In order to get the most out of your workout, you have to get your heart pumping at a particular rate. Determining and maintaining that heart rate generally requires a chest strap that, frankly, is a pain to wear. Mio's clever solution is to incorporate those sensors into the Alpha watch, which is so comfortable wearing that you might not want to take it off. Should you work this $199 device into your workout?
As a watch, the Mio Alpha's design is pretty understated. It has a black silicone wristband outlined in gray. The watch bezel is black, although you can opt for a white version. The band transitions smoothly into the watch itself; there are no hard edges here, as with the Motorola MOTOACTV. This makes the Mio Alpha look less like a sports watch, and something you might wear around town.
The Mio Alpha's display is a monochromatic dot-matrix LCD, which is a little bland considering the color displays on so many other smart watches. The bulk of the screen shows either the time or your heart rate, depending on the mode, and above it are small icons that indicate whether the watch is reading your heartbeat, the amount of battery life, and the watch mode. Below the display is a small LED that flashes different colors, depending on your actions.
There are four buttons, two on each side of the display, for navigating Mio Alpha's menus. However, we wish these weren't rocker switches. It was a little difficult to distinguish between buttons, and you'll need a fingernail to press them easily.
The Mio Alpha is water-resistant, so you can wear it while swimming, but the company says that you shouldn't press the buttons on the watch while underwater.
A plastic dock connects via magnets to the underside of the watch, and to your computer via USB, in order to recharge the device.
The Mio Alpha has a timer, so you can track not only your heart rate, but the length of your workout. After, you can also review your average heart rate during the training session.
Mio Alpha's user guide provides suggestions for your target heart rate zone, but leaves it up to you to figure out what your lower and maximum heart rate should be. According to the American Heart Association, you can determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
Unfortunately, that's about it in terms of features. The Alpha doesn't record splits, where you ran, or any other data about your workout. It doesn't even show the date, or have an alarm for the watch, which limits its functionality when you're not exercising.
In order to work, the Mio Alpha needs to be pretty tight on your wrist. To determine your heart rate, two light beams and a sensor on the underside of the watch detect how much blood is coursing through your veins. It was snugger than we'd normally prefer, but you can always loosen it when you're not tracking your heart rate.
To begin tracking the heart rate, press and hold the HR button until the watch beeps and the light starts blinking blue. After a few seconds, the watch beeped again, and displayed our heart rate, along with a pulsing heart in the upper left.
While it doesn't have its own app, the Mio Alpha watch works with a number of third-party apps, including Endomondo, Wahoo, MapMyRide, MapMyRun, Runkeeper, Strava and Addidas' MiCoach.
As soon as it starts tracking your heart rate, the Mio Alpha broadcasts this data via Bluetooth. We wish there was an icon on the watch itself, noting this was happening. Both the Runkeeper and the MapMyRun app on our iPhone immediately detected the Mio Alpha and displayed our heart rate on our phone. It was probably one of the easiest pairings we'd ever done.
On a run through Jersey City, the Mio Alpha accurately measured our heart rate and relayed the information to our iPhone. The Runkeeper app then called out our heart rate.
We found the display easy to read, even in direct sunlight. You can also use the watch on its own; after setting your desired heart rate zone, the LED below the display will flash blue, green or red if you're below, at, or above that zone.
Mio says the Alpha should last between 8 to 10 hours while actively tracking your heart rate; unless you're in an Ironman race, this should be more than sufficient. In non-tracking mode, the battery will last for weeks.
For those who find chest straps uncomfortable at best, the Mio Alpha represents a less intrusive method of tracking your heart rate while exercising. At $199, it's a tad pricey for a one-function device -- the $249 Motorola MOTOACTV doesn't track heart rate, but has GPS, a music player, and can store information, too. But the Mio Alpha represents a marked improvement for heart-rate tracking devices.