Seeking to continue their dominion over the fitness tracker market, Fitbit has once again created one of the best fitness trackers on the market, at least in the value department. The Fitbit Charge 2 is a popular high-end heart rate + fitness wristband released by the company, and it packs up quite a lot of features, including certain new technologies developed by Fitbit, but is it actually worth your money?
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Based in San Francisco, California, Fitbit is one of the biggest players on the wearables market, as they seem to get most of their devices just right for their consumers. As its name suggests, the company focuses its efforts on producing quality fitness-related gadgets, such as smartwatches with fitness functions, smart scales and, most importantly, fitness wristbands.
Although their first device, the Fitbit Tracker, was released in 2008, it wasn’t only until 2013 that the company decided to venture into the wearable territory with the Fitbit Flex, and until 2014 that they enjoyed a huge success with the release of the Fitbit Charge. Despite the fact that the Fitbit Charge and its heart rate sensor-featuring model, the Fitbit Charge HR were not received with fanfares from reviewers, they enjoyed quite a success commercially, effectively representing the growing pains of Fitbit both as a company and an ecosystem for users.
Now, several years later, whenever you think about Fitbit and its devices, you think about accuracy and versatility, as the brand name has become some sort of seal of quality approval. The Fitbit Charge 2, among many other devices, is solid proof of this.
First of all, the device’s design seems to be in line with what Fitbit has been recently outputting: the Fitbit Charge 2 has a sleek, subtle design, with a large OLED screen that makes it easy and clear to figure out the stats you want to check. The straps are interchangeable, which seems to be an increasingly popular trend in wearables, and the base models are available in four colors: black, plum, blue and teal, the bezel having a stainless steel finish.
Those who want to stand out from the crowd can opt for the special editions of the tracker, which also change the color of the bezel and cost 30 euros more than the base models: a 22k rose gold plated bezel finish that comes with a lavender strap or a gunmetal stainless steel finish that comes with a black strap. Luxe leather straps and sports straps are also available for purchase separately.
Curiously enough, Fitbit seems to repeat the mistakes made with the first Fitbit Charge and not make it waterproof. To be fair, it is sweat, rain and splash proof, which should be enough for its intended usage, but in a competitive market in which Fitbit itself is making certain other models waterproof, it’s pretty hard to think about why they didn’t bother to make the Charge 2 waterproof as well.
The large OLED display is a welcome addition, and the fact that it is touch-enabled is even more so. This, along with the side button, leads to a really complex control scheme that may prove to be too complicated for users. In order to switch the metrics displayed on the screen, you need to tap it. The modes can be cycled through by pressing the side button, chosen with a long button press. Swiping down on the menu lets you switch exercises. If you can’t wrap your head around these, worry not, as the Charge 2 keeps reminding you how to control your device during the first few hours of usage.
Chances are you won’t buy the Fitbit Charge 2 for its looks alone, so let’s look into how well it actually does what regular users need from a fitness tracker. The Charge 2 is able to connect to iOS, Android and even Windows Phone devices via the Fitbit app, meaning that no user will be disappointed because their device is not compatible with the tracker.
Once connected to the Fitbit app, there are a lot more features available, such as setting weekly exercise goals meant to motivate, see a detailed rundown on all of your previous workouts across all Fitbit devices, check whether your performance is improving, track your resting heart rate on a daily basis and finally, manage your weight by setting weight goals, planning meals, logging food and tracking your weight-related stats such as your BMI.
A nifty feature found in the Fitbit Charge 2 is Fitbit’s SmartTrack feature, which automatically recognizes the physical activity you’re taking part in and tracks your data, sending it to the phone app. This means that even if you forget to set the start of a workout, you still get credit for doing it on your app’s activity log.
