Review: Fitbit Charge 2, upgrades make this the best Fitbit so far
Fitbit Charge 2
The follow-up to one of Fitbit’s most successful products has finally arrived. The Charge 2 was officially debuted at IFA in Germany earlier this month, and has since rolled out to major retailers around the world.
The fourth activity tracker released by the San Francisco company this year carries over all the classic features we have come to love from the Charge HR, and enhances them with a few new health and fitness tools. The original tracker was Gadgets & Wearable’s choice for the best fitness device in 2015, but how does the Charge 2 stack up?
I have been taking it through its paces for over a week now. Read on for everything you need to know about Fitbit’s newest activity tracker.
The Charge 2 retains the look and feel from its predecessor and can still be recognised as your typical Fitbit wearable. Its design actually comes across as a blend of the Charge HR and Alta. It definitely feels like a more premium version of the original tracker.
The sleek new look sports a monochrome OLED display that is four times as large compared to the Charge HR. The screen is very sharp and clear indoors and outside of direct sunlight. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for direct sunlight. This did not have me worried though. Luckily for me, I live in London. We don’t get many sunny days you see…
You can customise the main screen with a number of different clock-faces. I opted for the one which shows the time, your daily steps and current heart rate as I like to be able to check on my heart rate at anytime with a simple flick of the wrist. There are a total of 7 clock faces to choose from. Selecting one will automatically sync it and the next time you turn your wrist over the face should be changed.
You need to wear the band loose enough so that it can move back and fourth. When you are exercising you may want to tighten it a bit so that it has a better read of your heart rate. It should be 2-3 finger widths above your wrist bone.
Use the button on the left to wake the tracker and page through the menu. By single-tapping the top of the screen, you cycle through the stats. Pressing won’t work since this is not a typical touchscreen. Don’t be afraid to tap firmly on the screen, otherwise it may not register.
You can also wake the display up by turning your wrist towards you or by double-tapping the display. This does not work every single time which is a tad annoying but not overly frustrating. Also, the display is a bit too quick to switch off for my liking, presumably so that it doesn’t drain the battery.
You will find the PurePulse heart rate sensor on the underside of the tracker. It sticks out a bit but once its on your wrist it does not feel uncomfortable and the bump is not noticeble. If you were to open up the core unit, you would also find a 3-axis accelerometer, altimeter and a vibration motor.
Similar to the Alta and Blaze, you can customise the look to your liking with interchangeable bands. The straps are fastened with a stainless steel buckle which can easily be snapped off. The classic fitness accessory bands come in four colors, luxe premium leather accessory bands in blush pink, brown and indigo; and the special edition series in gunmetal and rose gold.
To refuel – plug the proprietary charging cable into a USB port, connect it to your tracker and make sure its gold pins are aligned. Fitbit says the Charge 2 comes with enough juice to run for 5 days on a single charge. I found this to be the case and managed to squeeze nearly 6 days out of the tracker before opting to top-up.
This is pretty much the same battery life you will find on other Fitbit devices. An impressive feat considering the bigger size of the screen and smaller form-factor compared to the Charge HR. The charge time is from one to two hours. You will be notified when the battery is low via the Fitbit app and interestingly, an email. The device itself does not show how much juice is left.
Waterproofing seems to be the norm these days with the new Apple Series 2 Watch boasting a swim friendly design. The Charge 2 is sweat, rain and splash proof. Sorry folks, you will need to wait another year for a Fitbit Charge you can take to the pool. If swimming is important to you, and you are dead-set on getting a Fitbit tracker, go for the Flex 2 while you are waiting.
The device carries over all of the features found on the original Charge HR tracker. This means you will find 24/7 heart rate monitoring (including resting heart rate), and Charge 2 will also keeps tabs on steps, distance travelled, floors climbed, active minutes, calories burned and sleep (as well as a silent vibrating alarm).
To help you stay active throughout the day, Charge 2 sends Reminders to move that encourage you to take 250 steps every hour. It also spits out motivational messages through the day. Thankfully, you have the option to opt out of this if you prefer, as it can get a bit too much.
Smartphone notifications include calls (the tracker will buzz briefly showing the telephone number), texts and calendar alerts. The large screen makes these reminders easily readable. Third-party notifications from social media do not show, meaning all your Facebook notifications, Twitter messages and Instagram likes will go unread. The Charge 2 does not pretend to be a smartwatch, so you only get a notification which will disappear after a short while. To read the full text, you will need to head over to the smartphone app.
I won’t go into much detail on basic activity stats, as these have become fairly standard these days. The main screen in the app shows you your step count, floors, distance, calories, active minutes, number of days you have exercised (out of a weekly recommended total of 5), your sleep statistics, heart rate and hourly activity. You can edit this screen to your liking by adding and removing tiles.
The step count is fairly accurate and the app will break it down into minute detail. The number of floors climbed is a bit hit and miss – but this is the case with all fitness trackers.
The sleep statistics are fairly basic. They will tell you how long you slept, how many times you woke up and the number of times you were restless. There is also a silent alarm function which does a fairly good job of waking you up by vibrating at a set time. I would hesitate though to use the Charge 2 to wake me up for an important meeting early in the morning. If you are a light sleeper – you might be braver than me.
In terms of the always on optical heart rate sensor, it is as good as it gets for a wrist-based heart rate monitor. Don’t look for chest strap accuracy – you won’t find it.
