Fitbit Charge HR Review

Does the Fitbit Charge HR excel, or does it flatline?

Intro

Fitness trackers have slowly risen in popularity over the years. In a sense, they have evolved from the pedometers some of us were forced to wear for gym class to track our steps. In a world that is consistently becoming more connected in everything we do, health and wellness has become a hotbed for connected living. People want to see how active they are, how many calories they burn, and how healthy they are in a given day.

The Fitbit Charge HR is Fitbit’s latest and greatest as a dedicated fitness tracker. The Charge HR has real-time activity tracking, sleep tracking, and most importantly, a Heart Rate monitor. This is the Charge HR after all. In a world where Smartwatches are slowly taking over, one has to ask, “Who is a fitness tracker for?” and “Why should I choose a fitness tracker over a smartwatch?”

Look & Feel

fitbit_chargehr_2The Fitbit Charge HR comes in five different colors: Black, Plum, Blue, Tangerine, and Teal. If you have a loud personality, the vibrant color options might be for you. I’m more classical and introverted, so the Black Charge HR serves me just fine. Looking at the device, the Charge HR is pretty unassuming. 97% of the entire device is a rubber housing, save for the small glossy black screen and the buckle. The screen is low resolution, because it doesn’t have to be razor-sharp. A button on the left side of the screen allows you to cycle through different options(you can also tap the display once the display is on to do the same thing). The Fitbit will show you the Clock, Heart Rate, Distance, Steps, Calories and Floors. From within the app, you can change the order of those as they appear on your Charge, or just omit them altogether(but more on that later).

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Setting the device up and getting it connected was a breeze. One thing Fitbit does recommend is to wear the device rather loose. Looser than I had it initially. This is almost certainly to cut down on the prevalence of the rash that occurs while wearing previous Fitbit devices. Having owned the original Fitbit Flex, the rash is real and it was awful. Luckily, wearing the Charge HR a little looser seems to eliminate any chance of the HR rubbing you the wrong way. The Charge HR felt a little odd at first, because of the Heart Rate monitor being slightly elevated on the underside of the device. Within an hour of wearing the Charge HR, I completely forgot it was there. This is also in part to how light the Charge HR is.

HR Monitoring

fitbit_chargehr_7One of the main selling points of the Charge HR is the Heart Rate tracking. This is what differentiates the Charge HR from some of the other devices in the Fitbit lineup. Today, most smartwatches and even some phones come equipped with heart rate tracking abilities. In my experience, none of them are very good(looking at you Moto 360 1 AND 2). A smartwatch doesn’t necessarily need  incredibly accurate heart rate monitoring. Here, with a dedicated fitness tracker like the Charge HR, having accurate heart rate tracking is kind of a big deal. With the Charge HR, heart rate tracking is the most accurate I have used out of any wearable. Now, as I stated before, none of it has been very good. The Charge HR is good, really good. I tested the Charge HR against my own count(Carotid artery, timer to 15 seconds, multiply by four) for  a resting heart rate, during workouts, and randomly throughout the day. On average, the Charge HR had a margin of error of 5 bpm or less, every time.  For a $130 fitness tracker, that is really, really great.

App and Activity Tracking

Fitbit comes with an app that lets you change goals, input weight, sleep, food and water intake, as well as look at your activity levels over time.

Tracking a run is simple. Start running, and the Charge HR figures it out. I recently ran a 10K with the Charge HR on my wrist and it tracked my warmup, the race, and my cooldown. You can also track a Run, Walk, or Hike by going to the Fitbit App, selecting tap your exercise and tapping the Stopwatch Icon in the top right of the screen. For non cardio options, the Charge HR will measure it based on your heart rate. All of this can be seen as it is happening on your Charge itself, or after the fact from within the app.

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In the Fitbit app, you can track various activities. Steps, Miles, Calories, Floors and Active minutes. From within the app you can set a goal for each Steps, Miles, Calories, and Floors. You can also set those to be your primary goal for what you want to accomplish in a day, and reorder how they appear on the Charge HR. You can remove what stats are displayed as well. For instance, I don’t really care about how many floors I have walked up, so I removed it from the Charge UI altogether, simply by un-checking a box.  Whenever you hit that goal, you will get a vibrate on your wrist informing you of your hard work.

In the app, you can choose to have the Charge HR sync constantly or every so often when you open the app and tap sync. This allows you to go out for a run without your phone, letting the Charge HR, track you as normal, and sync once you are back.

In the app you can also set a silent alarm that will vibrate to wake you up, as well as set a greeting for whenever you power the device on.

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Sleep tracking, food and water intake are also available to track from within the Fitbit app. Habitually, I don’t wear any wearable when I sleep, as I let them charge. But the Fitbit can sense the sleep automatically, while also giving you the option to “start” your sleep manually.

Food and Water intake is obviously manual as well, as there is no tracker embedded in your stomach to automatically track what you eat and drink(but that’d be kind of cool though, right?). If you are really committed to tracking every part of your health goals, tracking food and water can be a huge advantage into losing or maintaining weight. Personally, every time I try to track my food and water intake, I end up forgetting for a day or two and never go back to input the late data. I know that’s laziness on my part, but it’s a problem I’ve never been able to fix in the connected world(Seriously, a chip to track your food automatically, creepily awesome). Tracking weight can be done manually or within the FitBit Aria Scale. If losing weight is a goal of yours, pairing the two could be beneficial.

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Conclusion

For what it is, the Fitbit Charge HR is probably the best overall fitness tracker on the market. For someone who is actively trying to lose weight, tracking calories in/calories out, the Charge HR is a great asset. As someone who has a dedicated workout plan built around hitting the gym for an hour or hitting the trails for a couple of miles, the Charge HR isn’t truly in my wheelhouse. When I’m at the gym, I’m more concerned with how many sets I’m completing rather than my Heart Rate and Calories burnt. While I’m out running, I’m used to getting half mile audio updates of my distance and pacing which helps keep me on track. The Fitbit isn’t of use to me in my current health goals. That being said, I did notice how active I am outside of my daily workouts. Just wearing the Fitbit Charge HR out and about showed that I walk roughly four to five miles a day, no wonder my knees are sore.

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The Fitbit Charge HR is really, really great for what it is. But it is just difficult for any fitness tracker to find real success outside of a niche. If you’re looking to elevate your fitness goals and give yourself more information about your overall activity, look no further than the Charge HR. As a standalone fitness tracker, it does so much and does it all incredibly well.