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Fitbit Charge 4 with GPS In-Depth Review

Fitbit-Charge-4-Review

It’s been nearly two years since the last Fitbit Charge release, the Fitbit Charge 3. Since that time the company has released a variety of other wearables, mostly minor refreshes. And in some ways the Charge 4, at first glance, might seem to be in that same minor-update ballpark.

But I don’t think it is.

First off, they added GPS to it – huge bump up in capabilities to this category of devices while maintaining the same $149 price point. Atop that, they added contactless payments. That feature may not be as big a driver as it would be for an endurance runner, since it’s more likely a casual athlete will have their phone with them anyway. Still, no mainstream (or even non-mainstream company) has offered both those two features at this price point or form factor together. It’s pretty much now in a category of its own.

The question is though – is the GPS any good? And have they improved other aspects of the device. Plus, what the heck is the Spotify app there for anyway? For all those questions and more, I go deep in this review. With everything from explainers on how it works to whether or not GPS or heart rate accuracy is any good. And yes, I’ll try and explain the Spotify bit too. Try, being the operative word.

Now – if you’re looking to digest everything there is to know in about 12 minutes, the following video is definitely for you. Else, you’ll have to digest the other 7,003 words in this post. Your choice.

Still want the words? Good, let’s roll.

What’s new:

Fitbit-Charge-4-Whats-New

For those Fitbit familiars that just want the quick and dirty on what’s new, you can start here. Of course, I’ll dive into all the nuanced details as always, but this helps you figure out if this is right for you or not.

– Added GPS: Previously it would use your phone’s GPS, but now it actually has GPS built-in, meaning no phone is required for an outside GPS workout
– Added Fitbit Pay contactless payments: You can add your credit card and then tap to pay at stores/massage parlors/etc… Previously only the ‘Special Edition’ units had this in most markets.
– Added Sleep Mode: Ability to turn-off notifications and other annoying middle of night things (some of this you can do via Android/iOS anyway)
– Adding Smart Wake: While not in the product at launch, the company is planning to add this down the road
– Added Spotify Control: This allows you to control Spotify from your wrist (playing on another device like your phone or computer). There is no music stored or streamed directly on the Fitbit Charge 4
– Added Agenda: You can now see planned calendar appointments for the day
– Added Workout Intensity Map: This will show HR & pace zones coloring on the GPS map post-workout
– Added more clock faces: They’ve added more clock/watch faces to the Charge 4, for some 24 different clock faces in all
– Added Sleep Score (Sorta): Essentially gives you a nightly score (0-100) on how your sleep was. You can trend this over time. This wasn’t initially in the Charge 3, however it was added more recently in a firmware update.

Obviously, the biggies here are the addition of GPS & contactless payments at the base price, all while the unit having a sub-$150 price point. There’s simply nothing else in the ballpark that has that. The next most viable mainstream unit with that duo of features in the wearables realm would be the Apple Watch Series 3 or Samsung Galaxy Active Watch/Watch 2 (depending on sales) at $199. Both of those though require roughly daily charging, whereas the Fitbit lasts a solid 4-5 days (though, far less with GPS usage – max 5 hours per spec).

The other features are more nice to haves that round-out the user experience. The new sleep score metric makes sense, and is there probably to make a point comparative to Apple’s offerings which lack any native sleep tracking. Whereas the Spotify control is mostly useless in practice, based on my testing, similar to how it was mostly useless on the Fitbit Versa 2 last year. It’s just cumbersome.

But again, the Charge 4 is all about GPS & contactless payments. That’s the major wins here, and at this price it’s pretty significant. The question is, is the GPS actually accurate?

[Note: For lack of anywhere else to put it, Google obviously announced their intent to acquire Fitbit last fall. However, that acquisition hasn’t actually closed yet. As such, it hasn’t at this juncture had any obvious impact yet. How that changes things long term, nobody has really said. So, we’ll cross that bridge if/when they can receive regulatory approval and close the acquisition.]

What’s in the box:

Fitbit-Charge4-Special-Edition-Box

There’s essentially two variants of the Fitbit Charge 4. Though, the actual unit itself is identical. It’s merely a difference of whether or not you get a fancy strap with it. Both editions include all the same features and functions. It’s only the straps that differ. In the ‘Special Edition’ you’ll get a swankier strap, whereas in the base edition you’ll get the standard strap. Both editions include two normal straps: A smaller one, and a larger one. The smaller one fits me just fine.

In my case, Fitbit sent me out a media loaner unit of the ‘Special Edition’ box, so I tried both straps. However, I also went out and bought my own regular edition Fitbit Charge 4. I’ll send back the media loaner shortly.

Once you crack the box open, you’ll find the Charge 4 sitting there:

Fitbit-Charge4-Box-Unwrapped

Under the cover of the lower half of the box is the extra straps (depending on model) and the charging cable. Also, some paper stuffs.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Box-Opened

Here’s all the parts on a table. This is for the special edition. With the non-Special Edition, it’s simply just without the fancy strap. Maybe if there’s interest I’ll post those unboxing photos too.

Fitbit-Charge4-Unboxed-Parts

A quick look at the parts, starting with the paper manual. You won’t need it after this post. Though, it does remind you to take off the band every once in a while and rinse it off to avoid any wrist wonk.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Manual

Next is the charging cable. It’s the same as the Fitbit Charge 3. Which is a nice touch (finally!).

Fitbit-Charge-4-Charging-Cradle

Next, there’s the bands and Charge 4 itself. You can see the longer pretty band strap off the watch, while the set of three regular bands (two different lengths, plus the other side of the strap) is on the table.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Special-Edition-Bands

Here’s a closer look at both:

Fitbit-Charge-4-Special-Edition-Straps-Lineup Fitbit-Charge-4-Regular-Straps-Lineup

And finally, here’s the underside of the pod itself. Note that the straps detach using the little buttons on each side of them. I’ve never had one fall apart, it’s a well-designed mechanism.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Band-Clasp

With that, let’s start talking about actual usage.

The Basics:

Fitbit-Charge-4-Basics

If you’re familiar with the previous Fitbit Charge 3, then you’ll find yourself right at home with the Fitbit Charge 4 – from a user interface standpoint there’s only minor tweaks. Inversely, if you were looking for the screen to be more visible in bright sun, you won’t find that here. It’s basically same-same.

But, we’re getting slightly ahead of ourselves. Once you’ve finished the quick setup process you’ll find yourself on the ‘clock face’, which is now customizable from approximately 24 different options, via the app:

Fitbit-Charge-4-Clock-Faces-1 Fitbit-Charge-4-Clock-Faces-2

The clock face will show various metrics, depending on which one you’ve selected. The default one shows the date/time in large font, and then down along the bottom you’ve got a single metric which you can tap to rotate through the core metrics of distance walked, stairs, Active Zone minutes, steps, heart rate, and calories.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Watch-Face-Metrics

Next, you can swipe up from the bottom to see your totals against the daily and hourly goals, as well as some summary/average. So these can include steps, your hourly step goal, and the sleep score and sleep time. Again, previously the sleep metrics weren’t shown on the wrist. The daily resting HR is a nice touch as well here. You can also see the battery level faintly at the top:

Fitbit-Charge-4-Summary-Stats Fitbit-Charge-4-RestingHR

Speaking of faint, the display is not always-on. Meaning it turns off when not actively using it. Anytime you raise your wrist, it’ll usually show up again. However, certain scenarios are more finicky. For example, sitting here typing on my laptop, turning my wrist doesn’t work. Nor does sitting on the couch watching TV (unless you pick up your entire arm and rotate). Some wearables are better here, and some are worse. Fitbit is mostly middle of the road when it comes to gesture recognition. You can always press the side button, or tap the display to turn it on.

