Fitbit Charge HR Revisited

Fitbit Charge HR

Last April, I posted a First Look review of my Fitbit Charge HR, after I replaced my Fitbit One. Over 7 months, later I thought I would post a review of it at this point. Overall, I am happy with the Charge HR even though there are things about it that are not ideal.

Looks

It has held up well to daily use and still looks great. This is a photo from my post in April:

Fitbit Charge HR Wrist

This is a photo of it that I took today:

Fitbit Charge HR Wrist 11-2015

There is a button on the side of the Charge HR where you can hit the button and the display will change and show you other things such as steps, calorie burn, heart rate and distance.

If I look carefully at the display, I can see some faint marks on it, but I really have to look for them to see them. I was concerned when I bought it as to how well the band would hold up. So, far there has been no problem.

Purple is my favorite color so I love the plum color. Fitbit has expanded the number of available colors since I bought mine. It is now available in Black, Plum, Blue, Tangerine and Teal. It comes in two sizes. I bought a large since I hate wearing something that is too tight. I tighten it when I exercise so I get a better heart rate reading, but I leave it fairly loose the rest of the time. If I were to lose another 10 or 15 pounds, though, I might need to move to a small size.

That does bring up one thing that I wish the Charge HR had. My husband had a Fitbit Flex (he now has a Charge HR). The Flex doesn’t have a display like on the Charge HR and it doesn’t measure heart rate. But, with the Flex you can switch bands. There are lots of bands available from Fitbit, as well as third party bands. There is even a neck pendant you can put your Flex in. I would really love to be able to switch bands with the Charge HR, but that it is not an option.  Most of the time I like the look of the Charge HR, but when I went to a wedding wearing formal dress it wasn’t right to wear.  For that time, I used my old Fitbit One which could be put in a pocket.  Another option is that I have my phone set up as an alternate tracker so I could have used it (but I didn’t have a pocket for the phone in that instance).

Feedback

I love the feedback I get from my Charge HR. I like that I can see the information right there on the Charge HR. I don’t have to look at my phone or my computer to see how many steps I’ve walked or how many calories I’ve burned. At any time of day, I can look to see my current heart rate (the difference between the Charge HR and the Charge is that only the Charge HR measures heart rate).

The big thing about the feedback is that it helps with motivation and it helps me to organize my day. I can’t really kid myself that I’ve been active today if I look at my calorie burn and realize I’m on pace to only burn 1300 calories for the day. And, if I set a goal for steps in a day I can get constant feedback to see how I’m doing. For those interested, some people like to “compete” against their Fitbit friends on step count. I don’t really like doing that, although I am Fitbit friends with my husband and I do keep an eye on how I am doing compared to him.  But, I do like competing against my own goals.

Heart Rate

This is what makes the Charge HR different from other Fitbits (other than the Surge). Throughout the data (and night) it monitors your heart rate.   When you aren’t tracking exercise, it tracks heart rate every 5 seconds. During exercise mode (you hit the button on the side of the Charge HR to go to that mode), it stores the data at 1 second intervals.

I really like this for a few reasons. First, one of the things I see on the Fitbit dashboard each morning is what my resting heart rate is. I have found this interesting as it is very responsive to how much exercise I’ve been doing. When I get busy and don’t exercise a lot I find that my resting heart rate will be in the low- to mid-60s. When I was exercising really intensely like I was last April and May, my resting heart rate was in the mid-50s. On an “average” week, it will usually be in the upper 50s. I’ve noticed that if I see that my resting heart rate is consistently over 60 for several days that I can take that as a sign my exercise activity hasn’t been great and I need to crank up the frequency and/or intensity.

Second, I felt I would get better calorie burn data if Fitbit had heart rate information. Of course, I don’t really expect it to be perfectly accurate, but I thought more information was better.  If I was in the mall and walking rapidly so that my heart rate was elevated, the Charge HR would know that and could use that to determine calories burned. I do feel I get better calorie burn data with the Charge HR than I had with my Fitbit One. Overall, I think it is an advantage to have the calorie burn data just during your daily life, even when not formally exercising.

Third, I liked the idea of being able to monitor my heart rate during exercise so I could check to see how I was doing. Was I working too hard or not hard enough or was it just right? When I had my One, I would use a chest strap monitor during exercise. That was fine, but sometimes I might go for a walk or something and not have the chest strap there or I just didn’t feel like using it. Could the Charge HR substitute for using a chest strap monitor? In a word: Sometimes.

This is the area of the Fitbit Charge HR that is somewhat controversial. The reality is that while the Fitbit Charge HR can give good heart rate data for some activities, it does not always give good data. In fact, it can be terrible. One of the things that makes it hard to discuss the heart rate accuracy during exercise is that this varies from person to person. I have followed the discussions on this issue at the Fitbit website and there are people who indicate that they find the Charge HR inaccurate during almost any exercise while others find it accurate during most exercise. Fitbit itself indicates that it may not find an accurate heart rate during high-intensity interval training, P90X, boxing, weight lifting, rowing, or activities where “your wrist is moving vigorously or non-rhythmically.”

