Fitbit has one of the most user friendly fitness apps out there. But some of its features sit behind a paywall. Are they worth the cost? Read on to find out.
Fitbit’s smartphone app
Fitbit’s smartphone app is great. It’s simple to navigate and everything is pretty easy to find. The software dishes out lots of data, but without overloading you with information.
All the basics are free to use. This includes info on steps, distance, calories, exercise, sleep and more. With the introduction of Fitbit Charge 4, the company has slapped on some more software-based goodies.
This includes the ability to overlay training intensity information on a map after a workout. This can either be in the form of pace or heart rate zones shaded throughout your route. Think of it as a heat map that shows the intensity of your effort.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
The other new feature is dubbed Active Zones. It captures intensity of your activity by awarding you points for various heart rate zones. The harder you work your ticker the more points you collect. The overall goal is to accumulate 150 active minutes each week (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity), as per recommendations from the World Health Organization.
Some more features were introduced with Versa 3 and Sense. This includes the ability to track heart rate variability, temperature, breathing rate and stress. Some of these metrics have, since, been made available for a few of the older devices. Who knew your Charge 4 or Inspire 2 could track heart rate variability?! Unfortunately, you do need a Premium monthly subscription to access this.
What is Fitbit Premium?
So what exactly are the features that sit behind the paywall? What do you get for the $9.99 you’re expected to dish out every month or $79.99 per year? Are the extras worth it?
Fitbit Premium was introduced in the latter part of 2019. It is part of the company’s effort to move away from a revenue stream based solely on hardware. We are yet to see, now that Google is on-board, how this develops in the future.
A subscription gives you access to customized programs, personal insights, challenges & adventures, advanced sleep tools and thousands of unique workouts. More recently it also allows you to view in detail the Health Metrics dashboard.
What extras do you get with Fitbit Premium?
Starting off with customized programs as they’ve been around since Fitbit Premium was introduced. These are step-by-step workout instructions that can be found in the Discover tab of the app.
Click on this and you’ll be presented with a plethora of options. For simplicity, they are categorised into at-home training, eating better, getting more quality shut eye and being more active. This first category was added recently to help people cope better with social distancing measures. Each program lasts between one and three weeks and keeps you accountable during the journey.
Advanced insights and Wellness report
The clue is in the name. Advanced insights are just that. More personalised info that taps into your metrics and connects the dots. The app delves deeply into your sleep, activity and heart rate data to spit out useful suggestions. Sure you get these even without the subscription, but this is insights on steroids.
What’s more, there’s also something called a Wellness report. This summarises your data from the past month and presents it in a simple to understand way. The report can be downloaded as a PDF file for easy viewing or printing, and you can also share it with your doctor or personal trainer. Everything is there including stats and charts about your heart health, weight (if you have a connected scale), sleep and activity.
Extra sleep tools
Fitbit’s sleep stats are detailed as it is. If you have a heart rate enabled device you get info on Light, Deep and REM sleep. The app dishes out personalised guidance and you can set bedtime and wakeup targets; reminders to stay on schedule, and a sleep schedule history to chart your progress.
With the Premium Subscription this gets even better. Here you’ll get a breakdown of your Sleep Score. For example, last night I was awarded a 66 points for my nightly rest. Clicking on the figure revealed that 33 of these (out of a possible 50) were earned for the length of my sleep session, 17 (out of a possible 25) for Deep and REM sleep and 16 (out of a possible 25) for Restoration (which measures how peaceful or agitated I was by analysing my sleeping heart rate).
The insights on how to improve your kip time are also more detailed and personalised with the Premium subscription.
The next Premium addition are Workouts. These are exercise instructions and videos to help spice up your routine. They include material from Fitbit, Daily Burn, Pop Sugar, barre3 and more.
Challenges & adventures
Premium members also gain access to new types of challenges. The company calls them “adaptive challenges and games”. Challenges can be personal or allow you to connect with others to compete or work towards shared fitness goals. This could be family, friends or others in the Fitbit community. It has been shown time and time again, we work out more in social settings.
The final extra is there to help you stay chilled. This includes a library of relaxing sounds for guided meditations, again from a range of sources.
Health Metrics Dashboard
The most recent addition and probably the most important one is the Health Metrics Dashboard. This is where it starts to get a bit confusing. In its basic form, the Health Metrics Dashboard is free for users of new wearables, namely Fitbit Charge 4, Inspire 2, Versa 2 & 3 and Sense. If you have an older device, you will need a Premium subscription to access most of the information.
Having said that, even if you have one of the newer devices, your access is limited without a Premium subscription. You can only see a one week view so cannot go back to see monthly and annual trends and deep insights.
The dashboard itself consists of a range of graphs that cover skin temperature, oxygen saturation, heart rate variability, breathing rate and resting heart rate.
This is the one that has made all the headlines. It shows variation in your nightly skin temperature as compared to your baseline. Skin temperature is available to those with a Fitbit Ionic, Versa range and Sense. There’s talk the feature may be coming to those with a Charge 4, too.
Oxygen saturation (SpO2)
You can access nightly average SpO2 without a premium subscription. But the data is more detailed for those with a Premium subscription plus you can view trends.
Heart rate variability (HRV)
This shows your nightly average HRV. It is very different from resting heart rate in that it measures the variability between heart beats. You want to aim for a high figure. The data is displayed in raw form in milliseconds. The feature is compatible with the Alta HR, Blaze, Charge 2 and above, Inspire HR and 2, Ionic, Versa range and Sense.
This one shows your nightly average breathing rate in breaths per minute. It works on the same devices as HRV.
Resting heart rate (RHR)
RHR is available to non-Premium members as well. The metric shows your average resting heart rate in beats per minute. Once again, the same Fitbit wearables as for HRV are compatible.
Fitbit Sense users can also see their Stress Management Score. The metric helps you understand how stressed you are on a daily basis. You also see a breakdown of what is effecting the figure.
How much does Fitbit Premium cost? Is it worth it?
The typical Fitbit user will find most things they need in the free portion of the app. If, however, you are a fan of guided workouts and programs you might appreciate the Premium subscription extras. These are great for someone just starting out, for those looking to spice up their routine, or for those needing a bit of extra motivation.
But let’s face it. The additional sleep insights, mindfulness exercises and challenges are a nice-to-have rather than a must-have for most people. So if you don’t plan on using the guided workouts and programs, it probably doesn’t make sense shelling out $9.99 each month (or $79.99 for an annual subscription).
The story changes, however, if you have a Fitbit Sense (and to some extent Versa range). That one is overloaded with health metrics, and quite a few of these are only available in detailed form inside the Premium subscription model. So while you can see a snapshot of certain metrics such as SpO2 and skin temperature (Fitbit Sense only) in the free app and on device, you will need a premium subscription for more info and trends.
The good news is that Fitbit is currently offering a free 90-day trial to the full service for new users. That will help you decide if the features are worth it to you. As long as you cancel before the trial is up, you won’t be charged.
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