Review: Fitbit Charge

If you feel like you need technology to help you out with that whole losing weight thing, Fitbit is here to help, and it’s hoping the Charge band gives you new momentum to start moving.

Features

The newest entry in Fitbit’s line-up, the Charge takes the fitness tracker concept and build it into the band, incorporating the technology into a rubber band with a few sensors, single colour display, wireless support, and a battery.

Materials used in the construction include a rubbery plastic (elastomer) with a metal clasp, with a very small screen relying on Organic Light Emitting Diodes.

The battery used in the Charge is said to handle up to seven days of charge with its Lithium-Polymer technology (LiPo), charged in one to two hours, and synchronising information over Bluetooth 40 within a range of around 5 metres.

The Fitbit Charge is available in two sizes, with small catering to wrists 13.97cm to 17cm, while the large size handles wrists 16cm to 20cm in diameter.

A wireless synchronisation dongle is included in the box, useful for connecting the Fitbit Charge to a computer, while a charging cable is also included to power up the Fitbit Charge battery using its proprietary connector.

Performance

Fitbit sure has quite a few activity trackers out there, and if you’re looking for something to keep you good, it can be a little hard to choose: there’s the $80 entry level Zip, $130 One, $130 Flex, and $150 Charge, as well as two more set to arrive in the next few months, the $180 Charge HR (heart rate) and $300 Surge tracker and smartwatch.

This wide array of choice, not to mention the amount of other fitness gadgets out there, can’t make the selection of a fitness gadget particularly easy for people keen to jump on the tracker bandwagon. Not at all.

But Fitbit is trying to change, and while its previous trackers have focused entirely on fitness, the company seems to be aware that health isn’t all people are interested in.

Rather, it’s looking at ways of bringing phone calls to wrists because that is what people are interested in. .

“Our mission has always been to deliver innovation through exceptional, wearable design in a way that empowers consumers with greater knowledge of their overall health,” said James Park, Fitbit’s CEO and Co-founder.

“That being said, we understand that everyone’s approach to fitness is different. With the addition of these new products, Fitbit offers the widest variety of trackers—at affordable prices across all mobile platforms—ensuring that everyone can find the right fit for their lifestyle and their goals.”

That quote came during the launch of the new Fitbit products earlier in the year, and while we had a brief play with the products back then, now we’ve had a good solid review time with Fitbit’s new wrist band, so is the Charge worth slapping on your wrist?

First things first, and this isn’t the same as the Fitbit Flex you might be considering buying today or a few months ago.

That product was a tiny tracker that could be thrown into a replaceable band, and tracked your activities, but did so only by telling you how you were doing with five LED dots. It was easy and practically impossible to get wrong, unless you wanted the wristband to tell you all the information.

This year, Fitbit is catering its smart band to people who like things in that latter category, with a small LED screen on a fitness tracker that is built into the wrist band, with no way of changing the band like you previously could.

As such, the piece of flexible plastic with a metal clasp that you take out from the box is what you’re stuck with, and if you wanted a different colour, you’ll want to return that before you adorn it, as you’ll be stuck with it otherwise.

Charging the device is pretty easy, with a very small proprietary connector to charge the Fitbit from a USB port, which we’re sure everyone who buys this device will have access to.

You shouldn’t need to charge it for very long, though, and when you do, you can expect a good week of battery life, so charge it up to begin with and slap it on.

We say “slap it on” but really, this isn’t a gadget you slap on, at least not in the sense that you can with many other fitness bands. Rather, the Fitbit Charge as a two pronged clasp, and while it can be a relatively loose or tight experience depending on how close of a fit you prefer, we found that sometimes it can be a bit of a hassle to get the band to close.

Once it’s on, however, you should find it relatively comfortable, though the section at the top where the activity tracker is on is very rigid and can feel like a thin yet very long watch, and if you’re not used to that, you’ll have to get used to it.

That said, once it is being worn, you’ll want to connect the gadget to your phone, an experience which generally relies on the Fitbit app and a setup process that can take close to ten minutes, so make sure to put the time aside.

With that, you’re free to start your activities, because from here on in, everything is logged. Footsteps, distance travelled, calories burned, floors ascended, the active minutes, extra active times for when you decide to actually go for a run and burn some calories, as as well as sleep, water amount consumed, and even a food plan if you feel like it.

The Fitbit app will make sure this is synchronised regularly, updating the information about you and sending it out to your friends if you want that done, with the information in each of these categories easily tabulated in a week and month period simply by pressing on the field.

That means you can see all the steps for the week, the amount of kilometres you’d have travelled if you thought of it the same way, and the number of imaginary flights of stairs you’ve gone up when you factor in the amount of walking up and down things.

You can see most of this information on the small OLED screen on the wrist band, pressing a button on the side to jump through each mode, and the app will display more information, but you can also use this to turn off some of the modes on the band, so if you don’t like viewing the steps or distance travelled, you can actively switch it off using the app.

Oh, and there’s also a clock with a few variants in how you read the time, with the button activating the clock when you want to, or alternatively a double tap on the screen if you so choose, a feature which harks back to the Flex as that’s how you saw how you were doing on that unit.

One thing the Fitbit Charge does lack is a comprehensive sleep tracking system, providing the bare basics that yes, you’ve slept, but little else, and nowhere near the level that some of Fitbit’s competitors offer, with a basic graph that can be expanded, though not to a degree that will yield much of a display about how good of a sleep you had, but rather a slightly less monochromatic barcode.

It’s the one part of the app we wish had more going for it, and in general it feels like Fitbit really dropped the ball in this department, even though it did manage to find a way to start sleep tracking without having you press a button, which is at least a positive change, one we’ve been asking for in fitness gadgets previously.

Fitbit also has thrown in some phone call technology to turn the wrist band into a bit of a smartwatch with an interception of the call and a display of caller ID, but it’s not a terribly quick process, and if you answer the phone call within a couple of rings, that seems to be before the Fitbit gets the message, meaning this feature will be made irrelevant pretty quickly.

You’ll find phone numbers pop up when you get calls, but that’s it, and the lack of timeliness can make this kind of a non issue, unless you can’t find your phone quickly.

Conclusion

With the release of the Charge, Fitbit has potentially made things a little awkward, especially since it hasn’t come at the same time as the Charge HR, what will potentially be a worthwhile upgrade thanks to the inclusion of technology that could make the activity tracking more complete.

Let’s be clear: from what we’ve seen of the Charge and the Charge HR, they are practically the same, except for the heart rate tracking technology being used in the HR model, which the “HR” stands for.

But that heart rate technology should be a choice a consumer can make before they buy, with current customers stuck either waiting or throwing down the dollars now for something that goes without, basically choosing in the Fitbit line-up between an older gadget (the Flex) without smarts and with replaceable bands, and a new one (Charge) with a modicum of smarts and a band that can’t be replaced.

In essence, the Charge is the newer take on the Flex with a notification here and there if you haven’t made a call on that whole smartwatch thing.

And if that’s what you like, great, you’ll be happy, but we’d probably wait until early 2015 on the Charge, as that heart rate technology will likely make this a better gadget altogether.