May 30, 2017

Lifetrak Zoom HRV Review

By Crabby McSlacker

As a greedy, gadget-obsessed health blogger, I was pretty psyched to get the opportunity to review the Lifetrak Zoom HRV Zoom HRV activity tracker. (And, full disclosure: I got to keep it).

The Zoom measures a wide variety of activity metrics from your wrist (or ankle, or forearm). What you do not need to use the Zoom: a chest strap!

So I've been testing the Zoom out for a couple of weeks in true Crabby McSlacker style: misunderstanding instructions, forgetting to hit "record" to begin or end my workouts, failing to appreciate the nuances, and finding myself too lazy for a comprehensive data comparison with my other activity tracker, the Polar M400.

Yet my lack of reviewing diligence does not, of course, keep me from having opinions.

So what's good and bad about the the Lifetrak Zoom? And who should buy one and who should not?

Features of the LifeTrak Zoom

Wanna see some of the specs? (And yes, this is the part of the review where I exercise my "cut and paste" muscles).

  • Optical heart rate (PPG) measurement
  • Auto and on-demand heart rate variability (HRV)
  • Under-water heart rate
  • HR zone vibra-alert
  • Real-Time Fitness Scoring
  • VScan (yielding a VScore fitness/recovery measurement)
  • Bluetooth® and ANT+ compatible
  • Zoom HRV app for iOS and Android
  • Can be worn on wrist, arm, head (???!!?) or leg (punctuation mine)
  • Smart Activity Tracking
  • Inactivity alert
  • Activity type tracking
  • HR-linked, 24-hour calorie burn
  • Measures total sleep time and assesses sleep quality
  • Swim lap counter
  • Step counter
  • Distance traveled
  • Step and distance calibration
  • Time
  • LED indicators
  • Vibration alarm
  • Rechargeable lithium ion battery
  • Pod docking station with charging cable (included)
  • Water Resistance, Submersible up to 50M
  • Limited 1 year Warranty plus additional year with registration
  • Adjustable, ultra-soft silicone band
  • Impact resistant ABS pod

An impressive list, and one of the most surprising, for a wrist-based monitor, is it's ability to track Heart Rate Variability. HRV might sound like something you wouldn't want much of, right? When we think of our hearts, we tend to think: Let's not get too crazy in there, no messing around ok? Just keep to the beat, no lollygagging or racing around.

But it turns out that in general, high HRV tends to be a good thing. It means your heart is more chill, open-minded and adaptable and not afraid to change things up. Whereas low HRV is more likely to mean a heart that's uptight and inflexible and uncool, like your old uncle Mort, who refuses to learn to text and hasn't changed his hairstyle since 1967. HRV has something to do with the varying input of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems but whatever. High HRV seems to mean more parasympathetic activity, stuff like relaxing, digesting, sleeping and recovering, as opposed to the whole stressful and fight or flight mode of the sympathetic nervous system.

Why is HRV so hip now? It's being touted as a powerful indicator of not only your exercise recovery status, but as a predictor of all kinds of good (or dire) health outcomes. There's research to back some of the claims up, others seem possibly a little too gung ho, but what do I know?

You can find out a lot more about heart rate variability by checking out Heartmath's HRV info, or Lifetrak's. Or check out our friends at Wikipedia or Mark's Daily Apple. (And Mark also has some tips on How to Increase your HRV.)

The Zoom is certainly not the only device that measures this. My Polar RCX3F did too. As does my Polar M400. But they required chest straps to measure it.

So What's Great About the Zoom?

--The sheer number of things it measures. I won't repeat the whole list, but wowza. Especially its ability to give you a recovery score based on HRV so you know if it's a good day to push yourself hard or take it easy.

Note: you can measure HRV in real time if you want to sit still for 3 minutes, but even better, it automatically takes it every night as you sleep so you get a score every morning.

My recovery score varied a fair amount, and seemed to track well with how I actually felt and performed. Who knows if it's accurate in any absolute sense, I don't have a physiology lab handy, but it did seem to be a useful measure, and it will be nice to know if HRV is going down or up over time.

