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Fitbit Charge and Charge HR In-Depth Review

FitbitCharge-ChargeHR-FrontSteps

It’s been a few months now since Fitbit announced and then subsequently released their Fitbit Charge and Charge HR units.  At the same time, they announced the Fitbit Surge GPS (which I’ve already reviewed here).  For this post though, we’ll be looking at the Charge variants, both with and without the heart rate option.  I’ve used them both sequentially over the past 2+ months, and now have a pretty good grasp of where they work and where they don’t.

For all of the units within these posts I simply bought them myself.  The Charge arrived back in December which I used first, and then the Charge HR the last month since wrapping up the Fitbit Surge review (you can only have one Fitbit device tied to your account at once).

At the end of the day keep in mind I’m just like any other regular athlete out there. I write these reviews because I’m inherently a curious person with a technology background, and thus I try and be as complete as I can. But, if I’ve missed something or if you spot something that doesn’t quite jive – just let me know and I’ll be happy to get it all sorted out. Also, because the technology world constantly changes, I try and go back and update these reviews as new features and functionality are added – or if bugs are fixed. So – with that intro, let’s get into things.

Unboxing – Fitbit Charge HR:

FitbitChargeHR-Box

We’ll stat off first with the Fitbit Charge HR, and then move to the unboxing of the regular Fitbit Charge (non-HR).

FitbitChargeHR-Unbox1

After you’ve cracked it open, you’ll find the following set of components:

FitbitChargeHR-UnboxParts

FitbitChargeHR-UnboxAllParts

First up is the paper manual and warranty.  It tells you how to wear it on your wrist for better optical accuracy, as well as when to take it off for minimizing a skin rash.

FitbitChargeHR-Manual

Next, is the charging cable.  This USB cable can be plugged into any USB port you’ll find on our little blue marble, and the other end plugs into the Fitbit Charge HR.  Note, this is not compatible with any other Fitbit products (the connectors are different).

FitbitChargeHR-SyncCable

FitbitChargeHR-CableCharge

Then we’ve got the USB sync adapter.  The cable above doesn’t sync with your desktop, for that you’ll instead need the small Bluetooth Smart adapter below.  If you have a semi-recent smartphone (something with Bluetooth Smart), then you can throw this in a desk drawer and forget about it – as you’ll sync with your smartphone instead.

FitbitChargeHR-USBAdapter

Finally, we’ve got the Fitbit Charge HR itself.  Here’s the front:

FitbitChargeHR-FrontShot

And the back:

FitbitChargeHR-BackOfUnit

We’ll get into some size comparisons after I walk through the non-HR version unboxing.

Unboxing – Fitbit Charge:

FitbitCharge-BoxFront

Next up we’ve got the Fitbit Charge (non-HR), which is nearly identical to that of the Charge HR from a packaging and contents standpoint.

FitbitCharge-UnboxParts

After removing everything from the multi-layered box, here’s what you’ve got:

FitbitCharge-Unboxed

To run through the components, we’ve first got the USB charging cable and USB sync adapter.  The charging cable doesn’t sync any data – only charging (you can plug it into any USB port you find in the world).  Meanwhile, the USB sync adapter allows non-smartphone users to sync via Bluetooth Smart using the small USB adapter.

FitbitCharge-USB

From a charging cable standpoint the Fitbit Charge and Charge HR are slightly different.  The Charge HR has two charging contacts within it, whereas the Charge has three.  The regular Charge and the Fitbit Force however do share what is almost an identical connector (it fits, but isn’t quite as snug…but nonetheless it will charge).

FitbitCharge-USBChargingCable

Next, we’ve got the manual.  It basically tells you to not wear it 24×7 for weeks on end so that Fitbit can cover their collective legal rears in the event you breakout with a skin rash.

Note however that it remains unclear as to what percentage of Fitbit Charge/Charge HR/Surge users are still seeing rashes (either due to reaction, or just general irritation of wearing something 24×7).  There’s a spreadsheet here by a 3rd party (not me) that collects those concerns.  However, do keep in mind that at the volumes Fitbit is shipping these units in (hundreds of thousands) – this is well less than 1% of users (not to minimize that, but to put numbers in perspective).  Of course, that doesn’t help if you happen to be in the 1%.

FitbitCharge-Manuals

Finally, here’s the Fitbit Charge itself:

FitbitCharge-Front

FitbitCharge-Back

As you can see, the band differs slightly at the clasp, where here it has two little pop-in connectors, compared to the Fitbit Charge HR having a secure clasp:

FitbitCharge-Clasp

That said, I never had any issues with it falling off my wrist.

Size Comparisons:

FitbitChargeChargeHRForceCombo

Probably the most important thing to keep in mind throughout this entire review is that the Fitbit Charge is really just the Fitbit Force with a new name and a new non-reactive band.  The functionality in the base Charge is no different than what was promised in the Force before the recall (inclusive of call notifications).

FitbitChargeChargeHRForceComparison

Similarly, the Charge and Charge HR are brothers of the same mother.  The only difference is one grew up with a HR sensor attached to the back of it:

FitbitCharge-ChargeHR-FrontDual

Outside of that heart rate component, they are nearly identical except for the rear clasp that secures them (the Charge HR is on top, the regular Charge on the bottom):

FitbitCharge-ChargeHR-Clasps

Additionally, you see a minor difference in the pattern in the plastic:

FitbitChargeAndChargeHR-Comparison

Here’s how they compare to watches, including the Fitbit Surge.  The Charge HR is to the far right (2nd from right).  Whereas the Surge is just to the right of center.

