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The best heart rate monitors and watches
Choosing the right heart rate monitoring wearable comes down to a few questions:
- Do you care what brand makes it or the platform it runs on?
- Are you particularly interested in resting or active heart rate?
- What additional features would you like to see?
- What form factor are you interested in wearing?
Heart rate is an essential metric for monitoring your health and improving your fitness. With more and more fitness trackers and smartwatches offering built-in heart rate sensors, tracking has never been easier. But which wearable is right for you? We’ve reviewed the most popular picks to help you choose the right one. Keep reading to learn more about the best heart rate monitors you can buy in 2022.
The Apple Watch Series 8 is the best heart rate wrist monitor
We had a poor experience with the Apple Watch Series 7’s heart rate tracking, and that meant the Series 6 stood as our recommended device for quite some time. However, Apple has addressed these issues with the Series 8.
The Apple Watch Series 8 is now one of the best wrist-based heart rate sensors we’ve used. Unfortunately, you must be an iOS user to snag this choice. Apple Watches don’t work with any other smartphones.
As with its predecessors, the Series 8 is a very capable smartwatch and a reliable device. We put its sensor through the paces, testing resting and active heart rate accuracy. For comparison, AA‘s Ryan Haines wore a Coros Pace 2 synced with a Polar H10 chest strap during his review. The Series 8 barely skipped a beat and was regularly within one beat per minute in terms of average and peak figures. Chest strap monitors are far more accurate than smartwatches, so this result is extremely impressive.
The Apple Watch provides accurate data compared to a chest strap, even during interval workouts which can often throw off wrist-based sensors.
Additionally, the Series 8 features a medically validated ECG monitor. Taking an ECG reading right from your wrist is quick and simple and the results are immediately accessible in the Health app. This means easy data sharing with your loved ones or your medical team. The Apple Watch will also alert you to high or low arrhythmias. Plus, with Apple’s watchOS 9, irregular heart rate rhythm detection is now possible.
Beyond tracking your beats, Apple offers the best smartwatch experience available. User interaction with the highly responsive touchscreen is consistently smooth and navigation is intuitive while integration with the iPhone is seamless. We also can’t say enough about the endless third-party app support.
In fact, the Apple Watch Series 8 syncs with many popular fitness apps, so you can continue using whatever you prefer if Apple’s Fitness app isn’t enough. As far as recording your stats, Apple also delivers. The watch tracks everything from steps and calories to sleep and SpO2, plus so much more. We recorded accurate results for all of the basics, including step count and SpO2 levels. At the same time, sleep tracking has finally received the bump it needed with more accurate readings thanks to a skin temperature sensor and sleep scores. Speaking of the skin temperature sensor, it also informs more accurate menstrual cycle and fertility tracking.
The watch also offers plenty of sport modes and a very accurate built-in GPS. Users can depend on auto-detection for the most common workouts, such as an outdoor walk or run. Once your activity is recorded, Apple’s native apps are easy to navigate to review your stats and, as mentioned, sync well with other apps you may already be using.
Battery life on the Apple Watch is an unresolved issue. The Series 8 will last 18 to 24 hours on a single charge, so you must top up the device daily. Apple has tried to remedy this with a new low-power mode, but this isn’t great compared to the likes of Garmin or Fitbit. If you can streamline your charging, you should be able to track your sleep and get in a day of wear without much fuss.
All that being said, the Apple Watch Series 8 isn’t the pick for everyone. If you’re still reading, we’ll assume you’re an iPhone user; if not, this device is unfortunately walled off. It also doesn’t offer the absolute pinnacle of fitness tracking like some much more expensive specialty devices from Garmin. However, it’s a well-rounded watch with a reliable heart sensor. It’s sleek and versatile and comes in multiple sizes and colors so you can find the perfect fit for your wrist and style.
What makes it stand out
- Reliable heart rate sensor: This device’s heart rate accuracy is among the best we’ve tested. That includes both resting heart rate and measurements during intense activity.
- All the apps: The fully-packed App Store offers more apps than you can possibly need (and a bunch you don’t). Apple’s third-party support is truly unrivaled.
- Integrated user experience: Device integration is something Apple excels at and the Apple Watch is no exception. The experience is seamless for Apple loyals and very approachable for newcomers.
