Although Fitbit hasn’t been super consistent, the release of a new Charge device is becoming an annual tradition. Since the first Fitbit Charge launched in 2014, the company has kept things pretty basic with simple designs, monochrome displays, and a direct focus on fitness above all else. That all changes with the 2021 Fitbit Charge 5.

Our full guide: What you need to know about the Fitbit Charge 5

The Charge 5 comes with a full-color AMOLED display, which is a first for the line. It also carries over a few smartwatch features from larger (and more expensive) Fitbits, such as the Fitbit Sense. Of course, all these upgrades also increase the price of the Charge 5, making it by far the most expensive Charge to date.

Does the new tracker earn its new price? Find out in the Android Authority Fitbit Charge 5 review.

About this Fitbit Charge 5 review: I used the Fitbit Charge 5 for seven days, running software version 20001.142.30. It was connected to a Google Pixel 5 throughout the testing period. The Charge 5 unit was provided to Android Authority by Fitbit for this review.

What you need to know about the Fitbit Charge 5

Fitbit Charge 5 Review Retail Box Contents
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  • Fitbit Charge 5: $179.95 / €179.95 / £169.99

Fitbit launched the Charge 5 on August 25, 2021. It comes hot on the heels of another recent Fitbit tracker, the Fitbit Luxe, which launched only a few months earlier. Unlike the Luxe, though, this tracker has a larger display and is more utilitarian in design.

However different the Luxe and the Charge 5 look, they are remarkably similar in many ways. The software is virtually identical, they both have full-color AMOLED displays and no hardware buttons, and both borrow some features from the flagship Fitbit Sense smartwatch.

The Charge 5 has most of the expected health features from previous Charges, including a heart rate sensor, SpO2 monitoring, sleep tracking, and step tracking. Unfortunately, it does not have an altimeter, so it loses out on the ability to track floors and other height-related movements.

See also: The best fitness trackers you can get

New to the Charge line, though, is an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor. This is a sweat/stress sensor first seen in the Fitbit family on the Sense. The Charge 5 can also track skin temperature, but that only happens while you sleep and there is no dedicated hardware for this tracking.

There are also plenty of smartwatch-esque features here, including notifications from your phone and the ability to read texts, emails, etc. Fitbit Pay — which allows you to use NFC to pay for items at retail checkouts — is also included. Music controls, however, are not included.

As with all other Fitbit products, you’ll need to pay $10 per month for Fitbit Premium to unlock all the available features of the Charge 5. However, it is not necessary to do this for the basic functionality of the tracker and you get six months of Premium free with your purchase.

The Fitbit Charge 5 comes in three colorways — Black strap with Graphite stainless steel case (tested), Lunar White strap with Soft Gold stainless steel case, and Steel Blue strap with Platinum stainless steel case.

Design: A colorful step way up

Fitbit Charge 5 Review Hero Color
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If you’d only glanced at the Fitbit Charge 5, you’d immediately see why it is so much more expensive than the Fitbit Charge 4. Gone is the ugly monochrome display — instead, we have a beautiful full-color AMOLED panel in its place. The display is significantly bigger than the one on the Luxe, which was the first tracker from Fitbit with a color screen.

That extra screen real estate is important because Fitbit also removed the capacitive side button we saw on the Charge 4 (and the Fitbit Sense and Versa 3). Now, all navigation happens on the display through either swipes or taps. This system mirrors what we saw on the Luxe, but that tracker’s teeny tiny display made those moves tricky. With this bigger display, navigation is a breeze.

The full-color panel is also significantly brighter than the dim monochrome one on the Charge 4. Using the Charge 4 on a sunny day is nigh impossible, but the Charge 5 is easy to read in bright situations. This is a very welcome upgrade.

With all of this, Fitbit somehow made the Charge 5 physically smaller than the Charge 4. It’s still bigger than the too-small Luxe, but it is slimmer, curvier, and more elegant than last year’s tracker. This makes it one of the most unobtrusive fitness trackers I’ve used.

The default strap that came with my unit is very similar to the one that came with my Sense. It’s an all-silicone affair with a slot to store the excess strap when buckled. In the box, there’s a larger strap so people with thicker wrists can swap it out. Unfortunately, the revamped design of the Charge 5 means that straps for older models — including the Charge 4 — are not compatible with the Charge 5. Looks like you’re going to need to buy all your favorite bands again.

