How to measure your heart rate with any Android phone

One of the marquee features of Samsung's new Galaxy S5 is its integrated heart rate monitor. While I'm not sure how many people will actually use such a feature with any regularity, it's certainly an interesting addition that's bound to get plenty of media and marketing attention.

Here's a little secret, though: You can actually check your pulse with any Android phone. All you need is the combination of a camera with a flash and the right app.

There are quite a few apps out there designed with your heart in mind. I've been playing around with one of the more popular titles, Instant Heart Rate, and it's actually been pretty accurate in my observations so far. (Update: Via a reader recommendation, an app called Runtastic Heart Rate performs the same function -- and has a far less sinful user interface design.)

So how does it work? Simple: You fire up the app, place the pad of your finger over your phone's camera, then sit quietly and wait a minute. Instant Heart Rate says it uses the camera to "track color changes on the fingertip that are directly linked to your pulse."

Crazy as it sounds, it gets the job done. It may or may not be as accurate as the sensor built into Samsung's new phone -- I obviously haven't been able to do any sort of side-by-side comparison -- but it seems to line up fairly consistently with a heart rate monitor attached to an exercise bike in my house, both while I'm resting and after I've been working out.

Instant Heart Rate monitor is free, so if you've been dying to check your pulse on your Android device, snag it or one of the other similar apps from the Play Store and measure away to your heart's content.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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