October 06, 2011

Need a Heart Rate Monitor? Polar FT4 Review



Thinking about getting a heart rate monitor? Wondering whether the Polar FT4 is a good pick?

Yep, it's Product Review time again, which means: Crabby gets something for free that she gets to keep (yay!), googlers looking for info on a product have a fitness blog review from a source that is ill-tempered enough not to reflexively kiss sponsor ass (yay!), and sponsors get publicity for their products in a health blog of questionable influence noted for mainly for swear words and semi-naked pictures of Italian soccer players (yay?)

Note: this was originally a giveaway post, but that aspect has expired. Sorry if you missed it!

Now let's get crackin'.

Polar FT4 Features and Specs


If you are a lazy blogger and you go to the Polar Website and just copy sh*t without analyzing anything, here's what you find:

Measurement features:

Automatic age-based target zone – bpm / %
Average and maximum heart rate of training
Heart rate – bpm / %
HR-based target zones with visual and audible alarm
HRmax (user set)
Manual target zone – bpm / %
Polar OwnCal® – calorie expenditure
Polar OwnCode® (5kHz) – coded transmission

Recording features

Totals
Training files (with summaries) – 10

Training features

Graphical target zone indicator
HeartTouch – button-free operation of wrist unit

Watch features

Backlight
Date and weekday indicator
Display text in English and a crapload of other languages
Dual time zone
KeyLock
Low battery indicator
Time of day (12/24h) with alarm and snooze
User replaceable battery
Water resistant – 30m

What's Great About The Monitor


The price ain't bad. Though technically it retails for about a hundred bucks, a quick google search will land you figures that are quite a bit less than that. So for less than your next pair of fancy running shoes, you could be set with an HRM that has a good balance between features and ease of use. Polar is one of the biggest names in heart rate monitors with an excellent reputation; not that other ones might not be good too--but you're not taking any wild chances with this brand.

It's a nice step up from the low-end hrms. The flexible chest strap is way more comfortable that the stiff kind, plus there are absorbable pads you presoak with water, so you don't have to wait to get soaked with sweat for the thing to work. The strap is even machine washable! (But don't be a doof and throw the transmitter and watch in the machine too).

The wrist watch part has a good set of features but is not too complicated to use. Even the Cranky Crab was able to set it up, and toggle the display between time, heart rate, workout duration, calories burned and HRM relative to target range. (This may not seem like an achievement worth bragging about, but I'm someone who's been walking around in Massachusetts for the last 6 months with a sports watch that's still set to California time because I couldn't figure out how to change it).

What's Better About the FT4 Than I Initially Thought


The Display is Easy To Read  I almost chose the lowest-end F1 to test because I was scared off by the above picture. The type looks so tiny! There is a sad trade-off with heart rate monitors if you are an old fogey like me and don't want to have to take along reading glasses to see tiny type--you are generally restricted to low end models that don't measure much besides heart rate. However, what I didn't realize is that the screen displayed above is just one option; you can get big readable numbers when you're just measuring heart-rate or time, etc. So this is a perfectly good pick for the reading-glasses generation.

You Can Get Bright or Neutral Colors. The Polar people are currently promoting their new louder colors: pink (billed as pink & purple, but trust me, it's pink) or black and orange (good for Halloween or SF Giants fans). So I didn't at first realize that nice safe old silver/blacks and goldish/brown are also available. (Not for this giveaway though, I don't think).

Calories Burned Seemed Fairly Accurate : I tend to be skeptical of the ability of a monitor to count how many calories you burn based solely on your heart rate. But on both low and high intensity days, it seemed to correlate pretty well with what models would predict given my weight and the number of miles I covered.

Accuracy Under Bouncy Conditions: My old hrm would not make good enough contact with my chest to give consistent readings on the elliptical machine, especially at the beginning before I got soaked with sweat. (Don't know it's due to bouncing boobage, or my poor elliptical form, but whatever the reason, getting values that pop around randomly from 36 to 243 is not all that helpful).

But Voila: The flexible chest strap of the FT4 totally fixed this problem!  Well, ok, one one workout there was a few seconds of skittering around before the numbers settled in, but this chest strap is a vast improvement over the inflexible kind. Much more comfort and accuracy and worth the upgrade.

You Can Turn Off the Godawful Beeping The default setting has an annoying beep whenever the hrm function is working. From the initial set-up guide, it isn't clear at first how to turn it off. However, after  five minutes of whining, stomping, and cursing further investigation, it turns out there is indeed a setting that will turn the beeping off, thank goodness.

