I bought the FITBIT CHARGE HR about a month ago based on a very positive review from a shipmate. (Actually, I bought the device ages ago, and it took more than a month to arrive. I guess these things are in-demand and back-ordered.) This is my first experience with a fitness tracker. Here are my most and least favorite aspects.
This device tracks a whole lot of stuff. Steps, miles, elevation, heart rate, calories burned, sleep, and activity – all monitored without any user input. As something worn on the wrist, it is very unobtrusive. Best of all, its default display is the time and date! If I was going to be wearing something on my wrist all the time, it had better double as a watch. Many fitness trackers that I researched lack this simple, essential feature. The data it gathers seems to be mostly accurate; sometimes I’ll watch it count the steps as I’m walking, or I’ll review the mileage after a run. Because of its placement on the wrist, however, it probably counts some non-walking movements as steps, but this number is probably negligible.
I think the strongest (and weakest; see below) advantage of a FITBIT tracker is the accompanying app. It is very intuitive and easy to use, and it does much more than displaying data. The user can track food and water intake. The app can scan bar codes and allows manual inputs for calorie counting. If the user has a weight-loss goal, the app will make suggestions based on difficulty and amount of time to reach a certain weight (ie, a difficult goal of 5lbs in a month as opposed to a leisurely goal of 5lbs in three months). The most fun aspect of the app is its social feature. Users can challenge others to have the highest step counts throughout the workweek or weekend. I’m not ordinarily a competitive person but I was surprised by how eager I was to be just as active as everyone else. For better or worse, comparing oneself to others is easily the most motivating feature of the app.
For folks with consistent and reliable access to the internet – and I think we’re beginning to take this sort of thing for granted – this won’t be an issue. When I finally got the CHARGE HR in the mail, my ship had just gotten underway. I expected I would be able to use the device on its own until I could download the app. Not so. Setting up the device requires internet, bluetooth, the app, and, for me and for many who neglect this stuff, the latest version of the iOS software. The device was completely unusable until we returned home – even setting up the time and date had to be configured via the app, use of which also requires an internet connection. Because of the app’s dependence on internet access, much of the tracker’s functionality and features are inaccessible to me once I go underway: I can’t modify the time or date (annoying when we cross time zones), sync my data from the device to the app (including being able to view heart rate and sleep patterns), set vibration alarms, etc. Many of these things should be accessible solely via bluetooth. During the ship’s operational cycle, this is going to be a huge inconvenience. I will say this in the tracker’s defense, however: it did store three or four weeks of data and synced it to the app without issue when we returned home. Nothing ended up getting lost, so I’m willing to forgive this deficiency.
This is truly baffling. How is a fitness device intended to be worn on the body not waterproof? It is advertised as “sweatproof” and “splashproof” but is not recommended to be used while swimming or showering. What happens when swimming or another water-based sport is the user’s primary fitness activity? I can buy a $10 watch that is water resistant to at least 30m. Why couldn’t this $150 device have been engineered to do the same?
Overall, I’m really enthusiastic about the FITBIT CHARGE HR. It encourages me to be more active in a very simple “I should get off my butt and walk around” sort of way. I need this especially underway when I’m more sedentary than usual. The heart rate monitor and sleep tracker help me better understand the quality of my workouts and sleep. The longest I’ve gotten out of the battery is almost four days, but I tend to charge it whenever I remove it to shower. Best of all, the black version goes with anything that I wear.
I don’t think anyone, regardless of their goals, needs a fitness tracker. But, if you’re interested in incorporating into your life a subtle reminder about your activity level, the CHARGE HR is a fun and fascinating luxury.
UPDATE, 20MAY2015: The pedometer/mileage function is a little inaccurate while running. It seems to be a half-mile short for each run of 3-4 miles, and nearly a mile short for a 10k. I used this page and a bit of trial and error for calibration.
UPDATE, 09AUG2015: Somewhere between Australia and Japan, the button on the side of the device fell off. I have no idea what caused it – all I do is run on the treadmill. It is surprisingly hard to use the device without the button. I emailed FitBit to request a new one, but I am still pretty disappointed in the fragility and poor craftsmanship of the thing.