The tracker does a good job of monitoring your ticker throughout the day. It does a decent job for more intense activities such as a steady run in the park, but for high intensity workouts or interval training the accuracy will not be as good.
The smartphone app automatically tracks your resting heart rate in the morning and charts its movements via daily and monthly graphs. Your resting heart rate is probably the best indicator of your health and fitness so its important to keep an eye on its value.
All the above mentioned features are carried over from some of Fitbit’s predecessor devices. However, the company has debuted a few new features as well.
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.
It also offers Multi-Sport tracking, meaning the Charge 2 will automatically recognise certain sports such as runs, bike rides, weights, yoga and more, plus you get post-exercise summaries and a detailed report of your activity in the Fitbit app.
Because the process is automatic, this means you will get credit even if you forget to log a workout. To be on the safe side, if you’re embarking on a specific workout I would recommend manually choosing the activity to ensure you’re getting the exact readings you want.
I tested a few of its features, namely the running feature, interval training, weight lifting and eliptical. For running, I strapped on the Charge 2 along with the jack of all trades – the Vivoactive HR. The results were fairly similar, but not exactly the same.
For example, I did a 12 minute jog in the park. Fitbit connected to the GPS on the smartphone straight away while I spent the next minute and a half twiddling my thumbs waiting for Vivoactive HR to find the GPS satellite. After the run, Charge 2 told me I ran 1.69km at a 6 minute 34 second pace with an average heart rate of 129. The Vivoactive HR on the other hand told me I ran 1.68km at a 6 minute 27 second pace with an average heart rate of 136. Which one is correct? Probably neither.
My view is, unless you are a serious runner, the Charge 2 will suffice. If you are a serious runner, you are best off with a chest strap and a more sophisticated GPS smartwatch.
Some users have reported problems with the connected GPS feature. I’m happy to report I have not had these problems. Perhaps it has something to do with location and strength of the GPS signal where a person lives.
For interval training, the Charge 2 will take you through a series of 30 second quick runs, followed by 7-8 second slow runs or walks. The recovery phase is a really important part of interval training. The stop-and-start pattern trains your body to recover quickly between bursts of faster running, which, over time, will gradually increase your ability to run faster for longer.
Weight training will not count your reps or sets. There is a niche group of trackers which are designed to do this, and the Charge 2 is not one of them. Instead the device will time you and monitor your ticker, and at the end of the workout will let you know how much time you spent in each heart rate zone. You will get a similar set of statistics for eliptical training.
There are a few new features I will cover next that are powered by your personal heart rate.
The most interesting and potentially useful one 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. The Cardio Fitness Level shows how you compare to those of the same age and gender, and ranges from poor to excellent.
A few hours after strapping on the tracker, the Fitbit app told me I fall into the 46-50 range in terms of my gender and age, which is considered “very good to excellent”. Not bad… To my delight, I was bumped up to a score of 51, “excellent”, after my first run. Hey – I’m starting to like the Charge 2 more!
Fitbit says on its website, you can get a more precise score by going for a run of at least 10 minutes on flat terrain at a comfortable pace with Connected GPS enabled. If you have a Charge 2, I would definitely recommend you do this.
You will also get get guidance to take action and improve your score over time by increasing exercise frequency, intensity, or by reaching a healthier weight. The app says, improvements to your exercise routine alone could increase your VO2 Max by up to 20%.
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”. This actually reminds me a little of Apple’s new Breathe app that was included in watchOS3.
What you get is a choice between a 2 and 5 minute breathing session. If you meditate daily you may be a fan of this, or if you are looking to get into meditation this might ease you in. I personally can’t see myself using this on a regular basis, although having tried it I have to admit it was a soothing and calming experience.
The device itself features move reminders if you’ve been stationary for a long period or haven’t reached your step goal for the hour. It vibrates and displays celebrations when you reach a goal. This is particularly useful if you’re struggling to finish a bout of exercise. As mentioned, it can get a bit too much so you may wish to opt out from receiving these messages.
The Fitbit app is great for motivation too – it uses colours to indicate progress, which makes it very easy to track exactly where you are in relation to goals. Also, there is a social feature if you wish to compete or simply motivate yourself by seeing how well, or not so well, your friends and family are doing.
There’s a new Fitbit in town. The Charge 2 is a sleek looking device that delivers solid improvements on its predecessors in a few areas, particularly in terms of design. The new tracker picks up the mantle from the Charge HR, our pick for the best activity tracker in 2015.
Fitbit has the right strategy in mind. Instead of adding a host of new features, it is focusing on what it does well, and improving on it. The changes this year were evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The new Cardio Fitness Score is a nice add-in, as are the other small improvements in functionality.
Fitbit Charge 2
In terms of direct competition, the Garmin Vivosmart HR is probably its closest rival. Where Fitbit shines though is in the overall user experience. While both trackers monitor pretty much the same metrics, Fitbit’s user-friendly smartphone app nudges it slightly ahead. Although it would have been nice to see the built-in GPS and waterproofing, I have no doubt, the Charge HR will sell just as well as the Blaze and Alta, if not better.
If you are a dedicated runner you will probably be better off with a fully featured sportswatch. For the average person who is after a solid 24/7 activity tracker, and who does the occasional run here and there, the Charge 2 checks all the boxes.
All in all, this is an impressive-looking package that won’t break the bank.
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