By now, most people recognize the Fitbit brand. They built a strong name for themselves in the wearable market for fitness and exercise tracking. They took it to the next level with the Fitbit Surge superwatch, but they also recently released a more moderate tracking device: the Fitbit Charge HR. The Charge HR is an upgrade from their Charge band, and as you may have guessed, it now includes continuous heart rate monitoring. Of course, you’ll also get a ton of great health, fitness, and other great features jam packed into a minimalistic band.
The Fitbit Charge HR looks really similar to its brother, the Charge. They’re both rubberized wristlets about one inch wide. It basically looks like a rubber watch strap that runs all the way around your wrist. It gets a bit chunky on the top, but it’s very comfortable. The Charge had a snap-on latch, the Charge HR has an actual buckle like a real wrist watch. HR takes a couple extra seconds to take off and put on, but we imagine the more secure latch makes a more accurate heart rate reading. The band comes in a large or a small, and it only affects the size of the wrist band. As a male with a slightly larger than average wrist, the large was much more comfortable. The small fit my wrist, but just barely.
There’s a screen on Fitbit Charge HR! It’s little, but wow is it clear. The screen is OLED and serves multiple functions. It’s sharp enough to clearly display names of people who are calling. The screen defaults to off and there’s just one button to control it. The button toggles you through all of the views. There’s time of day, daily steps, current heart rate, daily distance traveled, daily calories burned, and floors climbed throughout the day.
Fitbit has two options for syncing, which is rare for wearables and exercise devices. You can either sync with the app (continuously or periodically), or you can install desktop software and the device syncs automatically when it’s in range of the small USB receiver. Regardless of how your Fitbit syncs, you have complete access to your data from the phone app and web app.
You don’t just get more insight on the app, you get settings too. You can personalize the Charge. You can customize and reorder the items Fitbit displays. There’s a tap functionality where and you can choose a metric to display when you double tap the screen. You can even set silent alarms, which is a really amazing feature. Set it to wake you up with a subtle vibration. The vibration is perfect for waking you up as long as you’re not in a deep sleep. It’s not impossible to sleep through it.
If you press and hold Fitbit’s only button, you enable exercise mode. Once in exercise mode, all of Fitbits stats are temporarily replaced with stats from your exercise, not your daily stats. There’s also a timer. The device even improves its sensitivity for tracking heart rate. Tracking exercises is great because you can later see how your heart rate was affected throughout the workout, which zone you were in, and an accurate idea of calories burned.
I found heart rate tracking to be pretty accurate, although I did have some issues with it originally. My original review device did not seem to be tracking properly, but after swapping it out it worked exactly as expected. For an accurate heart rate reading you want the device to be pretty tight and a little higher up on your wrist. This can take some trial and error to figure out the best placement for an accurate reading. Some types of exercise movements might prevent you from getting a good read. The heart rate indicator has an icon that shows you what heart rate zone you’re in: peak zone, cardio zone, fat burn zone, and out of zone. This helps you optimize your workout based on your goal.
Fitbit’s had a bunch of years to perfect their step tracking. They do a pretty good job, though I’ve noticed all of the wrist bands are a little more generous than their older waist clips. If you’re actually walking and moving then step counting is very accurate, but it’s not uncommon to have some steps by the time you wake up, or just from moving around at your desk. The distance tracking is also pretty accurate. On a jog I had my GPS app (Runkeeper) report 4 miles while my Fitbit recorded 3.85 miles. Walking distance is much more accurate.
Fitbit does a great job of encouraging you to hit your step goal. The default is 10,000 steps, which isn’t too hard to do if you’re relatively active (or live in a city). They have some fun encouragement methods and achievements that sort of gamify your health. The social integration also helps for encouragement.
Arguably the best feature of the Charge lineup is its ability to track sleep without telling it to. That’s right, it can figure out when you go to sleep, when you wake up, and even if you’re in a state of wrestlessness. Sleep quality has been one of the most insightful metrics I’ve extracted from Fitbit. Apparently, I frequently wake up in the middle of the night, so I’ve taken measures to improve this.
The battery is solid for a device like this. I can get almost a week on one full charge. A quick 20 minute charge can easily get you a few more days. It comes with a proprietary USB cable. The charging cable is so proprietary that it isn’t even used on any other Fitbits. The cable is not the greatest, it’s short and doesn’t stay in well, but it works.
The beauty of Fitbit is that you can treat it as a set it and forget it device, or you can push it to the limit with recording exercises, setting goals, following exercise plans, and social integration. Either way, there’s a lot you can get out of it. You can also ease into the features. By default, Fitbit does a good job to get you involved and thinking about living a healthier lifestyle. The Charge, and Charge HR, are easily top contenders in the fitness tracking space. Pricing out at $194.99, it’s also one of the more expensive devices. If you want heartrate, we’d consider checking out Fitbit’s Surge or Microsoft’s Band. If you don’t care as much about heartrate, then definitely check out the regular Fitbit Charge (currently $129.95). It has all the other features and screen, and it even includes the automatic sleep tracking. The Fitbit Charge HR is currently available from Amazon.com.
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The Good: Automatic Sleep tracking, Silent alarm, Exercise tracking, Easy to set up, Painless to sync, Battery lasts about a week, Water resistant, OLED screen is very clear, iOS/Android/Windows integration, Caller ID, Encourages you by default, Lots to learn about yourself!
The Bad: Proprietary charging cable, HR tracking can be finicky–requires the right conditions, Not shower resistant, Pricey