Fitbit Charge

By Daniel Rubino
December 17, 2014

As we continue to day three in our 12 Days of Hidden Gems, IoT and connected devices are our first items we are checking out. Today, it is Fitbit's turn and the new Charge tracker.

Heading into 2015, Fitbit ( fitbit.com is arguably the leader in wearable fitness devices, especially with Nike backing out with their Fuel Band. Previously, Fitbit had success with their One, Flex, and Force activity trackers, although the Force eventually was recalled due to reports of skin irritation. Now, as 2014 winds down, the company is back with a completely new lineup, including the Force-replacement called the Charge.

Let us take a look at the new Fitbit Charge and the recently updated apps for Windows Phone and Windows 8.1!

Fitbit Charge

The Charge is Fitbit's mid-range fitness tracker that replaces the otherwise excellent Force. I have the Force and between the high battery life, mini OLED display, and altimeter, it is an easy one of the best above-average activity wearable around.

The Charge though builds off the Force in many useful ways. For one, it has a new clasp that ensures a firmware lock. Although the clasp looks the same, there is now a discernible 'snap' feeling when you clip it on, reassuring the wearer that it is indeed clasped.

Additionally, the band material on the Charge is slightly different and is described as "elastomer material similar to that used in many sports watches" by the company. The Force notoriously caused some rashes amongst a small group of people (I never experienced it), but the Charge reportedly gets around that with some minor changes, including contoured grooves. Still, I think the issue for some is moisture being trapped in between the band and wrist, so my advice is dry it before wearing it for long durations.

Speaking of, the Charge is water-resistant to 1 ATM. Still, wearing the Charge in the shower is probably not a good idea due to the power connector on the bottom. For some, this is a downside, but to be honest I even removed the Flex, which is fine for the shower, whenever I was immersed in water.

Fitbit Charge

Specifications

  • Battery: 7-10 days
  • OLED display
  • 21 mm wide (band)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Single button for interaction
  • Pedometer/altimeter/sleep tracker
  • Tracks 7 days of detailed motion data – minute by minute.
  • Tracks daily totals for past 30 days

Clearly, the battery life is the biggest selling point of the Fitbit Charge and indeed, getting a week (or more) out of the tracker without needing to plug in is attainable.

Interestingly, the Charge has been updated to detect automatically when you go to sleep. Previously, devices like the Force and Flex needed to be "told" to go into sleep mode. Although this function was hardly a difficult task, it did require the user to remember to enable (and disable) the feature in order to accurately record sleep data. Now, the user needs to do nothing except go to bed. In fact, comparing the sleep functionality to the Microsoft Band (which is enabled manually), the Charge was within 5-minutes or less of sleep and wake times, confirming its accuracy.

To use the Charge there is a single small button on the left side of the display. At least on my unit, the switch feels a little mushier than the Force, and it lacks the more desirable clicking. However, this is more a personal preference as the button works well to cycle through the various sub-sections, including:

Fitbit Charge
  • Time
  • Steps
  • Distance traveled
  • Activity level
  • Stairs climbed

The built-in altimeter is nice if you climb many stairs or tend to workout using an elevated treadmill. Fitbit gives you some extra points for activity when you climb stairs, and that is a good thing to have on a tracker.

The Charge runs for $129, which is around $30 more than the Flex, which I will compare later. Additionally, the Charge HR is only $20 more than the Charge, and it contains a heart rate monitor.

Although the Charge HR is currently not available (due in early 2015) it seems like it would be worth the wait. The idea being that the harder your heart works – combined with steps and activity level – those Fitbit algorithms are better at estimating calorie burn. Accurate calorie burn is necessary for tracking food in/calorie out programs where weight loss (or maintenance is important). Having said that, it remains to be seen just how different the results are with a heart rate monitor.

For more information, read the full review of the Fitbit Charge over at Connectedly.

Versus Fitbit Flex

The Flex is the entry-level wearable for Fitbit, and it lacks a few features, including:

  • Flex has no buttons: you double-tap the display for information, triple-tap for sleep mode
  • Flex lacks a screen: The Flex uses a 5-dot system for goal measurement, but there is no clock or other details; the syncing app is needed to obtain information
  • Flex lacks an altimeter: The Flex does not measure altitude/stairs climbed

However, the Flex has a few advantages over the Charge and Charge HR, including:

  • Flex can be worn in the shower
  • Flex band can be replaced with alternate colors, sizes or even third-party bands
  • Flex has a lower profile

Overall, I prefer the Charge due to the added features, including clock and being able to read your actual steps on the display. Still, the Flex is an excellent choice if you want to keep your current watch, something that you will not notice on your wrist, and that you can wear in the shower. Currently, AT&T and Microsoft are running a promo for a free Flex when you buy a Lumia 830 on contract – this $99 value is an excellent starter into the world of activity tracking.

