Fitbit Charge wireless activity tracker

Use this wristband device to track your steps, distance, and even your sleep

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FitBit Charge
  • FitBit Charge
  • FitBit Charge
  • FitBit Charge
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Tracks steps, distance, and stairs
  • Wireless synching
  • Caller ID display
  • Good overall interface

Cons

  • Wristband form factor could be uncomfortable for some
  • Wild hand movements could add steps

Would you buy this?

Fitbit’s Charge is an activity and sleep tracker that takes the form of a wristband. It can be quite useful as a motivational tool for those of us who want to get more active, just like previous Fitbit products have been, but the wristband form factor might not be to everyone’s liking.

The Charge is one of three new wristband-style activity trackers to be released by Fitbit this season, and it’s the entry model in a range that includes the Charge HR (it adds a heart-rate monitor), and the smartwatch-style Surge. When compared to previous Fitbit trackers, the Charge can be thought of as a combination between the Flex wristband tracker, and the One clip-on style tracker: the Flex because of the form factor, and the One because there is a screen that shows you details of your progress. (It looks the same as the Fitbit Force, which was recalled in Australia).

It ships with a small USB dongle that can be used for synching through a laptop or desktop (using Fitbit Connect software that can be downloaded from the Fitbit site), and there is a USB cable so that you can recharge its battery. Bluetooth 4.0 is supported by the device, and if your smartphone also supports Bluetooth 4.0, you can enable it to set up the Charge wirelessly through the Fitbit smartphone app, though you will still have to plug it in to a USB port to charge it. Data from the tracker can be synched wirelessly through your smartphone, either manually, or in the background.

You can wear the Charge all the time to track how many steps you take, how far you’ve travelled, how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed, and how many calories you’ve burned. You can also wear it to bed in order to track how well you sleep; you’ll be able to see how long it took you to get to sleep, how restless you were throughout the night, and how long you spent in a deep sleep. That is, of course, if the wristband doesn’t bother you.

The main page in the Android app.
The main page in the Android app.

The Charge comes in small and large band sizes in the shops (XL is available from the Web site only) and it’s made of a rubbery material that’s joined at the ends by a metal clasp. For larger wrists on which the Charge can’t be worn loosely, it can feel a little uncomfortable until you get used to it, but it might feel most uncomfortable at night while you sleep. This is especially true if you’re not accustomed to wearing anything on your wrist. We would have preferred an option to remove the tracker from its band, and perhaps a softer fabric-style strap to wear at night.

A button on the right side of the Charge allows you to cycle through all the stats that it records. The stats are shown on a one-line OLED that can be seen in bright light with the help of some shading. When you cycle through the stats, an icon is shown before each stat so that you know what it represents.

Feet are shown for the step count, a location pin for the distance, fire for the calories burnt, and a zigzag with an up arrow for how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed. The tracker cycles through these from the start each time, starting with the clock (indeed, you can use this as a watch), rather than going back to the previously seen stat. However, you can change which stat appears first, and also disable the clock. Additionally, it supports double-tap gestures, and you can set it to show your desired stat without pressing the button. It doesn’t show activeness, which isn’t much of a problem unless that stat gives you motivation, but you can see how active you have been when you log in to the app.

Read more: TomTom Runner Cardio GPS watch

Step counts were generally accurate during our tests when we compared them to our faithful Fitbit Ultra, as were stair counts and kilometres travelled. However, we noticed that extra arm movements did generate steps when we weren’t walking. As comical as it sounds, things such as being overly active with your hands while talking can have the effect of adding to your step count. You’ll have to keep this in mind if you have specific targets that you want to reach (the default is 10,000 steps per day, but it can be adjusted). You won’t want to cheat the count because that would defeat the purpose of using the tracker. For best results, you need to visit the settings and select which wrist you are wearing the device on: dominant or non-dominant.

All the data can be viewed through the Fitbit phone app or the Web site, and it has a bubbly looking interface that will give you graphic representations of all that you’ve achieved. You can easily track your progress for the day, as well as for weekly and monthly periods. There is also an ability to track food intake, though this can be a little confusing due to the way food is listed by region (Australian entries are not present).

We prefer looking at the Profile view when using the Web site, as it provides a more convenient view of all the data, and even shows you which badges you’ve earned for the day and throughout the course of using the tracker. We think the badges are a nice little motivator in themselves as you can challenge yourself to unlock the next one.

Sleep is tracked automatically by the Charge, but you can also log sleep manually through the phone app. We prefer to log sleep manually as it allows you to set the time that you’ve gone to bed, and the time that you’ve woken up — though it doesn’t matter if you forget to do this.

Read more: Best fitness gadgets for walking, running and cycling

Tracking sleep manually: you can tell the app when you're about to go to sleep, and when you've woken up.
Tracking sleep manually: you can tell the app when you're about to go to sleep, and when you've woken up.

You’ll get a graph that shows periods during the night when you’ve been restless or awakened. For us, it was a little inaccurate in its reports. During times when we knew we were awake, the app only showed that we were restless. We had sleep sensitivity set to ‘normal’, but it can be set so that all detected movements are classified as periods of being awake.

Read more: Jawbone Up24 wireless activity tracker (preview)
A graph of your sleep will be shown. Aqua indicates restlessness, blue indicates sleep, and red indicates that you were awake.
A graph of your sleep will be shown. Aqua indicates restlessness, blue indicates sleep, and red indicates that you were awake.

Other things to note about the Fitbit Charge are that it’s water resistant, its battery can last about a week before requiring a recharge, it can show caller ID on its screen from your phone, and there is a vibrator that acts as a silent alarm to wake you from your slumber (but you can also set alarms for any time). Caller ID can only be set up on supported phones, and requires that the phone be paired with the Charge. It worked perfectly with our Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, which is a supported model.

Our only quibble with the device is that it’s a wristband form factor. If you aren’t accustomed to wearing anything on your wrists, then it will take a period of adjustment before the Charge becomes a comfortable part of your life. Furthermore, the clasp can be a little awkward to lock into place as there are two notches to line up (or you could just use the end one if you have a big wrist), and you have to give them a firm push so that they can make a secure connection.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a fitness tracker that can motivate you into becoming more active on a day to day basis, the Charge is a good candidate. We like the overall look and feel of the device, as well as its capabilities and the way data is presented in the smartphone app.

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