The Mio Alpha 2 Sport Watch was released earlier this year and our team had a chance to put it through its paces. Mio has long been known for its wrist based ANT and Bluetooth compatible heart rate monitors, but they have never really been a player in the Sport Watch market. In the past they have always been just an accessory, but this model is their attempt to change all that. It is an upgrade to their first Alpha watch and adds a number of missing features, but more than anything it makes them a viable player in the sport watch market.
UNBOXING AND WHAT’S INCLUDED
The packaging is pretty Apple-esque (magnetic closure in packing is a nice touch), but that’s going to end up in the bin anyway so its what’s inside that count. What’s included is quite simple: the Mio Alpha 2, the USB charging cable, and some documentation.
The charging cable is both a work of genius and also a source of great frustration. The watch and the cable have a magnetic connection point, so when the watch is close it snaps onto charging spot and does not let go. There is zero fumbling trying to get it dock or plug a cable directly into it, so its super simple. The but however is that it is WAY too short. The cable length is only about 2 inches long so charging from a wall or a desktop computer leaves your watch just dangling there. It’s like it was meant to work with a laptop. They could easily solve this by developing a retractable flat cable cord or extending it and building a wrap system. We solved it with a USB extender.
The watch has a fairly simple design. It has a large readable face with buttons on the left and ride to control most of the watches functionality. The band is probably the best feature in that it doesn’t feature your normal metal enclosure, but instead opts for a dual plastic pin model. The back has the now familiar two green flashing LEDs that are used to read heart rate, but one plus in that unlike some other watches there are no raised edges to support the monitoring functionality. Note, I don’t view this as an everyday watch as it simply isn’t aesthetically ready for that. It definitely looks like you are going for a workout. The rubber also tends to picks up a fair bit of dust.
FIT AND WEARABILITY
Putting on the Alpha 2 is pretty simple, but the alternate enclosure system takes a little getting used to. We did quite like it though in that it allowed you to get a nice snug fit and you had plenty of connection points, so you can find that in between state you normally can’t find with some watches. This is important, because it does need to sit between 1-3 inches from the spot where your hand and wrist connect an in order to get an accurate reading, it needs to be snug (not in a bad way). As I mentioned above, this is a fitness watch. Its rubberized materials and plastic bezels definitely lend itself to working out more than your everyday watch. Given its utility I think it works pretty well and the design isn’t revolutionary, but its functional.
Functionally, the left and right sides of the watch have inset buttons that allow for most common watch functionality including mode changing, heart rate engagement, as well as activity and lap start/stop. The best feature is that little light under the bezel which I will get more into when we talk about zones and running.
Every Mio device shines in the area of connectivity and the Mio Alpha 2 is no different. After activating the heart rate mode and the device locating a pulse, it instantly starts broadcasting over Bluetooth 4.0 Smart and in our experience, your mobile phone picks it up very quickly. A quick note that because of the Bluetooth 4.0 requirement you must have a mobile device that supports it, for example the iPhone 4S and higher and a Galaxy S3 and higher should be fine.
The Mio App
The Mio app is also pretty new and updated and provides a decent amount of functionality by itself. First, for iOS fans it connects to HealthKit (we won’t get into the viability of this yet) so check that off the list. Next and more importantly is that it provides a dashboard for viewing your past activities and most importantly setting up your heart rate Zones. Activity history provides you with heart rate levels throughout your activity as well as speed and pace. Remember that the Alpha 2 is not a GPS watch so it depends on connectivity to the app to pull in data for Speed, Pace, and Distance. It is a very simple app, but provides necessary functionality to support the watch.
In all honesty, unless Mio is going to bring the features of stronger third-party workout applications most on our team would avoid this app altogether, but using Zones requires you to use it. Additionally, there is no way to get data from the app yet which most of our team hated as they wanted to move their runs to other systems. There is also no web portal to support this either.
Strava, Runkeeper, and More
This is where it really starts to shine. Just like a normal heart rate monitor, the Alpha 2 easily shows up in every mobile app we tried and stayed true throughout the activity. In the screenshots below you can see how easily it integrated into both Runkeeper and Strava. Setup time, less than 5 seconds for most users and we’ve tested a lot of chest straps that have given us a harder time.
IN ACTION DURING A RUN AND ACCURACY
So now comes the fun part. The first thing to note is that five heart rate Zones are preset out of the gate so while you can fine tune, you don’t need to do anything to have this work for you from day one. This is really important because its where the Mio really shines. You put on the watch and then do a long press on the right button and this engages the heart rate monitor. You get a FIND message until it finds your heart rate and its then displayed on the screen. We will note that this failed occasionally and simply trying again usually fixed it. Tapping the right button again starts your activity and you are off and running.
As you run, the only thing the UI shows is your heart rate which is a pretty big limitation compared to other running watches. That being said, it’s also the primary use here so it makes some sense. As for the little light on there, the whole reason for it is to visually show you your current zone with a simple glance. The LED behind it changes color to match the zone levels you have set (or the presets). So once you hit 180, the LED will show as red and notify you have hit Zone 5. This is way more useful than you have ever imagined and if anything I would love to see it even brighter and larger.
Ending the run is as simple as long holding on the right side and then the activity is saved and the heart rate mode is turned off. Because the Bluetooth is already engaged, as soon as you open the Mio app the activity is instantly transferred and you can review your workout. Battery life is pretty solid in that its rated at 20-24 hours with the heart rate monitor on, but we found with running and heart rate battery life was probably 2/3 that. This is still pretty solid though. It is also waterproof up to 30m, so sweat does nothing to it or affect the wear.
A quick note on heart rate accuracy and this is easy, it works perfectly. It’s that simple. When put side by side with traditional straps from Garmin, Polar, and Wahoo and the numbers were typically identical. The marketing material says its EKG accurate and while we can’t confirm that, we can say its well in-line with chest strap data. The only caveat here is to make sure the fit is correct or it will under-report.
Our team’s verdict on the Mio Alpha 2 is a little mixed and its due primarily to the level of runner that looked at it. From our team’s perspective this is not designed to replace or even compete with a Forerunner, Ambit, or other high-end running watches. It lacks the variable on-screen function you find on other products in favor of just the heart rate view. It also has a hard time in its segment because it is now competing with newer products like Fitbit’s ChargeHR or Surge which offer activity based data and constant HR monitoring (The Mio Alpha 2 can do this, but you have to enable it). Mio actually announced the new Fuse which directly competes with those products, so where the Alpha 2 lives in the lineup is also interesting. You could see a lot of its current functionality ended up in the Fuse for example. One other note from the female side, the band is wider than expected and it didn’t work well on some women so try it on first if you can.
On the flip side, there is an entire market of runners who haven’t been exposed to the benefits of heart rate monitoring while working out and this is where the Mio Alpha 2 is really successful. For the cost of a lower end running watch you get the benefits of various training modes and consistent and fairly precise heart rate monitoring, no straps needed (which is always a big complaint we hear). This also instantly integrates with various running apps on your mobile device allowing you to track your performance easily. Its simple, quick, and requires zero setup for your average runner.
So it really comes down to what you are looking for and where you are at with your running. Overall, the Mio Alpha 2 is a really solid choice for beginner to mid-level runners who carry their phones and are looking to improve their running by adding heart rate to their training routine