Gear Corner – Review of the Polar H7 Heart Rate Sensor with Bluetooth (a.k.a Bluetooth Blues)

I love using Endomondo to track my workouts; that way I only need to carry my Blackberry along on my run (which is nice because it also plays music, and I can even take pictures and/or tweet if I feel like it).  What’s always been missing is heart rate data.  Endomondo has always been able to integrate heart rate data (even if you import from a Garmin), but now that there are Bluetooth HR sensors, it seemed like that might be the way to go.  Just pair the sensor with the smartphone and run.  No problem.

Running Free, one of my favourite retailers for running and triathlon stuff carried one, so I wouldn’t have to pay duty or international shipping fees.  I’ve worked with enough Bluetooth devices to know how finicky they can be.  The entire process can be infuriating, you don’t know which end should be seeking or listening, and you’re never given much to go on as to why devices won’t detect each other, or if they do, they won’t pair.  This device took the cake though; there is no code to enter, no light to indicate what mode it’s in, or even if it’s on.

The instructions merely tell you to wet the appropriate areas, where to put the strap on (just below the chest muscles) and tell you to turn on Bluetooth on your device.  Any trouble connecting and they simply question whether you wet it appropriately.  I tried it with my BlackBerry (Bold 9900) and my (new) iPad and nothing worked.  I contacted Polar to see if they could offer extra steps to take, and they let me know this sensor is only compatible with the iPhone 4S, nothing else.

I checked Running Free’s website and I have to admit the words ‘Compatible With iPhone 4S’ are there right at the bottom of the description box.  Still, I was irked, because the idea of a standard like Bluetooth is to avoid these little proprietary ‘walled gardens’.  I thought ‘ONLY Compatible with…’ would have been the better description for Running Free to use.  I wrote them and told them so, and asked for my money back.  To their credit (and my instore credit) they offered to add $45 to my account; not the full value of the device, which they couldn’t take back.  Which is fair enough – I got to keep it (in case I find a friend with an iPhone 4S who wants a HR sensor) and while the description was a little vague, I can bear a little responsibility for not paying enough attention.  I’m not sure what I’ll spend the money on, but I started trying to build up a wishlist…

While Bluetooth seems to be widely accepted for hands free stuff in cell phones (and my BT keyboard works well with my iPad), I think there’s still a lot of room for improvement in the world of fitness equipment.     Buyer beware…

3 Replies to “Gear Corner – Review of the Polar H7 Heart Rate Sensor with Bluetooth (a.k.a Bluetooth Blues)”

  1. I get so frustrated when talking to my husband about heart rate straps. I can't believe there are so many different heart straps for every device. Why they can't make one strap that will work for multiple devices is unknown to me. I used a Polar GPS on my bike so wear the HR strap on the bike. I would love to transition to my Garmin for the run without having to switch out straps but it won't work so I run without heart rate. Dumb dumb dumb.

  2. I get so frustrated when talking to my husband about heart rate straps. I can't believe there are so many different heart straps for every device. Why they can't make one strap that will work for multiple devices is unknown to me. I used a Polar GPS on my bike so wear the HR strap on the bike. I would love to transition to my Garmin for the run without having to switch out straps but it won't work so I run without heart rate. Dumb dumb dumb.

  3. I hate to say it, but by buying 2 different devices, you make the business case for these proprietary methods. A standard like Bluetooth however, is made by intenational Engineering groups to avoid these sorts of situations. By using the name and symbol, the manufacturer is meant to be implying that they are compliant with a standard – not just for one device.

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