But what if you want to rely solely on your iPhone and its apps? While it might require a bit more manual labor than most fitness trackers, if you have a newer iPhone you can use its camera to simulate the same sort of heart rate readings you might get with an Apple Watch or chest strap.
Note: These apps have you cover your iPhone's camera with a finger to take a heart rate reading. Depending on your circulation and other factors, this kind of reading likely won't be as accurate as one from a chest strap or EKG. As such, most of these apps come with the warning that they should only be used for casual use; if you have a medical condition that requires regular heart monitoring, you should speak with your doctor.
Most of these types of apps require some sort of account or online connection to process your data; as such, it's important to choose your health apps wisely and know where and to whom you're sending your data.
Welltory pitches itself as an all-purpose monitoring app for your nervous system and stress levels by taking heart rate and variability (HRV) readings. You can use either the rear camera to scan your finger or connect a compatible third-party chest strap, depending on your preference and needs. I've used the app for months and love its clear and easy-to-understand breakdown of your stress levels and energy; that said, to get the most out of it (including historical data, trends, and your average heart rate) you'll need to subscribe to one of the app's yearly plans. (It also requires an internet connection to process your data, though it's all anonymously encrypted when processed in the cloud.)
Runtastic Heart Rate
Runtastic is the simplest heart rate monitor app you can pick up for your iPhone: It has a simple-to-read history graph that displays your last ten measurements, provides an easy step-by-step explanation for how to get your best readings, and hooks up to Apple Health. The base-level free app isn't updated for iPhone X and features ads; it also restricts you to just three measurements a day. That said, you can upgrade to the paid Runtastic Pro app for $1.99 to remove those limitations and advertisements, as well as provide searchable filters for your historical data and get the full iPhone X interface.
Instant Heart Rate+ HR Monitor
If you're looking for a more straightforward app that measures your heart rate, Azumio's Instant Heart Rate+ HR Monitor has been around for years and provides an easy-to-see readout of your pulse as you scan your finger. I found it fairly accurate at taking my pulse in comparison to my Apple Watch in several tests, though it tends to suffer when you're in motion; it's not a great option if you're trying to read your heart rate while exercising, for example.
The base app is $4.99, though like Welltory you'll need a subscription to see heart rate insights or use Azumio's built in stress test and exercise programs. (There's also a free version — which also requires a subscription for that other information — but its main screen is ad-ridden and not nearly as enjoyable to use.)
Other apps we tried
There are a lot of heart rate measuring apps on the store, most of them sub-par. I tried over twenty for this article, and most aren't worth mentioning because they're either attempting to be direct clones of the above-mentioned apps, trying to get you to sign up for an account to record health data, or terribly out of date. Currently, I only have one other heart monitoring app I found worth a mention, though I personally wouldn't use it over one of the aforementioned apps.
- Cardiio: While its "face-scanning" measurement is an intriguing gimmick for a heart-rate measurer, the app hasn't been updated for iPhone X and didn't provide reliable measurements when compared to Azumio or Welltory.
Have any questions about these app-based heart monitors? Have a different one you prefer? Let us know in the comments.
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Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.