Fitbit is one of the best known names in the world of activity tracking. Their trackers are simple to use, reliable, look smart, provide great vitals statistics and have an excellent app behind them.
Compared to previous years, the company has been relatively quiet since the start of 2017. Perhaps most of its efforts are focused on coming up with Fitbit’s first fully fledged smartwatch. We’ve even caught a glimpse of leaked images of the yet unnamed watch, rumored for release in the Autumn.
Essential reading: Choosing the right Fitbit tracker
So far, the only new fitness tracker this year from Fitbit is an updated version of its much loved Alta. The San Francisco outfit has brought continuous heart rate tracking and a range of new features to one of its slimmest and most stylish fitness trackers.
Here’s how the two devices stack up against each other.
Fitbit Alta HR or Alta: Design
At first glance, the Alta HR looks very much like its predecessor. But while the two devices may look identical, there are some important differences.
Both the Alta and Alta HR sport a discreet, slightly curved, 1.4-inch OLED touch display and 128 x 36 pixel resolution. You can switch the screen on by lifting your wrist or by lightly tapping on the display.
The screen shows your activity stats and the time, and can be personalized using a variety of portrait or landscape clock face options. There are no buttons, and this is because you don’t really need them. Simply tap on the sides of the display to navigate.
The Alta HR comes with a new clasp to ensure a more snug fit. Fitbit has moved away from the simple button and opted for the buckle at the end instead. The straps, however, are interchangeable and will work across both devices.
In terms of sensors, apart from the optical heart rate sensor on the Alta HR, the two devices are identical. With this new tracker, Fitbit has shown that it is possible to bring its Pure Pulse technology to a device this small. Its done this impressive feat by developing a one-of-a-kind chip that reduced the size and number of components needed. This has helped it achieve a 25% slimmer design compared to the Charge 2.
Fitbit markets the devices as unisex, but we suspect the slim design may appeal more to women than men. Both devices feature a satin finish, stainless steel body, and a line of interchangeable textured elastomer band. You simply pop the bands on and off. There are a bunch of colors to choose from including black, blue-grey, fuchsia or coral. There are also a few special edition versions for the more fashion conscious.
Alta HR or Alta: Battery life and water resistance
Alta HR is not waterproof, so lets hope Fitbit is saving that for the 2018 version. Both devices are rated only “sweat, rain and splash proof”. This means while you may be ok to go jogging in the rain, don’t plan on going swimming with your tracker around your wrist. The Flex 2 remains Fitbit’s only swim-proof wearable to date.
Rather impressively, despite the addition of heart rate monitoring, Alta HR can keep going for up to a week before needing a top-up. The Alta HR lasts a day or two less on a single charge.
Alta HR or Alta: Features
The Alta and Alta HR both provide the essentials when it comes to fitness tracking – they track steps, distance, calories and sleep. You also get automatic activity tracking and reminders to move. And they dish out notifications for incoming calls, text messages and calendar alerts.
The Alta is, however, missing a feature that is becoming fairly standard these days – heart rate tracking. Fitbit’s new tracker, on the other hand, will monitor your ticker 24/7 and allow you to better measure your calorie burn, exercise smarter and keep better tabs on your overall health.
Most people who exercise will tell you they want to lose weight or simply get fitter. Not many people, however, know what their heart rate is, or where it really should be. All top athlete’s heart rate train, as they know this will help them to reach their top potential in the shortest amount of time possible.
During exercise, Alta HR displays your real-time target heart rate zone, so you can optimize your sessions for fat burning, a fitness boost, or performance benefits. While both devices feature SmartTrack automatically detecting what kind of workout or activity you’re doing, the Alta HR provides much more detail thanks to its heart rate sensor.
Essential reading: Heart rate zone training with wearables
Fitbit’s stylish new tracker will also monitor your resting heart rate. The resting heart rate is how fast your heart beats outside of any physical activity, when all your heart has to do is keep your basic body functions running. Outside of any specific ailment, a lower resting heart rate correlates very closely to a state of greater general fitness and health.
While both devices automatically track sleep, Alta HR benefits from Fitbit’s new sleep features. Introduced last month, ‘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 tracker also dishes out advice on ways to improve your kip time. The Alta, on the other hand, only provides basic information including how long you’ve slept, and restlessness and wake time.
Alta HR or Alta: The bottom line
Both of these trackers will do a good job and provide you with the basics when it comes to fitness tracking. The slim, stylish design means you can even wear them alongside a watch.
In terms of features, the difference between the two comes down to the heart rate sensor and more detailed sleep tracking on the Alta HR. While we suspect the latter probably won’t sway most people’s decision, the addition of the heart rate sensor certainly might.
Fitbit Alta HR
A heart rate sensor enables you to heart rate zone train, monitor your resting heart rate and get more precise estimates of calories spent. You get a better overall picture of your health and fitness making this feature probably worth the $20 price difference.
Coming in at a similar price point as the Alta HR is the Charge 2. If you don’t mind the larger form-factor, the Charge 2 will provide you with all this in addition to an altimeter for counting floors, Cardiovascular fitness (VO2 Max), Breathing Exercises and Connected-GPS.
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