It’s been a few months now since Fitbit announced and then subsequently released their Fitbit Charge and Charge HR units. I’ve used them both sequentially over the past 2+ months, and now have a pretty good grasp of where they work and where they don’t. For all of the units within these posts I simply bought them myself. The Charge arrived back in December which I used first, and then the Charge HR the last month since wrapping up the Fitbit Surge review (you can only have one Fitbit device tied to your account at once). At the end of the day keep in mind I’m just like any other regular athlete out there. I write these reviews because I’m inherently a curious person with a technology background, and thus I try and be as complete as I can. But, if I’ve missed something or if you spot something that doesn’t quite jive – just let me know and I’ll be happy to get it all sorted out. Also, because the technology world constantly changes, I try and go back and update these reviews as new features and functionality are added – or if bugs are fixed. So – with that intro, let’s get into things.
The Fitbit Charge HR is a more advanced version of the Fitbit Charge, which was released in November 2014. The Fitbit Surge features even more features for the performance-obsessed fitness fanatics. As such the Charge HR should appeal to someone wanting more advanced activity-tracking stats than a Fitbit Flex or Charge user – particularly heart-rate monitoring – but not to the level and price as the more sports-oriented Surge. The Fitbit Charge HR also has some extra benefits, such as a watch-type buckle that is far more secure than the clasp on the Flex and Charge. It’s one of the reasons that the Charge HR is one of our favourite activity trackers. See the foot of this review for the latest best prices online.
Fitbit’s band uses two bright green LEDs (proven in scientific studies to be more effective at monitoring heart rate than other wavelengths) to shoot light into your flesh and detect these blood volume changes beneath the skin. The lights flash continuously—by monitoring your heart rate non-stop, you can glean information like your true resting heart rate or how intense your workouts are. You can also learn when you’re getting stressed out and get a better estimate of how many calories you burn each day, which are particularly useful for maintaining or achieving weight and blood-pressure goals. Color me intrigued; I strapped one on. The Charge HR comes with some detailed guidelines on how to ensure you’re tracking your heart rate correctly. You’re supposed to wear the band one finger width above your wrist bone, and double or triple that distance during exercise. Also, after last year’s recall of the Force wristband due to skin irritation issues, the company has explicit guidelines for keeping the device clean and dry if it gets sweaty.
I was impressed with the depth of the instructions (and also that it didn’t give me a rash), but I wasn’t as impressed with its heart-rate tracking as I’d hoped. Fitbit’s mobile app automatically breaks down heart rate into three zones: peak, cardio, and fat burn, based on the often used (and often inaccurate, and in my case extremely inaccurate) method of calculating max heart rate based on 220 minus your age. By this math, if you’re 30, your max heart rate is 190.
I became slightly addicted to checking my heart rate throughout the day, but the Charge HR was disappointing during workouts. In my experience, the heart-rate reading I got from the wristband rarely matched the reading I got from a chest strap. It was not uncommon for me to get my heart rate up to 160 during a spin class, according to the data captured with the chest strap, and have the Charge HR tell me my heart rate was around 130. This has been the case with other optical heart-rate sensors I’ve tried, as well.
The $150 Charge HR looks so similar to the Charge that it would be easy to mistake one for the other when you go to buy one. The Charge HR has the same tiny OLED display, and measures all of the metrics listed above — steps, sleep, etc. Here’s the key difference: The Charge HR has optical heart-rate sensors on the underside of the band. As a result, the Charge HR is ever-so-slightly heavier than the Charge, and has more of a standard watch buckle, to ensure that the band fits snugly. And its battery life, when I tried it, was just about five days per charge.
At the core of any Fitbit device is the ability to track daily activity including steps, distance walked/run, and calories. Both the Fitbit Charge and Charge HR follow in those footsteps and delivery that, along with stairs climbed and in the case of the Charge HR – heart rate.
When you press the left button it’ll iterate through each of the fields, which are customizable. These field are: Time, Steps, Distance, Calories, Stairs, and Heart Rate. The Bluetooth Smart sync is available to compatible iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices. That’s generally anything made in the last 2-3 years, though there are some caveats – so you’ll want to check Fitbit’s compatibility site. Basically the device needs to have Bluetooth 4.0, which is the umbrella covering Bluetooth Smart functionality.
Your activity data can further be accessed via the Fitbit website, as well as send to various partners such as MyFitnessPal and others.
The Fitbit Charge and Charge HR are only waterproofed to a ‘splash-proof’ standard. This same disappointing standard was used previously on the Fitbit Force. In any event, in the case of the Charge and Charge HR I completely ignored the ‘do not shower’ clause, and showered with it every single day, usually twice a day (once in the morning and once after a workout). I never saw any issues.
This is a weird one. It fails as tech on certain levels, yet does genuinely motivate and works as a lifestyle product. Reasonably priced for an all-day activity tracker with a continuous heart rate monitor, the Fitbit Charge HR looks sleek … not ideal for serious runners or exercise enthusiasts, it’s a great fitness monitor powered by the ever-excellent Fitbit website and apps, which remain the best you’ll find.