Cycling coaches and fitness experts have touted the benefits of using a heart rate monitor (HRM) for decades. And while power meters have become the hot ticket for monitoring one’s performance, wearable HRMs like Mio’s ALPHA ($169.00 MSRP) have generated new interest in heart rate-based training.
Unlike traditional HRMs, the ALPHA doesn’t rely on a chest strap to record your heart rate. Instead, an electro-optical cell senses the volume of blood under the skin, and the device uses algorithms to determine your heart’s true rhythm. The benefit? Increased comfort, and according to Mio, 99% EKG accuracy.
Thanks to the ALPHA’s simple, two-button interface, the device is easy to configure and operate. When you unbox the ALPHA, you simply set the time, and it’s ready to go. Mio recommends positioning the ALPHA snugly above the wrist bone when using the device as a HRM. During our testing, Mio’s ALPHA detected our heart rates on the first attempt the majority of the time. One criticism of strapless heart rate monitors is that they’re not as accurate as conventional strap-based devices. We compared the Mio with multiple traditional strap-type monitors, and the ALPHA’s readings were within 1-2 BPM.
By itself, the ALPHA’s reporting capabilities are limited to exercise duration, average heart rate, and time spent in the target heart rate zone. For true data nerds, the device is compatible with a wide range of smartphones and popular fitness apps including MapMyRide and Strava. Using Mio’s Bluetooth® Smart (4.0) connectivity, we were able to easily pair Mio’s ALPHA with Apple’s iPhone, the Magellan Cyclo 505 cycle computer, and Polar’s V800 sports watch.
For multi-sport use, the ALPHA is an excellent choice. The comfortable, strap-free design offers a viable alternative to traditional heart rate monitors without sacrificing accuracy. With its long battery life (8-10 hours in recording mode) and numerous connectivity options, it offers seamless integration. For dedicated cycling use where we don’t need the watch’s chronograph functionality, we would probably opt for one of Mio’s smaller units such as the FUSE or VELO.
During several months of testing, our sample ALPHA has withstood its share of abuse. From well below freezing to the mid-70s, it never failed to detect and display our testers’ heart rates. And despite an unexpected trip through the washing machine, the mineral glass LCD display remains clear and crisp. If we could make one change, we would like to see Mio develop a charger with a more mechanical connection. The current USB charger utilizes a magnetic interface, and can sometimes become disconnected from the watch (especially when connected to a desktop computer’s USB port).
Disclosure: Mio Global provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.