What Could be Better About This Heart Rate Monitor


No High-Tech Features. It's mostly a "get what you pay for" scenario: this is a lower end model, and it doesn't have GPS or an accelerometer nor will it sing to you in Swedish or talk you through your motivational issues. It doesn't even seem to have an interval timer-- though it does have an alarm, so perhaps there's something I'm missing that would enable interval timing. If it's there, they don't make it obvious.

Online Tracking?  Polar says in the instruction manual that you can track your data on their website!  So at first I thought, really, you can send your workout data wirelessly to your PC? That's cool! But turns out they mean if you wanna bother to go register with them and manually enter your data, they'll keep it for you. Big whoop! (FYI, just send Crabby a hundred bucks, she'd be happy to do the same!)

Lack of Sufficient Instructions in Box Also, being the old fashioned type, I wouldn't have minded a bit more operating information in the package. I had to go online to download the user manual in order to shut off the default hrm sounds--the initial set-up only told you how to silence the button noise, not the constant hrm beeping at you. The hrm system is NOT that complicated for them to include the complete operating instructions in the package.

Overall: If you don't need gps or complicated programming features, and want a well-designed heart rate monitor from a reliable company that is comfortable and easy to read, this definitely fits the bill. And if you shop this thing rather than paying full retail, it's seems like a good value for the money.

83 comments:

  1. Sounds like a fine bit of equipment. I can't win it, but I wouldn't get much use out of it anyway.

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  2. I haven't used a heart rate monitor in years, but might be inspired to work harder if I had one. The hubby's a Giants fan, though, so he might try to snag it from me if it is the orange and black one, though.

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  3. I'd love to try it. I love data.

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  4. Neat! I don't have one of these but it sounds like a good place to start. Good luck everyone!

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  5. Just so you know I am totally! bribeable. I had a polar HRM watch once and loved it. I'd love to have another. Are you POSITIVE it won't sing in Swedish? That's too darn bad. :(

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  6. I've been looking into a new heart rate monitor as mine doesn't give you a calorie burn estimate the whole wetting it before use isn't fun, so this one sounds perfect!

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  7. I keep thinking I should invest in an hrm, but I never do. So hook me up Crabby! For free, I'd even do pink. : )

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  8. I have an EVEN CHEAPER older version of a Polar HRM that has been quite serviceable for a couple of years, but I could totally do with an upgrade. Sign me up!

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  9. I depserately need a heart rate monitor. I keep ogling them, but never seem to have the cash.

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  10. I'm always up for winning a new gadget! I'm in!

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  11. Count me in!

    Also, note to Crabby - your post is missing a number after the Tuesday by which we have to enter :)

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  12. This sounds great! I've been in the market for an HRM but haven't had sufficient time to do research... crossing my fingers here!!

    xmeliss182x (at) yahoo (dot) com

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  13. Thanks for the review, i'm looking forward to reading the rest.

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  14. Umm yes please! I've been wanting to get an HRM. Thanks for your honest review from your laBORatory!

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  15. I don't need the monitor, but I'll be glad to comment anyway :-)

    If a monitor helps someone be active, that's great! I believe in just doing it, and I can see the results if I do it well. I guess I have my own built in monitor that's a sterner master than polar could ever devise :-)

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  16. I'd love to have one to prove to hubby that I am indeed NOT heartless.

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  17. Thank you Laura for catching that! I have enough trouble with people googling in and earnestly entering contests that ended two years ago. I could at least provide a proper deadline!

    And Sinner Ella, that's the best reason I've read so far! Perhaps the RNG will be amused.

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  18. I would LOVE one! I'm just getting back on the wagon (again again).

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  19. Like Dr. J, I don't think I'd use the thing, but I'm happy to comment. Even for someone as gadget-happy as I am, it sounds way too much trouble for my style of exercise. I have a watch with a second hand and even when I get to use an elliptical and can go faster without my knees and ankles complaining, I'm still not going too fast to take my pulse if I'm interested in it. (These calories you speak of--what are they?)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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  20. I've always wanted to try a heart rate monitor, but have never actually purchased one (although I do remember using them many years ago in 6th grade PE class!)

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  21. I have wanted a heart rate monitor for a long time. This sounds like a good fit!

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  22. I've been considering one since I changed trainers and am doing more cross training than just lifting weights. This sounds great!

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  23. Sounds great! I always wanted a HR monitor, especially because I'm such an exercise phys junkie!

