The market for wearables is taking off in a big way, and fitness bands led that growth in 2014.
According to Canalys, the number of bands sold in the first half of 2014 was 684% higher than the same period in 2013.
And when it comes to fitness bands, nothing can touch Fitbit, the company behind the new Fitbit Charge, Fitbit Surge and Fitbit Charge HR.
Fitbit’s command of the fitness tracking wearable market is so entrenched that after having its flagship product — the Fitbit Force — recalled in early 2014, it still held a reported 70% share of the market.
Replacement products were finally announced in the fall, but it was 2015 before all three new fitness bands were shipping (the base model, Fitbit Charge, was available in late October).
Now the company faces its biggest threat. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is launching the Apple Watch, and the Apple Watch Sport collection has fitness trackers like Fitbit in its sights.
Is Fitbit up to its toughest challenge yet? Find out in our Fitbit Charge HR review.
Fitbit Charge HR Review: Moving Beyond the Force
Like many people, I bought a Fitbit Force when it was released. And like many people, I reluctantly shipped it back for a refund and began the wait for a replacement.
Fitbit didn’t just slap a new strap on its ill-fated tracker and push it back out, though, which meant nearly a full year without a flagship offering. In the meantime, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) released its Band activity tracker and Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) offered the Gear Fit (reviewed here) in an attempt to take advantage of the opening left by Fitbit.
The Fitbit Charge HR is the midrange model in the new Fitbit lineup, but it’s the one that hits the sweet spot between price and capabilities.
For just $30 more than the Fitbit Charge, it offers an optical heart rate monitor and a far superior buckle-style wrist strap (trust me, this works so much better than those peg-and-hole designs on the Charge and Force). It’s $120 less than the Surge, but does give a nod to its smartwatch-like features in call notifications.
The Fitbit Charge HR is comfortable to wear. It’s extremely lightweight and has a low profile, and the elastomer strap is snug without being irritating, so you soon forget it’s there. That’s important because you can wear it to bed for sleep tracking as well. The OLED display is bright, and a single button cycles through info such as steps taken and floors climbed.
New to the Fitbit world is the optical heart rate monitor. This seemed to work well and was accurate based on manual counting. However, there were seemingly random moments when the count would unexpectedly surge. It’s certainly not medical-grade accuracy, but it is pretty decent — and I didn’t have to stop moving to get a reading, like I did with the Samsung Gear Fit.
Battery life is advertised as five-plus days, but I’ve been getting four and a bit. The call notifications are nice to have (pair the Fitbit Charge HR with your phone, and you get an alert with scrolling phone number and contact name), but I get maybe two calls a month on my iPhone. I use text rather than voice, and there is no support for text notification.
Fitbit Charge HR Review: Compared to the Apple Watch
When it comes to competition, the Fitbit Charge HR is well positioned among competing fitness bands. The company has dominated competitors like Jawbone and Garmin Ltd. (NASDAQ:GRMN) for years, and Samsung and Microsoft aren’t proving to be major threats.
The Apple Watch is another story — especially that Apple Watch Sport collection.
Comparing the two devices, the Apple Watch is far more capable than the Fitbit Charge HR. It’s a full-fledged smartwatch that happens to include all of the fitness tracking functions of the Fitbit.
The Apple Watch might be bulkier, but it looks far more polished and premium than the Fitbit. The Charge HR’s plastic and rubbery surfaces collect dust and hair, and the fitness band quickly loses that “like-new” look.
However, the Apple Watch is expensive, even the cheapest one. I’d be terrified of going on an intense hike with mud, water and rocky climbs wearing an Apple Watch; I wouldn’t think twice about it with the Fitbit.
And then there’s battery life. Even though I wasn’t pulling quite the five-plus days advertised, I still only need to charge the Fitbit Charge HR only once every four or five days. And it takes less than two hours. The Apple Watch needs to be charged daily and takes between two and three hours for a full recharge.
Fitbit Charge HR Review: Specs
- OLED display
- Optical heart rate monitor, three-axis accelerometer, altimeter, vibration motor
- Tracks seven days of detailed motion data, stores heart rate data at one-second intervals during exercise (five seconds at rest)
- Caller ID support
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Elastomer wristband with stainless steel buckle, multiple sizes and colors
- Lithium polymer battery rated at five-plus days
- Water resistant (rain-, sweat- and splashproof)
- Compatible with 150+ iOS, Android and Windows smartphones
- MSRP $179.99
Fitbit Charge HR Review: Conclusion
The Fitbit Charge HR is a good fitness tracker. It provides the information required and offers a reasonable degree of accuracy. It has enough memory to store a week’s worth of data, and Fitbit’s activity logging software (app- and Web-based) makes the most of that information.
It’s not a fashion accessory like the Apple Watch, it doesn’t do any of the extras the Apple Watch is capable of (other than display incoming call numbers), and the Fitbit data won’t even integrate with Apple’s Health app for iOS.
However, the Fitbit Charge HR has four big advantages: Its own app is excellent and plays nicely with third-party apps. Fitbit has name recognition as a leader in the fitness tracking space. The Fitbit Charge HR has far superior battery life. And finally, it costs $180 compared to $350 for the cheapest Apple Watch.
If you’re in the market for a fitness band that covers all the basics, the Fitbit Charge HR remains the one to beat. With a heart rate monitor and buckle-style wrist strap, it’s well worth the $30 premium over the Fitbit Charge — which, at this point, is probably the Charge HR’s biggest competitor.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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