Fitbit is pretty much the company that comes to mind when talking about activity tracking wearables, and many would say the Charge HR helped give the company the household name it has today. The Fitbit Charge HR has been on the market since January 2015, and still serves as one of the company’s flagship activity trackers. This device offers continuous heart rate monitoring, detailed activity tracking, sleep tracking and information on your resting heart rate, making this somewhat of an all-in-one wearable that aims to satisfy everyone’s needs.
The Charge HR was one of the highest-selling wearables of 2015. But that was 2015. Now that a new year is upon us and many other fitness trackers have become available to the masses, is the Fitbit Charge HR still worth it? And how has it held up overtime? Today we’re going to find that out, and much more, in our full Fitbit Charge HR review.
|Fitbit Charge HR|
|Heart rate monitor||Yes|
|Battery life||Up to 5 days|
|Sensors and components||Optical heart rate monitor|
|Compatibility||Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Web|
|Colors||Black, Blue, Plum, Tangerine, Teal|
|Dimensions||Small: 137mm - 157.5mm (21mm wide) |
Large: 157.5mm - 193mm (21mm wide)
One of the things we liked most about the Charge HR is its simple design. It’s pretty sleek and doesn’t really stand out all that much, which we understand can be both a positive and a negative for some folks. The black version is particularly more nondescript than the other colors being offered by Fitbit, so if you’d like people to notice the tracker on your wrist, we’d suggest going with any of the other color options (Blue, Plum, Tangerine, Teal).
The display is very easy to read both indoors and out
It’s made mostly of a soft rubber material, save for the small OLED display that shows you time, steps, calories burned, flights climbed, distance traveled and heart rate. The screen color also matches the color of your band, which helps the fitness tracker not stand out too much. The display is quite easy to read both indoors and out. It’s always off by default, but with the handy Quick View feature turned on, your Fitbit will show you the time when you raise your wrist or when you tap the screen. This feature does impact battery life a bit, but not so much so that I needed to turn it off for any reason.
There’s only one button on this activity tracker, and it’s found on the left side of the OLED display. Pressing it cycles through time, steps, and other information, while holding it down for a second or two starts a stopwatch. On the bottom of the device you’ll find the heart rate sensor. While it looks like it’s a bit too bulky for comfort, it’s actually very tough to notice that the heart rate sensor is there. A problem with many heart rate-tracking wearables out there is that the sensors stick out too much, but luckily this isn’t the case here.
The Charge HR attaches like a standard watch with a buckle. This makes for a very secure and comfortable fit, and I never once thought the band was going to fall off when performing any activities. This again is a big problem with other activity trackers on the market, so we’re happy to see the Charge HR excel in this area.
If you need to charge it – and you won’t have to that often – you’ll need to do so by using the included proprietary USB charging cable. It’s not very long and needs to be plugged into a computer in order to charge. Try not to lose it, either. Replacement chargers from Fitbit can cost around $20, while third-party charging cables from Amazon can be yours for just under $10.
Like most other fitness trackers out there, the Fitbit Charge HR covers the essentials… and then some. Step tracking, calories burned, flights climbed and distance traveled are all present here, as well as the added benefit of heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking. Perhaps the nicest part about the sleep monitoring system is that it will track your sleep all on its own — there’s no need to put it into a “sleep mode” before you try drifting off for the night. We’ll talk more on that later.
The Charge HR isn't waterproof, and that will be a deal breaker for many
The Charge HR is 1ATM water-resistant, which means it’s rain and splash-proof. You shouldn’t wear it in the pool or shower, though. It can withstand an accidental drop in the water, but shouldn’t be submerged for more than a few seconds. This is definitely a potential deal breaker for some fitness-minded folks out there, as there are many other activity bands on the market that can be submerged in water and worn in the shower.
Aside from tracking your daily activities, the Charge HR can give you call notifications as well. You’ll need to turn on an extra setting in the Fitbit app in order to get call notifications sent to your wrist. Your wrist will buzz when you get a call, and the name of the caller will scroll across the display. The vibration motor is much more powerful in the Charge HR compared to an Android Wear or Pebble smartwatch, and it took me a pretty long time to get used to the jarring vibration on my wrist when someone would ring. Unfortunately there are no other notification options here.
Like other activity trackers, the Fitbit Charge HR can track your steps taken, calories burned, distance moved and floors climbed.
The Charge HR really excels when it comes to step tracking
The Charge HR really excels when it comes to step tracking. It’s incredibly accurate and is very good at differentiating actual steps from random arm movements. As a test I counted a certain number of steps (500 to be exact) and looked at the Charge HR before and after. I started with 3,478 steps, and after I took 500 equally big steps, the tracker read 3,981. It was only 3 off, which isn’t bad at all. Additionally, the Charge HR seems to be in line with the Garmin vivosmart HR and the Jawbone UP3 in this case.
A recent update to the Charge HR makes it so you don’t have to remember to start the stopwatch at the beginning of your workout. It will automatically track when it thinks you’re starting your exercise, and it’s pretty much spot on every time. Whether you’re going for an intense run, light jog or simple walk, all of your data will be there inside the app when you’re done. This, paired with the automatic sleep tracking detection, makes it one of the most convenient activity trackers out there.
Heart rate tracking
The biggest difference between the Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit’s $100 Charge wristband is the inclusion of a heart rate monitor. The heart rate monitor sits on the underside of the Charge HR and slightly pokes into the top of your wrist when you’re wearing it. The heart rate monitor doesn’t make it too uncomfortable to wear, but it’s still slightly noticeable compared to the standard Charge.
