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Fitbit Charge HR Review

Fitbit Charge HR Review

Summary

  • Pros: All day heart-rate monitoring; cool app for visualizing progress; sleep tracking; caller ID.
  • Cons: No GPS; not “waterproof;” pedometer data is a bit of a gimik
  • Overall: The Charge HR is a great device if you are trying to cut weight by counting calories, and offers a lot of cool ways to visualize your fitness progress with the Fitbit app.

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Full Review

The Fitbit Charge HR is a wearable heart-rate monitor that tracks your daily activity, workouts and sleep. It’s a fairly sleek watch-like device that sends data to its integrated phone app via bluetooth, where the real user experience takes place.

Before I get into the review, I just want to say that Fitbit Charge HR is not really a triathlon specific device like the Garmin 920XT. It does not have GPS and can’t track details like your pace and mileage for cycling. Also, while it is “water resistant,” it isn’t “water proof,” which means you can’t swim with it. That said, it has a lot of cool features for anyone interested in physical fitness, including triathletes.

What’s Cool About the Fitbit Charge HR?

I was pleasantly surprised by the things I like about the Fitbit Charge HR and the free Fitbit app that collects and charts all of the activities recorded by the device. I’ll go over the features one at a time, below.

Heart Rate Tracking

Obviously, the main function of the Charge HR is to track your heart rate. What’s cool about the Charge HR is that, unlike many other heart rate monitors on the market today, you can wear it on your wrist like a watch instead of using the elastic bands that wrap around your torso. I always get chaffed by heart rate monitor straps, and certainly don’t find them comfortable enough to wear while sleeping or during the day when I’m not working out. I’ve seen a few of complaints about people having rashes on their wrists, but I haven’t had any problems. Fitbit recommends taking the Charge HR off occasionally to let the skin breath or if you notice redness.

Activity Tracking

Fitbit Charge HR ReviewTo track your “activity,” meaning your workouts, the Charge HR records how many steps you take and simultaneously records your heart rate. Because it does not have GPS, the steps are counted trough the device’s pedometer function. This type of data is only useful if you are running or walking, however. For sports other than walking or running, such as cycling or strength training, the only useful data recorded is heart rate. The device then uses an algorythm to estimate how many calories you burned during the activity.

To begin recording an activity, you simply hold down the single button for a few seconds. When you are finished your activity, you hold the button down for a few more seconds. While in activity mode, you can also view stats such as your heart rate, the duration of the activity, and the time by pressing the button once quickly.

After your activity, you can sync the Charge HR with your phone and name the activity. So, for example, if you were in a spin class at the gym and recorded the activity, you could then name the activity in your phone app so you can keep track of which activity you did, what your heart rate was, and how many calories you burned.

If you are really heart rate training, you can also see a graph showing which “zone” you were in based on your heart rate, such as the “fat burning” zone, “cardio” zone, or the “peak” zone. By the way, if you are just getting into heart rate training, a book I highly recommend on the subject is Slow Burn by Stu Mittleman.

Fitness Tracking

Fitbit Charge HR ReviewThe Fitbit app is pretty handy for keeping track of your progress when you have specific fitness goals. With the app, you can track your general fitness stats such as your weight and body fat percentage. When you first set up the device, you are asked for your current weight and body fat percentage, and then asked to set goals. You have to manually enter new data everyday, but the Charge HR will then plot a graph of your progress.

Although this feature is pretty simplistic, it does help keep you mindful of your goals and motivate you to make progress. For example, when you are trying to lose weight, there’s nothing worse than seeing the graph start to slope upwards in the wrong direction. It really does motivate you to stay on track much more than simply weighing yourself every day and having only a vague sense of progress. There’s just something about seeing your progress visually in a graph that really helps keep you on target.

Granted, there are much more detailed apps out there if you want to, for example, track the circumference of your arms, legs, torso and waist for purposes of gaining muscle or losing fat. For me personally, however, I don’t want too many options or too much detail. I’d rather have a something simple and easy to use that I will actually use everyday. Fitbit hit the nail on the head with the easy fitness tracker.

