Fitbit Charge HR fitness band review

Any bracelet can track steps, but Fitbit's Charge HR has heart (rate)

It’s not as precise as other heart-rate monitors, but Fitbit’s Charge HR will still motivate you to move more and charge into workouts harder.
It’s not as precise as other heart-rate monitors, but Fitbit’s Charge HR will still motivate you to move more and charge into workouts harder.
It’s not as precise as other heart-rate monitors, but Fitbit’s Charge HR will still motivate you to move more and charge into workouts harder.

Highs

  • Call notification
  • Sleek, modern minimal design
  • Traditional watch buckle closure
  • Comfortable supple band
  • Vibration alarms

Lows

  • Heart-rate data erratic
  • Not waterproof
  • No text notifications

DT Editors' Rating

Back in February 2014, Fitbit voluntarily recalled its Force line of fitness bands after users reported that the device was causing rashes. Now, with the Charge, Charge HR, and Surge, Fitbit has put the recall behind it and returned with a fresh array of fitness bands that put a little heart and a lot of smart style into health tracking.

The Charge HR fitness tracker fits right in the middle of the company’s triad of new bands. It has the slim, sleek, minimal shape, and function of the Charge, yet also features an optical heart-rate sensor that can track heart rate 24/7 like its bigger, more expensive brother the Surge.

We know it’s not going to cause a rash, but does this middle model make sense for most buyers, or is it compromised on both price and features compared to its siblings?

Features and design

In addition to the heart-rate sensor, the brains of the Charge HR include a 3-axis accelerometer, an altimeter, and a vibration motor for silent alarms. All this technology comes neatly enclosed in a one-piece, .83 inch wide elastomer band that comes in four colors: black, plum, blue and tangerine. Whereas previous Fitbit bands (and the new Charge) had post-and-hole closures that many users found difficult to close, the Charge HR features a traditional watch band buckle made of surgical stainless steel, with a locking free loop to secure the end of the strap to the band. The watch buckle makes adjusting the band intuitive, but to make the fit even more personalized the Charge HR comes in three sizes: small, large, and extra large.

FitBit-Charge-band

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

When it comes to health and fitness metrics, the Charge HR packs it in. It displays the time, counts steps, tracks mileage, calculates calories burned, records exercise time and intensity and, thanks to the altimeter, keeps track of the number of “floors” climbed. It can also monitor sleep quality automatically. All of these metrics are clearly viewable on the Charge HR’s blue OLED display.

Fitbit calls the Charge HR’s heart-rate feature “PurePulse.” This optical heart-rate sensor, located on the back of the band, logs your pulse 24/7. It allows for both a more accurate calorie-burn count, and detailed feedback on exercise intensity. The Charge HR’s silent vibration alarm can be programmed with up to eight different repeating alarms via Fitbit’s free smartphone app (available for iOS and Android). And when paired with a compatible smartphone, the Charge HR can pass on call notifications with a quick vibration and a text scroll of the caller’s name or caller ID. It does not, however, do text notifications.

The Fitbit smartphone app and partner Web interface make viewing daily movement trends very straight forward. The dashboard features brightly colored, graphically pleasing representations of steps taken, resting heart rate and current heart rate, miles travelled, minutes active, floors climbed, calories burned, and hours of sleep. Current weight, food consumption, and water intake can be logged manually as well. When a run, hike, or walk session is logged, it uses the phone’s GPS to show distance traveled and pace, and the Charge HR’s heart-rate monitor to graph out time spent in the different heart-rate zones. It also shows the impact that the activity has had on the rest of the day. Users can also connect and compete with friends, as well as share metrics automatically or manually through Twitter.

While Fitbit packaging says that the Charge HR is water resistant, users are reminded in the online documentation that it should be taken off before showering and should never be worn while swimming.

What’s in the box

The Charge HR comes with the tracker, a USB charging cable, and a USB sync dongle that allows for automatic, all-day syncing with a computer.

Performance and use

Getting the Charge HR set up and ready to use is smooth and painless thanks to Fitbit’s free app (available for iOS and Android), which has become our favorite for fitness tracking. Turn on the phone’s Bluetooth and pair the band with the phone by entering a code that appears on the band’s display. Answer a few profile questions (gender, height, weight, and age) and the Charge HR is ready to go. Setting it up on a home computer is just as easy. Download the Fitbit app, plug the USB dongle into an open USB port, and follow the onscreen instructions.

Users can also connect and compete with friends, as well as share metrics automatically or manually through Twitter.

The setup process now diligently commands users to keep the Charge HR dry and clean, and give their wrists occasional breaks from wearing the band. Last year’s rash episode has obviously left its (red, itchy) mark. The company is careful to make sure users understand that the best way to keep the band clean is by using a “soapless cleanser” like Cetaphil or Anquanil, and that if any redness or soreness appears on the wrist the band should be removed. That said, we’ve been wearing Fitbit bands (including the Force) of and on for the past two years and have never had any skin or wrist issues.

The Charge HR functions much like a digital watch. It doesn’t have a stopwatch, but it does show the time after either a press of the button on the left side of the watch, or with two quick taps on the face of the display. Scrolling through the rest of the metrics is done by pressing the side button repeatedly.

The most disappointing Charge HR feature was initially the heart-rate sensor itself. Aside from making us feel a bit like a cyborg each night on account of the green glow of the optical sensor beaming out from our wrist, in most all of our active testing, the heart-rate data produced by the Charge HR was simply wrong. During sleep or when sitting nearly motionless, the numbers would be in line with reality. But when we viewed our heart rate during exercise, we found the numbers to be quite erratic. We regularly wear a heart-rate monitoring chest strap, so on one run we used both the Charge HR and a chest strap (paired to a Garmin cycling computer) to view both readouts concurrently. Invariably, the Charge HR would be 20 to 30 beats per minute higher than the chest strap rates during exercise, and between 5 to 15 beats higher during regular walking.

