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

$109.99

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

$109.99

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.


Fitbit Charge 2 Heart Rate + Fitness Wristband, Black, Large (US Version)
7.3 Total Score
Start from: $184.50

Fitbit will not provide warranty on international version products sold in US

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Product Dimensions

9.9 x 0.9 x 0.5 inches ; 1.28 ounces

Shipping Weight

10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)

Domestic Shipping

Currently, item can be shipped only within the U.S. and to APO/FPO addresses. For APO/FPO shipments, please check with the manufacturer regarding warranty and support issues.

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UPC

810351029281 603784221700

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Click here for Proposition 65 warning.

Item model number

FB407SBKL

As a Blaze and original Charge HR owner, figured I'd try my hand at the newest Fitbit Charge 2. Preordered from Fitbit (as well as one from Amazon). Fitbit direct order arrived yesterday, 9/6/16.Breaking the review into two parts:Part One: If you've never owned a FitbitThis is the mid tier product for Fitbit. It replaces the original best selling Charge & Charge HR. Steps, Flights, Heart Rate, Calories Burned, Connected GPS (shows a little map post workout when tied to your phone, and yes, you need to bring your phone with you on walks/runs), and notifications (as of now, just texts, calendar alerts, and displays phone number of incoming calls). Great intro watch/tracker to be your first Fitbit. Does pretty much everything. Yes there are other trackers out there, and some cheaper (in some you get what you pay for). What separates Fitbit is the software and social functions. You won't find a better app with ease of use, not to mention with the largest userbase of trackers it's much easier to find friends and families to participate in challenges. Read on if you want to know some of the features.Part Two: If You've Owned A Charge/Charge HR, and should you upgrade?The Charge watch has been the workhorse of the fitbit line. Worth getting a Charge 2? In a word: YES. Since you're familiar with the Charge already, let's go over some of the issues you may have experienced and highlights/common questions answered:1) Build Quality: The Charge 2 is a far far superior quality than the original Charge. Right out of the box, you'll notice how much sturdier and thicker the band feels.2) Swapping out bands is relatively easy. Once you figure out how to press on the band on each side to release, it's fairly painless. I could see someone elderly struggling with it at first. **If you had problems with your original Charge band bubbling, the ability to swap bands and how the tracker is connected to the bands should eliminate the issues you have experienced ** Obviously way too early to make a call on how the device will hold up, but given my experience with Blaze & Alta, this feels similar in build quality, if not better, and neither of those devices have suffered from bands falling apart on a wide scale.3) Width of the device is nearly identical to the original Charge/HR. The button on the left side of the device is much more pronounced (good thing). You can give it a nice firm click, and it doesn't feel loose or cheap as some of the Charge buttons were prone to.4) SIZING: The band itself is much longer than the original. I have always worn small in fitbit products, and found myself almost on the last hole. Something to keep in mind if you think you are on the cusp of small/large. Small likely the way to go.5) Display is nice, 4x larger than the original Charge. The font is displayed crystal clear, and is very bright. Can see it extremely well, even in bright sunlight. It is NOT a color screen. The font is a bright offwhite, as opposed to the original Charge that had a soft almost blue to it. Texts when incoming scroll across the screen.6) Overall look is sharp. Much better looking than the original. Very sleek and elegant. Actually looks better than the Blaze given thinner profile.7) Has a breathing/relaxation function. Have only dabbled with this. It actually monitors as you inhale and exhale and prompts you when to take deep breaths, etc. More of a gimmick to me, but some may find this useful.8) Navigation is relatively easy. When selecting specific workouts (you can customize the list in app), you hit the button on the side to get to the workout screen, then tap to cycle through them (run, weights, treadmill, elliptical, etc). Hold the button and your workout starts. During the workout you can cycle through metrics specific to your activity such as calories burned, heart rate, etc. Some activities will display steps, pace,calories burned, etc.9) Menu items start with your clock face, then by pressing the button will display Heart Rate, Exercise, Stopwatch, Relax, and Alarm.10) Clock Faces: There are seven to choose from. Some display day & date, and most have option to where when you tap the display it will cycle through stats (may display heart rate, date, steps taken, how far you are in your goals, your hourly movement reminders, etc). BUT DOES IT HAVE SECONDS? Yes, two of the watch faces are digital (numbers display, not hands) and have seconds displayed. There is only one "classic" watch face with the hands, and no that one does not