Fitbit Alta HR review: Better sleep analysis and heart-rate monitoring, but it’s pricey
We’re big fans of Fitbit’s fitness trackers here at Alphr, but the company’s range of wristbands has steadily grown over the past few years to the point at which making a decision over which one to buy can be challenging. The introduction of the Fitbit Alta HR makes that choice a harder still, adding heart-rate monitoring to the regular model’s selection of features but boosting the price by £30 at the same time.
It’s a fitness tracker that, compared with the regular Alta, does make some sense. Having continuous heart-rate tracking leads the way for more accurate data on calories burned. It enables the Fitbit app to calculate and display your resting heart rate – a useful indicator of general fitness.
It also means Fitbit’s sleep tracking can be more accurate, something the firm has taken advantage of by improving the Alta HR’s sleep-tracking analysis to show more granular information about your sleep patterns. Dubbed Sleep Stages, this new system indicates not only light, deep and awake states, it also tells you how long you spend in the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep state and combines everything in a new graph in the Fitbit app.
You’re also offered tips on how to improve your sleep based on the data recorded, which is more useful than simply being presented with the data alone.
Fitbit Alta HR review: Design and features
Aside from these extra bits and bobs, the Fitbit Alta HR is similar to the standard model. At first glance, in fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was identical. It has the same long, thin white-on-black monochrome OLED display that shows largely the same stats. And you cycle through those stats in the same way: by tapping the screen firmly with a finger.
As before, the silicon rubber strap can be replaced by simply squeezing a catch on the reverse of the wristband housing and sliding it upwards, and charging is achieved via yet another proprietary charger. Yes, different from the standard Alta, unbelievably, so you’d better not lose it because replacements aren’t cheap at £17.
There are a couple of other small, less significant differences between the Alta HR and the regular one. First, it’s a little thicker, with a slightly rounded belly, presumably to accommodate the extra heart-rate electronics. This makes it sit ever-so-slightly less comfortably on the wrist than previous Alta.[gallery:3]
The fastening on the wristband is different, too, with the new tracker employing a classic buckle-and-tang – much more secure than the press-stud method of the standard Alta.
And in terms of what it tracks, other than the heart rate and improved sleep analysis, that hasn’t changed much at all. It will keep tabs on steps, distance walked, heart rate, calories burned and your active minutes, and it will automatically detect activities longer than ten minutes, tagging them as running, walking or whatever you happen to be doing at any time, without any intervention required by the user.
Other features include the ability to set silent, vibrating alarms to wake you up without disturbing your partner, and the Alta HT can also be set to remind you to get up and move about after a short period of not doing much. It’s a tried-and-tested feature set that the Fitbit Alta HR improves upon; the only disappointment is that just like its counterpart and, unlike the Fitbit Flex 2, it isn’t swim-proof. If your fitness regime includes regular visits to your local pool, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Fitbit Alta HR review: Battery life and performance
Still, not many other trackers can perform swim-tracking properly, so that isn’t a big problem. Battery life, however, is highly impressive. In fact, despite the largely similar dimensions and added continuous heart-rate monitoring, it doesn’t seem to be much different from the standard Alta. I’ve been using the HR for a month now and it always seems to last around five to seven days per charge. That’s impressive given that it’s monitoring your pulse all day, every day.
As far as general tracking goes, that appears to be pretty good, too – although exercise autodetection can be patchy. It copes with walking and running fine, but I spent a week skiing with the Alta HR strapped to my right wrist, and despite plenty of intense exercise at altitude, none of those were detected at all. It captures the periods in between gliding down the pistes, when I was walking around aimlessly, but not when I was actually working hard. That’s irritating, since there was no actual exercise recorded during that period, so I couldn’t retag it or look at more granular heart-rate data after the fact.[gallery:4]
The accuracy of the heart-rate data was surprisingly good, though. I compared data recorded by the Alta HR with a MyZone MZ-3 chest belt during a brisk walk and found that, despite not tracking the chest belt beat for beat, at the end of the walk, the average heart rate it reported was largely spot on. It was only around 5-6% off, in fact.
As with any fitness tracker that doesn’t use GPS, I’d avoid relying too heavily on the distances provided by the Fitbit Alta HR on its own, even when it’s managed to track your exercise automatically. Without an absolute position, it can only ever provide a rough estimation.
As a casual tracker, however, the Alta does most things you need a tracker to do – and if you do need more accurate distance tracking occasionally, the app lets you use your phone’s GPS to track your position and combine that with the heart-rate data from the Alta HR. It even goes so far as to display incoming calls and SMS or WhatsApp messages, plus upcoming calendar entries as well.
Fitbit Alta HR review: App
A large part of the Alta HR’s effectiveness, and that of its counterparts across the Fitbit range, continues to be Fitbit’s excellent software and app. The app’s tile-based display is easy to get to grips with and lets you drill down into the details you need quickly and easily.
As I’ve already pointed out, sleep tracking is vastly improved, and part of that are those tips and the “benchmark” information, which shows you roughly the type of sleep you’re getting compared with what you should be aiming to achieve for a restful recharge.[gallery:6]
There’s also scope for connecting with friends via the app, plus the ability to hook up with a host of third-party apps to help you track your eating habits and share data with other fitness communities.
Most of the big names are here, including MyFitnessPal, Strava, Runkeeper, MapMyRun and Endomondo. There’s Alexa integration and even compatibility with some more esoteric hardware-based stuff, such as the Thermos Hydration app, which logs how much and how often you drink via the Thermos Smart Lid.
Fitbit Alta HR review: Verdict
All-in-all, the Fitbit Alta HR is typical Fitbit. It’s competent, easy to use and understand. It tracks the things casual fitness fans need, will help them keep on top of their daily activity, and understand more about when to do more and how to get healthier. It isn’t the ideal tracker for specific sports, however, or those serious about training to hit particular goals – for that, I’d recommend a TomTom Spark or a Garmin running watch.
The more serious problem for the Fitbit Alta HR, however, is its proximity in price to the Fitbit Charge 2, a tracker Alan tagged “practically fitness tracking perfection” when he reviewed it last year. The Charge 2 costs a mere £10 more than the Fitbit Alta HR, has a larger screen and is more fully featured, including a barometric altimeter that helps it calculate elevation – which allows you to track the number of floors you’ve climbed and the hill profile of runs and walks.
That puts the Fitbit Alta HR in a tricky position. On its own it’s a solid, attractive fitness tracker, able to track basic activities and your heart rate without sacrificing battery life; but, if you’re going to spend this much, I can’t honestly see why you wouldn’t spend £10 more and go for the Charge 2 instead.