1 Nov 2015

Fitbit Charge HR Review

Two months ago I received the Fitbit Charge HR as a gift, and for the past two months I’ve never been more conscious about my daily exercise than ever. I mean that in the best sense of the statement. I owe all the thanks to this new heightened awareness to my Fitbit. From the day I got it, I was hooked. Completely obsessed. Like the 7-year-old me obsessing over the newest Barbie doll. Except now it’s the 21-year old me; same obsession, different toy. Adults are deprived of toys, but this is one captivating, life changing, no-shame adult toy that made me realize: screw the no-toy adult stigma.

Now let’s talk Fitbit - I promise my personal nostalgic tangent is over. The Fitbit Charge HR is one of Fitbit’s more advanced exercise trackers, displaying real-time data of your total steps taken, stairs climbed, calories burned and more, all right on your wrist. This convenient OLED screen makes it all too easy to keep up with your exercise progress for the day. Such constant fitness updates can be considered both a gift and a curse… It’s great after a long workout because seeing you’ve taken thousands of steps is a powerful and satisfying reinforcer; but it’s not so great when your slightly pathetic 500 steps is illuminated right on your wrist all day... But isn’t that the beauty of it? Without being constantly reminded that I haven’t yet reached my daily goal, I probably never would. With the adult toy comes the adult game. Can you beat your daily goal today, or will it be you? Dun, dun, dun.

Charge HR Break Down

What & Who

So let’s back up and break down Fitbit’s Charge HR. The Charge HR is classified as an “active fitness” device, rather than an “everyday fitness” device like the Fitbit Flex or a “performance fitness” device like the Fitbit Surge. Thus, this Fitbit is the most popular model because it’s middle status is appealing to a wide variety of peoples. The device caters to whatever fitness level you might be in the mood for without being too high-tech and intense, from walking to sprinting. That’s why it’s perfect for me. It’s useful in tracking my steps on my commute to work and around the office, as well as when I kick things up a notch in a tough run workout. All in all, the Charge HR is perfect for a moderately active audience of about 18 and older, both male and female.

The Look

I wear my Fitbit Charge HR everyday. Not only because I love being updated on my exercise progress at all times, but also because there is no reason not to wear it. Consisting of a slim, rubber band with a small, black, 2-by-1 cm screen, a secure watch-like clasp and a single button on the side, it is comfortable and easy to wear. This simple and sturdy design is discreet enough to wear to work and durable enough to endure a tough workout. This way, no step on your way to get that third cup of coffee goes unaccounted for. Also, the Charge HR is offered in a range of colors, like black, blue, tangerine, teal and plum, you can have your watch blend in or stand out however much you wish. It also comes in three different sizes, small, large and extra-large, to ensure a perfect fit.

H20 Alert

But that being said, there is one thing that you should probably take it off for: water. You must be aware that in the event of prolonged water exposure, Fitbits are “water-resistant”, not “water-proof”. You are advised against wearing the devices in the shower and to be weary if it gets wet. I try to make conscious efforts to take it off before showering and diving into the ocean, but there have been multiple occasions where my attention to detail has failed me and my Fitbit went for swim or shower right with me. The good news is, my device is still working perfectly! Still, this constant putting on and taking off is not ideal, especially around water activities. There have been times where I’ve walk to the water when I’m on the beach, just to have to run back to my bag and remove my Fitbit. Or after a shower, I just completely forget to strap the device back on, costing me hundreds of unaccounted steps. So I now have a particular routine of where I put my Fitbit to ensure that I always remember to put it back on after a shower. Winning the game starts with the pre-game routine.

Battery Life

But then comes that awful moment where you’ve successfully remembered to not only take off your Fitbit before the shower, but also to put it right back on shortly after the shower to minimize the number of untracked steps, and it’s dead. Power gone. While this is a devastating feeling, it’s not one you have to endure too often with the Charge HR having a full battery life of about 5 days. Considering this device is tracking every step you take, calories burned, workouts endured and more, all the while constantly monitoring your heart rate (which I will touch on later), it’s a pretty impressive battery life. To give you a tangible sense of this battery duration, on a full charge, I can get through an entire workweek of commuting to and from the office, as well as about 3 or 4 (on a good week) fairly rigorous workouts, my heart rate being monitored the entire time. I’ve been really happy with the battery life span. If you desire a longer battery life, there is an option to turn off the continual heart rate monitor. I have never tried this myself, but I have heard that it can substantially up the lifetime.