The new design is great, but you will need to buy all-new bands for the Charge 5.

Do note that the new color display and smaller form factor results in weaker overall battery life. I maxed out the settings of the Charge 5 (always-on display turned on, brightness and vibrations set to maximum, etc.) and got through 72 hours of use with about 10% left to spare. That included sleep tracking, three workouts, multiple bike rides, and setting the odd alarm/timer here and there. Battery life isn’t great, and it’s considerably poor for a $180 tracker, especially when you consider the full-color Xiaomi Band 6 can get through just over a week with all its features turned on.

Finally, Fitbit also did away with the cumbersome clip-style charger that came with the Charge 4. Instead, it has a proprietary magnetic charger not unlike what we saw on the Luxe, Sense, and Versa 3. This magnetic charging cable is included in the box, but there is no wall adapter included. Unfortunately, the Charge 5 does not support any manner of wireless charging.

Health and fitness tracking: The usual Fitbit caveats

Fitbit Charge 5 Review Fitbit App Heart Rates
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The Fitbit Charge 5 is a fitness tracker, so it quite obviously has a ton of fitness features. It also tracks your steps, sleep, and stress, and has onboard GPS for any distance-based workouts. Here’s how everything measures up.

Fitness tracking

Fitbit Charge 5 Review Workouts
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As with the Charge 4, there are 20 workouts you can track, including running, swimming, cycling, yoga, and more. However, also like the Charge 4, you can only choose six of these workouts to appear as options on the Charge 5 at any one time. If there are more than six workouts you regularly track, you’ll need to manually swap some out when necessary using the Fitbit app on your smartphone, which could be quite tedious. The Fitbit Sense and Fitbit Versa 3 do not have this limitation.

Related: The best fitness apps to get into shape and stay there

Despite being able to track the same number of workouts as its more expensive smartwatch siblings, the Charge 5 is missing two significant features. The first is the previously mentioned lack of an altimeter. Without this hardware feature, the Charge 5 can’t record your ascended floors and will not be as accurate when it comes to tracking elevation-based workouts, such as hiking. This is a curious omission, especially when you consider the Charge 4 has this feature.

The second tracking feature missing is the ability to record real-time laps in your workouts. On the Fitbit Sense and Versa 3, a lap button appears on the display during certain workouts if you choose for it to be there. The Charge 5, though, doesn’t have this feature. Granted, you can always manually add laps after the fact in your Fitbit app, and it should be noted that the Charge 4 also lacks this feature. However, for a $180 device focused solely on fitness, this seems like something you’d want to have.

Heart rate tracking

Fitbit Charge 5 Review In Hand with Color
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The accuracy of the all-day heart rate tracking on the Charge 5 is on par with what we’ve seen from previous Fitbit devices. My average resting heart rate recorded by the tracker matched what I saw from a finger clip pulse oximeter.

However, during workouts, I faced a weird issue with heart rates. When I first started some workouts, my recorded heart rate would begin much higher than it actually was. Even if I was just sitting at my desk with a resting heart rate of ~50BPM, the tracker would start with a heart rate much higher, sometimes breaking past 100BPM. After a minute or two, the tracker would slowly drop down closer to my actual heart rate. Obviously, this created some inaccurate workout data.

The accuracy of the all-day heart rate tracking on the Charge 5 is on par with other Fitbit devices.

I asked Fitbit about this problem and the team told me that when the Charge 5 is recording average heart rate data it “ticks” a certain number of times each hour. When recording workouts, though, it “ticks” many more times than that to increase accuracy. Fitbit thinks that the switch from resting mode to workout mode might be causing a brief spike. It said it was looking into this issue. However, it should be noted that I did not have a retail unit for this Fitbit Charge 5 review and the Fitbit team could not replicate this problem on their own devices. So this is probably an isolated incident, but I felt it was important to share.

Other than that weird issue, though, workout heart rate recording is good. Check out the graph below from a bike ride I did. You can see comparison lines between the Fitbit Charge 5 results and the Wahoo Tickr X chest strap:

Fitbit Charge 5 Review Heart Rate vs Wahoo Tickr X

The charts are very similar, with the same peaks and valleys. Even the average and peak heart rates recorded by both devices are extremely close.