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Meanwhile, most of the actual ‘goods’ are found by swiping from the right. The first page has the workout option (to start a workout), as well as Spotify control.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Excercise-Spotify

I’ll cover the workout bits down below in the dedicated workout section. Meanwhile, for Spotify, that controls Spotify on connected devices. That’s actually not just limited to your phone, but even works to control Spotify on your desktop or other devices. It does NOT store music on the Charge 4, nor does it stream music to the Charge 4. It’s just like a mini remote control for your other devices.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Spotify-Playlists

You can swipe through playlists, skip songs, as well as play/pause. I found it finicky at best (when it actually connected). And oft cited an error to connect and told me to restart various apps. But even when it did work, it’s just not super practical. It’s a million times faster to grab my phone and control my music. Sure, there’s probably some gym scenarios where your phone is in a nearby bag and you’re wearing headphones and somehow this is easier. But those are very few and far between.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Spotify-Playing Fitbit-Charge-4-Device-Playback-Spotify

The next ‘page’ on the Charge 4 app dashboard includes your Agenda and the Relax app. The agenda will show upcoming calendar appointments. You can also configure it to show free-time as well.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Agenda-Relax

You’ll need to configure permissions for that within the Fitbit app, so it can access your calendars. Meanwhile, the Relax timer was introduced in previous Fitbit products and walks you through breathing exercises:

Fitbit-Charge-4-Relax-Timer-Start

The next page has both timers and alarms. For timers, there’s a Stopwatch and Countdown timer. While the Alarms feature allows you to set up an alarm, which can be recurring on specific days per how you configure it. You can configure multiple alarms.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Timers

Finally, there’s the new Weather app, as well as the settings. For weather, it’ll use your current location (or, what it thinks it is anyway), or you can have it pull specific locations instead (by adding city-names on the app):

Fitbit-Charge-4-Weather

Then down in the regular settings option you can tweak all sorts of things. For example, there’s the brightness level (options include Dim, Normal, Auto), as well as the vibration levels (normal, strong), heart rate tracking, do not disturb mode, sleep modes, and heart rate zones.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Settings-Brightness

The sleep modes are notable because you can set a specific schedule, which then will automatically enable the sleep mode between those hours.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Sleep-Schedule

Remember, the sleep mode basically silences notices and reminders, as well as disables the screen from turning on. Because while that screen may be impossible to see in bright daylight outside, it’s an effin blowtorch at night in a dark room in bed when you turn your wrist and effectively blind your BFF.

Speaking of sleep, heading over to the app, you’ll see all your sleep stats there. It’ll show you that new sleep score, which is on a scale of 0-100. And you can plot sleep a number of ways from the Sleep Score to time slept to sleep schedule to hours in sleep stages. The world is your oyster here:

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You can also look more closely at any given night as well. And then if you’ve got the Fitbit Premium subscription, it’ll also offer various programs to try and get your sleep on track (or somehow better):

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Unfortunately, none of these programs appear to offer a service for dealing with crying babies or toddlers departing their beds at 3AM. Thus, I wasn’t really able to leverage these to any success. Maybe in another decade or so.

Heading a bit backwards in the app, there’s the main dashboard. This is where you’ll see your metrics for the day. Keep in mind that these metrics are showing distance walked/ran, and not inclusive of things like cycling. On this screenshot,  I had already ridden for 90 minutes. however, that’s why you see the ‘Zone Mins’ higher at 106.

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You can tap any of the metrics to get a more detailed view of that metric (and longer-term reporting), including the ability to tweak the defined goals for it.

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For your heart rate, the Charge 4 is constantly monitoring your heart rate 24×7 using the optical HR sensor on the back of it:

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All of this data is fed into the app as well, and you can see the daily trends. This also includes the points where your workouts show up too. In my case, the gaps are when I needed to recharge it. Given I did some longer rides in the last few days (2-3+ hours), I burned through GPS more quickly.

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Lastly on the list of notable Charge 4 features is, of course, the baseline inclusion of Fitbit Pay contactless payments, which allows you to load a credit/debit card onto the unit and then tap to pay at various merchants. Fitbit has a list of the banks that are supported here. Remember, it’s not about supporting Visa or AMEX or what-not, but the exact issuing bank of your card. Which means Fitbit (just like Apple does) has to literally talk to every single bank in the world and get it hooked up. Yikes.

In the US, most of the major banks are supported. Outside the US it varies. For example, my US Chase credit cards are supported, but my Netherlands based ING cards aren’t. Nor are my French based HSBC cards.

Assuming your card is supported, then adding it is pretty easy. They’ve got a little wizard they’ll walk you through, which includes setting a PIN to access the credit card pieces (from the wrist).

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You’ll then enter in your card manually, as well as address information. Also, you’ll have to agree to the terms/conditions of your card issuer:

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After that’s done you’ll get a text from your issuer to confirm the card. At which point you’ll see it listed on the app to use. Which in turn means you can use it on your wrist. To do that, you’ll long-hold the only button there is (on the left side).

Fitbit-Charge4-FitbitPay

You’ll then need to enter in your pin. This part is a bit finicky, because you need to scroll up/down through a list and then tap. It’s non-ideal, but it’s also not something you do every hour either (unless you’re a really strong shopper).

Fitbit-Charge4-Pin-Code

After that, it’ll show your card logo and the last four digits, which is where you can hold it next to a card reader to pay for your single roll of toilet paper you managed to find.

Fitbit-Pay-Visa-Card

Ok, with that we’ve wrapped up all the day to day activity tracking portions, so let’s dive a bit further into the sports tracking, especially with the GPS pieces.

Sports & Workout Tracking:

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Sure, the Charge series could always record workouts in some manner, even using the GPS of your phone. But with the addition of GPS into the Charge 4, it’s basically a mini GPS sport watch. For the basics anyway. So let’s dive straight into that.

To access the GPS modes, you’ll need to start an exercise. At this juncture, there’s really no difference between GPS or non-GPS activities. You’ll swipe right once, and choose exercise.

Fitbit-Charge-4-ExcericseMode

Next, you can choose one of the sport modes. By default there’s six of these: Run, Bike, Swim (indoor), Treadmill, Outdoor Workout, Walk.

Fitbit-Charge-4-RunMode

Which sports you choose are customizable via the Fitbit app, but more on that selection in a moment.

Below the screen for each sport on the Charge 4 is an option to turn GPS on or off for that sport, as well as configure auto-detect, auto-pause, and heart rate zone alerts:

Fitbit-Charge-4-GPS-Enabled Fitbit-Charge-4-HR-Zone-Alerts

Once you tap a sport mode it’ll give you the option to either Start that sport or set a goal. A goal can be based on distance, time, calories, or zone minutes.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Start-Zone-Goals

Once you tap that start button, it doesn’t actually start yet. Instead, it goes off and looks for GPS. Once it’s done with that, it’ll show the words ‘Connected’, which means it’s ready to roll. In my experience this takes about 5-10 seconds at most.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Connecting-GPS

After you press the play button, then it’ll start recording for realz. It’ll also show you your data. Exactly what is displayed will of course vary slightly on the sport. For example, in running, your distance is always shown at the top (total distance), then in the middle is a changeable data field, while at the bottom is your total time for the activity.

Fitbit-Charge-4-Run-Data-Fields Fitbit-Charge-4-Mid-Run

That middle data field will switch to a different metric each time you tap the screen. Those metrics (for running) are: Distance, Activity Elapsed Time, Lap Distance, Zone Minutes, Pace (current), Pace (average), heart rate (current), calories, steps (activity), Time of Day.

From a pace stability standpoint (in other words, how stable is the pace while running to use in pacing), it’s not too bad. A bit wobbly occasionally, but not horribly overall. We’ll dive into GPS & HR accuracy in later sections. The only other notable downside is that in bright sun it’s pretty darn hard to see. Can you see it? Yes. Is it super easy to see? Definitely 100% not.

