[Health Tech] REVIEW Fitbit Charge HR

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Charge Colours

Following our reviews of the Fitbit Service, Fitbit One, Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Charge trackers we are now able to provide a hands on review of the Fitbit Charge HR having tested one, day and night, for a few months.

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Unboxing

When we opened the packaging we found the Fitbit Charge HR along with a proprietary USB Bluetooth 4.0 dongle, USB to proprietary connector charging cable and literature. As we have discussed in previous reviews, the advantage of the USB Bluetooth 4.0 dongle is that the Fitbit Charge HR will only connect and sync to a PC with a USB dongle connected and a Fitbit account associated with the tracker. We would still like a more generic charging cable and connector to enable cheaper replacement in case of loss, or damage, of the original cable. It seems implausible that a company would use a different proprietary charge connector on every device, so all we can assume is that Fitbit have their reasons for this. It would be nice if Fitbit genericised the charging connector across it’s devices as even the and Fitbit Charge and Fitbit Charge HR don’t share the same connector type even though they are the same size and dimensions.

In our opinion, the ideal progression would be towards embedded QI wireless charging as this would enable the tracker to be truly waterproof enabling swimming in it, as there would be no external connector to short in the water. 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 the heart rate monitoring functionality provided in the Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge will consume more power than the lower end Fitbit trackers. The closest a developer/manufacturer has come to a self-charging fitness/sleep tracker is the Misfit Swarovski Shine which charges via light through its crystal cover.

A major advantage over the Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Charge and many other wrist worn trackers is the replacement of the wrist strap two prong press closure mechanism with a standard watch strap buckle which we much prefer. Another nice little tweak is a small protrusion on the inside of the strap loop which locates into the buckle holes in the strap, better securing the strap and stopping the loop from sliding.

User Experience

Although, at a glance, the Fitbit Charge HR looks like the Fitbit Charge it adds an optical Heart Rate Monitoring (HRM), storing heart rate data at 1 second intervals during exercise tracking and at 5 second intervals all other times. Also, the recently released v84 firmware update (see for more information recent review of the firmware update) brought ‘Quick View’ functionality meaning you no longer need to press or tap anything to check the time as you just need to lift and turn your wrist and the display automatically illuminates for a short period. The good news for Fitbit Charge owners is that, whilst writing this review, the Fitbit Charge has also received a firmware update bring this feature to it also.

This means that you get:

  • Step Counter – The core functionality of the Fitbit Charge HR remains the same as previous Fitbit Trackers, using a 3-axis accelerometer to record 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 Charge, the Fitbit Charge HR 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.
  • Heart Rate Monitoring – two small green lights flash on the skin under the Fitbit Charge display and a sensor registers the illuminated pulse in your wrist.
  • Clock – Four different watch faces are available, set via the Fitbit website or mobile apps.
  • Quick View – Rather than having to tap the display or press a button raising and turning the wrist triggers the display to turn on showing any of the user selectable screens (Steps, Distance, Calories, Floors, Clock)
  • Call Notification (Android & iOS only) – An additional functionality provided in the latest range of Fitbit Trackers (Fitbit Charge, Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge 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.
  • Vibration Feedback – An internal vibration motor enables vibration feedback to inform the user of chosen goal feedback, call notification and user defined silent alarms. Our hope is that this functionality will be linked to calendar events providing silent calendar event reminders based on phone calendars.

Although all the live information you need is OLED displayed very clearly on the trackers integral screen it can be synchronised via PC or mobile phone to see previous tracked activity along with trending data which can be exported for offline comparison and analysis. The good news is that there is also an official app for Windows Phone alongside the longer standing official Android and iOS apps.

The Fitbit Charge HR looks and feels like a premium product, although we have found the screen easier to scratch than we would like with minor scuffs appearing within a month’s wear. This can be avoided/rectified however, by a quick look online which will turn up screen protectors like those available for mobile phones. As with the Fitbit Charge, the tracker unit is permanently fitted inside the flexible, durable elastomer wrist strap with the surgical-grade stainless steel watch strap style buckle distinguishing it from its cheaper sibling.

The battery life is slightly reduced from that of the Fitbit Charge, which is expected with the addition of HRM functionality, with its Lithium-polymer battery lasting up to 5 days between charges, in our experience based on continuous wear and HRM recording set to automatic. This said, Fitbit do advise that you should charge the Fitbit Charge HR every few days to avoid the risk of losing tracking during a workout. Battery withstanding, the Fitbit Charge HR can store 7 days of detailed minute by minute motion data and 30 days of daily totals like the Fitbit Charge.

The water-resistance of the Fitbit Charge HR is the same as that of the Fitbit Charge which seemed 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 [or Charge HR] 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.”

As part of our testing we compared the HRM data from the Fitbit Charge HR with that from a Polar FT60 fitness watch and Polar H7 HRM chest strap combination. The results were impressive with both options providing similar data and the resting heartrate calculated by the Fitbit Charge HR within 1-2 bpm of that calculated by the Polar V02max test.

Conclusion

Having used the Fitbit Charge HR for a while now we love it even more than the Fitbit Charge with the same simple design and very affordable pricing at c.£20 more than the Fitbit Charge, coming in at £120 on the Fitbit website and as low as c.£90 on sites like Amazon. The small price difference is much outweighed by the functional and physical difference as Fitbit Charge HR is a Fitbit Charge with added continuous HRM functionality and a much more appealing watch strap buckle.

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 HR is intended to hit the affordable activity tracking market with added HRM functionality. The true competitor to the smart watch market will be the Fitbit Surge which we will be reviewing in a future article.

Our advice is that if you have been contemplating buying an activity tracker and are prepared to creep just into three digits, the Fitbit Charge HR 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.

Verdict

Positives

  • Quick View – turn your wrist and the time is displayed for a short period
  • Well priced at just over £100 for an activity and sleep tracker with continuous HRM
  • Buckle closure watch strap instead of a press closure

Negatives

  • Screen could be more rugged as screen scuffed within a month
  • Different proprietary charge connector on every Fitbit tracker
  • Not waterproof enough to swim in

Scoring

Build & Appearance: 4/5

Functionality & Usability: 4/5

Pricing: 4/5

Overall: 4/5

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