Wahoo TICKR FIT Optical HR Sensor In-Depth Review

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Today Wahoo announced their latest devices – the Wahoo TICKR FIT.  The TICKR FIT is simply an optical heart rate sensor that transmits ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  Basically, it’s like a Scosche Rhythm+ or to a slightly lesser extent like a Polar OH1 sensor.  All three of which are generally designed to be be worn on the upper arm, which has the benefit of generally giving quite a bit more accurate readings than optical HR sensors worn at the wrist.

In any event, this $79 sensor is priced identical to that of the Scosche Rhythm+ as well as the Polar OH1.  I’ll get into the nuanced competitive differences down below though, as there are some things worth noting.

Before we go too far, note that Wahoo sent me a TICKR FIT to try out. As usual, I’ll send it back to them once I’ve wrapped up this review – likely even next week in person at CES.  The TICKR FIT is available for purchase today (and should be shipping out today too).  If you find this review useful, hit up the links at the bottom for all your sports gadgetry purchases (or, just to buy toilet paper on Amazon…your choice).

With that, let’s begin!

Unboxing:

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The box the TICKR FIT comes in isn’t all that much different than that of the existing TICKR lineup of chest HR straps.  You’ll find the side pops open, allowing you to slide a small tray out:

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Inside you’ll find a handful of items, packaged up as seen below:

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These items are:

1) TICKR FIT sensor pod
2) Long strap
3) Short strap
4) Charging doc
5) Quick start guide
6) Legal paper junk

Starting with the charging dock, you’ll see it has two tiny pins for charging, which connect to the underside of the TICKR FIT pod. There are magnets in the charger to assist in keeping it put.

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Meanwhile, looking at the pod itself, it’s got a singular blue button on the side of it, which is used for powering it on/off.

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On the bottom is the optical HR sensor itself, along with some logos including ANT+, Bluetooth Smart, and various other bits of goodness.

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The two straps I’ll get into in a moment, but basically if you’re a smaller individual, then you’ll likely use the small one, or bigger folks can use the longer one.

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Then finally, there’s the quick start guide, which as you’ll see down below, is pretty simple:

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Oh, and the legal junk:

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As usual, it basically says if you kill yourself, it’s likely because you did something stupid and it’s probably your fault.  And in fairness, that’s probably true.

The Basics:

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Like my other HR sensor posts, I’m going to attempt to keep this fairly simple, because at the end of the day…it’s a fairly simple sensor.  At present it just transmits your HR, and that’s it.  Unlike some of the other sensors on the market they aren’t doing any offline recording of workouts currently, nor transmission of things like running cadence, or anything else.  Just HR for now.  Perhaps that’ll change. Perhaps not.  Perhaps it’ll stop raining here today, but probably not.

In any case, to being you’ll slide the strap through it.  The first time I did it wrong, it shouldn’t cover the device.  Instead, it’s designed to unstrap each time you use the device.  The end resultant should be like this:

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As noted above, there’s both a long and a short strap.  For me, either strap would actually work.  The best placement is on your upper arm, around your bicep.  This is basically an identical spot to that of the Scosche Rhythm+ or Polar OH-1.  The appeal to this specific location is that it’s got a lot of ‘meat’, compared to say your wrist bone.  As such, you tend to get really good readings from it.

Once all that’s done, you’ll turn on the unit by holding down the blue button for a couple seconds.  Unlike the Scosche, it doesn’t accidentally turn on easily, so you don’t have to worry about transit

When you turn it on, you’ll see a status LED illuminated atop it.  And then below it, you’ll see the green LED’s of the optical HR sensor light up.

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Wahoo has developed their own optical HR sensor package here (using off the shelf components of course), but hasn’t gone with another vendor like Valencell or others.  While Wahoo didn’t specify on why they rolled their own, I suspect it’s the same reason as most others are shying away from Valencell these days: Battery life.  While Valencell has great accuracy, the battery life aspects are harder and harder to swallow for companies, especially those that may have plans to let the sensor run for extended periods of time (I.e. days).

Of course, if the sensor isn’t accurate, then all the battery life in the world won’t matter.  But fear not, I’ll dive into accuracy in just a moment.

