Review: Fitbit Charge HR

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Not long ago, I wrote a review on the Fitbit Charge. I opened it by saying that it might be the quickest review that I have ever written. Well, this one won’t be too far behind. The Fitbit Charge HR is the same device with a different band and one addition – an optical heart rate monitor. But that is a big addition. Since the rest of the tracker features are identical to the basic Charge, I will focus on the Heart Rate monitor in this post and encourage you to read about the basic Charge in my earlier review.

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The recent history of Fitbit devices has been clouded by the recall of the Fitbit Force. Essentially, the new Charge is the Force re-released with a new band that shouldn’t cause skin irritation. This set them back a bit, so it was a very welcome announcement when they released three new products – the Charge, the Charge HR, and the Surge. I have also reviewed the Surge here. Out of the three devices, I think that the Charge HR is the best option.

When looking at Fitbit devices, there are several options from which to choose. You can start out with the Zip for less than $50. This is the most basic tracker and clips onto your clothing. It tracks steps and calories, then syncs to either your computer or smartphone. It has a replaceable battery and that lasts for a few months.

Moving up the chain is the Fitbit One, also a clip-on. This tracker adds stairs, sleep tracking, silent alarms, and is under $100 currently.

The Fitbit Flex moves the show to your wrist and is about the same price as the One. This is where some compromises begin. It is on the wrist all day, but removes the clock and stairs climbed while adding active minutes tracked.

This brings us to the Fitbit Charge. It currently costs under $130 and offers all features available in all tracking devices up to this point with the addition of Caller ID notification. It is also a wrist worn device.

The top of the Fitbit collection is the Surge at $250, which is billed as a “super watch.” It offers every available option in the trackers and adds an optical heart rate sensor, built-in GPS, text notifications and music control for smartphones.

The Fitbit Charge HR falls between the Charge and the Surge at around $150 (this is a hot seller on Amazon and the price is much higher as of this writing). The addition of the heart rate monitor makes the Charge HR an excellent activity tracker for all-day tracking in addition to sleep tracking. At only $20 more than the baseline charge, this is the one to get. A separate HR monitor that works with other trackers will cost $50 or more, so the small price difference is very fair. I would almost argue that Fitbit should just drop the Charge and have the Charge HR as the only device between the Flex and Surge. The Charge is nothing more than the Force remade. The Charge HR adds real value.

The biggest value of the Charge HR is to get a better gauge of how many calories you have burned throughout the day for general health conscious people. But, it is also useful for athletes in the middle of training. We are putting our body under a great deal of stress and the Charge HR can give us an idea of how we are doing with the training.

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As you can see from the above image, the Charge tracks my heart rate all day long. The spike is from where I did a run. This all day tracking is very helpful. I can see if there are stress inducing activities happening at a particular part of the day in addition to my resting heart rate while sleeping. Sadly, at this point, optical heart rate sensors are not sensitive enough to allow for heart rate variability as demonstrated in the post Heart Rate Variability for Training, but hopefully over time they can account for it.

Heart rate tracking during exercise

Now, while the Charge HR is an excellent device for tracking your heart rate and activity levels for the majority of the day, it falls down when conducting vigorous exercise. Here is the run from the image above:

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You can see that I was credited for 7.55 miles, an average heart rate of 145 bp and a calorie burn of 1,044.

I also tracked the run using a Garmin 920XT and a chest heart rate strap. Here is a breakdown of the run from Garmin Connect. The Fitbit fell short in every metric. Interestingly, the calorie count wasn’t as far off as I would expect.

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Looking at the heart rate details from Garmin, you can see that the Charge HR definitely was under represented. This run involved intervals which pushed my heart rate up. This causes a wider margin of error.

garmin-heart-rate-run

 

When exercising with less intensity, the Charge HR is closer in accuracy. That makes it good for an activity like when I use my elliptical trainer.

It is very nice to press and hold the button. Start the workout and hold the button again when finished. Within the app, you can easily choose the type of workout. I was delighted to see that elliptical trainer was an option, so I have been using it to track my workouts there.

Conclusion

The Fitbit Charge HR does an excellent job of tracking your activities and sleep throughout the day with the exception of during periods of vigorous exercise. So should you consider buying it? It depends.

If you are looking for the one device that you can wear all the time that tracks your heart rate, activities, exercise, and sleep, it will not fulfill all your needs. In fairness, I don’t know of any device on the market that does at this point.

However, if you are looking for a device that helps you track your general activities, health and diet (through the Fitbit app or another like MyFitnessPal), I would highly recommend the device. It is a perfect representation of what Fitbit does best. Tracking general activities and steps.

Also, if you are someone who already has a good running watch or other more accurate means to track your workouts and are looking for covering the rest of your day, I highly recommend the device.

Out of the three new Fitbit products on the market, I absolutely recommend the Charge HR. It can be found at REI and Clever Training for $150, or at Amazon shown below. Currently it is a hot seller at Amazon as mentioned before, so you may want to visit one of the other links. Also, all links in this review are affiliate links for which I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. That helps me purchase products to review and share.

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Eric Hunley

RRCA Certified coach. Started to change lifestyle in 2012 when weight was up to 283 lbs. Eventually started running later that year and racing in 2013. Has run in dozens of races and has been featured in some podcasts. Full Bio on About Page.
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