Shorts? Check! Shirt? Check! Socks? Check! Shoes? Check! Water-bottle? Check! Watch? Check! You open the door, go outside, stretch, take a deep breath, and hit start on your watch. No heart rate…. Has this happened to you before?
It’s funny to me that the most common complaint about wearing a chest strap is the lack of comfort, but, honestly, that is the least of my issues with it. The only problem I have with it is after a 10 hour day at the office, all I want to do is come home throw on my running clothes and shoes, put on my watch and hit the pavement. Unfortunately, for those of us interested in heart rate monitoring, we are immediately delayed by the extra three, four, or even five steps (depending on your device) involved with getting the heart rate strap diodes wet, strapping it on, getting the sensor snapped on, and the then connecting the sensor/monitor to the watch itself . I know what you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s a first world problem…”, but we all know that sometimes you’ll take any reason to avoid your evening run. The Mio Alpha Heart Rate Monitor aims to solve this problem.
The Mio Alpha HRM sets itself apart from most heart rate monitors by removing the need for a heart rate chest strap/sensor. It does this by using a series of optical sensors, LEDs, and circuits, similar to what is used in the medical field, but more robust for sports. This HRM touts a built-in Bluetooth 4.0+ sensor, and should have a brother coming out with an ANT+ sensor, which makes it compatible with most third party applications, devices, and exercise machines. The Mio Alpha is a very convenient device, but at times, can be almost too simple (more on that later). Of course, keep in mind all of these technologies come at a bigger price tag than most HRMs–the Mio Alpha will run you a cool $200.
Cool, modern, sleek, sporty, light weight, not bulky, and comfortable are only a few of the ways I can explain the near perfect aesthetics of the Mio Alpha. As soon as you open the box, you are taken aback by the simple, yet exciting and modern look. Then, when you flip over the watch, you are instantly reminded that this is a game changer in the technology department. Let’s just say this isn’t your daddy’s Timex. When you finally strap it around your wrist, you’ll begin to “ooh” and “ahh” because of the comfortable strap and low-profile face. Once in place, you instantly want to get out for a run, or at least go out for the night, because this thing looks awesome and feels even better.
In a word, simple. I’ll admit that my experience with the Mio Alpha was not as perfect as I expected it to be. Maybe it’s because every time I strap it around my wrist, I am expecting more capabilities for such a steep cost. Consider this, the Nike GPS SportWatch with the heart rate monitor and strap, costs roughly $230 total, while the Mio Alpha comes in at $200 even. With that in mind, remember that the Nike GPS SportWatch provides not only heart rate, but GPS, a calorie counter, a timer, an average pace timer, elapsed time, distance covered, an interval trainer, and multiple other things, all already built in and ready to be stored in the watch. So, for only $30 more gets you tons of extra data. On the other hand, playing my own devil’s advocate, the Mio Alpha offers so much convenience, comfort, and exciting new technology, while the Nike SportWatch is bulky, ugly, uncomfortable, and runs on old technology (Polar HRM with TomTom GPS). Be that as it may, the $200 price tag is still a bit hard to choke down when you consider all of the Mio Alpha’s short-comings.
More specifically, regarding data collection, it is extremely limited. For example:
- There isn’t a native application or website for the Mio Alpha, and it doesn’t have GPS built in.
- You can only display one metric at a time, and your choice is either heart rate or elapsed time.
- It only tracks length of run (time), average heart rate, and time in target zone.
- There is only enough space for one run in its memory bank.
This watch places its biggest focus on the period of time that you are above, below, and at a target heart rate zone. In fact, it focuses on this number so much that it gives a sharp beep along with a flashing LED below the screen every time you enter and leave your target heart rate zone (learn about the importance of heart zones in Meagan’s post). I found this to be both helpful and annoying while on an 11 mile run. It continuously sends out an ear-piercing chirp if you are above (or below) your target heart rate zone (mine, for example, was 169). The watch does allow you to set a custom low and high point, so I likely need to expand my range to avoid the constant beeping.
Given all of the Mio Alpha’s missing features, the designers attempt to make up for it with its ease of use and open platform. The watch only has 2 physical buttons, but each button has a double use depending on what you’re doing with the watch (left button: set & toggle, right button: timer & HR). This can be confusing at first, but it’s easy to get used to after only a couple of uses. As for accuracy, I tested it by running with the highest rated heart rate sensor/strap and heart rate watch on the market (Suunto Ambit with the Garmin heart rate sensor/strap) and my Mio Alpha at the same time. From what I could tell, they were normally only one beat apart, so the strapless HR monitoring technology is definitely accurate. Last, but not least, is Mio Alpha’s decision to go with a wide open platform, allowing for multiple applications to sync up to it. These applications include Endomondo, RunKeeper, Straya, MayMyRun, MiCoach, iBike, MapMyRide, and Wahoo Fitness. I was able to use the Mio Alpha along with Wahoo Fitness, and was blown away by how simple it was to connect the Mio Alpha to my Wahoo Fitness application on my iPhone. That said, when using Wahoo Fitness, it becomes even less about the watch and even more about the application, so, unfortunately, I felt as if the Mio Alpha lost more of it’s steam considering the only excitement I had during my run was because of Wahoo and not necessarily the watch.
- The design is awesome. It looks great in a casual environment and its low profile/sleek body will have people asking you about your watch over and over again.
- The soft watch strap is like no watch strap I’ve ever worn before. It is comfortable, it stays snug, and it looks great.
- Simplicity at its best. Press a button and go!
- Cost! $200 is pretty steep for a watch that can only track heart rate and elapsed time.
- Simplicity. Funny enough you’ll notice that I use this as both a pro and con. As much as I love ease of use, I also love features, and one thing I’ll say about this watch is that it is not feature rich.
- No data storage, no GPS.
As much as I wanted to love this watch I’ve found that it is really just a glorified heart rate strap at an exceedingly high price. It has virtually no features and offers no extra information to help you on your run. In comparison to other products, you can find considerably better options at just a fraction of the price. All of my negative criticisms aside, the heart rate monitor sans strap is accurate and incredibly convenient. I hope that because this is just the first iteration of the Mio Alpha, we will see new, more feature-rich versions in the near future. If you’re looking for a beginner heart rate monitor/sport watch check out a Nike+ SportWatch, Polar FT4, or Garmin FR70. If you’re looking for a sleek-looking watch with a powerful and convenient heart rate monitor then you might want to check out the Mio Alpha.
Steve is an Executive Recruiter at Robert Half Executive Search in Madison, WI with a business degree in Information Systems and E-Commerce from the University of Toledo. Steve loves spending his time away from work; running, gaming, watching movies, checking out new social networking tools/sites/start-ups and blogging.