When it comes to heart rate monitors (HRMs), there seem to be only a couple quality brands on the market with a slew of different models by each vendor. The one you choose really depends on what you want to do with it. I’ve found the two primary reasons to wear one are for fitness and for athletic training (marathons, triathlons, etc). Personally, I use mine for fitness — to track my heart rate monitor during workouts and also to find out how many calories I’ve burned. If you are looking for a HRM for fitness, the Suunto M4 is a solid choice.
Note: I’ve worn a Polar HRM five days a week for the past three years, so learning a new interface was something I actually had to gear up for. (It was hard enough moving from my Blackberry to my Droid so the HRM was going to be interesting . . . but I had an open mind!)
Out of the box, I was genuinely surprised at how easy the Suunto is to set up. The paper directions in the box are visual but not hugely helpful. They seem to have far more text in every language except English. Regardless, they get the point across enough that you can get up and running quickly. There are two pieces to the unit: a wristwatch and a chest strap. The chest strap is made of a really comfortable, thin material. It has a soft and mildly tacky texture that gently grips your chest. Hands down, one of my favorite things about the Suunto is that it found my heart rate on the first try…every single time I put it on. Those of you who have experience with other HRMs will appreciate this part. I can’t even count how many runs/hikes/cardio classes where I’ve spent the first 10 minutes fidgeting with my chest strap to get it to pick up my heart rate. So, chest strap up and running: Check. Didn’t even have to moisten the sensors like the directions say (which every HRM I’ve used requires.)
OK, moving to the wristwatch. The black wristwatch is actually quite stylish as far as HRMs go. That was even the “talk of the walk” with the girls during my weekly hiking group. The display area on the wristwatch interface is big with large numbers. The numbers on the interface are light grey and set on a dark grey background so they were not as easy to read as I’d hoped. During a run, I had to hold my wrist steady and focus my eyes to read my heart rate.
There are three settings that you get to choose from when setting up the Suunto M4: Improving Fitness, Weight Management, and Free Training. Fitness is designed to help pace your heart rate against a training program. I think this is the highest “performance” setting for this watch. Anything more complex and you may want to consider a higher performance HRM.
If your goal is to lose weight, the Weight setting takes in your height/weight and fitness goal and then kicks back a program to reach it. Playing around with the settings, I told it I wanted to lose ten pounds. The watch told me to “reduce my calorie intake to 1200 cals a day.” It also gave me a fitness program so that when I started the HRM, it said: Day 1: work out “Hard” for 35 minutes at an average heart rate of 147. Day 2 had the same program. Day 3 was slightly different, and so on. The HRM also tracked my workout so I could keep track of my progress and even sync it to my computer to keep it stored there. (I tried a few times to make this computer sync happen but it could never find my computer.) I have a good idea about fitness, caloric intake and how to gain/lose weight and think if I actually used the Suunto’s guidelines (generally speaking), it could be a great tool to do it.
Lastly, there is the Free Training setting, which is what I used most of the time. It is the most straightforward setting. It tracks heart rate, duration of workout, average heart rate and cals burned. One thing I had to get used to with this unit was the button to start reading my heart rate and the button to start tracking my workout were two different buttons. That was new to me so there were quite a few workouts where I didn’t start my tracker until ½ way through. I work out outside and at the gym. One great feature of the Suunto is that the cardio equipment at my gym picks it up. I jumped on the elliptical and without using my wrist watch, it instantly read my current heart rate from the chest strap. Very nice feature! Like many other HRMS, the Suunto also has the standard features you will find in most HRMs like a saved workouts and different options to view your progress during the workout.
The Suunto M4 fit like a glove. Very comfortable chest strap and the watch was perfect.
All in all, I really did like the Suunto M4. It’s a great looking HRM that worked like a charm. It was difficult to read the numbers on the wrist piece but that is also subjective to my aging eyes! I’d certainly recommend it to anyone I know.