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So far, the only new fitness tracker this year from Fitbit is an updated version of its much loved Alta. This makes 2017 a relatively quiet year by its standards. Perhaps the San Francisco outfit is putting most of its focus on building the company’s first smartwatch, rumored for release in the Autumn.
With the Alta HR, Fitbit has slapped a continuous heart rate sensor to one of Fitbit’s slimmest and most stylish fitness trackers. This makes it what the company calls the “world’s slimmest” wrist-worn tracker with a continuous heart rate sensor.
Here is everything you need to know.
Features and software
The Alta HR looks almost exactly like last year’s Alta. After all, why fix something that’s not broken. Just 15mm in width, its slim, stylish and lightweight. This is obviously part of Fitbit’s effort to create products that feel less like computers and more like design accessories.
The gadget sports a discreet, slightly curved, touch-screen, OLED display with a 128 x 36 pixel resolution. It’ll automatically turn on or off based on your wrist movements. Like most companies, Fitbit does this to save battery. The screen shows your activity stats and the time, and can be personalized using a variety of portrait or landscape clock face options.
You won’t find any buttons on the Alta HR. You wake up the device by lifting your wrist or by firmly tapping on the centre of the display. Further taps navigate through the screens.
Sporting such a slim design, however, has its disadvantages. One of these is the display size. While the tracker is pretty-well suited for quickly glancing down at your stats, at times you will find it difficult to read. Particularly when you are outside on a bright day.
The screen can also be a bit unresponsive, and at times I found myself repeatedly tapping before it would spring to life. Which can get annoying.
Flip the device over, and you’ll notice a tiny Pure Pulse heart rate sensor. 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. Other sensors are the same as in last year’s Alta.
Fitbit’s new tracker features a satin finish, stainless steel body, and a line of interchangeable bands so you can find the one to fit your personal style. You simply pop the bands on and off. The strap is slightly textured and 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 bands come in a bunch of colours including black, blue-grey, fuchsia or coral. There are also a few special edition versions. Like most other Fitbit trackers, you have a choice between small and large strap sizes.
Alta HR is not waterproof, so lets hope Fitbit is saving that for the next version. Like most other Fitbit’s devices, its 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 it.
Rather impressively, despite the addition of heart rate monitoring, Alta HR can keep going for up to a week before needing a top-up. Charging is done via a proprietary USB cable.
Despite being marketed as unisex, the Alta HR is probably leaning a bit more towards the female fitness enthusiast. With its minimalistic look, you could easily wear it alongside a bracelet or even a watch. I found that its comfortable to wear 24/7 and doesn’t get in the way much. In fact, its so slim and lightweight, you’ll hardly notice its there.
Just like the original, the Alta HR can track steps, distance, calories and sleep. It also displays notifications for incoming calls, text messages and calendar alerts. The predecessor device was, however, missing out on a couple of features, one of which is becoming fairly standard these days – heart rate tracking.
But while the new device it is more fully featured, the tracker does not have some features you will find on the Charge 2. This includes VO2 Max, workout modes, Guided Breathing and Connected GPS. It also does not have an altimeter for counting floors.
Nevertheless, the Alta HR is well suited for tracking your activity. Because there are no physical buttons, you will need to rely on Fitbit’s SmartTrack technology to automatically pick up on your exercise. Luckily, it does this well. Activities are recorded when you’ve been active for at least 15 minutes, but that time can be manually adjusted according to your preference. If it does miss or wrongly classify a workout, you can fix this in the Fitbit app.
Essential reading: Heart rate zone training with wearables
Activities that can be recognised include elliptical, outdoor biking, running, walking, and general categories of aerobic workouts (such as Zumba, cardio-kickboxing and other dance classes) and sports (such as tennis, basketball and soccer). You can also edit settings to exclude certain activities from being recognised.
The Alta HR also does a good job getting you off the sofa. Once every hour, the band buzzes to get 250 steps out of you. You can customize the frequency of your reminders, or change the benchmarks.
During exercise, the tracker displays your real-time target heart rate zone, so you can optimize your sessions for fat burning, a fitness boost, or performance benefits. You can check your current heart rate at any time by lifting your wrist.
Tracking at five-second intervals 24/7 (unless you are exercising when it ramps up to one-second intervals), Fitbit’s stylish new tracker will also pick up on 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.
The addition of heart rate monitoring should also result in a slightly more accurate total for your daily calorie burn.
Alta HR automatically syncs with your smartphone throughout the day, or you can initiate manual syncs on your own. As with all the Fitbits, you can monitor your stats on your wrist, and for more detailed information on the mobile app or web interface.
More comprehensive sleep features are another big addition. Thanks to the heart rate sensor these get much more useful.
You don’t have to tell the device that you’re planning on snoozing, and sleep mode will kick in from your movements. Which means, all you have to remember is to wear your tracker to bed. The Alta HR’s thin and light design makes it easy to sleep with. When you wake up, sync your tracker to see last night’s sleep stats on the dashboard.
Essential reading: Fitbit’s new sleep tracking feature explained
Fitbit has recently introduced 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.
The other new sleep feature provides you with advice on ways to improve your kip time. Fitbit is using all your activity and diet statistics to discover trends and then dish up personalized guidance on how to improve sleep. The more you wear your tracker to bed, the more personalized insights you may receive.
And lets not forget the basic smartwatch features. The Alta HR, like its predecessor, displays notifications for calls, texts and calendar notifications. Notifications are limited to just a few apps, and messages are shortened (you can tweak their length in the settings).
The small screen real estate, however, makes this of limited use. In most cases you’ll find yourself reaching for your smartphone to read them. The call notifications are probably more useful.
At its core, the Alta HR is a fairly unexciting device from Fitbit. There is no ground-breaking new technology on board, and Fitbit is taking what it does well, and making it better. The tracker will provide you with the essentials, but don’t expect life-changing information about your health.
For the most part the device does exactly what it promises. It will reliably and accurately track steps taken, sleep quality, your heart rate, and basic activities. It also has of the most user friendly app ecosystems out there.
Alta HR is probably the best looking fitness tracker Fitbit has released so far. This should be a big seller, particularly with women, the high-fashion crowd and those looking to get into fitness tracking.
Fitbit Alta HR
Admittedly, Fitbit has left out a few features. Alta HR will not track how many floors you climb, it does not have Connected GPS, Guided Breathing, Cardio Fitness Level (VO2 Max) and you can’t start and stop exercises manually. All of this you can find on the Charge 2, which is priced the same and remains our Editor’s Choice. If you can live without these, the sleek looking Alta HR is a solid choice.
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