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Review: Fitbit Charge
3:00 am | December 31, 2014

Author: admin | Category: Gadgets | Comments: None

Review: Fitbit Charge

Introduction, design and display

Dashing into stores mere days before we reach the 2014 finish line, the Fitbit Charge is the come from behind fitness tracker that’s a win in the basic leagues.

I strapped this latest wearable to my wrist even though last year’s Fitbit Force was voluntarily recalled due to a small number of rash and skin irritation complaints. I took my chances.

That’s because Fitbit has long been a top contender among daily activity trackers. It really only lost momentum when it had to tag the even older Fitbit Force back into the race.

Jawbone caught up with the Jawbone Up24, the now-Intel-owned Basis just one-upped its game with the Basis Peak and Microsoft is trying its luck with the Microsoft Band.

Does the launch of the Fitbit Charge mean the year-and-half-old Fitbit Flex ready to retire? Or is the heart-rate-monitoring Fitbit Charge HR or advanced Fitbit Surge worth waiting for?

Let’s start counting steps, calories burned, hours sleep and more to find out if this fitness tracker is worth $129 (around £83, AU$159).

Design and comfort

Fitbit Charge is really the Fitbit Force re-invented, and the company readily admits it. That’s because the Force, skin irritation issues aside, was among the best fitness trackers available.

Fitbit Charge review

Encased in the similarly sized black or slate-colored elastic band are sensors that keep tabs on steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned and, uniquely, floors climbed.

All of these metrics are routine except for the stairs climbed. Most activity trackers neglect to include an altimeter to pull it off. That’s a small plus for Fitbit Charge, as it was for the Force.

Bigger perks come from automatic sleep tracking instead of manually initiating it and incoming call notifications via the OLED display, all of which we’ll talk about later in more detail.

Even with these extras, Fitbit Charge doesn’t appear any bigger on the wrist. It only got more stylish thanks to a textured rubber design. It’s far better at hiding blemishes and nicks.

Fitbit Charge vs Fitbit Force

That said, the better-looking blue and burgundy colors are still to come “sometime in 2015” and none are as stylish and lightweight next to the Jawbone Up24. At least it doesn’t literally stab people in the back with every hug, a rare but embarrassing issue of the unenclosed Jawbone design loop.

Fitbit Charge is more subtle and the underside of the new fitness tracker is still smooth, comfortable and, yes, hasn’t given me skin rashes after two weeks of non-stop testing.

Fitbit says that it gathered “scientific experts,” including certified dermatologists, to enhance its testing protocols and also tests its products with independent labs.

Fitbit Charge review

Fitbit’s list scientific experts didn’t include scuba divers, apparently, as the Fitbit Charge isn’t waterproof, but merely “water resistant.”

It’s officially rated as being “water-resistant to 1 ATM,” which, in layman’s terms, means that it’s nothing more than splashproof. Sweat and washing your hands in the sink is okay and maybe you can get away with showering with it on.

Considering the enclosed design and proprietary USB cable charging method, this is a curious design decision, especially for an activity tracker.

A fraction of people had a problem with the skin irritation design flaw. Everyone had a problem with Fitbit Force and Fitbit Flex’s awful two-pronged clasp.

The old clasp was nearly impossible to fasten and often came undone. My dad, who defiantly still wears his Fitbit Force, immediately asked if this irksome design flaw changed after I met with Fitbit to preview the Charge.

My answer: Sort of. Fitbit Charge sticks to the approach of “insert the pair of gray prongs into two of the nine oval holes,” but the prongs are spaced out a little more this time.

Fitbit Charge review

It’s slightly easier to fasten and doesn’t come off nearly as often – although it did come undo when I was traveling and walking down a random street in San Francisco recently.

I only had an inkling that it fell into my loose cuff. One wrong downward motion with my arm and it could’ve slipped away forever. It only has to fail once still be considered a design flaw.

A more fool-proof approach is coming from the Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge, which use secure watch-like buckles. Both have an early 2015 release date but are pricier.

Display

Fitbit Charge strikes the right balance between the best fitness tracker and best smartwatch out there thanks to its returning bright OLED display.

It offers immediate, easy-to-read access to real-time exercise stats as well as the name of contacts during incoming call notifications, something the displayless Jawbone Up24 doesn’t.

Fitbit Force review

It’s difficult to notice at first glance, but this year’s tiny screen packs a little more information onto its .75 inch x .375 inch face. The date can now be seen under the time in one setup.

A new tap gesture actually shows the clock and date (or one other quick stat) when double tapping the Fitbit Charge OLED.

