Wearable tech is all the rage at the moment, and while I’ve always been of the opinion that stuff like this can cause ‘paralysis by analysis’ (i.e. encouraging you to spend more time analysing and measuring what you do rather than actually doing it), the latest devices on the market are compact, look great, and more importantly, give you some useful information that could genuinely help you achieve your goals without flooding you with reams of pointless stats.
One such example is the Fit Bit Charge HR. This has been on the market for about a year and is an update on the ‘Charge’, the HR has a built in constant heart rate monitor, which, in my opinion is worth the extra £20.
The Charge HR is a sleek looking strap with a buckle (like a watch) made of rubber, the display is neatly integrated into the shape of device and doesn’t intrude, owing to the fact that it sits flush with the strap itself.
One of the best things about the Charge HR (and indeed all FitBits) is something that doesn’t come in the box and is absolutely free.
Of course, you can use the FitBit without the app but you’d be missing out on a world of data, plus loads of cool little features, it really does add another dimension to owning this device, and if you’re anything like me, will probably become the subject of healthy of obsession within a matter of days.
The FitBit syncs automatically with you phone via bluetooth, which means when you fire up the app, you’ll be greeted with all your stats for that day and how close you are to your preset goals. By tapping on any one of the individual stats, you’ll be able to view it over a period of time. For example, tap your step count and you’ll be able to view that over the course a month, or 3 months so you can see if you’re average more or less daily steps.
If you are the slightest bit interested in your health and you like gadgets, it will probably be the coolest thing you’ve ever seen.
Anyway, back to the device.
There’s a small button on the side of the device that can be used to turn the display on (this can also be done by simply tapping the device twice) and cycle through all the different readouts.
The Charge HR gives you the following information;
- Time of day
- Step count (over a 24 hour period)
- Heart rate
- Distance travelled (over a 24 hour period)
- Calories burned
- Floors climbed
Let’s take a look at each one of these in detail (except the time of day, that’s pretty self explanatory).
This is the bread and butter of FitBit, the statistic that will quickly become an obsession and a badge of honour (or shame, depending on how active you are) if you’re in competition with fellow FitBiters.
Step counting gadgets certainly aren’t anything new; we all used that free pedometer we got with our Special K for about two and half days before we got annoyed with having an unsightly plastic lump affixed to your waist.
Most decent phones these days have fairly decent step counters, but unless you’re a 13 year old girl that Instagrams every minor detail of their lives, you probably don’t have your mobile on you ALL the time.
This is where wristband-based step counters like FitBit come in, it doesn’t take any effort or cause you any inconvenience to have a small, discrete wristband on all day. The only time I take mine off is to shower or charge it. Or if I’m going for a night out on the town and I want to wear my big old 50 Cent watch instead.
The more you wear your FitBit, the more accurate picture you’ll get of your daily activity levels, so if you really want to get all the usefulness from the Charge HR then keep that badboy on.
One of the main questions I get about the FitBit is, how accurate is it? The answer is very. This is probably pretty sad, but when i was out on one of my regular walks one day and I decided to count the steps in my head, and see if they matched up with the total on my FitBit. They did, give or take a couple of steps. So it’s pretty fucking accurate.
I know what your next question is; how many steps do I rack up per day?
But here’s the real beauty of the FitBit; I only do that many steps BECAUSE I have a FitBit. I don’t know how many steps a day I was doing on average before I got one, but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t 10,000.
How do I get 10,000? At a bare minimum I walk to and from work everyday, and I go to the gym. Sometimes I go for a walk at lunchtime too, if I do that, the total is closer to 14,000. The thing is, if I’m below my daily average of 10,000, I’ll try and make sure I get there, even if that means pacing around the house.
I might look like I have schizophrenia walking round the house in circles but I can guarantee you’ll be doing the same thing a few days into owning one of these, and if you have goals that involve either losing fat or getting fitter, that’s a very good thing.
Just to clarify I don’t always pace around the house, sometimes I walk on the treadmill after my gym session to cram a few more steps in, or I’ll just compensate the next day (e.g. if I only get 8000 steps on Thursday I’ll do 12,000 on Friday).
Although the step tracker is super accurate, that’s not really the point, what’s important the trends that FitBit allows you to track; for example if you’re doing 5,000 steps today and not losing body fat the same, keep everything the same and use your FitBit to ensure you’re doing 7,500.
It’s a number on a tiny digital display on a rubber band on your wrist, but it’s mega rewarding.
the Charge HR costs £20 more than the next model down, because it has a built in heart rate monitor which enables this model to constantly monitor your pulse. This throws out some interesting stats like your average resting heart rate, and how it changes over time, as well as how your heart rate fluctuates throughout the day.
The app lays this all out nicely for you so you can see how much time you’ve spent in each heart rate zone, i.e. resting, fat burning, cardio, and peak.
This is useful if you’re trying to improve your cardiovascular fitness for example.
But how accurate is it? I’ve worn my FitBit while on the treadmill and cross trainer, and compared the figures it was giving me to what both of these machines were saying.
When I used the crosstrainer, it was about 20bpm off, quite a large amount. On the treadmill however, the two readings matched almost exactly. I don’t know what conclusion to draw from that but what I will say is that I think the accuracy of the sensor is affected by;
- Sweat – I think when you get super sweaty this interferes with the ability of the sensor to monitor your pulse, which is kind of annoying because chances are you’ll really want to track your heart rate when you’re at your most sweaty
2. Tightness – Have the band too tight or to loose and I think the accuracy of the heart rate monitor is reduced. Problem is, during intense exercise your wrist will probably expand slightly due to increased blood flow, so you’ll probably have to loosen it a little as you go.