- Accurate health tracking: This device delivers advanced health tracking that’s accurate and helpful, plus companion apps that make analyzing your stats easier than ever.
- Software support: Regular and annual watchOS updates mean new features and tools are delivered right to your wrist for a device that keeps getting better and better.
Best of the rest: 3 other wearables worthy of your consideration
The Apple Watch Series 8 is our top recommendation if you own an iPhone. It houses a reliable heart rate sensor and some of the industry’s top features. If the Apple Watch is not for you, consider one of the devices below.
- Withings ScanWatch: An excellent heart rate monitor watch for keeping up on your all-day heart health, the ScanWatch can monitor your ECG and blood oxygen levels, too.
- Garmin Fenix 6: The Garmin Fenix 6 series offers reliable readings for all-day resting heart rate, active readings during workouts, and consistent measurements overnight.
- Fitbit Charge 4: This fitness tracker remains a solid and affordable heart rate monitor and outperforms the newer Charge 5.
The Withings ScanWatch is the best hybrid watch for heart rate data
One of our favorite devices for smarts undercover, the Withings ScanWatch is another great option for monitoring heart health. The device is a hybrid smartwatch, so you don’t have to advertise that you’re tracking anything, let alone your heart rate data. It also offers a beautiful design and a build quality that is all class.
More importantly, it’s a reliable health tool. For starters, the watch packs a medical-grade ECG monitor, a pulse oximeter, and 24/7 heart rate monitoring. While you sleep, the ScanWatch even automatically tracks blood oxygen levels and uses heart rate and heart variability data to detect signs of sleep apnea. The solace of a clinically approved monitor is a great perk for anyone with sleep apnea concerns.
Similarly, the watch allows you to take ECG readings on demand for anyone with imminent heart health concerns. Afterward, you can also easily share a PDF of your readings with your doctor just like with the Apple Watch above. The ScanWatch will also keep tabs on your beats in the background and notify you if your heart rate regularly seems too high or too low. This translates to early detection of the warning signs of bradycardia or tachycardia.
Finally, the Withings ScanWatch also performed well in terms of heart rate data during workouts. We found it took a few workouts to level out but then had no problem keeping up with other dedicated fitness devices, such as the Fenix 6 Pro. Since the watch can’t connect to an external monitor, this accuracy was nice to see. The ScanWatch offers 30 different sport modes and even features auto-detection for the most popular workouts. Activity data and other daily stats can be found in the Health Mate app which we found super user-friendly.
Beyond these advanced health tools and fitness tracking features, the ScanWatch is a relatively basic device. You won’t find contactless payment or onboard music, but that is pretty expected for a hybrid device. One major benefit of its simplicity is a long-lasting battery. While putting all its tools and sensors through the wringer, we could clear over ten days without a charge. Plus, when the battery does tap out, the ScanWatch automatically drops into power-saving mode. This allows you to use your device for 20 days longer while it continues to tell time and track your steps and sleep.
Simply put, the Withings ScanWatch is practically a specialty device for heart health. As a hybrid, it won’t offer you a full smartwatch experience, or a detailed fitness tracking suite. However, it’s a beautiful accessory that may be great for your heart.
What makes it stand out
- Certified health sensors: The ScanWatch offers peace of mind. Its ECG monitor and clinically validated AFib provide data that could literally save a life.
- Beauty and brains: We love a classy hybrid. If a sporty smartwatch doesn’t fit your vibe, this device delivers the perfect compromise of smarts and style.
- Track your Zs with ease: Comfortable for overnight wear, the ScanWatch provides in-depth sleep tracking that even compared well to one of our most reliable Fitbit sleep trackers.
The Garmin Fenix 6 is the best heart rate monitoring watch from Garmin
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is one of our favorite running watches and one of the best Garmin watches you can buy, and that’s primarily due to its reliable heart rate monitoring. In terms of a comprehensive feature set, the Fenix 6 has been outdone by the Fenix 7, but we found the latter’s heart rate data less than accurate during our review period. Luckily, there are still plenty of features to tap into on the older generation, (and now you can score it for a deal). Most importantly, we found the Fenix 6 Pro’s heart rate sensor in line with other wrist-based heart rate sensors.