Fitbit Charge HR
Giuliano Correia/Digital Trends
Giuliano Correia/Digital Trends

Maybe perfect accuracy is asking too much. This isn’t a piece of medical testing equipment, after all. Yes, the step tracker likely deviates from the total number of steps taken during a day by a factor of X, and the calories burned during the day are not exact either. But focusing on precision is missing the point. The point is getting a better understanding of our overall daily movement trends, and creating better habits by tracking that movement over time. This is what eventually helps us live healthier, better lives.

For instance, the Charge HR did clearly show moments of elevated heart rate while running or climbing a large set of stairs, and let us easily view when we exercised, and how hard the workout was compared to the rest of our activities for the day or week. That is useful information that cannot be captured without a heart-rate sensor. So even though we found it less that accurate, the data was still valuable to overall analysis.

Battery life

Fitbit says the Charge HR’s lithium-polymer battery will last up to five days on a charge, however, we never ran it that long without plugging it in. Since you can’t wear it in the shower anyway, we used that time to let it charge. By doing that every few days, we were never in danger of running low on battery power. The app also makes it very obvious when the charge is getting low. Those who need extra prodding can even receive an email or SMS reminder when the band needs to be charged. Yes, it is that simple.

Conclusion

We’ve been Fitbit fans since first trying the Fitbit Flex. For us, the programmable vibration alarms alone make the Charge HR band worth owning. Waking up to the brain-scrambling blast of an audible alarm seems like cruel and unusual punishment after months of being tickled awake by a Fitbit quietly buzzing on our wrist. And now that we can turn our smartphone ringer off and let the Charge HR vibrate to alert us to incoming calls, we’re so happy with the band that the fitness tracking (and heart-rate issues) seem almost trivial.

The big question isn’t whether to get a Fitbit, it’s which one. If heart rate is important, but GPS and text-messaging notifications are not, then the Charge HR is the right tracker. After our issues with the heart-rate sensor, we’d probably be fine with the basic Charge model. But those who need both call and text notifications on their band would be better off with the more expensive, larger Fitbit Surge. After our testing, we could make the argument for owning more than one. We like sleeping with the Charge HR and wearing the Surge as a daily watch, but that might be overkill.

The best news is that no matter which band you choose, it will work seamlessly with the Fitbit app and create an easy, stylish way to improve your understanding of your fitness.

Highs

  • Call notification
  • Sleek, modern minimal design
  • Traditional watch buckle closure
  • Comfortable supple band
  • Vibration alarms

Lows

  • Heart-rate data erratic
  • Not waterproof
  • No text notifications
Deals

Walmart slashes prices on the Fitbit Versa smartwatch and Charge 3

We are officially halfway through January, and for a lot of us, that means the struggle to stick to our New Year's resolutions is in full force. Walmart is offering some great discounts on Fitbits to help you stay on track.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Emerging Tech

Look forward to your morning commute with one of the best ebikes available

A proper ebike is perfect for commuting or a trek along the trailhead, with most offering pedal assistance and a long-range battery. As more brands offer their own take on this innovative way to get around, it's hard to distinguish the…
Deals

Before buying a Fitbit or Apple Watch, check out these fitness trackers under $50

Fitbit and Apple Watch are top of the line when it comes to fitness trackers but if you want to save, we have alternatives. If 2019 is the year you keep track of your health and budget your expenses, then take a look at these fitness…
Mobile

VisionCheck might give you the option to ditch your visit to your optometrist

A new gadget enables you to test your eyes yourself at home. Using the EyeQue VisionCheck, an automated optical device, you can measure your eyes' refractive error and find out what strength of glasses you need.
News

Digital Trends Top Tech of CES 2019 Award Winners

5G. A.I. Voice assistants. Metaverse. Yes, metaverse. CES 2019 slathered on the buzzwords thick and heavy, but beneath the breathless hype and bluster, there were amazing products to back it up, too. Except metaverse. C’mon Nissan, you…
Product Review

Garmin’s 4G LTE VivoActive 3 keeps you safe when you’re out on the trails

Garmin takes its already great VivoActive 3 Music fitness smartwatch and adds a 4G LTE connection, courtesy of Verizon. The watch now has streaming music, independent GPS, and best of all, SMS support and various safety features. We’ve…
Deals

Want to eat healthy in 2019? 10 everyday kitchen products from Walmart can help

If 2019 is the year you curb your delivery habit and start getting intimate with your kitchen. After all, you want to eat well. The only problem is that you’re not sure how to begin. Here are some fantastic kitchen products to aid your…
Emerging Tech

This energy-generating treadmill cuts your waistline and your power bill

Fitness equipment maker SportsArt was on hand at CES 2019 with its latest piece of sustainable sports equipment - the electricity-generating Verde G690 treadmill.
Emerging Tech

Stomach implant device uses jolts of electricity to fight obesity

An implant created at the University of Wisconsin-Madison could help fight obesity by attaching to users' stomachs and then suppressing feelings of hunger using jolts of electricity.
Product Review

One breath into this device could change what you eat forever

Anyone living with a food intolerance knows the pain — literally and figuratively — of dealing with it, and even identifying what the cause of the problem is. The FoodMarble Aire wants to solve this, and we took a closer look at CES…
Health & Fitness

Futuristic mask filters out air pollution for cyclists and runners

A concern for cyclists in urban environments is staying safe from airborne pollutants. A cycling mask shown off at CES 2019 could help combat this problem by blocking out air pollution to keep cyclists' lungs clear as they ride.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!