IMG_4471

Looking at sizing, the Fitbit Charge and Charge HR come in Small, Large, and X-Large sizes.

The Activity Tracker Basics (Steps, etc…):

FitbitChargeHR-Charge-SuitWrist

At the core of any Fitbit device is the ability to track daily activity including steps, distance walked/run, and calories.  Both the Fitbit Charge and Charge HR follow in those footsteps and delivery that, along with stairs climbed and in the case of the Charge HR – heart rate.

These metrics are shown on the small display on the front of the unit, and can be accessed at any time by pressing the little button on the left:

FitbitChargeHR-Time

When you press the button it’ll iterate through each of the fields, which are customizable.  These field are: Time, Steps, Distance, Calories, Stairs, and Heart Rate (Charge HR only):

FitbitChargeHR-CaloriesMetric

FitbitChargeHR-Calories

FitbitChargeHR-Miles

This information is also synchronized to the mobile app via Bluetooth Smart, which then makes the data available on the Fitbit platform as a whole:

IMG_4793 IMG_4796 IMG_4794

The Bluetooth Smart sync is available to compatible iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices.  That’s generally anything made in the last 2-3 years, though there are some caveats – so you’ll want to check Fitbit’s compatibility site.  Basically the device needs to have Bluetooth 4.0, which is the umbrella covering Bluetooth Smart functionality.

FitbitChargeHR-AppSync

Your activity data can further be accessed via the Fitbit website, as well as send to various partners such as MyFitnessPal and others.

image

So what about accuracy?  In general I don’t see any abnormalities with either the Fitbit Charge or Charge HR.  They were very close to other devices I was wearing at the same time (such as the Jawbone Move and Garmin Fenix3), for step counts.

However, keep in mind that there is not ‘perfect’ activity tracker.  Different companies use different algorithms to try and minimize inaccuracies.  Further, different wearable locations can also impact accuracy.  For example, if I’m pushing a shopping cart with a wrist-based device such the Fitbit Charge, I’ll likely get reduced step counts.  This is because the accelerometer isn’t likely to be triggered due to the static position of my hand.

Companies try and counter these sorts of items – such as ensuring steps aren’t counted when you’re showering or washing the dishes.  But the reality is that sometimes they do trigger steps.

Here’s what I’d remind ya: You shouldn’t be concerned about a few hundred extra steps.  At the end of the day, you’re aiming for a goal in the 10,000+ step range – so a few hundred steps really isn’t that meaningful.   If you only walked 2,000 steps, then no, you didn’t walk enough.  And at the other end of the spectrum, if you walked 18,000 steps – then yes, you walked a lot and an extra 100 steps washing the dishes wasn’t likely the cause for that 18,000 steps.

To that end these devices are best looked at from a trending standpoint.  They help you assess whether you’re walking a lot or a little.  That’s no different between a Fitbit, a Garmin, a Polar app – or even your phone.  They all have imperfections in certain scenarios – and excel at others.

Sleep Tracking:

FitbitCharge-ChargeHR-SleepTracking

The Fitbit Charge and Charge HR both automatically track and record your sleep.  Unlike other companies out there, there is no requirement to tell the device you’re headed to bed.  Instead, it just automatically figures it out – which is quite nice.

This means all you need to do is wear either unit 24×7 and it’ll pretty much track every aspect without any button pushing (except for a workout).

Here’s how the sleep looks from the mobile app.  You can see it tracks the time you went to sleep and when you woke up.  It also tracks how restless you were and how long you might have been awake.  In my testing I find it pretty much nails my sleeping times pretty closely.

IMG_4800 IMG_4801 IMG_4802

I don’t see any differences in sleep monitoring between the Charge/Charge HR, and the Surge.  Obviously there’s the heart rate element, but none of the data gathered from that component is surfaced into any of the sleep related pages.  Instead, it only shows up in the resting heart rate components…which, I’ll discuss in the next section.

Continuous Heart Rate monitoring (Fitbit Charge HR only):

FitbitChargeHR-HRScreen

The singular feature that you’d get when upgrading from the Charge to the Charge HR is the ability to display and capture heart rate (HR) data.  This data is essentially used in one of two places: Continuous HR monitoring (24×7), and Workout HR monitoring (i.e. during an activity).

For this section, we’ll talk about the continuous side.  In a following section, I’ll dive into the workout piece.  First though, we’ll take a brief diversion to talk about optical sensors.

Optical sensors measure your heart rate by shining a small light through your skin to your capillaries, where it then measures blood flow through a secondary sensor in the unit that ‘sees’ your pulse.  This technology isn’t terribly new, as it’s been used for years in hospitals and other medical facilities, primarily on pulse oximeters on your fingertip.

What is new however is applying it to the wrist and doing so either for 24×7 purposes, or workout tracking purposes.  In the case of 24×7 monitoring, it was really the Basis B1 watch that inaugurated that category (which they recently followed up with the Basis Peak).  Meanwhile, for sport, it was a variety of products from Mio, starting with the Alpha, but then including many more of their own, along with others that have licensed their sensor to such as TomTom and Adidas (the raw sensor is made by Philips).

