Friday, February 8, 2013

Game Changer (?)

The MIO Alpha, the first accurate Heart Rate Monitor, WITHOUT chest strap!

I have the Nike GPS watch with the Polar HRM chest strap. Using them involves the extra steps of:
(a) wetting the sensors on the strap adequately
(b) putting on said strap on chest.

These, plus the discomfort of the chest strap (and chafing on long run), became tiring after a while. I found myself "forgetting" to put the chest strap and just going straight out the door to run.

I was so excited to read about the Mio Alpha when it was on Kickstarter. I was looking forward to purchase one, and expected it to be available in Asia around mid 2013. Lo and behold, I came across the watch at the Velocity Mall in Singapore this past January.

I've been using the Mio Alpha for a couple of weeks, and here's the review thus far:

FIT/DESIGN: the strap is thick, and has a three-prong buckle. The watch needs to be worn TIGHT, for the LED light sensors to have a constant distance (between sensors and surface of your skin), which will in turn give you a consistent Heart Rate readings. The three-prong buckle certainly helps the strap to be worn tight, while maintaining relative comfort (not pleasant, but way better than a chest strap). When I bought it, only the white/grey combo was in stock. I would've preferred the "shadow" (grey/black) combo, as it would be much more wearable to work. That said, the design is handsome enough and looks quite presentable (as opposed to being dorky and toyish). Beauty is of course in the eyes of the beholder.

FUNCTION: activating the HR monitor is easy, just press the button on the right and wait a couple of seconds for the LED light sensors to do their thing. Voila! Your heart rate on display, which the watch calls the "EXERCISE" mode. You can even activate this mode, after you start running, as long as the watch has been worn snug on your wrist (not moving around).

To activate the TIMER mod, you have to press the right button one more time. If you have set the LOW and HIGH Heart Rate numbers, the in-between "area" is your preferred training zone. Once in TIMER mode, the watch would BEEP and emit Blue lights if you are below the LOW HR number. And it would BEEP and emit Red lights if you go above the HIGH HR number. If you can maintain exercising in the training zone (between your pre-set LOW and HIGH heart rate numbers), the watch emits green light and stay silent (GOOD!).

PROS: the watch's HR monitor is the primary function of this watch. In this respect, it is a very well-made device, and one that works wonderfully (chest-strapping be gone!). In fact, HR monitoring seems to be the only thing this watch is good at (adequate for some, lacking for most).

CONS: if you expect additional features like pace monitoring, extra heart rate zones, then you are out of luck. My only expectation was to banish said chest strap, while getting accurate real-time HR readings. Having said that, I did expect a button to illuminate the display, in cases when I'm running in early dusk and/or evenings. As it is, the display is unlighted, and remain that way throughout the run (save for the blinking lights). This is a negative.

To see the time of day, you have to push the left button twice, which, if you are in the middle of running, is not exactly easy to do (the button has to be depressed "deep"). This is a minor but nonetheless negative point.

BONUS: a friend saw this and commented that he'd like to buy it for his father, to have the latter's heart rate readings available at all time, for health monitoring reasons. INTERESTING! Without the cumbersome chest strap, I think you can find all sorts of non-exercise usage for this watch, with the heart-rate readings on at all time. If you have heart-rate readings mode turned on, without TIMER function (see above), the watch runs silently with your Heart Rate on display at all time, and will do so for over 15 hours.

CONCLUSION: this is a wonderful heart-rate monitor watch, the first of its kind that offers accurate real-time HR monitoring. Taken as it is, the Mio Alpha simply works. As the first of its kind to be released, I may even call it a game changer.

That said, I can't wait to see Mio Alpha version 2.0, with extra functions (or, at least, lights to read the display in the dark). 

The BASIS BAND watch, with the same LED lights sensor, just came out with LOTS of extra bells and whistles. So, exercise gadget-freaks, hold on to your seats (and credit cards), as new gadgets will always turn up. Cheers!

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