Tag Archives: Trackers

Review: Fitbit Charge HR


fitbit-charge-250
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.

charge-hr-back

 

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.

heart-rate-all-day

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:

activity-tracking-heart-rate

 

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.

garmin-overview-run

 

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.

Are fitness trackers a waste of money?

Graph from original Daily Mail article demonstrating differences between devices.

There was a study done recently that examined the effectiveness of several fitness trackers on the market. It was covered in the Daily Mail with the descriptive but provocative headline Why your fitness tracker could be a waste of money: New research shows the must-have gadgets are often wildly inaccurate by as much as 40 PER CENT.

This is a great question. Is tracking activity and diet a waste of time and money? I think it depends on how you look at it. Why are you tracking your activity? What is your goal? Are you following a plan to the letter, or the spirit?

I feel that there are a couple of camps on this. There are some who want everything to be an exact science. They want to have specific numbers. How many calories did I consume? They want to know this to the exact calorie count.

I would argue that this is an impossible task. There is calorie guidance available from the FDA, but it can’t be exact. This article from the New York Times — Counting of Calories Isn’t Always Accurate — demonstrates this point. The FDA allows for up 20% variance for packaged foods and similar results can be found in restaurants. This seems to be obvious as a food item prepared can be vastly different depending on different factors – size, ingredients, source etc. If someone orders a cheeseburger with no pickles, the count will be different. Extras and other modifications will make things worse.

So, should it be any surprise that fitness trackers are not completely accurate? After all, they are based on varied ingredients as well – us, what activities we are doing, and what effort level we are achieving. If you are going for a walk, how many calories are you burning? Well, let’s think about it. How fast are you walking? Are you swinging your arms? How fast? Are you carrying anything? Are you walking up or down a hill?

All these factors can lead to vastly different results. Believe me, I feel the frustration of not having all my steps counted in a day. A good example is March 16th of 2014. On that day, Fitbit counted me having 43,706 steps and 25.38 miles – the most steps I had in a single day. The only problem is this. I ran the Shamrock Marathon on that day. In the event alone, I had more distance than I was credited by Fitbit.

This happens frequently on days that I run. Does this mean that I get no value from the Fitbit and throw it against the wall? No.

This is where the spirit of things come in. As I have written before, I was 283 lbs in January of 2012. I decided to change. In order to accomplish this, I used two tools – MyFitnessPal and later a Fitbit. I saw results quickly with MyFitnessPal. Was this because I was following a specific diet, or getting exact numbers of calories as I consumed? No. It is because I took some responsibility, ate healthier and kept my calories within a prescribed range. This is the most important thing. The numbers were not exact. I made it a point of being comfortably under my ceiling and paying attention to my consumption.

I feel that people get in trouble when they try to parse things out too much. An example would be, “I am allowed 1800 calories for the day. I am at 1746. I can have that piece of candy that is 52 calories.” This is not a great attitude. That is being too clever by half. It’s probable that with other factors like the 20% accuracy issue etc, that the person may not lose much weight at all. Maybe even gain.

Now if someone is at 1500 of 1800 and wants to have another food item that is not a huge number of calories and especially if it is also healthy, that is not bad. Playing games with numbers is what gets people in trouble. Just try to stay in the spirit of things.

Back to my tale. I felt that MyFitnessPal and my diet changes were good, but I could make them better if I managed to get over 10000 steps per day, so I got a Fitbit. As soon as I started trying to get over 10000 steps a day, I found out how it wasn’t super easy and that my normal lifestyle didn’t accomplish this. I had to make changes to meet the goal. I walked all over the place and hit the treadmill to make up the difference. I went from little activity to much more activity than I had before that point.

What about calories? They didn’t matter. The Fitbit got me up and active. I exercised within the spirit of the thing. I didn’t even eat the extra calories that were allotted to me from the Fitbit exercise.

I find that activity trackers or tracking period is invaluable as long as you understand how it is most effective. If you are looking for exact figures of how many calories you burn, you are likely to be frustrated. However, if you are looking to challenge yourself, be accountable, and have a record to prove your efforts over time, they are a great choice.

What do you think? Do you use a fitness tracker? What kind? Do you track calories? How has it worked out for you. Please comment and share.