These sensors generally use a green light, however some, such as the Scosche Rhythm+ also use a secondary colored LED (yellow) that can increase accuracy for certain skin types.  In the case of the Fitbit sensors, all use just a green light:

FitbitChargeHR-LEDLights

Now the thing with optical sensors is that they often take a few days/runs/walks to figure out where the exact best position is for your specific body.  Since the optical sensor enabled Fitbit products are all wrist based units, you’re somewhat limited to the wrist, which is a bit trickier than other locations.  That’s because you need to ensure a relatively snug fit to get accurate results.  This is due to potential leakage of outside light into the optical sensor area where it touches the skin.

With that background in mind, the Fitbit Charge HR (as well as the Surge GPS) have a 24×7 continuous heart rate monitoring function.  This feature monitors and records your heart rate continuously, allowing you to see the impact of various activities throughout the day.  At any time you can display your HR on the unit by simply pressing the button:

FitbitChargeHR-HeartRate

You can also do as I have done, and configured a simple double-tap to display your HR automatically.  This is within the settings menus:

FitbitChargeHR-Gestures

The app will also display a ‘Resting HR’ value for each day (aka RHR).  This value is generally considered to be the lowest HR value recorded during the day.  In my case though, it seems to be slightly inflated above that.  For example, while sleeping or just watching TV, I can usually get my HR down to about 39-42bpm.  But, I’ve never had the Fitbit (any of the HR capable products), record a value lower than 49bpm for the ‘Resting HR value’.  This again, despite the fact that it’s routinely below that level:

image

image

I’ve asked Fitbit twice now to clarify how precisely they determine the resting value, without any answer back.  They’ve stated in various manuals that it’s based on non-active moments (i.e. when not walking), but haven’t clarified if it’s perhaps some sort of time-averaged value or how the calculation is made – instead, just a post that kinda skirts around the issue with fairly nebulous wording.

Still, ignoring the official RHR value, I do find that for almost all other day to day activities, it seems to track reasonably well actually.  Figures are virtually always in the ‘reasonable’ category, and sometimes when I compare against a HR strap in a non-workout setting – they also seem to be inline.

Workout Tracking (generic mode):

The Charge and Charge HR have a workout mode that enables you to track stats specific to a given workout.  This can be steps, calories, distance, etc… For the most part, this workout mode is really aligned to running and walking, more than something like cycling (actually – to be really clear – it’s totally useless in cycling).

To start the workout mode you’ll just long-hold the button down.  Then it’ll display a little timer icon and you’ll see the counter begin:

FitbitChargeHR-StartWorkout

While the counter is running, you can tap the button to cycle through the different views.  These views will show you the same metrics as before, except only within the workout.  So it only shows you the distance/steps/calories you’ve done in the workout, while in workout mode.

FitbitChargeHR-WorkoutTimer

In the case of the Charge HR, it’ll also show your heart rate (more on that in the next section).  To end the workout, you’ll long-hold down again, which completes the session and returns you to the normal activity tracker functions:

FitbitChargeHR-FinishLine

Note that like virtually all other activity trackers on the market, your workout steps/distance will be added to your regular steps/distance for the day (both on the unit itself, but also in the app/site).

In addition you’ll see the workout listed within the app separately, under a workout section.  You can tap this workout to get more details about it (including HR on the Charge HR).  Further, you can change the classification of the workout, albeit minimally.

IMG_4806 IMG_4803 IMG_4804

The distances displayed while running or walking can be calibrated using a relatively straight forward equation, which helps increase accuracy.  In my testing, it did indeed get accuracy of my runs to within a few percent.  Similar to what I saw with the Fitbit Surge.  Not perfect, but much more in the ballpark than when I left it set at the default.

Note that while these are classified as ‘workouts’ within the Fitbit platform, there is no method of exporting them as a workout file at this time.  Fitbit has talked about enabling workout export capabilities at some point in the near future – but it’s unclear if that’ll include non-HR inclusive workouts, such as those created on the Fitbit Charge HR.  The primary reason you’d want to export a workout, is to import it into another platform – such as MapMyFitness or similar.

Finally, the regular Fitbit Charge is not capable of connecting to a heart rate strap (of any type).  Only the Fitbit Charge HR can display HR, and only using the internal optical sensor.

Workout Tracking with Heart Rate (Charge HR only):

P1000270

Now that we established in the previous section how the workout mode works, we’ll go ahead and layer in the heart rate component that’s only available on the Charge HR.

When you start the workout, the only difference between the Charge and Charge HR that you’ll note is that one of the screens now displays your current HR, such as below:

P1000521

But how accurate is this?  Well…it’s mixed.  In general, I find it very much the same as the Fitbit Surge GPS unit.  The optical sensor gets within the ballpark, but doesn’t accurately track quick HR changes such as during intervals.  For example, look at the following run where I had both longer intervals (middle) and a series of short 30-second hard sprints (end).  I’ve plotted it against a traditional heart rate chest strap:

image

image

Now you’ll see at the beginning the Fitbit actually tracked better – that’s because I likely hadn’t wetted my HR strap and it took a few minutes to catch (a common problem if dry).  But, after that point, you can see the HR strap tracks my intervals beautifully, whereas the Fitbit Charge HR struggles quite a bit and is rather variable.

