Fitbit Charge review

Somewhere between lowly step counters and smartwatches, there's FitBit's Charge

FitBit’s Charge isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great fitness band for your average Joe who wants to get fit and look cool doing it.
FitBit’s Charge isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great fitness band for your average Joe who wants to get fit and look cool doing it.
FitBit’s Charge isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great fitness band for your average Joe who wants to get fit and look cool doing it.

Highs

  • Silent alarm
  • Small screen for metrics at a glance
  • Water resistant
  • Sleep tracking

Lows

  • No heart-rate monitor
  • Limited notification support
  • Somewhat plain design

DT Editors' Rating

Fitness bands and wearables have become a dime a dozen. While others compete for the title of cheapest activity tracker, FitBit is back with yet another no-nonsense fitness band called the Charge.

This time around, FitBit packed a small, OLED screen into its fitness band for real-time stats and a handful of notifications. The Charge does everything its predecessor, the FitBit Flex did, but it adds a few new bells and whistles.

All things considered, the question isn’t really whether the Charge is a good fitness band; it’s whether it’s good enough to buy when they are many cheaper fitness-focused wearables around and so many more advanced ones coming in a few months. We spent some time with the Charge to find out if this is the fitness band you’re looking for.

Plain Jane looks fit in at the gym

Most fitness trackers may not be ugly, but you can’t exactly call them beautiful either. The FitBit Charge follows in the footsteps of the company’s Flex fitness tracker band, but without the removable brain. The wristband is made of a flexible, elastomer material that’s bendy and soft. It has an annoying two-pronged clasp that wiggles into the many slots in the band. The more upcoming Charge HR, which sports a heart-rate monitor, has a nice watch-like clasp instead, but will also sell for $150.

FitBit Charge front

FitBit sells the Charge in three different sizes: small, large, and extra large. Unfortunately, I ended up with the large, which is excessively big for my small wrist. I could even slide it half way up my arm. I found it remarkably hard to fasten the band to my wrist, and ended up putting it in the second to last slot, so that I could wiggle it on and off my wrist when needed. In the end, it looked like I was wearing a slightly overlarge, black bangle with an itty-bitty screen.

Even though it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea style-wise, the FitBit Charge wasn’t ugly, and I wasn’t ashamed of wearing it. It has a cool, sporty vibe about it that allows it to blend in, no matter what you’re wearing. It was also a great deal more useful than the other wearables I’ve donned in the past few months. Netatmo’s June UV, for instance, was beautiful, but only kept tabs on UV exposure.

Luckily, I didn’t suffer from the skin irritation or unsightly rashes mentioned by early reviewers and readers. However, I never wore the Charge in the shower and it fit so loosely on my wrist that chafing was nearly impossible. I found the fitness band comfortable and typically forgot that I was wearing it at all.

Watch your step count rise or check the time on the go

One of the biggest complaints users had about the FitBit Flex was its lack of a true screen. FitBit tacked on a few LEDs and called it a day. Not so with the FitBit Charge. There’s now a tiny OLED screen where the LEDs used to be, that shows you the time, steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and flights climbed. It will also show you any alarms you have set for the day. All you have to do is tap the button or the band itself, and the display activates to show you the time. Each press of a button shows you a different metric.

The Charge has a cool, sporty vibe about it that allows it to blend in, no matter what you’re wearing.

If you want more details, you can open up the companion app (available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone) and see a full overview of each metric. The Charge connects to your phone via Bluetooth and can store seven days worth of detailed motion data, as well as daily totals for 30 days. It’s also water resistant up to 1 ATM.

The Charge may overestimate the number of steps you take in a day, as it often registers broad hand gestures as full-body motion. Even so, the step counts seemed fairly accurate, and it was interesting to see how many miles you rack up just walking to and from work. FitBit will also notify you when you reach 5,000 or 10,000 step goals.

In addition to keeping tabs on your fitness and activity, the Charge will vibrate to let you know you’re getting a call and even show you who’s calling. However, that’s the only smartwatch-like function the Charge has, as its main focus is on fitness. If you want to control music remotely, get directions, and other notifications on your wrist, you’d do best to wait for the inevitable flood of smartwatches that are coming in 2015.

For a sportier smartwatch-style band, you’ll have to wait until 2015 when FitBit officially launches the Surge smartwatch. Coincidentally, the Charge HR will also debut early next year, so if you really want a more advanced fitness band, you should probably wait for that model to arrive.