So what happens after those 5 long days of battery life? In the beginning (after my honeymoon obsession phase where, confession, any time I was sitting, I’d charge my Fitbit just incase the battery may drop a bit below full charge), once my Fitbit was dead, my forgetfulness (again) and busy life would kick in and charging my Fitbit quickly dropped on my priority list. I think in part, this lack of charging occurred because of the less than ideal charger. It’s a tiny cord with a funky charger that always seems to get rejected by the Fitbit as if it doesn’t quite fit properly. But after some struggling, don’t worry, it will fit. There have also been times where I have misplaced the unique cord, preventing me from charging it for a few days. It really would have been nice had Fitbit designed a product with a more universal charging method. But, again, after Fitbitless days due to not having a charge, I developed a charging routine, have a specific spot for my charger and, voila, I have mitigated some of these issues. Fitbit must have also identified this as a pervasive problem because when the charge is low on your device, they email you a notification. This has saved me a few times when my trusty routine has failed me.

So now that you know you must keep it dry, on your wrist and fully charged, I bet you want to know what does this thing actually does?

Fitbit Charge HR Features

General

The Charge HR includes all the fundamental features of Fitbit’s simpler products. It tracks your steps, distance traveled and calories burned like most generic trackers. OLED lights illuminate the real-time data of each value on the small black screen. The default model flashes the time first, then steps taken, heart rate, calories and steps climbed. But this order can be rearranged in the Fitbit app (which I will speak more to later on because the app is really what brings all these meaningless numbers to valuable fruition). The screen is small, but adequate in size. I rarely ever have trouble reading the text. At times, in bright sunshine it may require a squint, but overall it’s very legible.

One of my favorite features about the Charge HR is the “Quick View” feature. With a little flipping, upward motion of your wrist from resting, to time-telling position, the Fitbit automatically turns on to flash the time. No button-pushing necessary. It’s really handy in the midst of a workout when you’re timing a sprint and every second matters, including the one that it takes to push a single button. Another unique feature is the “tap to play” feature – I’m not sure what the technical term is, so this is what I’ve dubbed it. By tapping the screen, the Fitbit scrolls through the major categories- from time to steps to heart rate etc. However, I must say that it is a bit finicky and doesn’t always work when you need it to. On average, I’d say I use the button more than the tap feature.

But these glitzy features and the monitoring of the basic exertions, like steps, are just the beginning of the Charge HR. Fitbit realizes that leading a healthy lifestyle goes beyond walking a certain number of steps in a 24-hour time frame. What makes the Charge HR way more than a glorified pedometer is its inclusion of two unique features to paint an accurate and holistic picture of your health status: the heart rate and sleep features. These features are what, I believe, set the Charge HR apart from other fitness trackers.

Heart Rate

The Charge HR, inherent in its name, includes a continuous heart rate monitor. The optical heart rate monitor continually measures how many times your heart beats per minute, while at rest, in the peak of a workout and every second in between. This allows for a more accurate reading of how many calories you burn throughout the day to help keep weight and daily caloric intake in check.

I have found this feature especially useful in the face of more rigorous activity. For example, during a sprint workout, I can verify if I am fully exerting myself or if I can be pushing myself to the next level based on whether or not I reach my peak heart rate.

Side Note: Fitbit divides heart rate into three zones: Fat burn, a moderate intensity zone, Cardio, a high intensity zone, and Peak, a maximum intensity zone. After a workout, Fitbit displays the time spent in each heart rate zone through simple graphs. These zones can be personalized based on your heart rate to tailor workouts to your specific needs and goals. The device easily tracks workouts, each of which begins by holding down the small button on its side. Until the button is held down again to end the workout, it monitors total time, number of steps, distance, calories burned and average HR of the allotted workout. This information is simultaneously synced to your smart phone where it is stored in straightforward, logical graphs.