That’s intuitive and requires less precision when running than pressing Fitbit Charge’s single button. It reminds me of the palm-to-dim-display functionality of Android Wear watches.

The rest of the stats appear bigger than before too. With the press of a left side button, you can scroll through your daily steps, distance, calories burned and floors climbed.

Interface, accuracy, sleep tracking

Interface

People often ask me what’s so great about wearing a Fitbit Charge and other fitness trackers. It’s not just the daily stats that get you motivated, it’s seeing the numbers over time.

Fitbit Charge wirelessly syncs to an iPhone, Android or even Windows Phone within a 20-foot range, or it can do the same with a computer thanks to an included Bluetooth USB dongle.

fitbit charge review

Fitbit’s mobile app and web-based dashboard transform the one day and one-viewable line stats on the device fitness tracker into color-rich graphs for deep, multi-day analysis.

Steps, distance, calories burned and floors climbed are here and it adds very active minutes for when you broke a sweat running and sleep for when you didn’t. Creative badges can be earned for additional motivation.

Fitbit’s app and website allow you to manually log food and cups of water consumed. Neither are intuitive in this game of automatic stat-tracking and, in fairness, no one does this right. There are just no sensors to make sense of eating and drinking just yet.

Jawbone Up24 has a more colorful mobile app, but Fitbit stands head and shoulders among its chief rival because it works on the web too, where such charts are easier to digest. That’s a win for anyone who is serious about exercise and wants to pour over their longtail stats.

Fitbit Charge accuracy

Is Fitbit Charge accurate? It’s about as perfect at counting steps and calories burned as the Fitbit Force, Fitbit Flex and Fitbit One before it, meaning not that much.

We found that it adds about five extra steps for every 100 strides taken, which adds up after a while. Jawbone Up24 and Basis Peak were more true to the number of steps taken. Nike FuelBand SE inflated the number of steps taken too, but not as drastically as any Fitbit.

Fitbit Charge review

Secretly, I think it helps in Fitbit’s success since it’s the “feel good” motivator every year when paired next to other fitness trackers.

But that doesn’t matter as much as you’d think since it stays fairly consistent. Today’s stats aren’t any more inflated than tomorrow’s. What’s more important often times is competing against friends and their daily or weekly number.

All of your Fitbit-owning friends are listed in a tab (as long as their privacy conditions allow it), revealing how lazy and pathetic they are compared to you, or how mean and prideful they are. They’re either couch potatoes or showoffs when the competition gets underway. It’s fun.

Since the Fitbit accuracy is constant, precision doesn’t matter all too much. And, actually, if Fitbit Charge became more in tune, it’d throw a wrench into this multi-device friends’ race.

Sleep tracking

First the good news: there’s a new sleep tracking feature that makes it easier to log sleep consistently. Now, the bad news: I didn’t find it to be much more accurate.

Fitbit is known for providing a basic sleep timeline that consists of asleep in blue, restless in aqua and awake in pink. But Fitbit Charge’s patterns don’t always reflect other trackers.

Fitbit Charge review

Worse, it’s harder to read compared to the minute-by-minute sleep analysis provided by the Jawbone Up24 and Basis Peak sleep tracker.

What the Fitbit Charge does do right that you won’t find among Jawbones is automatically logging sleep within minutes of dozing off.

The Basis Carbon Steel and Basis Peak both automatically log sleep and the forthcoming Jawbone Up 3 promises to do the same.

It’s not perfect in the Fitbit Charge, but it sure beats having to set the band into sleep mode with a long press of a button. That was always a little backwards and now it’s fixed.

What the Fitbit line really needs is a new way of display the sleep tracking data it collects. The scrunched-up timeline isn’t easy to read, making automatic sleep detection less meaningful.

Silent alarm

Fitbit Charge’s ability to judge sleep quality is often hit-or-miss, but it never fails to wake me up thanks to its returning silent alarm feature.

Fitbit Charge review

The band, secured around my wrist, vibrates at the exact time I set in the app’s silent alarm menu, waking me and only me up. No one has to hear an annoying buzzing clock alarm.

It’s brilliant if you’re sleeping next to someone and have to get up earlier or simply hate the too-long-tenured idea of a blaring alarm clock every morning.

Fibit Charge is missing the “smart alarm” idea that’s supposed to wake you in a 10 to 30 minute window before your alarm time when you’re less groggy. That’s a perk that Jawbone Up24 holds over all Fitbits.

