Just when we thought Fitbit was shifting focus towards building a smartwatch, the San Francisco outfit surprised us with yet another fitness tracker.
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.
Here is everything you need to know.
The Alta HR looks very much like the much-loved Alta fitness tracker. Those who are familiar with Fitbit’s devices will recognise the slim, stylish, unisex design.
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. You wake up the device 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. You won’t find any buttons on the Alta HR, and this is because you don’t really need them. Simply tap on the sides of the display to navigate.
The Alta HR 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. Total time to change from one look to another is under 10 seconds. The strap is slightly textured and has been reinforced with two watch-like security buckles that help secure the device properly to your wrist.
You will get to choose froma bunch of colours including black, blue-grey, fuchsia or coral. There are also two “special edition” rose gold and gun metal trackers as well as a selection of designer accessories.
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.
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%.
Rather conveniently, the gadget automatically recognizes select exercises and records them in the Fitbit app. Activities are recorded when you’ve been active for at least 15 minutes, but that time can be manually adjusted according to your preference.
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.
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. 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.
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.
You don’t have to tell the Alta 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
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.
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.
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.
Battery life and water resistance
Despite the addition of heart rate monitoring, Alta HR can keep going for up to a week before needing a top-up – so kudos for not sacrificing longevity in the name of additional features. For comparison purposes, Fitbit’s Charge 2 tracker lasts up to 5 days on a single charge.
Alta HR is not waterproof, but Fitbit may be saving that for the 2018 version. If you are on the lookout for a water resistance tracker from the Fitbit range, the Flex 2 is still the way to go. If you are looking for a more fully featured device, you might want to check out the Garmin Vivosmart HR.
At its core, the Alta is not much different from other Fitbits – there is no ground-breaking new technology on board. Fitbit is, however, taking what it does well, and making it better.
The Alta HR along with its less sophisticated cousin, are probably the best looking fitness trackers the company 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.
Admittedly, Fitbit has left out a few features. It will not track how many floors you climb, and doesn’t have Connected GPS, Guided Breathing and Cardio Fitness Level, all of which you will find on a Charge 2. If you can live without these, our first impression is the Alta HR will be a great choice.
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