For the past 6 months I have been dabbling in the new world of heart rate training thanks to the input from my good friend Eric here at Hampton Runner. At first I was using a standard Garmin chest strap with my 910xt and Fenix 2. It performed great except for the fact that I would chafe on my upper stomach where the sensors would rest on my skin. It became so bad I began to not wear my chest strap anymore to allow the scabs to heal, in turn making me run harder than I should have resulting in overuse injuries. I was in search of a remedy and Eric offered the new Mio Alpha 2. If you are in the market for a new heart rate monitor hopefully my thoughts below will point you in the right direction towards your new investment.
The Mio Alpha 2 is Mio’s newest, top-of-the-line wrist mounted heart rate monitor. The watch utilizes electro-optical cells on the underside of the face to detect your pulse. It is worn just like a regular watch and with it’s light 53 gram weight it feels very sleek and minimalist. The size is smaller than my Fenix2 and 910xt while being about the same as my wife’s Garmin Forerunner 15.
The soft rubber straps have enough “give” in them to wear the watch at the proper tension to receive an accurate heart rate reading without cutting off circulation. The instructions for the proper reading of heart rate is to wear the sensor 1”-3” above your wrist bone. (I had some runs with mismatched HR readings from my Garmin strap but once I moved the watch up my arm a little bit, my readings became more parallel to each other.)
The watch utilizes Bluetooth Smart 4.0 to connect to popular apps such as Strava or RunKeeper or BTLE enabled watches offered by Suunto, Polar, TomTom or Timex. This is all fine and dandy except for the fact that I wanted to connect the watch to my Garmin Fenix2 instead of my ANT+ HR strap (Garmin only supports Ant+). I also hate carrying my cell phone on runs so my ability to connect the Mio to an app for a run was almost never. In the end, I downloaded the free MioGo app to automatically download my HR. Then after the workout I had to look at my file on Garmin Connect to see when and where my HR spiked. In other words I was using two apps instead of one like would prefer.
Setting up the watch is easy. The watch itself has two buttons: the left controls the mode and settings while the right button acts as the HR sensor turn-on as well as the timer start/pause/stop. By holding the left button you can adjust your individual weight, height and HR zones on the watch itself, or you can do what I did and go on the MioGo app on your Smartphone to adjust the settings there. The ability to customize the display such as LED heart rate zone flashes or timer displays is a great feature as well. Holding down the right button will activate the HR sensor and usually after 10-30 seconds your pulse will be read. The watch is now ready for activity.
To start an activity, simply press the right button to start the timer or chronograph. The built-in accelerometers will measure your pace, calories burned and distance although side-by-side to my Fenix2 the totals were off. To stop and save the workout, simply press and hold the right button. When you open your MioGo app, it will automatically sync your workout displaying your average heart rate, max heart rate, pace, distance as well as a HR graph:
The Alpha 2 has a rechargeable lithium-poly battery giving the user about 20-24 hours of continuous heart rate monitoring, or up to 3 months without the sensor on. It comes with a USB magnetic charger that charges the watch quickly.
The Mio’s built-in accelerometer that tracks the pace, speed, distance and calories is fairly accurate as well. In the dense foliage of on the East Coast trails, my Garmin Fenix 2 will often read a quarter mile short (or more) of the true distance of the trail. But, surprisingly, with the Mio Alpha 2, the accuracy was within a couple hundred yards on average. What makes this even more weird is when trail running my stride varies greatly when coming into technical sections (i.e. shortened, faster steps) than when I run on flat, flowy singletrack sections but yet the distances were pretty close to true. Running on the roads were just as accurate as well. There were many times that I wore my Mio over my Garmin because I knew the GPS signal would make my pace so far off from the truth and mentally hinder my performance.
The Mio Alpha 2 is a great tool for those who hate wearing the standard chest straps. The readings of heart rate were accurate on most occasions and the accelerometer was actually more reliable than good ol’ GPS in the dirt and trees. However, I really missed having ANT+ connectivity.
Another issue that arouse was the location the watch had to be on my wrist to get an accurate reading. On some days it needed to be higher up the wrist than other days and different extreme temperatures made the sensor not read the pulse correctly. On some occasions I had my HR read 20-30 BPM below my Garmin during a run. Sure these were freak occurrences but must be noted.
But the overall experience with the Mio Alpha 2 was good because the comfort of no chest strap outweighs the fact that I had to manually look at two different workout files at once to compare and contrast workout results. Besides the two issues stated above, I think Mio made a good watch that is accurate with your heart rate, pretty accurate with distance, minimalist in it’s design. It has solid ease of use, is comfortable to wear, but I do wish it has both Bluetooth and ANT+ capabilities.
The Mio Alpha 2 can be purchased at Mio for $30 off until August 31, 2015 – http://www.mioglobal.com/save-30-alpha2.htm