Right off the bat, it should be noted that a heart rate tracker on your wrist isn’t going to be as accurate as one that you can wear around your chest. Even though they’re pretty annoying and can get in the way, chest straps are the way to go if you need the most accurate data. There’s also a growing number of earbuds that can track your heart rate, which are also plenty accurate and don’t get in the way as often.
In the Fitbit app, you can set your device’s HRM to be always on or always off, but you should just keep it in Auto mode. Auto mode means the tracker will be active when you’re wearing it and inactive when you’re not. If your device is struggling to find your heart rate at key times of the day, you can always turn it to always on in the settings. Alternatively, if you’d like to maximize battery life or aren’t too fond of HR tracking, switching it off will definitely be beneficial.
Since this is a wrist-mounted HRM, you sometimes won’t get an accurate reading if you’re engaged in an activity that requires lots of arm and hand movement. Heart rate monitoring will cut out at some points during activities like boxing, but Fitbit claims this shouldn’t be a problem. If, or more appropriately, when the heart rate monitor cuts out, the company says it won’t disrupt your overall data. The Charge HR will instead take good HRM data from other points throughout the day, which will give you an average HR reading for that period where the data was lost. This certainly isn’t the best way to go about things, especially if you’re someone who needs an accurate reading every couple of hours. Then again, you probably shouldn’t be using a wrist-mounted heart rate monitor in the first place if you’re in this scenario.
The Fitbit Charge HR makes sleep tracking easier than ever
One of my favorite features on the Charge HR is its ability to track sleep. This is by no means a groundbreaking feature, but it’s something the Charge HR does right. Most fitness trackers require you to press a “sleep now” button inside the companion app right before you try to catch some Z’s, which can be quite annoying. The Charge HR automatically enters sleep tracking mode when it thinks you’re sleeping, and most of the time it’s spot on with its assumptions.
Not only does it measure the amount of sleep you get, but also the number of times you become restless during your slumber. Of course, this isn’t the only information it gives you about your habits, either. In the companion app, you can also view your average sleep amount, history, and much more.
I’m a big fan of the Fitbit app. It’s simple, pretty, and gives you all of your most important information on the main screen – right where you need it. The home screen of the Fitbit app shows you which device is currently connected, number of steps, bpm, distance, calories, floors, active minutes, as well as some personal goal information. Tapping on your device will bring up a settings menu, where you can change notification settings and a few other display options.
There’s a slide-out menu on the left side where you can view your Challenges, Friends, Account and manage alarms. The Fitbit app is pretty good at giving you daily, weekly, monthly and yearly challenges, and will let you know when each challenge is met. You can also connect with friends who are in the Fitbit community. Finding new friends with which to connect is as easy as tapping the FAB at the bottom of the screen, and selecting which people in your contact list have Fitbit accounts.
The app runs on Android, iOS, Windows, and you can sync your tracker with a Windows or Mac computer. The Charge HR comes with a small USB dongle that lets you sync your data with your computer wirelessly. If you don’t want to to that, simply connect your tracker to your phone via Bluetooth and it will sync whenever you want it to.
One of the nicest parts of the Fitbit app is that it connects with an enormous amount of third-party services. So whatever fitness app you’re currently using – whether that be Lose It!, RunKeeper or MyFitnessPal – the Fitbit app will make sure all of your most important workout and health data is recorded.
The thing I like about Fitbit’s app so much is that it takes on most of the settings that you don’t absolutely need on the fitness tracker itself. You can’t turn anything off from the tracker. So if you need to turn off heart rate, adjust Quick View settings or basically anything else, you’ll need to open the app. One of my major gripes with the Garmin vivosmart HR, which you’ll learn more about in our upcoming review, is that the vivosmart HR’s UI is a cluttered mess and doesn’t need to be that way. The Fitbit Charge HR is much more easy to use, and that’s because the app does the brunt of the work.
Fitbit says the Charge HR can last up to 5 days on a single charge, and that’s mostly true. I’ve been able to consistently get a solid 5 days of use when the heart rate monitor is turned off. But when the HRM is turned on, it’s more like 4 days of battery life. This is to be expected, as the constant flashing green lights take up more power.
Battery life is good. And it’s not often that a company tells you the proper battery life estimate. But I do have one gripe with the Charge HR, and it’s that you can’t find an exact battery percentage anywhere within the app or the tracker itself. The Fitbit app will show you whether your battery level is high, medium or low, and that’s it. You’ll also get a notification on your tracker when your battery is about to die, but there’s no exact percentage to be found. I don’t know if I’m just being nitpicky, but you’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult to display this information in the app.
So, should you buy the Fitbit Charge HR? That depends. The Charge HR does a lot right, and it’s not so good at a few things. If you’re looking for an accurate step tracker that’s easy to use, simple, durable and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, this might be the one for you. But if you’re looking for something that’s waterproof or something that will take an accurate heart rate reading, you might want to look elsewhere.
The Charge HR is good. And it might just be one of the best all-around fitness trackers on the market. But you should know that this isn’t a device for hardcore athletic monitoring, nor is it simply a pedometer. The Charge HR is good enough for most fitness-minded folks out there who are looking to get a better handle on their exercise routines. The app provides enough information to help you improve your workouts, and the fact that it can tell when you’re sleeping or exercising is just fantastic.
Right now, the Charge HR is available on Amazon for about $130. The Fitbit Charge can be yours for $20 less on Amazon as well, and the only thing you’re missing out on is heart rate tracking. Is it worth the $20? First you need to ask yourself — do you want to take a closer look at what your heart rate is doing during your exercises? If so, then the Charge HR is the one for you.
How did you like our review? Do you have any questions or comments? If so, be sure to leave your thoughts below in the comment section.