Backing up for a second, the Garmin Fenix 6 series houses more than ten different models. These include three sizes, plus a base model, Pro, Sapphire Pro, and Pro Solar versions. Any of these options will feature extensive battery life, GPS, and a full suite of health features. However, the base model won’t support onboard music storage so we suggest bumping up to at least the Pro model.
Once you choose the right model for you, you’ll find endless features to explore. Garmin’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink offering, the Fenix line is absolutely packed with fitness tracking and health monitoring tools. You’ll find all the usual suspects including PacePro, ClimbPro, ABC sensors, and daily suggested workouts plus a pulse ox sensor, respiration tracking, and a heart rate sensor. With support for dozens of sport activities and Garmin’s top-tier training analysis tools, you can pour over your workout data in Garmin’s data-rich companion app. In fact, the only reason you might not want this watch is that it is more than you need.
For heart health, Garmin’s Elevate heart rate sensor provides heart rate data for the company’s impressively accurate Body Battery feature, all-day heart rate, heart rate variability data, and advanced sleep monitoring. It can even track your heart rate during swim workouts without necessitating a waterproof chest strap. All of this can again be reviewed and saved in the company’s health app which offers extensive data analysis.
The Garmin Fenix lineup is expensive. As an older gen device, you can likely find the Fenix 6 on sale, but it is still not cheap. What you get for the price is a high-end multisport watch that’s perfect for everything from long-distance training to hiking and much more. What you won’t get is the Fenix 7’s touchscreen.
Notably, if you want ECG functionality from your Garmin watch, you won’t find it on the Fenix 6. At the time of this writing, only the Garmin Venu 2 Plus can check your heart’s health.
What makes it stand out
- Feature overload: Garmin’s Fenix stable is one of the most reliable lineups of high-end multisport watches available. For athletes constantly on the move, this watch will keep up.
- Last year’s tech beats this year’s prices: Shopping for an older device will almost always be easier on the wallet. The Fenix 6 offers much of the best you’ll find on the Fenix 7 without breaking the bank.
- It’s a Garmin: The value of any Garmin device goes beyond the watch itself. Garmin’s companion app is stellar and its reputation for supporting its devices is five star.
The Fitbit Charge 4 is the fitness tracker for monitoring your heart
The Fitbit Charge 4 is among the best fitness trackers you can buy, and it packs a fairly accurate heart rate sensor. While the Fitbit Charge 5 is now available, we can’t quite recommend it purely because of 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-around tracker and fancy its ECG smarts.
Back to the 4, you can grab this device in two colorways, either black or Rosewood, and each comes with two band sizes, small and large. It features a monochrome, OLED, touchscreen display with plenty of room for viewing stats. On the inside, it’s packed with features including built-in GPS. This alone makes it a strong choice for runners and cyclists who don’t want to carry a phone during workouts. Throughout testing, we found the GPS performed well, though it did take a few minutes to lock on when trying to start our outdoor workouts.
We also tested the Charge 4’s heart rate sensor on those same runs and compared its data to that of a Garmin running watch. Though the Charge 4 struggled to keep up during sprints or excessive slowdowns, it matched up better than we even expected. Keeping in mind this is an affordable device and not a dedicated heart rate monitor, we were pleased with the data. The Charge 4 provides a good overall look at your active heart rate. For a tracker you can often find around $100, this is a great pick for basic data.
Fitbit also offers some additional heart rate features. First, Active Zone Minutes is Fitbit’s way of ensuring you get enough weekly exercise. As such, the Charge 4 will notify you of the time spent in each heart rate zone after your workout and track your numbers over time. The goal is to reach the American Heart Association’s recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous weekly activity.
After each GPS-enabled workout, you’ll also see a workout intensity heat map in the Fitbit app. This color-coded map shows your completed route marked in different colors representing your heart rate zone at that point in your run or ride. We found this a useful feature for quick at-a-glance data. Finally, the Charge 4 will notify you whenever your heart rate zone changes during a workout. Our reviewer found this a bit distracting, especially during HIIT workouts, but it’s an optional feature you can disable if needed.
Other device highlights include good battery life, Fitbit Pay support, and of course, access to one of the best companion apps in the business, the Fitbit app. This is one of the most successful companion apps we use regularly with clear organization and detailed insights. You can also use the Charge 4 to tap into Fitbit’s fantastic sleep tracking, including sleep stages and sleep score.
