Fitbit Charge HR First Look

At long last, my Fitbit Charge HR arrived.  This is a first look, very early review.

Fitbit Charge HR Box 2

Fitbit Charge HR box

I ordered it in late January and it just got here.  If I would have settled for black I would have had it months ago, but I wanted the plum (purple is my favorite color).

I must admit I had mixed feelings about buying and extensively looked at other alternatives.  On the one hand, I’ve loved my Fitbit One and it is a key part of my weight loss plan.

FitbitOne

I sync MyFitnessPal with it so that I can always see what my calorie deficit is.  I use it to see my calorie burn and steps.  I use it to see how intense my activity is (Fitbit tells you that).  So, having a Fitbit has been key to my weight loss.

For awhile I had a Fitbit Force since I wanted a wrist based tracker (I’ve always been afraid of losing the One, which I carry in my pocket.  Also, sometimes I forget to change it from one pair of pants to another).

Fitbit

I enjoyed the Force a lot, but it was recalled.  After the recall, I went back to using my Fitbit One and I’ve been waiting since then for the Force replacement.

Fitbit came out with 3 new trackers around the end of 2014.  The Charge is basically very similar to the Force, but is not supposed to cause the skin irritation that happened with the Force.  The Charge HR is also similar but has a heart rate monitor on the back of it to measure your heart rate throughout the day.  The Surge is sort of a gigantic Charge HR, but it has a GPS in it and some added exercise features.  I looked at it and it was just too huge for me.

So, why was I conflicted about buying the Charge HR since I love my Fitbit One so much?  Two reasons.  First, I read the help forum at the Fitbit site. I highly recommend doing that to anyone thinking about buying a Fitbit.  And, do the same for any other brand of activity monitor you might buy.  I’ve found that to be a great way to find out the limitations and problems of devices.

The problem with the Charge HR (and the Surge) is that, according to posts in the help forum, many people find its heart rate monitoring to be less than ideal.  Specifically, many people find the heart rate monitoring to consistently measure very low when doing higher intensity exercise and while doing non-step based exercise.  For a lot of people, they find that the Charge HR and the Surge do fine when measuring heart rate the other 23 hours or so of the day (the ones without heavy exercise).  Other people have problems even then.

I researched this endlessly and don’t feel this is a problem with Fitbit so much as a problem with wrist based heart rate monitoring.  It just doesn’t seem to compare well with using a chest strap.  Maybe technology will improve in this regard, but right now I think a chest strap will probably still be more accurate.  But, most of the day I don’t wear a chest strap.  I liked the idea of having a wrist based tracker that would measure my heart rate during the non-exercise part of the day and possibly I would get a better measure of my daily calorie burn.  So, for me, I decided the Charge HR would be OK if it measured my heart rate fairly accurately when I wasn’t exercising.  I would use my Polar H7 chest strap with Digifit when exercising.

The second reason I hesitated to buy the Fitbit Charge HR was that I find Fitbit (the company) to be high handed in how they treat customers in terms of changing things.  The Fitbit dashboard is where data from the Fitbit is displayed.  Fitbit has had a habit over the last year of suddenly changing the dashboard and removing functionality with no warning and not being very responsive to feedback.  They have been slow to respond to customer complaints.  For example, used to if you added an activity (for example, a walk) and you realized you made an error you could edit the activity.  For example, you put in a wrong time for when you started the activity.  Now, you have to entirely delete the activity and put it back in which is a total PITA. Fitbit said months ago they would restore the functionality, but they haven’t. Also, Fitbit changed the font on the web-based Dashboard to be very thin and light.  Many people complained that it was hard to read, particularly for anyone middle-aged or older.  Fitbit said they would look at it, but never changed it.

Still, I have enjoyed my Fitbit products.  The one problem that I had with a product that didn’t work correctly was handled fine by Fitbit (a full refund).  And, bottom line, was that I didn’t find any other activity monitor that had a heart rate function that I felt would be more accurate than the Charge HR.  So, I ended up ordering the Charge HR (former Force owners – I had returned my Force for a full refund – got a discount on a new activity monitor which I did appreciate).

This is how it looks from the side.  You push a button in the lighter area to switch between things like time, steps, calories burned, and so on.

Fitbit Charge HR Side

The display is not on all the time.  It stays on several seconds after you hit the button then dims.  Also, you can tap the top twice and will see one stat you’ve chosen to display when you tap.  I’ve set mine to display heart rate.

 

Fitbit Charge HR Wrist

The clasp is more secure than the one that I had on the Force which is nice:

Fitbit Charge HR clasp

On the underside, you can see the heart rate monitor sensor and the charging port:

Fitbit Charge HR Bottom

So far, the Charge HR is comfortable to wear.  I don’t usually wear a watch, but this feels fine.   I am actually currently using both my One and Charge HR since I want to compare them.  To do this, I linked the Charge HR to my existing Fitbit account and set up a separate account for my One so I could wear both and compare.

