There was a time when the Fitbit Charge HR was our pick of the fitness trackers. Those days have long passed, and it has been succeeded by the Charge 2, which is better in nearly every way: it looks better, it’s more comfortable and the screen is bigger and better. You can also change out the straps, meaning you’re not left with whichever one you bought in the first place.
Released in 2016, the Charge 2 is by no means new, though, and it doesn’t have GPS, meaning that if you run with it you’ll want to take your phone with you for more accurate tracking. There are rumours that a Charge 3 might be coming later this year and while there are no guarantees, we’d love for it to include a GPS antenna.
If you don’t want to wait for that, there are a number of greater wrist-borne wearable to choose from – our favourites include the Garmin Vivoactive 3, and Garmin Forerunner 30, both of which you can read about on our best fitness trackers page.
As for the original Fitbit Charge HR, it’s still a decent enough tracker if you can get hold of it very cheap – sub £50 is a good price for anything that monitors heart rate as well as steps. But with the Fitbit Charge 2 starting at £110, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recommend the older model.
If you’re familiar with the Fitbit Charge then you already know a great deal about the Fitbit Charge HR. To all intents and purposes these two devices are the same, but with the latter providing heart rate monitoring – hence the HR in the name.
So, to recap, the Fitbit Charge HR is a wrist-based activity tracker, with a built-in OLED display. It’s slim and comfortable enough to be worn relatively unobtrusively all day, comes in a variety of colours, and has an excellent supporting ecosystem.
The Charge HR will track and log every step you take throughout the day, while also ascertaining when you’re being particularly active – logging that time as ‘active minutes’ in your diary. The device will also count every flight of stairs you climb, estimate the distance you’ve walked and the amount of calories you’ve burned.
The Charge HR will also track your sleep patterns, telling you when you were sleeping lightly, when you were in a deep sleep and when you woke up. This data is interesting to look at occasionally, but it’s far more difficult to act upon than your activity data – you can’t force yourself to sleep deeper, after all, though cutting down on caffeine or late night TV might help.
That OLED screen may be small, but it’s very easy to read. Pressing the button on the side will cycle through all the possible data at your fingertips, from time of day, through to steps taken, and, of course, heart rate.
As with the standard Fitbit Charge, the benefit of the built-in screen is somewhat tempered by the fact you have to press the button to see anything. The Garmin Vivosmart HR, by contrast, has an always-on screen, so you can simply glance at it to check the time, your heart rate, or whatever other metric you want within easy reach.
The screen will also display caller ID information – so you can see who’s calling without needing to take you’re phone out of your pocket. It’s a handy feature, but again, the Garmin Vivosmart HR will do this as well as displaying alerts from pretty much every app on your phone, while its larger, touch-sensitive display makes it easer to read those notifications, too.
One area in which Fitbit does excel is the supporting ecosystem. Both the Fitbit app and web portal are superb, making it incredibly easy to assess and analyse your data over time. You can also see how you’re doing compared to your Fitbit using friends, which is sometimes what you need to get up and active.
The Charge HR will sync to your phone via Bluetooth Smart, so that whenever you open the app it will automatically update your data from the device. One nice touch from Fitbit is that all its trackers also come with a USB wireless dongle in the box, so you can also sync wirelessly to your computer whenever you’re close to it.
The major difference between the Charge and Charge HR is the addition of an optical heart rate monitor mounted in the back of the device. This will measure your heart rate throughout the day, and during the night while you’re sleeping. The Charge HR will display your current heart rate, while it will also track your average resting heart rate, which is a good indicator for cardio fitness.
The inclusion of the heart rate monitor also makes Exercise Mode far more useful than it is on the standard Fitbit Charge – tracking the duration, steps and heart rate during your exercise session gives you a better picture of your training. That said, if you’re training regularly (running, cycling, etc.), the Charge HR can’t really compare to a proper GPS sports watch.
The optical heart rate sensor requires a reasonably snug fit against your wrist, which is why the Charge HR has a proper buckle to fasten the strap, as opposed to the press-in lugs on the standard Charge. Not only will the buckle ensure that the heart rate sensor works, but it also means that the Charge HR won’t come undone – a criticism that users have levelled at the Fitbit Flex.
That heart rate monitor means that the battery life on the Charge HR can’t quite match the seven days offered by the standard Charge, with Fitbit quoting five days of use from a full charge (no pun intended). It’s also slightly disappointing that the Charge HR isn’t waterproof, so you can’t wear it in the shower, let alone go swimming with it.
Available for as little as £93 online, the Fitbit Charge HR is only slightly less expensive than the Garmin Vivosmart HR. Unfortunately the Garmin has the Charge HR beaten on many counts, with a feature set that’s hard to believe. That said, the Charge HR is slimmer, better looking and has a great supporting app and web portal.
The Fitbit Charge HR is undoubtedly the pick of the litter from Fitbit. It takes the simple design and feature set from the Charge and throws active heart rate tracking into the mix.
The only fly in the ointment for the Charge HR is the simply superb Garmin Vivosmart HR – when it comes to bang for your buck, it’s hard to beat. However, if you’re already a Fitbit user looking to step up from the Fitbit Flex, or if you already have friends in the Fitbit ecosystem, the Charge HR is a good pick.