This is what I have found for me. First, it seems to work well during non-exercise activities including during things like walking around at the mall. For me, it also seems reasonably accurate during walking exercise whether on the treadmill or outside. I live in a hilly neighborhood so my outside walking is almost always on an incline or decline. Fitbit captures the changes in heart rate during those walks pretty well. For example, the other day I walked outside and used my Charge HR as well as my Polar chest strap. I used Digifit software to record my heart rate using the chest strap. Digifit then talked to Fitbit and gave it my workout data. Fitbit then uses the calorie burn information in place of the calorie burn data that the Charge HR would have given. Digifit said that my average heart rate during this walk was 99 bpm. The Charge HR said it was 97 bpm. Even for more intense walks, I’ve found that the Charge HR is not wildly different from the chest strap.

When using the treadmill, I don’t really find that it is all that important to use the chest strap. The more intense the exercise though, the higher the difference in heart rate between the two. For example, on one day Fitbit Charge HR said my average heart rate on the treadmill was 102, while Digifit (using my chest strap) said it was 114. For people who exercise very intensely or who use HIIT, then it may be more accurate to use a chest strap during those activities.

I have found that the Fitbit Charge HR tends to under count calories burned when I use my recumbent exercise bike. This is not a huge difference, but it is different enough that I usually put on the chest strap when using the bike. I use an elliptical at the YMCA and, the Fitbit Charge HR is usually fine for that for me. Again, for someone doing HIIT on the elliptical, it might be different.

The area where I have found the Charge HR to be utterly useless is weight lifting. In between sets, it is fine. But, sometimes my heart rate will go up into the 140s during weight lifting. I’ve occasionally looked at my Fitbit at those times and have seen it be as low as in the 80s!

My perception is that the Fitbit Charge HR doesn’t handle wide fluctuations in heart rate very often. This is why it does not do as well during HIIT activities. For that reason and based upon how the wrist moves, though, it doesn’t handle weight lifting very well. On the Fitbit forum on the website (I highly recommend visiting the Fitbit help forums before buying), some users have reported getting greater accuracy by putting a sweatband next to the Charge HR to keep it from moving. Also, that can keep light from getting under the wristband that might interfere with the heart rate monitoring. The green lights in this picture apparently (according to Fitbit) reflect onto your skin to detect changes in blood volume and this information is used to determine the heart rate:

Fitbit Charge HR Lights

By keeping the Charge HR in one place on the wrist (some users find it works better if you move it a bit higher on the arm during exercise) and keeping light from getting under the Charge HR, some users find it more accurate.

I knew about all this before I bought my Charge HR and bought it anyway. I researched wrist based devices that had heart rate capability and found that this type of inaccuracy was a problem with all of them. I went and read user reviews for other products. My ultimate conclusion was that the technology just wasn’t there yet for a wrist based monitor to be as accurate as a chest strap monitor. I decided that this wasn’t a reason for me not to get the Fitbit Charge HR. I have not been unhappy with that decision. I like the Fitbit Charge for its heart rate checking 24/7. There are a few hours during the week when I am doing the type of exercise that its heart rate monitor doesn’t work very well with. During those hours, I use a chest strap. But, if I go outside for a walk or I use the elliptical, I don’t really feel that it is necessary that I use a chest strap. Sometimes, I will use one, but I feel it is really optional for that use. I always wear a chest strap monitor for weight lifting. Actually, one day, I left my chest strap at home and had to do my personal training session with only my Fitbit. When I got home, I went into Fitbit and manually added that I had done weight lifting during the period in question and Fitbit did add extra calories burned.  So, if you are willing to do that, then lack of a chest strap may not be that big of a deal (although I think using the strap is more accurate).

I think that if you have a realistic attitude about the limitations of a wrist based heart rate monitor, then the Charge HR is a great choice for heart rate monitoring throughout the day and night. The Charge HR costs $20 more than the Charge which doesn’t have heart rate capability ($149.95 versus $129.95). That extra $20 seems worth it to me. If you do a lot of the activities where Fitbit says it is less accurate, then pairing it with a chest strap works great. I use the Digifit software to send the chest strap calorie burn information to Fitbit.

Integration with Weight Watchers and MyFitnessPal

Both of these are important to me. I have my Fitbit linked to my Weight Watchers account. Periodically, it will send data to Weight Watchers and then Weight Watchers uses that data to add Activity Points to my Weight Watchers account. This is great, but it isn’t without some glitches. I have had some days where the amount of Activity Points added seemed too high, while other days have been fine. Until the beta tracker came out, you would just see in eTools a single number for the day showing how many Activity Points were added from Fitbit. You had no idea how that number was calculated.