With the unit turned on and transmitting, it’s time to pair it up to your device of choice.  The unit transmits on the standard heart rate device profiles for both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  For example, if you’ve got a Garmin device, you’ll generally connect to the TICKR FIT on ANT+ (though, Garmin’s 2017 devices now support Bluetooth Smart sensors, so you can use that too).  Here it is pairing to a Garmin FR935 via ANT+:

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Concurrently, the device also transmits HR on Bluetooth Smart, so if you’ve got something like a Suunto or Polar device, you’ll connect via Bluetooth Smart.  This is also true of most apps, like Zwift on iOS.  Here I’m paired via Bluetooth Smart on Zwift with an iPad:

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And of course, if you’ve got Wahoo device (ELEMNT/ELEMNT BOLT), you can connect on either ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart.

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In my testing thus far, I’ve successfully connected with the following devices:

Garmin FR935 (via ANT+)
Garmin Edge 1030 (via ANT+)
Onelap PC app (via ANT+)
Suunto Spartan Trainer (via Bluetooth Smart)
Wahoo ELEMNT
Wahoo Fitness App (via Bluetooth Smart)
Zwift iOS (via Bluetooth Smart)

Note that while the unit does transmit RR/HRV interval data as required by the ANT+ spec, it shouldn’t be considered too accurate during workouts.  No optical HR sensor on the market today is able to do so well during workouts, though most can just fine at rest.

Given that the ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart heart rate profiles are the most well defined of either spec, I don’t expect any unforeseen compatibility issues with this sensor.  I can’t remember the last time I heard of any current device/app/sensor screwing up compatibility on either of the ANT+ or BLE heart rate profiles.

The unit claims 30 hours of battery, and while I haven’t done 30 hours of use with it straight (I’ve charged it a few times here and there before it got to the end of battery life), so far I’ve never run out of battery.  This battery life is about triple that of the Scosche Rhythm+, which is quite a jump, especially for those doing longer activities like ultras.  As noted above, charging is done via the small charging dock/connector:

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With that, let’s dive into the accuracy pieces.

Heart Rate Accuracy:

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The single most important aspect of a heart rate sensor is whether or not its accurate.  After all, there’s little point in buying one if it’s not accurate.  As noted above, Wahoo selected to roll their own sensor package here, which means they’re pulling off the shelf components together (optical sensor, LED’s, etc…) to form a ‘sensor package’.  Most manufactures do this, be it Garmin, Polar, Fitbit, or others.  Some, such as Suunto, have leveraged 3rd parties with well establishes histories, such as Valencell, for constructing their optical HR sensor packages.

If I looked back 2-3 years ago, I’d have said that going with an established entity like Valencell or (at the time) Mio or LifeQ would have made sense. Those companies understood the complexities well.  But in the last couple years, that knowledge has become more mainstream, and there’s less and less reason to outsource it (both from a cost standpoint, as well as speed to market).  Further, using Valencell sensor packages isn’t actually a guarantee of a perfect device.  As they themselves will tell you – it’s all about watch/device the sensor is going into.  Suunto is a great example where using the exact same sensor in two different watches has resulted in two different accuracy levels (primarily due to watch weight/balance).

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Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs and rides.

For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors.  Typically I’d wear a chest strap (for these tests a Polar H7, a PowerCal HR strap, and a Garmin HRM-RUN, among others), as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist (many models during this testing period).  Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

First we’ve got a run from just two days ago, an interval run.  These are often the most difficult runs to track, as the rapidly shifting HR requires a device to separate increased cadence from increased HR (the most common error that optical HR sensors make is to ‘lock-on’ to your running cadence).  This file set includes the TICKR FIT paired to a FR935, a Suunto Spartan Trainer paired to a Polar H7, and an Samsung Gear Sport.  You can look/download the files here in the DCR Analyzer. Here’s the overview.

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This set is fascinating because it demonstrates right away the benefits of optical HR sensors – which is on cool/dry/windy days where chest straps can often produce inaccurate results in those first few minutes due to lack of moisture (despite me wetting it).  In this case the TICKR FIT properly captures my build, whereas the Polar H7 chest strap doesn’t lock until about 2-3 minutes in.

