I mentioned the other day that I’d got this thing, so I thought I’d do a quick report on what it is, what it does, and why I got it, though possibly not in that order.
It started with using Runkeeper to track my walking distance and speed. They should probably do a version called Walkkeeper for me, but the standard one will do for now. I noticed that it was possible to get a dongle that plugs into the iPhone and receives data from a heart rate monitor that was compatible with the ANT+ standard, which is apparently widely supported. I thought that this might be at least moderately interesting, so I started looking into it. Getting the dongle was easy enough – I found it here:
But the next thing to consider was the heart rate monitor. I could have just got a sensor strap, but I thought getting the usual watch thingy as well would be a bit more flexible, and would allow me to check my heart rate while I’m on the exercise bike. Now in the past, the name I’ve always thought of for heart rate thingies is Polar – they make a wide range of devices at various levels of cleverness. But it seems that this matter of transmitting data in a compatible way is one of those kind of standards, best summarised by the line I stole from somewhere or other:
Standards are like toothbrushes. Everybody agrees they’re important, but nobody wants to use someone else’s.
Polar have their own standard to allow various sensors to talk to their watches and devices. This ANT+ standard, is apparently managed by a company owned by Garmin, best known for their GPS kit, but who also do fitness monitoring stuff, and so Polar are not all that keen on adopting it. So, I looked a bit further. The Garmin range includes a good selection at a wide range of prices. At the higher end, there are watches with full GPS tracking, which is cool, but they generally need to be recharged rather frequently, which is not something I really need from a watch, and as the iPhone already tracks where I’m going, I don’t really need the feature anyway. So, after some dithering, I decided that the FR60 was the best bet for me. It comes with a USB dongle that allows the data from the watch to be wirelessly transmitted to your computer – both Windows and Mac OS are supported. That data can then be viewed in their software, or uploaded to their web service for all the world (or as much of it as you want to allow) to see.
There’s an optional foot pod thing to go with the watch and usual chest strap heart rate sensor. This has a clip that you fit under a shoelace, and the actual sensor fits very securely into that. With this in place, the watch is able to record how far you’ve walked, run, strolled, or whatever. While I didn’t really need this, I ended up getting the bundle that includes it, and it does seem to work quite well. It’s not as precise as GPS tracking, but it does give a good indication of what you’re doing and how fast you’re moving.
Getting it all working was interesting – you need to download the software from Garmin first, as they don’t bother to put an out of date CD in the box. Install that, then connect the dongle and bring your watch within three metres. Then wait. And wait. Pairing took so long that I thought it wasn’t going to work at first, but when I came back to check later, it had sorted itself out. Once the watch has paired with the dongle, it will automatically transfer its data as soon as its within range.
So far, it all seems to work quite well. The strap is comfortable enough to wear under my shirt when I walk to work, though I remove it as soon as I arrive. The footpod does its thing, the watch displays useful information, and getting the data onto my computer is simple – I once had one that used infrared to do the data transfer, and that was a wee bit flaky.
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