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Guide to DIY Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) & Handheld ECG Monitors (Part I)

Consumer Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) and Handheld ECG monitors

by Steve S. Ryan, PhD, Last updated: December 12, 2020

Atrial Fibrillation patients sometimes want to monitor their heart rate and pulse when exercising or when performing physically demanding activities (e.g. mowing the lawn, climbing stairs, loading and unloading equipment, etc.). A consumer ‘DIY” heart rate  monitor (HRM) or Handheld ECG monitor may meet this need.

Not to be Confused with Optical Fitness Wristbands

The HRM sensors/monitors in this article work by being in contact with the skin.

Optical LEDs on inside of HRM wristband

Don’t confuse these with fitness bands like Fitbit or running/sport watches that use an optical sensor to shine a light on your skin illuminating your capillaries to measure your pulse (most accurate for a resting heart). Optical sensor wristbands are not accurate enough for A-Fib patients. (For more, see my article: When Tracking Your Heart: Is a Wrist-Worn Heart Rate Monitor Just as Good as a Chest Strap Monitor?)

To read a comparison test by Tom’s Guide, see Who Has The Most Accurate Heart Rate Monitor? It’s All About Accuracy (Spoiler alert: top rated was a Polar chestband). 

 Consumer HRMS

We’ve sorted through the plethora of Heart Rate Monitor products and brands and have recommended products in a range of prices and with a range of features.

Consumer, DIY or ‘Sport’ Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) are designed for runners and other recreational athletes to collect helpful data for lifestyle changes and training goals (pace, distance, heart rate, pulse, etc.).

Heartbeat sensors are either attached to a chest band or built-in to wearable technology and paired with a wireless link to a wrist watch or app-enabled smartphone. HRMs are available from sporting goods stores and online from and other sites.

For our quick start list go to Steve’s Top Picks: DIY Heart Rate Monitors for A-Fib Patients on
The Gold Standard brand for HRMs is Polar. (The first EKG accurate wireless heart rate monitor was invented by Polar back in 1977 as a training tool for the Finnish National Cross Country Ski Team.) You can view the extensive range of Polar products at their website,

Other companies offering consumer ‘Sport’ Heart Rate Monitors include Timex, Garmin, Acumen, Nike, and Cardiosport plus a host of others if you shop around.

To learn how HRMs work, recording capabilities and how they can help A-Fib patients monitor their heart rate, see Part 2 of this article: DIY Heart Rate Monitors: How They Work For A-Fib Patients (Part II).

We’ve Done the Heavy Lifting for You

To help you sort through their extensive offerings, I narrowed down the choices to a few basic and advanced wristwatch models, Bluetooth models, and the newer wearable technology each in an array of price points.

Polar FT1 HRM with chest band at

Polar FT1 HRM with chest band

Wrist Watch Monitors with Chest Band

Consisting of two components, these HRMs use sensors attached to a heart rate strap that wraps around the chest and sends a wireless signal to the wrist unit. Some models connect with compatible gym equipment, $65–$400. (More features = higher prices.) A few to consider:

♥  Polar FT1 Heart Rate Monitor Watch (the LARGEST numbers for heart rate I’ve found)
♥  Polar FT7 Fitness Heart Rate Monitor Watch
Polar RS300X Heart Rate Monitor
♥  Polar V800 GPS Sports Watch & Activity Tracker

Polar H10 Bluetooth Heart Rate Monitor with smartphone app

Polar H10 Bluetooth Heart Rate Monitor with smartphone app

Bluetooth App-Enabled Sensors for Smartphones

Smartphones are ubiquitous. For many, their smartphone is an essential part of their standard daily gear. So, it’s no wonder that a smartphone can replace the heart rate wristwatch signal receiver. ($20–$75)

Today, you can use Bluetooth technology to send the signal from your heart rate sensor to a receiver in an app-enabled smartphone. Here are a couple to consider:

♥  Polar H7 Bluetooth Heart Rate Sensor & Chest Strap
♥  Polar H10 Heart Rate Monitor, Bluetooth HRM Chest Strap
♥  Jarv Premium Bluetooth® 4.0 Smart Heart Rate Monitor for Android Devices

Wearable Technology with Wireless Sensors

Wearable technology from Sensoria

“Wearable technology” offers a new option for those who find a chest strap uncomfortable or chafing. Instead of the chest band these workout clothes have sensors built-in. Starting at $75.