Step tracking

Fitbit Charge 5 Review vs Fitbit Charge 4 on Wrist
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Fitbit is notorious for over-counting steps with its devices. I spent some days wearing it on my right (dominant) wrist with the Fitbit Sense on my left wrist. Each day, the Charge 5 recorded several hundred more steps than the Sense. This likely has to do with the choice of wrist for each device, but it still proves that step tracking with a Fitbit isn’t going to be as accurate as a dedicated pedometer. Still, it’s probably close enough for most people’s needs.

Keep in mind that Fitbit, its competitors, and health professionals in general, are trying to downplay step tracking as a useful health metric on its own. Fitbit is pushing Active Zone Minutes and its new Daily Readiness Score as better alternatives to things like steps and heart rate info. We’ll cover this a bit more in the Fitbit app section below.

Sleep, SpO2, and skin temperature tracking

Fitbit Charge 5 Review Fitbit App Sleep Score
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Fitbits are some of the best sleep trackers on the market. Unsurprisingly, the sleep tracking data from the Fitbit Charge 5 is accurate, easy to understand, and useful. You get a sleep score each day that gives you a roundabout idea of how well you slept the previous evening. Interestingly, this score doesn’t always correlate with how long you’ve slept. I had higher scores for shorter sleep sessions, for example. In general, the sleep score the Fitbit app gave me accurately reflected how well-rested I felt the next day.

Do note that Fitbit made headlines recently for introducing a way to track snoring. However, this is not available on the Charge 5. It is reserved for the Sense and Versa 3, at least for now. Considering there is no microphone on the Charge 5 (which is necessary for the snoring score), the Charge 5 will almost certainly not get this feature.

See also: What is SpO2 and why should you care?

The Charge 5 can also track SpO2, otherwise known as your blood-oxygen level. The closer this number is to 100, the better off you are. The tracker takes SpO2 measurements periodically throughout the day and you can always check your average level on the tracker itself (without needing to use a specific clock face). I found SpO2 readings to be very accurate as compared to a dedicated pulse oximeter.

Although it does not have dedicated hardware for the purpose, the Fitbit Charge 5 can also track skin temperature. It only tracks this while you are asleep, though, and cannot be manually triggered. It would still be useful info, however, as extreme fluctuations in your average skin temperature could be an early warning sign that you are getting sick.

Stress/EDA tracking

Fitbit Charge 5 Review EDA Scan
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The Fitbit Sense introduced electrodermal activity (EDA) sensors to the Fitbit line. The Fitbit Luxe also has this feature, and the Fitbit Charge 5 lifts the Luxe’s system beat-for-beat.

On the sides of the Charge 5, you’ll find two thin metal strips. When you start an EDA scan, you’ll lightly press both strips with your thumb and index finger. During the next few minutes, the tracker will perform the scan by monitoring how your sweat activity changes over time. By performing multiple scans each day at different levels of energy (pre-workout, post-workout, before bed, etc.), you’ll start to get a good idea of your normal and elevated stress levels.

On its own, a single piece of this data is only slightly helpful. You can probably tell if you are currently stressed or not without an app telling you. However, over time, lots of these readings could give you an idea of when you are most/least stressed. For example, if your stress readings are always high on Monday mornings, that would be interesting information that could cause you to alter how you approach those days.

Multiple pieces of this data would also fit in well with Fitbit’s new Daily Readiness Score feature. More on that later on.

GPS tracking

Fitbit Charge 5 Review In Bush
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Unlike the Fitbit Luxe, the Fitbit Charge 5 has onboard GPS. This allows you to track GPS metrics without needing to bring your smartphone along. However, onboard GPS is a battery-hogging feature, so the Charge 5 also offers connected GPS, in which your smartphone’s GPS does the work and just transmits that data to the tracker.

You can choose one of these two types of GPS tracking for all your workouts. Conversely, you can choose to use Dynamic GPS, which allows the tracker to bounce between its own sensor and your phone’s whenever one connection is stronger than the other.

Fitbit GPS tracking has always been pretty good, and the Charge 5 doesn’t disappoint. When compared to the GPS of a Wahoo Tickr X chest strap, the Charge 5 turned in nearly identical results:

Fitbit Charge 5 Review GPS Chart 1
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

The maps show various times when both trackers fumbled with GPS, especially in areas with high tree coverage. I feel like the Wahoo Tickr X wins the day, but not by so much that the Fitbit Charge 5 doesn’t hold its own.

