John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Fitibit Charge review

I’ve done a bit of a tour around the Fitbit family but had skipped this one … until now. I liked the Fitbit Charge HR but it was expensive and I found the underside of the watch uncomfortable for everyday wear. The heart rate monitor while a nice add was not that accurate and Fitbit did little with the HR data (think data rich, information poor). I like the Fitbit Flex and with the introduction of auto sleep it made me reconsider it (I sold my last one). For me it was a toss up between rebuying the flex and trying the Charge. Given I hadn’t reviewed the Charge the decision was an easy one.

The Charge is for all purposes a freshened Flex. Frankly I am not sure why Fitbit keep the Flex in the market. That said there are a number of differences between the Flex/Charge …

Physically the charge uses the same silly band that the Flex uses. I REALLY wish Fitbit would use more of a traditional watch band like they do on the Surge. This band is clumsy and likely the number one reason people stop using this device after a while.
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The band is not easily replaced (if it’s even possible) and the Charge is available in different sizes (at time of purchase). And when Fitbit say small, they REALLY mean it this time. The small just barely fits me (and I have small wrists), it is on the very last holes and is still snug. So don’t buy the small unless your sure. Fitbit say 14-16.5cm. On the flex they ship it with both a large and a small band and you can remove the tracker easily from the band. No such luck on the Charge so make sure you get the size you need. Fitbit still have not added any kind of a safety in case the band comes undone. At least when I lost my Fitbit One they replaced it free of charge. I use a small string (it’s a lanyard) between the two parts of the band as a safety. There are also small rubber bands you can get on ebay that also try and help secure the catch …
Doing the band up takes a bit of patience and is best done when you have time, ie not in a rush. As in the past the Fitbit app does not inform you if it looses contact with the Fitbit (ie it fell off).

The underside of the charge is much more smooth than the Charge HR so more comfortable. The underside is where you find the proprietary charge port. The electronics form a solid piece on the bottom. While not as uncomfortable as the Charge HR, it still could be better. Like most fitbits it tends to catch on shirt sleeves. Add in winter jackets and fleeces and the Charge can get positively driven (exaggeration obviously) into your wrist. There have been times it has totally infuriated me. I have no idea why they insist on make the edges of the device so sharp and square. It’s this shape that makes it so easily caught on sleeves. If they would just add round edges on the sides it would be SOOOOO much better.

Battery life according to Fitbit is 7-10 days.
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Like all Fitbits the Charge allows activity tracking of steps (which gets translated into Calories/distance and active minutes). It also adds back stair tracking. Oddly I walked up 6 floors and it didn’t increment at all. The next day I walked two floors and it got that right. So I am not sure if the Charge was stuck or what.

Fitbit wisely added automatic sleep tracking. This was plum annoying on the Flex as you tapped the thing a bunch of times until it blinked in a particular way to indicate you were starting sleep and same to end sleep. And manual entries lead to missed entries. So I am happy to see this add (it was also added to the Flex). In addition to hours of sleep you also get a coarse view of quality of sleep, time as well as average hours of sleep. Good enough for what I wanted. I do not see a way to manually start and stop sleep any more. The one thing missing is the ability to manually add notes about your sleep. You could use these to determine (or explain) reasons for not sleeping well, and maybe learn something from it. As usual data rich, information poor.
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One of the major differences between the Flex and the Charge is the addition of a display. In this case it’s a small, but bright display. You can use it as a watch. You can choose from a few different watch displays:
The Charge attempts to detect when you rotate your wrist to read the display or you can tap the side button (which is a bit awkward). Oddly there is no easy way to turn this on/off for sleep and it is not automatically detected. I found the display came on as I tossed and turned through the night. Irritating. This was so bad I gave up and turned it off from within the Android app. This issue is such that the display is somewhere between less useful than it could have been and totally useless.

Using the button you can toggle between all the activity data for the day. Within the app you can choose what is available in the list and what order they are in.

As with all Fitbits there’s also integration with the likes of Endomondo. Your steps are pushed to Endomondo, and you can have Endomondo push back workouts to Fitbit so on either site you can get a complete picture of your workouts.

The android app is reasonably well done. There isn’t a lot of visual fluff in the app but what you need is all there.

As the Charge gets close to needing recharged (whatever close means) you will get a notification/email to tell you to charge it. No idea how much notice this will give you. There is no way to check the battery from device itself. And if you have all day sync turned off the battery will ONLY be checked when you manually sync the device which will further delay the notification you will get about the battery getting close to dead. All in all this is poorly done IMHO.

The Charge added the ability to get a vibration when there is an incoming call, but this is really poorly done. You get one vibrate and then the display lights up telling you who is calling. And that’s it. So if you miss the first vibrate, tough, and there is no way (that I can see) to redisplay the notification. And no notifications for anything else (not for texts, emails nada). Of course, there’s an app for that 🙂 BitTicker that works well. At least for now. Given the level of integration with the Fitbit App I wouldn’t be surprised to see it break in the future. This app is positively brilliantly done, brilliantly executed, and adds a whole new reason to wear the fitbit (secondary notifications from your phone). There are a few steps to get it setup, and the app guides you through them. You then go in an select the apps you want the Fitbit to vibrate on and that’s about it. It just works! And you do not need all day sync on for notifications to come through. I’m sure there will be an impact to battery life but for the added functionality it is well worth it. Why Fitbit didn’t include something like this is beyond me. Heck go buy the company that makes it …

As in the past the Fitbit will not tell you when you have been inactive for too long. A feature long missing on Fitbits. There is an app for that Bactive, but this ONLY works if you have All day sync on.

From either the app or the portal you can add food consumed to get a picture of calories in/out.

I still do not see a way to pause the fitbit while doing activities like cycling, snowboarding etc.

I was doing reading and constantly saw references to MobileTrack which is supposed to allow you to use your phone to track steps if you left your tracker at home … Don’t bother the list of supported phones for this mode is very low.

I also saw mention of the ability to adjust your stride length to make the calculation of distance more accurate. On Android this can only be done on the Fitbit website. (Settings, Personal Info, stride length).

So that’s about it. The Charge is a very good device, a nice evolution from the flex, with lots of unrealized potential and some minor irritants. If the price difference between the Flex and Charge is small go with the Charge otherwise just get the Flex (unless stairs climbed is important). The addition of secondary notifications

January 14, 2016 - Posted by | Activity Trackers, Android

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