JUMP TO:

BUY NOW:

  • Amazon.com
  • REI

Fitbit Charge 5 In-Depth Review

Fitbit’s new Charge 5 aims to take their most well-known wearable series and catapult it forward with a revamped AMOLED display that doesn’t feel like a TI-82 graphing calculator that previous Fitbit Charge units have had, while still trying to maintain the comparatively long battery life that Fitbit units are well known for. All while at the same time pulling in the majority of the Fitbit Versa 3 and Fitbit Sense advanced health metrics from those units released a year ago.

And in many ways, the company actually succeeds here. In using the Charge 5 for almost two weeks now, I’ve got a pretty strong grasp on where it works well, and where it (really) struggles. Though, some of the most widely anticipated features from Fitbit – the Daily Readiness Score & Workout/Recovery Suggestions – aren’t live yet. It’s not clear when they will be, other than “coming soon”. So we’ll set those features aside for later testing – as they’re arguably the most important new feature on not just the Charge 5, but across Fitbit’s lineup, once released.

Within this review I cover all the newness first, followed by basic usage – then athletic usage in sports. And while I’ll probably spoil this review somewhat, I’d very strongly encourage you to read the sport accuracy sections. The Charge 5 makes some painful tradeoffs I’ve not seen in over a decade of testing wearable devices. For some folks, these tradeoffs might not matter – though I’d argue at this price point they absolutely should.

Finally, note that Fitbit sent over a media loaner Charge 5 to test. As usual, I’ll get that back to them here shortly. Along with the second device they dropped off, after problems arose with the first device. I’ll go out and pick up my own to continue testing the new features once they arrive. If you found this review useful, you can use the links at the bottom, or consider becoming a DCR Supporter which makes the site ad-free, while also getting access to a mostly weekly video series behind the scenes of the DCR Cave. And of course, it makes you awesome.

With that, let’s talk newness.

What’s New:

FitbitCharge5-What'sNew

Here’s the simplified round-up of new features or changes coming to the Fitbit Charge 5:

– New AMOLED color touchscreen display
– New display is 2X brighter than Charge 4 display
– Added an always-on display mode (both for daily use and workout only use)
– Adds Daily Readiness score (requires Fitbit Premium, not available till later this year – not on-wrist)
– Adds workout & recovery recommendations based on daily readiness score (requires Fitbit Premium, not available till later this year)
– Adds high and low heart rate notifications (outside of workouts)
– Adds EDA (Electrodermal Activity) measurement for stress tracking
– Adds ECG sensors/functionality (not available till later this year)
– Adding AFIB detection, PDF export for doctors (not available at launch)
– Battery life claimed at 7 days
– Still has built-in GPS workout tracking
– Still has all the usual Fitbit activity tracking (steps/sleep/24×7 HR/etc)
– Still has sleep score, sleep stages, smart wake alarm (and Premium subscription adds more depth in metrics)
– Price is $179 USD (includes 6-months membership to Fitbit Premium)
– 10% thinner than Charge 4

Of course, some of these items above don’t fully cover the extent of the underlying features, for example the Daily Readiness score is a culmination of multiple features, including taking HRV measurement. Unfortunately, that feature – along with the workout/recovery recommendations feature, isn’t yet available on the Charge 5. Nor is the ECG functionality. All of those are “coming soon” but Fitbit hasn’t defined an exact date. (Update: Actually, Fitbit’s own app now says these features are to be expected in “an update in the coming months”)

clip_image001 clip_image001[6]

Now notably, there are also features missing from the Charge 5 that the Charge 4 had. These include:

– No Spotify music control anymore (previously you could control your phone’s Spotify music)
– No more weather app (you could see the weather at a glance)
– No more guided breathing/relaxation sessions on the device itself (these are moved to the app)
– Removal of the altimeter (and thus, stairs tracking)

My bet is that we’ll see these software features added at some point (except of course the stairs tracking, as that’s reliant on hardware that’s not there anymore). The Charge 5 appears to support a more slimmed-down version of the apps that Fitbit has on their watches (Versa/Sense), and thus my guess is that like the other features here, these simply didn’t make the cut for launch.

Also, note that Fitbit won’t be including sleep snoring tracking with the Charge 5. Fitbit says the reason for that is that it lacks a microphone. And while that’s true, one would note that didn’t stop Samsung (and other companies implementing it) by simply using your phone when plugged in on your bedside table.

At this point, most of the newness you’ll see on the Charge 5 is more hardware than software. It’s clear (obviously) that Fitbit’s shift from one underlying platform (and probably older codebase) to an entirely new platform required them to cut out some features and delay others until later. Historically speaking Fitbit has a mixed track record on implementing promised features. However, in the last 18 months or so they’ve got pretty good about hitting their timeframes for features that didn’t make launch day. Hopefully, that continues here as well.

In The Box:

FitbitCharge5-Box

Fitbit has one version of the Charge 5 – gone are the various Special Editions of years past. That means that everyone gets contactless payments, and as I’d soon discover – everyone gets a band that doesn’t suck.

Fitbit-Charge-5-Box-Back

Inside the box you’ll find the Charge 5 lookin’ up at ya, with its extra longer strap and power cord hanging out below deck:

Fitbit-Charge-5-Box-Opened

Here’s everything laid out:

Fitbit-Charge5-Box-Contents-Unboxed

As is customary, Fitbit has managed to create yet another charging cable. There’s no tech company that likes creating new charging cables more than Fitbit. I feel like there must be one person at Fitbit HQ who spends the full year trying to come up with a slightly different charging cable than the previous year. Undoubtedly there are presentations about it, deep discussion, napkin renders shown off in a narrated Kickstarter-like video…all the usual new product launch goodness. And then the video ends with building ‘epic’ music, a new charging cable is unveiled from the shadows.