So, I know when to begin the next sprint by monitoring when my heart rate lowers into a recovered state. It is so useful to have a HR reading at hand allowing you to assess and adjust your workout right then and there. It helps you to know your body and how hard you can push it to optimize your potential as an athlete. It helps you win the game. I have used chest strap HR monitors during workouts in the past and after comparing the readings to the Charge HR, I have been impressed with the similarities of the peak and resting HR readings. So, with the Charge HR you get the same accurate readings as a strap HR monitor all at the convenience of having real-time updates right on your wrist. We all know how annoying clipping in a little HR device to a cold, wet chest strap is… I’m telling you, this Fitbit is the solution.

Sleep Tracker

The Charge HR also includes an automatic sleep tracker. Yep, automatic. Meaning it begins monitoring your sleep as soon as you doze off; there is no need to manually start the recording as with other devices. It tracks the total duration of your sleep and your specific sleep pattern, identifying times when you were restless or awake. I have found this feature very valuable. It has helped me identify that I get insufficient sleep to sustain the lifestyle I wish to have. I never realized that the many minutes I spend mindlessly scrolling on Facebook, checking Buzzfeed and watching TV before bed really add up. Seeing that a half an hour TV show makes all the difference in failing to reach my sleep goal, I have adjusted my sleep style a bit – either by budgeting time for both my pre-bed, technological wind-down and sufficient sleep, or just going straight to bed. Adequate sleep is vital for proper bodily functioning and essential to winning the game. How can you expect to endure a high-performance workout, let alone get through a day of work, if a lack of sleep is inhibiting your fundamental bodily capabilities? I learned this the hard way. But the Fitbit sleep tracker has helped me to make this lifestyle change and to reach that goal of 8 hours of sleep a night. It really does make a difference.

And the best part is, it’s not even a hassle wearing the Fitbit to bed. I don’t even notice that I’m wearing it! Well, not until it starts that dreaded buzzing of the wrist… You can set a silent alarm on the Fitbit app where the device begins to vibrate at the indicated time. It’s not a loud, annoying ringtone so it doesn’t wake those around you up and you can switch it off right at the convenience of your wrist, rather than hopping out of bed to turn off your phone alarming from halfway across the room. It also makes it much easier to go right back to bed :)

Fitbit and the Fitbit App

General

The Charge HR is a great device- the aforementioned information should easily verify that. But I value the Charge HR for reasons beyond the tangible product. Let’s talk the brand. Fitbit is ingenious. They make it easy to access and understand the plethora of data the device tracks each day. After registering your Fitbit to the Fitbit app through a straightforward, step-by-step process, your tracker will automatically sync your personal information to your smart phone using Bluetooth. By simply opening the Fitbit app on your smartphone, you can access all the data, graphically displayed on simple, intuitive charts. The same is true if you wish to plug your Fitbit into a computer through the USB connection. I just prefer to use the portable, on-the-go iPhone method- just the kinda girl I am. Anyway, the application homepage allows you to see all the information you’d want to know at a simple glance. Steps, heart rate, distance, calories burned, floors climbed, how you’re doing in the game, all presented to you in a straightforward and color-coded manner. As evident in the photos, the icons turn from blue to red to orange to finally green when you’ve achieved your goal, and the bar underneath grows as you approach your goal. If you desire further information about a category, simply clicking it brings you a more in-depth analysis about that day and days prior enabling you to see your long-term progression in comparison to current status.

 

Personal App Favorites

The first thing I do when I wake up is click to see more about my sleep. I love knowing if I’ve reached my goal, if I woke up, when I finally fell asleep, when I was restless, etc. It’s always interesting to see how turbulent or peaceful your sleep was and compare it to your self-assessed energy level the next morning. Normally a night’s sleep full of spikey restlessness is a good indicator of a sluggish day. Very useful information to know.

