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The best heart rate monitors and watches
Your heart rate is an essential metric for leading a healthy lifestyle and improving fitness training. Thankfully, tracking your heart rate is pretty easy, as most activity trackers and smartwatches come with a built-in heart rate monitor. This offers a convenient way to measure your heart rate quickly, though no wrist-worn tracker will ever be perfectly accurate (read this explainer to find out why). Fortunately, there are also dedicated chest straps for heart rate monitoring if you’re looking for something more accurate.
But with so many different heart rate sensors on the market, which one should you buy? We’re here to help! We’ve rounded up the best heart rate monitors in products like chest straps, running watches, and fitness trackers.
How to choose the right heart rate monitor for your needs
People need heart rate monitors for different reasons. Some simply need to keep an eye on their resting heart rate throughout the day, others need it for sleep tracking, and some people need the most accurate heart rate data possible. But not all heart rate sensors are created equally, and the model you choose will depend on your specific needs. There’s also no guarantee that the latest version of a device will have a more reliable heart rate sensor than older devices, at least in our experience.
Your buying decision should lean on these two factors:
- Do you want accuracy about all else? Buy a heart rate monitor chest strap. Chest straps are more precise than wrist-worn wearables and can quickly pick up on important and telling nuances when working out.
- Do you want a device with added utility but don’t mind less accurate tracking? Get a wrist-worn fitness tracker or fitness watch.
Most wearables use optical heart rate sensors that analyze light bouncing off a user’s blood vessels. Most chest straps use electrical monitors and receivers that track the electrical impulses of each heartbeat.
Chest straps usually perform one thing and one thing only: tracking your heart rate. This means you’ll forego the advantages of wrist-worn trackers, from smartwatch features to additional health metrics.
While most modern wearables can track your resting and active heart rate throughout the day, they’re also less accurate than chest straps. But if accuracy shouldn’t be a major problem if you’re buying a watch as a complete portable health monitoring solution.
The best heart rate monitors and best heart rate monitor watches
- The Apple Watch Series 6 is the best heart rate monitor watch. The Apple Watch provided nearly identical results to the Wahoo Tickr X chest strap during the testing period.
- The Withings ScanWatch is an excellent heart rate monitor watch to buy for keeping up on your all-day heart health. It can monitor your ECG and blood oxygen levels, too.
- Garmin’s Fenix 6 Pro offers reliable readings for all-day resting heart rate, active readings during workouts, and at night.
- The Fitbit Charge 4 remains a solid and affordable fitness tracker with a fairly accurate optical heart rate sensor onboard.
- The Polar H10 is the best heart rate monitor chest strap. It’s the most accurate one we’ve tested.
- Wahoo’s Tickr X (2020) comes second in our list of the best heart rate monitors. The 2020 model is smaller and lighter than the original.
- The Garmin HRM-Pro is the best heart rate monitor chest strap for those already in the Garmin ecosystem. The HRM-Pro has Bluetooth, advanced Running Dynamics, and storage for offline workouts.
- The Scosche Rhythm 24 is a few years old but still a great heart rate sensor armband. It offers excellent battery life and plenty of storage.
Apple Watch Series 6
The Apple Watch Series 6 has one of the best wrist-based heart rate sensors we’ve ever used. Seriously.
The Apple Watch kept up with our Wahoo Tickr X chest strap during our testing, even during interval runs and HIIT workouts. Sure, it tripped up when our heart rate climbed above ~170bpm, but that’s to be expected.
Furthermore, the Apple Watch Series 6 syncs with many other popular fitness apps, so you can continue using Strava, Training Peaks, and other apps if Apple’s Fitness app isn’t your favorite.
You can improve your wearable’s heart rate sensor accuracy by wearing it snugly but not too tight on your non-dominant wrist.
Notably, while the Apple Watch Series 7 is now available, we experienced some issues with the device’s heart rate tracking accuracy during our review. For that reason, we’d still suggest getting the Series 6 if heart rate tracking is the core reason you’re getting an Apple Watch.
Check out our full review to learn more about the Apple Watch Series 6.
If you want a good heart rate monitor watch that is more focused on daily heart health than workouts, you’ll want to check out the Withings ScanWatch.
Even though it’s a hybrid smartwatch, it more than holds its own against the Fenix 6 Pro and Tickr X during our review. Additionally, the added heart health features set the ScanWatch apart. It has a medically certified ECG monitor and SpO2 sensor. The watch can also do a Respiratory Scan to measure heart rate variability, and breathing rate, and provide contextual information on sleep quality overnight.
Check out our full review to learn more about the Withings ScanWatch.
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is one of our favorite running watches, and that’s primarily due to its generally accurate and reliable heart rate monitoring.
Garmin’s latest Elevate heart rate sensor provides heart rate data for the company’s scarily accurate Body Battery feature, all-day heart rate, heart rate variability data, and advanced sleep monitoring. We’ve found the Fenix 6 Pro’s heart rate sensor in line with other wrist-based heart rate sensors in testing. Unfortunately, the Fenix 6 Pro’s exorbitantly high price tag doesn’t get you the best of the best heart rate sensor out there, but it will be more than good enough for most people.
Learn more about the Fenix 6 Pro in our Garmin buyer’s guide.
