I have been intrigued by fitness trackers for a while but had never taken the plunge and wasn’t really sure what they would do for me and my lifestyle. When Fitbit asked if I would like to try out and review their new Fitbit Charge HR, I thought it was time I gave it a go, especially with my aim of getting fitter and healthier this year.
The Fitbit Charge HR
The Charge HR is the latest fitness tracker from Fitbit and what distinguishes it from its peers is the fact that it has a continuous heart rate monitor, making it more accurate in tracking your activity. In general it monitors your heart rate every 5s and when you set it for exercise it monitors every second. It comes in a variety of cool colours, and can be used to track steps taken, calories burned, steps climbed, your heart rate and how well you sleep.
Opening the box
I was so excited when the box arrived and couldn’t wait to give my new Fitbit Charge HR a go, but with the kids running riot it had to wait until nap time so I could concentrate fully. Once I did, I have to admit to being a bit confused and frustrated at times. There were no real instructions in the box other than a card telling you to go to the website to set it up. So I got my laptop (thinking I could charge the Fitbit at the same time) and went to the website given. Where I was told to download the app first. So I got my phone too and downloaded the app and started the registration progress. This irritated slightly as if you have to do it on the app why not just send me to the app rather than tell me to go to a website which then sends me to the app?
Anyway then I was filling in all my details etc but the app couldn’t find the Fitbit because it had no power…so I started charging it using my laptop. It struggled to find the Fitbit whilst it was charging so had to unplug a few times. Then it wanted to update the firmware on the Fitbit but wouldn’t do that while the tracker was charging. But the app also wouldn’t let me continue until this was done. So I have to admit I got mightily frustrated at the inability to just get it sorted. I could have been charging the band while the kids were around so it was ready to go, but I know from other trackers that some come with at least a partial charge, and you plug them in to your laptop at the right time in the setup process.
So basically, it would have been much more helpful if there were some simple instructions in the box. eg. 1 – charge your Fitbit, 2 – download the app on your mobile device and follow the instructions from that point on. It may sound obvious to some but as mentioned I know other trackers come charged and with set up via a computer so I think it would be sensible to let you know that this isn’t the case.
One other thing I struggled with was knowing how to wear the band. Again this may sound incredibly daft and obvious to some, but I was confused. I know some bands are designed so you wear them with the screen on the inside of your wrist but I don’t know if all trackers are designed this way? So I didn’t know which way round it should go on my arm. I also wasn’t sure whether it should go on your non dominant arm or whether it didn’t matter. As it turns out you can set it to whichever arm you prefer – but again simple instructions about this in the box would have helped me work this out as I didn’t know if it would work as well the way I was wearing it. Some googling resulted in me finding the full manual online which was really helpful. I am not suggesting they send this out with every one but I would have thought the basics such as how to wear it may be worth including, or at least a link to follow to find the information. (A later note to this is that when hubs linked it up to his phone to have a go with it, the app did show how you should wear it, but because I had so many problems with the set up and charging the band, my app never got to this point and it still didn’t mention which arm etc.)
How it feels
The Fitbit Charge HR sits on your wrist like a watch and to me it feels ever so slightly plasticky on my skin. Though it wasn’t uncomfortable I definitely needed to give my wrist a break at times (as Fitbit recommends anyway) and I didn’t like sleeping with it on (to track my sleep) as it would often have ended up in an uncomfortable position by the morning. This is just personal preference though and I sleep pretty well anyway so the daytime tracking is more useful to me. It is as adjustable as a watch strap which is good and even though it was the small band, both Hubs and I were able to wear it. On the whole though it just feels like you have a watch on so is pretty innocuous as you go about your day to day activities!
How it works
There is definitely something very cool about fitness trackers and being able to keep an eye on your activity levels throughout the day. It is very satisfying to see that step counter go up and it definitely motivates you to move more on your less active days. The button on the side of the Charge HR makes it very easy to scroll through all of your statistics and a simple flick of the wrist lets you know what time it is, very handy.
The app is also really clear and easy to use and as you can see from this screenshot, it is easy to check at a glance what you have done so far. I also found the band very quick to sync with the app which I really liked.
Comparisons to other trackers
There are a couple of things I have noticed, in comparison to other fitness trackers, which I thought worth mentioning here as it is difficult to talk about what this does and what I do and don’t like about it, without explaining my point of reference. My husband has the Microsoft Band which he has been using for quite some time and I have recently purchased a fairly basic Polar Loop band. There are obviously lots of other brands and types of tracker out there but I can only compare the ones I have seen and used. They are in quite different price brackets too which is worth bearing in mind when you read the following points as the Microsoft Band retails at around £200.00, the Charge HR around £100.00 and the Polar Loop around £40.00 (all prices approximate depending on where you purchase them from!).
In many ways the trackers are similar and do the same jobs, but there are differences good and bad, and differences which are neither good or bad I guess and would just come down to personal preference really!
For example each of the trackers seem to measure your sleep in a slightly different way, but essentially they all do the same job, by showing you how much sleep you have. The Microsoft Band is probably the most comprehensive showing your light sleep, deep sleep and the amount of times you woke up. The Polar Loop shows you your restful sleep and restless sleep though what it defines as restless sleep is actually awake time. It doesn’t have a heart rate monitor like the Microsoft Band or the Charge HR do so I guess it is inevitably less accurate in that respect. The Charge HR is similar to the Microsoft Band and when worn at the same time gives very similar results, showing awake time, restful sleep and restless sleep.