If you’ve got auto-lap setup, then it’ll buzz each time the auto-lap triggers. In this case the default is using distance, and since I’m set to Americana mode, I’ve configured it for miles. But you can change that within the app to calories, minutes, or kilometers. This is configurable on a per sport mode, and then allows you to choose in half-mile or mile increments up to 5 miles.

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So for example, you’d configure cycling with a different auto-lap settings, which allows you to increase the auto-lap upwards of every 25 miles.

However, ultimately, this is the *only* thing you can configure on sport modes, aside from which sports you select. You can choose a maximum of 6 sports at any one point in time, from any of the sports you see below (the list fit perfectly in the screenshot).

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Unlike other lower-end GPS watches though, you can’t customize data fields or data pages within the sport modes. That’s a bit of a tough trade-off, albeit somewhat understandable. Still, there are other watches in this price ballpark that do allow this – but those generally lack the Fitbit finesse. And all of them lack contactless payments.

Note, due to all the pools currently being closed I can’t test the accuracy of the indoor swimming mode. The unit doesn’t support any openwater swim tracking (except time, but no distance/strokes/etc…).

One of the ‘big’ changes with the Charge 4 is the concept of Active Zone minutes and Intensity Zones. Essentially this is partially a rebranding the American Heart Association and World Health Organization’s goal of 150 minutes of exercise per week. Other wearables have long done this based on the same 150 minute goal. These Active Zone minutes are based on a combination of age and heart rate, whereby in higher (more painful) zones you get more minute credits than in lower zones. It’s like earning frequent flyer miles, whereby more expensive tickets get more miles. Here’s an example chart from that support page explaining how it works:

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I don’t think it’s a bad concept, and that segues right into the next bit which is the next Heart Rate Zone definitions. You’ll see these zones in numerous places throughout the device, usually next to that triple-up-arrow icon you see in the chart above (which means Active Zones). For example, while in a workout you’ll get notifications each time you change zones. You can lightly customize the upper and lower bounds of the more intense zones within settings on the app (tap your profile pic in the app, and scroll way down for like 5 years):

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So if you were doing an interval workout, you’ll get notifications as you go in/out of the peak/cardio zones and potentially down into the Fat Burn zone. Then, afterwards on the device, you’ll see your workout totals, including your active zone minutes (but not zone-specified):

DSC_3850

The zone specification is instead shown within the Fitbit app. First, it shows it on the map itself, changing the coloring of each portion of the GPS track. This is actually pretty visible when you do an interval workout, as I did below, as you can see my harder ‘work’ segments in red, and then the recovery bits in orange. You’ll notice how it defines those too down below as cardio/peak zones.

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In the app you can also look at pace splits for laps (even on the map), as well as other metrics from your workout:

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This workout will also be synced to apps like Strava if you’ve got it connected, or you can share it to social media platforms with photos and other overlays:

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So, what does battery life look like in GPS mode? Well, the simple math is roughly 20-25% per hour in my experience. I did however have one workout whereby in a mere 2hrs it burned through the entire battery from 70% to 0%. However, I suspect the initial 70% battery indicator may have been incorrect (another issue I’ve seen around charging). I haven’t seen that or the underlying issue on subsequent firmware updates though (including the most current firmware), so my hope is that’s a passing bug that’s been resolved.

Ultimately, the new GPS functionality does a pretty good job at turning this into a fairly good simplistic GPS wearable device.  The limiter here is battery. Thus, it’s great for a 5K, 10K, or even I suppose a brisk marathon (definitely not my first choice for a marathon however). But it’s less ideal for a long day-hike where you might hike a few hours in the morning, eat lunch, and then a few more hours later on. It likely won’t cut the mustard there.

So – I guess that gets right into the next question, is the GPS accurate?

GPS Accuracy:

Fitbit-Charge-4-GPS-Accuracy

There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I don’t place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Fitbit Charge 4 activities however, all workouts only had a single device per wrist).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.

Note: For all of these tests I did NOT bring my phone (running), and in the case of cycling, I turned off Bluetooth entirely in the control panel, just to ensure it wasn’t leveraging my phone.

First up, we’ll start with something both easy and challenging at the same time: A run in the forest. Sure, there weren’t tall buildings, but there were plenty of tall trees. The route also included more open sections as well. This is compared against a Garmin Fenix 6 and COROS Vertix. There was also a Timex R300 GPS, but alas their app doesn’t allow exporting of files directly unless it syncs to Strava first (which this one didn’t). In any case, here’s the high-level overview (and data set):

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At a high level it doesn’t look too different, but the more you zoom in, you start to see some variances. We’ll first look at the upper half, which is a blend of trees and fields, alternating.

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And while somewhat hard to see with the green line below, you can see in this section the Fitbit Charge 4 really struggled to stay on the path. It was off by about 5-15 meters, which is more than I’d consider acceptable. But, on the bright side, this was the most it was off in the entire run.

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For example, if we look at this relatively straightaway section, most of the units were close and within acceptable distance. The Charge 4 did cut the corner (at left) a bit more than the others. All of them cut the corner to some degree, with the Charge being the most aggressive.

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The same goes for some more forested sections, where the trees were much denser. Here was another area that the Charge 4 really struggled:

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Yet, a few minutes later in otherwise identical trees, it was just fine:

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From a total distance standpoint (which is however, a really bad way to judge devices, as you’ve just seen), here’s how they compared:

COROS Vertix: 9.95 km
Garmin Fenix 6: 10.05 km
Timex R300 GPS: 10.00 km
Fitbit Charge 4: 10.01 km

Ok, moving onto another one, this time a run that included some bridge underpasses, a few buildings, and a windmill. Just cause. It was also an interval run, but we’ll get into those details down below in the HR section. This set includes the same cast of characters as last time, but also with the Timex R300 GPS data included. Here’s the data set:

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As you can pretty easily see at a high level, they all look pretty darn similar. Still, we’ll zoom in. If we look at the northern section, it’s basically a long straight shot along a canal under a double-set of tall trees the entire length of the path. Still, it did well there. It also did well going under the massive spans of the gazillion-lane highway and subsequent train lines. In fact, it handled it a tiny bit better than the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, which shows a little bump in there.

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In fact, for the entire first half of the run, about the only quibble I can really make on any of them is the Fitbit & Timex decision to get wet while crossing this small body of water. But we’re only taking a few meters off either side of the bridge. Hardly a major error.

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Though, a moment later the Fitbit did get distracted by the windmill and ran straight through the middle of it. Can’t take a Californian anywhere I guess…

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Still, as you can see, we’re only talking a few meters here. Not a huge deal. However, it does bring up a pretty clear pattern, which is that the Fitbit Charge 4 tends to overly smooth corners, causing them to cut. Perhaps they’re taking a page from Apple’s book that states it’s better to smooth the corners than to have jagged lines. Of course, that opinion is wrong. And one day Apple will realize that. Until then, corner-cutting is sexy. You can see here where I followed a quick zig-zag from a parking lot to a path/road, and the Fitbit brazenly runs across a fence and shrubbery line. The others roughly get the concept right. Roughly.

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Still, a short bit later all the units very nicely handled this 10 lane highway with another 4 train lines on it. No problems here. Nice and clean!

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The remainder of the run is mostly so-so. The Fitbit was close to the running path, but actually often slightly offset about 3-4 meters in the woods. Nothin that meaningfully changed the distance, but not quite perfect.

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When all was said and done, here’s the totals:

COROS Vertix: 10.95 km
Garmin Fenix 6: 10.96 km
Timex R300 GPS: 10.93 km
Fitbit Charge 4: 10.97 km

Pretty darn close there, can’t complain too much about that!

