Apple's new Watch Series 4 was announced this week, as were the new Polar Vantage V and M while Samsung announced the new Galaxy Watch last month. These wearables focus heavily on health and wellness with heart rate monitoring being used in three different ways.
The heart rate monitor used on the Samsung Galaxy Watch is pretty standard for today's latest smartwatches, activity trackers, and GPS sports watches. Fitbit, Garmin, Samsung, and others use this some kind of heart rate approach. Various lights are used to read the blood flow through the wrist with heart rate variability (HRV) an option for some advanced metrics.
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In order to receive the advanced metrics, the heart rate monitor in a couple of places needs to be set to always-on. With this function enabled, the Galaxy Watch will use HRV and its accelerometer to measure REM sleep levels. You will also get graphs of your heart rate throughout the day so you can more accurately track your heart rate history.
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At this time, there is no function for Samsung Health to inform you of possible abnormalities. The level of detail in heart rate monitoring is improved over past devices, but there is room for growth.
The two new wearables from Polar are not smartwatches, but GPS sports watches focused on the casual and serious athlete. Polar set the bar for accurate heart rate monitoring years ago with its chest-mounted heart rate straps and the new Vantage V and M incorporate its newest technology in wrist-based heart rate monitoring, called Precision Prime.
Also: Polar announces Vantage V and Vantage M: Multisport watches with advanced heart rate monitors
Precision Prime heart rate technology uses nine optical sensors in two colors and wavelengths to extract data from different layers of your skin. Skin contact sensors are also used to help Polar achieve accurate, timely, and reliable heart rate measurements. In comparison to Samsung, and others, Polar is using more optical sensors in combination with skin contact sensors to provide more accuracy.
Also: Polar's newest GPS heart rate smartwatch lasts for 40 hours CNET
Polar is focused on accurate heart rate tracking during exercise and this new technology is used to rule out any motion artifacts that might disturb the heart rate signal and produce unreliable readings. Wrist-based heart rate monitors often fail to capture data during demanding exercises so Polar is clearly focused on workout accuracy rather than sleep or restful conditions.
Apple's new Watch Series 4 wearable is heavily focused on using heart rate readings for health tracking and has something unique that we have not yet seen offered by other popular wearable manufacturers. In combination with the new haptic Digital Crown, the Apple Watch 4 is capable of generating an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram. Apple stated that this data can indicate whether your heart rhythm shows signs of atrial fibrillation -- a serious form of irregular heart rhythm -- or sinus rhythm, which means your heart is beating in a normal pattern.
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ZDNet's Jason Perlow was a recent participant in an Apple Heart Study and his Apple Watch showed patterns of an irregular heart beat. It turns out this as an indication of a rather serious issue and Jason's amazing story proves that an Apple Watch can indeed save a life.
While the latest Apple Watch Series 4 has advanced heart rate technology, Apple makes it clear to users that the watch is not a replacement for a medical device. It works as an indicator of possible issues and the data captured by the Apple Watch can be very useful for medical professionals in diagnosing heart-related conditions.
Also: What does the Apple Watch Series 4's EKG actually do? CNET
Another useful function of the Apple Watch, not heart-rate related, that could be related to medical issues is the Watch Series 4 fall detection. The Apple Watch accelerometer and gyroscope are used to detect falls and can even then send messages to emergency contacts and emergency services. This is a functionality that other smartwatches could employ since they have the same sensors and technology inside.
The Apple Watch Series 4 has the most advanced heart rate monitor for normal daily wear while the Polar Vantage V and M are designed for active use. The Apple Watch 4 is less expensive than the Galaxy Watch, but it also only works with the iPhone. The Samsung Galaxy Watch and Polar Vantage watches work with both iOS and Android.
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