First look: Fitbit Charge HR fitness band with real-time heart rate sensor

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 2015
Fitbit's new Charge HR fitness band puts an emphasis on wearability with a slim and light form factor, but maintains a wealth of health tracking features including a real-time heart rate sensor and onboard display.




Part of the company's 2015 product lineup, Charge HR builds on last year's Flex fitness band with a bright blue OLED display, advanced sensor package with altimeter for counting stairs climbed and optical heart rate monitor dubbed "PurePulse."

Compared to older Fitbit models, the most prominent addition is a small but crisp OLED display, which lets users keep track of steps taken, resting heart rate, calories burned and even incoming calls. Pressing the multifunction button seated just left of the display turns it on, while multiple presses cycle through menu options configurable via the Fitbit iOS app or Web tool.

Unlike other devices in Fitbit's stable, Charge HR comes with a proper buckle strap made of flexible elastomer for a comfortable, yet secure fit. Not only does this design allow for a more customized fit, but it keeps the optical heart rate sensor in constant contact with your skin for accurate readings.

So far, the device has been able to consistently find and monitor our pulse, a task made difficult by a forest of thick arm hair. Other optical systems have failed in the past and electrode-based sensors are particularly ill-suited for our specific needs. The Charge HR's ability to read through the "noise" is a testament to its design.




With Charge HR's real-time heart monitoring capability, users can check if they're in fat burn, cardio or peak zones when exercising (taken in continuous one-second intervals) as denoted by three special heart icons displayed next to the pulse rate readout. Alternatively, the device takes readings at five-second intervals throughout the day and plots results on a line graph for later perusal. Personalized zones can be tweaked via the iOS app and uploaded to Charge HR.

Sleep tracking is moving closer to becoming a standard feature for fitness trackers and Charge HR is no exception. Not much has changed from models like the Flex, but Fitbit built in new algorithms that automatically determine when a user falls asleep, supposedly delivering more accurate data for sleep trend computation. Vibration alarms can also be set through the iOS app.

Fitbit puts battery life at around five days of normal use with two-hour charge times, but real world results could be less depending on how often you check your heart rate, activate the display or sync the device over Bluetooth 4.0. Charging is accomplished via a specialized plug located on the unit's back, an open design which means Charge HR is only water resistant and can't be worn while swimming.




Finally, users who connect pair Charge HR to an iPhone can see incoming call notifications displayed on their wrist, but functionality is limited. The device vibrates when a call comes in, but users can't dismiss or send the call to voicemail with a click of the button.

Charge HR comes in at $149.95, while a slightly thinner version called Charge ditches heart rate monitoring capabilities and costs $20 less.

AppleInsider will offer a more thorough assessment of Charge HR once we've put it through the paces.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 27
    Yeah I have the Charge. It is quite comfortable to wear and also quite accurate, however if you are on an Exercycle on a road to nowhere you won't get any credit for it. Same goes for other non impact activities like Yoga or a Tummy Cruncher session at the gym. I would be interested to see how the HR handled those activities - perhaps the heart monitor would be just the thing.

    The web interface is good and is handy for competing with friends on steps. Kind of reminds me of the old ''Metro'" style on a Wokia phone.

    iOS app is also quite good. I use the Exercise Tracking function and it gives you a nice GPS trail of where you have been along with all the usual stats. One little quirk would be the calorie counter. If you stroll along for 30 mins it seems to think you have used more calories than if you went super hard out for 20 mins - purely because it thinks in terms of 3x cals per minute. Also it makes the phone very hot and pulls a fair bit of juice while you are using Ex Tracking.

    Bottom line, if you are tossing up between the Charge and Charge HR, cough up the extra $20 and go for the HR.
  • Reply 2 of 27
    That is one seriously Neanderthal-hairy arm.
  • Reply 3 of 27
    solipsismysolipsismy Posts: 5,099member
    The Charge HR is still my first choice for my next wearable… but will hold off until the next ?Watch presentation.
  • Reply 4 of 27
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismY View Post



    The Charge HR is still my first choice for my next wearable… but will hold off until the next ?Watch presentation.

    Agreed. Me too. I'm in the market for an HR monitor for trail running and this does look like an elegant solution. But, I will wait for the AppleWatch.

  • Reply 5 of 27
    solipsismysolipsismy Posts: 5,099member
    Agreed. Me too. I'm in the market for an HR monitor for trail running and this does look like an elegant solution. But, I will wait for the AppleWatch.

    I had the Fitbit Force. I liked it, but the clasp was shitty. Even with a focused attempt to make sure it was well connected it still fell off within a couple months (right before the recall, actually). This new clasp should be fine.

