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Lifetrak Zoom HRV Review

By Crabby McSlacker

As a greedy, gadget-obsessed health blogger, I was pretty psyched to get the opportunity to review the Lifetrak Zoom HRV Zoom HRV activity tracker. (And, full disclosure: I got to keep it).

The Zoom measures a wide variety of activity metrics from your wrist (or ankle, or forearm). What you do not need to use the Zoom: a chest strap!

So I’ve been testing the Zoom out for a couple of weeks in true Crabby McSlacker style: misunderstanding instructions, forgetting to hit “record” to begin or end my workouts, failing to appreciate the nuances, and finding myself too lazy for a comprehensive data comparison with my other activity tracker, the Polar M400.

Yet my lack of reviewing diligence does not, of course, keep me from having opinions.

So what’s good and bad about the the Lifetrak Zoom? And who should buy one and who should not?

Features of the LifeTrak Zoom

Wanna see some of the specs? (And yes, this is the part of the review where I exercise my “cut and paste” muscles).

  • Optical heart rate (PPG) measurement
  • Auto and on-demand heart rate variability (HRV)
  • Under-water heart rate
  • HR zone vibra-alert
  • Real-Time Fitness Scoring
  • VScan (yielding a VScore fitness/recovery measurement)
  • Bluetooth® and ANT+ compatible
  • Zoom HRV app for iOS and Android
  • Can be worn on wrist, arm, head (???!!?) or leg (punctuation mine)
  • Smart Activity Tracking
  • Inactivity alert
  • Activity type tracking
  • HR-linked, 24-hour calorie burn
  • Measures total sleep time and assesses sleep quality
  • Swim lap counter
  • Step counter
  • Distance traveled
  • Step and distance calibration
  • Time
  • LED indicators
  • Vibration alarm
  • Rechargeable lithium ion battery
  • Pod docking station with charging cable (included)
  • Water Resistance, Submersible up to 50M
  • Limited 1 year Warranty plus additional year with registration
  • Adjustable, ultra-soft silicone band
  • Impact resistant ABS pod

An impressive list, and one of the most surprising, for a wrist-based monitor, is it’s ability to track Heart Rate Variability. HRV might sound like something you wouldn’t want much of, right? When we think of our hearts, we tend to think: Let’s not get too crazy in there, no messing around ok? Just keep to the beat, no lollygagging or racing around.

But it turns out that in general, high HRV tends to be a good thing. It means your heart is more chill, open-minded and adaptable and not afraid to change things up. Whereas low HRV is more likely to mean a heart that’s uptight and inflexible and uncool, like your old uncle Mort, who refuses to learn to text and hasn’t changed his hairstyle since 1967. HRV has something to do with the varying input of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems but whatever. High HRV seems to mean more parasympathetic activity, stuff like relaxing, digesting, sleeping and recovering, as opposed to the whole stressful and fight or flight mode of the sympathetic nervous system.

Why is HRV so hip now? It’s being touted as a powerful indicator of not only your exercise recovery status, but as a predictor of all kinds of good (or dire) health outcomes. There’s research to back some of the claims up, others seem possibly a little too gung ho, but what do I know?

You can find out a lot more about heart rate variability by checking out Heartmath’s HRV info, or Lifetrak‘s. Or check out our friends at Wikipedia or Mark’s Daily Apple. (And Mark also has some tips on How to Increase your HRV.)

The Zoom is certainly not the only device that measures this. My Polar RCX3F did too. As does my Polar M400. But they required chest straps to measure it.

So What’s Great About the Zoom?

The sheer number of things it measures. I won’t repeat the whole list, but wowza. Especially its ability to give you a recovery score based on HRV so you know if it’s a good day to push yourself hard or take it easy.

Note: you can measure HRV in real time if you want to sit still for 3 minutes, but even better, it automatically takes it every night as you sleep so you get a score every morning.

My recovery score varied a fair amount, and seemed to track well with how I actually felt and performed. Who knows if it’s accurate in any absolute sense, I don’t have a physiology lab handy, but it did seem to be a useful measure, and it will be nice to know if HRV is going down or up over time.

The smartphone app is pretty darn decent. You can record your workouts right onto your phone and view the app data during your workout, or if you don’t want to take your phone, the Zoom will record your workout and you can upload it along with all your other data later.

It’s Relatively Low Profile and Flexible: For a tracker that measures so many things, it’s not hideously ugly on the wrist. Look how massive and ridiculous my Polar looks next to it, like I mixed up my electronics and accidentally strapped a big screen TV to my forearm.

Plus the zoom can be worn on the arm or ankle if you don’t want anything on your wrist at all. (Or hell, try the WTF option of wearing it on your head).

What Was Not So Great About the Zoom

Accuracy Questions: My Polar M400 uses a chest strap for recorded workouts, has GPS, and does all day/night activity tracking too.  I was really really hoping that the data I got from the Zoom would be fairly close to what my Polar was telling me.

Not so much. Real time heart rate, total steps, calories burned, maximum and minimum heart rates: lots of discrepancy between the two different kinds of monitors.  Total daily steps and calories were roughly 25% lower on the zoom than my Polar, and real-time heart-rate would sometimes be as much as 40 beats a minute different during high intensity workouts. (Note: if the Zoom were giving me extra credit for my efforts, instead of less, I might feel less pissy about it.)

Of course, it’s theoretically possible that the Zoom is right, and my Polar has been wrong all this time. Yet is it a coincidence that I keep reading that wrist heart rate monitors are less accurate than chest strap monitors?

Zoom’s technology is better than the average wrist based monitor, it has more sensors than most do, so it’s possible it’s accurate and my Polar is wrong, but I remain suspicious.

–Display: I found the lack of a real display on the watch to be a huge pain in the ass. There is theoretically a way to tell time on it, within five minutes, but frequently I’d make the magic gesture with my wrist and nothing would happen. You are mostly dependent on your smartphone to see what’s going on, and if you don’t want to bring a phone along with you, you have to try to decipher various flashes and buzzes that were sometimes too confusing for this clueless blogger to comprehend.

–Buttons:  Well, not plural actually. There’s only one. Which means you have to learn how to tell it to do things by pressing the button three times in a row, or two, or one, or hold it for three seconds, etc depending on what you want to do. Using up valuable brain memory cells which could be storing ATM passwords or the location of your car keys and sunglasses.

Bottom Line:

I’d recommend this for folks who (a) want a lot of functionality without a lot of bulk; (b) like to exercise with their smartphones so don’t care so much about a super-fancy display on their wrists, and who (c) are looking for a general sense of their activity levels and recovery status. It’s definitely the least-hassle way to measure HRV I’ve encountered, and HRV does seem like a smart number to be aware of.

But if my experience is typical, the device might disappoint those who prefer a display that doesn’t need a smartphone to read, and are more demanding about heart-rate accuracy during vigorous exercise.

Anyone else a gadget nut? Or do you prefer to go low tech when you workout? Or hey, how was your memorial day weekend, was your weather as shitty as our was?

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About Patrick Ireland

My name is Patrick Ireland, living in the Philippines with my wife and two daughters. I have been studying the web for over a decade. Now that I am 60 years old, I am starting to apply some of the knowledge that I have gained. "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to never stop questioning." -Einstein.

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