Like an on-stage Apple product launch, except literally “One more thing…”.

Look, I’m not asking for USB-C connectivity or wireless charging here. I’m just asking for Fitbit to manage to keep just a single charging cable for more than one year. Any charging cable. I don’t even care which one – just pick one and keep it. If Samsung, Garmin, Apple, Polar, Suunto, and everyone else can keep the same cable for upwards of half a decade at a time, then so can Fitbit for more than 12 months. After all – they literally had a dozen different options of their own to choose from.

Fitbit-Charge5-Charger-BackSensor

In any event – the good news: The band is so much better than the Charge 4. Worlds better. It feels more flexible, fits better, and the material isn’t as stiff. It’s great.

Fitbit-Charge5-BandNew

Note though that the Charge 4 (below left) and Charge 5 (below right) bands are very much *NOT* interchangeable. In fact, the attachment systems are directly inverted on the Charge 5 compared to the Charge 4.

Fitbit-Charge4-vs-FitbitCharge5-Bands

With that, let’s start using it.

The Basics:

Fitbit-Charge5-Basics-Overview

As you’ve probably surmised, the Charge 5’s AMOLED display is a touchscreen. All interactions occur via this touchscreen, save holding the sides for certain health measurements (such as the EDA scan, and down the road the ECG capabilities). Fitbit says this new AMOLED touchscreen is 50% brighter than the previous Charge 4 – and frankly, I think that’s probably an understatement. The previous Charge 4 was very difficult to use outdoors in bright sunlight, whereas the Charge 5 is silly easy on sunny days to read during a workout.

clip_image001

Touch responsiveness is generally quite good. Even with sweat on the screen, or water droplets from rain, I didn’t have any major issues navigating the user interface. While taking a shower can cause some issues with touchscreen devices, it wasn’t an issue for me on the Charge 5. Only once did I find the Charge 5 had started to self-navigate the menus. And that’s easily solved with a water-lock option if you want it:

Fitbit-Charge5-Water-Lock-Screen

The display has three brightness levels you can tweak if you want, as well as differing timeout options. By default, the Charge 5 will turn off the display when you’re not looking at it, and then as you raise your wrist, it’ll turn on the display. Historically I’ve had so-so performance from Fitbit devices in how fast it recognizes the wrist-raise, but the Charge 5’s algorithms/hardware is easily the best device Fitbit has made in that realm. It’s just a smidge below where Apple’s gesture/wrist-raise recognition is, but is still very good.

Most importantly though, is that if you use the Charge 5’s new always-on mode, then the display stays on the entire time. When you put your wrist down, the display will dim (but still be totally readable), and then when you raise your wrist it’ll significantly brighten up. This mode substantially reduces your battery life though to a claimed 2 days, versus the claimed 7 days (though, I never got anywhere near 7 days in the default not-always-on mode).

Fitbit-Charge5-Always-On-Display

Additionally, there’s an option within the always-on display mode to have the display turn off at night between specified hours. By default that’s 10PM to 6AM. During those hours it’ll act like the normal mode does, and turn off the display to save battery.

Fitbit-Charge5-Night-Alwyas-on_Off

Now, back on the main display, this is where you see your stats for the day. You can tap it to iterate through key stats like steps, calories, heart rate, and active zone minutes. It’ll show a progress bar of those stats along the side.

Fitbit-Charge5-Dashboard-Steps Fitbit-Charge5-HeartRate-Dashboard

If you swipe up, you’ll get a dashboard of these same metrics:

Fitbit-Charge5-Consolidated-Metrics

Keep swiping up and you’ll iterate through a few more metrics, including your remaining activity that hour, then your heart rate:

Fitbit-Charge5-ActivityInHour Fitbit-Charge5-Current-HeartRate

After that, you’ve got sleep and your sleep score. I’ve seen a handful of days where the sleep score takes hours to populate here, despite showing up on the Fitbit app. Other days it shows up near immediately. Fitbit says this is because the sleep score is computed cloud-side, and thus has to sync back to the device – which sometimes doesn’t happen immediately.

Fitbit-Charge5-Sleep-With-Sleep-Score

After that is SpO2. This shows your SpO2 reading from the prior night. Well…most times. Other times, not so much.

Fitbit-Charge5-SpO2

Following that metric there’s the total days you’ve exercised this week. None of these metrics allow a deeper dive by taping on them, unfortunately, something that’s pretty much the norm for every other tracker on the market.

You can pull data from the Fitbit app though instead. And the app allows you to dive deeper into any of these metrics, looking at historical data and all:

clip_image001[13] clip_image001[15]

For example, on sleep tracking, you’ll get sleep phases, exact times you went to sleep, and more. Note that I can’t compare the validity of these sleep phases to any other data points, so I don’t know if they’re accurate or not. Though, I will say the sleep times were accurate in all cases. Further, it did properly pick up naps as well, and contributes those towards my total sleep for the day.

clip_image001[17] clip_image001[19] clip_image001[21]

Back on the device, if you swipe to the right you can see your smartphone notifications. These are from my iPhone, but on my Fitbit I can’t respond to any of these, though I can clear them.

Fitbit-Charge5-Smartphone-Notifications

Swipe again and you’ll get to the exercise menu, which I’ll cover in the next section.