Calorie Tracker

In the calorie tracker section of the Fitbit app, the Charge HR helps you track how many calories you have burned throughout the day and compares it to how many calories you have consumed (assuming you have been logging your meals into the app as well) to arrive at a rough estimate of whether you are in a calorie surplus or deficit. If you are trying to lose weight, this can help you, for example, burn at least 500 more calories per day than you consume, which is a pretty good formula if you are trying to lose weight at the rate of about 1 pound per week.

Honestly, I don’t use the calorie tracker because its too cumbersome.  I either forget or don’t care to log every calorie that I eat all day every day. I imagine this feature could be more useful if you were extremely motivated to cut weight for a body building competition and/or achieve your ideal racing weight for an endurance event, however.

Sleep Tracking

Fitbit Charge HR Review - SleepFirst, the sleep monitoring function is surprisingly cool. I’ve never really thought about tracking my sleep before and always thought I get about 7 hours of sleep based on when I get in and out of bed.

Once I started using the Fitbit Charge HR, however, I noticed that I really only get about 5-6 hours of sleep per night. The Fitbit app shows you your average sleep for the week, and also lets you examine each day in more detail, showing you how long you slept, how many times you were restless, and how many times you woke up. Since I began using the Charge HR, I’ve made a conscious effort to improve my sleep by going to bed earlier and not consuming sugar before getting in bed.

Of course, better sleep means better training sessions and better results for whatever fitness protocol you follow, whether that is endurance or strength training.

One thing I don’t like about the app is that if you wake up during the night and then fall back to sleep, it splits the data set between two different sleep blocks. I would much rather be able to analyze the entire night of sleep without having to analyze two data sets and then add up the sleep, restlessness, and times awake between the two to determine how I slept overall.

Caller ID

Okay, this one surprised me because I couldn’t have cared less about this feature. I scoffed at the Apple Watch when it was released. I mean, do we really need tweets scrolling across our wrists every few seconds?

Nevertheless, wearing my Fitbit Charge HR, I was surprised when my wrist vibrated one day and I looked to see the name of an ex-girlfriend scrolling across the screen. I didn’t even have to reach into my pocket, pull out my phone, and see who it was… I could simply ignore the call and continue with my day. My guess is that this feature could be even more valuable if you run or bike with your phone and want to be notified of important calls, but not have to stop to check your phone, assuming you would even hear it ringing. I really like this feature.

What’s Not Cool About the Charge HR?

No GPS

As mentioned above, the major drawback of the Charge HR for fitness enthusiasts is the lack of a GPS. This means the device can’t track your distance or pace for anything other than running, which it does though its pedometer function.

Many of us, especially in the triathlon community, are avid users of Garmin products like the Garmin 920XT or the Garmin Forerunner 630 have become accustomed to fitness devices that allow you to view your distance and pace, and upload runs, bike rides, swim session, or other workouts to apps like Strava where you can even see maps of your workous and compete against friends who run or ride the same sections of terrain. These advanced features are noticeably absent from the Charge HR, although to be fair the device is geared more towards runners than triathletes.

“Steps” Tracking

The ability to count how many steps you take throughout the day seems like sort of a ridiculous metric to me. It makes me wonder who the target consumer is for the Charge HR. Honestly, I don’t know anyone in the fitness community who actively tracks how many steps they take in a day as a measure of their overall physical fitness. To me, the pedometer feature is really just a useless gimik, unless you’re extremely weak or recovering from some type of accident where the number of steps you take in a day is a real accomplishment.

Conclusion

Despite the lack of a GPS, which limits the value of the Fitbit Charge HR as a true “activity tracker” for triathletes, there are a lot of cool features on the Charge HR, and triathletes may still use it for running and cutting weight. It was unexpected, but I really do love the sleep tracking and caller id functions. Additionally, the watch is stylish enough that I can wear it for the whole day, even in professional settings. Overall, it’s a really fun device and pretty inexpensive compared with other fitness devices, especially if you already have a GPS enabled device for more serious training.

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Peter Prestley is an attorney living in the Northern Mariana Islands. In his spare time, he kitesurfs and competes in triathlons throughout the Pacific region, including the CNMI, Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines. You can read his blog at TheTriGuy.com
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