Finally, let’s take a look at an outside ride. It’s worth noting that I’ve been using it daily for other rides (commuting, riding with kids, etc…), and all of those have been just fine. Still, here’s a longer ride out in the countryside. There was a crapton of devices on this ride testing various things. Garmin Edge 530, Edge 520 Plus, Wahoo BOLT, Timex R300, and a Garmin Fenix 6. Plus the Fitbit Charge 4 of course. Here’s that data set:

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In this first section, where the Charge 4 is up against some fairly tall buildings, there were no issues:

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Same goes for this highway exit ramp and treed underpass type tango:

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Heck, it even navigated the round-about perfectly (this time without getting distracted by the windmill in the lower left corner):

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Frankly, the bulk of this GPS track is pretty boring. It’s all perfect:

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There’s a handful of spots where it cuts the inside corners of some turns by a couple of meters, but nothing of significant worry:

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Again, the vast majority of the time it’s spot on:

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You can zoom around the remainder of the file if you want, but like I said, it’s pretty boring in terms of any GPS failures (except if you’re into windmills, then you can play ‘Where’s Waldo: Windmill Edition’, and see how many you can find).

Ultimately, I was somewhat expecting to be disappointed by the accuracy of the Charge 4, but Fitbit surprised me. It’s a totally acceptable GPS device, even bordering on pretty good in most cases. I can’t speak to how it’d perform in the tall buildings of Manhattan or some other dense city environment, but then again – most GPS devices struggle there anyway. It was mixed in tall trees here. Never horrible, just floating between ‘perfectly fine’ and ‘not quite’.

Like I said though, I think for most people the accuracy here is more than sufficient.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Heart Rate Accuracy:

Fitbit-Charge-4-HR-Accuracy

Next up we’ve got heart rate accuracy.  This roughly falls into two buckets: 24×7 HR, and workout HR.  As is usually the case with most devices these days, I see no tangible issues with 24×7 HR (it’s exceptionally rare that I see issues in this realm, given how easy it is).  It works well across both normal daily routines as well as things like sleep.  Speaking of which, I talk about RHR values and 24×7 monitoring here and why it’s interesting.

2020-04-14 16.41.47 2020-04-14 16.41.33

Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running.

For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors.  Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the Garmin HRM-DUAL or Polar H10, but also Polar H9) as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist (lately the Whoop band, Polar OH1 Plus, as well as the new Mio Pod). Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

Note: Fitbit (still, years later) doesn’t provide any way to export indoor workouts from a HR standpoint (downloadable TCX files like their outdoor workouts, the indoor workouts basically just fire empty blank files). As such, I’ve not done any comparisons there. Typically speaking watches do better indoors than outdoors (lack of bounce when outdoors, colder conditions with outdoors, vibrations outdoors). So, in essence, Fitbit is being judged on their outdoor performance which is probably making them look worse than they are. Perhaps they’ll get around to implementing a way to export indoor workouts, and then perhaps I’ll be able to give them credit for indoor performance. Perhaps.

We’re going to start with something simple here first, a relatively tame 10KM run with no major changes in heart rate. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the intervals in just a second. Here’s the first data set, compared against a Garmin HRM-DUAL chest strap and a Whoop band.

image

Digging into the first part a bit you can see that both the Fitbit Charge 4 and the Whoop strap are initially inaccurate during the build. They ramp-up too quickly, and are likely picking up cadence there. The slow-roll of the chest strap is more accurate to what I was actually feeling as I began my run down a very slight decline.

image

Still, by the two-minute marker all three were in agreement. Now don’t let this zoomed in view below confuse you, the changes in HR are mostly minor here, it’s just the scale has changed as well. Most of this is only changes of a couple of BPM. The Whoop strap was consistently underperforming here for some odd reason. But the Fitbit Charge 4 and chest strap were nearly identical. Even in some minor surges I did, the Fitbit Charge 4 stayed the course.

image

About the only time the Fitbit Charge 4 did anything funky was towards the end with one slightly higher intensity section where it seemed to stumble for about 20 seconds or so, and decreased HR instead of increased it. Though, it did properly recover.

image

Next, let’s move onto something more challenging – an interval run. This one is with the same other units as before, but also includes the Timex R300’s optical HR sensor as well. Here’s that data set:

image

Taking a closer look at the first 10 minutes (warm-up), you can see this is an example of a chest strap getting it wrong. It took a bit too long for it to lock-on to my HR, while the optical HR sensors began their inclines at the appropriate effort. The Fitbit Charge 4 was among the faster of the group here, but all of them varied by only a handful of seconds. The Charge 4 was nice and consistent throughout this warm-up.

image

Next, it’s interval time. This first bump you see is more of a kick up in pace than a true interval. Basically a build. But after that, those are legit intervals at approximately 6:10-6:20/mile (3:45-4:00/km). Nice cruisin’ pace.

image

The simple version of the above is that the Fitbit Charge 4 is mostly pretty darn good. The Whoop strap in blue did less than awesome (par for the course – I find it very often will snip the tops off of hard efforts – as it did here). The Timex R300 totally lost the boat on the first build interval, but was perfectly fine after that.

About the only complaint I’d have on the Fitbit Charge 4 is on intervals #4 and #6 (last one above), you see the green Fitbit Charge 4 line struggles a bit at the upper end. Not massively so, but not quite super accurate either.

However, where it nailed the longer intervals, it really struggled with these 30-second short sprints. In this case, for the first two of them it totally missed the boat (but hey, Whoop got it right). And on the 3rd, it got the increase part right, but seemed to get distracted after that.

image

Granted, I don’t know how often most people using this watch would be doing 30-second hard-effort sprints. The earlier 800m long intervals were probably more common.

Finally, let’s take a look at an outdoor ride. Here’s that data. As you’re probably looking at the below, it’s best summarized as: Oh dear god.

image

Now, this ride was a mess on multiple fronts – and optical HR was only one of them. So, in order to make things kinda easy to understand, I’m going to zoom in on the section from roughly 50 minutes to 90 minutes. This is the ‘cleanest’ section in terms of stability, which makes it easier to see what’s happening. And then I highlighted the parts where it’s inaccurate.

image

You know what the good news here is? I don’t have to spend any time creating a bunch of screenshots and annotations for this, it’s inaccurate just shy of 100% of the time (I’d go with a generous 98.3%). There’s nothing more to say. Fitbit’s optical sensor has always struggled outdoors riding, and that’s no different here. Same-same.

Ok, so ignoring rides, that leaves us with outdoor runs. And by and large, it’s actually pretty darn good there. The bulk of the main intervals were very close, with it only stumbling on the shorter sprints. As for indoor workouts, again, Fitbit still hasn’t figured out how to create a simple exportable file for those workouts that actually has data in it (they do so for outdoor workouts). As such, I can’t export out the potentially really nice clean indoor workouts I did on a Peloton bike that matched up to other HR devices easily. Maybe one day they’ll complete that homework and I’ll be able to show that. Or not. Their choice.

Wrap-Up:

Fitbit-Charge-4-Summary

Overall, the Fitbit Charge 4 may actually be the best activity tracker they’ve made in a long while. In recent years it seemed like Fitbit had lost their way a bit. This primarily occurred while they focused on slightly higher-end Versa and Ionic units, which struggled to compete in appeal-factor with the Apple Watch as that price dropped. The other more budget-friendly wearables just didn’t seem to get the focus of years prior.

However, the Charge 4’s addition of GPS and contactless payments not only makes it more appealing, but makes it incredibly competitive price-wise. In fact, I’d argue it makes it probably a bit underpriced. But it’s priced perfectly to sell well. If they had priced it at $179, it’d sell OK, but I think at $149 a lot of people will rightly say “That’s quite reasonable.”

