Published on March 28th, 2013 | by Greg0
MIO Alpha: Heart Rate Monitoring, Simplified But Pricey
This is a great time to be a fitness buff and a gadget lover. We’re seeing great strides made in these areas, as terms like “the quantified self” and “connected lifestyle” become more common. Even if you’re not rushing to be part of the Google Glass project and don’t want to check in everywhere you go on Foursquare, you might want to track some of your other activities, like your workouts. Whether you want to track calories for dieting purposes, or just want to follow a regimen that your doctor suggested, it’s getting easier to monitor thanks to a variety of apps. We’ve seen wearable coaches like the recently-reviewed Polar FT40 watch, and we’ve seen all-in-one systems like the PEAR Square One which pair a foot pod and heart rate chest strap together.
But that’s overkill for most people who might just need a solid, easy-to-use, handy heart rate monitor. That’s exactly what the MIO Alpha offers, and thanks to the new electro-optical sensors that can accurately measure your heart rate without the need for a bulky and annoying chest strap. In fact, we found the Alpha wristwatch to be impressively accurate. And it’s more comfortable than many other fitness peripherals and wristwatches as well, thanks to the simple silicone band and light weight of the unit. It’s big- a bit too large for women who want to wear it around during the day probably- but feels quite nice on the wrist.
Available in two styles, the dark Shadow and light-faced Arctic, ours was the former and looked sleek. The display is large and simple, continuously updating, but there is unfortunately no backlight, which limits it a bit. As a nice bonus, though, there is a small light below the face that indicates how well you are performing compared to your target. It shines red, blue, or green depending, and is intuitive. You simply set your upper and lower limits, and then the watch helps you stay in that zone, through the lights, arrows on the face, and beeps as well. Of course, you’ll need to figure out the target zone yourself.
On the downside, there isn’t much memory or logging available on the unit itself. But it does support Bluetooth connectivity- it pairs with your smartphone and can share data with a wide variety of applications. This allows you to track your workouts, and use the app of your choice (including MapMyRun, Wahoo, Endomondo, and Runkeeper) instead of being stuck with a proprietary option. It’s not going to offer the same range of gear as some other fitness systems of course, since you don’t have much else to measure and no GPS or pedometer included (runners still should look at the Nike FuelBand and it’s nice software). Plus, you do have to consider the battery life, which is about eight hours and charges via a nifty magnetic dock/USB system.
The MIO Alpha does cost more than most competitor systems that use a chest strap- $200 is quite a bit for a single-purpose system. We also tested against the comparable Omron watch (review coming soon), which is 25% less expensive but doesn’t include the Bluetooth capabilities. If you need a heart rate monitor with wireless logging or smartphone connectivity, and don’t want to use a chest strap, then the MIO Alpha is your best current option- and it looks great to boot.