Earlier this year I reviewed the Fitbit Charge, a great device for keeping you active and also motivated to do so. Shortly after the Charge went on sale in the UK, Fitbit released the Fitbit Charge HR. A similar device to the Charge but this time with the added feature of a heart rate monitor.
Rather than rush out a follow up review I thought I’d let the Charge HR settle into my routine and live with it for a while. That way I could properly evaluate its impact on my life, and see if it’s a device that I’ll be wearing in six months, or whether it will be resigned to a life at the bottom of a drawer.
Before you read on I do urge you to first glance over my Fitbit Charge review. Both devices are very similar not only in appearance but also functionality, so rather than repeat myself here I’m going to focus more on the differences to help you decide which is best for you.
Unboxing & Setup
The Fitbit Charge HR comes in a box which is almost identical the Charge. It’s compact, with the device itself visible through a clear plastic window. The only difference being the actual text and information on and inside it.
Inside you will find the same cables and Bluetooth dongle allowing you to charge the device and also connect it to your desktop computer so you can synchronise with the online Fitbit Dashboard, although you can still connect to your mobile device via Bluetooth to update your profile via the Fitbit app.
As with the Charge setup is quick and easy, you simply connect to your phone or tablet via the app and bingo, you’re ready to go!
Aesthetically the Charge HR is quite similar to the Charge but there are some key differences. The first thing you will notice is the strap closes with a watch style buckle, rather than a clasp. This makes the fit a lot more sturdy on those long runs or workouts, not that the Charges studs were flimsy, but having the full buckle means it won`t accidentally come loose or get knocked off your arm.
The strap itself is made of the same silicone material as the Charge, but the pattern on it is an embossed cross-hatch style rather than diagonal lines. This is quite nice and means you can differentiate between the two devices, but during my early days wearing the Charge HR it seemed to be more of a dust magnet than the Charge. This isn’t much of an issue really as the Charge HR is also splash proof, not waterproof I hasten to add, so you can quickly run it under a tap to clean it.
Behind the slim display which shows you your statistics is where the magic happens. Here you will find two green flashing lights facing your arm, which are used to measure your heartrate, but more on that later.
Let’s talk about the main feature of the Charge HR, the heartrate monitor.
Firstly, how does it work?
Well, each time your heart beats your capillaries expand and contract beneath the surface of your skin. The Charge HR uses the green lights to detect this and calculate your heart rate. As you exercise your heart beats faster, so the capillaries are more active.
In my tests the Charge HR was quite accurate compared to standard monitors built into gym equipment. As an example, while running on a treadmill the Charge HR`s reading seemed to lag behind the treadmills for the first five minutes, but once it caught up it was on par with what the treadmill was showing.
The information stored on the Charge HR is also reflected in the Fitbit app. Unlike some other heart rate monitors the Fitbit boasts all day monitoring so you get a full twenty four hours of information based on your activity. In the app this is displayed as a graph which also tells you what “zones” you have moved in and out of during the day.
There are four main zones by default, although you can specify your own if you need to. These are your resting heart rate, fat burn, cardio and peak.
Depending on your age and fitness your heart rate may need to reach different levels to enter each of these zones, but by default between 90 and 126 beats per minute puts you into fat burn zone. Between 126 and 153 is your cardio workout and above 153 puts you into the peak fitness zone.
Having this information at hand, or wrist, is great for checking where you are during a workout so you know when to push yourself further. What makes it easier is you don`t need the app open, a quick tap on the Fitbit Charge HR`s display will quickly display your current heart rate, amongst other details, too.
Also in a recent update, Fitbit added the ability to turn on the display just by rotating your wrist. This does make life easier, but it also does have a hit on your battery.
As well as all day tracking you can also specify certain periods of time for the Charge HR to focus on and log separately; this is called Exercise Mode and is a feature also shared with the Charge.
Holding down the button will start and stop the timer, and this time is logged as an exercise and stored in the app for you to categorize later. You can also manually enter exercises if you so desire, and you can also use your phones GPS to track where you are running and the distance.
Being able to specify and log periods of time is a feature I use quite a lot. When I am out running or at the gym I often activate Exercise Mode so I can more accurately track that specific workout. What makes the Charge HR even better is also being able to visualize your heart rate through these sessions too.
Unfortunately the app hasn`t really been updated that much since my time with the Fitbit Charge and my issues with it still remain the same. That being that the information from the Fitbit is great, but once you transfer it to the application there are no options to expand upon it. Say for example I am on an elliptical and save my workout, I can`t add in the distance I covered, or the level I was using etc.
All that is stored is my heart rate and any steps that have registered as I moved. The app does calculate your calories used from this information, but for me I’d like to just have a few more boxes open for me to fill in.
At present I still have to use multiple apps like Runkeeper, to log everything I need, and because of this I use it to track my runs rather than use the GPS option in the Fitbit app.
The Charge HR in Use
Comparing the Charge and the Charge HR I can say that they are almost identical with regards to how they work, and the information they give you. Both sit silently on your wrist, just like a watch or bracelet, measuring your daily activates and your sleep pattern in a stalker type of way.