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  24. I'd love to try it! I'm just getting back into regular workouts after a hysterectomy and a new gadget might be the thing to keep me working it :-)

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  25. I love this and I really need one!

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  26. Yes, I would like a heart rate monitor, and, yes, I am willing to come out of my cave long enough to post a comment.

    Thanks for the blog!

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  27. I would love to win this to kick start my running!

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  28. Heart rate monitors are great - they showed me that when I was "getting a good workout" I was really in zone 4-5 and hence why I could be working out 6 hours a week and still get winded on a hike. (Damn you anaerobic exercise!)

    I had a heart rate monitor once, and it was grand, although not as nice of one as this. Then the pin popped out of the watch, and it was the world's largest and most impressive pin that refused to be replaced. (The jewerly counter at Walmart gave up after the third pin snapped.) So, being the resourceful woman I am, I whipped out the duct tape.

    Which worked okay until the battery in the chest strap died. Oy.

    So I'd love me a new one, especially a brand name one like Polar. I had gone for the cheapest one with decent reviews when I bought one - I think it was a timex or something.

    And as a bonus, orange and black are my alma mater's colors - go Beavs!

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  29. Cranky! You're back! How long have you been back?! This is what I get for never figuring out how the feed works. All this time I have had to be cranky by myself.

    I don't have a heart rate monitor or any tech other than my iPod, partly because I always imagine the little blond ponytail chicks in the gym thinking, "That poor sad woman, she thinks she's athletic enough to get all kinds of wearable tech." But I could go for a free one. Even pink. Maybe. Hmm.

    At least I know how how to use an elliptical in the proper Cranky way, little blond chick.

    Now I'm gonna go read all the posts I missed.

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  30. You had me at "flexible chest strap"! Thanks for the giveaway!

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  31. I definitely need to get one of these. I was just diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse this week. My dr. told me to wear a hrm when I workout.

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  32. I mean who doesn't need a heart rate monitor?? I would LOVE this one :) come on random number generator.. pick me!

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  33. I love the idea of the heart rate monitor, but I'm never sure enough to drop $100 on one. Poor college student, you know. But I just love graphs so much! Another set of data points to plot? Sign me up.

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  34. Would definitely like to win this.

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  35. Sounds awesome- I've been looking for one!

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  36. It would be a great reward and motivator to see how hard you are working out!! I would love this..

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  37. Wow, what a fun way to keep motivated while working out!

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  38. trying to get into exercising more and it's intimidating!!!! Definitely think a heart rate monitor would help keep me on track....esp a stylish pink one :)

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  39. I would love a Polar HRM!! I have one but not a Polar...

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  40. I had an Polar heart rate monitor (lower end model) about 3 years ago, and it was stolen from campus (who wants someone else's sweaty chest strap???), so I'd love to have a crack at this one. When I had the old one, I was amazed at how much different the monitor's estimate of my calories burned was than the cardio machines I use at the gym, but the monitor's numbers were actually way more plausible.

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  41. I've tried a number of monitors and they are all wrong for so many different reasons. :/ Would love to give this a try!

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  42. Awesome, I would love to have one of these!!

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  43. I sooo need a heart rate monitor. This would be awesome! Thank you.

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  44. Pick me! If I don't win here I'll have to beg Santa to give me one but I think I might be on the naughty list this year.;)

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  45. Very Nice Review. I have thought many times about purchasing one of these. I bought the cheaper Timex model and sadly disappointed

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  46. My Polar HRM is really old and doesn't do anything beyond counting my HR. I would love to win this upgrade, which actually is on my Amazon.com wish list, so please count me in.

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  48. I've always liked the idea of this but not the pricetag - would really like to "trial" this for free.

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  49. Nice! My HRM recently bit the dust, and I'm in the market for a new one.

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  50. When the heck did you start blogging again? And how come nobody told me?! I only found out because Charlotte (Great Fitness Experiment) casually mentioned it.

    I don't normally monitor my heart-rate, but now that I'm being trained to work in the fitness center I've got to learn more about all sorts of gedgetry so I can talk knowledgeably about it.

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  51. I would love to get my hands on one of these! Awesome Giveaway!

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  52. Getting back to working out after a long illness. Would love a new toy!

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  53. I'd love a new HRM. My old one switches between east and west coat time because it has buttons that are easily bumped. Timers go off although I didn't set a timer, etc.

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  54. I love my Garmin for outside. This HRM would be great for the elliptical or stepper where I don't actually go anywhere.

    cammi99

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  55. I have been trying to decide if I'd like to spend some bucks on one of these. I'd love to win!

