Fitbit Charge review: An improved band, but lacking heart rate

The Fitbit Force was our favorite fitness tracker of 2013 next to the Jawbone Up24, but it suddenly disappeared early this year, recalled due to skin rash reactions. Good news: the Fitbit Charge is the Fitbit Force reborn. It’s actually even improved: the band has a better snap-on wristband, and Fitbit’s firmware now allows for call notifications and automatic sleep tracking.

But here’s the bad news: it costs $130 (£100 in the UK, and AU$150 in Australia). That’s hardly a bad price for what you get, but the step-up Fitbit Charge HR, costs only $20 more (AU$30 in Australia) and adds heart-rate tracking and a more traditional wristband clasp. The price delta is so slight that it’s an easy call: get the Charge HR instead, unless you really don’t care about heart rate at all and can find this version on sale.

Fitbit Charge Wireless Activity Wristband, Black, Large

$159.99

Energize your day with Charge

Made by: Fitbit, Available: In stock

Design

The Charge has the overall look of a fitness band — not unlike the Fitbit Flex — but with a small, bright readout that takes it into smartwatch territory. The glowing OLED readout is vivid and shows time, steps taken, estimated calories burned, flights of stairs climbed, and distance traveled. But you need to push a side button — or give a hard double-tap to the screen — to read the display, which otherwise stays dark to conserve power.

The Charge comes in two colors for now, black and slate (the blue-gray model I reviewed). It comes in three different sizes. I wore the large. Each band can be adjusted a number of degrees, just in case.

The original Fitbit Force had a design issue that ranged from an annoyance to a deal-killer: the snap-fast wrist clasp had a tendency to unfasten spontaneously. In fact, we lost two of them while testing them at CNET — you’d look down at one point in the day and realize that it was just gone. Thankfully, Fitbit has improved the band for the better. So far, the new band stays latched on and doesn’t pop off even when I flick at its edge. It’s still comfy, a bit like the innocuous sport bracelet design of theJawbone Up band.

I hardly notice wearing the Charge, but you can’t wear it all the time: it’s not water-resistant enough for showers or swimming. Weirdly, because it feels so slight, remembering to take it off is sometimes a problem. Maybe I’m just spoiled by waterproof fitness trackers.

The Charge uses the same USB charge dongle as the Fitbit Force: a small plug pops in underneath the band. You can sync the Charge wirelessly to Android, iOS or Windows apps, or manually sync to a PC or Mac. Just don’t lose that cable.

Fitness: Good, but could be better

Fitbits have been known to have the most accurate step-counting among fitness trackers. The Charge measures steps, distance, and also knows elevation (calculated as “flights of stairs climbed”) thanks to a built-in barometer. The Charge also acknowledges “active” exercise, which amounts to jogging or running. CNET editor Dan Graziano tried testing distance accuracy with the Fitbit Charge, and found it a little off: he found it recorded a full mile that he walked on a treadmill as only .91-mile. Other fitness bands, like the Microsoft Band, actually fared better at distance accuracy.

The Charge can record targeted runs or workouts: hold the button, and you’ll start a targeted timed run. It can use your phone’s GPS to map your specific route in the paired phone app, if you have a phone on you. Otherwise, it’ll just record distance and steps/calories, plus “active minutes.”

The Fitbit app is pretty well-supported by a variety of other apps and services, which is great. It works across iOS, Android and Windows Phones, supporting over 100 devices (check out Fitbit’s full list and compatibility chart). And it’s one of most popular fitness apps and ecosystems among fitness bands for a reason. But there’s room for growth.

Fitbit allows you to challenge friends to various competitions, much like Nike or Jawbone. The app is starting to feel a little aged, though. That’s also because it’s going to get upgraded soon: heart-rate tracking, a major part of the next Fitbit devices next year, hasn’t been integrated yet.

You can track food with a built-in search database, scan product bar codes with your phone’s camera, and enter your weight, water intake and meals eaten, but it’s a time-consuming process you’ll have to remember to keep up with. The Fitbit Charge won’t help you with that part.

Nightly sleep, monthly active exercise, and daily step counts are easily scanned via clean graphs, and if you’re bold enough you can share your results with others. But Fitbit’s app lacks the more intelligent insight-based coaching that Jawbone Up and Basis offer, and that Microsoft is striving for, too. It’s a fine app, but it’s not as unique as it once was.

