After an unfortunate recall of its best product last year, Fitbit is back in a big way. Three new products are hitting the market soon, and they're the best that the company has come out with in a long time. The Charge is the first, and it's the best fitness tracker we've seen so far.
What Is It?
A better version of the Fitbit Force that was pulled off the shelves last year. It's a basic fitness tracker with the ability to monitor steps, kilometres walked, calories burned, distance travelled and -- thanks to an altimeter -- floors climbed.
It has a 0.8-inch display that shows you all this data, and a single button on the left of the band to scroll through the time and date, as well as the gathered fitness information.
It costs $149.95, and is on sale now.
We loved the Force. It was such a shame when it was recalled, because at the time we called it the best basic fitness tracker out there.
Fitbit has since nestled the charger so it doesn't put untreated nickel onto the skin, shrunk the product slightly and given it a fresh new stripey design before putting it back on sale for the very reasonable price of $149.95.
Fitbit has proved time and time again that it's the last word in simple, entry-level fitness trackers, and the new Charge holds true to that legacy.
Everything that sucked about Fitbit's user experience is now getting worked over.
Fitbit's app, for example, has come a long way. It used to be clunky, ugly, buggy, and extremely unintuitive. It is now hands-down the cleanest, easiest fitness tracker app out there.
The new Fitbit experience also seems to cater for both the stat-obsessed and the tech-inexperienced. If you just want a basic tracker to follow you about and report numbers back to your phone, it does that. At the same time, however, it can be a powerful tool with its own web-based dashboard serving you stats on how you're moving, how you're eating and how your weight-loss and general fitness plans are going.
The band on the Charge is thin, rubbery and lightweight, so you won’t have to worry about pinching your skin or scratching surfaces like your laptop while you work with it on your wrist. The small aluminium square used to clip the band to itself is even slightly recessed so you especially don’t have to worry about that last bit.
The Charge is designed so that you can see everything vital to your movements at a glance: steps, distance travelled, calories burned, steps climbed and minutes active. It even shows you the time with three different, customisable faces.
It connects to your phone via low-energy Bluetooth 4.0, so every now and then it pings your phone with the latest movement data to be stored in the Fitbit app. There’s no way you can connect it to your phone physically like a Jawbone Up, so older Android users without Bluetooth 4.0 might be left out with this one.
Whether you've got your Bluetooth connected or not, the battery life is spectacular on the Charge. You'll easily get nine days of use before the band tells you it needs a dose of power, and within an hour of being connected to a charger, you're ready to go once again. It's best-in-class stuff like this that makes the Charge great.
Fitbit's app may have come a long way in recent months, but Australians are still going to have a few complaints. The food-logging database is a bit of a let-down for Aussies, seeing as how it's mostly American foods, measured in Imperial units rather than metric. And speaking of units, it's also tough to figure out where to change your system of measurement to metric.
The only real gripe I have about the design of the Charge is that the plastic screen can be easily scuffed and scratched, especially around the edges. I've had it for less than two months and there are already a few scuffs that won't come out with a simple wipe-down. No matter how careful you are with it, it lives on a place that's going to be bumping into stuff all the time, so get ready for scratches.
It's also pretty baffling as to why Fitbit wouldn't make the Charge waterproof. I was very conscious of this when I was at the beach or washing my hands, for example. It's "splashproof" which means you can wear it in the rain, but if it's something that's going to live on your body, it probably needs to stand up to a little moisture.
The fact that it's not waterproof also means you probably won't be washing it off after a work out, which means it can start to smell a little funky. Make sure to give this thing a wipe-down every now and then to stop that.
Should You Buy It?
In a world where phones are now tracking everything that fitness bracelets do, spending over $100 on a standalone device is a difficult proposition. You want something that has an edge over a basic phone-based pedometer. The Charge has that edge thanks to the tiny 0.8-inch screen.
Whereas you have to connect the device to your phone to view data on devices like the Jawbone UP Move and UP24 and the Misfit range of products, the Fitbit Charge lets you tap a button and see the time, date and all your fitness data so far. It's so simple, but it's such a killer feature.
Keep in mind, however, that while the Charge is good, it's missing one key piece of functionality that it's big brother, the Charge HR, will have: heart rate tracking.
Now that phones track everything that last year's Jawbones and Fitbits did, new products need to get the edge, and resting heart rate tracking is that new battleground.
Both the Charge HR -- coming in February from Fitbit -- and the Jawbone UP3 -- coming god-knows-when -- will track your resting heart rate to give you a better idea of how you're going with the goal of overall fitness. The Charge we looked at today doesn't have that heart rate tracking feature, and it's only going to cost you a few bucks extra if you want to wait for it. Plus, the Charge HR ships with a better clasp than the basic Charge.
The Charge is a great little fitness tracker -- easily the best we've seen out of the basic fitness trackers on the market -- but if you're willing to wait a few weeks, you can get an even better one for a fraction more money.
Eric Limer also contributed to this review.