--The smartphone app is pretty darn decent. You can record your workouts right onto your phone and view the app data during your workout, or if you don't want to take your phone, the Zoom will record your workout and you can upload it along with all your other data later.

--It's Relatively Low Profile and Flexible: For a tracker that measures so many things, it's not hideously ugly on the wrist. Look how massive and ridiculous my Polar looks next to it, like I mixed up my electronics and accidentally strapped a big screen TV to my forearm.

Plus the zoom can be worn on the arm or ankle if you don't want anything on your wrist at all. (Or hell, try the WTF option of wearing it on your head).

What Was Not So Great About the Zoom

--Accuracy Questions: My Polar M400 uses a chest strap for recorded workouts, has GPS, and does all day/night activity tracking too.  I was really really hoping that the data I got from the Zoom would be fairly close to what my Polar was telling me.

Not so much. Real time heart rate, total steps, calories burned, maximum and minimum heart rates: lots of discrepancy between the two different kinds of monitors.  Total daily steps and calories were roughly 25% lower on the zoom than my Polar, and real-time heart-rate would sometimes be as much as 40 beats a minute different during high intensity workouts. (Note: if the Zoom were giving me extra credit for my efforts, instead of less, I might feel less pissy about it.)

Of course, it's theoretically possible that the Zoom is right, and my Polar has been wrong all this time. Yet is it a coincidence that I keep reading that wrist heart rate monitors are less accurate than chest strap monitors?

Zoom's technology is better than the average wrist based monitor, it has more sensors than most do, so it's possible it's accurate and my Polar is wrong, but I remain suspicious.

--Display: I found the lack of a real display on the watch to be a huge pain in the ass. There is theoretically a way to tell time on it, within five minutes, but frequently I'd make the magic gesture with my wrist and nothing would happen. You are mostly dependent on your smartphone to see what's going on, and if you don't want to bring a phone along with you, you have to try to decipher various flashes and buzzes that were sometimes too confusing for this clueless blogger to comprehend.

--Buttons:  Well, not plural actually. There's only one. Which means you have to learn how to tell it to do things by pressing the button three times in a row, or two, or one, or hold it for three seconds, etc depending on what you want to do. Using up valuable brain memory cells which could be storing ATM passwords or the location of your car keys and sunglasses.

Bottom Line:

I'd recommend this for folks who (a) want a lot of functionality without a lot of bulk; (b) like to exercise with their smartphones so don't care so much about a super-fancy display on their wrists, and who (c) are looking for a general sense of their activity levels and recovery status. It's definitely the least-hassle way to measure HRV I've encountered, and HRV does seem like a smart number to be aware of.

But if my experience is typical, the device might disappoint those who prefer a display that doesn't need a smartphone to read, and are more demanding about heart-rate accuracy during vigorous exercise.

Anyone else a gadget nut? Or do you prefer to go low tech when you workout? Or hey, how was your memorial day weekend, was your weather as shitty as our was?


  1. I've cycled through being high tech, low tech and everywhere in between. Right now I'm using a FitBit. I've had a One for years, and it doesn't do a ton, but is very unintrusive. A friend gave me their unused Surge - great! GPS! Heart rate!

    Covering the exact same walking route, I would get (for a roughly 4.5-5.0 mile route) 2-3K fewer steps! WHAT ON EARTH. So I'm not sure if my One is super sensitive, or if the Surge is horrendously insensitive (LOL). I know that pushing a cart can cause a wrist based device to not count steps, but I'm moving my arms when I walk. When I run that distance, the step discrepancy was less but still in the thousands.

    ANYWAY, I'd love the more feature rich device, but mentally it means accepting that my average daily step count will go down. Harrumph. So I'm still wearing my One. It's on borrowed time I feel, so maybe at some point I'll be forced away from it when it stops working.

    I was in Santa Barbara for the holiday weekend, and the weather was, for me, simply perfect. Not cold, not hot.