If I look at spinning (was cycling on an indoor trainer), it’s not really that much better.  You can see that it generally trends in the right direction – but hardly matches it.  In fact, it’s kinda all over the place.  Note that the chest strap will appear more blocky – but note the scale – it’s only a handful of beta (meaning, I was pretty darn consistent).  Whereas with the Fitbit Charge HR it was a bit more variable.

image

image

Now, there are some ‘bright’ spots.  For example in the case of this run below, it generally trends fairly well, though it does seem to add two random HR spikes that definitely weren’t in my run (towards the beginning).

image

image

The challenge is that the sensor on the Fitbit Charge HR is situated in a way that just allows too much light to easily get under it.  Light is the arch-enemy of optical sensors, and with the Charge HR being very slim width-wise, there isn’t a whole lot of room to enclose it with darkness (as other optical HR sensors do).  Fitbit would likely argue that the thinness of the band is appealing (and it is).  But, I’d argue that it negates the benefit of the HR sensor when said sensor simply isn’t all that accurate.

P1000268

Note that like the regular Fitbit Charge, the workout data is also uploaded.  However, in addition to pace and distance you will also get HR data uploaded, like below:

IMG_4807 IMG_4808 IMG_4809

Fitbit has noted that they were planning on rolling out export capabilities for some workout types, originally scheduled for February 2015.

Waterproofing:

FitbitChargeHR-Waterproofing

The Fitbit Charge and Charge HR are only waterproofed to a ‘splash-proof’ standard.  This same disappointing standard was used previously on the Fitbit Force.  Here’s the official water resistance information from the site:

image

This is different from many of the other wrist-based activity trackers on the market that usually easily hit 30-meter deep waterproofing standards.  This does appear to be a bit of a trend with Fitbit products and lackluster waterproofing.  For example, while the Fitbit Surge is technically 50m waterproofed (which I tested myself here), the Surge also comes with the warning not to swim with it (and to avoid showering).

In any event, in the case of the Charge and Charge HR I completely ignored the ‘do not shower’ clause, and showered with it every single day, usually twice a day (once in the morning and once after a workout).  I never saw any issues.  For example, a simple video under a relatively high pressure shower at a hotel.  I’ve subjected the unit to similar shower pressures every day for a month now without issue.

Of course, I suspect the real reason behind the ‘do not shower’ with it clause has nothing to do with waterproofing, but rather legal liability.  When you shower with the unit it tends to cause moisture to build up under the watch band since you’d miss that area while drying off.  This in turn can cause simple skin irritation issues in some people – no different than anything else worn against your skin for days or weeks on end with no airflow.  So this is more about trying to avoid issues like they had with the Force recall.

As a side note, while I know there have been a handful of reports of people having skin issues with the latest round of Fitbit products, I think a bit of common sense needs to start being applied.  Having a couple (literally, just a couple) of people report reactions out of likely hundreds of thousands (or more) of units shipped is likely more a case of wearing habits than anything else.  That combined with the fact that people are hyper-sensitive to Fitbit skin reaction issues.  I’d be willing to bet you’ll see similar high profile ‘skin reaction issues’ when the Apple Watch comes out.  Even just 1/100ths of 1% of the Apple Watch estimated production volume is still 500 people.

(Preemptive why didn’t I put the Charge/Charge HR in the pressure chamber like other products?  Well, the goal of the chamber is to validate underwater ratings.  These two products don’t claim any underwater protection.  This, as much fun as it is to put things in the chamber, I see it as a bit of a waste of my money to destroy perfectly functional products beyond specification for what isn’t a terribly exciting video.  If a product claims something – I’m happy to validate it.  But if not, you’ll have to find a higher budget film company than mine.)

Call Notifications:

FitbitCharge-CallNotificationsEnablement

The Fitbit Charge and Charge HR include basic call notifications that can be enabled via your smartphone.  These notifications will appear on the tiny little LCD screen when an incoming call is made to your connected phone:

FitbitCharge-CallNotifications

But..there’s a catch.  If you enable All Day Sync, then you can’t have Call Notifications…and vice versa.  Which, is kinda  a bummer.  And on top of that, I find it rather flaky as to when it actually notifies me.

For me though, I tend to get more text messages than calls – so having a small notification on text messages like most other smart watches would honestly have been far more valuable than call notifications.  Especially given that text message function is both on the Fitbit Surge, but also many other $100+ activity trackers in the market.

Fitbit Aria WiFi Weight Scale (integration with):

FitbitAriaScale-WeightDisplayed

Well before the Charge or Charge HR came out, Fitbit introduced their Fitbit Aria WiFi enabled scale.  This scale will report your weight and body fat levels to you on the small display, but also transmit it wirelessly via WiFi to the Fitbit service.  It works beautifully, and I’ve been using it for years.

The use of the scale is silly simple.  You’ll setup pairing using your mobile phone or computer, and then once configured it’ll just silently do its thing sitting next to your toilet in the bathroom and broadcasting your burrito eating habits to the Fitbit platform.  All you need to do is step on it:

FitbitAriaScale-StandingOn

A few seconds later the weight shows up on the Fitbit platform, so it’s visible on the website and mobile app.  Now the value here isn’t that you can see your weight on your phone a minute later.  The value is in the daily logging.  Most folks (myself included) seem to have selective memory when it comes to weight.  By simply taking that out of my hands, I have a more realistic history of my weight – and my trending.  So in this case, I step on the scale and it broadcasts it.  No fudging.