I also use the app in the midst of a workout. The app includes a GPS tracker to map your run, showing where you are running on a 2D, interactive map. Furthermore, every mile (or whichever distance increment you choose), it voices your distance, time, average pace and calories burned. You can choose to have all, some or none of these values voiced. Once you are finished your run, you can end the GPS tracking on the app and the data is instantaneously synced to your personal Fitbit app. Under the “track exercise” tab on the main screen, it shows you all of your recorded runs. By clicking an individual run, it brings you to an in-depth analysis showing the total distance, total time, average pace, a breakdown of HR zones (in both bar and line graph formations), calories burned and the impact of that workout on your daily goals. I neglected to use this feature until fairly recently and really wish I had utilized it a long time ago. A major drawback for me was that I loved being able to run with my Fitbit and only my Fitbit, leaving my mobile phone behind. But the app, and therefore your phone, must be in Bluetooth reach of the Fitbit for use of this feature. If you like to play music when you run and bring your phone with you anyway, it’s not hassle at all. I’ve decided that the benefits of tracking my exercise are worth the trouble of carrying my phone along with me. It’s the small sacrifice we make for the game.

The Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge are imbedded with a feature called SmartTrack. It automatically recognizes and records periods of your day with enough activity to be considered “exercise.” If you’re exert high-movement, high-heart rate activity for at least 15 straight minutes (this value can be modified), your Fitbit will consider it a workout and treat it as if you manually started a workout on the app as aforementioned. Therefore, it records basic exercise stats like the duration, estimated calories burned, heart rate, etc. However, it will not be able to record specific GPS data. I relied on this feature before discovering the GPS option, which definitely satiated my need to active data for the first month. I just prefer the more in-depth analysis you get when using the GPS tracker. Regardless both are great and give you lots of beneficial data about your workout.

Tracking Long-Term Progression

Furthermore, the app is incredible because it’s what brings meaning to those arbitrary numbers that appear on your home page. In the grand scheme of things, what does the fact that there is a big orange number saying I’ve taken 8,422 steps today? What does it mean that my resting heart rate today was 50 bpm? At face value, it means you’ve almost met the universal standard to leading a healthy life of taking 10,000 steps a day. And it means that your heart rate at rest averaged 50 beats per minute. But why the app is so great is that it lets you put these daily numbers into the discourse of a greater perspective. Do you always reach the 10,000 steps or is today an outlier? By clicking for more information, the app allows you to see your previous steps exerted, calories burned, steps climbed, everything. In a standard bar graph, you can see these values all at the same time over the course of the day, the week, the month and even the year. These greater picture graphs allow you to be reflective- why was I taking more steps and my heart rate was much lower in June? It can provide that gentle, yet necessary, reminder that this is a game, and you’re starting to slack.

Challenges

The app also provides access to a challenge hub where you can play the game against friends, family and colleagues to mutually motivate one another in the quest to reach your personal goals. Fitbit makes it super easy to connect and compete with friends. All apps come equipped with a Challenge hub. It offers four different types of challenges: Goal Day- who meets daily step goal, Weekend Warrior- who takes the most steps Saturday and Sunday, Daily Showdown- who can take the most steps in 24 hours, and Workweek Hustle- who takes the most steps Monday through Friday. After selecting which game you’d like to play, the app brings you to an “Invite Friends” center where you can challenge friends from your contact list or Facebook. It’s quick and simple to set up and a fun way to get healthy with the people you care about in a friendly competition.

Fitbit

Lastly, Fitbit has mastered the art of motivation. When registering your account, you link your device to an email address. Don’t worry, they do not flood your inbox with a bunch of junk mail. Instead, they notify you every time you have reached a new benchmark or set a new personal record. The other day I earned my Skydiver badge for climbing 1000 floors – no big deal. Furthermore, they send you weekly progress reports to show your cumulative achievements. This allows you to see your efforts and progression on a larger scale, day-to-day rather than day-by-day. Has your resting HR decreased over the course of a few weeks? Was your average weekly sleep above or below your goal? How did your highest step day this week compare to last week? This weekly update is also useful when you’re having an off week and you’ve forgotten to wear your Fitbit for a few days… or all week… Whether or not you wear it, you’ll always get an email reminding of you of your success, or lack of success. And if it happens to be the latter, the “averaging 0 steps per day” and “total calories burned: 100” are great motivators to find your Fitbit and kick butt next week!

 

To Buy or Not To Buy?

All in all, I would 100% recommend the Fitbit Charge HR. It has motivated and enabled me to be a better athlete and healthier person. It is a useful device that would benefit people of any and all fitness levels. It’s affordable, easy to use and accurate. It’s the shameless, grown-up toy we all should have.


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