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Review: MIO Alpha Heart Rate Monitor - It's Strapless!

Bye bye chest strap!

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Updated December 09, 2013

Review: MIO Alpha Heart Rate Monitor - It's Strapless! MIO

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The Bottom Line

I'm the first to admit that I'm a heart rate monitor freak and I've been known to have one or two...or seven stashed in my junk drawer on any given day.  There's just no better way to monitor your intensity.  However, I've actually used the same one for going on 5 years, so it would take something pretty special to come between me and my Polar.  The MIO Alpha?  May just be the one to do it. 

This is, without a doubt, the easiest heart rate monitor I've ever used.  I barely even needed to look at the instruction manual to set the time, my heart rate zones and start the timer.  That's great, but what's even better about the Alpha is this:  You get a continuous heart rate reading without a chest strap.  And that?  Is downright awesome.

The Basics

At first glance, the MIO Alpha, which is a big, blocky square of a watch, seems a little big for a woman's wrist.   In fact, it looks like something that belongs on my husband's hairy wrist.  However, it's amazingly comfortable on my smaller arm and it looked sleek and stylish enough to garner plenty of compliments.  Big watches seem to be in fashion these days, so the Alpha fits right in.  The band, made of soft, silky silicone, doesn't pinch or pull and includes so many adjustable holes, it will fit almost any wrist.

The other reason the Alpha is so comfortable is because of the way the watch face hugs your wrist.  It was designed that way because that's how the Alpha senses your heart rate, which is where the amazing technology comes in.

The Details

I don't pretend to understand how all of this works, but what's amazing about the Alpha is that it uses LED lights and what they call an electro-optical cell on the back of the watch to sense the volume of blood under your skin, which sounds like something from a science fiction movie.  You put it on, let it warm against your skin, hit the heart rate button (which is conveniently labeled) and, in a few seconds, your heart rate appears on the screen.  The instruction manual did warn that cold skin or bad circulation can make it harder to get a reading but, as someone who's cold approximately 11 months out of the year, I didn't have any trouble there.

The Alpha is rechargeable via a USB charger but, surprisingly, the Alpha doesn't connect to your computer, nor can you download your data to your PC, which is something I expected.  The watch itself, when in Exercise Mode, does track your heart rate and gives you a workout summary of your average heart rate and time spent in your heart rate zone, so you do get the essentials.  The screen itself is nice and wide and it has big, glowing numbers, always nice for those of us with aging eyes.  You can easily toggle through the different modes - Time, heart rate and, if you set the timer, the, length of your workout.

The monitoring technology is truly astonishing, which does help make up for some of the missing functions I'm used to using in most heart rate monitors, most notably a calories burned feature.  In fact, as I was using the Alpha, the information it was tracking seemed a bit lacking, compared to other heart rate monitors I've used in the past.  I started to wonder if there was an app I was supposed to download, something that wasn't mentioned in the instruction manual.

A visit to the website cleared things up and informed me of another cool feature, which is the ability to pair your Alpha with certain tracking apps including MapMyFitness, MapMyRun, MapMyRide, miCoach, Endomondo, Strava, Runtastic, RunKeeper, Wahoo Fitness and Digitfit.  I've used it with the RunKeeper app and it worked beautifully, so I can see the potential for using this with other fitness apps and tracking even more aspects of our workouts.

The Pros and Cons

The Pros

  • No chest strap - I can't stress enough how wonderful this this, having used a strap-ful HRM for going on 15 years. The technology they've come up with to do this is groundbreaking and I'm sure we'll see even more great products as they improve their game.
  • Accuracy - The other important part of this strapless HRM is the fact that it gives you an accurate heart rate.  I wore the Alpha alongside my regular heart rate monitor and it gave the exact same readings.
  • Solid performance - For the most part, the Alpha worked as advertised, showing my heartrate throughout my workout.  There were a few blips - Moments when it seemed to lose my heart rate, but it might have been a change in skin temperature as I was cooling down.
  • Easy to use - There are only two buttons needed to navigate the Alpha and you don't have to be an engineer to figure out how to do it. 
  • Simplicity - If you want a watch that tracks your heart rate, lets you time your workout and does all of that without a chest strap, this is the perfect HRM for you.  You get only the barest essentials:  Heart rate, heart rate zones (you have to enter your own heart rate zones), clock, timer and workout summary.  If you want more, you can easily pair it with one of the apps listed above.
  • It looks cool - Always a plus, in my book.

The Cons

I don't have many complains about the Alpha but there are a few drawbacks:

  • Lack of functions - I mentioned the simplicity, which can be good or bad, depending on what you want from a HRM.  If you want detailed, trackable data on a website or an app, GPS functioning or info like calories burned, the Alpha may not be for you.  Some of the apps do offer some of that information, but that means you have to have your smartphone with you for every workout. 
  • Beep-beep-beep - One other function they gave the Alpha was an alert when you're out of your heart rate zone.  Whether you like this or not is a personal choice, but I put it in the cons list because you can't turn it off.  The only way to stop the beeping is to stop timing your workout and toggle out of Exercise Mode.  It would be great to be able to silence the beeping at one's leisure.
  • Price - For all of it's simplicity, at $199, the Alpha seems a little pricey for what you get.  It's really the technology you're paying for, but it would be nice if it offered just a bit more for the money.
  • Size - I mentioned that the Alpha is large and it can feel bulky on a smaller wrist.  After wearing it for a few days, I got used to it and it was much more comfortable than any other HRM I've worn, but some people may be turned off by how big it is.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I think the MIO Alpha is a step in the right direction in the world of heart rate monitors.  They've figured out the technology to make HRMs work without that annoying chest strap and that in itself makes it something I would recommend.  There's no doubt of the quality, comfort and accuracy and, if you want something simple and easy to use, and you don't mind the price of course, the Alpha is definitely worth it.  I'm excited to see what comes next!

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