Fitness trackers have become a bit of a craze recently, particularly with the rise of wearables. There are a whole host of different options out there, from wearables devoted to the task of fitness tracking to smartwatches like Apple’s, who have included it as an extra bonus on the side.
It’s no surprise – after all, bits of tech like pedometers have been popular for years now, so it’s about time the whole idea got a modern remake. But what’s it like using one? Do they work? Are they reliable? Well, I’ve been wearing the Fitbit Charge for the past 10 days in an attempt to find out just that.
In my opinion, quite a few of the fitness trackers out there right now look a bit.. kooky. The Charge, and others in the Fitbit line, struck me as that at first – it’s not quite the fluid curve you’d expect from something that looks a bit like a watch, particularly with the screen resting at the top of your wrist, rather than the middle.
But despite reservations, th
e Charge is actually very wearable – it doesn’t slip around on your wrist, which for me is a huge plus, and after a while I forget I’m wearing it.
Another plus is the screen, which has been improved from previous Fitbit models with the Charge. It’s big enough to tell you all the vital statistics, using easy-to-understand graphics to show you what you need to know.
It’s easy to use – just click the button that rests to the side of the screen multiple times to scroll through all the different options. Very user friendly!
The Charge can do a lot of things, even when just sitting on your wrist – a surprising number of things, in fact. You get a watch, pedometer, a ‘calories burnt’ monitor, a tracker that shows the number of staircases you’ve gone up or down, a mileage metre, a sleep monitor (which I’ll touch on more later), bluetooth notifications from your phone and, if you want, an alarm, too.
So already, that’s enough for the casual fitness trackee to get along fine. That said, if that was all, the Charge probably wouldn’t have its near £100 price-tag. Where things really get interesting is when you sync your Charge to Fitbit’s app via Bluetooth, or to your dashboard on the Fitbit website.
As you can see, this opens up a plethora of new options. Tapping on each option takes you to a new screen – for example, tapping on the yellow meter takes you to a ‘Food’ screen (see left), where you can log the food you eat to see your calorie intake.
If you want to be sure you’re logging the right thing, there’s a barcode scanner, too. It works in tandem with a weight tracker, (the blue scales symbol) which you can use to set weight loss goals.
I haven’t used those options very much, though. Like other apps that deal with food intake (such as MyFitnessTracker), it’s difficult to measure exactly how much of a food you’re eating, and as such, difficult to log it and get an exact reading. It’s better for getting an average overall figure but takes a bit of dedication. The same thing goes for the water intake tracker.
There’s also an element of challenging yourself and others that Fitbit have put into their app in the form of badges and various competitions you can do with friends and family. The badges, unfortunately, don’t seem to show up on the phone app, but do on your dashboard on the Fitbit website. Here’s an example:
So there’s no shortage of things to do and things to track using the Charge. But just how reliable is it all?
Generally, the basic functions work as you would expect. The pedometer is fairly accurate, though as it’s a device worn on the wrist, it can sometimes be tricked into thinking that you’ve gone a few steps when you move your arms. Similarly with the calorie counter, it’s difficult to know exactly how accurate it is; sometimes I’ll have been sitting down for a few hours and still have managed to burn 1000+ calories. Supposedly this is due to the loss of calories even when breathing, so maybe that explains that one. It’s probably better to tie this one in to the food tracker, if you can.
Bluetooth notifications show you when someone phones you, bringing up their name and vibrating to get your attention. I was disappointed with this, though, because it often took a good few seconds into the call for the Charge and my phone to sync up. In theory though, it’s a great idea. The same goes for the alarm; you can set it via the app, and when the time comes round, the Charge will vibrate for a few seconds to wake you up. I found that it wasn’t really enough to properly wake me up, so I’ll be sticking to phone alarms, I think.
One of the Charge’s features I was most interested in was its inbuilt sleep tracker. You don’t have to do anything but keep wearing it through the night for it to activate, so that when you wake up and sync it to your phone, you get a chart showing how long you slept, and how ‘restless’ you were.
Which is all well and good, but what does that really mean? I wanted to know a lot more than I got told, so I downloaded Sleepbot for Android to compare the two, and found the latter to be much more illuminating. Of course, that’s a little unfair, considering sleep tracking is only one of the Charge’s side functions, but if you really want accurate sleep tracking, I’d go for a dedicated app.
One of the popular reasons for wearing a fitness tracker is to get more motivated to exercise – to see the pedometer rising and the numbers on the scales falling in tandem.
It definitely helps to get an actual visual representation of how you’re spending your time and to see what effect the exercise you’re doing is having. ..Or how much more you need to be doing; it’s definitely made me realize that getting to 10,000 steps a day isn’t as easy as I once thought!
So in that sense, it does motivate you to want to do more, whether it’s going for more walks or just take a few extra steps here and there. Whether or not it can actually motivate you to do it? I think that’s down to you.
As a gadget, though, it’s fun to have around, and it’s at least interesting to be able to look at all the stats on your phone and play around with all the different options available to you.
I can imagine it would be even better to have friends or family around you who also have a Fitbit, so you could compare stats or utilize the challenges given to you via the app; even the app tells you that users with even one friend are 27% more active!
Overall though, for what it is, a fitness tracker, it does its job well. It’s got a lot of competition out there – from other trackers to smartwatches that have integrated trackers, but in my opinion, the Charge is pretty solid.