After that, you’ve got timers and alarms you can set. Then swipe one last time and you’ve got the EDA Scan. EDA will measure your electrodermal activity (roughly another word for galvanic skin response). That then feeds into the stress management dashboard pieces. Essentially they’re measuring the micro changes in electrical resistance of the skin based on things like sweat. This data is then combined with other factors, like heart rate or blood pressure. There are different durations you can run it in, but Fitbit defaults to a 3-minute scan when you open it up:

Fitbit-Charge5-EDA-App

You’ll hold both sides of the Charge 5, and then it’ll start the countdown timer. These types of tests are my favorite, because I just have to sit there and do nothing. Well, technically it’ll tell you to “just breathe” – I guess in case you were thinking of not breathing or something.

Fitbit-Charge5-EDA-Scan-In-Progress

Once it’s done it’ll vibrate and then you’ll tell it how stressed you are:

FitbitCharge5-EDA-Scan-Finish-Feelings FitbitCharge5-EDA-Scan-Finish-Feelings-Smiley

At the same time it’ll show you how many EDA responses it got. This number seems to always be 23-24 for me, but apparently, a lower number is best. It’ll also show your starting and ending heart rate. Somehow my ending heart rate always increased, which is kinda odd (as in almost every other do-nothing test, it’ll decrease).

Fitbit-Charge-5-EDA-Responses-23-View-Responses Fitbit-Charge-5-EDA-Responses-Heart-Rate-rise

In any event, you can then open up the app to look at your larger stress management picture:

clip_image001[23] clip_image001[27]

The stress management score (1-100) has three components, which I noticed changed slightly in makeup from a year ago with the Sense & Versa:

Responsiveness (up to 30 points): This comes from all the sensor data, including heart rate variability (HRV) data, resting HR data (and two metrics based on that), and then the skin EDA data from the EDA scan.

Exertion (up to 40 points): This looks at daily steps, weekly activity norms, and fitness fatigue score.

Sleep Patterns (up to 30 points): This looks at REM & Deep Sleep from the night before, sleep debt over time, and restlessness during the night.

So ultimately, the ‘Responsiveness’ portion of the score is the piece that comes from the EDA scan you just did. Whereas all the other data actually comes from things outside the EDA scan.  This is a little weird that all of this is rolled under a Stress Management score, when only one component is actually theoretically stress, and the others are exertion and sleep. I suspect in some ways, that’s what the Daily Readiness score is attempting to mitigate – once it’s released. Though, that’ll ultimately mean you’ve got three scores to balance:

– Stress Management Score
– Sleep Score
– Daily Readiness score

Some of these scores, like the Daily Readiness Score, will only be available for paid Fitbit subscribers.

Beyond that, you’ll get plenty of data from within the app on other metrics like resting heart rate (RHR), breathing rate, heart rate variability (HRV), SpO2, and skin temperature. Though, free users will only see up to 7 days of data on some of these metrics. Whereas paid subscribers will get longer historical data.

clip_image001[29] clip_image001[31] clip_image001[33]

For the most part, data like resting heart rate and breathing rate aligned well with data that I have from a Garmin and Whoop 3.0 device that I wear daily/nightly. Data such as HRV/Breathing Rate/SpO2/Skin Temp/RHR are all taken at night while you sleep – rather than during the day.

And almost all of this data is derived from the optical heart rate (HR) sensor on the back:

DSC_6164

That optical HR sensor has a green light that’s illuminated for regular heart rate readings, and a red light that’ll be illuminated for SpO2 readings. From the outside, this appears to be the exact same sensor that’s in the Charge 4. However, as you’ll see in the accuracy section – I have my doubts about that. Though, one can get dramatically different results on the same sensor if a company varies how much power they deliver to the sensor as well as the case design around it. For example, by lowering power to the sensor they’ll save battery for a brighter display, but usually at the cost of workout accuracy.

Speaking of the case design, finally, the band itself. This is swappable. As noted the original/stock band is great, but you can also use other bands from Fitbit. You simply press the little button/tab and the band will pop out. It’d be impossible to pop out while wearing, as the latch has to be undone from inside the strap.

DSC_6167

Fitbit makes other bands of course, and I tested out the sports band as well.

Fitbit-Charge5-vs-Charge5-SportsBand

It was nice, and a slight upgrade from the regular band. Though, nothing I’d go out of my way to pick up.

Sports & Workout Tracking:

Fitbit-Charge5-Sports-Modes

The Charge 5 carries virtually all of the same features as the Charge 4 in terms of sports and fitness tracking. It was largely a lateral move from one device to the next, rather than an increase of features (or loss of features). However, the most important aspect of the Charge 5 from a sports & fitness aspect is that you can actually clearly see the display/screen on a sunny day. Previously with the Charge 4 that was rather difficult.

To begin, you’ll swipe over to the exercise menu. It’s here you can choose which sport profile to use. The Charge 5 allows up to 6 sport profiles at once on the device, though you can change those profiles from the app. Honestly, I’m not super clear why it needed to be limited to six. Other companies support upwards of 15-20 profiles on the device itself (and then you change/add more on the app). Obviously, there’s a balance between ease of navigation in the menu and lots of profiles, but I’d think that somewhere in the 10-15 range would be totally fine here UI-wise.

Fitbit-Charge5-Choose-Sport-Mode

You can see within the exercise shortcuts menu on the app which ones are currently set up on my watch, and which ones I can add:

clip_image001[35] clip_image001[37]

As with the Charge 4, you can’t customize the data pages on any of these sport profiles. The only customization some sport profiles allow is whether or not to enable auto laps, and then if so – exactly how that lap occurs:

clip_image001[39] clip_image001[41]

Once you’ve selected a sport profile on the Charge 5, you can then choose to add a goal. Your choices there are Zone Minutes, Distance, Time, and Calories. As you complete the activity it’ll show you progress towards that goal.

