Product Review: Fitbit Charge HR

Reviewing the Fitbit Charge HR in 5 specific areas

The Fitbit Charge HR is an activity tracker that I purchased about a month ago. Recently, Fitbit released the Charge 2 which adds functionality to the Charge HR for a little more money. I purchased the Charge HR for $129 at CostCo and the Charge 2 is supposedly selling for about $150.

This is a personal review of the Fitbit Charge HR based on my experiences. To see all the features (and compare to the Fitbit Charge 2) click here.

The main benefits I was interested in with the Fitbit Charge HR:

  • The convenience of tracking my heart rate during workouts without needing to wear a chest strap.
  • The ease of evaluating my workout intensity and comparing day to day activities.
  • Quickly estimating calories burned throughout the day.
  • Understanding more about how I sleep.
  • Tracking daily step counts.

Ideally, the Fitbit Charge HR will give me a more accurate picture of what my body is doing 24 hours per day so I can tweak my daily routine and make better health decisions.

Does the Fitbit Charge HR do what it says?

Heart rate during workouts

Unfortunately, the Fitbit Charge HR does not do a very good job of heart rate monitoring during workouts. My workouts are mainly CrossFit based which means there is a lot of wrist movement, unlike running or cycling. Moving the wrist seems to make it too difficult for the Charge HR to get a solid reading, though it does a decent job on runs or for rowing. But even then, if it is a sprint, the Fitbit Charge HR is playing catchup, needing time gather HR info after I’ve stopped moving.

To be sure I wasn’t missing anything here I even tried using it on both wrists and shaving all the hair off wrists to give the Fitbit better contact with my skin. None of these seemed to help.

fitbit-charge-hr-wrist
Fortunately, the hair will grow back. Unfortunately, shaving it off didn’t help.

Evaluating workout intensity and comparing day to day activity

As mentioned, I don’t believe the Fitbit Charge HR heart rate during most of workouts is accurate so measuring workout intensity by heart rate levels is not adequate.

Fitbit Charge HR Activities

However, it does give me a decent look into some more basic activities. For example, I walk my dog every morning on pretty much the same route. On occasion we will take a longer route and I can see the impact this longer route has relatively speaking on steps and calories burned.

Estimating daily calories burned

As far as I can tell, the Fitbit Charge HR is doing its job here. I’m not sure there is a perfect device anywhere for determining calories burned. It has given me real insight on to my daily burn rates in two ways.

First, it has given me more exposure to what I may actually be doing. According to my data, I’ve averaged 3,201 calories burned per day for the last 28 days. I had previously guessed around 2,500. So even if 3,200 is a little higher than reality, I’m still burning more than I thought. This will impact my diet.

Second, it gives me a daily baseline to compare. I can see which days I’m burning the most calories and which days are low. This is great for recognizing patterns and knowing when to adjust my diet for high and low days.

How am I sleeping?

I’ve always felt like I sleep poorly. In fact, I’ve been diagnosed with Sleep Apnea and have had a CPAP for a few years. So any insight in to my sleep habits at home and while traveling is a big deal to me.

The Fitbit Charge HR uses your movement during the night to try and determine whether you are asleep, restless or awake. It also estimates the time that you are in bed, how long it takes to fall asleep and when you wake up. Based on these variables it calculates your sleep efficiency.

Fitbit Charge HR Sleep

Much like calories burned, I had nothing to compare the results to or any real way of knowing how accurate the information is. The value here is in the comparison of nightly sleep and looking for patterns.

Of all the items, the sleep efficiency is the one I like the most. It gives a nice summary of how your sleep is going in a single number. Unfortunately, this metric is only available when you log in online (I can’t seem to find it on the app) and it is not one that is placed on a graph so you have to click each day separately.

Daily step counts

The Fitbit Charge HR is very good at tracking daily step counts and makes it easy to check in on your progress through out the day. I didn’t even realize that I cared that much until I was able to keep track of them.

I found that once again, comparing day to day counts was fun and gave me new goals to shoot for. And it really opened my eyes to how active I am on the weekends. Plus, I really like the Hourly Activity tracker, which tracks every time that you hit 250 steps in an hour. This one is great at work as it gives me a reason to get up and go for a quick walk around the building. One area of improvement, which looks like they took care of in the Charge 2, is getting a reminder during an hour that you didn’t get in your steps.

Another downside is that for the Fitbit Charge HR, unless you link it up with another app like RunKeeper, the distance you are walking or running doesn’t seem to be very accurate. You can adjust your stride length in your settings but a GPS based system would be more accurate. And not needing to sync with your phone would be more convenient. This is available in the Fitbit Surge for $250.

Other notable features

I like the app that comes with the Fitbit Charge HR. This is where you can set your daily and weekly goals and it is easy to use. I track my water intake as well and the app gives me a place to that. And for those that want to track calories in, the app gives you an option to do that as well, though I’m using My Macros+ and haven’t tried the Fitbit app.

One feature that is good, but not great, is the specific activity tracking the Fitbit Charge HR tries to do for you, such as a run, bike, walk, aerobic and a few other categories of activity. As mentioned several times, the varied and intense workouts are not accurate. But all of my daily walks were logged correctly. It does miss a few things. I mow my lawn on Sundays. If I note the step count log before and after it is around 5,500 steps. However, the log has been marking this as an “Outdoor Bike” with no steps. Even if you turn that specific activity off it still does not log correctly so there is some room for improvement.

What can’t it do?

While the Fitbit Charge HR app is compatible with a lot of other apps, the big one that is missing is the iPhone / Apple health app. If you are looking for a centralized location for all your health info including your activity, heart rate, etc. then this is not the perfect solution.

How long does the battery last?

I’ve found that the more I sync the Fitbit Charge HR with the app on my phone, the faster is runs down the battery. I’ve set the option to only sync when I tell it which has saved the battery a lot, going from a need to charge about every 2 days to around every 3-4 days.

Summary

For the money, the Fitbit Charge HR is a good product. If I had any influence in the feature upgrades, I’d also add the following:

  • Make it work in conjunction with a chest strap so that a more accurate heart rate can be found during intense and varied workouts
  • Make it compatible with the iPhone / Apple Health App. iPhones are obviously one of the most popular app spaces in the world and health conscious people would like a centralized location for all their health data.

What do you think?

Have you had any experience with the Fitbit Charge HR or any other Fitbit products? Have you seen the same things or found any solutions or cool hacks? I’d love to learn more about your experiences and see how they compare to my own.

 

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