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  56. I really love working out and this will help me keep track of my workouts.

    thinknap(at)gmail(dot)com

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  57. I love gadgets and data. This would be perfect.

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  58. I have never used a HRM but would like to - just wasn't sure which one to try and if I'm going to spend $100+, it would be nice to know that it works realatively accurately. Would like to know if this one is programmable when doing speed intervals.

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  59. Hi Miller Time--nah, don't think it's programmable for intervals, or if it was, I couldn't figure out how. But I bet pricier Polar's can do that.

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  60. another cranky reader who has never used a hrm- but I would if I had one!

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  61. This is one of the few high-falutin' workout gadgets that I haven't yet sucked it up and tried, so you should throw me a bone and give it to me!

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  62. I am addicted to my Polar HR monitor, but I have to say that my only issue with Polar is that you have to mail your watch to one of their 4 repair centers to get a new battery...and pay for shipping both ways! It cost me $25 to get the new battery! I learned the hard way after trying to change it myself in my old watch, which essentially crashed it.

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  63. I'm so intrigued by these things. I feel like I could get addicted easily and quickly...which isn't always a bad thing! :)

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  64. Oh man, I'd love to have my own heart rate monitor. And Polar the preferred brand according to my personal trainer siblings.

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  65. I have always been a little wary of the chest strap, but I'm willing to try a lot of things when they're free :) I suppose the weird Halloween/sports team type colors are a bonus (?)

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  66. I would love a HRM! I've been thinking about getting one.

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  67. I appreciate your thorough review - you nailed my must-have features!My old, old Polar has about given up the ghost, and my newer-old Polar had a dim screen with small digits, so subsequently was not used. I've used mine for spin class for years, where the lights tend to be low. I'm 45 and farsighted, with no desire to wear my glasses in class. Your observation on the ability to toggle the display to BIG vs. eye-strain-o-vision will probably have me buying an FT4!

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  68. I have been using the FT4 for close to a month and I like it! Only thing is that you can't hear beeps well when you're running outdoors as the sound is rather faint.

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  69. I went out and bout this exact model the other day. I put it on and it took 30 tries to read my heart rate. Once it finally read it right halfway through the workout out it quit working. I returned it and the store manager put it in a pile along with 10 others that people had returned that week. Bad experience with this model.

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  70. Mine Ft4 worked almost perfectly as long as I was working out far away from any other sources of electronic disturbance. I had to make sure to wet the strap thoroughly or it would not transmit. Now, I'm working out at a really high-tech gym with lots of other equipment that reads heart rates, and I never know when my Ft4 will work properly. It says I'm either working out in the danger zone or I'm flatlined!!! I've tried contacting Polar about this, but they just do "the customer is stupid and illiterate" song and dance about have I done everything the manual says to do. YES!!! I have!!!! So, this model could have been made better.

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  71. Mine works very well, and I work at a high tech club, where sometimes the machine next to mine, picks up my HR ! I wonder about accuracy of calories, both for cardio and strength training, as estimates I get elsewhere are very different.
    Did one of those cardio/metabolic tests, and with results input to an application that gives me suggested cardio workouts (different patterns of intervals),
    both with knowledge of my weight/age yet very different calories predicted by
    this website, NewLeaf vs measured on the FT4.

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  73. I have had my Polar FT4 HRM for a year and I have had a very hard time consistently getting my heart rate to be measured correctly. When I first strap it on before working out, it says that my heartrate is 175 or so. I am very frustrated with this piece of equipment and I'm contemplating buying a different brand.

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  74. I've been using Polar HRMs for years starting with my old FS1. The FT4 is a nice HRM and good on Polar for releasing it in so many colors. For those that have never used an HRM before I really recommend it as a way to gauge your improvement while training.

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  75. Got it last night and already took it on its maiden voyage around the neighborhood. The beeping is a bit annoying, but it was late and not much ambient sound to block it out. Running with it in the city will make this a mute point. The LED is easy to read and easy to set up. The chest strap is comfy and snug and the watch has lots of notches to make it fit perfect. I hate being between sizes. Its $10 cheaper at dick's sporting goods than from the polar website. So definitely shop around for a bargain.

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  76. The reason I like a HRM is for intervals. In fact the way I wound up here was to see how to get the time and heart rate on the screen at the same time. I'm not all that happy. Luckily I have a sportline 470 with a count down on it that I can stick to my handle bars. I love that stop watch.

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