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Fitbit Charge HR Review

Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $150 List | $84.30 at Amazon
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Pros:  Comprehensive, well-designed, with an excellent app interface
Cons:  Heart rate tracking is limited by the inherent issues of wrist sensors
Manufacturer:   Fitbit
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 27, 2015
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The Skinny

The FitBit Charge offers the same features as others in our test, but does so in a more polished manner. The Jawbone UP3 and Mio Fuse offer exactly the same features. With an accurate and clear step counting sensor and software, automatic sleep tracking, and built-in, wrist-sensed heart rate monitoring, these three devices represent the top-of-the-line fitness tracking offerings. They all function admirably in all of these categories, and do so with dedicated and thorough app-based data management. Across the board though, the Fitbit is just a little better at everything. The band is secure and compact. The app is clean and efficient. The on-device display is intuitive and clear, visible at night, and serviceable as a standard time piece.


Our Analysis and Test Results

The Fitbit Charge HR elegantly integrates sound instrumentation into a comfortable and convenient wristband and networks with a handy and easy-to-use smartphone app. For comprehensive, day-to-day fitness tracking, awarding the FitBit Charge HR our Editors' Choice award was an easy decision. Our other award winners fill other niches. The Garmin VivoFit 2 organized day to day activity fairly well, and bridges the gap to monitor dedicated training sessions quite well and organize that information in a usable fashion. The Best Buy Misfit Shine is inexpensive, super compact, and allows for trial of the category without committing to an expensive device or one particular carry method

Performance Comparison


Our Editors Choice and accompanying charging cable. The cable is short and compact  essentially shown in its entirety here.
Our Editors Choice and accompanying charging cable. The cable is short and compact, essentially shown in its entirety here.

Interface and Data Management


The Charge HR does best with smartphone syncing. The device itself is merely the data collector with a small screen. Only limited information can be processed or viewed until it is uploaded to the app. Once the data is on the phone, the FitBit app organizes it by day. Also on the app, one can enter food consumed and a subjective measure of mood. The device also collects movement information while the wearer sleeps. Over time, the app gathers enough data to start making correlations between sleep patterns, exercise, diet, and mood. Not to mention how the user can draw his or her own conclusions. Finally, the app offers occasional bits of fitness and health advice. For comparison, the Jawbone UP3 does all this the same, with an even more robust suite of user-entered data. In terms of Data Management, the Jawbone products perform a little stronger than the FitBit, while the rest lag at least a little behind.

The initial "home" screen of the FitBit app is clear and simple  showing a summary of the day's data  so far. One can then dig further into every category.
The initial "home" screen of the FitBit app is clear and simple, showing a summary of the day's data, so far. One can then dig further into every category.

Depth of Data


  • Sleep Tracking
FitBit produced one of the original sleep-tracking devices available. The Charge HR switches automatically into sleep mode when it senses an appropriate change in movement patterns, and then cross references heart rate and movement data to generate an assessment of sleep quality. The data itself is easily compared from one day to the next and readily correlates with a more subjective self-assessment of sleep quality.
  • Heart Rate
Wrist mounted heart rate sensors, like in the Charge HR, Mio Fuse, and UP3 have their pros and cons. As compared to dedicated chest strap sensors like those that come with the Garmin VivoFit 2 or Polar Loop, the wrist-mounted "optical" sensors are far less accurate and regularly fail to collect data at all. The wrist mounted sensors are far more convenient and comfortable than the chest bands. For dedicated training, monitoring your heart rate with a chest strap is preferred. For gauging sleep quality and measuring resting heart rate for overall health and sickness or training recovery assessment, the wrist sensors are great. The sensor is always there, looking for data. It may not get useful data all the time, but it picks up enough info to be worth the initial cost and battery life.
  • Distance/Step Count
FitBit as a brand has become synonymous with tracking steps. The Charge HR taps this pedigree and does just fine in this department.
  • User Entered Data
Only the Jawbone UP3 allows for more comprehensive data organization. They both encourage the user to enter food consumption, while the Jawbone also charts mood and body weight to correlate with activity and sleep data.

The screen the Charge HR is small but clear. In order to view the time  the wearer can simply rotate the wrist sharply toward one's face. The accelerometer senses the motion and pulls up the time.
The screen the Charge HR is small but clear. In order to view the time, the wearer can simply rotate the wrist sharply toward one's face. The accelerometer senses the motion and pulls up the time.

