Bottom Line Up Front: The Fitbit Charge is the best personal activity device/fitness tracker that I have tried. It is my current recommendation for most people.
My Experience with Fitness Trackers
I have worn a fitness tracker every day for nearly a year (early 2014). I have tried belt-based and wrist-based ones from three different manufacturers. I have found the FitBit products to be high quality, accurate, and reliable. You can read a very long intro article I wrote about my experiments with my first three fitness tracking devices if you are interested in the gory details. I can sum it up for you quickly now: everyone should get a personal fitness device because physical activity is very important, they are inexpensive, and they motivate you to move more (NOT exercise more….MOVE more). I will discuss my experience with the FitBit Charge in this article, but regardless of which you choose, you should try one. The barrier to entry is very low (minimal cost and easy to use).
About This Device
The FitBit Charge was released at the end of 2014. It built upon FitBit’s previous success with their first generation products like the Flex and One. It incorporates newer features not present in the previous models very well. If you want to read about all the specs, there is link to the product page at the end of this post. For now, I will focus on why I bought it, what is good, and what is bad.
Why this one? Based on my previous experience, I had a wishlist of things for my fourth fitness tracker: $150 or less, wrist-mounted, water-proof, can replace a watch (shows time), needs a display (some need an app to get any data), one week minimum battery life, and automatic sleep tracking in addition to basic step/movement measurements (total steps, distance, floors, etc.). This had most of them (more on that soon). It also was $129.00 normally but on sale around the holidays for $99 from Amazon.com.
- Costs $129. I think this is fair given the capabilities and the competition.
- Has a very clear LCD display that is easy to read in direct sunlight. It isn’t on all the time to save battery, but tapping it or clicking a button shows it quickly. The tapping feature is very cool but 50% accurate at best though.
- Battery life is excellent for a rechargeable. I get an easy 7 days use with it. It charges up within a few hours when I charge it too. More than acceptable. Some devices have watch batteries that last months at a time, but they are very limited.
- Automatic sleep tracking is accurate and useful. I find it is accurate to within 5 minutes of when I think I fell asleep. It knows you are asleep based on reduced movement so you don’t have to hit a button and tell it you are going to fall asleep. It shows how much you moved (restless sleep) throughout the night, which is also very interesting.
- Shows date and time. Can replace a watch mostly although it doesn’t look like a watch, more like a bracelet/band.
- Has a chronograph if you wanted to time something (again, can replace a watch).
- Syncs quickly and easily via Bluetooth.
- App and web interface are excellent.
- Band is very comfortable and stays on without a problem. Some devices have been known to fall off the user. Fitbit reinforced the clasp on this generation. I have not experienced any skin irritation either as some did on previous devices.
- Not waterproof. It says it is water resistant, but that kind of means to most people it can get splashed washing your hands. Shouldn’t be submerged for sure and shower is a bad idea. I would rather not take it off, but I do to shower.
- Charging cable is proprietary, i.e. it only charges the Charge…I would prefer microUSB so it is the same as my phone, tablet, kindle, and bluetooth headphones. Taking one cable on a week-long trip is very cool. The Charge charging cable is small and plugs into a USB wall-adapter or USB port, so it isn’t too bad.
I compared the step counts between the Charge and my FitBit One (belt mounted) and they are accurate to within 5%. I did wear this accidentally in the shower a few times and it was OK. It is more comfortable for me to wear it as a watch replacement, but I tried it on my dominant hand while wearing a watch on my other. I got used to it quickly, although it was annoying to wear something on my dominant right hand at times (using a mouse being one of them). If I wear a nice watch with clothes, I just switch it to the other hand. Fitbit lets you connect with friends which will show your step count against someone else. Kind of fun for a little competition. My brother-in-law and I do it. I actually check to see if I am beating him or not a few times a week (I am currently up 60,000 to 58,000 in our current 7-day battle for the record).
Fitbit just released two other models in this generation of products, the Charge HR and the Surge. Basically the Charge HR is the same as the Charge but has the ability to measure heart rate. The Surge is the same as the Charge HR except is has a more profound display and has GPS. I opted to stay away from heart rate monitoring specifically because I honestly don’t care about it that much, the added function reduces battery life, and wrist-based HR tracking isn’t very accurate relative to chest-mounted devices which I already own. I am not a “runner” per se although I run, but the GPS function doesn’t excite me. I do like the look of the Surge, but the added features aren’t worth double the price.
The Fitbit Charge is my current recommendation for anyone into fitness/activity tracking (which should be everyone!). If the wrist thing doesn’t work for you (appearance or annoyance), I would try the Fitbit One. I love this device and would have stayed with it except I didn’t like having to remember to put it on and off. It also doesn’t do automatic sleep tracking. Knowing how much you move and how much you sleep for around $100 is a no-brainer if you care about your health. If you have a question about a certain device, contact me. Happy to help!
QUESTION: Do you wear a fitness device of any kind? Why? If not, why not?
- Fitbit Charge
- Fitbit One
- Lumoid: This is a very cool service that lets you try out various items before buying them. One of the categories they offer is fitness trackers. Great option if you aren’t sure you want one or which one you want.
- The Wirecutter: Excellent roll-up and continually-updated review of fitness devices. Their current pick is the Charge as well although the article is under revision right now. Lots of good info here if you want to geek out on this stuff.