Overall, the heart rate monitor adds another dimension to the FitBit and another really important layer of data if you’re serious about monitoring your performance and improving your fitness.
Does what it says on the tin, estimates the distance you’ve travelled based on the amount of steps you do. You set it to record in Km or Miles.
This is potentially the least accurate data the Charge HR gives you because the distance you travel is based on the amount of steps you, the average distance per step is calculated, probably like 1/4 of a meter or something (I’m guessing) so if you do 4 steps that’s one meter.
The problem is, everyone’s stride length is different, so if you cover 1/2 meter per step, the distance travelled is going to be way out (underestimated).
The good thing is, this is largely irrelevant. Unless of course you really want to know how much distance you’ve covered, in which case, get the Surge, which has a built in GPS tracker.
The heart rate monitor also allows the Charge HR to estimate how many calories you’ve burned over a 24 hour period. It does this by taking your basal metobolic rate as a baseline figure (you’ll need to enter your weight to make sure this is accurate), then estimating all the calories you burn on top of that based on heart rate.
Now, for people that are looking to either lose fat or gain muscle, having information on their calorie expenditure is the holy grail.
It’s important to note that your calorie expenditure is influenced by many other factors aside from your heart rate, so again, this figure won’t be 100% accurate but it will be MUCH more accurate than trying to estimate it yourself.
You’ll also be able to see your average calorie expenditure over a given period of time. For people that are looking to bulk up or lean down, I think this information is absolutely invaluable and worth the £120 alone.
I’m still not entirely sure I believe this, but apparently the Charge HR has a built in Altimeter that can track your altitude.
How they managed to cram that in a tiny wristband is beyond me, but it seems to work. Being a geek, I’ve checked the documentation and apparently the Charge HR judges one floor as a distance of ten feet (the average height of a floor in a house or office), having stared at intently while climbing the five flights of stairs to get to my desk, I can confirm it’s spot on.
Why worry about how many floors you’ve climbed? Well, because it takes more effort to cover a vertical 10 feet than it does walking on a flat surface, so climbing more floors throughout the day is a good way to burn more calories, if that’s your goal.
The Charge HR even has a built in Alarm that will wake you up by vibrating.
I can’t really comment on it’s effectiveness since it’s never worked for me, but then usually takes the neighbours lawnmower, a flock of song birds and some particularly noisy roadworks to wake me up.
This is all the in formational available on the FitBit itself, but the app gives you a few more pieces of juicy data and trackable stats…
This simply let’s you know how many minutes you were active for i.e. how long in total you were ‘stepping’, and when throughout the day you did those steps.
For me, this is potentially one of, if not the coolest thing about the Charge HR. It KNOWS when you’re asleep!
I’m still not sure about how sleep is measured, whether it’s through movement or heart rate (or both), but gain, on the whole it seems to get it pretty much spot on.
It even tells you when during the night you were restless which is a good indicator of sleep quality.
Again the accuracy may not be 100% spot-on but again, the most important data is the long-term trend. Sleep length and quality plays such a crucial role in the pursuit of muscle-gain, fat loss, improved performance and general all-round wellbeing that pretty much everyone will be able to get some use out of the sleep tacking feature.
The are further two sets of stats which require manual inputs;
Calories Eaten/Water Consumed
If there was a FitBit that could track this sort of information, I’d probably remortgage my house to buy one, unfortunately the technology isn’t quite there yet, which means that recording calorie and water intake is pretty time consuming, and it’s only really worth doing if you’re going to be relentlessly consistent with it.
Of course there are other popular calorie trackers like My Fitness Pal that do this really well, and as luck would have it, FitBit is compatible with this (as well as load of other similar apps like Weight Watchers and Spark People), which means that if you’re already using this and don’t want start afresh using the FitBit app, you can integrate all your data.
So… Should You Buy a FitBit?
If you already have the slightest bit of vested interest in your health, or you want become healthier, fitter, loose or gain weight, then the FitBit Charge HR is amazing bit of kit that requires little to no effort in order to get some incredibly useful stats about your body and help you achieve your goal(s).
As I mentioned before, the FitBit is simply a measurement device, but it ends up being so much more than that. Having a tangible figure just a glance away on your wrist is incredibly motivating; I’ve found myself going for walks specifically to achieve my step target for a particular day.
You can delve into the data as much or as little as you like, simply checking your daily step count is enough to give you the kick up the ass you need, but if you want more detail, dive into the app and you’ll be able to how you daily step count, heart rate and calorie expenditure has fluctuated over a period of months.
You can even set up challenges with your fellow FitBit-owning pals so you can track in real time who’s doing the most steps over the course of a day. Word of warning; these challenges can get ridiculously competitive but there’s no better way to smash your step target!
This is obviously a review of the Charge HR which I purchased about a year ago for £120, so having owned one for a significant period of time I can categorically say this NOT a novelty (unless you let it become one), it’s genuinely useful tool that provides you with useful data every single day. There are other models available, some cheaper, and one more expensive (the Surge), but I think the Charge HR provides a decent balance of features, pricing and aesthetics. The Surge is probably only worth if you’re a serious runner.
I’d even go as far as to say that it’s the best £120 I’ve ever spent, i can’t think of another piece of tech that I use everyday without fail, other than my phone.
Hell, I even think it’s a decent price if you just want a desecrate, lightweight watch.
100% get one.