Since this is a tracker, not a smartwatch, smart features are limited to notifications, music controls, and the aforementioned digital payment support. Likewise, you won’t see as much onscreen. Instead, you get a smaller form factor that won’t drain your battery life.
What makes it stand out
- Most reliable fitness tracker for your heart: There are plenty of other options in the Fitbit stable but the Charge 4 is the best choice for a fitness tracker you can count on to count your beats.
- A fantastic companion app: Fitbit’s companion app is digestible and reliable. You’ll find all the data you need without being overwhelmed.
- Accuracy for a low cost: At a very approachable price, the Charge 4 delivers GPS, heart rate data, and many other basic health and fitness stats. Its sleep tracking is even better.
What to look for in a good heart rate monitor
There are plenty of reasons to shop for a heart rate monitor. Some individuals simply need to keep an eye on their resting heart rate throughout the day. Others need heart rate monitoring for sleep tracking purposes. Some people need the most accurate heart rate data possible. But not all heart rate sensors are created equally. 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.
For heart rate accuracy above all else, consider 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. However, for a device with more utility, chose a wrist-worn tracker or fitness watch with a reliable sensor. These accessories offer plenty of data for the average user, plus more tools and features beyond heart rate tracking. Consider the factors below when shopping.
- Resting heart rate accuracy
- Active heart rate accuracy
- Additional advanced health monitoring
- User-friendly companion app
- Battery life
- Sleep tracking
- Fitness tracking
- Built-in or connected GPS
- Training/recovery features
- Voice Assistant
- Digital Payment support
- Form factor
Why you should trust us & how we test
Android Authority has a long history with wearable devices, spanning back at least as far as the Pebble in 2013. Since then, we’ve reviewed hundreds of wearables and learned a lot along the way. Our team of dedicated health and fitness experts tests dozens of new wearables and fitness trackers every year, but only the very best make it onto recommendation lists like the one you are reading. How do we determine what’s worthy? When testing we have two main focuses in mind: user experience and accuracy. To that end, we start by utilizing the device as a daily driver:
- We wear the product 24/7, (except for charging time), to evaluate its day-to-day performance, capabilities, and comfort.
- We note everything from strap materials and display brightness to navigation and battery life.
- We tap into as many features as possible, leaving no stone set unturned.
- We set alarms, chat with voice assistants, and fire off texts, follow breathing exercises, sweat through workouts, and much more.
- We test sleep tracking accuracy and wear the watch to bed and compared its data to other products well-regarded for their sleep analysis.
- We test SpO2 sensors against other wearables or a pulse oximeter.
- For heart rate monitoring, we equip chest straps to test the device’s accuracy and push the sensor through interval training workouts.
- We also test GPS accuracy on outdoor runs and rides wearing the device, along with a notably accurate GPS device, to see how the review unit performs.
- When possible, we strap on a comparable device from the current market to analyze how the review subject stands up to similarly-priced competition.
- We dig into the companion app. We look to see how the data is organized and analyzed and evaluate the ease of use.
As you can see, we don’t mess around! There is a ton of variety in smartwatches and trackers, and reviewing each product is quite nuanced. A Garmin Fenix 7 review looks a lot different from a Xiaomi Mi Band review, for example. So, we also determine the wearable’s place in the market in terms of form factor, target audience, and budget. Finally, we check to see if the device is missing anything important that users might expect to see and verify that it lives up to its brand’s (measurable) claims.
You can trust that our experts put every device through its paces. Typically, our review period lasts about a week, but we can sometimes extend it to weeks or months for especially feature-packed devices. We also revisit watches and trackers regularly to ensure they still hold up through the test of time.
The three major options for a wearable heart rate monitor are chest straps, watches, and fitness trackers.
You will often record the most accurate heart rate monitoring on a dedicated chest strap. If you are interested in a chest strap rather than a wrist-based tracker, we recommend the Polar H10.
According to Harvard, a normal resting heart rate for adults ranges between 60-100 beats per minute. Those with a resting heart rate below 60 may have better cardio fitness.
Yes, heart rate monitors can be beneficial to all who choose to use one. A heart rate monitor will allow you to view your heart rate trends over time. Whether you’re fit or unfit, you can then act upon this information and change your lifestyle accordingly.