Fitbit Charge HR Review

Fitbit Charge HR Review

Fitbit Charge HR Product Specs

  • PurePulseTM heart rate monitoring
  • Workout & all-day activity tracking
  • Exercise tracking
  • Caller ID + Watch functionalities
  • Auto Sleep detection + Silent Alarms
  • Wireless syncing

Learn more at https://www.fitbit.com/chargehr

Functionality

Heart Rate Monitoring

Perhaps the biggest selling point for the Charge HR is the addition of heart rate monitoring – after all, it IS in the product name.

Fitbit’s PulseRate heart rate technology provides real-time wrist-based heart rate monitoring. This allows for continuous heart rate monitoring 24/7 – during sleep, while you exercise, while at work, while cooking dinner, when your in-laws call (although you probably don’t need the HR to know your heart is racing then), and so on.

Although heart rate is just one parameter and small piece of the heart health puzzle, it is a good general indicator of heart health. Per the American Heart Association, a healthy resting heart rate is generally between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM). The more active you are, the healthier your heart, and the lower your heart rate – it’s not unusual for athletes to have resting heart rates in the 50’s or even 40’s. Conversely, the heart has to work harder if you are less fit, and your heart rate will be higher.

The Charge HR simplifies heart rate measurements during exercise into one of three “zones”: Fat Burn, Cardio, and Peak. In general, the majority of your training will fall under Fat Burn and Cardio; Peak represents maximal intensity that you’ll typically only hit while, say, sprinting, or really pushing yourself.

Sleep Tracking

Honestly, this was the biggest selling point for me. Sleep is INCREDIBLY important to your well-being. If you’re not sleeping well, you will not perform well. Although I’ve kept a sleep journal before, it gets rather inconvenient keeping track of when you fall asleep, when you wake up, and remembering to write it all down before you forget.

The Charge HR can automatically detect when you fall asleep. If you manually set it for sleep mode (via the phone app), it will track how long it takes for you to fall asleep – this period is known as “sleep latency” and plays a role in determining your overall sleep health.

Once you wake up – which the Charge HR also detects automatically – you can view your sleep report on the phone app or dashboard. Each nightly report shows when you are asleep, “restless”, and awake. The Charge HR will track how long you spend in each state, how many times you are restless or awake, and displays your overall time spent asleep.

It also gives you the option of setting “silent” alarms – at the set time, the Charge HR will vibrate your wrist, gently waking you up. I MUCH prefer this over a louder alarm, and if you have a partner that wakes up at a different time, they will greatly appreciate this function.

I am a bit of a sleep health nerd, so the graphs are a big plus for me. But, if you do not know how to interpret the data, this may be a harder function to utilize compared to, say, steps taken. Still, at the very least, you get an accurate measure of the amount of sleep you’re getting each night, and can view your trends over time.

Calories Burned

This is pretty nifty – the Charge HR will track your calories burned throughout the day. To do this, it uses your weight and height to calculate your basal energy expenditure, or BEE. Your BEE is the amount of caloric energy your body must burn to perform essential functions – this amount remains constant and is always happening. So yes, you are technically burning calories while reading this post.

The Charge HR will also track the amount of calories you burn during exercise, based on your BEE and heart rate. So, at the end of the day, you get a combined total of calories burned based on your activity for the day as well as your BEE.

While this is a cool feature, and something I expect to see expanded upon in wearable tech going forward, this measure is simply a guesstimate. You cannot simply enter variables into a formula and accurately count the amount of calories someone burns, because we each have a unique biochemistry and unique metabolic activity.

To demonstrate: I’ve been cutting weight for the past month.  I’ve been eating 3,000 calories per day, and, according to my Fitbit dashboard, I’m burning an average of 3,003 calories per day. My weight should be stable.

So far, I’m down 10 pounds.

I love this feature, as long as you view it through the right perspective. It’s a great way to track activity beyond just measuring steps. It can also show you how damaging certain foods can be, if you compare their caloric content to the average amount of calories you burn during an exercise session. But it should NOT be viewed as 100% accurate. Instead, look at your trends – are you burning more, less, or about the same per day over time?

Step Counter

Your standard step counter function. Very accurate per my testing. I have noticed that there have been a few times I’ve woken up with ~40-50 steps already logged – either I have a sleepwaking issue I’m unaware of (which is completely plausible), or something is a bit off. But it really doesn’t affect your numbers at the end of the day.

Comfort

All the features of the Charge HR sound great. None of them work if you don’t wear the band. And you don’t wear a band that isn’t comfortable, no matter what it can do.

So, comfort may be the most important variable in evaluating wearable tech. It doesn’t matter if a band can warn you of an impending heart attack if it’s too uncomfortable to wear on a consistent basis.

