Review: Wahoo Blue HR Bluetooth 4.0 Heart Rate Monitor
Although it was overshadowed last year by other announcements, Apple first slipped Bluetooth 4.0 -- now also known as Bluetooth Smart -- into its MacBook Air and Mac mini computers, followed by the iPhone 4S last October and the third-generation iPad this March. This most important feature of this new version of Bluetooth is its energy efficiency, which is leaps and bounds beyond prior Bluetooth iterations. Wahoo's Blue HR ($80) is the first Bluetooth 4.0 accessory we were aware of to actually ship to store shelves, and signals a bright new day for small wireless devices.
Functionally, Blue HR is quite simple. It’s a heart rate monitor that mounts on your chest with an adjustable, neoprene-like elastic band. There are sensors on either end of the strap that snap onto the central 2.75” wide, 1.5” tall plastic pod, and Wahoo suggests that these be moistened with water or electrode gel to make a good connection. Critically, and unlike previous monitors we’ve seen, this one doesn’t require any sort of separate wireless or wired dongle for the iPhone or iPad it communicates with, which is a big deal because dongles such as Wahoo’s Key often cost as much as the heart rate monitor itself. Here, everything you need is contained in the accessory.
Once it’s on your chest, Blue HR connects to a number of apps, including those from Wahoo itself and third-parties using its open API. We found this process to be easy, though a little different from normal Bluetooth pairing: under the settings menu of the Wahoo Fitness app, you just tap the “Add New Sensor” button and it’s connected within a matter of seconds. This is interesting in that there aren’t any power or pairing buttons on the accessory—to quote Apple, it just works. On the other hand, the app-specific pairing doesn’t always work to find Blue HR; we weren’t able to make a connection with RunKeeper, an app that is supposed to be compatible. While there may be hiccups in getting certain third-party apps to communicate with Blue HR, the completeness of Wahoo Fitness and its free price point help mitigate this. Most importantly, the monitor is accurate. Wahoo claims it has a range of ten feet and is waterproof up to five feet. We found that it actually works at much further distances, although in most cases the sensor will be within just a few feet of the device it’s communicating with.
The only downsides to Blue HR are its presently limited compatibility and price. Today, it requires an iPhone 4S or a new iPad, since it offers no backwards compatibility with older Bluetooth 2 devices Apple released. Apple will certainly include the new standard in future devices, but those with legacy hardware simply can’t use this monitor and must rely on other options. Pricing is somewhat of a different story: Blue HR is less expensive than accessories such as Scosche’s myTrek and earlier Wahoo/Polar chest monitors, though more expensive than ear- or finger-based monitors, and some standalone products. Wahoo’s two-year-lasting, user-replaceable battery and iOS compatibility are advantages that will work in its favor going forward. Clearly the accessory isn’t for everyone, but it is a well-executed device for those who want heart rate information during their workouts—relatively small, comfortable, and extremely easy to use, with minimal maintenance requirements over time. As such, we strongly recommend it, particularly if you’re interested in using Wahoo’s app.