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I love gadgets and if there is a gadget available for anything I do then I will usually do my utmost to ensure that I get it, obviously within parameters such as cost, availability, determining if the gadget will actually do anything and how much use I think I am going to get out of it.
In an attempt to lose a bit of weight and get fitter I had read many reviews on heart rate monitors and their use in measuring improvements in fitness. Previously I had relied on the monitors on exercise equipment in the gym and never really bothered about using anything else. During that time my main aim was to lose weight and I could easily tell that I was getting fitter in the process. I managed to lose just over 20% of my body weight (when I was at my heaviest) therefore it was a lot easier to tell that improvements were being made. Now it had become more difficult.
I was still using the monitors on the gym equipment but the results used to vary so much. I found that doing the same program for the same amount of time on the same machine would give different results every time. The results didn't differ by a small amount. The results were vastly different.
After a lot of reading about loads of different heart rate monitors from loads of different manufacturers, such as Polar, Suunto and Garmin amongst many others I decided to opt for a Suunto T3, which was not the cheapest and basic but it definitely is not at the top end either. It is described as "the ideal heart rate monitor for casual use".
****What is it?****
The Suunto T3 is a training aid consisting of a watch and heart rate belt that measures your performance whilst carrying out any sports activity including running, cycling, aerobics, kayaking etc.
First and foremost the T3 is a heart rate monitor, i.e. it measures your heart rate whilst carrying out any form of activity. Whilst exercising you can see your current heart rate, and with a touch of a button you can see your maximum heart rate and your average heart rate.
The T3 also serves as a stopwatch during exercise. This has other functions in that you can time how long it took to complete a lap. As you complete the lap another button is pressed and the time is recorded. The timer goes to zero and the current lap is timed, as well as subsequent laps. The T3 can store up to 500 laps.
The T3 will also display the calories burned. The T3 cleverly calculates this based on the information you put in, i.e. your height, weight, age, maximum heart rate and your heart rate during exercise. It should be noted that the calories burnt can only be calculated when the stopwatch is running.
The T3 will determine the training effect you achieved during exercise. This is a numerical value from 1 - 5 that tells you how hard you have been working out with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest.
As you exercise the T3 will keep a record of your activity class. This is a numerical value from 0 - 10 that values how active you are. Activity 0 is "always avoiding exertion as far as possible" and activity 10 is "Endurance athlete at international level". This gives some idea of how versatile the T3 is and how it can be used by anyone.
The T3 automatically logs your last 15 workouts. It is possible to go back and see the time expended, the training effect achieved, the calories burnt, your highest heart rate and your average heart rate. As you get past the 15 mark the earliest one is overwritten.
****Setting it up****
When you first turn on the T3 you are required to set it up.
Basic functions such as the time and date need to be tapped in. Thereafter, additional information needs to be programmed in based on the user. The required information includes your sex, your weight, your height, your age (to calculate your maximum heart rate) and your activity level.
The activity level is set from 1 - 12 and depends upon your current level of activity, as described in the manual.
Being like a kid on Christmas day I eagerly started setting up my T3 before reading the manual. This was a big mistake, since it is quite complicated to begin with, and it wasn't long before I was thumbing through the manual and following the step-by-step guide. I would always recommend reading the manual first.
****What is it like to use?****
The start of every activity includes licking the back of the plastic hear rate monitor (it only works when moist, so you either lick it before you put it on or wait until you start sweating), putting the band around your chest (the monitor needs to sit in between your pectorals and just below the nipples) and then putting the watch on the wrist.
Press the 'find HR belt' button, wait a few minutes for monitor to pick up your heart rate and the watch to pick up the monitor, start the stopwatch and then get exercising. The watch will not start recording any data until the stopwatch timer is activated.
The monitor needs to be tight to the chest, therefore the chest strap needs to be tight which can be uncomfortable for some activities. It is fine for activities where the torso is kept upright, such as running, cycling and cross training etc, but it can 'bite' and create marks during activities where the torso is not kept straight, such as kayaking and using a multi gym.
Whilst exercising it is possible to flick through the modes so that the watch displays heart rate (current and average), calories burned, training effect and time expended as well as different combinations of these. The display is changed by pressing a single button.
