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

$118.29 129.95

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

$118.29 129.95

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.


Fitbit Charge Wireless Activity Wristband, Slate, Large
7.3 Total Score
Start from: $117.15

Energize your day with Charge

Read more on shop website →

  • Deals
  • Photos
  • Last comments
First off I would make this a five star rating if I didn't have a bad fitbit sent on first order. The LCD display was bad on ours and we had to exchange it. My friend just bought one and the battery only lasted one day on a full charge.That said - if you get a good one - it's great. I bought one for my husband for Christmas and he loves his fitbit. In fact, I had the flex and I was so jealous of his I lasted two weeks before I upgraded and bought my own.I love how I can see the display. First press it's a watch (time), second click it tells you steps, then it how far you've gone in miles, then how many calories you have burned, and then tells you the floors you've climbed.The other new features I love over the flex1. Display2. When your phone rings, your fitbit (if you connect your phone) will vibrate. I have caught so many potentially missed calls because my phone will vibrate my fitbit! It even scrolls the name of the caller on the display. I LOVE this feature.3. It tracks floors climbed. The flex didn't. I missed that feature from the fitbit one I used to have so it's nice to have that feature back.4. On the flex you have to put the flex in sleep mode to track sleep. On the charge you don't have to put it in sleep mode. It automatically knows you are sleeping and will track. I LOVE this feature since I always forgot to turn off the sleep mode on my flex. The charge automatically tracks sleep.5. The battery indicator when low flashes on the display. This is a nice feature!Cons:1. The flex was waterproof. You could swim with it. The charge is water resistant. I can wear mine in the shower. You can not swim with it or take a bath and submerge it.2.Read more ›
January 16, 2015
I have tried a number of fitness trackers including Jawbone (regular, not 24), FitBit Flex, Garmin VivoFit and even Microsoft Band. I think this is the best. Here's how I would compare the 4:Jawbone - I liked the Web site, the silent alarm and the battery life, but that's about it. The biggest issue I have with many bands including this one is how bulky it is. Of course, the manual syncing also is annoying.FitBit Flex - it has the silent alarm, automatic syncing and you forget about it during the day because it is not very bulky. But it lacks the impressive display of FitBit Charge (see below)Garmin VivoFit - I liked the display and the lack of bulkiness, but the app was awful. You also couldn't see it at night, nor did it feature a silent alarm.Microsoft Band - if you could jam the functionality of the Microsoft Band into the Fitbit Charge, you would have the perfect tracker. The problem, however, is that the Band is very thick and you have to flip it over to read the display. The clasp is on top and the display under your wrist. It reminded me of my 4th grade math teacher who always checked his watch by flipping it over.FitBit Charge - looks great, silent alarm, bright display, accurate, double tap for important information. You don't notice it's on your wrist which is one of my main prerequisites for fitness trackers. One feature I think is pretty cool is the goal achievement silent alarm. So let's say you want to walk 10k steps per day. Once you do, the band buzzes and when you look at the display, you are heartily congratulated for your accomplishment. The other cool feature is if you hold the button, you tell the tracker you are in "activity" mode. A timer begins and the distance you cover is tracked.Read more ›
November 8, 2014
I have an impressive success story in weight loss using Fitbit . To Lose weight, Fitbit 'alone' will not be enough. To be successful, you need little more than that. My Sincere hope that this review helps you with that edge:WHO I AM :This review represents an average American. Middle aged Male, Non Smoker, Slightly overweight with a beer belly,always busy, drives kids around to school and after care programs, drowsy during day because he is short of sleep, thanks to TV . He goes to gym, He Loves to eat unhealthy food but buys lot of healthy groceries, some of them will end up in garbage. He never uses the Elevators and walk the stairs carrying a 400 calorie Frappucino.WHERE I WAS :And Fitbit (Force) came in... I had a BMI of 27 and had to lose about 16 pounds . Many of you might laugh at a trivial number of 16 pounds but I have been overweight for the past 20 years, never able to lose serious weight by any method. You can calculate your BMI by visiting the site nhlbi dot nih dot gov. BMI might be misleading indicator for an athlete,but this review is targeted towards an overweight male. I used Fitbit Force for a year and things changed.WHERE I AM :Fitbit Force was discontinued for some health issues and ended up without Fitbit for few months, until Fitbit Charge was introduced. I had lost about 11 lbs in six months, slow and steady, without starving , making healthy choices.. More on it below:A DAY AFTER FITBIT-CHARGE:I play Tennis with my 10 year old Kid on Saturday mornings. After having Fitbit, was motivated to play another 20 minutes extra . After the tennis, go to a Dunkin Donut nearby and got a Low Fat Blueberry muffin. Casually added in Myfitnesspal and I nearly fell off my chair.. 410 calories.Read more ›
November 7, 2014
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 […]

Leave a reply