Fitbit Charge 4
The Fitbit Charge 4 is among the best fitness tracker you can buy, and it has a decent heart rate sensor. During our testing, the Charge 4 mostly kept up with the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music during interval runs but fell behind a bit with quick sprints.
Fitbit threw in some additional heart rate features with this fitness tracker. First, Active Zone Minutes is Fitbit’s way of ensuring you get enough weekly exercise. The Charge 4 will notify you of the time spent in each heart rate zone after your workout. The goal is to reach the American Heart Association’s recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week. And after each GPS-enabled workout, you’ll also see a new workout intensity heat map in the Fitbit app that shows your running or biking route and which heart rate zones you were in at any given time.
While the Fitbit Charge 5 is now available, we can’t quite recommend it purely on heart rate inaccuracies experienced during our review. That said, it trumps the Fitbit Charge 4 in several other areas, so it might be worth a look if you’re seeking a solid all-round tracker and fancy its ECG smarts.
Both Garmin and Fitbit measure resting heart rate while sleeping. Additionally, Garmin suggests the average resting heart rate lies between 60-100 bpm depending on age and fitness.
Check out our full review to learn more about the Fitbit Charge 4.
Coming in at just under $90, the best heart rate monitor chest strap you can buy right now is the Polar H10.
Polar has made a name for itself by producing high-quality, accurate heart rate sensors, so it should be no surprise that the H10 is at the top of our list. The H10 uses an entirely new algorithm from previous Polar monitors, and the included Polar Pro strap has been updated as well. It includes extra “interference-preventing electrodes” to help make sure heart rate data is accurately captured. It also sports a new buckle mechanism and silicon dots to help keep it in place when you’re working out.
The H10 also offers quite a few new improvements over its predecessor, the H7. The H10 can now receive over-the-air software updates, features enough built-in memory for one training session, and up to 400 hours of battery life.
Related: The best Polar watches
Wahoo Tickr X (2020)
We’ve used the older Wahoo Tickr X chest strap in nearly every fitness product review over the last couple of years. The 2020 Tickr X chest strap is even better.
The new model is smaller and lighter than the original and features a more integrated design that should keep the tracker in place while you’re exercising. The indicator lights have also moved to the top of the tracker module.
There are two bigger functional upgrades to the Tickr X (2020). First, it supports multiple simultaneous Bluetooth connections. It can also display in real-time ANT+ running dynamics when paired with a GPS fitness watch.
Don’t miss: Wahoo Elemnt Rival review
Garmin’s HRM-Pro is its best heart rate sensor chest strap yet and is best suited for those already in the Garmin ecosystem. The HRM-Pro is essentially an upgraded version of the HRM-Tri, which previously held this spot on our list. The HRM-Pro is now geared towards more types of athletes, not just triathletes.
This chest strap finally has Bluetooth, advanced Running Dynamics, and storage for offline workouts. The latter feature is certainly overdue, but we’re happy users can finally record workouts phone- and watch-free and sync at a later time.
Also read: The best Garmin accessories
Scosche Rhythm 24
The Scosche Rhythm 24 heart rate monitor armband is a few years old, but it’s still one of the best heart rate monitor armbands you can buy.
It’s not the best-looking armband you can buy, nor is it the smallest, but it comes with some additional features over Scosche’s Rhythm Plus sensor. The Rhythm 24 has NFC for quick-pairing with certain gym equipment, 24 hours of continuous battery life with LED indicators, and onboard memory with up to 13 hours of training stats.
Those were our top picks for the best heart rate monitor chest straps and heart rate monitor watches. Here are a handful of devices that nearly made our list.
- Garmin Venu 2 (Amazon): The Garmin Venu 2 was the first wearable to launch with the company’s fourth-generation Elevate heart rate sensor. While the sensor could use some refining, it’s an overall capable tracker and mostly accurate for high-intensity activities. If you want a similar watch with more smartwatch features, grab the Venu 2 Plus.
- Fitbit Sense (Amazon) and Versa 3 (Amazon): The Fitbit Sense and Versa 3 feature Fitbit’s new PurePulse 2.0 optical heart rate sensor. The sensor is okay, but you’ll want to pick up the Sense for its ECG and overnight blood oxygen monitoring.
- Xiaomi Mi Band 6 (Amazon): The Xiaomi Mi Band 6 actually has a decent heart rate sensor for the price. Xiaomi’s fitness apps aren’t our favorite, but the device itself is a capable budget fitness tracker.
- Garmin Forerunner 245 Music (Amazon): The Forerunner 245 has the same Garmin Elevate optical heart rate sensor as Garmin’s top-tier running watch, the Forerunner 945. In our testing, the 245’s sensor performed noticeably better than Garmin devices that came before it.
- Whoop Strap 3.0 (Whoop): The Whoop platform provides plenty of interesting data on recovery, strain, and sleep, making for a great training platform. However, the Whoop Strap 3.0 itself provided inaccurate heart rate data during our review.
- Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 (Amazon): The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is a fantastic smartwatch with many fitness features. Its heart rate sensor was more accurate than its predecessor in our testing, but some Samsung-specific features make it a better bet for Galaxy smartphone users.