Monday, August 16, 2021

Garmin HRM-PRO Review

Thank you Garmin Malaysia for the HRM-Pro and the Fushia Garmin Tshirt!

Today I received a package from Garmin Malaysia and as part of my collaboration with AECO Technologies (the distributor of Garmin in Malaysia), they shared an unit of the most advanced Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) with me known as the HRM-Pro. I considered myself very late to this HRM pro, as it was released circa September 2020. My current HRM Run (in service close to 3 years) will be retired as it starts to give erratic readings, and I just bought a brand new (original) strap for it 😞

Unboxing

The evolution of the Garmin HRM started off with the basic HRM that only read HR. Then the HRM-Run came along that offers reading of Running Dynamic that return even more data to the users. The HRM-Run was the "gold standard" for Garmin until the HRM-Tri came about, because triathletes love their data and wanted to know how their HR is like while swimming (Running Dynamic is available in Tri). In case you missed it, HRM does not transmit inside water. HRM-Tri solve this with the ability to store HR data while it's not transmitting to the watch/device, and sync once you are out of water. Then, in January 2020, the HRM-Dual were introduced, which brought in both ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity. This essentially allowed for greater connectivity across many different devices - and this include treadmills. 

Dual Transmission ANT+ and Bluetooth

However, the HRM-Dual do not have the Running Dynamic of Run/Tri nor the ability to store data like the HRM-Tri. In come the HRM-Pro, which put all of these features together in a (Garmin Malaysia Retail Price of) RM620 strap.

Packaging of Garmin HRM has never actually changed for a long time. While my HRM-Run came with the Fenix3HR that I got almost 4 years ago (bundled), the HRM-Tri came in the same sized box as HRM-Pro. There is only one printed side at the back with more descriptions. 

Non-descriptive, really
The unit is nicely packed inside, with the multi-lingual manual, the HRM and a piece of quick-start illustration which was really cute and self-explanatory. Great for those that do not flip through manuals.
Box is proper open from the bottom - in case you like me, want to keep the box

So now that we know the HRM-Pro is the combination of Dual and Tri, with super-fast data syncing to your Connect app as a bonus. This would meant any off-device activities that does not involve impact to the chest/sternum area (where the HRM-Pro) will reside, can be used. You can now wear just the HRM-Pro for your game of soccer, hockey, basketball, martial arts and still get HR data, steps count, Intensity and calorie expenditure. I skipped swimming as you would want to wear your watch to record your SWOLF, stroke types and lap count/distance (which requires hand movements, pushing off wall, and of course satellite signal for open water swim).

From the manual and specifications, I found out that the HRM-Pro can do these:

  • It allows for concurrent Bluetooth & ANT+ Connectivity, up to two BT, and unlimited ANT+. You can literally broadcast this to all devices of any brands (that support ANT+ and BT), any type (bike trainer, treadmills, wrist devices, cycling devices, phone, Apps like Strava or Virtual Runs Zwift).
  • It is the first Garmin HRM that links directly to the Garmin Connect app (mobile phone).
  • Yes. Running Dynamics, which meant you get the usual data and estimated power (for Power, I use the Garmin widget as one of the data page).
  • Yes. Swim with it. Your HR data synced the moment you leave the water. 
  • Yes. Without your Garmin device, all your steps, intensity, calories, stored and sync-ed to your True-Up devices (Garmin) which unify a one-stop-shop data centre.
  • No. It does not create a workout file if you are using it as a standalone device. Unlike the watch that automatically "guess" your workout type and start to track it as if it's a workout, so you can save it later as a workout, if needed.
  • HRM-Pro battery status. No more guessing if your HRM has battery issues. (CR2032 replacement same as HRM-Tri)

Everything in the box, unboxed.

Should you consider to purchase this? If you already have the HRM-Run, this is a nice upgrade, more so if you are like me, the HRM-Run is already faulty. If you have the HRM-Tri, maybe so if you want the off-device tracking, but to me that is hard to justify. If you are on the HRM-Dual, almost no reason to get this especially if you do not have a Garmin device as you would not be able to maximise the "true-up" function or derive the Running Dynamic that is inherently Garmin. 

Upclose

More Details

Comparing this strap to HRM-Tri makes a lot more sense as they are technically built the same way. Obviously when compared to the older HRM-Run, it is a major upgrade in terms of material quality, comfort and fitting. However, unlike the HRM-Run, the transmitting unit is fixed to the strap and can't be removed. So, if the strap doesn't outlast the transmitter, it will be an expensive replacement, vs being able to buy just the strap (either original or 3rd party).

