The short answer is yes – and IMHO get the most basic model you can get from one of the good brands.
The reasoning is simple. Firstly, compared to a lot of other “essential” things related to exercising (eg gym membership, personal training session, shoes, the latest Adidas exercise kit), heart rate monitors are dirt cheap!
OK, let me backtrack a bit: maybe not dirt cheap, but reasonably priced. And I am talking about the most basic entry model here, not the platinum-plated all-singing-and-dancing-version that also does the dishes. I got mine – the entry level model of Polar – at Amazon for a bit less than £40.
What does it do? I measures your heartrate. What else does it do? Not much – clock for example, and exercise timer, and some rudimentary heart rate zone stuff but I dont really care. It shows me my heartrate. This is what I have bought it for, and this is what it does.
I particularly use it for my interval training. My goal is to be pretty flexible in the exercises that I am using there, and the heart rate gives you a good gauge of the intensity required from a VO2max point of view (because sometimes lack of strength masks that you are under capacity on the VO2max front – try preacher curls for cardio 🙂 ). Also it is a great tool to judge your rate of recovery during the pauses, and therefore to understand how to modulate with the load/recovery ratio.
Now as to which model to buy: when I looked at the market I found that the prices go up quite quickly once additional features are added, and you can easily pay 3-5x the price for one of the more advanced models. IMHO most of the stuff is either shnik-shnak, or replicated elsewhere (iPhone anyone?), and therefore not good value for money.
Of course this is a completely personal decision – but what I’d say is that you should get yourself one of those goodies. Either get the cheapest one if that is all you want to (or can) spend – but of course, if you want to splash out then splash out.