Scosche Rhythm+ Armband Heart Rate Monitor with Strava

November 2017 | Gabe Kahan

Most heart monitors wrap themselves around the chest, leading to uncomfortable pressure on our sternum or ribcage. Sometimes there’s even skin irritation. When I heard about Scosche’s Rhythm+, a heart rate monitor specifically designed for your forearm, I was both excited and hesitant. While I was looking forward to freeing up my torso from any taught bands, I wondered how accurate it could be. Would I mind wearing a tight strap only a few inches from my elbow?

But while allocating some of my attention to the heart rate monitor, I was also focused on gauging my interest in Strava, the popular smartphone app for running and biking. Marketed as the “social network for athletes,” it allows you to monitor and record stats like speed, distance traveled, change in elevation, and of course, heart rate. The interface allows you to set up a profile and share your workouts, runs, and rides with whoever follows you. With a 90-day premium trial, I connected the Rhythm+ to my Strava app for real time updates on my BPM during my exercise.

When the Rhythm+ first arrived in the mail, my hopes definitely plummeted. It’s packaging seemed cheap and careless, with a small thin plastic box offering little cushioning or insulation. The thin Velcro bands felt substandard, and the charging station’s plastic grip seemed a bit flimsy. Little did I know how the monitor would deliver on its promises.

The Rhythm+ Manual estimates a full charge is achieved in about 2 hours, but I found that in reality it took closer to 3. I was also concerned the lack of screen would create some confusion with the device and its ability to communicate, but, surprisingly, its small multi-colored LED sufficed.

Because the Rhythm+ comes with two Velcro bands, one smaller and one larger, I had some trouble understanding how to correctly fasten it around my arm—it wasn’t initially clear that only one band was needed. Next, it took me a couple minutes of research to understand how to properly sync the monitor’s Bluetooth connection with Strava. Scosche, not being one of the main Bluetooth devices Strava partners with, wasn’t listed as one of the brands to choose from when I went to “Connect a new device to Strava” in the settings component of the app. I found it counterintuitive to first connect the Rhythm+ to my phone via my iPhone’s Settings app, and then go back into Strava, tap “Record” to start a new workout, and click a separate Settings button there. After I figured this out, any kind of hassle disappeared.

Once everything was synced up and I was getting live readings on my resting pulse, I was able to start testing both the heart rate monitor and workout app in different environments. I went biking, both stationary and non-stationary, did weight training, and went for runs. Here’s how each product performed.

Scosche Rhythm+
The Velcro band and its inner fabric made me skeptical the monitor wouldn’t slide around or lose its accuracy. Its soft feel seemed like an easy target for sweat to seep in and create less grip. However, I was pleasantly surprised. No matter how sweaty I managed to get during my exercise, the band stayed perfectly in place.

Not only that, but it felt comfortable and secure. It was only when I began to rely on bending my arms did I run into trouble. During bicep curls, chest presses, and other strength training that required me to bend my elbows, I found that wearing the band too close to my arm’s joint—the same positioning as pictured on Scosche’s website—would cause it to hit my upper arm and slide out of place. Placing it further down my forearm and a bit closer to my wrist seemed to solve this.

In tandem with Strava, the Rhythm+ never seemed to waver in accuracy. I never found myself doubting the readings or seeing my BPM looking grossly inconsistent. In the past I’ve experienced instances of total incongruity with past monitors, where my pulse would momentarily drop way below anything realistic. For the Rhythm+ this was never an issue.

I did notice the LED interface had a few trip ups. Once connected to my phone, it would flash blue three times and then begin a steady blue blinking. According to Scosche this denotes the monitor latching onto your phone and then maintaining a solid connection. But on several occasions I noticed the LED turning to a purplish blinking—both red and blue were going off at the same time. While it didn’t affect me using the Rhythm+, there was no mention of this or its significance in the manual

 

Strava
In terms of being user-friendly, Strava’s interface is neat and professional. I’m a bit overwhelmed by the shear magnitude of stats. The goal-setting visuals mixed with the social media components mixed with tracking of gear usage and specific activities can be a bit too much information all at once. Perhaps with long term use the different areas of customization would become more familiar.

I appreciated the visualization of my route during exercises. Seeing an image of what I had accomplished felt motivating, but made me more hesitant to share with my social network on the app. Posting location-based stats like this makes me wish I had the ability to moderate who could and could not follow my profile, rather than just allowing the data to be up for grabs.

Similarly, the social media aspect of the software seemed less than appealing. While it allows you to post text and photo statuses, the feature feels identical to Facebook. Unless I was a pro-athlete with bustling networks of fellow Olympians and wanted a separate virtual web to streamline communication, I’d rather just go to my other virtual groups where I have more connections and followers.

 

Using the Rhythm+ with Strava, I found its records of my BPM to be helpful both during my exercise and afterwards when I’d review my performance. Interval training was definitely an option during activities because I could so clearly watch my heart rate fluctuate. Strava’s Heart Rate Zone Analysis proved a useful tool for gauging how much time I was devoting to the BPM range I was aiming for, versus lower BPMs.

What I found most confusing, though, was Strava’s categorization of exercises. It’s branding distinguishes it as as a fitness app meant purely for bikers and runners. However, once I was in the thick of recording my rides, runs, and workouts, I found my ability to categorize my activities was very expansive. Everything from Alpine skiing to Crossfit to rock climbing to surfing to weight training to yoga. Given that the company is certainly aware that people use their app for a variety of purposes, I would have appreciated them clarifying its versatility. Instead, my introduction to the interface and software made me choose between only two categories: I either had to identify as a bicyclist or a runner.

Similarly, the social media aspect of the software seemed less than appealing. While it allows you to post text and photo statuses, the feature feels identical to Facebook. Unless I was a pro-athlete with bustling networks of fellow Olympians and wanted a separate virtual web to streamline communication, I’d rather just go to my other virtual groups where I have more connections and followers.

Verdict?
Strava seemed to be highly complimented by the Rhythm+, to the point where I’m not sure I would feel the need to track myself so diligently without the heart rate monitor. Recording distance, speed, time, and elevation are insightful, but can be collected by most cardio-focused fitness apps. Its analytics is where it really shines, coming up with figures like your Suffer Score, Intensity, and Energy Output. Strava certainly seems to be a favorite for those of us wanting to take their game up a notch. But its most significant benefits can be achieved without buying Premium.

And despite a few minor bugs, Scosche’s Rhythm+ was a fantastic mix of affordable with functional. To me, it seems to be the first heart rate monitor to deliver high quality results, while staying accessible to the casual athlete—and the engineering is competent enough that it doesn’t fall apart in your hands! If you’re looking to begin interval training, or just feeling the need to track your BPM, Scosche’s Rhythm+ is a great place to start.

For more information visit Scosche’s site and Strava’s site.

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