HRM-Pro in green and HRM-Tri in blue

What is on the strap of Pro and Tri - with differences in name, and symbol of ANT+, and Bluetooth

Absolutely no differences in material, finishing and quality

Same for the other receptor side

Even the hook, the same
If there is one difference i can recall, was that the HRM-Tri came with an extender to allow for usage beyond 42inches chest girth. HRM-Pro doesn't provide this as additional. Perhaps the feedback from users that it was never needed for most that were using it. So, if you have wider chest girth, and need the extender, do check on the availability with Garmin when you plan to purchase this.

The unit, like the HRM-Tri, is water resistant to 50m or 5ATM. Unlikely to create any issue if you are using it for open water swim, or if you are using it for diving in a recreational dive (up to 39m depth), and obviously would not work if you are into free-diving or diving deeper than 50m depth. The working temperature is between -10DegC to 50DegC, which may not be applicable for many of us in Malaysia where I am. Taking all these into consideration, there is no issues for me specifically to use this unit in Malaysia, and generally for most of the folks unless they are doing extreme temperature/weather sports.

Linked via Bluetooth and ANT+

Work Out Of The Box

Linking the HRM-Pro to the mobile Garmin Connect app very fast. It showed up almost immediately once I wear the strap and when I tapped to activated the Garmin Connect app.

The wonder of Bluetooth speed of connectivity

I linked the HRM-Pro on the Garmin Connect first before the Fenix6ProSolar so I could appreciate the Dual-ability of the connection. It was easy and fast.

Let's Go!

Connecting

All done within 1-min (1232hours)

Including updating the unit firmware which was seamless and fast in terms of easiness. There is a pause as there is no feedback after the unit was upgraded to 7.40. To reconnect, i killed the Connect App, and toggle the Bluetooth, and I was back.

Once connected, you have these two options

Clicking on GENERAL you will get these option, including battery indicator

Always a good option to update before continue usage

OK. Lets go (already)

Sending Updates status at bottom

Pressing OK will disconnect the device so it could update 

it will disconnect, and you need to toggle your Bluetooth to reconnect

all done!
Pairing to your Device
Pretty straight forward and you can do it via the Setting -> Accessories/Sensor - >Add New function. If you have any issue to link them, i suggest you disconnect it from Bluetooth and the Garmin App for the initial pairing. 
On the Fenix 6, press the left middle button and scroll to Sensors & Accessories

Pretty straight forward

Add New

You can Search All Sensors or scroll to External Heart Rate

I rather the device work harder 😋

Once found, just select to Add

Done, easy peasy lemon squeezy

Usage during activity
The HRM-Pro function just like the HRM-Tri and HRM-Run (stating them both only as these are my only other experience within past 4 years moving from basic HRM, to Wrist HRM). The reading is stable and smooth. Running Dynamic reading is as expected. Accuracy wise seems consistent with my usage of HRM-Run, HRM-Tri and Running Dynamic Pod. 

Remember to allow the sensor to pair up before pressing START. It usually will link up pretty fast unless your skin is dry. Nothing some water can't solve. In Malaysia, we do not have such issue due to our high humidity level. Once you are ready to go (aka Satellite locked and all sensors ready to go), it will start recording at the press of Start. 
Snapshot of my interval run using HRM-Pro (first use)
When compared to the run I did using the HRM-Tri, the build up and consistency is similar. No spikes or irregular readings.
Snapshot of the earlier interval run using HRM-Tri (most recent)
When it comes to Running Dynamic, the data is the same as using the HRM-Tri as with the HRM-Run. The HRM-Pro as expected gave reading for the respiration as well as long as your device, in my case, the Fenix6 Pro Solar, supports it. 
HRM-Pro data

vs HRM-Tri.

HRM-Tri Data

How much really does the data differ if you are using just the Wrist-based HRM? Not much if you are looking at average, but quite significant if you are looking at spikes and fluctuation. These are normal as the sensor has limitation due to color of skin, sweat and overall fitting of the device over your wrist. Should you be critical of these data? I would say not really if your workout is classified as "easy" and almost running by feel (can talk, sing). 
Notice the spike and fluctuation without a chest HRM. Running Data possible with Running Dynamic Pod

And without the chest HRM, the device would not be able to read your respiration rates.
Running Dynamic is possible as I am using the Running Dynamic Pod

As you can see now, the usage of chest HRM for me is only when I am doing more demanding run (tempo, interval, race, and above), as I would want to be as accurate as possible to detect any changes to my Maximum HR, my Lactate Threshold HR and my Lactate Pace. All these help me to plan and shape my training more solidly for self-improvement.