Fitbit-Charge5-Choose-Goal

The other workout-related options, which are toggled from the device, include:

A) Heart Rate Zone Notifications: You’ll be notified when you go from one zone (e.g. Fat Burning) to the next (e.g. Cardio)
B) GPS: Simply on or off (you can also toggle which GPS source to use in the main settings, either: automatic, phone, or built-in)
C) Auto Pause: Whether or not to pause the recording when you stop
D) Run Detect: This will detect when you’re running and offer to start an activity
E) Always-On Display: This will enable the always-on display for just that sport mode, and then return back to normal settings after the workout

Fitbit-Charge-5-Sport-Mode-Settings

With all that set up, we’ll wait for GPS and start our run. In my case, I’ve set the Charge 5 to use the built-in GPS rather than my phone. It’ll default to using your phone if that’s within range (connected via Bluetooth). Note that it’ll show the GPS status at the top of the screen, so you’ll want to make sure it’s fully connected. Fitbit also recommends waiting an additional 30 seconds after initial connection to confirm strong lock.

clip_image001[10]

Once out and rolling, you’ll get your distance (and GPS status) shown on top, followed by a changeable middle metric, and then your total time on the bottom:

clip_image001[6]

If you tap the middle of the screen, that middle metric will iterate through various data points, including: Heart rate (with Zone), Pace (current), Average Pace, Activity Time, Time of Day, Steps (in activity), Distance, Active Zone Minutes, and Calories. If in other workout types, the data fields will vary slightly.

clip_image001[8]

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 miles I’m getting laps every mile.

One of the metrics you’ll see throughout the Charge 5 (including the previous Charge 4) is Active Zone minutes, based on heart rate zones.

Essentially this is partially a rebranding of 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:

image

I don’t think it’s a bad concept, and that segues right into the next bit which is the 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, then ‘Activity & Wellness’, then Heart Settings, then Heart Rat zones):

clip_image001[43] clip_image001[45]

As you shift between different intensities during a workout, you’ll get a notification with the new zone name. I’ve found these can be slightly finicky to make go away though. In other words, the notifications stay on the screen too long, and don’t always disappear immediately when I tap them.

clip_image001[12]

In any case, you’ll also see these zones within the Fitbit app on GPS tracks afterwards, as well as in the summary page for the active zone minutes:

clip_image001[47] clip_image001[49]

Speaking of which, upon completion of your workout you’ll get a small summary screen on the Charge 5 itself:

clip_image001[14]

But most data will come from the app afterwards. These workouts can also sync to platforms like Strava, which is how I configured mine. Here’s a look at one workout’s summary details:

clip_image001[51] clip_image001[53] clip_image001[55]

From a battery standpoint using built-in GPS, I seem to be floating in the 15-18%/hour range (with always-on off), which is a bit better than I saw with the Charge 4. I didn’t track every single workout though, nor the differences between always-on and not-always-on in terms of exact burn rates. I suspect if you’re concerned about whether or not this unit will last the duration of a longer workout (e.g. 3-5hrs), then honestly, this probably isn’t the right device for you.

Speaking of concerns, let’s shift to accuracy. Because that goes hand in hand with sports and fitness. After all, once Fitbit rolls out the readiness score and workout/recovery recommendations in the next few months, if the heart rate and other metrics aren’t accurate – then those recommendations will be off too (substantially so in some cases).

GPS & Heart Rate Accuracy:

Fitbit-Charge5-GPS-Accuracy

Normally I’d start this section with a stock template on how I do testing for accuracy. But this time we’re going to do things differently. Not the testing, but the explaining. I tested here just like I’ve done for every other device.

Simply put – the Fitbit Charge 5 exhibits workout issues I haven’t seen in more than a decade of wearables testing. While the device contains built-in GPS and a built-in optical heart rate sensor, it doesn’t seem capable to get accurate data out of both those components at once. You have to choose between accurate GPS data, or accurate heart rate data.

How do you choose? By loosening the band. If the band is too snug, the GPS will loose signal (for the duration of the workout) – though heart rate accuracy is sometimes passable. If the band is too loose, you’ll lose heart rate accuracy – but GPS will stay locked on just fine.

No, I’m not kidding.

I’ve had late night conference calls packed with Fitbit engineers and employees to discuss this issue, and ultimately, this seems to be how the device is designed. The GPS chipset is under the display, towards the bottom of the device. That by itself is fine and normal, after all – it’s the antenna that matters. As with most wearables these days, the antenna forms a part of the case. As you tighten the band, the Charge 5 loses its view of the sky, and GPS drops out.

Instead, Fitbit recommends the Charge 5 be worn so loose that you can slide one full finger under the unit between your wrist and the Charge 5. Of course, to the surprise of nobody – doing that means heart rate accuracy becomes a non-starter. No company, including Fitbit themselves, have ever recommended a device be worn that loosely. In fact, even Fitbit’s own Charge 5 reviewer’s guide still states to wear it snuggly.

image

In fact – Fitbit was actually the first company to include tightening instructions in their media kits and reviewer’s guides years ago, an attempt to have reviewers not screw up accuracy testing.

I’ve got boatloads of data at this point. I’ve even got runs where I went out and subdivided the run into trying different strap tightness levels to validate theories – finding the exact point on the band where GPS gets lost. However, the best way to illustrate this is a single run I did two days ago.

image

As for other runs, here’s one from yesterday – the band initially did OK on this tighter setting. Then, about 8-10 minutes into the workout, it lost connectivity. It never found it again:

image

You can see the actual route of the other devices (the green below is the Fitbit Charge 5), and even crossing gigantic open meadows slowly it didn’t find GPS again.

image

And one from a few hours ago, this time with the sport band and on the other wrist. As soon as I tightened the band to get good heart rate, GPS went out the window (blue line where I actually went). It maintained it for about 30 seconds, and then lost it for the rest of the run.

image

And of course, on this run, the pattern was the same as others – heart rate with looser band settings was bad/non-responsive, but GPS was fine. As soon as I tightened up the band, the HR lock was great – and the GPS disappeared.

