Fitness trackers – or “wearables” – are all the rage these days, and Fitbit is among the earliest companies to jumpstart that trend. The San Francisco company’s latest product, the Charge 2, is sort of all-rounded middle brother of the Fitbit family of products, which includes the smartwatch Blaze and the minimalist wristband Alta. Personally, I find the Charge line the most useful, since I think smartwatches are redundant (a smartphone is already in our hands 99% of our waking life so why do I need a second product to provide “short cuts” to access smartphone features?) and basic step-tracker bands lack in features.
As a satisfied owner of the original Fitbit Charge HR, I didn’t think I’d need to upgrade to the Charge 2. But after a week of using it, I’m sold. That doesn’t mean the Charge 2 offers a huge upgrade or anything – it does most of the same things the original Charge HR did, but it comes in a much nicer package. The Charge 2′s 1.5-inch OLED screen is four times bigger (and a bit brighter) than the Charge HR’s screen, allowing for a lot more information to flow through. From step count, heart rate, distance walked, stairs climbed, calories burned, etc., data is a lot easier to see on the Charge 2.
The device, as a whole, is also better built. Not that the original Charge HR looked bad, but the Charge 2′s new aluminum sides are a definite upgrade over the original’s all plastic feel. And while the straps are made of the same rubbery material, the Charge 2 allows you to detach them for easy replacement. This might come in handy, since my original Charge HR’s straps began peeling after a half year of use (this isn’t a knock on Fitbit’s craftsmanship, as I’m very active and quite rough with the band).
The Charge 2 (left) with the original Charge HR.
The larger screen on the Charge 2 displays more information than the screen on the Charge HR.
The back of the device is the heart rate monitor, which continuously tracks your heart rate by beaming a laser (okay, it’s really an LED light) onto your skin to detect capillaries expansion and contraction. Many studies have proved that this method of tracking isn’t entirely accurate, at least compared to something like a heart strap monitor. But unless you need exact heart rate for scientific studies or you’re a pro athlete, it’s not really a big deal. The detection is consistent enough to show a spike in heart rate, and that’s all you really want to know when you’re working out anyway.
One complaint I’ve had about the Charge HR and other fitness trackers in the past is that it doesn’t accurately measure weightlifting. I understand the nature of that sport is harder to track than something with a definitive result like running, but it’s always annoyed me that I’d go into the gym and deadlift 300-pounds and do 50 pull-ups, only to see the tracker say I worked out as hard as someone who slow jogged on the treadmill for that same period of time. The Charge 2 improves on this by letting you manually change your workout to “weightlifting,” and then track the exact time of session.
Doing it this way showed a much more accurate reflection of the workout. Before, on my old Charge HR, I had to rely on the band’s heart rate monitor to detect a spike in heart rate to automatically log my gym sessions.
For other activities, the Charge 2 is just as accurate as the Charge HR (which was very accurate). I live on a walk-up building with no elevator, and the band was able to accurately keep track of all the flights of stairs I climb daily. Steps, too, were counted with accuracy.
The most important tracking for me is sleep. I didn’t care about sleep much before in my 20s, but I’m old now: sleep is important. And the Charge 2 does its job here too. I enjoy seeing a log of my sleep schedules and “sleep accuracy.” I don’t know why – it’s not like I do much to fix my habits – I’m just a stat geek, I guess.
Runners will probably be disappointed to learn that the Charge 2 still doesn’t include a built-in GPS, but it does connect to your smartphone’s GPS, and once it does, the tracking of pace and route is pretty accurate too. New to the Charge 2 is a built-in feature that guides you on a breathing exercise. It’s supposed to help you relax, but I found it mostly gimmicky.
The best thing about the Charge 2 for most people will be the automatic tracking. Tracking a walk is a no-brainer, of course, but the band does a great job of knowing when you’ve sped up to a jog, or if you’re on wheels. Last week I went on a bike ride for exactly 28 minutes, and the Charge 2 recognized that and marked it on its exercise log.
The device syncs to Fitbit’s mobile app via bluetooth easily – and faster than the Charge HR too – and the five-day battery life means you won’t have to constantly worried if you need a top up.
The mobile app showing sleep date (left); hear rate data during a gym session (middle); and log of exercises, and much more.
Oh, the Charge 2 can do some smartphone tricks too, showing notifications such as call, text and calendar. It’s a bit limited, and pointless if you no longer rely on text like many people in Asia who use Whatsapp, WeChat or Line.
Other nitpicks include a lack of battery indicator. With a bigger screen, you’d think you can check how much juice is left on the Charge 2, but nope, you have to sync the band with the app to check. Not a big deal, but a minor oversight.
In all I’m liking the Charge 2 quite a bit. At $149, it’s a good value, considering smartwatches that do a bit more cost significantly more, and cheaper bands lack the build quality and heart rate monitor. Plus, from personal experience, Fitbit’s customer support is top notch.
This article was written by Ben Sin from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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This article originally appeared on November 12, 2016.