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After that point, we see awesome correlation between the Polar H7 and the TICKR FIT.  The Samsung Gear Sport is…well…horrendous.  In fact, I excluded it because it’s so bad. It plotted exactly two points of HR data.  And lost the plot the remainder of the time.

The only differences we see are in that 5th interval.  My suspicion there though may be due to me taking a handful of pictures there, which may have impacted cadence (holding up my arm) and in turn any error correction the unit is trying to do.  So I’m less inclined to give it too much grief on that one.

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Looking at the sprints at the end, these are 30-second long and produce some quick shifts in heart rate.  We see the units are very close together there, though the TICKR FIT does seem to slightly undercut the peak heart rate values on the 3rd one especially, but also slightly on the 1st and 4th ones.  I suspect had these lasted 40-50 seconds, it would have caught up, as this type of slight undercutting in sprint scenarios is somewhat common for optical HR sensors.

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Overall though, camera work aside, this is mostly a good run for the TICKR FIT.

Next, let’s go to another run, this one a bit more steady, though with slight changes in pace here and there.  Here’s the data sets for that.

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In this comparison against the Polar H7, you’ll see things look pretty good across the board.  I see some slight differences on some of the sprints towards the end, as well as a few other acceleration points, whereby the TICKR FIT doesn’t quite reach the same max HR values.  In cross referencing against a third data source I can publish next week, I’d say the Polar H7 is the correct value here for those peaks.

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Switching gears, here’s an indoor trainer work (cycling) while doing Zwift.  In this case I had a PowerTap PowerCal chest heart rate strap and a Garmin FR935 optical HR sensor.  Here’s the set data.

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You can see that by and large things are nearly identical.  I see some very slight (like 1-3 second) differences in terms of delays, but nothing major there.  It’s somewhat common for straps to differ slightly from a smoothing/transmission standpoint.

The only time anyone differs here is the FR935 optical HR sensor in 2-3 spots.  I don’t know why.  But otherwise, everything else in the set looks good, even the sprits you see match up (again, albeit very slightly delayed).

And then finally, an outdoor ride.  This started with typical stop and go as I headed across town, followed by a few sustained intensity loops around a large park, and then I headed back across town with a few photo stops.  Here’s the DCR Analyzer files for that.

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I had a few sensors along for the ride.  This included the Gear Sport again, but that data was horribly useless, so I’ll skip it.  And then some other stuff I’ll talk about next week.  Leaving me with the chest strap (ANT+ PowerTap PowerCal) and the TICKR FIT.

Looking at things, it’s kinda a mixed bag.  At the very beginning, the chest strap gets it wrong, as my initial start was more subdued than it makes it seem.  Below is the zoomed in section.  But after about 3 minutes the two match fairly well, minus a few quirks here and there.

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Still, the TICKR FIT definitely made some mistakes.  For example, this sprint section below, which is an 800w sustained sprint, the TICKR FIT totally missed the ball.

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Yet inversely, later on it nailed a near identical sprint at the same intensity, correctly identifying it, whereas the chest HR strap did some weird dance or something right before the sprint.

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The remainder of the ride it was mostly pretty good, except this oddity where I got back on my back after taking some photos.  It totally lost the plot here for a while, seemingly tracking…well…I’m not sure what.  The chest strap is easily correct here.

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So overall I’d say it does fairly well in running and indoor cycling, but seems to have some quirks in outdoor cycling still. Of course, so does most wrist based optical HR sensors (outdoor cycling).  But then again, this isn’t a wrist based one – rather more of an arm based one, and my testing (and many other peoples) has shown that both the Polar OH-1 and Scosche Rhythm+ tend to do fairly well in outdoor cycling with arm placement.  So at present that’s something to consider if you’re looking to do cycling outdoors.

Competitive Differences:

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I’ve added the Wahoo TICKR FIT into the product comparison database for heart rate sensors.  This includes other standalone optical HR sensors like the Polar OH-1 and Scosche Rhythm+, as well as non-optical HR sensors such as the Wahoo TICKR/TICKR X and Garmin/Polar/4iiii/etc chest straps.

For the purposes of comparison below, I’ve put the three standalone optical HR sensors side by side, but you can mix and match your own comparison here within the product comparison tool.