Now, there is some middle-ground if you don’t apply any intensity at all. For example, this run was mostly steady-state, and in this case as long as I didn’t increase or decrease intensity it was fine, otherwise you can see it’d lose the plot almost every time. But this is the *SINGULAR* workout in near-daily runs the last almost two weeks that has resulted in anything semi-passable.

image

Most others look like this:

image

And corresponding GPS that looks like this, complete with vast swaths of the run skipped:

image

Now mind you, if we were to set aside the GPS entirely – and looking at heart rate, when nice and snug I can get good results for most things that don’t involve sub-1-minute sprints/intervals. For example, check out this Peloton workout from yesterday with fairly high intensities:

image

Of course, indoor cycling is arguably the easiest thing for optical heart rate sensors to lock correctly. There’s no pounding of the pavement by your feet to distract the signal (cadence lock is a common issue in running, including for the Charge 5).

And certainly, I understand that with a smaller device companies will struggle to have more accurate heart rate across all activities. Some companies mitigate this by allowing connectivity to external heart rate sensors (Fitbit doesn’t). But actually, that’s not really where my main issue is. As shown, when I tighten the band enough, I can generally get mostly OK results for all but the hardest/shortest intervals.

It’s the fact that when I tighten it I simply lose GPS altogether that’s my major concern. Especially since it doesn’t generally alert you when it loses GPS – so it’s not something you find out about till you get back after your workout. And in fact, there were numerous cases where it said it had GPS lock during a workout portion (since I was constantly checking), only to later not have plotted that at all.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for accuracy, this probably isn’t the tracker for you. Or at least, it’s not for me.

(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.)

Wrap-Up:

Fitbit-Charge5-Review-Wrap-Up

For day to day use, the Fitbit Charge 5 manages to take all the best aspects of the Charge series and apply a super clean and brilliant display, with an easy to user interface – all driven by the usual Fitbit app/cloud platform that people have used for more than a decade. While battery life doesn’t seem quite as good as in the past, it’s likely good enough for most people.

Unfortunately, while it works great as a daily tracker, it falls apart for workout tracking. Having to make a choice between functional GPS and functional heart rate doesn’t seem like a typical caveat that users should have to contend with when buying the most expensive activity tracking band on the market. Nor should users have to fiddle to find the *just right* hole on their band so that GPS doesn’t drop-out. Sure, I can understand the difficulties in finding super accurate heart rate in a device this size. But I can’t grasp that simply tightening a band causes GPS to drop-out.

And ultimately, I think Fitbit knows this is a problem. At no point during our conference calls did Fitbit express any significant surprise at the loss of GPS. Instead, it was always about mitigation (keep loosening the band). A second device Fitbit sent over yielded identical results. As did their suggestions to try the sport band, along with different results. Ultimately, the pattern was repeatable on every outdoor activity: Choose between GPS or heart rate.

Now of course, if you always run/ride/hike/etc with your phone, then the GPS problem largely goes away (as it’ll use your phone’s GPS instead). And in that case, you can simply tighten the strap per Fitbit’s own recommendations, and doing so will result in mostly OK heart rate results. Same goes if you plan to use the unit for indoor workouts, such as in a gym – where GPS doesn’t matter.

Still, it’s hard to reconcile the significant GPS signal issues here with a company that’s generally put out solid products. With that, thanks for reading.

Found This Post Useful? Support The Site!

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.

If you're shopping for the Fitbit Charge 5DEL or any other accessory items, please consider using the affiliate links below! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. Even more, if you use Backcountry.com or Competitive Cyclist with coupon code DCRAINMAKER, first time users save 15% on applicable products!

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter! That gets you an ad-free DCR, access to the DCR Quarantine Corner video series packed with behind the scenes tidbits...and it also makes you awesome. And being awesome is what it’s all about!

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!

Found This Post Useful? Support The Site!

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.

If you're shopping for the Fitbit Charge 5DEL or any other accessory items, please consider using the affiliate links below! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. Even more, if you use Backcountry.com or Competitive Cyclist with coupon code DCRAINMAKER, first time users save 15% on applicable products!

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter! That gets you an ad-free DCR, access to the DCR Quarantine Corner video series packed with behind the scenes tidbits...and it also makes you awesome. And being awesome is what it’s all about!

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!

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
If you would like a profile picture, simply register at Gravatar, which works here on DCR and across the web.

You can click here to Subscribe without commenting

Add a picture

*

50 Comments

  1. Eni

    1st 🙂

    “the attachment systems are directly inverted on the Charge 5 compared to the Charge 4” Meaning, you could link a Charge 4 with a 5? *g*

  2. Eni

    2nd 😀

    I forgot: is fitbit the only one still launching fitness tracker bands? All others do seem to have stopped this (Polar Loop, Garmin Vivosmart -sport -fit, etc.), sadly.

    • Pavel Vishnyakov

      Considering how big Charge 5 is, I think Fitbit should have stopped with bands as well. Bands are great when they are small and discrete. When the band is as big and as bright as the watch – what’s the point of choosing a band over a watch?

    • It’s interesting. I will say that the band is roughly half the width of the FR745 I have on the other wrist. So I can see the appeal there.