You can set specific goals for each category so you’re hitting your daily milestones, and you can even become part of a group through the challenges section which adds a bit more competitiveness to your workouts.
Pressing the button on the side will cycle through your daily statistics showing the time, steps taken, distance, calories burned and stairs climbed but the Charge HR also shows your current heart rate too.
As mentioned earlier, both devices offer Exercise Mode and all the other options associated with the Fitbit app, like sleep tracking, call notifications and silent alarms. So as you can see, in general use they are very similar.
What I have found is, just like with the Charge, I do find it works. I now like to reach my goals where possible so try to take the stairs rather than an escalator, and even after all this time I do enjoy the little buzz and celebration you get from the Fitbit when that goal is achieved. On the days or weeks I join a challenge group I also find this is an added motivation to squeeze in a few more steps so I can move up the leader-board.
In addition to this there are now a huge selection of reward schemes available. The one I am trying at the moment is Bounts. As your activities are collected and logged Bounts takes this information and turns it into points. Reach a certain amount of points and you can then choose a reward, like a £20 gift voucher for example. This again adds more of a push to go out and be active to clock up those points.
Sleep tracking with the Fitbit is probably the one area I don`t really follow. I do check it when I remember too, and since using the Charge the application has had a great update which expanded upon sleep tracking to give you more detailed information as well as the option to add sleep goals.
What’s good about the Fitbit, and again this is the same with both devices, is the device automatically knows when your sleeping, so you don`t have to try and tell it before you nod off.
Now it’s not exact. For example, if I go to bed and read for an hour it can think I’ve actually gone to sleep so the next day it looks like I’ve slept for an hour longer than I actually have. You can edit the data afterwards, so knocking that time back off isn`t an issue, but you still have to remember to do so.
Where the sleep tracking really works is seeing your actual sleep pattern. You can see if you had a peaceful night’s sleep or a restful one and perhaps use that information to improve your sleeping patterns.
Here is where the Fitbit gets a bit more fun, and again this spans the range of devices.
Adding friends and setting or joining challenges is a great way to push yourself to do more, just so you can reach that number one spot.
Now the challenges section of the app has been updated, but it’s more a cosmetic change than anything. I had hoped that by now we would have more creative challenges but unfortunately we are still restricted to Goal Day, Weekend Warrior, Daily Showdown and Workweek Hustle. These are all good but are limited to how many steps you do in a given time slot.
If Fitbit don`t plan to include more challenge types then they could at least give us the option of creating a Custom challenge. I realise the type of challenges is dictated by the data collected, and can only really be used alongside the types of activities that are tracked rather than manually added as this leaves them open to abuse.
For me though I’d like to add in something like Stairs Climbed, Most Active, Time in Peak Heart Rate Zone to name but a few. You could even use calories burned and distance covered too so there are plenty of options available.
Even with the small, aging amount of challenges available it’s still good to get involved and they do the job of getting you out of your seat.
The Fitbit App
We have talked about the Fitbit app already. Both in the Charge review and also in this one, but I think it’s important to discuss it here too. Aside from the fact the app is one of the nicest and most user friendly I’ve used for this type of device, its constantly being updated with new features and general UX improvements.
Since I’ve been using a Fitbit device the app has transformed to give the user more information in areas like sleep and water consumption tracking, and also easier access to the challenges and trophies you can earn.
You can also finally keep a log of the food you are eating now there is a dedicated UK food directory. So all in all the amount of information to track and update on a daily basis is impressive, yet there are some areas which still feel weak.
As mentioned previously the exercise tracking desperately needs opening up so the user can input more data. We need more challenges and it would be great to have some way of visualising how far off the next badge is. At present I have no idea until I get a notification that I’ve earned one, but if there was a section listing all the badges, with a bar underneath showing my progress, I’d feel more like I was earning one rather than just stumbling across them.
I had hoped these issues would have been resolved by now and I’d certainly welcome these improvements over another UI shuffle.
When comparing the two devices there is an obvious difference in battery life. With the Charge the longest I had out of a single charge was twelve days, whereas with the Charge HR I’m lucky if I hit four.
This could just be down to how I am using it. I go to the gym three times a week and during each session I use Exercise Mode for at least one activity. On top of this I also go running a few times a week, and track each of those too, so perhaps this mode drains the battery a touch more than normal.
What you have to remember is with the Charge HR you have two little lights flashing constantly, twenty four hours a day, so this is bound to have a hit on the battery. Even so, it does make you think differently about it. If you’re going to be away for a few days for example, you have to remember to take the charger, with the Charge you didn`t have to worry.
Should You Invest?
I`ve been fortunate to test the Charge and the Charge HR for prolonged periods of time, and each has settled into my lifestyle nicely. I do feel however that the Charge HR is more geared towards the already active type of person. The type to go out for a run, or go to the gym and want to see their heart rate information to help push their workouts, information I feel might be a little redundant for those who walk more than anything.
The Fitbit Charge gives you a wealth of statistics and in functionality is identical to the Charge HR, so for those of you that don`t visit a gym or regularly workout this would be the better option. Especially with its impressive battery life.
For those of use who do workout regularly then the Charge HR is an obvious choice. Besides the three day batter life I still wear it constantly and it has truly become a part of my life now.