Omron HR-500U Strapless Heart Rate Monitor Review

Continuous Heart Rate on Your Wrist

Omron HR-500U Strapless Heart Rate Monitor
Omron HR-500U Strapless Heart Rate Monitor. Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

Getting an accurate, continuous exercise heart rate without having to wear a chest strap has become a reality. A new generation of heart rate sensors places them on the back of a watch-like monitor you wear on your wrist. The Omron HR-500U is their version of this kind of strapless heart rate monitor.

This product has been discontinued by Omron Healthcare.

Why not just wear a chest strap? Millions happily do, but some of us have problems with them.

I personally have difficulty in getting good contact and readings when wearing most chest straps. I don't think I have an oddly shaped torso, but I guess I must! And then if you do wear one, chafing can be a painful issue. I also have had only moderate confidence in finger-press pulse monitors. Not only don't I trust their accuracy, taking a reading means slowing or stopping your workout. So, I welcome these new strapless continuous monitors. How does the Omron HR-500U stack up?

What the HR-500U Does

The price of the HR-500U (suggested $149 US) puts it at a level where most chest strap heart rate monitors have many advanced features. But the HR-500U has only the simplest heart rate monitoring features. As such, it is geared towards those of us who want a simple no-brainer readout and heart rate zone indicator.

Heart Rate Zone Indicator: Your heart rate zones are automatically determined after you input your maximum heart rate (MHR) when you set up the unit.

You can quickly see what zone you are in, as a flashing light indicates it by color. Blue for warm-up/cool down (up to 50% of MHR), Green for fat-burning and endurance (50% - 67.5% MHR), yellow for cardio fitness (67.5% - 85% MHR), and red for power and speed (85% and over). As long as you can see your wrist and you aren't colorblind, you know what zone you are in.

Workout Tracking: The HR-500U is meant to track workouts only, rather than for all-day activity. You start and stop it for each workout. You can pause and resume the readings during a workout.

Calories Burned: You enter your weight when you set up the device, and that is used along with the heart rate to determine the calories you are burning during a timed workout.

Pace: The unit determines your pace in minutes per mile (or minutes per kilometer if you choose European units) based on the stride length you program into it for your walking stride and your jogging stride.

Distance: You also see a distance estimate throughout the workout, based on your stride length. If you find that it is off, you might want to measure your stride length again. This distance is only meant to be accurate for walking and jogging, not for any other activities.

Time of Day: The default view when not in workout mode is hours and minutes, plus month and day. During a workout, you can scroll the display to the time of day, elapsed workout time, calories, distance, and heart rate.

Last Workout Review: On the unit, you can see only the results of one previous workout. Average heart rate, maximum heart rate, exercise calories burned, time, distance, and pace.

Uploading Data to Omron Fitness Dashboard: You can upload your data via a USB cable to the free online dashboard. This requires installing the driver on a computer. There is no wireless or Bluetooth option. You will only see the same averages and totals as on the watch, not a minute-by-minute readout.

Backlight: I appreciate the backlight feature for walking in low light conditions.

Battery: You charge the unit via a USB cable. A charge should last for eight hours of use.

What the HR-500U Doesn't Do

  • No audible zone alerts, just the flashing light.
  • No step count. This is a weakness for those of us with Omron pedometers since you can only use one device with the Omron Fitness Dashboard. If you have been tracking your steps with one of their linked pedometers, you have to choose which you will upload in the future.
  • No GPS. It's not a Garmin.
  • No phone app integration.
  • No customizable heart rate zones.
  • No review of more than the last workout.
  • No review of how your heart rate varied throughout the workout.

Comparison With Mio Alpha and Similar Devices

I bought a Mio Alpha, which is very similar in function, right down to the flashing colored light as your heart rate zone indicator. However, the Alpha lets you set your zone rather than determining them for you. The Mio Alpha has Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity to phone apps (such as MapMyWalk) where you can see your minute-by-minute heart rate after your workout, along with GPS-tracking and other features. The Alpha is also sleeker in styling and more comfortable to wear. It costs $50 more than the Omron HR-500U.
Mio Alpha Strapless Heart Rate Monitor Review

Getting a Good Heart Rate Reading

I had a little difficulty in getting a heart rate reading in order to begin a workout if I was moving. By standing still and holding my wrist still, I was able to get a reading within a few seconds consistently. I didn't have to tighten the band too much to get an initial reading.

During a walk, I usually saw readings consistent with what I felt was my exertion level. I got some very high readings while Zumba dancing that didn't seem accurate. I think this was due to the unit slipping a bit on my wrist, or being positioned on a wrist bone.

Bottom Line on the Omron HR-500U Strapless Heart Rate Monitor

This device works well for those who want a clear, simple indicator of which heart rate zone they are in while they workout. I like lots of features on my devices, but then I complain that they are too complicated to use without carrying the manual. You don't have that problem with this device.

The chief quibble would be the cost. You can get a chest strap heart rate monitor that does the same things for as little as $59. The price of good strapless heart rate monitors may come down as more come to the market. But if you want to go strapless now, and are satisfied with the features provided, the Omron HR-500U may be worth the cost.
Top Picks for Heart Rate Monitors Under $100

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer.

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