  3. Phil S

    Thanks Ray
    What a bizarre set of accuracy trade-offs.
    Please can you keep us updated if the situation improves through any manufacturing or other changes
    Thanks

  4. Jason Wilson

    I love how both Fitbit, Whoop and Apple all announce their products with future release dates. Then we all start checking Ray’s site daily to see if the review is up yet, for me I am eagerly waiting the Whoop 4.0 review.

    I wish Garmin did the same, instead we comb the FCC site and then start guessing what might come and then eagerly check out DCR the day the Short Term Confidentiality expires.

    I am looking forward to next week. Whoop and Garmin reviews I am hoping for!!!

  5. Mark

    Awesome review. I was going to get this but I need both heart rate and gps accuracy so it’s a total no go.

  6. Mark

    I haven’t looked too far beyond the whole iPhone part, but do you think this week’s EU proposal about standardized charging on “radio devices” will have any effect on wearables?

  7. Robert

    Premium. Another subscription based service. I no longer use Fitbit but it’s may favorite gift to give to relatives. Guess I’m going to have to find something else to gift because I don’t want to trap anybody into a subscription service. I realize it’s optional but… nah. I really hope that this causes this Fitbit to fail because if Garmin and others start charging a subscription fee for premium features then I’m just going to sit on my couch, eat potato chips and get unhealthy.

  8. JR

    This sounds like a genuinely defective design that should never have gone to market.

    • Jason

      Yeah, what in the world lol? I got to the GPS/HR section and did a comedic spit take. So it’s a fitness tracker that..can’t track GPS and HR? This actually wouldn’t be a non starter for me since I use an external with my Fenix, but can you even use an external HR monitor directly with these? I don’t think you can.

      What clownery. Speaking of corporate meetings, I want to know how the meeting went when engineering tried to explain this to marketing, and someone from marketing (insert burning room with dog and hat meme here) said “This seems fine.”

  9. gideon

    great review…thanks

  10. David B.

    I guess I’ll just keep waiting on the Vivoactive 5 review. I’m not in a rush to replace my Vivo 3. I can live without the GPS since the Edge 1030 takes care of that but I’m a bit one dimensional in that regard. Thanks for this review. I’m still considering the Charge 5.

  11. Jack

    You didn’t mention anything about notifications of texts and phone calls. Are there any changes/improvements in those features?

  12. Franco

    Great review Ray as always, looking forward to the WHOOP 4.0.
    So for you if you don’t care about GPS, would you recommend it? I see that the heart rate is pretty good now.

  13. Lee

    I am truly let down by this, I was on for definitely but now, I’m not bothered by notifs. just a run every now and then but cycling is the norm. so to hear this can’t do both, like I use a Charge 2 and get good HR with it during a run and adding GPS would compliment matters nicely, but this has been a fail, outright, I’m glad I read this review as is hot for these 👌

  14. Nathan B

    “And while I’ll probably spoil this review somewhat, I’d very strongly encourage you to read the sport accuracy sections.”

    Wow! I skipped everything else and went straight to this section, then saved myself reading the rest of the article!

    (I’ll still watch in on YouTube for the view count and thumbs up).

    I genuinely can’t believe that FitBit have released this device! One thing I couldn’t see that might save it, does it connect to external HR straps? I know that’s not really their target demographic, but it may help alleviate the issue with GPS or HR!

  15. Daniel C

    I have to say this is easily the best review on the Charge 5 and I have read the majority from your typical goto review sites like CNET, Mens Health, ZDNet, Toms Guide, and so on and so on. This reviews beats them hands down on real world data and real use. Amazing work. I will definitely start following you and recommend this site.

  16. Lynne Hayward

    Terrible after sales service. Look at Fitbit forum and hundreds stuck with unreadable Charge 3 devices after software update. All Fitbit interested in doing is offering a discount of 35%, still costing over £100 to buy another faulty device. I’ve had two now and feel built in obselesce is their motto.

  17. William Hill

    I Just Ordered the charge 5
    Direct from Fitbit
    It was 50$ Off
    I have owned a Fitbit for 7 years
    I wear a Charge 3 Now
    I don’t care about all the bells and whistles
    My Heart Rate is more important than GPS
    When I go to the Gym now I have to set
    My Charge 3 To Weights Mode
    Not a big deal
    I have Accomplished what I plan to do
    When I Bought a Fitbit Flex in 2014
    I’m in the best shape of my life
    Resting Heart Rate 5 points lower than
    My Age

  18. Larry Sal

    I AM AN AVID BIKER, WILL IT CONVERT MY BIKING MILES TO STEPS? CURRENTLY MY CHARGE 3 CONVERTS ONE MILE TO APPROX 350 STEOS.

    • Alex

      Fitbit Charge *does not* convert biking miles into steps and this applies to the one you have as well. What happens is that it occasionally registers *bumps* as steps. You can easily verify this: just do a ride on some bumpy road and the same length of smooth road and compare your amount of steps, it’ll be drastically different. BTW, this happens occasionally with driving as well – you can just drive your car on some roads in bad shape and Fitbit will count your *steps*. So, this is not a feature, this is a bug – though I also initially was under impression that it has some conversion rate built in and was happy that my many riding miles were giving me lots of steps a day – until they paved the nearby trail and it became smooth. 😀
      I don’t have many devices to compare to but Garmin Venu and Venu 2 are *way* better in not registering such false steps compared to Fitbits I had (Charge 2, Charge 3).

  19. Walrave

    This may seem trivial and it’s hard to find places that discuss it, but to me with a desk job an important feature for me is the inactivity alarm. I sit at a desk and can easily lose track of time. I’ve had the charge 2 and charge 4 and both sort of had the funtion, but it would usually work once or twice and then stop working. Could you see if this consistently works here, thanks.