Now, you can go to the activity tracker on the beta dashboard and you see much more information:

Activity Log Beta

This is great to see the actual steps from Fitbit and how many Activity Points you are earned from just your general daily activity as well as the points from specific exercise you did. I don’t like much about the new beta dashboard and tracker, but I do like that. The revealing thing, though, is that I found that sometimes Weight Watchers double counts the same activity more than once.  As I mentioned in the post on the beta dashboard, sometimes Weight Watcher will double count an activity if you have entered something in Fitbit and then deleted and re-entered it to correct an error. Also, if you use a chest strap monitor with another app which sends data to Fitbit and you also record a workout with the Charge HR for the same period, Weight Watchers will count this as two activities and give you credit for both. Fitbit itself, though, only counts the calories from the chest strap.  One workaround there is not record an activity on the Charge HR if you are also using a chest strap monitor.  Fitbit handles that fine, but Weight Watchers doesn’t. (I’m hoping Weight Watchers will get better at this).  I also hope Weight Watchers will stop counting logged exercises that you delete on Fitbit.   I hope that users will give a lot of feedback on this and that it will get more accurate on how it calculates the Activity Points.

I also pair my Fitbit with MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal sends to Fitbit my calories eaten. Fitbit then uses that to tell me if I have a calorie deficit or not and gives me a suggestion as to how many calories I can eat to either maintain my weight or to keep to my specified deficit per day. For weight loss and maintenance, I find this crucially important. I wouldn’t consider an activity monitor that didn’t do this. You can add foods eaten directly to the Fitbit website. But, I find their food tracker hard to use and way more limited than MFP.

Other Things

The Fitbit Charge HR has silent alarms that you can set on the app or online. You can have multiple alarms at different times. I use this to wake up in the morning and it works great. If you don’t turn the alarm off when it goes off, it will “snooze” for several minutes, then go off again.

You also get information as to how long you were asleep and when you woke up. Truthfully, I don’t find this all that accurate. If I am in bed reading, it will often say that I was asleep. I get some idea of how restful my sleep was, but that is about it.

Also, when I get a call on my iPhone, the Fitbit Charge HR will vibrate and caller ID will show the phone number on the display. This is not something really necessary, but is a nice to have feature.

Things I wish it had:

The first thing relates to all Fitbits and not just the Charge HR. Fitbit uses a formula to decide your resting metabolic rate and bases calorie burn information on that calculated metabolic rate. In my case, my actual RMR is a lot less than the calculated RMR. I know this because I actually had my RMR tested. I would like to use my actual RMR with Fitbit so I could get better calorie burn data. I wish Fitbit gave you the option to put in your actual RMR if you know it. Or, at the very least, gave you the option to put in your body fat percentage so it could use a RMR formula that uses body fat. But, that isn’t an option. For a workaround, I went into my profile and altered my age and height so that Fitbit calculated an RMR for me that approximates the one that I got from my actual testing. The result is that Fitbit thinks I’m much older and shorter than I really am.

I would love to have a GPS on the Charge HR. The main reason I sometimes wear a chest strap monitor while walking outside is that I like to see the map of where I went and like to have that information stored. To get that map I have to use my chest strap since the Charge HR doesn’t give you a map like that. I toyed with the idea of getting a Fitbit Surge because it does have a GPS. But, the Surge is just huge and I didn’t want to wear it all the time. You can now have multiple devices on your Fitbit account so, theoretically, I could wear a Surge for walks outside while using a Charge HR the rest of the time. But, since the Surge is $249.95 I couldn’t really justify it.

The battery life is not that great.  I usually need to charge it every 3 days or so.  This is not a huge deal, but I wish it lasted longer.  I do realize that this is largely a function of it checking the heart rate so often.  So, this is a price I’m willing to play.

I wish I could pair my chest strap heart rate monitor directly with Fitbit and that Fitbit would read that data itself.  Right now I have to get the Digifit software and turn it on and make sure I have my phone with me.  Then, I have to record the workout with Digifit (I’ve occasionally by mistake hit a button and paused the monitoring so I get home and I have no data) and then when the workout is over Digifit talks to Fitbit.  Fitbit uses the calorie burn data from Digifit but uses the heart rate graph from the Charge HR and says the bpm are whatever the Charge HR said.  It would be ever so much nicer if you could just pair a chest strap directly with the Fitbit and that the data from it would entirely replace the heart rate data from the Fitbit Charge HR.

Conclusion

I still love my Charge HR.  Yes, I wish I didn’t have to wear a chest strap monitor for some activities.  And, I wish that I could directly pair my chest strap with Fitbit.  But, I haven’t yet found a better combination of functionality than the Charge HR.  Well, I think the Surge may be a bit better given the GPS, but it is huge and not very attractive.  I am sure that there is a lot of room for activity monitors to improve.  But, for right now, I’m really happy with the Charge HR and it has really helped me with my weight loss and maintenance.

 

 

 

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