Fitbit Charge HR review: Super features, but could be more sleek
Fitbit Charge HR: Performance and battery life
The big prize here is the heart-rate monitor. Other than that, it is identical in specifications to the Fitbit Charge, and pretty similar to the Fitbit Alta, both of which come in at £20 cheaper. As an upgrade to the Charge, it’s a no-brainer, but the sleeker design of the Alta certainly makes it a harder sell in 2016.
What the titular heart-rate monitor provides is a constant update of how hard your ticker is working. Cycle through the menus, and you’ll find a little heart icon with a number next to it, and from there you can quickly establish what your average resting heart rate is, along with some interesting stats. For example, generally my heart rate sits at a cool-as-a-cucumber 60bpm, but playing the drums can push it up to the 90s, and climbing the 135 steps at Goodge Street Station seems to nearly kill me every day, no matter how often I do it, pushing me into the 140-150 range. I hit a similar point while playing five-a-side football.
The feature isn’t perfect – sometimes it struggles to get a reading, and other times it puts out some very strange estimates (after a 5k run, it pushed me down to the 70s when I was still clearly dead on my feet), but for the most part it offers a solid ballpark figure of how your heart is coping, and thus how your fitness is improving over time, which is very much in keeping with the Fitbit ethos.
From a practical runner’s point of view, you can also use it as an additional tool to see what a comfortable speed for you is if your body can’t tell you directly. That’s quite handy – only without a GPS, and with limited chat to other apps, you’re left having to do some legwork for yourself. This is what the Fitbit site tells me about Saturday’s 5k run:
It also told me I took 3,776 steps, burned 376 calories and enjoyed 26 active minutes, but what of distance? What of average pace? None of this stuff features because of the lack of GPS, but the Fitbit Blaze manages to figure out some of this by piggybacking on the phone’s GPS sensor, so it’s definitely possible.
What this means, in practice, is that you have to combine the data here with a third-party running app and overlay the two. Here are my Runkeeper stats from the same run, and suddenly a better picture begins to emerge:
Runkeeper is also far more optimistic about the calories burned, which is nice, and yes, they both have the same weight listed.
So how far did Fitbit think I ran, without a GPS? I generally take a dim view on fitness trackers estimating distance, given my past experiences, and it appears I was right to be dubious here. Fitbit doesn’t give you a specific for activities, writing ‘N/A’ in the space provided on the site, but it does give you a total per day. So by dividing the day’s total distance by the number of steps taken, I deduce that the Fitbit Charge HR estimated my 5km run as… 3.47km. Swing and a miss.
But we already know that tracking distances without a GPS are pure guesswork – what’s disappointing is that Fitbit linked up with Runkeeper and didn’t adjust its figures to make sense of the additional data.
In terms of battery life, Fitbit reckons you’ll get your standard five days from the Charge HR, and that seems pretty much bang on the money to me, although if you look at the screen a lot you’ll probably notice a drop-off. As with all Fitbits, the Charge HR comes with yet another proprietary charger, which is annoying for all kinds of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the company charges a small fortune for replacement cables. Fortunately, five days gives you plenty of time to be ready with the cable, especially as the service emails you when it’s running low.
Fitbit Charge HR review: Verdict
It’s easy to see why the Fitbit Charge HR is one of the most popular models around. In terms of features, it includes pretty much everything anyone wanted from the original fitness band plus heart rate, which can be a useful metric in its own right, without breaking the price point or adding extraneous additional smartwatch features.
On the other hand, and this is entirely my fault for only getting around to reviewing last year’s model at this point in the company’s history, it just doesn’t feel as polished as its newer siblings. The rubbery strap is too wide to be minimalist, it doesn’t offer any customisation options, and it just isn’t that comfortable to wear for extended periods – a fact not helped by the presence of the heart-rate monitor, which needs to be held close to the skin to function.
Fitbit has been on a design journey in the last 12 months, pushing hard on customisation and style. The Fitbit Charge HR is likely the last model we’ll see to single-mindedly focus on substance, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The newer models are more stylish than this and better made than the Flex, without losing their casual fitness focus.
The Fitbit Charge HR is possibly right in the sweet spot in terms of features, but in 2016, it’s lacking the comfort and style I’d look for in a fitness tracker. If the company brings out a follow-up, however, the smart money says it will be the fitness tracker to beat.
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