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[Health Tech] REVIEW – Fitbit Charge

Following our reviews of the Fitbit Service, Fitbit One and Fitbit Flex trackers and our Leaks on the Fitbit Charge, Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge we have been using a Fitbit Charge for a few weeks now and feel ready to provide our verdict.

As we advised in the our pre-release article we were expecting the Fitbit Charge to be a direct replacement to the Fitbit Force with the advantage of technological advances in the interim and a change in strap material.

Unboxing

When we opened the packaging we found the Tracker itself along with a proprietary USB Bluetooth dongle, USB to proprietary connector changing cable and literature. As we have discussed in previous reviews the advantage of the USB Bluetooth dongle means that your Fitbit will only connect and sync to your chosen PC and not try to link to any PC. We would have liked the charging cable to have a more generic cable to enable cheaper replacement in case of original cable loss or damage. This said, the true ideal would be embedded QI wireless charging as this would enable the tracker to be truly waterproof enabling swimming in it. The next step from this would, of course, be reducing the power consumption such that the device could be kinetic powered, but we expect this is a long way off as additional of functionality over time as shown in the Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge will increase rather than decrease power needs.

User Experience

The good news is that the Fitbit Charge brings all of the functionality of the Fitbit One to a permanent wrist strap design based around the Fitbit Flex This means that we get a step counter with calculated distance travelled and calories burned, along with an altimeter enabling calculation of floors climbed as provided in the Fitbit One.

This means that you get:

  • Step Counter – The core functionality of the Fitbit Charge remains the same as previous Fitbit Trackers recording the number of times your feet fit the ground per day based on inertial measurement (measure changes in direction of the tracker).
  • Distance Travelled (Calculated) – As with all of the Fitbit Tracker range distance travelled is calculated based on the number of steps counted and an assumed gate (distance between steps) based on age, height and weight. This can be made more accurate by manually entering walking and running gate on the Fitbit website settings.
  • Calories Burned (Calculated) – As with distance travelled, calories burned is calculated based on steps counted, the time between steps and the distance travelled. This information is used to assume level of activity and thus rate of calorie burn and resultant overall calorie burn.
  • Floors Climbed – As with the Fitbit One and Fitbit Flex uses an internal altimeter to calculate the number of floors climbed based on changes in external pressure.
  • Automatic Sleep Quality Monitoring – Previously, sleep tracking has required manual start and stop, but this is now automatically started and stopped via some internal magic.
  • Clock – Four different watch faces are available, set via the Fitbit website or mobile apps.
  • Call Notification (Android & iOS only) – An additional functionality provided in the latest range of Fitbit Trackers (Fitbit Charge, Fitbit Charge HR (pre-release) and Fitbit Surge (limited US release)) is call notification. This information is more basic on the Fitbit Charge and Fitbit Charge HR but this is reflected in the much lower price of the Fitbit Charge and Fitbit Charge HR compared with the Fitbit Surge.

Although all the information you need is displayed on the very clearly on the trackers integral screen it can be synchronised via PC or mobile phone to see previous days tracked activity. The good news is that there is an official app for Windows Phone alongside the longer standing Android and iOS apps.

When it comes to the look, feel and construction of the Fitbit Charge all is good. Unlike the Fitbit Flex the tracker unit is permanently fitted inside the elastomer strap with the surgical-grade stainless steel clip carried across from the Fitbit Flex, although its increased size appears to provide a more secure feeling closure. The battery life feels slightly improved over the Fitbit One and Fitbit Flex with its Lithium-polymer battery lasting over 7 days between charges, in our experience. This said, Fitbit do advise that you charge the Fitbit Charge every few days to avoid the risk of losing tracking during a workout. Battery withstanding, the Fitbit Charge can store 7 days of detailed motion data and 30 days of daily totals.

The water-resistance of the Fitbit Charge seems reduced as, although the Fitbit Flex could be worn in the shower, we have been advised by the team at Fitbit:

“Our official recommendation is to not shower or submerge your Charge at all. The specifications page does mention that the Charge has been tested to withstand a maximum of 1 ATM but, this is the point to which the Charge will fail. Although this is the breaking point for the Charge, in order to maintain functionality and longevity of your device, we recommend to keep it out of the water.

If the Charge is accidentally submerged for a short time it may withstand the incident but, allowing the device to sit in water is not good for the life of the device. For accidental water exposure, we do recommend that users can place their tracker into a bowl of dry rice for 24 hours. This will extract any moisture that remains inside the unit. Following this, please attempt to restart your tracker using the instructions at http://bit.ly/1qrQ8wP. If the tracker does not work after this troubleshoot, customers will need to contact us for further assistance.”

The final thing to note is that although there have been rumours that the Fitbit trackers only support Cyan firmware on Nokia Lumia devices running on the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system we have been advised by the Fitbit support team that this is wrong. The Fitbit mobile team has officially confirmed to us that:

” the Fitbit app will work fine with Denim and any future firmware updates. Our only requirement for Lumia devices is to have the Cyan firmware or later for Bluetooth 4.0 and LE support.”

It should be noted that the Fitbit app for Windows Phone will not sync with the Windows 8.1 developer preview.”

We also noted that the support pages do not list all current Nokia Lumia devices, but we have been advised by the Fitbit team that:

“We currently support over 20 Windows phone devices including Lumia 530, 730 and 830. For the latest list of supported devices please visit: https://www.fitbit.com/app and visit the list for Windows Phone: https://www.fitbit.com/content/assets/onezip/images/devices/Fitbit_SupportedDevices_Windows.pdf

Conclusion

Having used the Fitbit Charge for a few weeks we love it with its simple design and very affordable pricing at under £100. As we stated in our Fitbit One and Fitbit Flex reviews, we were left wishing for a Fitbit Force replacement as we loved the displayed information on the Fitbit One, but preferred the more substantial wrist strap of Fitbit Flex and this is provided by the Fitbit Charge.

Although there are smart watches out their which provide more functionality, thanks to the likes of Google Wear, they are all much more expensive and the Fitbit Charge is intended to hit the affordable activity tracking market. The true competitor to the smart watch market will be the Fitbit Surge which we are hoping to review, along with the Fitbit Charge HR, both of which add heart rate monitoring, in a future article.

Our advice is that if you have been contemplating buying an activity tracker but want to keep your spending below three digits, the Fitbit Charge is the one for you, but if you are upgrading from the Fitbit Flex don’t forget to take it off when you head for the shower.

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