Fitbit Charge HR review: Super features, but could be more sleek

£120
Price when reviewed

When I first reviewed the Fitbit Charge HR back in 2016, I concluded that – features wise – it was pretty much spot on, but looked a little bit clunky. It also missed out on Fitbit’s later trend of customisation, meaning you’re stuck with the colour and style of strap you bought at the time.

Well, the people at Fitbit were clearly reading – or more likely, realised this for themselves. The sequel – the Fitbit Charge 2 – fixes these qualms and more to take its place as the fitness tracker to beat. It’s great, and you should definitely consider it.

True, it retails for £10 more (and probably a lot more in the real world as shops clear out stock of the old model), but it’s an extremely worthy upgrade, adding in text notifications alongside the enhanced aesthetics. As for the original Fitbit Charge HR – well it’s still a good wearable that won’t let you down with broadly the same fitness tracking capabilities. So if you get a good price, then go for it.

You can read my original thoughts below.

Why are we reviewing the Fitbit Charge HR in 2016? That’s a very good question, given it’s now over a year old. The reason, chiefly, is that with Fitbit venturing into smartwatch territory, piling on features as it goes, the cheaper, more cheerful fitness band models still sell phenomenally well. Is the Fitbit Charge HR worth buying in 2016, when the Blaze is more fully featured, and the Alta is sleeker and cheaper?

Call yourself a fitness enthusiast? If so, you’ll probably want to know about the Fitbit Fifty. Simply put, it’s a massive running and cycling tour of the UK thats starts Buckingham palace, winds its way up to Edinburgh Castle, and comes back down again. Oh, and it takes 50 hours. Interested? This is what it’s like to do it.

The Fitbit Charge HR is a simple beast: a textured, thick rubber strap with an LCD display and a button. Behind its simplicity is one piece of clever tech that other Fitbits lack, though: the “HR” in the name stands for heart rate.

Yes, the Fitbit Charge HR is the cheapest of the company’s fitness trackers to pack a heart-rate sensor. At £120 that still isn’t pocket money by any means, but given other models that can read your heart rate cost either £160 or £200, that’s still a bit of a bargain in my book.

But how does the Fitbit Charge HR look in 2016? Let’s find out.

Fitbit Charge HR: Design

The Fitbit Charge HR is a strange beast design-wise, aiming for the minimalism of the Fitbit Flex, but without the svelte style to quite pull it off. It’s around a third wider than the Flex and draws further attention to itself with a textured criss-cross design on the rubber. It’s not unappealing, but struggles to square the circle: it’s too big to be understated, but too bland to be eye-catching.

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The screen does the job, and it’s easy to cycle through the various tracking metrics that the Fitbit uses to keep an eye on things, either with the button on the side or by tapping the strap. It’s certainly advantageous to offer both, and if there’s one thing that living with Android Wear has taught me, it’s that touchscreens and running don’t make for ideal bedfellows, so I’m happy to sidestep that particular input.

Unlike other Fitbit models, the Fitbit Charge HR cannot be customised. While the Flex, Blaze and Alta all allow the Fitbit’s “brain” to be removed for charging, the device here is built into the strap. That means that the strap colour you buy is the colour you’re stuck with, so choose carefully. You could possibly remove it with a bespoke tiny screwdriver, but it’s obviously not what the company intended.

The strap for the Fitbit Charge HR is actually a lot more secure than that of the Flex, including a traditional watch strap-style buckle to hold it in place on the wrist. This does come at a cost, though: if you take it off too quickly, you’ll find trapped skin an occupational hazard until you get used to unthreading the loop first.

In fact, the whole thing feels less comfortable than other trackers I’ve worn. The strap rubs against the skin since you’re supposed to wear it reasonably tightly for the benefit of the built-in heart-rate monitor, and the rubber just doesn’t feel that comfortable. Other Fitbits can be worn 24 hours a day, but with the Charge HR, you’ll find yourself wanting to give your skin a rest.

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Fitbit Charge HR: Features

The Fitbit Charge HR sits as the third most expensive model in the range, and it generally boasts the features to match, including that elusive heart-rate sensor, which only appears in this, the Blaze and the Surge. On top of that, you’re getting your usual mix of step counting, sleep tracking, floors climbed, silent alarms and Caller ID. What you’re missing is multisport, text notifications, music control and GPS. That last one might sound like a deal breaker, but if it is, you’re looking at paying £200 for the Surge: currently the only Fitbit to offer the feature natively.

Here’s that information in graph form:

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With respect to features such as music control and text notifications, their absence is not so much that the Fitbit Charge HR isn’t capable of them, but that the screen is so small that they’d be a fiddly addition. The Fitbit Alta gets away with more despite being a bit smaller because its screen is in portrait, rather than landscape, occupying the majority of the top of the wrist. Fitbit clearly decided smartwatch-style features would just be too fiddly on a screen this size, and it’s hard to disagree.

Fitbit Charge HR review continues on page two

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