FitbitScaleWebsite_thumb[2]

The data is also broadcast to Fitbit partners, such as MyFitnessPal.  Along with tons more partners.  Heck, you can even send it to Garmin Connect via some tricks.

From an accuracy standpoint, I’ve found the Fitbit scale spot-on when it comes to weight.  I’ve previously done some scale testing in the past in a scientific setting, which you can read here for other scales.  In looking at a comparison of the weight portion to those scales that I’ve tested previously, this matches.  Ultimately, I continue to use it as a scale that I often use myself (I have one Fitbit and one Withings, in different locations).

FitbitWeightScaleSyncwithChargeHR

Now a few will be curious on how the Fitbit Aria scale competes with Withings Wifi scale.  Simply put…it’s a wash.  Technology and platform wise they’re nearly identical from a weight standpoint.  My advice here has always been to chose whichever scale you have a device on.  So, if you have a Fitbit device – get the Fitbit scale.  And if you have the Withings device, go that way.  If you have neither, then look at their list of respective partners (huge), and see which apps/platforms you use that support which scale platform.  Failing anything else…just get whatever is cheaper that week.

Product Comparison Charts:

I’ve added in the Fitbit Charge and Charge HR into the product comparison database.  This means you can easily mix and match and compare it to other devices.

For the purposes of below, I’ve just kept it simple and shown the stats for those two units, but you can compare it against any other unit I’ve reviewed or have started the review cycle on, by building your own chart here.

Function/FeatureFitbit Charge HRFitbit Charge
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated November 19th, 2016 @ 7:47 pmNew Window
Price$149$109
Body PlacementWristWrist
Data Transfer TypeBluetooth SmartBluetooth Smart
Bluetooth to PhoneYesYes
Has GPS built-inNoNo
Waterproofing1ATM (~10m)ATM1 (~10m)
Battery LifeUp to 5 daysUp to 7 days
Battery TypeUSB RechargeableUSB Rechargeable
Changeable Bands/StrapsNo
Phone Music ControlNoNo
WatchFitbit Charge HRFitbit Charge
Displays timeYesYes
Has time alarmsYesYes
Has smart sleep alarmsNoNo
NotificationsFitbit Charge HRFitbit Charge
Smartphone NotificationsCall notifications onlyCall notifications only
WorkoutsFitbit Charge HRFitbit Charge
Workout guidance/coachingNoNo
DataFitbit Charge HRFitbit Charge
Step CounterYesYes
Stairs ClimbedYesYes
Distance WalkedYesYes
Calories BurnedYesYes
Sleep MetricsYesYes
24x7 HR MetricsYesNo
SensorsFitbit Charge HRFitbit Charge
Skin TemperatureNoNo
Heart RateYesNo
Optical Heart RateYesNo
Can re-broadcast Heart Rate dataNoNo
Skin PerspirationNoNo
Cycling SensorsNoNo
Action Camera ControlNoNo
SoftwareFitbit Charge HRFitbit Charge
Web ApplicationYesYes
PC ApplicationYesYes
Mac ApplicationYesYes
Phone AppsiOS/Android/Windows PhoneiOS/Android/Windows Phone
Ability to export/sync settings from computer/phoneYesYes
PlatformFitbit Charge HRFitbit Charge
3rd parties can access data via APIYesYes
Ability to export your data out of platformYesYes (paid option)
PurchaseFitbit Charge HRFitbit Charge
Amazon LinkLinkLink
Clever Training Link (Save 10% with DCR10BTF)LinkLink
DCRainmakerFitbit Charge HRFitbit Charge
Review LinkLinkLink

The above tables update dynamically based on the newest features.  So if Fitbit or someone else updates something, I usually update it within a few days at most.  And remember you can mix and match any products I’ve tested within the product database comparison tool.  Go forth and compare!

Summary:

FitbitChargeHR-Front

First up, let’s talk about the Fitbit Charge (non-HR).  For that, it makes for a perfectly capable little activity tracker.  The Fitbit activity tracking platform is without question one of the best (if not the best).  They’ve got partnerships with virtually every 3rd party site out there, and have a strong internal platform for allowing you to compete with friends and family on steps.  They’ve also got apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone – plus of course desktop access.  While the Fitbit is a tiny bit higher in price than some competitors, you’re effectively buying the brand name – and there’s nothing wrong with that brand in this case.

Next, we’ve got the Charge HR.  For that, I have almost identical feelings to that of the Surge GPS.  As a day to day activity tracker, it’s great.  Heck, even as a 24×7 continuous HR monitor, it’s pretty good (perhaps not perfect, but good).  But as a workout activity monitor for heart rate?  Not so much.  It has many of the same faults and flaws from an optical HR sensor that the Surge did.  Flaws that I’m not terribly convinced Fitbit can fix with software.

(I’d point out that Fitbit contacted me after my Surge review, but were only concerned with the GPS accuracy issues I saw – an implicit agreement that my HR accuracy issues were likely expected.  On the GPS front, though I provided plenty of data to them privately, they didn’t follow up with any further response).

So in some ways, you need to decide what you want the device for.  Is it for daily activity tracking?  If so – then great.  Is it for workout tracking?  If so, then there are better options on the market.