The difference in step counting between the three trackers is interesting too. The Charge HR always seems to register that we have done more steps than either the Microsoft Band or the Polar Loop, even when both are worn right next to each other on the same wrist which we have found fascinating. It is difficult to tell which is the most accurate, although I believe the Charge HR is (not just because it says we have done more lol) as we have both felt at times that our respective bands don’t always track steps accurately when we are pushing the buggy or a trolley as our arms are obviously not moving very much. Whereas the Charge HR does seem to register steps on these occasions which is obviously a big plus and so hopefully that and the combination of the heart rate monitor means that it is the most accurate of the three.
At the end of the day I don’t think any step counter is going to be accurate all the time but does it actually matter? In general you will only be wearing one band and as logas you are comparing the number of steps according to that tracker then you will still get a feel of whether you are doing more or less than normal etc. So even if the numbers are a bit out it doesn’t really matter.
You can set goals on each of the bands and what I love about the Charge HR is that you can set the goal that is right for you. It is automatically set to 10,000 which I think works as a good base line, but if that is unachievable for you (hubs has his Microsoft Band set to 6,000 as being in the office all week he rarely reaches even that let alone 10,000) you can set it lower, or if that is too easy for you then you can set it higher. The Polar Loop in comparison only has set targets and the lowest is 12,000, a target I hardly ever achieve, which isn’t very motivating. Achievable limits are so much more motivating, you want to push yourself a bit but setting a target you will never reach is just daft I find.
The battery life of the Charge HR seems to be really good nd it definitely lasts longer than either of our other bands. It also only takes an hour or two to recharge which is great and gives your wrist a rest from wearing it all the time.
The Charge HR is splashproof, as is the Microsoft Band, but that is it. The Polar Loop on the other hand is waterproof and suitable for swimming. It is possible to add swimming as an activity on the Fitbit app, but that seems to be a fairly inaccurate way of measuring the activity as it obviously can’t really tell how much effort you are putting in to it unless you have a different tracker to measure the swimming and add that information to your Fitbit app… but that does seem a bit daft!
It also only recognises certain activities – this seems to be the same with the other trackers in our house too as they haven’t figured out what we are doing when we use the exercise bike, Cycling outside they understand because they can use the GPS tracking.Inside though when you aren’t moving and your arms are static… nothing is registered. It is again possible to add it as an activity, but it is a shame it doesn’t have a way of recognising it.
The Microsoft Band has a number of other functions too which is what makes it’s higher price point worthwhile, as it can be fully linked to your phone and can give you alerts etc. The Charge HR does have a degree of this functionality too though and can buzz and alert you when you have a phone call, and can also give you a silent alarm, which would be very handy for getting up in the mornings (if you don’t have small children who already wake you up at an ungodly hour!)
There is no doubt in my mind that wearing a tracker on your wrist makes you move more than you would otherwise. So many times I have walked a slightly longer route to take more steps. I move faster to bring my heart rate up and I walk instead of taking the car to the local shops, especially on days where I haven’t moved as much. There’s something about competing against yourself, and I know of others who compete against each other too to see how many steps they take and that definitely adds a level of fun. So it really is possible that wearing a band will improve your fitness.
Regarding the Charge HR itself, I really like the funky colour as it makes it look a bit different. I also like the display and the fact that the button you use to see all of your stats is very obvious and easy to use (some trackers the buttons are a bit more temperamental or more hidden). The graphics are easy to make out and I love that with a flick of the wrist you can see the time at a glance – it really makes the Fitbit Charge HR feel equal parts watch and tracker, and I do love efficiency! The other functionality and connecting it to your phone too really adds to that.
I really like that the Charge HR monitors your heart rate and I do feel this helps with the accuracy of its tracking. I imagine this to be very very useful when you are exercising frequently too. It is really cool to know when your heart rate is in the fat burning zone, and for the really fit out there it can show you when you are in peak burn. A great way to see how your hard work is paying off.. or push yourself to work that bit harder.
Monitoring your sleep is fascinating. I am a good sleeper and tend to have large chunks of the night when I am in deep sleep. My husband on the other hand sleeps terribly, and this explains why he is so tired all the time and we are making some changes to see if it helps him (reducing caffeine late in the day, eliminating light in the bedroom etc.) and being able to track his sleep makes it easy to see whether these changes make any difference.
I have mentioned above a few niggles with setting up the Fitbit Charge HR, but they were easily sorted or are personal preference. The one real negative for it though in my opinion is that it is not waterproof. It is splashproof… but I can’t wear it to go swimming. As I try to swim twice a week this is a real bug bear for me. You can add it as an activity via the app but it seems to just be an estimation of what you have done unless you are measuring exactly how far you have swum etc… which is a faff. So a large amount of my activity isn’t registered by the tracker. If you don’t swim for exercise though this obviously wouldn’t be a problem so again it really is a matter of personal preference.
On the whole I think fitness trackers are great and I do love the Fitbit Charge HR, I just wish it was waterproof! Please make a properly waterproof one next time Fitbit!
Disclosure: I received the Fitbit Charge HR in return for publishing this review. All opinions and photographs are my own.