While many people have no problem with heart rate monitor straps, I have a bad history with them not getting good readings. Yet I want a continuous heart rate reading rather than the inconvenience using a pulse touch pad (as with the Mio Classic) or going old school and taking your pulse with a watch.
Mio Alpha is worn like a watch and optical sensors on the back continuously read you heart rate. You can view the heart rate on the watch or link up with ANT+ devices or Bluetooth Smart apps on iPhones or Android phones.
Simple to Use
Another quibble I have with heart rate monitors is that they can be very complicated to set up and use. I literally have to carry the instruction sheet with me for the first several workouts. The Mio Alpha keeps things very simple. You set the time of day, and you can set your upper and lower heart rate limits. That's it.
The problem with "that's it" is that you'll have to determine for yourself what heart rate zone you want to work out in and at what beats per minute you want to set the upper and lower alert. You can use my Target Heart Rate Calculator to determine what to input, based on your age.
When you are ready to exercise, press the HR button on the right until it says FIND and within a few seconds it displays your heart rate reading. Now press the HR button again to begin recording a workout.
The Mio Alpha continuously displays your heart rate. If you are below your zone, you see a down arrow, beep, and blue light flashing. If you are above your upper zone, a red light flashes, a up arrow shows and it beeps. If you are in the zone, you see a green light flash. I liked the combination of light, arrow, and beep.
During an exercise session, you can toggle between the heart rate display, the stopwatch display (hours, minutes, seconds), and the time of day (hours and minutes).
To end an exercise session, press the HR button until it says END. The watch then returns to TIME mode.
Reviewing Your Exercise Session
To review a session, press the left side TOGGLE button and it says "LAST RUN." It displays the elapsed time of the session, average heart rate for the session, and time in zone. You can only review the last session, not any previous sessions.
Wearing the Mio Alpha as a Watch
I found the Mio Alpha to be very comfortable to wear as a watch, but it lacks a backlight, so you can't see the time at night. You could still tell if you were in the heart rate zone from the blue, green and red flash, but that's it. It is also more stylish than many fitness watches.
You can wear the Alpha while swimming, as long as you don't press the watch buttons while under water.
Battery Life and Charging
The battery should last for eight to ten hours in Exercise mode. That may not be long enough for slower walkers on a marathon. You recharge it via a USB dongle, and it has a good display to tell you it really is charging (or not).
Bluetooth and ANT+ Connections
With only one workout stored on the Mio Alpha, I thought it was a pretty expensive device to do what a $50 chest-strap heart rate monitor would do. However, what redeems the Alpha for me is that it transmits its data to your smarter devices. I use it with the MapMyWalk+ iPhone app and I can view my heart rate as well my speed, distance, steps and map on the MapMyWalk web site. The app does what I would want a fancier heart rate monitor to do -- splits, calories burned, etc. It was very easy and seamless for my iPhone to pick up the Mio Alpha via Bluetooth. It pairs with a wide variety of apps including Endomondo, Wahoo Fitness, MapMyWalk, and MiCoach.
In order to track and save a workout, you need to launch one of those apps at the time you are doing it. You can't go back afterward and download it from the Mio Alpha.
Bottom Line on the Mio Alpha
At $199, this is a very expensive heart rate monitor and you need to consider whether it will do what you want it to do before buying it. I was extremely pleased with how easy it was to use. I thought the readings were accurate and I love the zone alerts. I was also very pleased with how well it paired with iPhone apps via Bluetooth to record workouts.
If you have lots of difficulty with chest strap heart rate monitors, then the Mio Alpha is worth considering. But if the chest straps work for you, then you are better off buying a less expensive chest strap heart rate monitor. Before You Buy a Heart Rate Monitor
Several reviewers have pointed out that the expense is the same as Garmin workout watches that track speed and distance with GPS as well as pair with a heart rate monitor strap.
I suspect the Mio Alpha is just one of many similar devices that will be debuting. The Omron HR-500U will track heart rate in the same way, but with different features (including pace, distance and calories burned in addition to the heart rate and zone alerts).