Fitbit Windows and Windows Phone apps

The beauty of Fitbit today is the available of apps for Windows and Windows Phone. The Windows Phone app has been out for a few months now with numerous updates including support for Cortana. Version 1.5 of the app is due within a few days, it contains various syncing enhancements, bug fixes, and some updated graphics for an improved user experience.

The Windows 8.1 app is relatively new. The previous version of the app was nothing more than a mirror for the website, not let users easily sync their Fitbit to the PC. Instead, separate sync software was needed, something that is not available to Surface RT or Surface 2 owners. Now, the redesigned app is fully featured, with support for direct synchronizing with the Fitbit dongle. Speaking of, yes, that dongle is still needed until Microsoft improves their Bluetooth synchronizing APIs for Windows, which is behind those of Windows Phone.

Fitbit app for Windows PhoneFitbit app for Windows PhoneFitbit app for Windows Phone

Both apps let you visualize steps, sleep data, exercising logging and those challenges. Challenges let you create mini competition events amongst your Fitbit friends to encourage more activity. For instance, you can challenge your friends to a step competition for a few days, with the winner having the most footwork. It is a fun addition and is what makes Fitbit great. In fact, the whole social nature of Fitbit, including following friends, taunts and cheers, badges and challenges is what sets Fitbit apart from things like the Microsoft Band, which are in isolation.

Finally, the other great things about Fitbit includes the 'premium' membership ($50 year), which analyzes your data and compares it to all others. The service puts into perspective your amount of sleep, sleep efficacy, steps, weight, activity, and more amongst all other Fitbit users or just those in your age range and gender. Although the usual Fitbit service is free, the premium stuff is worth considering.

Conclusion

Fitbit is still a trendsetter for wearable activity trackers. Between the Flex, Charge, Charge HR and the high-end Surge ($249), they have the entire price-range covered. For Windows Phone and Windows users, any of these options from Fitbit are excellent choices for step counters and exercise tracking. Although the Surge does yet work with Windows Phone, a forthcoming firmware update enables synchronizing.

Fitbit app on Windows Phone

The Microsoft Band certainly brings a lot to the table, including that color display, Cortana integration (microphone) and better notification support. However, due to it being unavailable outside the US, the shorter battery life and scratch-ability of the display, Fitbit's offerings are much easier to attain for the everyday user. You can walk into any Best Buy or Target and grab one today, something that cannot be said about the Microsoft Band.

Toss in the fact that all my friends and colleagues use Fitbit, the social features and badges are a tough thing to give up, which is why I still like their bands. The Windows and Windows Phone apps, along with continued development, make Fitbit gem-worthy and easily recommended.

Win a Fitbit Charge in the 3rd Day of Hidden Gems!

We are continuing on with our 12 Days of Hidden Gems series this week, focusing on the emerging world of IoT (the Internet of Things). We have spent first few days looking at fitness accessories that work well with Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone with day one looking at the Misfit Shine fitness tracker and day two covering the Wellograph fitness watch.

Enter to Win 1 of 8 Fitbit Charge fitness trackers

There are two ways to enter the sweepstakes, and both need to be completed using the widget to the right/above. Full terms and conditions can be found here.

First chance to win: Log into Windows Central and leave a quality comment on the Fitbit Charge Hidden Gems article. How would you use the Fitbit Charge to level up your fitness routine? Let us know in the comments on the feature post!

Second chance to win: Use the widget to tweet out the phrase of the day. Today's tweet should look like this: Unwrap the 3rd @WindowsCentral #HiddenGemsApp for a chance to win 1 of 8 Fitbit Charge trackers #sponsored #sweeps http://is.gd/Nh6bMl

Remember to use the widget to send the tweet, otherwise you haven't entered.

Once you've entered by leaving a comment or tweeting (or both!), you can refer your friends and earn up to ten additional entries when they enter. That's a total of 12 entries into the sweepstakes! The sweepstakes runs through the end of the year, and the winners will be announced in January. Good luck everyone!

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