Note: Unless sold as a set, you still need a Heart Rate sensor to snap on to the front of the garment and a signal receiver—a wrist watch monitor or app-enabled smartphone. (if you are replacing a chest band, you may be able to reuse the sensor.)

♥  Sensoria Fitness Men’s T-Shirt with standard sensor snaps (no heart rate sensor)
♥  Sensoria Fitness Men’s T-Shirt with sensor snaps and Heart Rate Sensor
♥  Sensoria Fitness Sports Bra with standard sensor snaps (no heart rate sensor)
♥  Polar H10 Bluetooth Heart Rate Sensor (no chest band) link using account ID afiin-20

When you shop for DIY HRMs, use the portal link to and your purchases automatically generate a small commission (at no extra cost to you) which we apply to the publishing costs of Bookmark this link. Use it every time.

 Real-Time ECG Monitors

This category of consumer monitors has been growing of late with some models having only limited track records. Going beyond just monitoring your heart rate, these units capture data and display it as an ECG (EKG) in real time.

With prices ranging from $99 to $300 (and up), you need to consider size (portability) and ease of use compared to price. Again, I’ve selected a few handheld ECG monitors from the plethora of choices.

Apple Watch

To monitor for A-Fib yourself, the Apple Watch (Series 6, the gold standard of wearable monitors) can generate an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram. It’s very sophisticated and can monitor both for A-Fib and for many other health parameters. The series 6 has a blood oxygen sensor as well as a heart-rate check. Upon FDA approval, it will have real-time monitoring of blood pressure.

Added: August 6, 2020: Marilyn Shook writes “Love my Apple Watch 5! Great accurate ECG strip to share.” (Read Marilyn’s A-Fib story at

The main alternatives to the Apple Watch are the Samsung Galaxy Watch and wearables featuring Google’s Wear OS softwear. The market leader for Wear OS is Fossil (Generation 5)  Another Fossil product is the Diesel On Fadelite. The Suunto 7 from Finland has GPS.

Kardia Heart Monitor by AliveCor

AliveCor Kardia review at

L-R: Kardia attached to back of smartphone, Kardia unit and ECG tracing on cell app.

The Kardia monitor is a FDA-approved device that works with your smartphone and allows you to take an ECG recording of your heart from the comfort of your home, office, or anywhere.

It’s very straight forward to use the device. After you download the app to your smartphone, open and click on “Record Now”; then press your fingers to the device. There are three ways to hold the Kardia: attached to the back of your smartphone; grasping with finger tips; pressing on a flat surface.

AliveCor with tablet at

Using Kardia with tablet

The Kardia consists of two parts. There is the device itself, a small, wireless component that attaches or sits in close proximity to a cell phone or tablet. It syncs to the second component, a smartphone app.

Read our the full article Update: AliveCor Kardia Review by Travis Van Slooten, the publisher of and a former A-Fib patient.

GO PREMIUM: Enjoy unlimited cloud storage of all your EKG recordings, plus mailed monthly reports and much more for just $9.99/mo.

VIDEO: Best video footage I could find of the Kardia app screen. Shows actual capturing of the ECG signal with an inset image showing the users hand positions on the Kardia device. (Start watching at 2:30 min.; in Spanish)

Cost: $99 on Amazon (plus monthly fee).

CONTEC Handheld Portable ECG Heart Rate Monitor PM10/EMAY Ltd EMG-10

The Contec PM10 is also sold as the EMAY Ltd EMG-10. The PM10 is a small 4 oz. unit that can track a single channel ECG waveform. You can observe the 10-second scan live, then download the recordings (up to 30) to your computer or smartphone for review and print to share with your doctor. It claims to detect up to 12 cardiac conditions. I don’t have A-Fib anymore (thank goodness), so I wasn’t able to test while in A-Fib.

The Contec PM10 is easy to use and carry in a pocket or handbag for scans on the go. Or leave with your laptop for periodic checks. While you can observe the ECG scan live on the screen, there’s no review screen. You must download the scan to review it or print it.

Review screen with ECG and data

A Contec review on by Ron Crist noted there’s no hidden fees like other popular devices (i.e., monthly fee for Kardia Heart Monitor by AliveCor).

