The FitBit Charge HR is an activity tracking wrist band that includes a heart-rate monitor and some limited phone integration. It has been in the marketplace for two years and with the launch of the Charge 2 it is reaching a price-point that makes it an attractive alternative to some of the more intelligent trackers out there. I for one would feel a little nervous wearing an expensive smartwatch during a workout. I’ve owned and used one for a year and it has mostly been a good experience.
The device itself is a wristband sold in 2 sizes (although I don’t know anyone with wrists small enough to merit the small size) with the device built into the strap. This means that replacing the rubberised strap isn’t going to be an option, and after 2 weeks of usage I was beginning to seem some slight deterioration in the strap itself. After 6 months of use, the strap was starting to fail and Fitbit replaced the device under warranty with no questions asked. My wife and a number of friends have had the same problem with the strap detaching, which may point to a design problem (and possibly a factor in making the strap interchangeable in the Charge 2.)
FitBit do warn that the strap can cause skin irritation, although I have not experienced this. In fact it is a pretty comfortable device to wear.
The display is activated through either a flick of the wrist or pressing a button on the side. I’ve found the wrist motion to be a bit hit and miss (except at night, when the display will annoyingly light up the entire room without warning) so I tend to use the button to access functions.
The display will show time and date in a variety of formats, steps taken today, heart rate, distance walked, calories burned, stairs climbed, alarm (if one is set) and activity time (if you’ve manually told it you’ve started some activity by holding down the button.)
I’ve found the heart rate monitor to be pretty accurate provided you follow the instructions for wearing the device. It was generally the same as, or very close to, the more professional chest-strap monitor I normally use. The same goes for steps and distance travelled. The device will vibrate when goals are met or a call is coming in from a paired phone, which is a useful feature. Messaging is not supported, which is a shame and a slightly strange omission (functionality presumably saved for the more expensive model.) Since the device is intended to be worn while asleep, the vibrating alarm is an excellent feature and works very well.
It should also be noted that while the device seems to withstand sweat generated by a workout without problems, it is not waterproof and so should not be worn in the shower!
Setting up the device is simple. I connected mine to an iPhone 6 and was up and running in a matter of minutes after opening the box. The strap needed a charge with the included cable, which plugs into a USB socket and annoyingly has a specific connector for the Charge HR. One more cable to lose. It is also extremely short – clearly intended to sit beside a laptop or similar. And you will want to charge this device – the battery life is claimed to be 5 days, but mine started complaining after 3 days of usage. On the plus side, topping it up is quick and can usually be done during a shower since you will need to take it off. Yes, the device is water resistant, but despite the rubber exterior is most definitely not waterproof.
Aside from one annoyance (see below), the FitBit app is excellent and provides full telemetry from the device, showing all the tracking data and full history. The sleep tracking is especially interesting, showing times restless and times awake and again seems very accurate. The device will also allow calorie consumption to be entered, but has a very very limited range of items in its library, which requires the entry of custom items. It is nowhere near as good as other tracking applications, such as MyFitnessPal in this regard and I can imagine that the need to enter every meal variation manually is going to put off users.
The calorie issue aside, the app also features the ability to set exercise goals or challenge friends, which introduces a bit of fun to tracking activity. And there are of course achievements to be unlocked through activity.
The one annoyance of the app is the inability to integrate into the Apple Health ecosystem which seems to be aimed at keeping users within FitBit’s own walled garden. This can be overcome through 3rd party tools, but the irony of putting a locked-down eco-system that doesn’t play well with others on Apple’s platform isn’t lost on me.
In conclusion, this is an excellent device for tracking activity. And at less than £70 if you shop around, it represents good value for money if you don’t want to make the jump to the Charge 2.