Runner, Ski Speed, Cooper Test and Vasaloppet (the annual long-distance cross-country ski race) or Marathon. It’s easy to change sport in the middle of an exercise session, which is excellent news for the multi-sport fan. The new chest strap is smaller than before and can now also measure your heartbeat under water. The watch also records swim stroke frequency, rate and number. The Suunto 3 is available in two models, Peak and Sport. The Peak has a better battery life and barometric altimeter, which is more accurate than GPS. We strongly recommend that multi-sport fans buy this.
The Polar V800 is a GPS watch with built-in activity meter for ambitious multi-sport fans. The first thing that you notice is that it is both slimmer and thinner than the majority of competing heart rate monitor watches. It also features a stylish but simple functional design and is equally at home on the running track as in the open-plan office. You can include several different types of sport in the same exercise session and seamlessly switch between them without interfering with recording. When you swim, the V800 measures distance and swim stroke, in both the pool and open water. A wireless cadence sensor measures your training intensity during cycling. For the runner, there are a multitude of different features and the Polar has always been among the best in class when it comes to analysis and exercise feedback. For example, the V800 automatically calculates your running index after each run. This is based on a combination of maximum pulse and pulse at rest and your working pulse, speed and height during each exercise session, and provides you with an approximate VO2 max value. In order to be able to make comparisons between different types of exercise, the Training Load function shows how strenuous the exercise session was, and together with other daily activity you receive guidelines for optimal recovery. To keep track of your recovery status you need only touch the time display of the exercise computer.
The V800 has many other intelligent features, such as HeartTouch, which means that you can activate backlighting, display the time or change exercise view without having to press any buttons. Zone lock ensures that you always exercise with a specific intensity and you can also easily find out if you have achieved your pre-determined daily target. If not, the V800 will provide you with different activity options. The V800 is a well-constructed and robust watch but is less suitable for slim wrists. The only disadvantage that we can otherwise see with this watch is that it takes a relatively long time to locate a GPS signal when moving. The heart rate sensors on the heart rate band can be changed, which makes it easy for several people to use it. The display is not in colour but it is clear, and if you want more information than the 3 or 4 information fields you can quickly browse to another exercise view with the press of a button. The Polar V800 is both a user-friendly and advanced multi-sport watch, with exciting features that will take your exercise to a higher level.
The Garmin Forerunner 630 has most features an advanced runner might want – and more besides. In addition to being an excellent GPS watch that quickly locates a signal, the Forerunner 630 is a smartwatch, i.e. you can pair the watch with your mobile and thereby receive notifications from social media, see incoming calls and receive calendar reminders. This works well; in fact better than we’d expected. The high-resolution colour touch screen makes the watch easy to use and understand, both prior to exercising, for example, if you want to set an interval session with rate warnings, and after exercising in order to analyse your running and draw conclusions about the session. The touch screen, which is one of the differences from the Forerunner 235, makes the watch easy to navigate during your workout, but if it’s pouring down you can also use it to play games. Other factors that simplify exercise are Auto Pause, a feature that pauses and continues timing when you stop to cross a road, for example, and the ability to allow the data pages to auto-scroll during the workout
You can also see your estimated VO2 max and at what time you will probably meet your targets for 5, 10, 21 or 42 km. These figures were somewhat lower than the actual values that we measured in the test lab, but as the Forerunner 630 continually adjusts to new circumstances, the figures will probably be more realistic over the long-term. The most obvious functional difference to the less expensive Garmin Forerunner 235 is the advanced running dynamics feature such as recording of ground contact in milliseconds, stride, steps per minute (cadence) and vertical oscillations, i.e. how much you bounce in your running step. The Forerunner 630 thereby allows you to analyse and improve your running technique.
With the LiveTrack function, your friends can follow your workout in real time, and with just the press of a button your exercise data will be transferred via Wi-Fi to your computer or mobile. The Garmin Forerunner 630 provides endless analysis opportunities while still being easy to navigate and intelligently structured. However, the cheaper Garmin Forerunner 235 is absolutely fine for most people.
On your wrist the Garmin Forerunner 620 is confusingly similar to the significantly less expensive (but just as excellent) Forerunner 220. However, for the advanced user the Forerunner 620 has a number of very interesting measurement tools. In addition to the usual heart rate measurement, the watch records ground contact in milliseconds, steps per minute (cadence) and vertical oscillations, i.e. how much you bounce in your running step. This information allows you to analyse and improve your running technique. The watch also calculates your maximum oxygen uptake ability (VO2 max) and can thereby predict when you will meet your target for a specific distance – 5 km, 10 km, half marathon and marathon. In combination with the recovery adviser, these features provide important information to maximise the benefit of each run and improve your aerobic capacity.