Caller ID, battery life, compatibility and verdict

Call notifications

I exclusively tested the unreleased Fitbit Force Caller ID firmware update that was supposed to be released post-launch and, of course, never made it out of Fitbit’s offices.

Fitbit Charge debuts this long-overdue smartwatch-like feature, and it lives up to the promise or providing call notifications one year later.

Fitbit Charge

Incoming calls on Fitbit Charge-tied smartphone display the name of your contact on the wearable, flashing and scrolling their full name across the always-too-short OLED.

The wristband doesn’t sound because there’s no speaker, but it does vibrate and promptly got my attention. And, really, if someone is calling instead of texting me these days, it’s usually important.

Fitbit Charge’s Caller ID feature actually saved me from missing two calls over the course of two weeks because my phone was charging in another room and set to vibrate.

It was a bit of a shock, because my brain knew I wasn’t wearing a smartwatch and certainly not close to the commemorative 10,000 steps that happens when you reach that goal. My brain adjusted and was thankful for the interruption as I took the call on the phone.

Battery life

There’s a lot going on with Fitbit Charge’s new call notification and automatic sleep tracking feature in addition to usual steps and other exercise tracking.

In my two-week trial, the battery life remained the same: typically seven to eight days between charges, even with the “all-day syncing” option turned on in the app.

Fitbit Charge review

That falls within Fitbit’s promised seven to ten day charging period and is comparable among other fitness bands with wireless syncing that are currently available.

The proprietary USB charging cable is still too short, easy to lose and doesn’t work with other devices besides Fitbits.

At least I now have two of them thanks to the retired Fitbit Force that I’m no longer need to review. It’s slowly trying to become the iPhone lighting cable of fitness chargers.

Compatibility

Fitbit Charge works with over 120 devices smartphones and it’s one of the few fitness tracking brands to support iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Fitbit Charge review

Only recently did Jawbone Up24 enter this rarified territory by adding a Windows Phone app in September, and the new Microsoft Band of course brings compatibility on all platforms.

Well, almost on all platforms. Fitbit isn’t forking over its data so that it can be used in Apple’s iOS 8 Health app, which could be a bummer for some iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus owners who are looking for the best iPhone Health apps.

Overall, Fitbit Charge works with more devices and that’s meaningful for not only you but also your other-device-owning friends you want to convince to join the race for steps and badges.

We liked

The best way to put an easy-to-read pedometer on your wrist is by buying the Fitbit Charge. It includes all of the basic stats you need whether you’re running or milling about the house and want to ensure you get enough daily movement. The app and website sync with the wearable to go beyond the tiny OLED with even more insight over time.

New extras like automatic sleep tracking and caller ID join existing favorite features like the silent alarms and badges in friendly competitions. Fitbit Charge is already a good motivator and being able to rival your Fitbit-owning friends brings the fitness challenge to a new level.

We disliked

Fitbit Charge isn’t as stylish as the Jawbone Up24 bracelet design and doesn’t have the unique dot matrix display found in the Nike FuelBand SE. Its textured style can’t compare, especially in the currently limited black and shale colors.

By the time the blue and burgundy come out the Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge, both with more secure wristwatch buckle clasps, are going to be ready for their early 2015 release date. Fitbit even beta tested them a little early at the end of 2014.

I’m not warming up to the sleep tracking that’s still all over the place, and only beginning to become okay with the proprietary USB cable method of charging simply because I already own one. Anyone buying a wrist-worn Fitbit for the first time is going to want very careful with the small, easy-to-lose cable.

Fitbit Surge vs Fitbit Charge vs Fitbit Charge HR

Final Verdict

Fitbit Charge picks up on where Fitbit Force left us too soon, and it really leads the hunt for quantified self in a lot of areas. It’s small, comfortable and has a subtle OLED display. It’s certainly not a smartwatch, even though it now boasts the convenience of incoming call notifications, and that’s part of its fitness-focused charm.

No, it’s not as hip looking as the Jawbone Up24, but it tracks, steps, calories burned, distance traveled and flights of stairs climbed and all of that can be seen right on the device. That’s much easier for the fitness-conscious among us who like to check stats from the hip. It’s especially relevant for the older generation that isn’t always syncing to their smartphone.

Jawbone Up 3 is about to release and I’m curious as to how the follow-up to my favorite fitness and sleep tracker performs next to the Fitbit Charge. It’ll be much more expensive, as will the heart-rate-monitoring Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge “superwatch.” The Fitbit Charge has no heart-rate-monitoring but it has heart when it comes to being the best fitness tracker with all the basics for its price range. I’ll update this review as the race thickens.

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