Usage as standalone HRM-Pro 
I am sucker for data. Whenever my Fenix6 Pro Solar is being charged, I use my Fenix5x Plus to record my HR and steps primary. Now with the HRM-Pro, i have the option to just use it for this purpose while my Fenix6 is being charged (typically within 2-hours to full charge). The ability of the HRM-Pro to keep/save data and sync on the Garmin Connect app got me intrigued and so, i wore it while watching TV last Saturday evening.
There are gaps in the data!

I realized there are gaps in the reading and it occurs to me those were the time the HRM-Pro went to sleep due to no Bluetooth connection to the phone (and hence Garmin Connect app) as I left my phone to charge and out of the BT range. but when it is in range like post my evening walk, dinner, and post phone connection/in-range, it showed records. 
Lazy TV time on Saturday evening with ZERO movement. HRM-Pro not connected to Phone (out of Bluetooth range)

Not happy with the outcome because I want to be certain the HRM-Pro does what it is supposed to do aka record off-device, today (August 16), i decided to test the connectivity again while my device is being charged from 40%. I put on the HRM-Pro and it recorded like charm while linked to the Garmin Connect app via Bluetooth. Using it exclusively without the Fenix6 on my wrist (for a moment i was having device-separation anxiety as now i don't get my SPO2 reading, but in the name of this review, it's a small sacrifice i am making 😏)

HR with Movement. I stand at work, often stretch while standing.

So, i guessed the HRM-Pro does what it is supposed to do if it is off the Garmin device. Only caveat is if your phone with active Bluetooth and Garmin App is running in the background. I won't worry too much about the battery life (of the phone of strap) if you are more inclined to record everything. But do know that there are limitation and it is the active connection and in-range of these to communicate outside of your active Bluetooth connection when you are not doing any activities.

So how do the HRM-Pro then detect your data if you are not wearing your watch, or has it paired to your phone while you were doing activities (like swim, run, bike, martial art, soccer, basketball etc?). This is where this one step is important. Do remember that the HRM-Pro has no ability to create a workout automatically, it takes the prompt from the device it is linked to.

Before you start your activity, you have to make sure the HRM-Pro and your device is paired up and recognized before you press START (example like activating it as as activity; RUN, BIKE, SWIM, CARDIO, HIKE, HIIT). Then the HRM-Pro will know that it need to start storing and recording your data san the watch or the device is transmitting without any receiver (device), like when you swim with the HRM-Tri. And once you are near/connected to the watch again, it will download the data (like the HRM-Tri).

This explain why no data were recorded when you were not doing any activities and not connected to your phone, like when i was just wearing it to watch TV on a lazy Saturday evening.

Care for your HRM-Pro
Having the experience of using different HRM-straps from the most basic to this most advanced model, the care for the HRM-strap is easy. While the older units allow the transmitting unit to be separated from the strap, the newer one doesn't do that. The documentation can be found here.

The rule of thumb with HRM strap are:
  • Avoid machine washing the straps
  • Hand rinse in cold water after every use as you just want to remove salt (from sweat)
  • Hand wash once every 7-usage, or if you use them once a day, that is once a week.
  • If you are using it for pool (chlorinated) swim, wash it with mild detergent after every use.
  • Use only mild detergent, or just tiny amount of washing, soap, shower gel
  • Air dry indoor by hanging it on the loop
  • Do not roll it up when storing. Store flat.
very straight to the point use that even my kids can understand

Extra care if you intend to use the strap in chlorinated pool

Summary
The HRM-Pro is in my opinion, the buffed up version of HRM-Tri with additional ability to link via Bluetooth and be used for off-device activity, including being used for tracking when not doing any activity. Designed for the Garmin ecosystem, the additional Running Dynamic doesn't work outside of the Garmin device realm. So, if you are planning to use this with just your Strava or linked to your Virtual Running (Zwift), it may end up as a very expensive option. However, if you are already on the Garmin ecosystem, with the compatible devices, you can maximize the function of the HRM-Pro. 

In the table below, you will see each of the HRM and their features. If you are currently using an older HRM from Garmin, and want something as an upgrade suitable for your need, look no further that getting one that will maximise your training. I will update here or create a new one from time to time if anything changes from the existing usage - I do not foresee needing a battery change anything sooner that the next 6-months for now. 

Specification


HRM-Pro on Official Garmin Aeco Site

*Thank you Garmin Malaysia AECO Technologies for the HRM-Pro unit as part of the Athlete Ambassadorship.

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