Observing the live ECG tracing may be enough for most A-Fib patients who just want a quick check of their heart beat and heart rate. Read my full review of the Contec PM010 for how to scan and download scans.

Cost: Contec PM10 and EMAY EMG-10 are about $79 on Amazon.

Heal Force PC-80A/PC-80B/Prince180B ECG Monitor

Heal Force PC-80A portable EKG monitor -

Heal Force PC-80A

The PC-80/180B is a state-of-the-art 1-lead, handheld ECG device with very sophisticated but intuitive and easy-to-use software. The user does need to be somewhat ECG savvy.

It has a large, well-lighted color display with options for different lengths of recording including continuous and can even be used like a Holter monitor! (Be sure to get the right model if you want this feature.) It comes with both finger contacts (choose palm, chest or leg measurement) and lead-wire cables. To upload to your computer, you have options of USB cable or Bluetooth wireless.

FDA-approved. Marketed by several different companies: Heal Force PC-80B, Creative Easy ECG Monitor PC-80B and Cardio-B Palm ECG (with various versions). Read more details on the PC-80B at the Heal Force website.

Cost: About $150 on Amazon.

Heal Force 180D Color Portable ECG Monitor With 3-Lead Cables

180D using 3-ECG lead Cables

180D using 3-lead Cables

You might want to step up to the Heal Force model with 3-lead cables, the 180D Color Portable ECG Monitor. It’s also FDA-approved.

Heal Force 180D EKG portable monitor

3-Lead Heal Force 180D

Quick measurement by built-in metal electrodes, or 3 external lead wires. Equipped with more advanced functions and features than the Prince 180-B (above).

Like the PC-80A/PC-80B/Prince180B ECG Monitor, it’s small, lightweight, and easy to carry. ECG waveform and interpretation of results are displayed clearly on a color dot-matrix LCD screen.

High capacity built-in memory, up to 30 hours ECG waveform storage for single channel continuous measurement. Download results via USB port to PC or use a thumb drive and take to your doctor.

Unfortunately, the instruction manual is clearly translated from Chinese. Learn more about the Heal Force 180D at Heal Force site.

Cost: about $180.

BodiMetrics Performance Monitor

BodiMetrics Performance Monitor review at

BodiMetrics Performance Monitor

The BodiMetrics Performance Monitor captures and displays an actual ECG tracing and can store up to 100 records. All information is transmitted via Bluetooth to the BodiMetrics app on your iOS or Android device.

Startup screen for multi-function health monitor

More than just for ECGs. The BodiMetrics Performance Monitor is a multi-function health monitor.

This FDA approved devise will collect blood oxygenation levels (SpO2), body temperature, and systolic blood pressure. Capture steps, stride, calorie burn and Target Heart Rate Zone for optimal work outs. Set goals with daily reminders and medication alerts. Provides audible and visual usage instruction. Palm-size, slips into your pocket or purse.

VIDEO: watch a 1:09 min video of the BodiMetrics in actual use including audible instructions. Several models. Also marketed as the Viatomtech CheckMe Monitor (Lite or Pro).

Cost: starts around $300 on Amazon.

Handheld 12-Lead ECG Monitor CMS-80A (FaceLake or Contec Medical Systems)

Facelake Hand-Held Single Channel ECG, ECG 80A Link

Facelake Hand-Held ECG 80A

Review by Ed Webb

Note: Read about how Tom Burt used the CMS-80A in his Personal Experience story. He writes, “This came in very handy as a way to inform my EP when I did get out of rhythm. This was done by faxing him a strip of the printout.”

The Contec CMS-80A is a single channel, 12 lead monitor which can provide data via one of three ways: on the unit display, via the thermal printer internal to the unit, or via a USB connection to a PC. The printout from the unit offers the easiest and most accurate means to view lead output. While you can view lead output on the display, you will find that it is not to the same level of detail as the printout.

Like most normal ECG monitors, 10 electrodes are attached to the body as follows: 6 suction cup leads to the chest and 4 alligator clip leads to the arms and legs. The unit does not rely on the normal press-on style contacts but rather takes a simpler approach with its reusable contacts. Personally, I [Ed Webb] wasn’t too impressed with the suction cup style contacts as they feel funny and leave a mark as if you had been attacked by an octopus. But they seemed to do the job. The alligator clips, while funky, were quick and easy to attach.