The Charge 4’s GPS accuracy is more than adequate, and largely speaking doesn’t have any issues keeping up with GPS units that cost 5-7x the price of the Charge 4. And the HR sensor in running seems to be pretty solid too. The new zone features (and colored map) while minor, are nice touches that give the sport and exercise realm of Fitbit a bit more attention. There’s also areas I couldn’t review, such as the female health tracking metrics. Those aren’t new in the Charge 4, but are certainly a notable and oft-discussed component of the larger Fitbit platform.

My only complaints with the Charge 4 would be the GPS-on battery burn rate is a bit high (and only gets 4-5hrs of life there). When not using GPS, the battery is quite nice however and seems to track towards their battery life claims of 7 days. Also, I found the Spotify integration spotty at best.

Still, you’d be hard pressed to find a better all-around activity tracker with GPS at this price point. And that ignores Fitbit’s vast platform which has some of the best social focused features to try and encourage you or your friends to keep active. Even if we’re all stuck inside.

With that – thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Or just wanna save a bundle?

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 exclusive benefits on all products purchased.  By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories.  Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide.  You can read more about the details here.  By joining, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers.  And, since this item is more than $99, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Fitbit Charge 4 with GPS
Fitbit Charge 4 Special Edition (basically an extra band) – Select from dropdown

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Thanks for reading!

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93 Comments

  1. David

    This might be the upgrade my wife is looking for. Do you think you could arrange for a picture on a smallish female wrist?

  2. jww

    Really insightful as usual.

    It’s so tempting to have a kneejerk reaction “yeah but nobody buys these anymore” until being reminded they sold something like 10 million trackers (not Smartwatches) last year.

    Hopefully these guys can shed all that SFO overhead, become a rounding error in the Alphabet bourg, and reclaim some of that Day 1 innovation.

    • Indeed. Far too many people like to predict the death and downfall of Fitbit, while concurrently forgetting that they still sell astonishing numbers of units.

      Which doesn’t conflict though with their inability in recent years to produce a product that expands the reach of their product category or market.

      I’m actually optimistic with what Google will bring.

  3. John Himmelberger

    I’ve used it for the past 2 days taking off my bulky Apple Watch and like it so far. It is missing some key features like smart wake and Spotify control out of the box but they are saying there is a firmware update imminent.

  4. Mike

    Can I use this to get a good track of an open water swim? How would this compare against the polar vantage m? The vantage m regularly goes in sale for 25% off which brings it closer to the Fitbit in price.

    • No openwater swim support, just pool support.

      Beyond that, for any triathlete (or multisport athlete), the Vantage would be a far better choice. This is hyper-limited in terms of things like customization of data fields (none) or sensor support (none).

  5. Michael

    How is the vibration strength compared to the Charge 3?

  6. Ari

    Any comment/thoughts about the SpO2 sensor? Is it in the background, just helping out the sleep analysis, or are there any O2 specific stats?
    And thanks for your in-depth reviews!

  7. Oskars

    When is that Grit X review coming out?

  8. Antonio

    I think your reviews, trying to be very objective, miss a summary section with a list of pros and cons used for all the devices you test (gps, hr, number of Sport modes, …) and a ‘comparison’ section, where your subjective evaluation based on several reviews of several devices might give some hints on how to choose the best equipment. The details of single GPS traces are useless, these stats make sense when based on large datasets, not on a couple of runs.

    • Hi Antonio-

      I have a comparison tool here, which includes the Fitbit Charge 4:
      link to dcrainmaker.com

      I usually round-up devices into recommendations guides, typically after a given season of new devices. I often note the pros and cons of a given device throughout the text and then summarize those in the summary section above. They aren’t typically explicit pros/cons in a dotted list, but rather explained a bit more. The one problem I often find with pros/cons lists is that people (reviewers and consumers alike) often want to try and make them equal. Adding in non-meaningful pros or cons so that the two lists ‘feel better’.

      As for GPS traces, I’m not sure I follow. Each of those data sets includes 3-5 other GPS devices. I included above a few runs and a ride, merely because adding more and more datasets just becomes overwhelming – especially if there’s no meaningful difference between the sets. There’s no real way to get other people’s test data over long periods or done right. I’ve tried, and it’s just not viable. Getting people to record concurrently on 3+ devices each run and getting the files correct, etc is incredibly difficult. And honestly in all the years I’ve been doing this I don’t tend to see much difference between my GPS/HR/Power tracks and the general populations.Devices tend to illustrate who they really are within just a few workouts, especially when you know what types of routes/etc will illuminate that best.

      Cheers.

  9. Dave Lusty

    Has Google made any commitment either way on the platform side yet though? I seem to recall you having some worries about what will and won’t remain. If this truly is a Fitbit device before aquisition then is there any potential that it’s a brick waiting to happen? Or worse, a spy device designed to track even more personal info. I’m getting mighty tired of all the tracking going on including it seems now audio tracking through some apps, giving rise to adverts for things I’ve spoken about but never looked at.

    Sorry that descended into a bit of a rant 🙂

    • No, not entirely.

      They’ve of course confirmed that Wear OS is the future, but they haven’t specified how they’ll handle things like these budget devices that don’t/can’t do Wear OS.

      I don’t foresee a brick scenario, merely due to the numbers. Google couldn’t/can’t get away with bricking tens of millions of devices (so looking at all the Charge type/Versa type devices). I’m too lazy to lookup the exact numbers, but I’m pretty sure we’re talking close to 80-100m of those devices out there. How many are still used is questionable, but they sold 10m of various devices last year.

      If this was a smaller startup, then they could easily pull an Intel. But not here.

  10. Conrad

    Hi! Would you get one of these or take a Garmin Vivosport at half the price? Or is it not worth getting either, and instead springing for a 245 or Vivoactive 4?

    Thanks! Love the site

    • It depends. I want to dig into the Vivosport vs Charge 4 thing a bit deeper here in the next few days.

      Sure, the Vivosport is a built older, but I think on features it’s probably relatively comparative for sport tracking bits. Heck, it broadcasts your HR – so there’s something there. And you can lightly customize data screens in sport modes. GPS accuracy as I remember it was fine.

      On the flip side, it lacks contactless payments and a bit of the finesse of the Fitbit. May not matter to some.

      The rough alternatives I see for someone looking at the Charge 4 but wanting a bit more sport power are:

      A) Timex R300 GPS – $129: Seriously, it’s really good. Mostly. Next review up, maybe tomorrow…but probably Monday to be able to get both video/post done.
      B) Garmin Vivoactive 3 – $129 these days: Obviously, tons of depth there
      C) Garmin FR45 – $199- If you want a newer device, this is it, and has all the sport functions most people will ever need for running.
      D) Apple Series 3 – $199 – The inverse of the FR45, but if you want something a bit more ‘rest of day’ balanced in terms of app features, etc..

      Just off the top of my head. One could also toss the Polar Ignite in there, which I think off the top of my head as well is now priced at $199.

    • Conrad

      Hey! Thanks for the really detailed reply – I’ll wait to see the review for the Timex, looks really cool in an 80’s way. Cheers! Yeah – I was using your comparison tool when I came across a deal for a vivosport for 50 pounds, which seemed like very good value for money.

    • Chris Benten

      I have been through two Vivosports…the band does not last and it is not replaceable. Unless you upgrade every year…get the Fitbit.

    • Chris Benten

      I have been through two Vivosports…the band does not last and it is not replaceable. Unless you upgrade every year…get the Fitbit.

    • inSyt

      Lets hope the Charge 4 gets Garmin to release a Vivosport 2 and make Garmin Pay a default feature going forward even on budget devices. On the GPS side, is this using the Sony chipset?

    • Conrad

      I ended up taking the plunge on a Vivoactive 3 – gave your reviews a read and looks great! Thanks again for your help. Vivoactive 3 was 129 pounds over here, with some cheaper second hand ones available.

      Conrad

    • Carlo C

      do you have any insider knowledge if Garmin will be releasing a next gen of Vivosport?