Unfortunately, it still seems elusive to have ‘the perfect’ optical HR activity tracker that does both workouts, and continuous 24×7 HR.  For example, the Mio Fuse does great workout tracking (and step tracking), but doesn’t have a 24×7 HR mode.  And while it might be easy to assume the Apple Watch will succeed in this area, recent articles seem to indicate they are struggling with the optical sensor – cutting many of the planned features.  Adding that to the lack of waterproofing of the Apple Watch (Update: As of Wednesday, it sounds like they’ve changed their story and it might be showerproof), I don’t think we’ll see what we want in the first iteration of it.  This will ultimately give many of the incumbents, like Fitbit, another year of reprieve.

With that – thanks for reading!

Wanna save 10%? Or found this review useful? Read on!

Hopefully you found this review useful.  At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device.  The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love).  As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers an exclusive 10% discount across the board on all products (except clearance items).  You can pickup the Fitbit Charge/Charge HR (or any other Fitbit) from Clever Training. Then receive 10% off of everything in your cart by adding code DCR10BTF at checkout.  By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get a sweet discount. And, since this item is more than $75, you get free US shipping as well.

Fitbit Charge HR (select dropdown for size)
Fitbit Charge (select dropdown for size)
Fitbit Surge GPS (select dropdown for size)
Fitbit Aria Scale

Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (all colors shown after clicking through to the left) or accessories (though, no discount on Amazon).  Or, anything else you pickup on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells).  If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.  Though, Clever Training also ships there too and you get the 10% discount.

Thanks for reading!  And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.  And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below.  Thanks!

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542 Comments

  1. Kit the Cat

    Hey guys! I’m looking to purchase my first activity tracker ( late to the game i know!) and am most interested in the FitBit Charge. The only thing in question is the quality of the materials. I’ve read many reviews that within a few short months there is water built up in the screen and the rubber peels away from the electronic piece. Is this an issue that you guys have had?

    Thanks!
    Catherine

    • Michelle

      I purchased my Fitbit HR on January 4th 2016 and as of today February 16th 2016 the plastic that wraps around the sides covers the back is falling off. I’m very disappointed! After looking over the warranty information it seems like a lot of messing around to get it replaced and they don’t offer a timeline for repairs.

    • Iuliana

      Same problem here, but I have send an email to fitbit. The reply was in 2-3 hours. They asked for pictures with the problem. I’ve send the pictures and in 5 days they send me a replacement. Very fast and efficient.

  2. Richie

    I ran 18 miles last Sunday but it only recorded 10. I had a similar problem with other run. Is there an issue with distance accuracy?

  3. Limda

    I was wondering if anyone else has problems with the charging end staying in the hr charger when trying to charge . The USB end isn’t the problem, it’s the end that attaches to the actual hr charger. I wish the cord was longer because I have to have the whole thing sit on top of plug that is in the wall, otherwise it comes apart.

    • Johnny Row

      One solution is to charge it in a wall plug via an inexpensive wall-to-USB adapter plug, which it sounds like you are already doing. Then use an extension cord and set them down on a counter or such.

  4. This is a great review. I am using the FitBit charge for almost 4 months. I like it very much it keeps me motivated all the time. But i think if it would be better to have the charge hr for more accurate results.

    thanks again

  5. iaincbr

    I’m interested in the RHR issue as mine is low thirties and I’m interested in monitoring fatigue, but if it is reading high it may prove problematic to gauge. What is the best for monitoring RHR?

  6. Kaye

    Hi, another great and helpful review from you. Can I just ask a question though. With the Charge or Charge HR, can you link your Fitbit account with Garmin Connect at all? I do a lot of cycling and use a Garmin device for this, amongst other activities. I’m ideally wanting to use the Fitbit Charge or Charge HR for my workouts in the gym (cardio and weights) and just daily to see how far I walk during normal working days etc. However, I’d like to see all of my workouts in one place (preferably on the Garmin connect site). Is this possible? Thanks

    • Juro

      You can insert the calorie count and a simple summary from Garmin Connect into Fitbit through MyFitnessPal. This will not transfer the Garmin Connect activity name or map or other details though — just the basic summary.

    • Juro

      (I do not think it’s possible to do this the other way around, from Fitbit to GC… only total calories can be synced, again via MyFitnessPal)

    • Kaye

      Thanks for your help. I guess if I wanted to include my workout details from fitbit onto garmin connect I could always enter them as a manual entry then?

  7. Kaye

    Just thinking, would you suggest the garmin vivosmart hr would be more suitable for what I wanted to do? Thanks, Kaye

  8. TT

    Just checking out the new Alta.
    Do you have a time frame for the release of the next generation Fitbit Charge HR?

  9. Mark

    3rd party android app “bit ticker notification” will also push texts, and any other android phone notification, to the charge hr… very useful!

  10. W H Born

    Bought a Fitbit charger HR. Heart rate monitor is completely useless. Has been consistencly off by up to 50 BPM. Only accurate when I am sitting still. No use wren doing activity or exercise.

