They're more than heart rate monitors. Now they have names like "personal fitness computer," and they're jammed with such features as altimeters, thermometers and the capability of downloading workout data into your cellphone. They can make your workouts more efficient, whether you're a serious runner, biker or hiker or a first-time power walker in need of some coaching.
Wireless communication from your wrist
Polar S625X HRM Running Computer: Compact running-
specific watch that monitors heart rate, speed, distance and more.
Likes: The freedom to change your routine, run in any direction and know exactly how far you ran. Loaded with functions: altitude, temperature, lap times, hill grade, training zones. Downloads your data wirelessly to a PC or a compatible Nokia cellphone. Optional bike cadence and speed functions. Unique overtraining test tells whether you've pushed too hard or you're not working hard enough. Soft fabric transmitter belt is more comfortable than the hard plastic of other brands.
Dislikes: Foot pod (required for speed and distance information) is a bit bulky.
Price: $350. (800) 290-6330, www.polarusa.com
Multifunctional, and stylish too
Suunto X6 HR: Chic wristwatch jammed with lots of readouts for active people.
Likes: This one can measure heart rate, altitude, direction (via digital compass), temperature, slope and barometric pressure. It includes a stopwatch, numerous alarms and a nifty digital compass. The data from your workout can be recorded, downloaded to a PC and viewed in graph form. Lightweight and compact. Watch is stylish enough to wear to work.
Dislikes: Lacks distance and speed. Heart rate and time of day don't appear on the same screen; the low-profile buttons make it difficult to scroll while running.
Price: $449. (800) 543-9124, www.suuntosports.com
Just listen -- it'll tell you what to do
New Leaf Personal Digital Coach: A talking heart rate monitor that is simple and fun.
Likes: As you listen on earphones, a voice leads you through a workout of three heart rate zones, based on your level of fitness. You specify the frequency of the message, from 15 seconds to four minutes. Attaches to an Apple iPod, allowing you to store workout information in your computer.
Dislikes: Not for the do-it-yourselfer. You can't set your own workout zones, and the device must be purchased over the Internet or from select health clubs. Batteries require regular recharging through a docking station (included).
Price: $175 and up, depending on where purchased, for strap and earphones. A personalized fitness assessment is available but costs extra. (888) 826-2751, www.newleaf-online.com
Making it easy to get heart healthy
Sports Instruments Pro 9 Metal: Lots of features that can be personalized for the user.
Likes: Classy stainless-steel face gives it sharp looks. The device calculates five training zones based on your maximum heart rate; it automatically stores all data from your last five workouts, including time spent in various training zones and heart rate readings for each lap. Simple to operate.
Dislikes: Time clock does not include seconds.
Price: $249.95. (800)
-- Roy M. Wallack