  11. Greg

    I had a Fitbit for 5 years, and recently abandoned it for a Garmin Vivosmart (I was already in the ecosystem with the Fenix that I periodically wear).

    I finally left because Fitbit made changes to the app that made it much less useful unless you upgraded to their premium subscription model. For instance, they buried sleep data and highlighted their sleep score, which might as well be a random number, because they don’t explain how it’s calculated, so you don’t know how to improve it.

  12. Paul Crow

    Great review thanks Ray. Definitely would now consider this for my wife who likes to do frequent workouts and the odd 5k run. She’s after something small and ‘pretty’ and this fits the bill perfectly. Cheers.

  13. Dan

    Hi

    I have a fitbit charge 3 and fitbit pay was available on all editions in my region and also i have the weather app. Since all reviews I’ve seen so far says the weather app is new was this feature not on charge 3 in other region?

  14. Tomasz Roos

    Have you noticed that Fitbit is way too generous when it comes to calorie burn during the day? I used a couple Fitbit devices and switched to Garmin which shows way less calories burned. I think that Garmin’s calculations are more accurate TBH.

  15. Damien Hatfield

    Many thanks for your usual excellent review. I bought the Charge 4 because I really wanted a tracker not a sports watch. I want to wear a dress watch plus a tracker. I’ve got a Whoop 3 and although it gives great Sleep and Recovery analysis, I swim SUP and surf. The Whoop isn’t suitable for these activities. The wrist band gets screwed up and turned around, particularly surfing. I also have a Oura Ring and I’m quite surprised that the Sleep Scores and Reporting are really close with the Charge 4. If I do a run or ocean swim, I use an Apple Watch through Strava and it updates Fitbit and visa versa. After activities, I put the Breitling back on, with Charge 4 and Oura Ring.

  16. Jakub

    Can you still use your phone GPS if you go on a longer hike/ride and want to save battery?

  17. Steve from Sydney

    Getting the 24/7 heart rate data: best I know the only way to get the raw data is to do a whole of data export, and then each day is it’s own JSON file. You then have to parse that out.

    Also, maximum sampling frequency is 5s.

    Tedious just to get more insight

  18. Phil S

    Hi Ray
    You may think this is a ridiculous question…. but…
    Would this work as an activity tracker and HR monitor when worn on a different part of the body e.g. the upper arm or lower leg?
    I already have a Fenix 6 on my left wrist and an Apple watch on my right.
    I miss the Fitbit dashboards I had with my original Charge HR.
    I understand Whoop bands can be worn on the upper arm.
    Thanks

  19. Philip

    Nice review. Timex r300 looks to be an Amazfit device. Reviews on Amazon say it has a skinned version of mi fit and it looks like a GTS/gtr from the back., so notify + fitness might work for getting the GPS tracks from it. If it is like a GTS then the strap needs to be tight to give good hr readings.

  20. Alexandre R

    Hello, I really like your reviews! Good job!

    I am looking for an activity tracker for regular sport (cycling), holiday (hiking – I like to know the + and – elevation) and health (stress level, energy level, sleep quality,etc…).

    After few days of reading and video, here are my conclusions:
    – Apple watch eliminated as I am using Android and that it is quite expensive
    – Huawei eliminated due to their OS system
    – Polar eliminated as I am not looking for performance
    – Samsung, with the Active 2 version, seems to have developed more a Smart watch for applications (phone, social networks,etc…) than for outdoor activities

    That said, I would consider Garmin and Fitbit. It seems that a built-in GPS seems a good option. I selected 4 products:
    – Garmin Vivosport – not sure as this is an old model (2017/2018)
    – Garmin Vicoactive 4 / Garmin Venue : it seems to be the item that would meet most of my needs
    – Fitbit Charge 4: this new version reshuffles the cards as there is a built-in GPS as well.

    Budget is not important to me. I am looking at a long-term investment to monitor my health.

    My fear is that the Garmin watch is not comfortable at night for instance. The Fitbit Charge 4 is much more lightweight and discrete which seems nice.

    My question is quite straightforward : are the Charge 4 and the Vivoactive 4 comparable or not? If they are, I would maybe go for the Fitbit as lighter and more discrete. If you say that the Charge 4 is more comparable to the Vivosport and that the Vivoactive 4 is a higher quality product, I guess I would go for the latter, even if less comfortable at night.

    Do you agree with my analysis? Could you please help me out here 🙂

    Thanks in advance,
    Kr
    Alexandre

    • inSyt

      If you are looking for Lightweight garmin that is loaded with features, have a look at the Forerunner 245 (38.5g). The Forerunner 45s is even lighter at 32g. Also the Vivoactive 4S (40g) is 10g lighter than the Vivoactive 4 (50.5g).

      That said Fitbit does sleep way better than Garmin (one of the few areas Fitbit beats Garmin) and the Charge 4 is only 30g.

  21. Eric Kaplan

    Hi! Great review, but one correction…

    The charger for the Fitbit Charge 3 does NOT work with the Charge 4. The Charge 4 charger has a gray connector at the base of the clip. The Charge 3 charger simply does not completely snap onto the Charge 4. That’s a bummer because I like to keep chargersnin three palaces and have to buy two more now,

    • Weird, I’ll double-check in the morning. Perhaps I simply mis-labeled my older one. :-/

    • lee sze yong

      yes, the Fitbit help page says “The Charge 3 charging cable doesn’t work with Charge 4. Use the charging cable that came with your Fitbit device. The Charge 4 charging cable has a gray connector on the base of the clip.”

  22. Jonathan

    Have you found any issue with the step count? Went out on my bike with my new Charge 4 and did 5000 steps!

    • Unfortunately all wearables these days count steps while riding. Annoying indeed. I’ve given up complaining about it years ago. 🙁

    • PAUL B ANDERS

      I don’t understand why this isn’t an easily correctable problem. Certain activities such as cycling or swimming don’t have steps. In the case of using Strava to sync to your Fitbit account, the Fitbit account could query the activity type, and if it’s one with no steps, delete the steps that occur during the time of that activity. How hard can that be to implement? I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest this, I assume it just falls on deaf ears.

  23. Tom

    Does this offer running cadence? Would have thought it would be capable of doing so given the accelerometers.

  24. Jim R

    Interesting to see an elevation gain chart on one of the app screen shots. In my years of using an Ionic, a Versa and now a Versa 2 I’ve never seen that. I wonder if it’s new with this device or linked to some feature I don’t use like Laps. After using the Exercise app at the bottom of the summary screen for my run my elevation gain appears but it Is lost after leaving the summary, i.e., it’s not synced to the app or the cloud.

    Also, wouldn’t it be nice to see elevation gain during a hike, etc, as one of the stats you can scroll through?

  25. Thanks for getting out so quickly! I wanted to find out when you might be finishing up the Whoop review – any update?

  26. Steve

    I wonder whether there is any kind of ‘flight mode’ known about on this new Charge 4 please, something to turn off the Bluetooth and any other connections like that?
    I know I sound paranoid, but it’s the reason I sold my Ionic shortly after buying it.
    Many thanks.

  27. Matt

    Thanks for all the reviews, they’re really good. I am trying to decide which watch to buy between this one and the garmin 45 (priced about the same). Would you be able to offer any specific advice as they both sound pretty good? I primarily want to use it to track running data (as I am doing more running with this lockdown rather than football). I want it to have a very accurate HR monitor and good stats for the run along with decent GPS. The credit card thing does sound pretty good for fitbit and the sleep better on fitbit too. I am just not sure!

  28. Rotem

    I though about buying this one as I’m looking for the best fitness tracker for weightlifting (mostly). How would you rate its performance for that program? Also, a bit out of scope, what would u say is the best fitness tracker or smartwatch (I was also looking at your review of Garmin’s Vivocative 4s) that could help me track my gym sessions? Budgest is not an issue – convenience and accuracy are.
    Thanks!

