Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Tell Tale Heart Rate Monitor

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night.
 - Edger Allen Poe

This review has been a long time coming. Sorry about that.

Several months ago, I invested in a Polar FT4. I'd been looking into heart-rate monitors, not because I needed one, or was overly concerned about my health, but to bring another dimension into my exhaustive record-keeping of my exercise patterns.

The FT4 is a great product, does everything I hoped it would, I just have two complaints.

Though I don't exactly spend much time checking my heart rate manually while I'm in motion (no, I still haven't mastered bicycling with no hands, and no, I'm not working on it), when I'm stationary, it's pretty accurate within the bounds of what I can check with my fingertips (against my neck; I never got the hang of doing it against my wrist).

And I've discovered the bounds at which my dizziness strikes (180 bpm), and that has helped me to keep my exertion in check.

The FT4 keeps track of the last 10 exercise sessions. Or, at least, that's what the manual claims, and that's the first of my complaints. What it actually keeps track of is the last 10 days of exercise. If you perform more than one set in a day, unless you jot down the session's data summary immediately after finishing, it sums together the whole day's effort into one record. I wish it didn't do that.

I recognize that by grouping it into days instead of sessions it can keep track of more days-worth of exercise, but anybody who cares--really truly cares--about their history is using a third party program to keep a full record, not just ten instances.

The FT4, like most of the Polar heart-rate monitors, measures heart-rate the most accurate way: by a strap across your chest. I can agree that it does feel strange at first, but I would have to disagree that after a while you stop noticing it altogether.

I've yet to forget I'm wearing it, but it is comfortable. The awkwardness has faded completely, to the point where it feels strange to exercise without wearing it.

The manual says to wash it after every use, and I started out diligent and have grown lax in that practice (though I do still hang it between sessions). Nonetheless, I've yet to discover any problems with the strap deteriorating or growing loose.

I've also been caught out in the rain a few times, and though my rather old odometer stopped working wet, the FT4 had no problems.

The buttons can be hard to push sometimes, but I'd prefer that to them being oversensitive. Also, the up/down corresponding to left/right navigation through the exercise history seems counter-intuitive, but that's really not a complaint. It's just something I haven't gotten used to yet.

The FT4 also doubles as a barely-stylish watch. Or at least, it's supposed to. In actuality, it seems to have trouble keeping track of the date and time. Not the "time" as in how long I've been going (which I would refer to as the stopwatch), but the hour and the minute and the month and the day. It periodically loses or gains hours, irregularly and unexpectedly.

I'm very happy with my FT4, except for those two points, and I could easily forgive them for the second if they could fix the first. This model covers all my needs perfectly without many extras as come in more expensive models, and I don't feel like I'm missing anything as I would have with a lower model.

It also helps that I found it at a lower cost than it would have been otherwise. That's a lesson for the internet generation that the previous generation well learned: Always shop around.