The GPS connection is the fastest we have ever tested for a GPS watch, and high-rise buildings and dense forests pose no problem. As usual for a Garmin product, the screen is excellent – it’s sharp and displays four information fields simultaneously, which can easily be adapted to your own preferences. The touch screen is especially usable at the point where a quick swipe browses between information fields with no messing around with buttons. The vibrate feature is excellent and can be adjusted to vibrate after a specific distance or time. The LiveTrack feature allows your friends to follow your workout in real time, and by pressing the Connect button your exercise data is transferred via Wi-Fi to your computer. This operation has never been easier. So is the Forerunner 620 worth its premium price? The answer is “Yes” if you have the time and interest for in depth analysis and the tenacity to improve every aspect of your running. However, for the normal keep fitter the Forerunner 235 is absolutely fine.
The Suunto Quest has been built from scratch to be used with the online tool MovesCount. This manages your settings, analyses your exercise and downloads the whole exercise programme to the watch. Along the outer edge of the display is shown the percentage of maximum heart frequency for the workout or recovery time. The display is clear and intuitive, and displays, among other things, exercise intensity and heart frequency zones in real time. With the Suunto foot pod, which only weights 10 grams, speed, distance and step frequency are also displayed with great accuracy. Lap counting is automatic or done by lightly tapping the screen. The watch is extremely light but still gives an impression of high quality. The build quality and design of the Suunto are of a high calibre. This is an excellent purchase if you aren’t interested in plotting your runs using GPS.
RCX5 can be adapted to the sport you’re doing, and shines in the quality of its information display, exercise planning and exercise optimisation. ZoneOptimizer adjusts your heart rate zones to your daily fitness and the ideal rate feature helps you to maintain the correct rate in competitions. History and post-analysis are included but it takes time to learn all of the features. The response of the buttons isn’t very good and the watch can only display the desired information by being held up against the chest band. The heart rate monitor works in water, which takes heart rate exercise to the next level for triathletes, but we would have liked to have seen measurement of distance, swim stroke and rate. The price becomes rather high if you add accessories. Instead we recommend the Polar V800, which is a significantly more competent heart rate monitor watch.
We were very surprised to discover how competent this inexpensive running watch from Beurer is. In addition to the usual heart rate monitor, the watch has individual heart rate intervals, calories expended and measures fat burning in grams. However, these features aren’t as advanced as those on other heart rate monitor watches in the test. Nor can you connect accessories such as a foot pod, and speed and distance or cadence for cycle training can’t be measured. But if you’re only interested in time, heart rate and fat burning, this is an excellent and inexpensive choice. The Beurer PM25 has been around for a few years, which is noticeable as it feels dated in both design and functionality.
Before you buy a heart rate monitor, you first need to think about what type of exercise you will use it for, how much you will be exercising and what the most important functions are for you. For example, a clear display will be very helpful when you’re out running or cycling, especially in the evenings.
All of the monitors we tested work well as heart rate monitors for exercising with basic ECG functions such as heart rate interval in relation to maximum heart rate. These values are based on your weight and height and are measured using optical sensors on the wrist or with a chest band with wireless transfer to the monitor. The majority of the monitors in the test have GPS and functions to measure speed, distance and calories expended. The differences in the models become evident in the functions they provide in addition to the basic ones. The more advanced modern exercise monitors have a multitude of functions to help you with your training and can provide suggestions for recovery times, analyse your running dynamics or your swimming stroke and help you with interval training or warn you if your heart rate becomes too high. The most advanced models can also read your VO2 max, your lactate threshold and predict your competition times. The option to handle SMSes, calls, social media and audio players from the monitor via pairing with your phone are also functions that many users want today.
The strap worn around the chest records the electrical activity of the heart muscle through the skin. The information on heart activity is then sent to the heart rate monitor watch via a wireless transmitter in the chest strap. There are different digital technologies for this, the most common today being ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart. These make it possible for your heart rate monitor watch to talk to other units, such as pedal-mounted power meters for bicycles, foot sensors, mobile phones or exercise equipment at the gym. Unfortunately these technologies are not compatible with each other. This can cause real problems if you’ve invested in a lot of accessories for your heart rate monitor watch and want to change to a model that uses another technology, as the accessories then become unusable. Both Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ are extremely energy-efficient, so the battery in a heart rate band can last for several years. The advantage of these digital transfer technologies over traditional analogue transfer is that your heart rate monitor watch can’t be affected by interference from other units in the vicinity.
Among the heart rate monitors with built-in GPS, Garmin, Suunto, Polar and TomTom are the dominant market leaders. With these monitors you can easily read speed and distance, but can also plot out your route via tools such as Garmin Connect, Suunto MovesCount, Polar Flow, Strava, Endomondo or Google Maps. The GPS receiver is built into the monitor but is extremely small, so size is no longer an issue. However, the receiver draws a lot of power from the battery, so you have to charge the heart rate monitor watch quite often. In rest mode, with GPS turned off, the battery life is now good enough to be used in your everyday life too.
Because heart rate monitors with GPS draw a lot of power from the battery, if you don’t need this function our advice is to buy one without GPS. If at a later stage you change your mind, you still have the ability to measure speed and distance via a foot pod, a GPS accessory. The accessory is ultra-light and you fasten it to your shoelaces, from where it connects wirelessly to the heart rate monitor.
Not a member? Start here