  29. Rotem

    I thought about buying this one as I’m looking for the best fitness tracker for weightlifting (mostly). How would you rate its performance for that program? Also, a bit out of scope, what would u say is the best fitness tracker or smartwatch (I was also looking at your review of Garmin’s Vivocative 4s) that could help me track my gym sessions? Budget is not an issue – convenience and accuracy are.
    Thanks!

    • Luis

      AW. No brainer. HR quite accurate and if you prefer using the Polar OH1 as the most accurate option, you still can pair it.

      Chest straps, the golden standard for cardio activities, are less accurate in the gym as the movements that reduce the chest circumference (pressing movements) cause the strap to lose contact with your body.

      So my recommendation: AW if you want to use it alone, any option such as Garmin that allows you to pair an external HR sensor and the Polar OH1.

  30. Rob C

    Hi,
    I’ve been looking over your reviews for the Fitbit Charge 4, Polar Ignite and Garmin Forerunner 245. I bought a Charge 4 a couple of days ago and not sure I made the right choice. Prior to that I’ve been wearing a Polar M400. I’m feeling a bit lost and hope you can give me some guidance.

    While I used to run in some 5K events, it was mostly just for the sake of feeling some competition. I was never a very good runner. Currently, I use outdoor running as part of my fitness routine – along with steps on a plyo box, treadmill running, rowing machine, exercise bike and road bike. So, I’m not training really, just trying to improve fitness.

    That being said, I like numbers. I like seeing my running index on my Polar M400. I like checking my heart rate both while exercising and running. I like to see that I ran my 4 mile run a bit faster than I have before, or my resting heart rate is nice and low or if it is higher than usual. I like reminders that I haven’t been moving enough and I should get up and walk. I basically want features that help me get fit and motivate me to do better.

    Some of my main beefs with the Charge 4 are:
    1) You ain’t kidding when you said the display is useless outdoors. I can’t check my pace or heart rate. If I want to do that I still need to wear my M400.
    2) The band is leaving a rash of my arm. If I keep it I would probably get one with a silicone band. Garmin comes with a silicon band. Not sure is Polar’s band would bother me as the M400 doesn’t.
    3) The heart rate monitor on the Charge 4 is pretty slow to respond to quick changes, but not sure the Garmin or Polar one would be any better.
    4) The display turning off bugs me. I guess the Polar one would bother me too.

    So, do you think I’d be better served learning to deal with the limitations of the Charge 4 or choosing one of the other watches? I generally don’t like needing to switch between watches during the day, but I can if I need to. An all in one solution would be best.

    Thanks for any help you can give.

  31. Roland

    Hi, Here There I live the Fitbit Ion now just cost 30 USD more than Charge 4(that are Also valid for the Versa 2) Wouldn it be unwise to choose and buy the Charge 4 then,(instead of the Ion).??

    • Rob C

      I ended up going with the Forerunner 245 a couple days ago and like it so far. The band is a bit smaller than I thought but other than that no huge complaints. The wrist based HR sometimes decides it likes to read 20 points too high on a walk, right in the middle of it after it had been doing OK. I walk pretty fast (around 4.5 mph) and my arms swing, I wonder if that throws it off.

  32. PaKo

    Hi, DC,
    really insightful review, as always. Taking “pools are closed” I take your excuses to not being able to review the in-water performance 🙂 Waiting for it!
    Of course, for me, all attempts to get rid of a phone during an exercise (inbuilt GPS and payment) are useless until music is not onboard.
    I am missing the Charge 4 in your “Comparizon table”.

  33. lexar

    I do mostly indoor workouts and sports or walking and cycling outside. I always bring my phone so don’t really care about built in GPS.
    I also have several mechanical watches which I like to wear so I was not looking for something that is big which I can wear at same time.

    Would you recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR? or should I go for the Charge 4? or the garmin?

  34. Russell Butler

    great review, thanks. you seem very knowledgeable about wearable devices…i was wondering if you have a preference for which optical device gives the most accurate HR measurements? i’m looking to do a scientific study comparing long-term HRV with other measures. thanks!

    Russell

  35. JN

    Coming from a Surge (one old enough I had to get one of those 3rd party replacement band kits), I’m glad to have a GPS-enabled, remote payment watch with battery life like the Surge had when it was young. Everything about the Charge 4 is at least a generational improvement – except one: in-exercise data display. The vertical presentation is just not as readable on the fly as the square Surge display. I know that should be obvious and I didn’t think it’d bother me, but trying to flip thru data screens while exercising is tough. Maybe they should allow you to customize what elements you want on your screen during exercise, like they do with clock faces. Oh, and the wrist flip display turn on isn’t as responsive. Otherwise, it’s pretty darn good, I think.

  36. Mr Craig M Atkinson

    I haven’t used fitbit for a while and I’m amazed by how much I’ve enjoyed using this. Apart from the screen. Basically forget looking at metrics whilst excersising, becasue you’ll spend more time trying to find them that it’s worth.

    Two things I’d like your opinion on (or answers), is:

    1.splits times vs apple watch(5). I find the fitbit is average 5-8 seconds faster split time than apple — wearing both to monitor the same walk/run.

    2. Apple watch — I can’t work out how to measure lap time or HR zones, like you can on the fitbit.

  37. Dave

    I’ve been reading your reviews on fitness trackers and all of them seem to fail at cycling heart rate monitoring. Is there a watch type tracker that does a decent job at it?

  38. Manc n Cheese

    Great review!

    Couple of questions:
    1. Can Spotify be taken off the device menu (similar to how activities can be configured)?
    2. Also, does the activity use the phone’s GPS if the device’s GPS is off?

    Thanks!

  39. Tim

    If my preferred exercise is outdoor biking, is there any point to wearing any wrist-based optical heart rate monitor? I have a cheap Amazfit Bip S which registers approximately 1 in every 2 or 3 heartbeats while riding (and is also wildly inaccurate at rest, and while walking). I’d like to keep track of my data, and I’d like to be able to see my heart rate on my wrist- and still have enough money left to eat. Is there any wrist-based device worth buying to track outdoor bike rides?

  40. Dave West

    I bought a Charge 4 for my wife to replace the battered Charge 2 that she had. Overall, she’s pretty happy with it but there are a couple of issues.

    Firstly the screen is pretty much unreadable in sunlight (and we’ve had wall to wall sunshine for a month here in the UK) so difficult to see what’s going on when exercising. It also turns off pretty quickly so don’t blink – presume that is to address the other issue which is dire battery life with GPS on. It went through 30% of charge in a half hour bike ride with GPS on the other day.

    Lastly, it takes forever to connect to GPS – it reminds me of GPS watches 10 years ago where you put it outside then went to get changed and hoped it was ready when you were. Modern watches like my Fenix take seconds not minutes – so I wonder whether the battery and GPS issues are linked (maybe searching for satellites drains the battery), in which case maybe we can hope for a firmware upgrade?

    • Nicholas Rubin

      we’re having problems with the GPS too. It’s terrible! And, as in your case, all the more frustrating as my forerunner connects within seconds!

  41. rc

    Could we get more details about why the watch is bad for cycling? I was mainly considering it for cycling

    • Dave West

      I think the cycling issue with wrist based heart rate is the vibration through the handle bars, although it’s fine for gentle cycling. The GPS is OK but the Charge 4 won’t link to other sensors such as cadence or even a chest based HRM to overcome the wrist problem. It’s a general fitness tracker not a multi-sports device for which you’d pay a lot more.

  42. Ray Gordon

    I got my wife this as an upgrade from the 3 as she wanted a GPS. I have to say I’m disappointed and may return it if possible

    1. The display is way too dim. Useless outdoors.

    2. The display blanks after several seconds to save battery – even if you have pressed the button. It even times out whilst you are in the middle to choosing an exercise mode! There is no setting to adjust the timeout.

