August 10, 2015
In an effort to lead a much healthier lifestyle, I’ve filled the past two or three months with various different physical activities – from your standard, outdoor runs and vinyasa yoga sessions to indoor bouldering and CrossFit workouts. For the majority of that time, however, I had no standard of measurement by which to gauge the intensity (and thereby corresponding belief of “success”) of each workout. Luckily, I was asked to review the Mio ALPHA 2, a heart rate sports watch that doesn’t require users to wear a chest strap. After working out with the watch for a little more than a week, there a few things that I liked and hated about it.
Wearable Tech and the Quantified Self
I’m a huge fan of the quantified self movement, wherein we utilize the tools and technologies afforded to us to apply numbers and values to our everyday interactions in the world and analyze that data to make smarter decisions in our lives. In spite of last week’s FitBit stock news, the push towards a quantified self is what’s contributed to the success of companies like FitBit and Jawbone, whose fitness trackers enable users to easily quantify and visualize various fitness data.
The Mio ALPHA 2 sports watch is wearable technology that allows people to accurately measure their heart rate without the use of a chest strap. While mobile heart rate technology has been around for some time – with companies like Garmin and Polar leading the industry – it’s only very recently that companies are implementing this kind of strapless functionality into their devices. Earlier in the summer, Garmin released for the first time a model of its GPS running watch featuring strapless heart rate monitoring (and they were only able to produce it with the help of Mio).
Consistent Intensity of Workouts
What I loved the most about the Mio ALPHA 2 was that it provided an easy way to monitor your level of fitness intensity. Unlike other popular heart rate monitors, the removed need to wear a chest strap gave me the ability to track my heart rate outside of standard exercises like running and cycling. Because of this, I was able to compare the various activities in which I engaged and see which ones pushed my body to work harder (based on heart rate).
Both the Mio ALPHA 2 watch itself and the corresponding Mio app work together to give you detailed insights on your tracked fitness activities. Aside from heart rate, the sports watch also tracks the amount of calories burned per activity, distance covered, pace per lap, and even speed. Through the Mio GO mobile app, users have the option to track and plot their heart rate using a 1-zone or 5-zone system (with a specific color designated to each zone). Using the 1-zone system, any of your tracked fitness activity will fall under one of three categories: above target (red), within your target zone (green), or below target (blue). With the 5-zone system, your activity can range from very light (blue) to maximum (red), with three other zones between the two.
What I quickly found was that using the Mio ALPHA 2 pushed me to keep the intensity of each of my workouts fairly consistent. The watch itself blinks the color corresponding to each of the heart rate zones, which made it easier for me to fall within a target zone. For instance, I could easily tell when my body wasn’t exerting as much energy during a specific activity when the light on the ALPHA 2 would go from blinking a purple light to blinking a yellow light.
Interrupted Data Flow
There are, however, a few things I don’t like about the ALPHA 2. The major one being it’s flawed integration with other fitness apps. While it can and does sync with popular fitness apps like MapMyFitness, it’s honestly just an additional hassle. I had a difficult time trying to figure out how to sync the data recorded by the watch with my data on MapMyFitness – after struggling for 30 minutes, I still couldn’t figure it out; if data sync/integration isn’t straightforward from the get-go, then multi-app “functionality” is neither functional nor useful.
I also had a few issues with the heart rate sensors on the watch, with my having to stop in the middle of a workout to reset the heart rate monitor because of dubious readings (e.g. a reading of 80 BPM when I’d be physically struggling to keep my lungs pumping). But, really, I attribute most of that failure to the silicon watch band. After the first few workouts, I realized that you had to have the watch strapped pretty firmly to your wrist in order to improve your chances at not getting false heart rate readings. Even when I managed to do that, though, the clasp would occasionally fail to stay on:
My Opinion: Worth It
Despite its flaws, I think that the Mio ALPHA 2 serves as a pretty good sports watch. While it lacks the GPS functionality of some other sports watches out there, not having to wear a chest strap to track your heart rate makes up for it. And, even though the latest wearables from Jawbone and FitBit provide similar heart rate monitoring capabilities, the Mio ALPHA 2 offers people with a fitness-only accessory (as opposed to the Jawbone’s and FitBit’s wearables that innately require people to wear them 24/7).
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