Polar WearLink transmitter strap


We at SNEWS have been heart-rate monitor wearers and testers for many, many, many years. And, honestly, other than lowering prices and trying to make the receiver watches less clunky-looking, the companies haven't come up with too much that has gotten us excited. Basically, you have to be a true exercise enthusiast, in a situation (such as cardiac rehab) where precise heart monitoring is medically necessary, an athlete at some level, or just a tech geek, to regularly use and wear one.

Then there's that messy plastic strap. Oh, they've gotten smaller but they still are that yucky, hard, chafing plastic – until now.

Polar, still the market leader in heart-rate monitors but grappling not to lose bits of share, came up with a brilliant idea and got it to market before all the other companies out there – a completely soft fabric transmitter belt. The only hard thing on it is a small buckle-sized plastic piece in the front. The electrodes are engineered into a short stretch of slightly more plasticized and nylon-like fabric on each side of the center. We've been wearing and testing one for nearly three months now.

Advantages? It is soft and indeed conforms to any body and rib width or size, sitting comfortably and staying where it's supposed to. It also sits better on women and under sport bras, nearly allowing you to actually forget you have it on. You can wash it – even daily if you really want or you get particularly cruddy – and will last for about 100 washings. If you wash it every two weeks, that means about a year; every month means about two years, which is by the way the life of the battery. But for most folks it should last longer than that even. The strap is replaceable (that hard plastic piece with the electronics in the front snaps on and off), and you can replace the battery yourself.

Our favorite characteristics: Avoiding that little YEEK dance and WHOO gasp when you put on a cold plastic transmitter belt. We also loved the lack of chafing and the lack of the need for the formerly traditional slathering with Vaseline on certain contact points (Women in particular will praise this!). And, lastly, the fact that it travels and packs in a much smaller bundle.

Disadvantages? The fabric elastic part on the sides and back dries just as quickly as the old elastic straps, but the slightly plasticized part where the electrodes are, well, can stay wet all day, even staying damp 10-12 hours after a use. If you forget to hang it up or are in a humid environment, you can't just wipe it off like the plastic strap of yore, but are forced to put back on a clammy piece. Yuck. And that one plastic buckle piece is twice as thick as the old strap, which didn't bother us, but might others.

Nevertheless, we have found ourselves gravitating toward it more, and less toward the old plastic number. Currently, it's only available on the M61 (suggested retail $179) and M32 (suggested retail $149), but Polar tells us it should be sold separately sometime in 2004 (it will work with any other Polar monitor).

Now, whether "it will change the way you exercise," as Polar claims? Not.

SNEWS Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)

Suggested Retail: Comes only with models M61 (suggested retail $179) and M32 (suggested retail $149). Currently not sold separately.

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