The first running book I read in earnest was The Maffetone Method, with its emphasis on low heart rate training to improve fitness and endurance. * I followed Phil’s program, with great results, and have been monitoring my heart rate while running since.
A few months into my heart rate training, I upgraded from my chest strap to a Mio Alpha “Strapless” continuous heart rate monitor. Granted, strapless is a bit of a misnomer. It’s chest strapless, as it straps to your wrist. Which strap is preferable is really a matter of preference. I don’t find either to be particularly uncomfortable. The chest strap is more ambiguous, though a bit more cumbersome to install (especially with the need to be damp to work from the onset). On the other hand, I’ve been a bit self conscious about wearing two watches–my Mio and my GPS watch– when I go out. It just feels ridiculous. Despite that, I do prefer the wrist strap over the chest strap. Being able to glance at my wrist and see my heart rate is convenient.
Mio Alpha 1 or Mio Alpha 2
I upgraded from the Mio Alpha 1 to the Mio Alpha 2 with mixed feelings. While the Alpha 2 is definitely an upgrade from the Alpha 1, it fell short of almost all of my expectations. I held off on writing anything about it for a few months to allow Mio time to issue updates to improve the situation. Sadly, the situation hasn’t changed.
So, what are the big upgrades from Alpha 1 to Alpha 2?
- Configurable Displays
- More comfortable wrist strap (though the original wasn’t bad at all)
- Distance/Pace based on accelerometer
- Data recording
- Synchronize to “Mio Go” Android/iOS companion app
The backlight looks great, it’s bright and clear. It’s activated by a firm double tap to the screen, which is a bit cumbersome and prone to randomly turn on. The configurable display is probably the best new feature. There are many options to choose from, it can be hard to pick which 6 to go with (and that’s a good thing!). There are also quick presets for running and biking available to make it easier. The bicycle preset baffles me, however. It lists speed… on an accelerometer based device. Stride length multiplied by steps taken = a very slow ride indeed.
Even running, I don’t love the accelerometer. Mileage will vary from user to user, but for me the pace/distance calculation is very inaccurate and unpredictable. I’ve seen it off by as little as 5%, or as much as 30%. Glancing at it is more likely to confuse and frustrate than inform. Then there’s the aforementioned bicycle speed. The watch has absolutely no way to calculate speed when you’re not doing a step based activity. So it just looks like you’re not even moving. For hours. It’s dumb. I wouldn’t be nitpicking about this, but in the app it is a bicycle logo by the preset. That implies it’s intended for use with cycling specifically. Right?
I emailed them about the issues I was having with pace and speed. Their response excited and delighted me:
You can pair ALPHA 2 with the Mio GO app to display GPS data from your phone on your watch.
AWESOME! This would explain the speed option in the “bicycle” presets. It wasn’t working for me, however, so I contacted them again.
Sorry for the miscommunication.
It was a typo and we meant to say use the gps data on the phone.
The last big feature addition to the Alpha 2 is built in memory for recording your workout data and synchronization back to its companion App. Recorded data is only as valuable as what you can do with it, and Mio has given us absolutely no value, here. Once the data is on the Mio Go app, that is where it dies. The app itself provides only the most basic overview of averages from your workout, with no way to review it on a more granular level. You can’t review splits, or even see how many steps you took though it records them. I would have been fine with them releasing a half-baked app if the data that was recorded was freely available for export. Unfortunately, Mio provides no way to get at that data. When I contacted support about this, they recommended I use a third party app like runkeeper to record my workout data. So, what again was the point in the Mio Go app and the watch recording capability? The Mio Alpha 1 + Runkeeper worked just fine. So did my chest strap.
Despite all the “upgrades”, I use the Mio Alpha 2 exactly the same way I used the Alpha 1, which differs from how I use a chest strap only in that I can glance at it. Would I buy a Mio product again? I’m not sure. A chest strap is a lot cheaper, and either way I have to rely on other hardware for GPS and workout recording. If I were to buy an Alpha, I’d buy the version 2 over the original if the price was close. The configurable display is nice. I definitely wouldn’t upgrade from the Alpha 1 to the Alpha 2 . That was much too steep a price to pay for a few small updates and a lot of undelivered promise.
Do I think you should buy a Mio Alpha? Probably not. If you have already invested hundreds of dollars into a running watch, no. Just use a chest strap, your watch will let you see your HR on your wrist. If you are looking to spend big money to ditch your phone on the run, get a watch that also has built in heart rate monitoring. Or use a chest strap. They’re not as bad as Mio wants you to believe, they work, they’re cheap. Why spend hundreds of dollars on another watch, that is not going to replace anything else in your kit, except the inexpensive chest strap?
There is one instance where I would recommend the Alpha 2. If you don’t mind carrying your phone with you for GPS –or even prefer it– but want to add heart rate monitoring to the mix, Mio Alpha is your golden ticket. It’ll allow your phone to record your HR throughout the workout and you’ll be able to observe monitor your HR in real time at a glance.
I still think this could be upgraded from an overhyped HR strap to an amazing sports watch with just two important tweaks: (1) Leverage the GPS on a paired phone and use it to display accurate pace/distance data on the watch, eliminating the need for a second wearable. (2) Export my data — I don’t care if it’s gpx export, or direct sync to other services like Runkeeper. After you record it, let me have it back.
* The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-Stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness is much too long and repetitive to recommend, though I heartily stand by the methodology. Phil himself very nicely summed up all the important bits in the book into a single page, it’s available for free and I highly recommend it. Read it online