Function/Feature Wahoo TICKR FIT Scosche RHYTHM+ Polar OH1
Copyright DC Rainmaker – Updated January 3rd, 2018 @ 5:54 amNew Window Back to less results
Price $79 $79 $79
Product Announce Date Jan 3rd, 2018 Jan 6th, 2014 Aug 30th, 2017
Product Availability Date Jan 3rd, 2018 Early May 2014 Late Sept 2017
Measurement Type Optical Optical Optical HR
Typical Placement Mid/Upper Arm Mid/Upper Arm Upper Arm
Battery Life 30 hours 7-8 hours 10 hours
Battery Type USB rechargeable USB rechargeable USB Rechargeable
HR Transmission Wahoo TICKR FIT Scosche RHYTHM+ Polar OH1
ANT+ Yes Yes No
Bluetooth Smart Yes Yes Yes
Dual concurrent ANT+/BLE Yes Yes No
Analog for gym equipment No No No
Usable HR data underwater Depends: If on same wrist, YMMV. Depends: If on same wrist, YMMV. No
Bridging ANT+ to Bluetooth Smart No No No
Can record activity w/o 2nd device No No Yes
Additional Data Wahoo TICKR FIT Scosche RHYTHM+ Polar OH1
Run Pace No Yes (firmware 3.01 and above) No
Run Cadence No Yes (firmware 3.01 and above) No
Run Economy/Metrics No No No
Cycling Power Meter Estimation No No No
Valid HRV/RR data No No No
Requires Bluetooth Smart Phone for Configuration No No No
Firmware Updateable Yes No Yes
Amazon Link N/A Link Link
Clever Training Link (Save 10% with DCR10BTF) Link Link Link
Clever Training Europe (Save 10% with DCR10BTF) N/A Link Link
More Info Link Link
Function/Feature Wahoo TICKR FIT Scosche RHYTHM+ Polar OH1
Copyright DC Rainmaker – Updated January 3rd, 2018 @ 5:54 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Product Announce Date Jan 3rd, 2018 Jan 6th, 2014 Aug 30th, 2017
Product Availability Date Jan 3rd, 2018 Early May 2014 Late Sept 2017
Measurement Type Optical Optical Optical HR
Typical Placement Mid/Upper Arm Mid/Upper Arm Upper Arm
Battery Life 30 hours 7-8 hours 10 hours
Battery Type USB rechargeable USB rechargeable USB Rechargeable
ANT+ Yes Yes No
Dual concurrent ANT+/BLE Yes Yes No
Usable HR data underwater Depends: If on same wrist, YMMV. Depends: If on same wrist, YMMV. No
Can record activity w/o 2nd device No No Yes

And again, remember, you can mix and match any of the sensors you want here within the product comparison tool, in case you want to see how things measure up to other chest sensors.

Summary:

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It was probably only inevitable that Wahoo would get into the optical HR sensor game.  After all, they were the first company to produce and ship a Bluetooth Smart HR chest strap man years ago (6 years ago tomorrow in fact), and they’ve also been on the forefront of producing ANT+ and other dual sensors as well.  So the lack of an optical HR sensor in their lineup was a bit of an odd omission.

In many ways, I suspect the TICKR FIT may be testing grounds for other products or features down the road.  Even the device itself is actually a bit sparse compared to the Scosche or Polar offerings, which have more features like speed/cadence functionality as well storage.  Heck, it’s even more sparse than Wahoo’s own chest offerings.  Wahoo declined to say what additional hardware may be inside the TICKR FIT, but it’d be odd to me if it didn’t at least match the hardware of the TICKR series (which has accelerometers and storage in it).

As for whether it’s worth buying?  Hmm, I’d kinda give it a ‘sure/meh’.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with it (aside from some minor quirks I’m sure they’ll soon sort out), but there’s also nothing inherently amazing about it either…unless you truly need 30 hour battery life.  It lacks the really strong accuracy of the Scosche Rhythm+ across multiple sports, while also lacking some of the added features of the OH-1 and Rhythm+.  If Wahoo were to implement such features, it’d be a very different ball game.

Still, if one landed on your doorstep, it’s nothing to be disappointed about.

With that – thanks for reading!

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Wahoo TICKR FIT

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