Fitness bands are all the rage these days, appealing to people of all ages, unlike smartwatches, which tend to only appeal to younger, tech-oriented people (and even we need some convincing). The highest in popularity of all of the fitness bands, by far, is Fitbit. At CES this year, Fitbit introduced the Surge and the Charge HR models to their lineup, both of which represent the company’s first foray into the use of heart rate monitors in their devices.
Verizon Wireless was kind enough to send me a Charge HR to try out so I could give the device a full dissection!
The Charge HR, like many of Fitbit’s fitness bands, is a “set it up and leave it” type of device. Once you’ve set it up, it requires no further input from you, it will just sit on your wrist and collect data.
That said, you will either need to set up the Charge HR with your smartphone or your PC. The Charge HR comes with a dongle that allows you to sync your data to the computer rather than a smartphone. I think it’s actually a very good idea to have the option to sync with your PC. Not everyone, particularly older generations, has a smartphone, but nearly everyone has a computer. Once it is set up and you’ve made your account, you can check your stats from anywhere by logging into your account online (or just by looking at the mobile app).
Some fitness bands, like the Fitbit Flex or the UP24 by Jawbone, require you to give it an indication that you’re going to sleep so it can measure you sleep habits. The Charge HR does it all by itself, and I found it to be surprisingly accurate considering that I usually spend time watching TV in bed before I go to sleep. I also learned that I’m a fairly restless sleeper.
The Fitbit Charge HR is “splash-proof, rain-proof, and can withstand even the sweatiest workout” according to the manual, but one thing worth mentioning is that you can’t wear it in the shower (at least you’re not supposed to).
In addition to being a fitness tracker, when it’s paired with your smartphone you get a few additional features. For one, caller ID for incoming phone calls. The Charge HR will vibrate when you have an incoming call and display the contact name on the screen…usually. I did experience at least one time where even though I had the contact in my phone, it only showed the phone number. Another great perk when the Charge HR is paired with your phone is the ability to sync alarms to the Fitbit for a gentle silent alarm in the morning. I found that having it vibrate on my wrist worked very well to wake me up, but was far less disruptive than an audible alarm.
In addition to tracking all of the things that you do during the day, you can input how much water you drink and how much food you eat. All of this put together allows it to help you track your fitness goals. If you want to lose 7 pounds then the Fitbit system will help you to achieve that goal by reminding you what you’ve put into your body, so you know what you need to work off.
Style & Comfort
As fitness trackers go, I think that the Charge HR hits the mark in terms of style. Personally, I think that they Surge is really clunky looking, but it obviously serves additional purposes with the larger screen. I was really appreciative that they sent me the black one, because black goes with everything, right? It also comes in plum, blue, and tangerine color varieties, though only black and plum are available from Verizon.
The Charge HR is also quite comfortable (most of the time), it felt just like I was wearing a watch or a rubber bracelet, which I often do. Even though it’s rubber, you’re supposed to wear it loosely so it never became a problem of irritation. Overall, it never really bothered me and in fact it was almost like it wasn’t there.
Unfortunately, it’s not all praise in this section. The free loop is really annoying because it has a little tab on the inside to rest inside your chosen adjustment hole. Obviously it serves the purpose of keeping things in place, but whenever you want to take the thing off or put it on, you have this little nubbin to contend with. I also mentioned that it’s comfortable most of the time. I absolutely hated wearing it at night. Even though it was perfectly comfortable and loose during the daytime, it suddenly felt constricting and irritating. For the purpose of testing it, I was fine with wearing it at night, but if I were to get one for myself I don’t think I would care enough about the sleep analysis or silent alarm to wear it while I was sleeping.
Charge HR Accuracy Assessment
Activity tracking is Fitbit’s bread and butter, it’s what they do. For the most part, I would say that they do a fine job with that. At times it seemed like the step count was more of an estimate than an exact number, but even pedometers aren’t perfect. It also uses an altimeter to measure the number of floors you’ve climbed and again, not perfect, but close enough.
Now, to address the HR that gives the Charge HR it’s name. The heart rate monitor seemed to generally know whether you were active or dormant, but it already knows that anyway from all of its other sensors. It was probably right about resting heart rate, because it was able to get an average over a long period of time with me sitting relatively still, but the active heart rate tracking was a veritable grab bag. When I compared the readout on the Charge HR and the heart rate measured by the exercise machine at my gym, there was often a 30 bpm disparity. I’m more inclined to believe the exercise machine because the input requires both palms and let’s face it, nordictrack has been doing this for a while.
In essence, there’s no real point in getting the Charge HR over the standard Fitbit Charge. However, the difference in price is only $20 and it’s possible that the accuracy of the device could be improved with a firmware update at some point down the road, so you may be willing to be faithful.
Battery Life And Charging
In the documentation, Fitbit claims that the Charge HR will last about 5 days. In my experience of wearing it for days at a time (but not in the shower), it really only lasted 4 days at the very most. If you leave it on your night stand at night, that will probably increase it’s life a bit because it seems to go to sleep after a time of going unused and I noticed that it lasted longer sitting on my dresser than it would have it I had been using it. In general, though, expect to have to charge it at least once a week. The flip side of that coin is that since it’s such a small device, it packs a small battery. The actually size of that battery seems to be unknown, but it only takes 1-2 hours to charge and you’re back in business. Just make you don’t move for those couple of hours and lose credit for your work.
The actual act of charging is actually a bit inconvenient, however. It comes with a 10-inch charging cable for connecting to a USB charger that you must provide yourself. You can use your computer, of course, but that might make the process a little slower. What’s worse is that it’s a proprietary 10-inch charging cable, so you better not lose it (the tiny cable) or it will cost you $20 to replace it (plus shipping).
As fitness bands go, the price is pretty much in the ball park with all of the rest of the options out there. The Charge HR clocks in at $149, which might be slightly above average, but it’s nothing that would scare me away if I were planning on buying one. Even though it isn’t entirely accurate, I forgive it for its transgressions.
The bottom line when it comes to a fitness band is that knowing how many steps you took that day isn’t really that important. If you’ve made it to this point then kudos, I’m about to explain to you what I really meant with the title of this article. The real benefit of a device like this is that you know it’s paying attention and that, along with reminders when you’ve gotten close to your daily goal and achievements along the way, gets you up and moving.
If you’re a statistician this device probably isn’t for you, but if you want to have something that will get you off the couch for a few extra minutes every day and make you more aware of what you’re putting in and getting out (calories) of your body, then the Charge HR fits the bill just fine.