Last year I realised I was fat. Shockingly fat. I hadn’t noticed until I saw photos of my son and I on the beach. I was uncomfortable with how chubby I’d become, so I decided to do something about it. I cut out carbs and started working out 5 days a week with weights, kettlebells and other stuff. This was around the time I got my Moto 360. Reading up on cardio and weight loss I knew that I needed to get my heart rate up sufficiently. I didn’t want to wear my watch while I was working out, but I wanted to track how I was doing. At that time there weren’t any decent smart wearables around that tracked your heart rate but were also robust enough to handle being sweated on or potentially knocked with weights. I didn’t want to break it and honestly, the Moto 360 is great, but it’s not that great at tracking your heart rate.
The Best Smart Fitness Tracker Around?
Just recently I decided I wanted to look again. So I did my research and saw that the Fitbit Charge HR was topping a lot of reviews as the favourite choice for fitness trackers. Especially if you were looking for one that didn’t break the bank but was capable of tracking heart rate and doing it well. The specifications said it could track heart rate constantly – as in all day long and does so using a rather funky pair of flashing green lights on the back of the strap which when combined with a sensor detect your pulse by monitoring how the light comes back. Like a kind of sonar I guess.
This seemed like the ideal solution to my needs. I really only wanted something to track and monitor heart rate. I wasn’t interested in knowing how many steps I’d taken during the day or any of that other guff. Most of my exercise is static and involves standing still while throwing weights about, so knowing how far I’d walked was pretty pointless. I also wanted something with a small screen on it (if any at all). The Fitbit Charge HR fit that bill perfectly as the Surge (the posher version) has a bigger screen and thus would be more at risk from damage.
So how’s the heart rate monitoring? Pretty good.
Fitness Data & Health Tracking Information
Seeing the calories ‘in’ and ‘out’ leads to some quite interesting (and perhaps inspiring reading).
The workout tracking also shows how successful your endeavors have been in terms of getting your heart rate up, burning calories and how your workout session compared with the day generally.
All interesting data, and yes, I ended up getting wrapped up in the other stuff too. The little things like pressing the button on the side of the Charge HR to track workout sessions. Other highlights for me have been:
- Tracking sleep patterns – it seems that sleep is monitored from when you stop moving and stay still for long periods. There’s then highlights on things like whether your sleep was disturbed in terms of restlessness or being awake. I’m a pretty good sleeper. I tend to fall asleep straight away and generally sleep through. At least that’s what I thought! The Fitbit has shown that my sleep patterns are far more disturbed than I thought – especially lately with my son waking up in the night. But I’m also getting an hour or so less sleep a night than I thought I was because of the disturbances. I do wonder how accurate it is (and you’ll see why in a second when I talk about step counting). It didn’t track when I fell asleep on the sofa one lazy Sunday afternoon. You’d think heart rate and movement would be combined to track sleep – after all your heart rate drops during rest. I’ve seen spikes in it when I was woken by my son screaming, so it must be straight-forward enough to tie these two things together?
- Tracking food intake – I’m lazy, I generally can’t be bothered with dieting. I realise this makes no sense after telling you that I’ve been exercising for over a year, but all that tracking your exact food intake stuff seemed like a bit too much effort. I loved my food, it was bad enough giving up carbs. But now I’ve got the ability to track when I’m eating (and what I’m burning) all in the same place I’ve started to do it and like it. It’s easy to do (on desktop and in the app) and the database seems to include anything and everything. I was really surprised to see various Aldi products in there (for example).
- Tracking water consumption – you can read online about how much water you should be taking in during the day. It’s a lot generally. Something like 8 pints. I knew I was drinking a lot at work but I didn’t realise how much. I started tracking by clicking the relevant buttons in the dashboard every time I drunk a pint and one day I’d drunk 4 litres. Suddenly I was overly conscious that I wasn’t drinking nearly enough water at the weekends. Upsides and downsides!
- The little things – for the most part, the other things I enjoy are the little things. Like the way it tells me it loves me whenever I’ve finished charging it. Or the information on my lowest and highest heart rates or my general resting heart rate. I can see the potential too – tracking your heart rate all day long means you could potentially use this sort of tech to monitor for health problems.
Having said all that, there are issues. Step counting is not accurate. It’s measured on wrist movement. So any aggressive wrist movement – shaking hands, tossing a ball in the air, throwing kettlebells around – will be seen as steps. I’ve watched it happen. I don’t really understand why on a device this clever such a thing is so basic. I mean the thing is attached to my phone via Bluetooth, surely it could use GPS location data to work out whether you’re actually moving and then negate step counting if you were sitting on the sofa waving your wrist around (as I was when I was testing it out).
There’s also a monitor for how many floors of stairs you’ve climbed. Pretty sure that’s wrong too. I’ve often apparently walked up several flights of stairs when I work on the ground floor and haven’t been upstairs at home much.
Last night I went to bed at 11pm and woke up at 6.30am, but according to Fitbit I only slept for 3 hours 45 mins. I’m pretty sure that’s not right. Mind you, that’s the first night it’s been massively out since I owned it.
Other things too. Like the fact it’s not waterproof – so you can’t wear it in the shower. It’s very comfortable and sometimes I forget I’m wearing it, it’s that light and well fitting. There’s a serious danger I’m going to ruin it one day when I plunge my hand into a washing up bowl.
A quick list of the good and bad points:
- Comfortable – fits nicely, doesn’t take up too much space on your wrist and doesn’t way much
- Constant heart rate tracking
- Doubles as a watch
- Great for extra things like tracking food/water intake, sleep patterns and more
- Reasonably priced
- Step tracking is not accurate
- It’s not waterproof
- Charge does not last 5 days as they claim (though it’s not far off)
- Charging cable is proprietary – it’s not micro USB and costs £16 to replace
- There’s no easy option for just having a widget on your phone and click to say ‘I’ve drunk a pint of water’ – you have to go right into the interface and carry out several clicks to achieve this
- It’s so comfortable I forget I’m wearing it, which means when I do take it off (for a shower or washing up) I often forget to put it back on, which annoys me when I’ve lost out on data
It might sound like I’m not happy with my purchase, but it’s excellent really. I find it motivating, curious and intriguing. I’m experimenting with other things too, wondering how I could use Tasker to log my water intake and there are several IFTTT Receipes you can use to do things like logging sleep patterns into Google Spreadsheets
I must admit I also enjoy the various emails from Fitbit. It emails you to tell you when the charge is low, which is a good pre-warning – it’s not like ‘warning, low battery!’ then it’s flat either. you’ll have a few hours. Then there’s the weekly summaries:
A nice email in your inbox to let you know how you’ve got on. Pretty cool. If you’re that way inclined (which I’m not) you could compare your success with friends or boast about your progress on social media. That’s not what I want mine for, but it shows how flexible the device is.