I will note, though, that the Charge 5 took quite a while to connect to GPS at the start of the ride. This happens often with wrist trackers since they are so much smaller than smartphones and chest straps, so it’s kind of a necessary evil.

The bottom line here is that, if you’re a big fan of GPS tracking, you’ll be happy enough with the Fitbit Charge 5.

Fitbit app: Big promises

Fitbit Charge 5 Review Fitbit App Main Page
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If you’ve owned a Fitbit device over the past few years, you won’t be surprised by anything in the Fitbit app. With the launch of the Charge 5, the company hasn’t changed how the app looks or works at all.

Since we have many reviews of Fitbit products, I won’t rehash the app much here. Overall, it’s a very well-designed experience with everything organized quite intuitively. Data is presented in a macro, easy-to-understand format. With a tap, you can dive progressively deeper into details for that data.

The big thing to keep in mind here, though, is that one of the core features of the Charge 5 doesn’t exist in the Fitbit app yet. The Daily Readiness Score (DRS) has been a pretty large aspect of Fitbit’s promotional campaign for this tracker, but I can’t tell you much about it because it’s not available yet.

One of the star features of the Charge isn't available at launch.

In theory, the DRS will take all the data your tracker obtains — sleep, steps, workouts, stress, mindfulness, etc. — and combine it all into easily understood bites. For example, if the app determines you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, it might tell you to skip your usual morning workout. Conversely, if you slept really well, it might tell you to push harder with your workout to maximize gains. If you slept well but your stress levels are super high, maybe it would tell you to go easy for the rest of the day.

We’ve seen other companies adopt this type of reporting, with Garmin’s Body Battery being one of the most popular. Body Battery has been around for years. In that sense, Fitbit is already late to the game, and now it’s promoting a tracker that works well with this new system — but it’s still not available.

Related: The most common Fitbit problems and how to fix them

Unfortunately, this is par for the course for Fitbit — the company frequently launches products without promised star features. But we can’t review products on promises, so for now, all we can say is that there’s nothing really new in the Fitbit app as related to the Charge 5.

Fitbit would only commit to a “coming soon” deadline for the DRS. Keep in mind that this feature is coming to other trackers as well, including the Sense, Versa 3, Versa 2, Charge 5, Luxe, and Inspire 2.

As a final note here, the DRS features will be locked behind Fitbit Premium. This service costs $10 per month, but you get six months free with the purchase of a Charge 5. Outside of the DRS, Fitbit Premium offers a deeper look into your sleep scores, meal plan content, workout guides, and a lot more. However, none of the hardware features of the Charge 5 are locked behind Premium, so it is a completely optional add-on expense. With this in mind, considering the DRS is not here yet, it might be advisable to wait until it lands before buying a Charge 5. After all, you don’t want a potentially large chunk of your six-month trial to deny you access to the DRS.

Smartwatch features: Just the basics

Fitbit Charge 5 Review Fitbit Pay
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With the introduction of a full-color display to the Fitbit Charge 5, it feels more like a smartwatch than ever before. The monochrome display of previous trackers made them immediately feel inferior and clunky compared to smartwatches. That’s not the case with the Charge 5.

Let’s start with what it can do. As with previous trackers, your Fitbit Charge 5 can receive smartphone notifications. Emails, text messages, and phone calls all appear on the device. In the case of text-based notifications, you can even read the majority of the message right on the tracker. You can then tell the tracker to open the message on your phone or even clear it, which will remove it from the tracker’s notification list as well as your phone’s notifications (on Android, at least). However, you cannot respond to any of these messages on the tracker.

Related: The best smartwatches you can buy

It also sports other expected features, such as setting alarms and timers — and it includes Fitbit Pay, so you can leave your phone behind and still pay for things at retail checkouts.

Now, what can it not do? There are no music features with the tracker, unlike the Charge 4 which at least had access to Spotify controls. It can’t store music either. It does not have a digital assistant incorporated, there is no weather app, and there are literally zero third-party apps available.

If you wish the Charge 5 had those features, the good news is that the Fitbit Versa 3 does all of those things and only costs about $50 more.