Note that Fitbit has opted to not integrate its iOS app with Apple Health. So far, that’s not really an issue — to date, Health hasn’t really been a game-changer or even particularly useful versus standalone apps. But should Health become important to you, don’t expect Fitbit products to work with it.

Fitbit Charge Wireless Activity Wristband, Black, Large

$159.99

Energize your day with Charge

Made by: Fitbit, Available: In stock

Battery life

The Fitbit Charge is rated to last for a week on a charge: I’ve only used mine for a few days. So far, so good. Other trackers last longer: the Jawbone Up lasts two weeks, and the Misfit Shine lasts for months on a built-in battery. A week is pretty standard-issue.

Recharging via the included USB dongle is easy, provided you’ve remembered to take the dongle with you. It’s a small cable, and I find I lose it more easily than others.

Syncing and pairing: Mostly automatic

Setting up the Fitbit Charge is mostly painless: the app starts searching for your device and sets it up for you. Downloading new firmware, which happens from time to time, still takes a lot longer than it should and led to a few pairing problems. But, once connected, the Charge synced its data periodically on its own, no intervention needed.

Once I flipped the switch for incoming call notifications, I got those too: a little vibration, and I could look at who was calling on my wrist. It’s helpful to have just in case you’re awaiting a call during a brisk walk, but nowhere near as advanced as other “smartwatch-style” fitness bands like the Samsung Gear Fit or Microsoft Band.

You can set silent alarms on the band via the Fitbit app: it’ll vibrate to wake you up. Other bands like the Jawbone Up and Pebble smartwatch do this, too. It comes in handy.

Conclusion: A fair fitness band, but not particularly special

It’s not such a big deal to track steps on your wrist anymore. Lots of phones do it. Cheap pedometers do it. Suddenly, what was once Fitbit’s strong suit has become a lot more ho-hum — even if this band does do it better than most.

And the Fitbit Charge is good at what it does; really good. The step-up Charge HR doesn’t handle heart rate in a slam-dunk fashion, but it definitely works to make the Fitbit a more complete fitness device. The Charge HR’s heart rate monitor is worth the extra $20 or so to buy.

There are far more affordable pedometer trackers out there: the Misfit Flash and Jawbone Move cost just $50 (though they don’t double as a wristwatch). I like the fit and function of the Fitbit Charge better, and having a display still makes it more useful in a pinch than the Jawbone Up24. But lacking heart rate, even if heart rate tracking is a messy landscape, makes this Fitbit and its high price feel a step out of line.


PROS:

The Fitbit Charge has a comfortable design and a display for time and step-tracking. It gets call notifications and syncs automatically to a variety of phone platforms.

CONS:

The forthcoming Charge HR adds heart-rate tracking and a better clasp for just $20 more; the Fitbit app is well designed but feels a little dated compared to the competition.


POY Fitbit Charge 2 Bands, Classic & Special Edition Replacement bands for Fitbit Charge 2, Large Small
7.3 Total Score
Start from: $7.55

Enter your model number to make sure this fits.; Soft Material: These fitbit charge 2 hr bands are made from flexible elastomer, sweat resistant

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Product Dimensions

7.9 x 0.8 x 0.1 inches

Shipping Weight

0.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)

Still holding up with 24/7 wear after nearly 3 months. Breaths better than original band, is softer, and did the trick for breaking up the 'big black band' ...
September 4, 2017
Band fits great and love the color. Only giving 4 stars because it collects dirt and was discilored within a week or two.
March 7, 2017
I liked the colors offered and so I bought these. I got lucky! These feel just like the original band, and most importantly, they snap on and off easily! Just bought a different set (with other colors) from a different company and it took 20+ minutes to get the bands back off! I felt like I was going to damage the Fitbit, I was pulling so hard! Buying another set of these as a gift.
August 27, 2017
Fitbit Charge review: An improved band, but lacking heart rate
7.3 Total Score
Excellent!

Durability
5.0
Portability
8.0
Ease of use
8.0
Design and form factor
8.0
User Rating: 4.1 (1 votes)
1 Comment
  1. […] Fitbit Charge HR looks a lot like its non HR labelled brethren – the Fitbit Charge. It is made from a flexible, durable elastomer and features a surgical-grade stainless steel […]

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