Here, the Charge HR is a mixed bag. Sometimes – like right now – it’s easy to forget I’m wearing it. It’s lightweight, and after a brief adjustment period, you get used to going about your daily activities with the band around your arm.

“Around your arm? Don’t you mean around your wrist?”

2015-02-02 10.08.30

In order to accurately measure your heart rate, the Charge HR should be worn 1 finger-width below your wrist bone for all-day wear, and Fitbit recommends wearing it higher during exercise. This causes a few problems:

One, it’s hard to wear with dress shirts, or anything with long sleeves. This also results in your display being completely obscured. Want to check your heart rate, or your activity for the day? You’ll have to roll up your sleeves to see anything.

Two, it can be difficult to really “dial-in” the wristband to get it not too loose, not too tight, but just right. I’ve owned the Charge HR for over a month, and at times, I still fiddle with how tight I wear it, and where I place it on my arm. Too loose, and it’ll slide down your wrist. Too tight, and you end up like this:

2015-02-02 10.09.27

I’m not a dermatologist, but it’s easy to see why some people are concerned. The “Fitbit rash” has been in the news quite a bit. It lead to a total recall of the Fitbit Force, and is making rounds again with the Surge. Users of the Jawbone UP have also complained about rash, so this isn’t just a Fitbit problem.

The company recommends routinely cleaning the device, and taking a few days off from wearing it if it becomes problematic. It’s also probably a good idea to take it off after exercise and wipe it dry with a dry cloth to remove sweat from building up. Give it periodic breaks throughout the day as well. A 10-minute break while you’re sitting at your computer isn’t going to throw off your stats.

Overall, the Charge HR is pretty comfortable once you find your proper fit. There are some growing pains, and it has a bad tendency to slide down your arm when you workout/get all sweaty, but after some experimenting, you should be able to find the proper tightness that keeps the band in its proper place without causing skin irritation.

Fitbit Dashboard

The Charge HR relays your information to the Fitbit app, which has both desktop and mobile versions. The dashboard is the hub of all your statistics.

Fitbit Dashboard

Through the dashboard, you can view your current averages, as well as stats over time – days, weeks, months, years. The desktop version allows you to arrange & customize the tiles to your liking, which is nice. So, if your main concern is resting heart rate and monitoring sleep, you can move these to the top, and relegate steps taken to a less prioritized position.

Fitbit includes a USB dongle with the Charge HR that will automatically sync your stats with the Fitbit desktop app whenever the dongle is plugged in and your within range. Very cool.

The mobile application has the same features in a more compact package.

ChargeHR_Mobile

The mobile app displays for heart rate monitoring.

Connect your phone with the Charge HR via Bluetooth, and you’ll sync your stats instantly. The app also displays the battery charge remaining on the Charge HR.

Compete with friends

Adding friends on the Fitbit app allows you to compare your activity with theirs. You can even sign each other up for different “challenges”, such as who can take the most steps during the work week, or do the “Weekend Warrior” challenge if you need motivation to stay active on Saturday morning.

This feature is a great motivator, especially for those simply trying to move more. The biggest downside, in my opinion, is the lack of competitions beyond anything other than steps taken. Why can’t we compete on calories burned, or most active minutes? For those more focused on weightlifting, or interval work, steps may not be a good measure of your activity rates. Hopefully Fitbit can advance this going forward – there’s lots of potential to expand here.

Summary

The Fitbit Charge HR comes packed with features. The dashboard app provides an excellent platform for tracking your stats over time. I’m a huge fan of quantifying health data, and the ability to track my sleep and heart rate over time is exactly what I wanted out of the Charge HR. The friend features and challenges serve as motivation for the competitor in all of us, and there is a ton of room for growth here going forward.

So where is there room for improvement?

  • For those without the knowledge needed to interpret the data, it may be a challenge to fully utilize all the features the Charge HR has to offer. Fitbit offers a premium version which provides a trainer, but I have not used this feature and cannot say how much it may or may not help.
  • As mentioned, the “calories burned” statistic is more than likely not 100% accurate, but when viewed with the right perspective, can help you track periods of activity/inactivity.
  • The rash. Comfort issues with long-sleeve shirts. Tends to slide around when your arm is sweaty.

Hardcore/elite athletes & sports teams will probably be more interested in something like the products offered by Omega Wave.

Whom would I recommend the Charge HR to?

Anyone looking for a quality step counter, sleep tracker, and heart rate tracker will be satisfied with the Charge HR. I love the ability to quantify my health data, especially the sleep tracking. It’s also a great motivator for staying active.

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