Accuracy, Durability, and Construction Quality


We had absolutely no problems with the durability and reliability of the FitBit. The battery life is as long as any of the other rechargeable, heart-rate sensing devices in our test. The simple, wrist-watch style clasp is secure, low-profile, and easy to manipulate. We are so thankful to see these Fitness Tracker manufacturers finally adopt proven wrist watch "technology" for attachment. The simple captured pin-in-hole is low profile and secure. All the other methods pale in comparison. In fact, in comparing the Fitbit and Jawbone UP3, it was the simplicity and security of the Fitbit's attachment that proved to be the biggest difference. We had no problems with the FitBit, while we lost one tested UP3 when the clasp came undone.

For dedicated training  the heart rate sensor in the Charge HR isn't perfect  but it is better than nothing.
For dedicated training, the heart rate sensor in the Charge HR isn't perfect, but it is better than nothing.

Of the nine products in our review, the Fitbit products (Fitbit One, Fitbit Flex, and Charge HR) hold three of the top five spots in step count accuracy. Fitbit has step count accuracy dialed. Of the non-FitBit products, the Garmin and Mio Fuse were marginally more accurate than the Charge HR.

Ease of Set-up and Use


Like most of the app-enabled devices, the Fitbit is very easy to set up. Electronics in this age rarely come with much of an instruction manual. The Charge HR is no exception. The device is simple and the app explains anything you need to know.

This card is the entirety of the printed "users manual" included with the Charge HR. Indeed  from that link the tutorial is clear and simple.
This card is the entirety of the printed "users manual" included with the Charge HR. Indeed, from that link the tutorial is clear and simple.

Portability and Wearability


The Charge HR is a simple, rubberized wrist band with a metal clasp and integrated instrumentation. It comes in multiple colors and sizes, and is comfortable and unobtrusive. Unlike previous Fitbit products, the Charge HR cannot be accessorized with different colored bands or cases. Because of the integrated heart rate sensor, the entire band must be manufactured and sold together. If you are upgrading from a previous FitBit, note that you will be committed to the color you initially purchase.

Like all products we tested (aside from the Misfit Shine)  the Fitbit is bulky on small wrists. The soft form and low profile clasp  however  make this bulk bearable.
Like all products we tested (aside from the Misfit Shine), the Fitbit is bulky on small wrists. The soft form and low profile clasp, however, make this bulk bearable.

Best Applications


The FitBit Charge HR is great for day-to-day use for the guy or gal looking to track, inspire, and motivate physical activity. It fills this niche for anyone and brings a top-of-the line feature set to a clean form factor.

Value


As manufacturers add more and more features to the "standard" Fitness Tracker (It wasn't that long ago that just a step count was enough. Since then we've been sold on sleep tracking, associated app interface, and, most recently, heart rate tracking) the price goes up and up. The Charge HR is a top-of-the-line product, with a top-of-the-line price. There are certainly more expensive products available, but no one would call the Charge HR inexpensive. If you are uncertain about how much you will use or appreciate a Fitness Tracker, something like our Best Buy Misfit Shine is half the price and therefore a far less committing investment. If you are committed to tracking as much of your health and fitness as possible, the Charge HR will serve you well.

Conclusion


In an ever-more crowded field, competition for the top of the heap is strong. From the beginning it was clear that our Editors' Choice award would go to a full-featured product. That feature set must include step count, app-interface, rechargeable or very long lasting battery, sleep tracking, and wrist-sensed heart rate information. In this high end niche, we tested three products. Of them, the FitBit Charge HR is at least a little more polished. In some ways the others come close or edge a tiny bit ahead, but overall the FitBit is the best.

Other Versions and Accessories


FitBit makes a whole host of fitness tracking devices. The FitBit Surge has all the same features as the Charge HR, plus GPS tracking technology. The Charge, without the HR designation, eliminates the Heart Rate sensor. There was a time when we awarded the FitBit Flex our Editors' Choice. This legacy product is still compact and excellent, with even fewer features. The FitBit One is similar to the Flex, but comes configured for pocket clip carry instead of wrist wear. Finally, the FitBit Zip is an "old school" style clip on pedometer with modern instrumentation.


Jediah Porter