Friday, May 01, 2015

Review : Fitbit Charge HR

Even though I don't always get 10,000 steps a day I love my Fitbit One. I'm a firm believer in the psychology of "if you measure something, you will naturally be motivated to improve your score."  My biggest problem with the Fitbit One is that it goes in my pocket, and then I forget about it for the day until I take it out at night. I never stop during the day to wonder how many steps I'm at. If it gets to be 11pm and I take it out for the night and I'm at 8000 steps, I don't really have an option.

What I *do* do is spend the day wondering if I've accidentally lost it.  If I've got my car keys or something in my pocket, then every time I take my keys out I'm wondering if my One came out with them and fell on the ground. That's annoying.

The other problem with the One is that there's plenty of activity beyond just steps. You start to feel like you're cheating yourself when you realize you're not getting credit for stuff like pushups, situps, various other cardio exercises that aren't distance related.

So when Fitbit announced the Charge HR I knew I wanted one. The Charge HR has two things going for it right out of the box. First it goes around your wrist, so that takes care of my "never look at it" and "afraid I'm going to lose it" worried.  I have no interest or plans in getting an Apple Watch anytime soon so that's not a consideration at all.   Second, the watch actually has a pulse monitor built in so, at least in theory, not only are you tracking your steps during the day but you're tracking your activity level. So if you're not walking anywhere but you're still getting your heart rate up where it needs to be, you get credit for that.

Mine arrived last week.  Here's my review.

Right off the bat, don't make the same mistake we did - this device comes in sizes.  Don't just walk into the store and grab one off the shelf like my wife did, you'll end up with a Small that will barely fit your kid.  We had to return mine (a birthday present), only to discover that the Large size was sold out. Had to get it online.  When the Large arrived I'm still pretty close to the end of the band, but it's not worth the effort to go get an XL (not even sure if it comes in an XL).

The band takes some getting used to. It's rubber, not leather, so not only will there be no "It starts to wear down into a groove where I keep it buckled," but there's a texture there that's actively working against you when you try to wrap it around your wrist. Since it's a device you'll be taking off every time you shower, you're going to have to get used to that.

The standard functions are all there - steps, distance, calories. I'm not even going to bother reviewing those, because they work the same as the rest of the Fitbit devices. What's interesting to me is what else it does.

The pulse monitor works by this LED technique that apparently is measuring the constriction of blood vessels. Pretty cool. I was worried about the accuracy, though, based on what I'd read ahead of time. The instructions for properly positioning the device are a little off putting as well -- you're told to keep the band loose, but to wear it several finger lengths above your wrist bone. Do they not realize that, since the natural position of your arms is straight down, that gravity is going to pull the band down to your wrist bone most of the time?  The good news, though, is that I have access to actual medical devices to measure my pulse, so I did a side by side comparison. I'm happy to report that I got a perfect 1:1 match.

An interesting side effect to this feature is that you've got a pulsing LED on your wrist, which means that in a dark room if you bend your wrist the right way and the sensor does not sit flat against your skin, suddenly you're Cyclops when somebody rips off his visor, with laser beams shooting in random directions.

The device has a few interesting features as well. It vibrates, which turns out to be quite useful. When you hit your step goal for the day, it'll vibrate to let you know. You can also, with the help of the dashboard, use it as a silent alarm.  I'm not sure if I trust a little buzzing on my wrist to be my primary alarm, but it works very well for my particularly situation. My wife and I wake up at 5:30am during school days, and then watch the news for about half an hour until we have to get the kids up. And depending on how sleepy we are, afraid that we'll fall back to sleep, I end up having to turn over to look at the clock every 5 minutes to make sure that we're not oversleeping.  Well, not anymore. My Fitbit is set to buzz Mon-Fri at 6am. Done.

Which brings up a good point that I haven't mentioned, there's an actual clock/calendar in the thing too. So it doesn't just look like a watch, it's an actual watch.

Apparently it will also do caller ID, though I have not yet tested that feature. Perhaps as a way to keep a little more competitive with the encroaching smart watch market, the device is already synced to your phone so why not take advantage? When someone calls, your fitbit will tell you who it is. You can't answer/deny the call, but at least you can decide whether to take it.


So far I love it. The HR monitor is working like I expected. It's comfortable. I'm more aware of the device on my wrist, checking it throughout the day, than I ever was with the one I had to pull out of my pocket.