Fitbit makes great products.
I still have my Fitbit One which I purchased during the holiday seasons of 2013. Since then I’ve moved on to a Fitbit Zip which I deem as the workhorse of the Fitbit empire. So much so I went on to purchase 30 more Zips which I use for my classes; me being a Physical Education teacher in sunny Singapore. When I heard about the addition of heart rate monitoring (HRM) and GPS features in both the Fitbit Charge HR and Surge, you can imagine how excited I got.
Steps is so passé.
I’ve worn theFitbit Charge HR for a week now and I’m excited to tell you more.
LOOK AND FEEL
The strap is both thin and soft with a textured surface and a smooth back.Gone are the clips system which was present in Fitbit Flex, the discontinued Force and the Fitbit Charge. The Fitbit Charge HR employs a buckle system very much similar to that of a watch strap.
The sizing guide stated that the Charge HR should be worn loosely and only tightened during bouts of exercise to ensure accurate HR data from Fitbit’s patented PurePulse technology.The Fitbit Charge HR tracker unit is embedded within the strap and is irremovable. Save for a single button on the side, the Charge HR is flush and featureless. The tracker feels unbelievably light.
The back of the unit houses a protruding unit which houses 2 optical sensors for reading HR data from the skin surface. Tightening the strap will allow the unit to press into the skin, ensuring no ambient light entry which might cause inaccuracies to the HR readings.The narrow strip of OLED screen displays the most essential tracked stats. The display is crisp under normal lighting but can be a tad straining in bright sunny outdoor Singapore.
FUNCTIONS AND DATA PRESENTATION
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Is PulsePure technology accurate? To test this, I wore a Polar H7 chest strap heart rate monitor tracked by SelfLoops Android app.
Fitbit Charge was worn as recommended; at least 2 fingers from the wrist bone and tightened. I started by brisk walking to warm up before going on to a 11km/hr run and these are the scores.
Max HR as recorded by Polar H7 is 177 bpm, average HR 151 bpm
Max HR as recorded by Fitbit Charge HR is not indicated but assume to be 176 bpm. Average HR 146bpm.
Now because my HR trend graph on the Fitbit website looked too narrow, I had to increase the height of the graph using Photoshop to make for ease of comparison. Rest assured the data wasn’t doctored.
I was surprised with the accuracy of the readings. The Fitbit Charge HR is exceedingly small compared to Mio Alpha 2 or even the Basis Peak.
Perhaps heavier bouts of exercise might reveal the true weakness of Fitbit’s PurePulse heart rate monitoring technology, or its strength. The Fitbit Charge HR stores HR at 1 second intervals during exercise tracking mode and 5 second intervals at other times.With the addition of the heart rate monitoring capability, the Fitbit app now has an additional stat for users to examine.
I personally found the resting heart rate (RHR) over time a very useful stat to track over time. Perhaps I might be embarking on a cardiovascular training regime and a decrease in RHR over time would be a good indication of an aspect of improvement.
Tracking of exercise with Fitbit Charge HR.
Users can also track an exercise session with the heart rate monitoring function of the Fitbit Charge HR. Should the mobile app be insufficient in terms of details, users can also log on to Fitbit.com where more information awaits in their Fitbit accounts.Fitbit has also provided an avenue for users to input their own heart rate zones. The default is an easy-to-remember estimation method of 220-current age. A short write up is provided on the nuts and bolts in HR zone training.
Sleep tracking is automatic and from the days I wore the Fitbit Charge HR, it seemed pretty accurate in terms of duration. I have to state a disclaimer here, I’m mainly concerned with the sleep duration rather than the quality or light versus deep sleep that fitness trackers on the market tend to offer.
Customisable Fitbit display face
And because the Fitbit Charge HR is vibration enabled, users can set silent alarms and reminders. With a firmware update, The Fitbit Charge HR will also display caller ID on the screen coupled with a short vibration.
Users have full control over what stats to display and which stat to designate as the main stat to track. In the photo above, you can see the time and date, step count, alarm time and current HR. I’m not particular about distance or calories as I believe those metrics require more than a wrist worn band to measure from individual to individual.
DATA PRESENTATION (Near Identical for Fitbit tracker series)
The Fitbit app interface is identical across the various platforms.The app screen can be customised to display stats which the user is interested only. For starters, the available stats to be displayed include steps, calories, distance, active minutes, water consumed, food log and weight. Stairs climbed is an available tracked stat for Fitbit One, Fitbit Charge and Charge HR.
Heart rate is an additional measurable for Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge only.
Challenges with friends
The challenges option was added on October 2014 and provides a new feature that allows the user to individually challenge members on their friend’s list. A total of 4 challenge types are available.
Fitbit In-app MapMyRun feature
The Mapmyrun in-app feature allows the user to track exercise (walk, hike, run) using the phone’s GPS. The Fitbit Surge is the only Fitbit tracker with built-in GPS and can track routes without requiring a smartphone to be close.
The key feature and probably what makes the Fitbit platform so easy to use , in my opinion, is the addition of friends and viewing their progress. You can also text, cheer or taunt your friends to encourage them to move a little more.
A single tap to the area below the OLED screen brings up the watch face. After prolonged use, I was hoping for the feature where you lift up your arms and the display automatically comes on.
Battery life with heart rate monitoring set on “Auto” on a 24/7 basis was 4 days. I would assume it would be longer had I switched off the heart rate monitoring altogether.
The Fitbit Charge HR is sweat and splash resistant but it’s not water proof nor shower proof. You’ve been warned.
Like the Fitbit One, the Fitbit Charge HR also has an altimeter that tracks the flights of stairs climbed according to Fitbit’s definition of stairs.
Upon reaching your goals, the Fitbit Charge HR would vibrate and a light show of sorts will play on the Fitbit Charge HR screen.
The OLED display is turned off all the time unless activated. This would presumably save quite a bit of battery. Unfortunately it can get frustrating pressing the single button or tapping the Fitbit Charge HR unit throughout the day.
IN A NUTSHELL
- Tracks steps, distance, calories burned, stairs climbed and heart rate
- Sharp and crisp OLED display
- Caller ID notification
- Splash and sweat resistant only
- Vibrating alarm
- Automatic sleep monitoring
- App available on Android, iOS and Windows phones.
- Syncs to proprietary blue tooth dongle, not necessary to have a smartphone
- Tracks workout (walk, hike, run) with phone GPS.
- Solid mobile app.
- About 5 days battery life
- Customisable time display
- Tap gesture
- Wireless syncing via Bluetooth
- Limited smartphone notifications (only caller ID, not notifications)
- No idle alert
- Not suitable for swimming
- Does not sync with HR monitors like Polar H7
- Does not transmit HR data to 3rd party apps
At $ 149.95, the Fitbit Charge is an excellent buy. It’s incredible what Fitbit has done. Granted there are kinks I would have liked worked out, the present Fitbit Charge HR has already exceeded my expectations.
There are many benefits to HR training and gauging your resting HR over time can give you insights to your health as well. I say ebay your Fitbit Charge if you already got one and go for the Fitbit Charge HR today if GPS is not a big concern of yours. Chest free HR reading doesn’t come cheap, just look at Mio Fuse, Mio Alpha 2 and Pulse On.
Hardware aside, Fitbit has gotten it right in employing the friends factor in encouraging people to stay active. Clocking 20k steps a day means so much more when you’re beating 12 other people in the group.
The Fitbit Charge HR isn’t necessarily the smartest tracker on the market but it did what it was supposed to superbly. Combined with an awesome mobile app that’s compatible with iOS, Android and Windows platform, it’s hard to say no to Fitbit Charge HR.