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The new Charge 6 is proof that Google can improve Fitbit, not just ruin it
Last year, when Google announced the Versa 4 and Sense 2, we were left scratching our heads left and right. These were the first Fitbit trackers to be developed under Google’s guidance and, instead of pushing them forward, the company had taken several side steps, if not backward steps with both of them.
The removal of Google Assistant, while keeping Alexa, was a perplexing decision if any. No Wi-Fi access, no third-party apps, and no music controls were all big downgrades compared to the previous generation Fitbit Sense and Versa 3. We surmised that Google was doing that to push forward its Pixel Watch, but that explanation simply didn’t justify the degradation of Fitbit’s line-up. Those who wanted extra smarts but didn’t want to suffer through a one-day battery smartwatch were completely left out.
Unlike the Sense 2 and Versa 4, which lost and degraded many features, the Charge 6 is a proper upgrade.
I’m happy to report that the story is quite different this year with the new Fitbit Charge 6. As I was checking the new tracker’s specs and features, I kept thinking that sure, it’s expensive, but it’s simply excellent. It ticks nearly all the boxes of what I would personally want in a fitness tracker — and then some. All of the additions are genuinely useful for daily use and it doesn’t seem like anything was taken away. A proper “up”grade, ya know?
From a fitness standpoint, the heart rate sensor has increased accuracy and now connects to gym equipment. It supports 20 more exercise types, so you can keep a close eye on your performance even if you practice less popular sports. The Charge 6 also brings back a physical button, which is more precise and easier to control, especially if you’re doing some strenuous exercise. That’s on top of all the existing sensors and fitness features of the Charge 5.
The Charge 6 also boasts three major Google integrations: Maps, Wallet, and YouTube Music. All three are genuinely useful improvements, though I would’ve preferred more agnostic music controls instead of just YouTube Music. Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Apple Music, Pocket Casts, and other services exist! Maps and Wallet, though, are very cool.
Fitness improvements plus Google Maps, Wallet, and YouTube Music bring it dangerously close to smartwatch territory.
Navigation directions are probably one of my most used features on any wearable. The few times I drove a car in the past couple of years, there was no Android Auto or GPS head unit, so I loved getting the directions straight on my wrist instead of glancing at my phone’s screen. And all the times I’ve walked around Paris or foreign towns and cities it was awesome to just keep my phone in my pocket and see the map on my watch. I use this at least twice a week and it’s cool to see it finally coming to a regular fitness tracker without any hacks.
I also opened an account at a Google Wallet-supported bank recently and I’ve been living the tap-to-pay life. The perks of keeping my wallet safe in my backpack or sling, but still being able to pay everywhere I go are fantastic. I can’t imagine going back to an NFC payment-less life. And it’s awesome to see those perks pop up on the Charge 6.
The Charge 6 really narrows the gap between what a great smartwatch and fitness tracker are.
The Charge 6 really narrows the gap between what a great smartwatch and a great fitness tracker are. (Yes, Xiaomi, HONOR, and Garmin might have paved the way, but official Google Wallet and Maps support puts Fitbit on another playing field, in my opinion.) It does 90% of what I expect from a smartwatch, in a smaller form factor, and with significantly better battery life.
Honestly, if I didn’t need WhatsApp for all my chats, Spotify and Pocket Casts controls, and CityMapper for transit directions from time to time, I would be giving the Charge 6 a very close look. Potentially even moving to it. Alas, third-party app support is still the differentiator between smartwatches and fitness trackers, and my personal needs force me to stay on the smartwatch side of things.
If it weren't for a few third-party apps, I could see myself moving back to the Charge 6.
If you don’t need those, though, the Charge 6 looks more than just capable. And it’s nice to see Google’s positive influence on a product line. I don’t know what this means for the hindered Sense and Versa ranges, but the Charge series is living its best days now with Google.