Facelake Hand-Held Single Channel ECG, ECG 80A Link

Thermal paper in Facelake Hand-Held Single Channel ECG, ECG 80A – link

The waveforms presented are not what you would expect from an ECG in your cardiologist’s office, but they can provide the simple basics to make a quick determination whether you are in A-Fib. In particular, by examining the output from Lead II, or perhaps Lead aVF, you can quickly observe the absence of a P wave—one sign that you may be in A-Fib. Additionally, examining R-R intervals and whether they are uniformly spaced can be another means to aid in that determination.

From a practical perspective, it could be that you choose to only attach the alligator leads to your arms and legs and forego using the chest leads. You will obviously not have the data from the chest leads (V1 to V6), but that information may not be needed for A-Fib purposes.

Thermal printout from the Handheld ECG Monitor CMS-80A ECG

FDA-approved. For more info and to see what the display looks like, visit the Contec product information page. The CMS-80A (ECG-80A) can be purchased directly from and other locations online

Cost: $299-$380

 Remote Smart Monitors

MyPulse Provides Email or Text Message Alerts

Are you worried about a relative in A-Fib whom you can’t be with all the time? There is a long range heart monitor your relative can use which will transmit to you if he/she goes into A-Fib or exceeds a normal heart rate.

MyPulse by Smart Monitors link

MyPulse (home model) by Smart Monitors

If you have a need to monitor a relative’s or friend’s heart rate or want to know if your relative or friend has gone into A-Fib, MyPulse by Smart Monitors, Inc. has a solution for you. This is a practical alternative to the expense of a medical monitoring service if you are just interested in simple heart rate data. Obviously, if there are medical concerns relative to the heart arrhythmia, you should find an appropriate medical monitoring solution in concert with the patient’s cardiologist. But if you are looking for an alternative to a medical service, read on.

Most heart rate monitors rely on a chest strap which transmits heart rate data to a wristwatch, bike computer or even smart phone worn or carried by the individual. The MyPulse Long Range Monitor is no different, but instead of the watch to read the data, it has a small Repeater device which is carried by the individual (or located within 3’ of the person wearing the chest strap). The Repeater transmits the data to a Receiver which is connected to a PC/notebook via a USB port.

The combination of Repeater/Receiver gives the wearer a practical range of throughout the house (the kind of range you would expect to see on a Wi-Fi network for instance) and up to 1000’ if the Receiver has an unobstructed view of the Repeater. The MyPulse application runs on the PC and provides a graphic display of real time heart rate data.

Bluetooth mid range/global range monitor

This is the cool part: the software can be configured to provide alerts via email or text message to multiple recipients (such as a caregiver) if a preset limit is exceeded (such as might occur if the wearer goes into A-Fib). For you more tech savvy people, if you want to run a PC mirror app on your smart phone, you can view the real time heart rate data at anytime, anywhere, and not have to worry about waiting for an alert if a limit is exceeded.

All in all, this is a remote heart rate monitor solution that provides a low cost alternative to a medical monitoring service, if you and your cardiologist determine you don’t need such a service. Check out the MyPulse by Smart Monitor, Inc. on their website and from (using our portal link).

Cost: Bluetooth models $149 – $495

 In-Depth Report Of ECG Monitors

Report: Comparison of Handheld, 1-Lead/Channel ECG/EKG Recorders

An extensive online resource for anyone considering one of the newer hand-held ECG monitors. “Comparison of handheld, 1-Lead/Channel ECG / EKG recorders” is a personal project by James W. Grier, Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences, North Dakota State University.

The webpage is nothing fancy, but his report is extremely detailed and extensive (last updated Dec. 2017), with multiple photos of each step of testing and multiple print outs of the results. A most thorough report. Go to “Comparison of handheld, 1-Lead/Channel ECG / EKG recorders

Resources for this article
Prospero, Mike. Who Has The Most Accurate Heart Rate Monitor? It’s All About Accuracy. Tom’s Guide, Jun 1, 2016. URL:,review-2885.html

Grier, J. W. Report: Comparison of Handheld, 1-lead/Channel ECG/EKG Recorders. Latest revision: September 26, 2016. URL: Back to the Top

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f you find any errors on this page, email us. Y Last updated: Saturday, December 12, 2020

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