display a second hand.11) Notifications: You get basic texts (no pictures of course), both SMS & iMessage. Incoming calls will display the contact and/or phone number. And you get calendar alerts. There is no 3rd party support at this time such as facebook, instagram, etc (The Blaze watch will be offering these soon in next software upgrade, so I guess there is hope the Charge 2 will get those as well).12) Reminders to Move: Sit on your butt too long and it will thump you with a vibe (250 steps per hour).Today I put it through its first paces with a workout. I use it mostly for light cardio and weights. Heart rate was spot on as it usually was with original Charge HR & my Blaze. No issues with step counting on the elliptical I used to warm it up. I have not used the watch for 24 hours yet, so have not been able to judge the VOX/Cardio Fitness Level rating new to this device.PROS:- It is worth upgrading alone from the Charge/HR simply due to build quality. Pictures do not do it justice. As another poster on a forum where we discuss fitbit devices said, it has that "Apple" quality feel to it. It no longer feels like a cheap rubber tracker. The ability to swap to leather, metal, or other colored bands means you can wear this unit for any occasion if style is your thing. It really does look great.- Monitoring of heart rate using optical sensors has never been a problem for me, and this one seems to be no different. Obviously some folks have trouble with them due to body hair and whatnot, but the sensors on Charge HR, Blaze, and now Charge 2 seem to be spot on. An issue I had with the original Charge was it getting "lost" when I hit higher cardio levels. This doesn't appear to be as much of an issue this time around. That said, this isn't a medical device, so I expect it to not be 100% all of the time. Use it as a tool in your overall fitness profile.- The charger itself is a new clip style (looks like a staple remover), and fits over the sides of the tracker. Fits nice and snug and snaps in. It won't fall out of the charge (actually think that's impossible given the design). No more worrying about it not snapping on and falling off or getting it just right. Big improvement.CONS:- vibration is notably weaker than the original Charge. May be an issue for some using it as an alarm if you're a heavy sleeper. That said, I wore it very tight to bed last night, and it was able to wake me this morning (something I've had problems with on the Blaze from time to time).- text notifications are neat if you've never had them. However I have a Blaze, where you can see the whole message at once. The Charge HR slowly scrolls texts and notifications to you, which can be annoying if you're used to the Blaze. They serve their purpose well though, and I can't ding it for this as it's a step up from the original Charge.VERDICT:I reviewed it as if I were upgrading from the Charge/HR to this device. It is a no-brainer if you've held on to your Charge/HR and not upgraded yet to the Alta or Blaze for whatever reason. I'd rank the Charge 2 ahead of the Alta. If money is no object, spend the extra $50 to get the Blaze simply due to the color display and easier navigation (not to mention ability to see full texts as they come in). Otherwise, for $150, you'll be very happy to have move up from other Fitbit products. The Blaze is their high end product at the moment, but the Charge 2 is a very close second.I'll happily answer questions as I did for when I originally reviewed the Blaze out of the gate, and edit this review to reflect common questions or any issues I face as I put the device through its paces in the coming days.
September 7, 2016
Have had and like the fitbit. I have owned several of their devices in the past. I have had them all fail at about 12-18 months for whatever reason. Fitbit has always sent a replacement. My Charge HR 2 failed at about 16 months. No reason -- no abuse -- just stopped charging. Customer service offered a replacement for 25% off. Not worth it. I can no longer support them. The Charge HR2 was better than earlier devices -- but it too failed in about 16 months. I can no longer say they are worth it. For a device that you become dependent on -- it should last longer than this considering the price. Buyer beware.
April 8, 2018
I received my Fitbit in October and really loved it. It was easy to use and kept me aware of my activity level. It was something I was excited to have and liked the app and monitoring for heart rate and sleep. After about 6 weeks of having it, I woke up with a very large burn on the wrist where I wear my Fitbit. I will note that I was wearing and using the device according to the instructions and was taking breaks from wearing it - there was nothing I did to cause this injury. After receiving the burn I moved the Fitbit to my other wrist, and after less than an hour a burn was forming on that wrist! These burns are very painful and large. I contacted Fitbit and they were unsurprised and told me to stop wearing any of their devices permanently. They said they did know this happens, but they have no plans to issue a recall or warn consumers about the danger. Because of that, I felt it was my duty to make potential buyers aware of this danger. I’ve included a photo of my burn not to be gross, but to show how serious this really is.
November 21, 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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