Sleeping and waking with FitBit

The Charge not only tracks your sleep patterns, it can automatically detect when you’re asleep or awake. You can either manually start sleep time, or let FitBit figure it out for itself. The band will then follow your movements and let you know when you were in a restless or deep sleep. Once you’ve synced your Charge with the app the next morning, you’ll see an overview of your night.

Short of buying a sleep-tracking device, the Charge is the best band to wear to bed.

It’s fascinating to see how well you slept and try to deduce what disturbed your sleep. Short of buying a Beddit or another sleep-tracking device, the Charge is the best band to wear to bed if you’re concerned about your sleep patterns. Surprisingly, the Charge was quite comfortable to sleep with, and after the first night, I didn’t even notice I was wearing it. The Charge also has a handy, silent alarm that will wake you up if you schedule an alert in the app.

Most alarms hit me like a bolt of lightning and really get my heart racing. Even the quiet doorbell alarm on my iPhone nearly scares me to death some mornings. I’m a deep sleeper, so I was skeptical about FitBit’s gentle, vibrating alarm. Then, on Monday morning, the slender band buzzed and peacefully woke me up five minutes before my doorbell alarm was set to go off. It was much more relaxing to wake up to a light buzz, instead of a loud, repeated ding-dong sound from my phone.

The battery will last you a week or more

FitBit says the Charge will last from 7 to 10 days on a single charge. So far, I’ve been wearing it for a week, and it’s still got some juice left. It’s great to not have to worry about charging the band every night.

Still, there’s always the danger of losing your charger. FitBit’s charger may have a standard USB on one end. But the other is a special, magnetic connector that would be hard to replace.

Conclusion

Sure, FitBit’s Charge isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great fitness band for your average Joe who wants to get fit and look cool doing it. The addition of a screen brings the Charge to another level, and makes it easier to see how active you are at a glance.

It’s ideal for anyone who wants to get inspired and become more active, but it will also suit the health-focused person who schedules in a mile run or an hour at the gym every day. Of course, you could opt for a cheaper one, but the Charge offers a few key things that the cheapest trackers don’t have, like the screen, silent alarm, and call notifications.

Die-hard fitness fanatics will want something more precise and accurate, but they’ll also have to pay more to get it. Meanwhile, true techies won’t be very impressed with the Charge, as it’s fitness first, high-tech last.

Related Link: Fitbit One review

Of course, the fact that another version of the Charge is coming with a heart rate monitor in 2015 can’t be discounted. For just $30 more, you’ll have more accurate fitness and calorie-burn metrics on your wrist, and you’ll be able to see if that cardio workout elevated your heart rate right away. We recommend waiting for the Charge HR at this point, if you really want a FitBit band.

Highs

  • Silent alarm
  • Small screen for metrics at a glance
  • Water resistant
  • Sleep tracking

Lows

  • No heart-rate monitor
  • Limited notification support
  • Somewhat plain design
Wearables

Lack of regulation means wearables aren’t held accountable for health claims

As fitness trackers become more like health monitors, some physicians are concerned they can lead to over-diagnosis of non-existent problems. It’s already happening with wearable baby monitors.
Deals

REI slashes prices on Suunto, Garmin, and Fitbit Versa smartwatches

Though fitness trackers and smartwatches can get pretty pricey, REI is offering some sweet discounts on top brands. Right now, you can get a new smartwatch from Fitbit, Suunto, and Garmin for up to 35 percent off its normal price.
Wearables

Omron HeartGuide brings blood pressure monitoring to your wrist

High blood pressure leads to heart attacks, strokes, and many other health problems, so it's important to keep an eye on. Omron's HeartGuide is a fitness tracking watch that can also monitor your blood pressure from your wrist.
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.
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

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…
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…
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…
Deals

Start your fitness journey with the best Fitbit deals available now

If you're ready to kick-start your fitness regimen (or just take your current one to the next level), we've created a quick rundown of the best, most current Fitbit deals to help you decide which one is best for you.
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

Face-scanning A.I. can help doctors spot unusual genetic disorders

Facial recognition can unlock your phone. Could it also be used to identify whether a person has a rare genetic disorder, based on their facial features? New research suggests it can.
Outdoors

Nike’s Adapt BB shoes let you tighten your laces with an iPhone

The new Nike Adapt BB shoe comes with smartphone connectivity that allows the user to tighten the laces using a smartphone while providing the ability to adjust tension throughout the game.
Health & Fitness

In search of the fountain of youth, beauty companies turn to tech

Beauty tech is a fairly new concept, but at CES 2019, companies such as Olay, L’Oreal, and Neutrogena were fully embracing it with all kinds of gadgets that promise to give you glowing skin.