Choosing the right Fitbit tracker

Fitbit is the global leader in wearables sales. There is a reason its trackers sell so well. They are simple to use, reliable, look smart, provide great vitals statistics and have an excellent app behind them.

Earlier this month, Fitbit surprised us by announcing the Alta HR. The same great tracker, with heart rate and advanced sleep tracking thrown in.

All in all, the company now offers eleven different devices for tracking steps and calories. Fitbit still sells all of these, although some of the older devices such as the Flex, Charge, Charge HR and now the Alta, have been superseeded with new versions. This makes the older models pretty much redundant.

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Zip | One | Flex | Charge | Charge HRSurge | Blaze | Alta | Flex 2Charge 2 | Alta HR

or choose trackers to compare features and technical specifications.


Fitbit Zip

First released: September 2012

What is a Fitbit?

what is a fitbitFitbit Zip can be worn in your pocket, on a belt or on a bra, as it is as discreet or as visible as you want it to be. This entry level fitness tracker monitors steps, distance, calories burned and syncs everything to your computer or smartphone. The wearable has a silicone clip and is rain, splash and sweat-proof. The battery doesn’t require charging and will last up to six months.

The mobile app remains a well-designed, easy to navigate tool for looking at your data, monitoring your fitness progress, and also tracking your food intake and water consumption. Any metric can be tapped to show historical data, and weekly totals. If you are only after a simple pedometer, this is the one to go for.

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Fitbit One

First released: September 2012

what is a fitbit

what is a fitbit

Fitbit One is also a belt-clip/carry on activity tracker, but goes a bit further than Fitbit Zip. In addition to tracking your steps, distance, calories burned, Fitbit One measures stairs climbed. Come nightfall, the device also measures your sleep quality, helps you learn how to sleep better, and wakes you up in the morning.

While Fitbit One and Fitbit Zip were novel and innovative back in 2012 when they were released, these days the metrics they track are fairly standard. However, if you are looking for a basic tracker to measure your activity, the Fitbit Zip and Fitbit One both represent a great choice due to their reliability, excellent value for money and a first class app with which you can view your data. You may also be able to purchase them at a discount.

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Fitbit Flex

First released: May 2013

what is a fitbit

what is a fitbit

The Fitbit Flex is slim and comfortable wrist worn gadget. It monitors steps, distance, and calories burned and shows you how you’re stacking up against your daily goals. At night, the device monitors your sleep cycles.

LED lights show how your day is stacking up against your goal while stats are synced wirelessly and automatically.

The Flex is an old model, probably not worth the money even if at a discount. We suggest you go with one of the newer trackers instead. For a small difference in price, you will get a screen and heart rate monitoring (depending on the model). Or you can go for the new and improved Flex 2 device.

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Fitbit Charge

Released: November 2014

what is a fitbit

what is a fitbitFitbit Charge sports a monochrome OLED display, which is very vibrant and easy to read, despite being roughly the size of a fingernail.

The device shows the time, daily steps total, distance travelled, calories, flights climbed and you cycle through those metrics using the button on the left. The tracker can also an display caller ID information from a connected smartphone through the Fitbit app.

Fitbit likes to think of the Charge for everyday users who want to get fitter and see how they are doing in real time on the wristband and also via the excellent free app and graphics-heavy desktop dashboard. The wearable definitely serves this purpose. We suggest though, dishing out a few extra dollars and going for the upgraded Charge 2, which will also monitor your heart rate – and looks better.

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Fitbit Charge HR

First released: January 2015

what is a fitbit

what is a fitbitLike the Charge the Charge HR is an activity-tracker wristband that displays fitness stats right there on your wrist. The main difference is the inclusion of a heart rate monitor. The Charge HR has also improved the Charge’s clasp.

Fitbit’s proprietary PurePulse optical heart-rate technology, uses safe LED lights on the underside of the wristband to detect blood volume and capillary-size changes under pressure. When your heart beats, your capillaries expand and contract based on blood volume changes.

When compared to trackers with no heart rate monitor and those which only measure heart rate on demand, the ones that continuously measure provide a much more accurate calorie burn figure. Knowing your heart rate means the wearable knows the intensity of the exercise.

Unlike older Fitbit devices, the Fitbit Charge HR’s sleep mode will kick in automatically – by analysing your movements and heart rate data. An added feature called SmartTrack, automatically recognizes select exercises and records them in the Fitbit app.

This was our choice for the best fitness tracker in 2015. You would be better off going for the Charge 2 though. It retails at nearly same price and has pretty much made the Charge HR redundant.

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Fitbit Surge

First released: October 2014

what is a fitbit
what is a fitbit

The Fitbit website refers to the Surge as the ‘ultimate fitness superwatch’. This device is the most powerful Fitbit with GPS tracking, real time workout statistics and a heart rate monitor. But its stepped up specs and touchscreen LCD make it bigger in size and price. Plus, it is now in competition with more serious running watches from Polar and Garmin.

The Surge is noticeably larger than the Fitbit Charge HR and upgrades to a touchscreen. This backlit, always-on interface allows you to keep tabs on your steps, miles, active minutes and heart rate on a black-and-white, 1.25-inch screen.

The device records all the usual statistics that you would expect, such as: steps taken, distance travelled, calories burned, stairs climbed, active minutes, caller ID and sleep. However, the Surge goes a step further than other Fitbits by including GPS mapping. The Surge’s satelite tracking works without your phone, a feature that is not currently available in the Apple Watch.