    I'm hoping the next ?Watch presentation reveals some new features. If one or more of the following appear I will probably buy ?Watch Sport:

    1. Option to auto-lock iPhone(s), iPad(s) and/or Mac(s) when outside a certain range.
    2. Option to auto-unlock Mac(s) when within a certain range inside certain safe circles, like home.
    3. Option to make a sound and/or resonate ?Watch if you move outside your iPhone(s), iPad(s) and/or Mac(s) area in certain environments. (e.g.: forgetting your iPhone as you leave for work, leaving your MacBook Air and backpack behind when you leave a coffee shop.)
    4. The S-series SiP will be updatable by a certified Apple Jeweler (or something to that effect).
    5. Option to monitor sleep.

    These are ordered, IMO, from most-likely to least-likely.


    PS: Begin able to play music from ?Watch with BT headphones is something I'm interested in, but I'm concerned about battery life for both the ?Watch and headphones at this point. I'd have to see this reviewed or have Apple give some stats that make me say "okay" to that. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some new BT headphones from Apple specifically for ?Watch at their next presentation.
  • Reply 6 of 27

    Gave one to my wife.  She likes it.  The only downer is you can't customize how long the display stays on.  When you press the multifunction button on the side to see the time it only stay on for 3 seconds.  

  • Reply 7 of 27
    I suggest you check out the CHR forums. Hundreds of posts about inaccuracy during exercise (including my own). Less than 120 bpm and it actually works well. Huge lack in consistency compared to the way they market the device (as a chest strap replacement for tracking intense workouts). I'm curious to see this full review's assessment, but most other reviews have come to the same conclusion. Just thought folks should be aware before making a purchase. You may get luck as YMWV, but make sure you buy it somewhere with a liberal return policy if it doesn't work for you.
  • Reply 8 of 27
    Too bad it doesn't support HealthKit. No buy for us...not going to use work arounds to get our own data.
  • Reply 9 of 27
    I can't think of any reason why anyone would still waste their money on these "3rd party" brands when the "Real thing" that works best with iOS devices is already on its way! I've had Loop and a few others, and I can confidently say they are all garbage, not worth the money and effort spent.
  • Reply 10 of 27
    nolamacguy wrote: »
    Too bad it doesn't support HealthKit. No buy for us...not going to use work arounds to get our own data.

    I hear this argument often but I don't get it. What do I get with HealthKit (or the Health app) that's worth at least $200 more?

    At this point the only benefit I can imagine is ?Watch and iPhone will both monitor steps independently but also sync times and strides and then remove any overlap so that steps aren't counted as double, but even that is just wishful thinking on my part at this point as Apple has made no mention of this sort of interoperability.
  • Reply 11 of 27
    For everyone waiting for the iWatch, consider this: Apple's first generation of products are generally lacking of features and quickly abandoned. The first iPad was missing a camera, the the first iPhone lacked any 3rd party apps and 3G data service. For the iWatch it's going to be battery life and ... idk, time will tell. Additionally, Apple learns very fast and quickly adds new features to subsequent revisions. This causes them to leave the early adopters behind in future OS updates because of missing hardware features.

    So I bought a Fitbit Charge HR. I have time, let Apple and the other fashionable early adopters work out the bugs. I'll be very very interested around the 3rd generation of the iWatch.

    Back to the Fitbit. It's a mixed bad of good and bad. It's a watch. The stair climber is accurate and fun to keep track of. The step counter is so-so. By that I mean it works great as a step counter when walking. unfortunately, it also seems to count step from moving my arm when working at my desk. Apparently I walk an additional 2-4 thousand steps a day while sitting at my desk. It doesn't matter which arm, or if I set it to "dominant arm", same result. I'd take the watch off while at my desk but... I want the heart rate tracker for all day. (I don't know why it matters, but I paid for it, and I want it, lol) There does not seem to be a direct way to negate these steps on the iPhone app or their website (you can manually enter a time range on the website and say you were "driving", but that's an inelegant kludge at best)

    Speaking of the heart rate monitor. I'd say it is mostly accurate. Lots of times I check the built in display to see my heart rate at over 100, only to watch it immediately jump down as I sit and watch it. As I wasn't doing anything (sitting at my desk) I doubt it was that high, so why the bad reading? The instructions want you to keep the band loose (so you don't get skin irritation), but tight so you get an accurate HR reading. Ummm, ok...

    The sleep tracker just works. Seriously, if you've ever wondered if you really slept well or tossed and turned, wonder no more. There's a nice chart. And it appears accurate.

    Keep in mind this is all first generation technology. In a few years it's going to be quite a bit better. How much money are you going to spend now on a device that will be in a drawer in 2-3 years because the hardware is obsolete and the software is not upgradeable?
  • Reply 12 of 27
    I'm desperately waiting for the Jawbone UP3. It keeps getting delayed, but the sensors in that thing are supposed to be amazing, potentially offering blood oxidation measuring in the future. Sleep tracking is far more detailed too. Apple Watch is gonna be dreadful as a fitness watch. I'm not charging it every night.
  • Reply 13 of 27
    solipsismy wrote: »
    I hear this argument often but I don't get it. What do I get with HealthKit (or the Health app) that's worth at least $200 more?

