Accuracy of Consumer Wearable Heart Rate Measurement During an Ecologically Valid 24-Hour Period: Intraindividual Validation Study

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019 Mar 11;7(3):e10828. doi: 10.2196/10828.


Background: Wrist-worn smart watches and fitness monitors (ie, wearables) have become widely adopted by consumers and are gaining increased attention from researchers for their potential contribution to naturalistic digital measurement of health in a scalable, mobile, and unobtrusive way. Various studies have examined the accuracy of these devices in controlled laboratory settings (eg, treadmill and stationary bike); however, no studies have investigated the heart rate accuracy of wearables during a continuous and ecologically valid 24-hour period of actual consumer device use conditions.

Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the heart rate accuracy of 2 popular wearable devices, the Apple Watch 3 and Fitbit Charge 2, as compared with the gold standard reference method, an ambulatory electrocardiogram (ECG), during consumer device use conditions in an individual. Data were collected across 5 daily conditions, including sitting, walking, running, activities of daily living (ADL; eg, chores, brushing teeth), and sleeping.

Methods: One participant, (first author; 29-year-old Caucasian male) completed a 24-hour ecologically valid protocol by wearing 2 popular wrist wearable devices (Apple Watch 3 and Fitbit Charge 2). In addition, an ambulatory ECG (Vrije Universiteit Ambulatory Monitoring System) was used as the gold standard reference method, which resulted in the collection of 102,740 individual heartbeats. A single-subject design was used to keep all variables constant except for wearable devices while providing a rapid response design to provide initial assessment of wearable accuracy for allowing the research cycle to keep pace with technological advancements. Accuracy of these devices compared with the gold standard ECG was assessed using mean error, mean absolute error, and mean absolute percent error. These data were supplemented with Bland-Altman analyses and concordance class correlation to assess agreement between devices.

Results: The Apple Watch 3 and Fitbit Charge 2 were generally highly accurate across the 24-hour condition. Specifically, the Apple Watch 3 had a mean difference of -1.80 beats per minute (bpm), a mean absolute error percent of 5.86%, and a mean agreement of 95% when compared with the ECG across 24 hours. The Fitbit Charge 2 had a mean difference of -3.47 bpm, a mean absolute error of 5.96%, and a mean agreement of 91% when compared with the ECG across 24 hours. These findings varied by condition.

Conclusions: The Apple Watch 3 and the Fitbit Charge 2 provided acceptable heart rate accuracy (<±10%) across the 24 hour and during each activity, except for the Apple Watch 3 during the daily activities condition. Overall, these findings provide preliminary support that these devices appear to be useful for implementing ambulatory measurement of cardiac activity in research studies, especially those where the specific advantages of these methods (eg, scalability, low participant burden) are particularly suited to the population or research question.

Keywords: Apple Watch 3; Fitbit Charge 2; digital health; electrocardiography; heart rate; mobile health; passive sensing; photoplethysmography; wearables.

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry / instrumentation
  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Fitness Trackers / standards
  • Fitness Trackers / statistics & numerical data
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Heart Rate Determination / instrumentation*
  • Heart Rate Determination / methods
  • Heart Rate Determination / standards*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / instrumentation
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / standards
  • Validation Studies as Topic
  • Wearable Electronic Devices / standards*
  • Wearable Electronic Devices / statistics & numerical data