Garmin's FR70 fitness watch connects wirelessly to a chest-strap heart rate monitor to help exercisers continuously track their heart rates throughout their workouts. The watch and heart strap retail for $129.99. A separate foot pod (not reviewed) can also sync to the watch to provide distance and cadence information ($69.99 and up). This add-on would help runners who want precise distance information, as the FR70 is not a GPS device.
I used the Garmin FR70 for a variety of workouts over a few weeks. Though I had a few issues, notably with syncing the data to Garmin's online activity center, Garmin Connect, the heart rate monitor was a nice addition to my exercise routine.
The Garmin FR70's watch component has a comfortably flexible rubber band, and was easy to get on and off. The screen is clear and readable, though the buttons can be a little tricky to push.
The heart rate monitor strap is comfortable as well. The strap is a soft elastic, and has a rigid plastic case to hold the heart-rate monitoring electrodes against the chest. It fits close to the body and is barely even visible under all but the tightest of exercise clothes. I tested the chest strap while jogging, lifting weights, doing calisthenics and even doing a little yoga, and found it stayed in place well, though it was a bit distracting during the yoga flow.
First, the good news: the Garmin FR70 is easy enough to figure out right out of the box. I used it for the first time without taking a glance at the directions, and was able to go for a timed jog, monitoring my heart rate the entire way, without any trouble. For someone who has little patience with gadgets, that kind of unwrap-and-go functionality is a big plus. [5 Surprising Ways to be Heart-Healthy]
To get the most out of the device, though, you have to put some effort into getting to know it. The scroll-through menus are fairly easy to navigate, especially considering how much information they contain; you can scroll through your entire workout history on the watch face. It takes a little more legwork to learn to use options like "virtual partner" to their full advantage. Fortunately, Garmin has a series of short instructional videos about setup and customizability options on its website.
I had some initial trouble uploading my data to Garmin Connect, Garmin's online training record website. The FR70 comes with a Bluetooth device so that your watch will wirelessly sync to your computer. It was a breeze downloading the free software to make this work, and syncing was simple — just bringing the watch close to the computer triggers a data upload.
But despite a dialogue box assuring me my data had been sent to Garmin Connect, it did not appear on the website. An email I sent to customer service went unanswered, but a call to the helpline solved the problem promptly.
Another frustration with the Garmin FR70 is that it can be unclear what, exactly, you're buying. Some retailers bundle the watch and heart-rate strap, while others sell the watch alone. And the company's list of features assumes you'll have the foot pod, which is sold separately, making it confusing to figure out what you can and can't do with the watch and strap alone.
Value of information: ★★★★☆
The point of a heart rate monitor is to make sure that you hit your target heart-rate zone while exercising: a moderate 60 percent to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate to build endurance, 70 percent to 80 percent for cardiovascular fitness, or 80 percent to 90 percent for anaerobic workouts to build speed or lung capacity. [10 Amazing Facts About Your Heart]
With the Garmin FR70, you can continuously monitor your heart rate during each exercise session, while the device also records your maximum heart rate and average heart rate. If you input your weight and height, the Garmin FR70 can also estimate how many calories you've burned during a workout.
This is all useful information for the serious exerciser, but people training for an event will probably want to spring for the footpod to measure distance and speed as well.
The usefulness of the Garmin FR70 depends on your exercise personality. For the casual exerciser, heart rate information can be redundant. If you feel like you're exercising at a moderate level, your heart rate is probably in the moderate zone — glancing at the watch during a jog rarely surprised me. And putting on the chest strap and remembering the watch provided one more barrier to getting out the door. If just moving a bit each day to improve health is your goal, a smaller, simpler fitness tracker will probably better serve your needs.
But if data drives you, the FR70 will probably be a boon. It could motivate you to see your heart become more efficient as you grow fitter, and you'll be able to see that you tackle the same hill or activity with fewer beats per minute. And Garmin Connect has a social component so you can connect with friends and compare workouts.
I find exercise gadgets mostly more of a hassle than they're worth, but even I got a little boost using the FR70. Toward the end of my workouts, when I started to feel like I was dragging, it motivated me to look at my wrist and realize I was still in my target heart rate zone — improving my heart health, if not my mile time.
Conclusion: 14 out of 20 stars
The Garmin FR70 is a solid choice of heart rate monitor for serious athletes and people who are motivated by tracking their exercise data. The watch is easy to navigate even without studying the instructions, and the customer service line is quick and responsive.
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