The T3 is confusing to get to grips with since the four different buttons will do different things and if you randomly start pressing the buttons to achieve a particular display then you could end up really messing the settings up. The most common problem is stopping the timer on the stopwatch that stops recording all the data, unless the timer is re-activated. There is nothing worse than getting to the end of an exercise session and finding out that you stopped the timer during it.
To over come the above I leave the display well alone whilst exercising. I am not bothered what is happening at different stages of the exercise program since I am only concerned with the total results at the end.
After exercising the T3 allows you to flick through the displays so that you can see:
i) The amount of calories burned
ii) The time spent exercising
iii) Your maximum heart rate achieved during exercising
iv) Your average heart rate during the exercise program
v) The training effect achieved
The T3 saves this information so that it can be viewed at a later date. This is a nice feature since there have been times where I have had a "stupid" moment at the end of the exercise program and pressed the wrong button when I wanted to review how well I had performed. So instead of seeing the results the watch simply showed the time.
The T3 automatically stores the last [number to insert] exercise programs. As a new programme is completed the [number to insert] is instantly over written, therefore if you want to track your progress from the time you started you are going to need to record the results on a spread sheet in Excel or some similar program.
Some Suuntos allow the user to link the watch to a PC or lap top and automatically transfer the exercise data in to a Suunto software package. The T3 does not have this capability, nor is there the opportunity to get this as an add-on.
Whilst I would like the above feature I thought it was a bit too much and could not justify the additional cost for the model that had this function.
There is no multi user function and the T3 can only be set up for one person. Whilst some may not see this as such a bad thing, after all would you really want to wear a sweaty chest band that has been worn by someone else?, it does create an additional cost if there are two of you, and the T3 is not that cheap.
If there are multiple T3s then you must ensure that you do not mix up the chest bands. My other half and I did this once (I used her chest belt and she used mine) and the T3 watch would not work. We had only had the product a day and thought they had gone wrong and were ready to send them back. Luckily one of us had the bright idea to change belts (I think it was me) and the watches worked. Thereafter we ensured that we kept the T3s totally separate.
It can take a while for the watch to pick up and display the actual heart rate. This is more of an annoyance than a real big problem since the watch picks up the heart rate almost immediately (as shown on the small 'heart rate' bar on the face of the watch) and it does record your results from the offset.
The T3 is not a cheap item and there are many other heart rate monitors that are much, much cheaper. I paid £99 (plus £3.95 P&P) from Amazon for mine. This was the best price I could find it for. Whilst I was looking around I saw it could be bought for up to £169.99 so the price differential is huge.
As with everything I would recommend shopping around if you are thinking of buying one.
There are a limited number of accessories available. It is possible to buy a foot pod (which contains a GPS pod) that you tie on your shoelaces. Once paired with the T3 the watch will display speed and distance travelled (in addition to your heart rate). After exercising it is possible to the total distance travelled, your average speed and your maximum speed.
Since the above relies on a GPS signal that will track you as you move it is of no use in the gym on a treadmill and you actually have to get out and run.
The foot pod works really well and I have never had any problems with it in the 6 months I have owned (and used) one.
In addition to the foot pod there is a bike kit. As with the foot pod this is a pod, relying on the GPS signal, that is fixed to the handlebars of a bicycle. I can not comment on how good these are since I use a Garmin Edge 705 (of which I have reviewed) that is much more sophisticated than the T3 bike set.
The accessories aren't cheap and the foot pod will set you back £30 - £50 (depending upon where you get it from) and the bike kit will set you back around the same.
Overall the T3 is an excellent piece of kit. I admit it is not the cheapest and there are cheaper ones out there. However, this is packed full of features, is very well made and is made by a well respected manufacturer. The quality is second to none and I have had no real problems with mine over the year or so I have owned it.
The batteries last for ages (I have yet to change mine) and even when they do pack up they are going to easy to change. The batteries, themselves, are cheap to buy as well.
The accessories available are spot on and are all that is needed for the overall heart rate, speed and distance exercise solution.
The Suunto t3 Heart Rate Monitor Watch uses built-in Training Effect programming to provide extremely accurate, real-time training data based on your personal fitness level. A serious workout for a recreational hiker is just a warm-up for a marathon runner. The t3 Heart Rate Monitor uses information your body provides to let you know how hard you should be training instead of relying on a predetermined program. This Suunto watch also includes a 15-workout memory, real-time heart rate and calorie-burning data, and PC compatibility to track your progress as your fitness increases.