  20. Dave West

    Thanks Ray – I bought my wife a Charge 4 for her birthday, just over a year ago and it’s been rubbish. Over 5 mins to lock on to GPS and random drop outs with no warning exactly as you experienced with the 5. Finally the plastic connecting the strap to the unit snapped just weeks after it was out of guarantee. So I did briefly consider waiting for the Charge 5 for this year’s birthday present, but in the end opted for the Garmin Vivosmart 4 which hopefully will last more than 12 months this time!

    Her first comment was how comfortable the strap was and more stretchy (interesting that the new Fitbit has a softer strap). The screen is tiny but readable in all light conditions and, whereas she was always having to hit the old device multiple times to get it to function, the touchscreen on the Garmin is far more responsive. The connected GPS does mean that she has to carry her phone, but it just works with no fuss and precious little lock on time and no drop outs so far. She’s also found Garmin Connect to be way better than the Fitbit equivalent and no hidden premium features. It also updates in real time, or can be easily synced manually if necessary. With Fitbit, it would take hours or days sometimes for stuff to appear.

    Not saying that the Vivosmart is for everyone, but it’s been interesting seeing how much more pleasure my wife is getting out of the device and how few frustrations she’s had in comparison to the Charge 4. From your review, I think that we’ve made the right choice to avoid the new Fitbit.

  21. Nan S

    Thanks for this. So my upgrade choice will be based on the new screen- haven’t decided yet if worth it. I’ve found the GPS on my Charge 4 is also mostly garbage, so I strap on a Garmin for actual runs. (I can’t use Garmin for daily activity tracking because they do not have a viable data export for daily totals and I like to do my own data visualizations covering several years. Fitbit has a strong commitment to making my data accessible).

  22. Hoot

    I wish Garmin would finally catch up and issue another fitness band, so I can wear my good watches without losing my daily data. I’ve got the Enduro and V2 as well as Edge 1030 and 830 and I am ready to shell out my money for a new and improved VS5

  23. Knope

    Fitbit still exists because it has first-mover advantage in the fitness wearable space but it’s just a Silicon Valley SaaS company hiding under a trenchcoat of a sports wearable. They need to hurry up and die so aunt Mildred and her step club friends can switch to Garmin and be done with stupid detours like this one.

    /rant

  24. giorgitd

    Can you imagine buying this without reading Ray’s review? Can you imagine the number of returns and unhappy customers? Unless Fitbit knows that users of HR + GPS are a tiny minority of the likely buyers? if you want one despite the issues, just wait. I predict an avalanche of deeply discounted refurbs generated by returns from unhappy customers.

  25. Max

    I might be just a drop in the Ocean but the GPS is not really that important for me. Can’t imagine going outside for long without a phone, you never know if for any reason – hopefully not health stuff – you might have an emergency.
    Said that indeed it’s not ok having issues in the unit.
    According to DC review seems to be a design problem but maybe they’ll find a way to fix it with upcoming firmware? Just wondering.
    I mean, after all it’s clear we are talking about some demo units and often happen they’ll have issues solved on the go.
    I don’t like so much the irony around the different charger every year on every unit… Sounds like DC does not have a nice empathy with FITBIT while he loves GARMIN (which is a Brand I’ve always had hundred of issues on every single unit – just for the record). During all these years I NEVER had to replace any Fitbit charger so I don’t really find what’s the problem if every charger is different model by model, I mean…so what?
    Felt like DC ironically focused on what’s wrong rather than what’s cool on the new unit.
    Pretty sure if Garmin had the same issue he would have been pretty nicer. I never heard him saying, as an example, anything bad about the horrible sleep tracking they have never been able to deal with. Why? Cuz Garmin sleep tracking still sucks so bad.
    In any case, thank you as usual for the deep review, and the hard work behind it, I still found it useful. I only wished he was a little more objective with different brands and not following his preferences for them affecting the amazing reviews with extra judgments, not required.

    • GLT

      I wouldn’t fault one specific new product for needing a new charger port as part of a significant improvement. Constantly revising that piece without good cause does create e-waste though.

      Having bought spare charger cables for most of my devices I would like to use the spares over again when the device itself wears out. The cables tend to not be worth selling on eBay.

    • That’s fine that you don’t need GPS. I literally concluded the review noting that.

      However, it’s not OK either as a product to have a GPS product that you basically can’t wear correctly on your wrist if you want GPS. Whataboutism doesn’t make that OK.

      In terms of Garmin, I’ll happily slam Garmin for such a thing the day that they make a GPS watch that GPS doesn’t work when it’s on your wrist. Until then, I’ve slammed them for a million other things over the years – and usually far lesser things than the Charge 5’s failures here.

      In general, I find people tend to read what they want from a review, with their own biases implied for what they want to justify/see in a review. I talked extensively in this review about the many things I liked on the Charge 5. From the screen, the display responsiveness, the band, the screen around water, etc… Which, are kinda the only new things here. Everything else is basically the same from previous years/devices.

      As for the charger – that was largely a humouas section. Though, with any humor, there’s a nugget of truth. And in this case, a large boulder of truth. When other companies are basically keynote-highlighting the reduction of e-waste, Fitbit makes yet another charger. Why?

  26. Eleanor

    You said in your blog that the FitBit Charge 5 isn’t the right device for someone who cares about accuracy. What would you say is the best device for workout accuracy?

    And along a similar vein, which device do you think is best for measuring calorie burn?