    1. Also, yeah, the optical heart rate probably isn't as accurate, but it's directional. I can tell if my heart rate is going up, or if I'm just loafing. I guess I'm at the point where I don't need super high performance, but the data is neat to have.

    2. Interesting OTF, and thanks for the info on your Surge vs Fitbit One, sounds like big discrepencies between devices are pretty normal.

      I guess the important things is relative accuracy over time, not some sort of absolute number, and I suspect as technology evolves they'll get ever more reliable. But it's human nature to want the MOST credit we can get! Let's just hope our bigger numbers are the "real" ones. :)

  2. Memorial day weather wasn't so bad, today we earned our living in a swamp status.

    If i were to get a gadget, it would probably have to have a display on it or i wouldn't bother.

    1. Hmm "Swamp status" Messymimi, so is that actually a good thing? :)

  3. I tried to comment through G+ and apparently my comment disappeared when I didn't sign in to Google because I was already signed in, or what would I be doing there???
    Were there instructions for HOW to wear it on your head? I tried to imagine activities where that would be preferable. Or even possible. But if you were wearing it on your head, you couldn't see the display, even if there were one. That must be their reasoning.
    I love data, but I don't just want to collect it, I want to consult it in action. I have looked at fitness trackers and marveled at the ones that don't have a readout. Who likes them and why?
    Our Memorial Day weather was quite nice. The predicted rain did not happen, which since I was working was especially nice, no muddy dogs (even gravel makes mud), no dogs refusing to pee outdoors.
    Mary Anne in Kentucky

    1. I have never figured out the mysteries of G+ Mary Anne!

      And yeah, the "head" thing makes no sense but I swear the instructions included it as an option. There's no band included that would have fit any human head either, so maybe it's just a specialty item for Coneheads?

      And glad you were spared the rain!

  4. oooh apparently GROW UP CARLA loves her the gadgets in a way BABY NEW BLOGGER CARLA did not.
    I want.
    Need? No :-)but want.

    1. I'm with you Carla, even grown ups need their toys!

  5. I had a Mio watch way back, somewhere around 2001 I think; that was my first foray into fitness gadgets. I liked the Mio watch; it recorded heart rate, you could record a workout...Not a whole lot else back then, but seemed pretty cool at the time. It also had buttons you pressed for different functions. I had it for about 6 months, and the main button got stuck; company could not repair or replace; I was disappointed.

    Since then I've had a couple of pedometers, a gym boss (interval timer), and a running watch.

    Fitbits came along and I was ambivalent; been there, done that.

    Eventually I caved and I've had a Fitbit Blaze for almost a year. I do like it, but for me it's more of a reality check/motivation tool. I don't get all that obsessed with the numbers, but I did really find it to be eye opening about activity levels. And I like the alarm feature (a vibration rather than a noise), and it will vibrate and display a message when my cell phone is ringing or I get a text (really good for me since I hardly ever hear my phone ringing).

    So I guess I am a bit of a gadget nut, but I'm pretty laid back about it. :)

  6. HI!! I still am not getting notifications of your posts. I tried to subscribe again but it says I am already subscribed. Can you make sure I am not blocked... THX!!!!

  7. Low tech here. I have a Fitbit One and it does all I need. When/if it dies, I won't replace it. But that is just me! I am working on finding a way to live a 'normal' life without all the concerns of "Have I done enough steps?" or "Did I get enough quality sleep?"
    I know if I have been active and I know when insomnia strikes. lol

    Memorial weekend was supposed to be a three day camping trip. It lasted one and a half days before we had to head home for a medical emergency. We survived a horrific storm in the camper but never got to walk the trails at the park. :(

    (we're all fine, don't worry)

  8. I'm pretty low-tech when it comes to tracking and exercise. I currently have one of those Apple watch things and I wear it sometimes but not all the time. This looks like a cool piece of kit packed full of features!

  9. Wow, so many features! Kind of looks like something from the future :)


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