Right now, the Charge HR shows for the day that I’ve walked 615 steps and burned 754 calories.  The One says I’ve walked 802 steps and burned 772 calories.  The calorie burn is fairly similar, but the steps are not.  When I had my Force, I did feel it didn’t register as many steps as the One, which I carried in my pocket.  For example, the Force wouldn’t register steps if I was pushing a grocery card.  Still, it was more accurate than the Charge HR is so far.  I’m still working out, though, how tight I need to wear the Charge HR on my wrist so I’ll see how it does over the next few days.

I also wore both the Charge HR and my Polar H7 heart rate monitor while doing some light walking on the treadmill (at about 2.2 MPH).  I know the Charge HR won’t be good for high intensity exercise, but I wanted to see how it did for a lower intensity walk.

When I was using my One, I would use a Polar H7 (or a Wahoo Blue) chest strap which sends data by Bluetooth to the Digifit app on my phone.  Digifit would record the workout and then send the calorie burn data to Fitbit.  Fitbit would then use the Digifit calorie burn data instead of what the One had come up with.  I felt this was more accurate since it was using my actual heart rate.

I wondered how this would compare to the Charge HR.

On the one hand, the calorie burn data was very similar.  The Charge HR said 143 calories burned, while Digifit said 156 calories.

Digifit 4-9-2015 Summary

Charge HR 4-9-2015 walkOn the other hand, the heart rate data was quite different.  Above, I have the graph from the Charge HR heart rate monitoring.  Here is the Digifit chart:

Digifit 4-9-2015 walk

(Not the big dip and spike was just an error from the chest strap briefly not having good contact).  The Fitbit Charge HR says my average heart rate was 105, while Digifit said 118.  Truthfully, I felt the average should have been in the middle.  I felt the Polar H7 was reading a bit high, perhaps due to the chest strap not having great contact for this walk.  At one point, Digifit was reported 120s heart rate while the Charge HR was reporting in the 90s.  I manually took my pulse while that was going on and that said my heart rate was about in the middle between the two.

So, I want to try using both of them again when I’m sure I’ve got good contact on the chest strap.  I also want to try them while doing something non-step based like the exercise bike.  I don’t think the Charge HR will do well for that at all.  For things where I think the chest strap will be better, my plan will be to not use the Charge HR at all and just rely on the chest strap.

Right now, I haven’t decided yet if I will keep the Charge HR.  If it proves to be reasonably accurate on heart rate during the non-exercise part of the day, then I will keep it.  I don’t mind using a chest strap during higher intensity exercise.  On the other hand, I am a little concerned with the fact it is measuring so many fewer steps.  But, this may get better as I figure out the best way to wear the Charge HR.  And, it may even be more accurate than the One.  Sometimes the One can record steps even if I am sitting if my leg is moving. So, maybe some of the lower step count is the Charge more accurately not counting “steps” that the One is counting incorrectly.

Oh – one other thing.  For a long time, many have wanted to be able to have more than one activity monitor attached to an account.  Some people might not, for example, want to wear a wrist based tracker to a formal event, but would feel fine using something they could put in a pocket (or attach to a bra) such as my One.  In the past, though, you couldn’t have both on them on your account at once.  Just recently, Fitbit has made it where you can have more than one tracker on an account and Fitbit will automatically track whichever one you are using.  Another feature, if you have an iPhone, is that if you forget your tracker but have your phone, you can set it up to use the steps from the iPhone.  That would have been great the other day when I went on a walk and forgot my One (I changed into shorts and forget to transfer the One to my pocket).  I had my chest strap on and I got my calorie burn info but didn’t have step info.  Now, that wouldn’t happen because I had my phone with me and it would have taken the steps from the phone.

Comments

  1. says

    I haven’t done a review of the ChargeHR YET … but I plan to. I also had a ONE, and am still wearing the one to compare the steps and calorie counts. I also still wear my Polar FT4 during some workouts and compare the HR, calorie count, time “in zone” etc. I’ve found the Charge to be pretty accurate, often maybe more so than the Polar (which often seems to have issues, jumping high, then recording zero). I feel like I have some pretty high intensity times while I Zumba. Hubs borrowed it for a run (high intensity!) and it came back with almost identical results to the HRM he had been wearing. I have noticed the step count coming in lower than my One. I guess I’m more concerned about if it in consistent with itself over time, from workout to workout, so I can compare my individual results (even if they are coming in a little low).
    JenB recently posted…There are BOYS in my Gym!My Profile

  2. says

    So far I’m pretty happy with the Charge HR. The step count is about 20% lower with the Charge Hr than the One, but the calorie burn shown for the Charge is only about 2% lower. And, I agree that on the steps the consistency with itself is what is most important.

    The Charge HR so far with real exercise does measure heart rate a little low, but I use the chest strap for that anyway. The Charge HR, I’ve determined, does use the calories from the chest strap even if I use the Charge HR with it (I like seeing the Charge HR heart beat graph).

    Oh, on the Polar spiking and having drop outs that is usually because it isn’t making good contact. I’ve found that I really need to wet the back for it to get good contact. Sometimes I even use an electrode gel and that gives it good contact as well.
    Kitty recently posted…Weigh In – A Star for Me!My Profile

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