Essential reading: Gone for a run: top GPS watches for running and training

The Surge marks Fitbit’s first foray into serious running watch territory. While it is not the fastest or most accurate GPS in the world, it does get the job done. Also, the real-time heart rate monitoring gives reasonably accurate results and the automatic sleep function is a plus. On the negative side, the Surge is not perhaps as accurate as the top-tier fitness sports watches, and the display is not really attractive for a night out or for use in the workplace.

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Fitbit Blaze

First released: February 2016

what is a fitbit
what is a fitbit

The Blaze looks a lot like the Apple Watch, but puts fitness first. It is Fitbit’s first wearable with a color touch screen, which pops out so you can swap bands.

The device tracks activity and records heart rate, but lacks the GPS of the full-featured Surge watch. It will monitor daily steps, sleep, calories burned, and 15 different types of exercises such as running, walking, basketball and football to name a few. The wearable also offers guided activity via its native FitStar app running on the watch. And Fitbit has finally added reminders to stand.

The full list of sensors is as follows: 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, Optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, ambient light sensor and vibration motor. The Blaze is sweat, rain and splash proof, but is not swim proof.

Its optical heart rate sensors will take a heart rate reading every five seconds during the day and every second during workout sessions. This should, in theory, give wearers relatively accurate heart rate readings. The device has enough juice to run for 5 days before needing a recharge.

All in all, this is a stylish smartwatch for active consumer that represents a great compromise between a smartwatch and fitness tracker.

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Fitbit Alta

First released: March 2016

what is a fitbit
what is a fitbit

The Alta tracker has a slim stylish design, a major step up in the looks department from the retro feel of its 2015 lineup. The device features a discreet, slightly curved, touch-screen, OLED display. In terms of size, the bands are much smaller compared to the Fitbit Charge or Charge HR.

In terms of price, this is one of the cheapest trackers sold by Fitbit. The company has not included a heart rate sensor, which has allowed it to offer it at a discount compared to its other wearables. It also does not contain a GPS or an altimetre for counting floors climbed.

What it does contain is a 3-axis accelerometer and a vibration motor. This means Alta is able to track steps, distance, calories burned and active minutes. It is also equipped with reminders to move, nudging you to stay active throughout the day, while providing visual feedback on your progress and keeping you connected with smart notifications. Detailed information on workouts and activity progress can be found in the Fitbit app.

Essentially, with Alta Fitbit is styling up what it already offers. There is no ground-breaking new technology on board. But if you’re looking for a stylish fitness tracker that does the essentials from a recognised brand, this could be the device for you. Think of the Alta as a much better looking, revamped cousin of the Flex, but with a screen.

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Fitbit Flex 2

First released: September 2016

what is a fitbit

what is a fitbitThe Flex 2 is the company’s slimmest tracker yet and for the first time for a Fibit device is water resistant.

The device is 30% smaller than the original model and features a removable core unit and interchangeable slim, classic fitness bands in seven colors. A simple LED display uses color-coded lights to show progress toward your daily goal, and keeps you connected with call and text notifications.

There is a full range of options if you wish to customise the tracker. You can choose from a range of luxe, premium mirror-finish bangles in silver stainless steel, and 22k-plated gold or rose gold stainless steel, or elegant lariat-style necklaces in silver stainless steel or 22k-plated gold stainless steel.

More importantly, this is Fitbit’s first swim-proof wristband. The device is water resistant up to 50 meters, whether you’re in the shower, pool or ocean, and it automatically tracks your pool swims including laps, duration and calories burned in the Fitbit app.

Other features are fairly standard and include automatic exercise tracking, reminders to move, and personalised weekly exercise goals.

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Fitbit Charge 2

First released: September 2016

what is a fitbit

what is a fitbitThis is the successor to the popular Charge HR. In addition to PurePulse heart rate tracking, the Charge 2 features an enhanced exercise experience and new health and fitness tools.

The upgraded design features an OLED display that is four times larger than Charge HR. It actually comes across as a wider version of the Alta. You can customise the look to your liking with interchangeable bands and clock faces.

Fitbit has debuted a few new features that are powered by your personal heart rate. The one that seems very useful is called Cardio Fitness Level. Available only on Charge 2, it gives you a snapshot of your fitness level using a personalised Cardio Fitness Score. The Cardio Fitness Score is based on your estimated VO2 Max that is calculated using your user profile and resting heart rate. You also get to see how you compare to those of the same age and gender.

The other new addition are Guided Breathing Sessions. This is a relaxing mindfulness experience that calms your body and mind through personalized deep-breathing sessions called “Relax”.

While it doesn’t feature GPS connectivity, the new tracker links to the GPS on your smartphone to provide more precise data on pace and distance when you’re running, while recording a map of your route in the app.

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Alta HR

A little over a year after the original Alta, the Alta HR is here to add heart rate and advanced sleep tracking to the mix. This makes it what Fitbit calls the “world’s slimmest” wrist-worn tracker with a continuous heart rate sensor.

With the Alta HR, Fitbit has shown that it is possible to bring its Pure Pulse technology to a device this narrow. Until now, continuous heart-rate tracking has only been available in Fitbit’s larger devices, such as the Surge, the Blaze and the Charge 2. However, the company has developed a new chip that reduces the size and number of components needed by 25%.

The tracker will also benefit from Fitbit’s new sleep features. ‘Sleep Stages’ uses accelerometer and heart rate data to more accurately estimate how long you spend in Light, Deep, and REM sleep stages each night. The values are calculated by combining accelerometer data, heart rate variability (the time between beats), and Fitbit’s proprietary algorithms.

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Choose trackers to compare features and technical specifications

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