With the rise of obesity and sedentary lifestyles we have also witnessed a surge in services and applications that help you stay healthy or track your progress on the way back to better habits. From Apple’s Nike + iPod integration to Nokia’s push of Sports Tracker with the special N79 Active package, and thanks to modern smartphones sporting an accelerometer that can also serve as a pedometer, there has been, for the last few years, a great choice of gear and software for the sports addict who also happens to be a technology enthusiast.
One such gear, that we don’t see quite often, is the bluetooth heart rate monitor. Today we will look at the Polar WearLink Transmitter With Bluetooth and its integration with several Android applications.
Polar WearLink© Transmitter With Bluetooth©
The Polar WearLink is a simple gadget consisting of a chest strap and a small plastic transmitter. The whole unit is small enough that it will fit easily under a t-shirt and will be barely visible.
Note: my unit says Polar for Nokia, as I got this as part of the Nokia N79 Active package, however it works perfectly well with my HTC Desire Z. Regular Polar WearLink units won’t come with this engraving.
Polar WearLink chest strap and transmitter
The strap’s soft fabric helps it adapt to your body size (M to XXL) and shape without restricting your movement freedom. It is also machine washable, antibacterial, and from personal experience doesn’t provoke any itching or uneasy feeling. It comes with a simple hooking mechanism that helps you wear it and remove it as quickly as possible.
The back of the chest strap holds the two electrodes regions that pick up your heart’s signals, covered with a mesh-like fabric.
The two electrodes covered with mesh
The transmitter clips onto the strap with two small pins and holds perfectly in place. It has a replaceable battery and is water-resistant, so you could use it while swimming, for example. That’s about it: no screen and no buttons, not even a Power one. It works via bluetooth, transmitting your heart’s signals and data to a compatible mobile exercise and training application.
Transmitter: water resistant, removable battery
Pairing for the First Time
When you’re about to start your exercise, you have to attach the transmitter to the strap, moisten the electrodes under running water, and then put the strap tightly around your chest so that the transmitter is in an upright position.
Pairing it with an Android device is a 10-second process. Simply turn Bluetooth on in your phone and look at the available devices nearby. You will see the Polar WearLink as “Polar iWL”; click to connect and enter 0000 as the passcode. Your phone will now connect to the Polar WearLink and start retrieving heart rate data from it, provided that you have a compatible mobile application installed. However, note that you might also have to check your application’s settings page to get it to use the Polar WearLink for heart rate monitoring.
Pairing Request and BPM heart rate in Cardiotrainer
The next time you want to use the Polar WearLink, you have to repeat the same steps in regards to hooking it into place: moistening the electrodes and upright position. You then turn on Bluetooth in your Android phone and launch your exercise application: it should automatically pick up the monitor and show the heart rate data.
Compatible Android Exercise Applications
Cardiotrainer is the application that I have personally been using almost daily for over several months with the Polar WearLink. It is an exercise manager and coaching application that lets you monitor your run or walk via GPS. However, it also allows you to track some activities that only require an accelerometer, like walking on a treadmill (a GPS tracker is pointless in this case). Cardiotrainer can also coach you through your exercise with audio commentary at various intervals, help you track your weight loss goals, play music automatically when you start your exercise, and it also has some cool separate add-ons like a homescreen calories counter widget and a nutrition helper. Above all that, it syncs the data with Google Health as well as its own online portal, giving you multiple ways to access your data.
When paired to a bluetooth heart rate monitor, Cardiotrainer will also track your heart rate throughout the exercise, giving you a detailed progress timeline when you click for details in the exercise’s summary page.
Cardiotrainer's detailed heart rate graph
Heart rate data also integrates with the audio coaching feature, and Cardiotrainer will calculate your ideal fat burning zone based on your age, notifying you when you should slow down or go faster to reach that zone.
Cardiotrainer's heart rate and fat burn zone settings
The Polar WearLink Transmitter With Bluetooth also works with other applications and services available on the Android platform:
Most of these exercise applications share the same features as CardioTrainer Pro, but it all comes down to personal preference and whether you already use one of them to track your exercise and don’t want to migrate or lose your data. However, some applications like Runkeeper don’t offer indoors tracking support with the accelerometer for exercises like treadmill walking or running, so you might want to keep that in mind when choosing the service that best fits you.
An Ideal Setup?
About 3 months ago, I decided to get back to a more active lifestyle and to watch my diet, and using the Polar WearLink alongside Cardiotrainer gave the geek and mobile enthusiast in me a nice way to ally technology with weight loss, in a self control step to make the whole process more fun. 9kgs (about 20lbs) down, and a more active version of me sits at the computer today to write this review. Suffice it to say, the method worked. Thanks to the technology, I can listen to music yet still be alerted when I’m going too slow or too fast to burn fat, I can also keep an eye on my heart rhythm, my progress, how many calories I lost, and hence have a visual reminder of where I was three months ago and how far I got.
Polar WearLink + HTC Desire Z running Cardiotrainer Pro
There are many things I would like to be improved, like removing the electrodes moistening step, as I almost always forget it, then notice Cardiotrainer isn’t picking my heart rate and have to run to the sink to do it. I would also like to be able to only track my heart rate: that would be fun when driving for example, to see if the various clueless drivers on the street have an effect on my heart. But these are all minor improvements. The main features are there and if it wasn’t for the hefty price tag of $79.95 for the unit, I would give it a perfect 10/10. As it stands, I am giving it a 9/10 since not many people can afford it.