Several years ago I was declaring my disdain for “wearable technology” seeing it as complete information overload and jewelry for people lacking the self motivation to take care of themselves. Yet last fall I was won over by Fitbit’s simplicity, popularity, and upbeat marketing, so my wife’s Christmas present to me was a Charge HR. The device promised to track your heart rate, steps you take, miles you cover, calories you burn, and of course, the time. Seeing as Fitbit is really the first company to have punching weight in the wearable tech industry without producing other devices (a la Apple, Garmin, Samsung, etc), putting them to the test was an interesting experience. I’ve essentially worn my Charge HR nonstop since Christmas. The only exception has been in the shower as the device isn’t waterproof. With that six month sample set in mind, here’s my Fitbit Charge HR review.
1) Fitbit is most useful to runners/walkers/hikers.
As with all Fitbit models, step counting is the primary feature. The AHA recommends adults take 10,000 steps per day (about 5 miles) to stay healthy, so Fitbit touts that as a default goal. Not bad to focus on so long as your diet is reasonably healthy. As long as you take well pronounced steps, the Charge HR has no issues tracking them or figuring out whether you are walking or running.
The biggest pitfall here is those who shuffle or sidestep. The Fitbit does a lousy job of tracking movements like this especially when you’re in a small room. As a dad of a young kid, I found that the late night steps I took around the room to get her to sleep didn’t register. Fitbit would really benefit from a feature that lets users set the sensitivity of the device.
2) Calorie counts and heart rate info are a bit questionable.
The shortcomings of wearable technology relative to vital signs are well documented so I won’t press the issue. I simply found the calorie burning and heart rate estimates were a bit hard to believe.
3) The Fitbit app is fantastic.
The folks at Fitbit must have hired some game theory experts to help build the app. The user interface is really solid. Gauges let you know how close you are to meeting your goals. Lifetime achievements earn badges (like old-school Foursquare). You can graph your results over time. The list goes on and on. I realize this are standard fitness app features, but Fitbit has made their devices into a game, which is pretty cool.
The one drawback is the syncing ability of the app. It doesn’t always sync correctly leaving steps out, or worse, completely lost. In my opinion, each step or small set of steps should have a time stamp that the app should be smart enough to uniquely log. This is especially important for users with multiple Fitbits.
4) The durability of the Charge HR is bad, really bad.
After a month of use, the screen had scratches all over it that made it difficult to see in the sunlight (packing tape fixes that by the way). After 5 months, the band delaminated where it connects to the actual tracker, letting sweat and dirt in. Shortly thereafter the button feel out. I never abused my Charge HR, I just wore it every day. I would have expected more durable from something retailing at $150.
5) Customer service is fantastic.
After my device started really coming apart, I emailed the company with a photo and explanation of my issue. They responded within a day and sent me a replacement device within a week. I didn’t have to send the old one back or anything. (This maybe a problem for their profitability). I really appreciated their flexibility and effort.
6) I’m moving on to another Fitbit model.
I decided to sell the replacement HR and buy an Alta. I’m still keeping my beat up HR for workouts but the Alta is less intrusive and goes better with office attire. I hope it holds up well and that they’ve improved on their designs. While the Alta doesn’t track heart rate or stairs climbed, it’s certainly nice to have something in a compact, classy design.
Verdict: the Charge HR is great for the light user who wants decent workout stats. A true gym rat might want something a bit more robust, but most people don’t. The heart rate tracking feature makes it worth paying a bit more for in comparison to the regular Charge model, but it’s not essential.
I would buy another for a family member or friend, but I’d also try other brands. For those that value customer service, however, I doubt any other brand would out do the people at FitBit