Fitbit Charge 5 specs

Fitbit Charge 5
Display
Color AMOLED touchscreen
14.7 x 21.9mm
60Hz refresh rate
Battery
Promoted: Up to 7 days
Reviewed: 3 days with maxed settings
Tracking
Heart rate
EDA
SpO2
Sleep
Workouts
Skin temperature
GPS
Onboard, connected, or dynamic
Water resistance
Water-resistant up to 50m
Music controls/apps
None
Notifications
Read-only
Colors
Steel Blue/Platinum
Black/Graphite
Lunar White/Gold

Value and competition

fitbit charge 5 steel blue platinum 2
Fitbit Charge 5
Same form factor, way better display
The Fitbit Charge 5 is a major update from its predecessor. Not only does it have a color AMOLED display, it's the first tracker to come with Fitbit's Daily Readiness Score — a feature that aims to predict how much activity or rest you should take on for the day.

No matter how you slice it, the Fitbit Charge 5 is expensive. There are plenty of trackers out there that offer similar features for much less money. Not to mention that the high price of the Charge 5 puts it in dangerous territory of being priced like a smartwatch, making it more of an in-betweener than maybe it should be.

Obviously, the Fitbit Charge 4 ($129.95) is one of the easiest alternatives to recommend. Fitbit doesn’t sell it anymore, but it’s still easy to find for $50 cheaper than the Charge 5, and it does pretty much everything that device does, including Fitbit Pay support. It also has Spotify controls and an altimeter, which the Charge 5 lacks. You lose out on EDA scanning and the full-color display, though.

See also: The best Fitbit alternatives

The Fitbit Inspire 2 ($99.95) is another good fitness tracker from Fitbit. For about half the price of a Charge 5, you’ll get a very basic tracker that excels at standard fitness, health, and sleep tracking. You won’t get the color display, EDA scanner, or NFC payments, but this is a solid option for folks who just want a no-frills tracker.

Coming down in price a bit we have the full-color Huawei Band 6 ($89.99). It has some downsides like non-removable straps and limited smartwatch-style features. However, it’s got a great price, great battery life, and many of the health-tracking features of the Charge 5 (except for the EDA sensor).

The Xiaomi Mi Band 6 ($43) is one of our favorite fitness trackers of the year. It has solid tracking and its minimal feature set keeps its price very, very low. It also has a full-color display, so you’re not even losing out on that. You would need to give up NFC payments, the EDA scanner, and sleep tracking accuracy, though.

Finally, you could always upgrade to the Fitbit Versa 3 ($229.95) for about $50 more than the Charge 5. That gives you a bevy of smartwatch features including music controls, Google Assistant or Alexa voice control access, phone call support, the ability to respond to messages, and a whole lot more. With this route, the only thing you’d be giving up would be the EDA scanner and small form factor.

Fitbit Charge 5 review: The verdict

Fitbit Charge 5 Review Retail Box
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The Fitbit Charge 5 is a good fitness tracker. It has features that most other trackers don’t have, such as an EDA scanner. It has features reserved strictly for premium trackers, such as NFC payments support. It also features a bright, full-color OLED display, which immediately makes it aesthetically and functionally better than its predecessor.

However, its $30 price hike over the Charge 4’s MSRP doesn’t give you a better overall fitness tracker. Yes, the color display is objectively better than the monochrome one, but you need to sacrifice battery life and an altimeter for it. The EDA scanner is a cool touch, but how much will this metric matter to the average person?

The Fitbit Charge 5 is an OK fitness tracker. But why would you spend $180 on an OK fitness tracker?

For $180, the Fitbit Charge 5 should be the best fitness tracker ever. It should have all the fitness-focused features one would need to track all manners of workouts. It should have an altimeter, be able to track laps, and be able to have all 20 available workouts on the device at all times. Its battery life and effectiveness at health tracking should be unrivaled and all the promoted features should be available at launch. Yet the Charge 5 falls short of supplying every single one of those elements.

The way I see it, if you’re going to spend $180 on a good fitness tracker, you might as well just spend $50 more and get a good smartwatch in the Versa 3. If that doesn’t work for you, then just spend $135 less (!) for the Xiaomi Band 6. The Charge 5 exists in this weird in-between zone that makes it difficult to recommend to anyone but Fitbit fanatics.