FitBit have struggled to come up with something to follow the successful Charge and Charge HR fitness trackers. The Surge strays dangerously close to Apple Watch territory, at least in terms of price, while the Blaze has yet to set the market on fire. By my entirely subjective measure of “how many do I see around”, neither have achieved the impact of FitBit’s earlier offerings.
In the meantime, the Charge and Charge HR have continued to get longer and longer in the tooth.
The Charge 2 seeks to address this by replacing both Charge and Charge HR at a sweep with a new device featuring some neat new tricks and at least one that is quite literally breathtakingly pointless.
Out Of The Box
The Charge 2 lacks the hard plastic box of its predecessors, opting for something distinctly Apple-like in feel. As with most modern technology, there is precious little in the way of documentation, which is a shame. Having dropped the best part of £120 on some electronics, one would hope for at least a quick-start guide rather than an instruction to go on-line. And read the instructions you must since things have changed with the Charge 2.
As well as the device, a charging cable is provided. As with the previous FitBits, this uses a proprietary connector and, of course, it is different to the earlier models. This is disappointing and annoying – one would expect either a standard USB connector or wireless charging by now. There isn’t even the excuse of water-proofing as a reason to have such a specific cable, and the clip at the end to secure the FitBit during charge does not feel particularly robust. All in all, this is very much a step backwards.
One thing missing from the box is a USB dongle to allow data connection to a PC, which was included with earlier models. The expectation here is clearly that the user will be connecting this to a smartphone (I tested this with IOS) or Bluetooth-enabled PC to upload data. This is a reasonable assumption and I don’t think many will miss this easy-to-lose component.
The biggest change is the screen size, which is similar to the much more expensive Surge. While the previous Charge HR could manage 1 line of text, the Charge 2 has triple the amount of vertical real estate. However, be aware that there is a quite a large black border – the display does not use all the space available.
The underside of the tracker features the familiar pulse monitor and the connector, which is no longer a socket (hence the need for the plastic clip). This improves the water resistance, although this device is still not waterproof, and not for use in a shower, let alone a swimming pool.
The tough, rubberised sides of the original are gone and are replaced with silver plastic. Personally, I preferred the appearance of the last generation. However, this is very much a subjective opinion and works with the other major external change – interchangeable wristbands.
It’s All About The Wrist
Wisely, FitBit have made it possible to change the strap. The mechanism for connecting the strap is actually in the strap itself, so the FitBit should now be free of strap-related failures (see my previous article on this.) Replacement straps are priced well – starting at £19 for something in rubber (or ‘durable elastomer’) and topping out at £59 for a leather strap that you probably wouldn’t want to wear in a gym.
The user interface is at once familiar and strange. The vibrant monochrome OLED screen can now display 2 data points – for example, the current date and time and also the number of steps taken. Pressing the single button will cycle through modes (for example date/time, heart rate, exercise and so on) while tapping the screen will cause the lower half of the display to cycle through the available measurements for the current mode. For example, while in date/time mode, the lower half of the screen can show steps, heart rate, distance and so on. After a few days of use it becomes second nature, and FitBit have done a good job of extending the interface without compromising the pick-up-and-play nature of the device too much.
The data points you would expect to be tracked are all here – steps, distance, floors climbed, resting heart rate, sleep quality and so on. FitBit have also added “Reminders To Move”, which is as annoying as it sounds. The “Guided Breathing” function is breathtakingly pointless; to be honest, if you need a fitness tracker for taking deep breaths than you likely have problems that a shiny new toy isn’t going to solve.
Snark aside, the addition of SMS and calendar alerts from your phone (as well as the call alerts in the previous generation) is a major and much needed improvement. The downside with these is that there is no way to retrieve them, so if you miss them on the display (or they are more than a few characters long) then you will have to reach for your phone. Emojis are also not currently supported which, for a middle-aged man like me, is a blessed relief.
The last of the notable new features is the ability to connect to your phone’s GPS for tracking while exercising, although on my iPhone 6 I have named this as “Connected GPS, Destroyer Of Batteries”. This is, of course, less to do with FitBit and more with Apple in my case. The GPS track is then associated with the exercise (as in the screen-shot) and can be uploaded to other services.
The larger screen and additional functions do not appear to affected the life of the Lithium Polymer battery, which comes in at a claimed 5 days, and my testing has confirmed this so far (with the phone synchronisation set to be continuous.)
Overall, this is a good replacement for the older Charge HR and brings some much needed features to the platform (SMS notifications is reason enough to upgrade, in my opinion) while refreshing much of the rest of the FitBit formula in a way that hasn’t broken what made these devices so good. At around £110, it remains good value and the 2 year warranty does help with the fear of wearing an expensive device on your wrist at the gym.
One for the Christmas list.