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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Ian Evenden

Best heart rate monitor watches to keep an eye on your ticker

One of the most useful features of owning a smartwatch, right up there with being able to get notifications that vibrate on your wrist instead of your phone making a noise, is their ability to monitor your heart rate.

Being able to keep a digital eye on the speed that your heart is pumping at provides a great deal of insight into your fitness, it will help you exercise more effectively, and being able to see and track your improvements will provide a greater boost to your chances of carrying on with your exercise plan rather than giving up and ordering a takeaway.

The sheer number of physical tracking features built into modern smartwatches is blurring the line between them and dedicated fitness trackers, and wearing one on your wrist is more convenient than using a chest strap or armband, though these may be more accurate and are preferred by athletes trying to get the most useful amount of information to inform their training regime.

For the rest of us, a watch will do just fine, and having health information integrated into something you’d wear anyway is more convenient than having to slip on a specialist piece of equipment every time you want some heart rate data.

Smartwatch heart rate monitors work by shining a light - usually a green one - on your skin from underneath the watch. Using a process known as photoplethysmography, flowing blood can be detected via the amount of green light it absorbs or reflects. When your heart beats, the flow is increased, and light reflected back from the blood flow is detected using a sensor on the watch, and combined with motion data from the watch’s accelerometer to measure pulse speed. This differs from other heart-rate gear, which may use electrical signals to track your heart activity, but is less convenient to build into a watch.

Whatever your fitness needs, having a heart-rate monitor in your smartwatch is a convenient and simple way to analyse your pulse throughout the day. Here are some of the best.

Best heart monitor watches at a glance:

Apple Watch Series 9

Best for: everyday use with an iPhone

Apple’s WatchOS has a dedicated Heart Rate app that shows your current, resting and average walking pulse, and which can produce graphs showing them throughout the day. There’s more data in the Health app, which can show you heart rate data from the last year, if you’ve been wearing the watch that long.

The Series 9 has a new and improved heart rate sensor that offers greater accuracy, there’s an electrical activity sensor for giving yourself an ECG, and WatchOS 10 has upgraded its fitness tracking with new tools for detecting cycling workouts. The downside of the Apple Watch is that it won’t work with Android phones, meaning only iPhone users can use its tracking features.

Buy now £399.00, John Lewis

Amazfit Bip U Pro

Best for: heart rate tracking on a budget

Lightweight and cheap, the Bip U Pro is a great smartwatch for the money, offering silent notifications and Amazon Alexa voice commands alongside the ability to find your phone when you’ve lost it under a sofa cushion. There’s also the tell-tale green light of a heart rate monitor peeking out from underneath the watch, and in the Zepp smartphone app, you’re able to dig into this data to see resting heart rate as well as stress, sleep and blood oxygen monitoring.

You get a lot for your money with the Bip U Pro, though its cheap rubber finish and thick bezel around the screen may put some off.

Buy now £59.00, Amazon

Garmin Vivoactive 4S

Best for: runners who want to look good

Garmin’s range of sports watches do tend to have a bit of a functional design, so it’s good to see one that can take on some of the better-looking smartwatches at their own game, with a sleek and modern look instead of a chunky rubber suit of armour.

Garmin uses your heart rate as part of the calculation to determine your Performance Condition - a good way of tracking improvements in your fitness over time - and the Vivoactive 4S will display a graph of your pulse. It’s a basic fitness watch compared to others in the range, but an accessible one too.

Buy now £199.00, Argos

Google Pixel Watch

Best for: Android phones

Google bought Fitbit, so it’s no surprise to see that company’s technology make its way into the first Google Pixel Watch. You get a six-month trial subscription to Fitbit Premium, but all the heart and fitness monitoring features will work with the Google Health app too. You’ll need to keep your Fitbit account separate from your Google one.

There’s optical and electronic heart-rate sensing, blood oxygen saturation monitoring, and the usual smartwatch sleep tracking and notifications. The biggest drawback of the Pixel Watch is its short battery life, which means you’ll be charging it every day. Otherwise, it’s a great-looking, and great-performing, smartwatch with top-notch heart rate monitoring capabilities.

Buy now £339.00, Amazon

Ticwatch Pro 5

Best for: a Pixel Watch alternative

This Android-only smartwatch pairs a Snapdragon processor and Google’s WearOS to create a watch that could almost be mistaken for an old-fashioned analogue watch at first glance, especially if you choose a watch face with hands to display on the OLED screen.

There are sensors for your heart rate and blood oxygen saturation, with a real-time monitoring option you can enable when exercising to gather more data than the usual method of detecting your heart rate every minute. Combine this with a long-lasting battery (for a smartwatch) and 5ATM water resistance, and you have a great companion for exercise.

Buy now £329.00, Amazon

Fitbit Inspire 3

Best for: Fitbit fans

Where exactly is the line between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch? The Inspire 3 displays the time and lives on your wrist, so that makes it a watch... right? Perhaps there’s something about the elongated lozenge-shaped casing, rather than round or square, that rules it out. Whatever it is, the Inspire 3 is a bargain-priced way to keep an eye on your heart rate, including the detection of irregular cardiac rhythms, and blood oxygen monitoring.

There’s a six-month trial subscription to Fitbit Premium included, but after that, you’ll need to pay if you want to keep using the added features, which include guided workouts, a daily readiness score that collates heart rate, sleep and exercise data, and even recipes for a healthy lifestyle. With a ten-day battery life and priced well under £100, the Inspire 3 is a great watch even without the subscription.

Buy now £84.00, Amazon

Polar Vantage V2

Best for: use with a chest strap

Most heart-monitoring smartwatches use their own built-in sensor, but some can be used with a chest strap, which gets closer to the heart of the matter by more directly measuring cardiac activity. One such is the Vantage V2, which can be bought in a bundle with the H10 strap.

The watch offers a week-long battery life as well as 100m of water resistance. By pairing it with the chest band, you can measure heart-rate variability and recovery after exercise, and there are tools to create training schedules based on pushing your heart rate to various percentages of its maximum. There’s a lot here for the serious athlete, but it may be too much for someone just looking to compute their resting heart rate.

Buy now £349.00, Amazon

Withings ScanWatch Horizon

Best for: looking like a traditional watch

This hybrid smartwatch has analogue hands and looks like a diver’s watch, with a rotating bezel and chromed casing, but also has a small circular screen that can display information including your heart rate.

Once the heart rate data is transferred to the companion smartphone app, there are lots of health-tracking features on offer. It uses both optical and electrical sensors, and can measure blood oxygen saturation too. However, with its tiny screen, reading notifications and messages is trickier than with other smartwatches, and you might be better off with a more overtly digital wrist companion rather than one that hides its smarts.

Buy now £449.00, Amazon


Smartwatches that can measure your heart rate are an important tool for anyone who’s interested in the way their body reacts to exercise or recovers after it. Your heart rate and rhythm can give important insights into your stress levels and general health, and the beauty of a smartwatch is that it’s a small, relatively innocuous device that you’ll always have with you.

Watches like the Apple Watch or Google Pixel Watch are so much more than just heart-rate monitors, but you’ll need to be prepared to pay the high price of entry. That’s where cheaper watches and fitness trackers come in. It’s possible to get a watch that monitors your heart rate, and has other smartwatch features too, without spending several hundred pounds, and the information you glean from them can be worth a lot more.

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