As you all know I have owned good share of the HRMs over the past 3 years. I do not even want to count them. I often ended-up using the top of the line HRM from Polar, Suunto or Garmin. Recently I was involved in discussions with other users that were planning to buy a new HRM and were struggling to decide between the Suunto T6c, Polar RS800cx or Garmin ForeRunner 405 or Forerunner 310xt (soon to be released). Following 10 questions while not giving single answer (because there is no single answer) they should be helpful to narrow down the list for you. It considers the above listed models for the three companies. I did not look at the fitness level models or cycling computers. When I refer to Suunto I mean Suunto T6c, for Polar I mean RS800cx and for Garmin I refer to Forerunner 405 and Forerunner 310xt (for the 310xt the info is based on available information on the web. I have not used the HRM in training and do not even plan to).
- Do you want mapping of your routes and review the routes later on PC? If yes look at Garmin and Polar.
- Do you want EPOC/TE capability? If yes look at Suunto or Polar. Suunto has the EPOC/TE built into the watch and software. With Polar the EPOC/TE is available post exercise in FirstBeat Athlete software.
- Do you want guided workouts - e.g. sessions that guide you through training routine? If yes do you expect more complex sessions than warm-up / interval 1 / interval 2 and cool down? If yes look at Polar and Garmin that offer more granular definition for each workout phase. Polar has an edge in this arena as it supports greatest detail in definition of the phases and respective limits (pace, HR, HR zone, cadence, etc.).
- Do you want to swim with your HRM? If yes look at Polar, Suunto. With Garmin only the new 310xt is rated for swimming.
- Do you want HR during the swim? Look at Suunto with Memory belt (you will get the HR post swim, but the output is pretty bad in the pool, better in open water swim with race suit or tri suit); or look at lower end Polar with 5kHZ technology that transmits under water (RS300x, S625X, S725X, RS400, etc.).
- Do you prefer GPS integrated in the HRM? Only Garmin offers this.
- Do you want to use the HRM as regular watch? Look at Suunto or Polar. Garmin only the 405, the 310xt will only win you price for the dorkiest guy in the office.
- Do you need separate HR zones per sport? Only Polar supports this in their software. No watch has more than one set of HR zones. Polar is the best choice at this time as you can use the HR to define your guided exercise to stay in specific zone and review the data in the software.
- Do you need watch with automatic switch between sensors? Look at Suunto T6c. Other units require user intervention to switch between for example bike and run.
- Do you need run cadence? Look at Polar or Garmin - both with foot pod. If you need stride length only Polar does that at this time.
The list above is not complete, but should help narrow the choices. There is no one ideal watch that does it all. It is about making the choice that satisfies your needs. All the watches will do good job in capturing basic information about your training like training time, lap splits, HR, pace, altitude, speed and cadence on bike, etc. Feel free to drop me a line if you have questions.