  11. diane

    hi
    i find the calorie count really low if i do a 5 mile run i burn 467 calories yet my nike watch burns abot 560. Also is the charge hr tracking burnt calories or bmr as well I find it very difficult to burn more than 2000 calories in a day unless i play golf for 4 hours and run
    cheers

  12. Scott M

    Not sure if this will help anyone with the decision to buy a Charge HR or not but here is my experience so far. I purchased mine in June 2015 and have really liked it (I agree with others that step count is probably off, but not so much that it concerns me) except for one big problem, the battery. My first unit started to not charge in October and the second unit had the same issue (plus the button on the side stopped working) in February. Both units lasted for 3 months (give or take a few weeks) and that is not good. Now to give Fitbit their props they did replaced both units with no issues free of charge, but come on they should last longer. I am primarily a runner and log around 100 miles a month the issue I think might be that I sweat like crazy. Have you heard of anyone one else who seems to be killing their Charge HR with sweat? I tried to look through all of the comments but did not make it all the way so sorry if I missed a previous answer. By the way love the site, been following you for years, and I love the Podcast!

  13. Lily

    Hi! I have been looking on a lot of websites and I just don’t know which one to buy:) I love running and I play basketball so I need to stay in shape. Im in the 6th grade which is kind of young but should I buy the charge or charge Hr? Cause ive heard that the charge falls off of a lot of peoples wrists. But the Charge hr isn’t very accurate:( Please help me out with this problem!

    Thx, Lily

    P.s Can I wear them in the shower or will that ruin them?

    • Hi Lily-

      The Charge HR isn’t too accurate, and for basketball it likely won’t keep up with the quick shifts of pace. For running, if you run at a constant pace – then it’ll generally catch-up to it and be mostly accurate (but just not for very fast shifts in pace/intervals).

      Generally speaking showering is OK, but it is not warrantied against it. You could also look at the Garmin Vivosmart HR – but that’s a bit more expensive and a bit bulkier. Another option would be something like the Vivofit2, which is cheaper. And then you could pair a HR strap to it for runs/basketball/etc (all for roughly the same price as the Fitbit Charge HR).

  14. Lily

    Sorry about the picture I dont know how that got on there

  15. Lex

    Hi Lily,

    You might want to post your question to the “activity Trackers” group on Facebook. There are a lot of helpful people in the group. link to facebook.com

  16. Lily

    Im in 6th grade I dont have facebook :/

  17. Lily

    Please help! But I think I might get the charge hr

  18. Lily

    Thank you guys and Im going to just get the charge like my friend Lauren thank you guys so much Im really excited!!!!

  19. Nancy Harris

    Can the fitbit charge HR be repaired, it did go in the shower, it sort of works but it will not sync

  20. jennifer

    Is charge HR more accurate than regular Charge at tracking calories burned? Or does the HR part not effect that?

    • Johnny Row

      If my understanding is correct, the HR should be much more accurate in calories burned. Without the HR, it just tries to estimate activity and calories based on steps (and maybe stairs climbed) and of course your own parameters such as weight. But the HR uses your heart rate to calculate calories which is a more accurate gauge of activity level. The caveat to that is the accuracy of the heart rate, which for some people is not so good at higher intensity workouts.

    • Johnny Row

      Also depending on what kind of exercise you get. If you do much that is not walking, then the HR becomes more of an advantage. If you are mostly walking (or running) i.e. taking steps the Charge can measure), the the Charge is not at as much of a disadvantage.

  21. Jim

    Any suggestions on why the fitbit is not calculating the correct distance? Tonight I went for a 2.4 mile walk using both the fitbit and a forerunner 15. The planned route was 2.4 miles and the garmin was spot on but the fitbit came in at 1.77 miles. I have set the walking and running stride online but still seeing the same result as before setting them.

    Thanks for any help.

    • Johnny Row

      First make sure you have done a sync since you set your stride lengths.
      The FR 15 uses GPS so it should be near exact. The Charge distance is just estimated from steps times stride length. It sounds to me that you underestimated your stride length. I would try multiplying your stride length entry by 1.36 (2.4/1.77), and then doing another test walk. It can be tricky getting accurate stride length. Perhaps when you get outside walking a decent distance, your stride gets longer than what you measured.

  22. Lisa Newell

    i got a fitbit charge july 31 2015 a few months later the band broke. i got a replacement the year was up. yesterday i looked the band is broke in the same place i’m not very happy with fitbit right now 2 in less then 9 month.

  23. Marian Arndt

    I presently have a fitbit charge. I wear it all the time and charge it whenever it tells me to charge. Here’s my problem, I was charging and when I went to disengage the cord the back of the fitbit came off. Also, the mechanizism that you press to view the screen (ie … steps walked, time, timer etc) popped off too.

    Is there a place I can send the fitbit to be repaired? What is the life span of a fitbit. I had lost it on a walk about 6 months ago, found it, and it was working great! So, please advise me on how to proceed.

  24. Elisha

    Been wanting to get a fitbit for weeks. Was looking through different reviews trying to decide whether it is worth it or not. Overall I think it will be a good purchase for me. I looked online for several different deals, the best one I found was for $117 on ipzmall. Anyone let me know if thats a good price? Thank you for the review.

  25. April

    While on a LEISURELY stroll today my CHR showed my heart rate at 180. I have a hard time believing this to be accurate. Can you explain more about how the light affects the HR data? I am wondering if bright sunlight may have had an impact on my data. I do wear it snug, but not tight. There is no mark on my skin from the HR sensor when I remove the device.