    At this point the only benefit I can imagine is ?Watch and iPhone will both monitor steps independently but also sync times and strides and then remove any overlap so that steps aren't counted as double, but even that is just wishful thinking on my part at this point as Apple has made no mention of this sort of interoperability.

    it's pretty simple. if you (or the family members you support) use a proprietary system your data is siloed, such that you can't keep historic data unless you lock yourself into that brand. if you use a HealthKit-enabled device you can keep and trend your data across any manufacturer you happen to use. don't like the brand/device? move to another while retaining your historic data with zero issues.

    note that at no point did I mention apple watch. we're talking about HealthKit-enabled devices.
  • Reply 14 of 27
    solipsismysolipsismy Posts: 5,099member
    nolamacguy wrote: »
    it's pretty simple. if you (or the family members you support) use a proprietary system your data is siloed, such that you can't keep historic data unless you lock yourself into that brand. if you use a HealthKit-enabled device you can keep and trend your data across any manufacturer you happen to use. don't like the brand/device? move to another while retaining your historic data with zero issues.

    note that at no point did I mention apple watch. we're talking about HealthKit-enabled devices.

    I see your point, but at this point I don't care about my steps being collected longterm. Seeing a positive or negative change only has a window of interest of a few months. Once the Health app and biometrics become more intelligent so that years of use can be used to determine potential risks further ahead then I'll be all for HealthKit enabled solutions, but right now it's too immature for me to make that a consideration with the current ?Watch design.
  • Reply 15 of 27
    nolamacguy wrote: »
    it's pretty simple. if you (or the family members you support) use a proprietary system your data is siloed, such that you can't keep historic data unless you lock yourself into that brand. if you use a HealthKit-enabled device you can keep and trend your data across any manufacturer you happen to use. don't like the brand/device? move to another while retaining your historic data with zero issues.

    note that at no point did I mention apple watch. we're talking about HealthKit-enabled devices.

    You can get Sync Solver from the App Store. It can sync your Fitbit data to the Health App. Only problem is you pretty much have to remember to sync it yourself as the app doesn't do it. It advertises that it does, but it doesn't.
    Health seems to be able to figure out how to calculate it so you don't get double steps from using the phone and Fitibt data, so I imagine the Apple Watch will do it too.

    It is still really crap that Fitbit don't support HealthKit natively though.
  • Reply 16 of 27
    Wanted a non-strap HR monitor. Wanted the Jawbone up3, since I had a Body Media for a couple of years. Gave up on jawbone.

    But just got a Charge HR this week. HR Monitor works, at least for basic walking and running.
    Disappointed that it's not swim compatible.

    Integrates well with MyFitnessPal.
  • Reply 17 of 27
    solipsismysolipsismy Posts: 5,099member
    lostkiwi wrote: »
    Health seems to be able to figure out how to calculate it so you don't get double steps from using the phone and Fitibt data, so I imagine the Apple Watch will do it too.

    Thanks. I wondered if that would be ironed out before ?Watch launches.

    I wonder how it does it since the steps aren't likely to be exact. Takes the highest value for an overlapping timeframe, takes the mean average for an overlapping timeframe, or something else entirely?
  • Reply 18 of 27
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,495member
    For steps wouldn't a phone in you pants pocket be more accurate than something on your arm? What happens when you grate cheese or slice an onion?
  • Reply 19 of 27
    entropys wrote: »
    For steps wouldn't a phone in you pants pocket be more accurate than something on your arm? What happens when you grate cheese or slice an onion?

    The SW for these accelerometers are smart enough to figure out when you're not moving forward, and they can even be smart enough to know when you're on a treadmill based on the full circle movement your wrist is doing.

    Note, simply putting a device in your pocket could cause it to not function properly if it's algorithms are expecting it to be worn on the wrist.
    I’ve seen recommendations that you should put it in your pocket when walking on a treadmill, but if you have to do that, it defeats the purpose of using this type of device. So I tried that; the same half-hour on the treadmill, and the same 2,000+ steps with the Fitbit. The Jawbone, in my pocket, recorded 260 steps.
  • Reply 20 of 27
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,435member
    lostkiwi wrote: »
    Health seems to be able to figure out how to calculate it so you don't get double steps from using the phone and Fitibt data, so I imagine the Apple Watch will do it too.

    The fact that the stock Health app can't even calculate my BMI in spite of it already having my height and weight I see the Health app as a 'nice try, but no cigar'.

    The app is seriously lacking from the polish, fit & finish we all have grown accustomed to. It has bugs, sometimes loosing all info, has endless data points from my steps which should be simply truncated to 4 times a day or something. The graphs should be made scrollable to see the history instead of 4 predefined views. It doesn't sync with a Mac or iPad, it ...oh well, here's hoping an update will see it evolve to something useful.
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