    3. The battery life is poor.

    4. I’m not convinced the GPS is accurate (compared to my Garmin 735XT). On every occasion, the recorded distance is MUCH greater on the Fitbit 4. Yesterday on a walk I recorded 9km whilst the Fitbit said 10km. This is typical. So either the Garmin is wrong or the Fitbit. I’ve tried every satellite/sampling mode on the Garmin, and even allowing for route smoothing I cannot make them match anywhere close. The Garmin has always seemed comparable to friend’s devices when on runs etc. So I’m fairly certain it’s ok.

    Anyone else have concerns about Fitbit 4 GPS accuracy?

    • Dave West

      I have a Fenix 5 plus (set for GPS & GLONASS) and accompany my wife in her cycle rides with her Charge 4 so our rides are pretty similar and I’ve not noticed any significant variation in distance. I’d totally agree on battery and screen though. The Charge 4 also behaves like an old GPS watch in taking up to 5 minutes to lock on to the satellites and you need to be in open space away from any nearby building or tree. My Fenix will lock on in the house anywhere near a window!

    • Ray Gordon

      Odd. Not tried a cycling comparison yet. Only running and walking. Will change the Garmin to 1sec sampling and test all again.

    • Ray Gordon

      We have decided to return the watch for a refund. GPS accuracy aside, the useless display, short display timeout and poor battery life are enough to make this a thoroughly disappointing product. Makes me realise just how good my trusty old Garmin 735XT is!

      Now, what to get the wife to replace the Fitbit 4…?

  43. Andrew Harichandran

    DCR: this is a super article showing excellent research methodology and excitement!

    I initially browsed asking how the GPS works as I didn’t think a watch could do that without paying for data plans. Then there are some other great uses I did not realize from this recently semi-appreciated Father’s Day gift.

    I definitely like the FitBit 4 a whole lot more now!!

    God bless you and thank you (and shout-out to my wife and step-daughter),
    Andrew

  44. Wendy A

    Hi! I loved the video and the in-depth review however I’m kind of debating whether or not to get the charge 3 or the charge 4. I mean I occasionally hike and bike, I mostly jog. And I do think they built in GPS feature is pretty nice however, since it doesn’t have a music storing capability, I’m probably gonna end up bringing my phone along the way anyway in a majority of runs. For this reason, I was wondering if the built in GPS is worth it compared to the connected GPS Fitbit was offering in the charge 3. I mean is the connected GPS, the one where it uses my phone a little bit more accurate than the built in one? and also what about the battery life? Since the charge 4 only has a few hours of battery life when the GPS is on, perhaps because the charge 3 uses connected GPS, I can still use the GPS in a lot of runs and still save a lot of that battery life for much longer.
    Is charge 4’s GPS really worth it?

    Thanks!!

    • Andrew Harichandran

      Wendy,

      I used the 3 for 18-months and now use the 4. Both are great but at the last month the 3 gave me an electronic issue where the screen showed grey and white stripes making it hard to read the watch, which according to forums they will replace the watch for free. I would guess the 4 (only been out a few months) has improved the actual hardware because so far nobody has complained about any screen issues on the 4. However, you can still get software updates on both devices, which means they’re always making sure devices are operating smoothly.

      I run and bike four times a week, an hour at a time and use the FitBit to record every workout. I prefer the 4 because I don’t like to carry the phone. The 3 has a better battery where it could last about 5 days. The 4 due to GPS lasts three days. Both charge fast in under an hour. A decent charge can be done in under thirty minutes. It’s easy to get used to charging it when it needs it.

      The GPS with the phone is about the same on the 3 as without the phone on the 4. They both are accurate and only sometimes may glitch. Even those times you run without any GPS are okay because you still have record of your heart rate intensity and time of run, which I think are more important than seeing where you ran. If you’re doing the same run then you probably already know the distance and can still figure out your pace and how well you did.

      If I were you I would go with the 4. The 4 doesn’t cost much more ($130 vs. $100) and I would think the screen issue has been fixed because I just searched and couldn’t find any forums of anyone complaining about the screen malfunction on the 4. It sounds like from what you said that the only deciding factor leaning you to the 3 should be the longer battery life, but I’ve already gotten used to having to charge my battery more on the 4.

      Best regards,
      Andrew

    • Andrew Harichandran

      Wendy,

      Sorry it’s $150 vs. $100… Now this price differential is a little more debatable…

      I am still trying to push you to the 4… But either one is great value.

      –Andrew

    • Ray Gordon

      Hi Wendy.

      We really could not get on with the compromised design of the Charge 4.

      Have returned it for a refund and bought my wife a Garnin Forerunner 35 instead.

    • Andrew Harichandran

      Wendy,

      FitBit Charge 4 just sent an update for everyone a few days ago called “Dynamic GPS” to maintain a longer battery life for those who workout with their phone.

      Best regards,
      Andrew

    • wendy A

      Hello Andrew,
      Thanks for replying. I appreciate the insight. Also that´s great news. Its like Fitbit read my mind. I think I am going to go for the charge 4.

  45. Jerry Highfill

    DC, you mentioned that the “4” had the same 3 brightness levels that the “3” did but my question, is the display actually brighter? My wife had a “2” and she says that it was brighter than the “3” she currently has. She complains that she has a hard time reading it and as a consequent doesn’t worry it very often.

  46. Jim

    One of the recurring knocks on Fitbit is the paywall subscription model for some features. I note you did seem to find that an issue here.

    I am looking for a fitness tracker that can last 10 hours in GPS mode even if it’s reduced intervals. I go hiking and often bushwhack and want to look at a map of where I was. the Charge 4 sounds like a “low interval sampling mode” away from being perfect.

  47. Jan

    Have you used the tracker on a hike? I love the idea of GPS without my phone but wonder if the Charge 4 GPS includes elevation stats.

  48. Nicholas Rubin

    Is anyone else having serious problems connecting to built-in GPS on their Charge 4? We have updated, synced, charged the battery, tried in different locations (avoiding all well-known GPS interfering obstacles) etc but my wife’s Charge 4 still hangs – on the odd occasion it will connect half-way through an activity. What’s more, my forerunner connects within seconds in the same locations/circumstances!

    • Dave West

      My wife has the Charge 4 (I have a Fenix 5 Plus and we often walk or cycle together so I have a comparison). I was initially very disappointed with how long it took to connect to GPS (often up to 5 minutes), but once locked on was pretty steady although the track was less accurate the Garmin but distance similar.

      The recent firmware update has improved lock-on times a bit provided you move into fully open space (even a nearby tree spooks it and that’s not the case for my Garmin). However on our last walk, the Charge 4 announced mid-walk that it had lost signal and was turning GPS off. It then drew a straight line back to the finish which was largely open space so nothing to block a signal. Normally if a device loses signal it will try to find it and you might get a bit of a straight line but then resume normal service as it lock on again. It’s never hung up yet!

      My conclusion is that the GPS is poor at locking on, much like my devices were from 10 years ago, and not good at keeping it. However we seem to be the exception and these issues rarely seem to be mentioned in reviews or by other users. Have we got duff devices?

    • Nicholas Rubin

      Hi Dave. It does sound like we have very similar experiences. I fear we may have duff devices but if we return under warranty, should we get a new Charge 4 or something else? Unfortunately my wife is wedded to Fitbit but is Charge 4 the only Fitbit device with GPS built-in?

  49. 4-5 hrs is okay, it’d be better for a few more hours though.

  50. Chris

    Can anyone comment on the HR accuracy during a vigorous CrossFit type workout where there might be constant varied movement? For example: Going from Burpees to pull-ups to jump rope and so on, all within one workout in a short period of time….. Thanks!!