  26. ArmedPT

    I purchased this in March of 2015 for $150. In August, it was showing me that I was performing over 30 flights of stairs per day even if I did not leave the house. They replaced it for free as it was covered by warranty, and I was very impressed with their customer service!
    Then, in March 2016, the replacement started to fall apart! The skin started to bubble and peel off, and the plastic backing that covers the button and frames the charging port just fell off randomly. It was never dropped, washed, showered in, etc. Not once. But, they honored the warranty and sent ANOTHER replacement. I would love to have a unit that would last longer, but having such great customer service is the next best thing, right?…..
    Well, last week the THIRD replacement stopped working altogether. Just froze. No response, unable to restart it, button is frozen, and the display shows that it is in the middle of an update. They could not find an answer for me, and now that the warranty is expired on the FIRST unit (nevermind the fact that they sent me 2 refurbished inferior devices) they will not replace it.
    So that I’m clear: To replace a unit that only lasted 5 months, they send me a faulty piece that only lasts 7, and when THAT one fails, they send me another piece of garbage that only lasts 5 months again!!! The warranty should renew for 12 months with each unit, otherwise what would stop them from taking advantage of people like they did to me?
    They do make a pretty neat product with a lot of features, but I would advise against this company as clearly once they have your money they are only interested in convincing you to buy a newer more expensive device.

  27. Alisha

    VERY INACCURATE for walking. I have been counting, comparing, adjusting stride, etc. A lap of 175 steps by counting and fitbit tells me 83-93!?!?

  28. Ilanit

    I have extremely small wrist and saw your wife tried on the Alta to show how it fit . Anyway she can try on the charge for comparison. I find the charge he too long for me and looking for other options

  29. Fitbit Charge HR. After using this device for 7 months it wouldn’t charge, after many emails to them for a warrantee replacement or a repair they said in a email there is no warrantee and I am out the cost of this device. even though paper work sent in the box by them describes a 1 year warrantee. I wouldn’t recommend buying a Charge HR.

    • Call back. Fitbit is well known for giving out replacement devices like candy – even well beyond the warranty period, so this doesn’t really jive with that.

    • We’ve exchanged a couple of emails with them. The last one dated 9/2/2016 from “Ghia D. and the Fitbit team” Stating “We would like to inform you that, Fitbit does not provide repair services or send replacement part” it can’t be more clearer than that. I could forward this email to you if you like. Thanks for you interest

    • Yeah, again, I’d just give them a ring. Their US support number is: (877) 623-4997

    • Alfred Algeria

      I want to thank this web site “dcrainmaker” for giving Fitbit the push needed to replace our Fitbit. We got a replacement yesterday and all is good. Yous did a great job. Thanks

    • Johnny Row

      So they are still giving Charge HR replacements even though they are no longer selling them. I’ve got one under warranty that is starting to have some problems. I was hoping if I tried to exchange it, they might replace it with a Charge 2, or at least offer a discount on it.

    • Alfred Algeria

      I don’t know about them not sell the charge HR any more we just bought one last week and there was a good supply at Target

    • Johnny Row

      link to dcrainmaker.com

      Fitbit has replaced both the Charge and Charge HR with the Charge 2 which looks like an upgrade to the Charge HR. It sells for $150 from fitbit.com
      Depending on what you just paid for the Charge HR, you might want to see if you can return it and get the altest model.

    • Alfred Algeria

      I didn’t know that. The Charge HR was $129 at Target and they priced matched Walmart’s price of $107.

  30. Jason

    I bought my Charge in Dec 2014, and the band failed on it eight months later, delaminating and pulling right off the computer piece (the tracker is now in two pieces). Fitbit was really good about this, and provided a free replacement. This free replacement lasted exactly eight months before the exact same issue occurred. My wife went through the same, eight months in her unit came apart, Fitbit replaced it and the replacement lasted 8.5 months. They replaced her second one with an Alta as we had no confidence in the Charge lasting. Curiously they declined to replace my second and offered me a 25% discount on replacing mine, even though I had the same exact issue, under the same circumstances as my wife (and all experienced only light to medium use and were well taken care of). I wasn’t really looking for a third replacement (even though my wife received one) – and wasn’t really sure what I was hoping Fitbit would do to make this right – but perhaps a slightly larger discount than 25% might have been appropriate as four of four activity trackers have only lasted 66% of their warranty period. Fitbit has a great online UI, app and fantastic competitive social aspects to gamify the experience, but I’ve been really dismayed with the durability of the product, especially as it’s been very lightly used. Regrettably I’m going to be looking outside of the Fitbit brand for my replacement as I can’t be sure of the build quality.

  31. Beth

    Do you have an opinion on the Charge, Charge HR, the new Charge 2 or any other fitness tracker for playing a sport like ice hockey. My husband plays in a rec league and we are wondering if there is a good device that will accurately account for the activity.

    Will you be reviewing the new Charge 2?

    Thanks

  32. Jeanne M.

    I want an activity tracker with an HRM, but my wrist only measures 5 inches. What brand/model would work for me?

  33. Jodi

    ​I bought a Fitbit charge hr then not quite a yr after purchasing it, it broke but then they sent me another. Only the replacement but 5 months later broke same place. Contacted the customer service to only have them tell me that the warranty was up and I would be given 25% off my next purchase.But the original problem has NOT BEEN RESOLVED! Who would purchase ANYTHING from your crappy company when you don’t stand behind the product you already have! People RUN AND BUY SOMETHING ELSE! This product is cheap! I will now make sure EVERYONE KNOWS DAILY NOT TO BUY ANY FITBIT PRODUCTS! Hunk of junk! WASTE OF MONEY!! Don’t purchase this garbage!