    • That’s a tough one. However, in that same rough price range, units that I see that are largely solid in terms of accuracy include: Apple Watch Series 3 ($170ish-$190ish) and Garmin FR55 (usually $170-$190ish), and the Polar Ignite 2 all have reasonably solid accuracy for both GPS & HR. The Apple Watch would require an iPhone, the others can be either Android or iOS.

      All of them will give you reasonably accurate calorie burn, though in general calorie burn is a bit of black magic based on mostly broad estimations. Meaning I wouldn’t overthink too much if one is a few calories or lower than the other, but rather, that you’re not getting completely outlandish estimates.

      Cheers!

  27. Roman

    Great review dcrainmaker!

    Can’t believe the gps/heart rate compromise although if you’re using connected gps suppose it doesn’t matter in practice.

    I may be on my own but the “home” display shown really does look naff and almost childish

    Overall, I would like additional functionality, but my Charge 2 is still going strong so £150 is a lot to ask for something that doesn’t deliver huge improvement, still has functionality that isn’t operational, asks you to make big compromises on two key metrics….and looks a bit naff

    Sorry Fitbit

  28. Raghu

    Awesome review. Especially loved the bit about how Fitbit “decides” to put new charging unit. Really funny but very unfortunate. Usually when device makers make such changes, I suspect some financial motives. This one completely beats me why they do it.

  29. Glozier

    Hi there guys,

    Thanks so much for this fantastic review. Super in-depth and really informative.

    I was wondering if someone would potentially be able to help me…

    I am in the market for a fitness tracker. I’m a complete rookie to the world of fitness trackers however, and although I have spent hours reading reviews, I feel like all the reviews have jumbled into one big brain fog now, so I am looking for some guidance.

    I compete in Strongman and I’m progressing at a fairly swift rate now. I am in the heaviest weight category. I am ideally looking for a tracker which is going to be able to give me the analysis of really my health markers, recovery and heavy strength training to make sure I am staying on course. Because of the nature of my sport, any tracker will not get an awful lot of use from running, swimming, cycling, cardio etc, so I’m not bothered about tracking mileage and all that, all I do is long dog walks along the coast each day, which is more a leisure activity but allows me to get my steps in.

    I am definitely not looking for a smart watch or anything like that, just a tracker. I was initially look at getting a WHOOP, but from what I’ve read, it seems the measurables you get from it when compared to the steep monthly price point aren’t worth the squeeze compared to other trackers you buy outright. From what I have ascertained from all the reviews I’ve read (with the best quality ones far and away coming from this blog, btw, so thank you!), it seems that either the Fitbit (Charge 5 or otherwise) or the Garmin Vivosport would be the ones best suited to what I am looking to achieve as set out above.

    I would be so, so grateful if someone wouldn’t mind nudging me in the right direction taking into account what I am looking to get from my tracker as I laid out above, and whether it’s one of the two trackers mentioned, or if it’s a completely different one which I have failed to take a look at.

    Thank you so much for your help in advance!

    • Glozier

      I should also add the price point of the Charge 5 is probably a little higher than I’m willing to go, but I’d definitely consider my options if it’s worth it.

      Thank you!

  30. Dayne

    The couple Fitbits I’ve had, Charge HR and Charge 3&4’s have been dumpster fires when it comes to med/high intensity workouts, (mostly weights for me), and Heart Rate Accuracy.
    I’ve posted on numerous Fitbit support threads, along with all the other poor souls, on the accuracy issues and the answer is usually the same thing from Fitbit, reboot/reset the tracker and uninstall/reinstall the app.
    Wish I could just run an Apple Watch on my Android phone…

  31. Brilliant review, as always, Ray – thank you. I ordered the Fitbit Charge 5 just before it came out for my teenage son as his old Fitbit just broke. However I returned it unopened as he loved my old Apple Watch Series 2 which he was using while we waited for the Charge 5 to be delivered. Sounds like a good decision based on your review! PS: loved your humorous take on the new charger every year. Perhaps closer to reality than you think!

  32. David D

    For me fitbit is the worst product on world. People should stay away from it, their support sucks, my sense watch is only 3 months old and is not working any more, they send me a refurbished replacement , also did not work, today still waiting and not replacement yet, sen a letter to the ceo James Parker to let him know what is going on with the quality of their products , NEVER RESPOND. Please stay away from fitbit .

  33. Foresterbloke

    Hey Ray, thanks for the review!

    Despite being a bit unreliable on the display side, I miss my Ionic because of the great sleep tracking, heart rate zones and the sleep cycle wake up alarm.

    I was considering the Charge 5 but would I be better off going with the Versa 3?

    I always carry a phone with me so GPS isn’t an issue.

  34. Lee

    Piece of crap. I spent 229 plus tax on this. My friend bought one from Walmart for 33 plus tax. Hers does just as much and way less complicated. Returning mine tommorow.

  35. Keith Jenkin

    I exercise, brisk walk everyday for 1 hr and 20 mins. Gps/ tracking and HR, no problem.
    Battery useage about 30% with onboard GPS.
    Decided to try using Samsung Galaxy S10 phone GPS to save some Charge 5 battery.
    Onboard GPS 8 km
    Phone GPS 7 km (exactly same walk/track).
    Decided to check by creating a measured track on Google Earth 7km.
    (Have not checked distance with a Surveyors odometer wheel).
    So accuracy of onboard GPS seems to be showing an accuracy of 14.3% over

  36. Virginia Bailey

    The weather app on my charge 3 was priceless, as I work inside with no windows, and am not always able to access my phone. Please, please, please bring this back!!

  37. Candellaton94

    In terms of strictly health tracking, have you tested the apple watch series 7 & whoop in order to make an accuracy comparison?