Times have changed. In the old days, circa 1984 when I bought the first commercially available device, all heart rate watches would communicate with each other. Those days are gone. That’s because the transmission, how the transmitter (chest belt) and receiver (watch) connect or communicate has changed.
Today, to be an aficionado of mobile training devices like speed-and-distance or GPS or heart rate, you will need to learn a new language with terms like ANT+, proprietary digital or analog transmission, Bluetooth low energy or BLE, topology, and protocols. Whew – that’s a lot of new terms. For now, I am going to simplify it with pictures and use the picture to help you decide what works best for your workouts.
Let’s start with this one new word – topology. Topology is the structure of how the devices work together – think of it like a diagram. In the diagram in this article there is a network of devices making up the network topology (structure). Comparing the different topologies are as is different as comparing say a diesel versus a gas engine in a car. Both have 6 cylinders, both internal combustion engines but they burn different fuels. Both diesel and gas have therefore survived perhaps because they are different, but which is type is better? Well it depends on what you want, i.e. the end use. Diesel engines will be in 99% of trucks in the USA because they have greater torque, but they produce less power than gas so give less ultimate speed and weigh more. The diesel engine fuel consumption is lower for mid sized cars upwards (hence all trucks are diesel) but small diesels do not produce enough power and therefore small petrol engines for small cars have better fuel consumption! It all comes down to the end use case – what do you want.
Bluetooth connects devices in a topology which is one-to-one; so a heart rate transmitter belt can transmit to a phone, or a watch, or a fitness equipment console, but only one at a time. ANT+ protocol is different – it is one to many, so the same transmitter belt data can appear on all devices with a display and enabled at the same time. There are other differences but this is one is probably the most important.
The new Polar H7 is a BLE and at the same time transmits a second signal – an analog one. The dual-transmission (BLE and analog) Polar H7 has a stated battery life of 200 hours – that’s not very many hours. Imagine a health club with 4 hours use per day; you do not need a calculator to see this might be an issue. Because analog and digital transmission are different, the only way to run both, to have dual transmission, is duplicate what is inside the transmitter belt requiring two circuits, two antenna, two of everything, which drains the small nickel-size battery in a matter of weeks.
I am a fan of whatever works well to enhance your experience. ANT+ and Bluetooth are both great systems and hopefully their topology differences will suit different situations – that’s for you to decide. For an iPhone 4S or 5-only user, the BLE sensor seems the logical choice because there is no need for a dongle. A dongle is an adapter that fits into your device which gets the BLE signal into the iPhone now required by ANT+. For multi sensor fitness equipment, cross training, indoor/outdoor running and all bikes, ANT+ offers you more benefits and more interoperability (one receiver to many devices). So which is best? Seems that both have a rosy future because it depends on what you want and what you need for tracking and managing your activities.
I know this for sure – to decide what you need between BLE, analog, simple digital,more information and education is essential – and that’s why I and discussing this topic – to help you make decisions that lead to the right purchase investment.
NOTE: Our Heart Zones monitor is either digital or analog. The Heart Zones’ Blink is available in four different models that all flash the easy blue, moderate yellow, and hard red colors from the LED light. As a fan of whatever works, I know that using both colors and numbers is a better way to workout because you just can glance at the face of the watch and see if you are in the right zone. This features is called “at a glance”. Here are the 4 models of flashing zones Blinks:
- Blink 1A, analog and with one button includes date, time of day, 3 zones, flashing zones LED light, audible alarm.
- Blink 2A, analog with two buttons and additionally includes time in 3 zones, average heart rate, peak heart rate, calories burned.
- Blink 1D, digital transmission with one button and all of the features of the 1A without interference or cross talk.
- Blink 2D, digital transmission with two buttons and all of the features of the 2A plus countdown timer and % of maximum heart rate.
Available at Heart Zones, ZONING Fitness websites or from Amazon
If you would like a digital copy of the one-page picture titled “Mobile Heart Rate Technology Today” just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you a copy for free (of course).