Last but not least, perhaps one of the best things about connecting your Charge 2 to your phone is the fact that it doubles as a smartwatch, effectively replacing the need for such a device as long as you’re a fitness fanatic. The Charge 2 does this by having customizable clock faces, made possible by the large OLED screen, and by showing you call, text and calendar alerts on your wrist, just like a smartwatch would. It may not be able to download and use third-party apps, and you certainly won’t fool anyone that it is a watch, but this is still a welcome addition that will hopefully be used in future trackers as well.
Looking at the previous section, it definitely seems as if the majority of features are only available when connected to or through a smartphone, and that may just be the truth, especially considering the lack of GPS capability. Still, the Fitbit Charge 2 does not necessarily live and die by the Fitbit app, as the tracker makes extensive use of its on-board sensors, namely the heart rate tracker, 3-axis accelerometer and altimeter.
All-day activity tracking, as Fitbit calls it, is the tracker’s ability to accurately track your steps, calories burned, active minutes and many more details continuously, due to the 5-day battery life. The data tracked by this device is stored in its internal memory for different periods of time, depending on the type of data: the daily totals are saved for 30 days, while detailed motion data on a minute-by-minute. Heart data is stored for each second during workouts, and for every 5 seconds at all other times. Post-workout summaries are saved based on the selected or automatically detected activity, and can also be checked on the tracker.
That being said, the Fitbit Charge 2 holds its own while not connected to any other device fairly well, doing everything one would expect from a fitness tracker. It’s only natural for detailed statistics and planning features to require a smartphone tethered to the device, but more onboard sensors wouldn’t have hurt.
The main feature of the Fitbit Charge 2 is the fact that its heart rate tracker is so advanced that the technology behind it even has a branded name. Named PurePulse, the technology is not exclusive to the Charge 2, but it does lie at the heart of many features available on the tracker.
PurePulse works by detecting green LED reflections off the capillaries that contract whenever the heart beats but manages to stand out from the crowd by continuously and automatically tracking heart data, whereas other technologies and devices require users to press a button in order to start the process. This is made possible by the ultra low power consumption technologies developed by Fitbit.
The PurePulse technology does more than simply track your heart rate, paving the way for a lot of features on the Charge 2. One practical application of this technology is the tracker’s ability to provide on-demand guided breathing sessions, which are ideal for reducing stress and anxiety and lowering blood pressure. The process is fairly simple, as instructions for when to inhale and exhale are displayed on the OLED screen.
Besides extensive heart rate statistics available on the app, by far the best application of the PurePulse technology is workout optimization through “simplified zones” displayed on your phone. Users are able to see their heart rate in real time, along with the “zone” they are currently in. According to Fitbit, there are three zones, each one ideal for a type of goal. The moderate intensity zone is best for burning fat, boosting basic endurance and teaching the body to use fat as fuel. The medium intensity zone is best for increasing cardio fitness and muscle strength, while the maximum intensity zone is for athletes who want to improve their peak performance through short but intensive workouts.
Okay, so the Fitbit Charge 2 is packed with quite a lot of features, some of them only being available when connected to a phone. However, nowadays, chances are that if you are buying a fitness tracker, you own a compatible smartphone. Still, even with all the features, is the Fitbit Charge 2 worth the 160 euro price tag?
It’s worth to note that the Charge 2 is not Fitbit’s newest tracker. The Fitbit Alta HR can be considered the Charge 2’s little sister, both in age and features, as it lacks a workout mode and struggles at times with keeping accurate data.
The cheaper fitness trackers, such as the incredibly low-priced Xiaomi Mi Band 2 or the TomTom Touch don’t even come close to the multitude of features packed in with the Charge 2, so if you want a high-quality fitness tracker that actually does its job, there’s no better choice.
Given that the Charge 2 has some very basic smartwatch features as well, it represents a decent alternative to a smartwatch as well, giving those fitness smartwatches a run for their money. Whether you choose a fitness tracker that can act as a basic smartwatch or a smartwatch that acts as a basic fitness tracker is up to you and your demands.
All in all, the Fitbit Charge 2 is one of the most versatile fitness trackers on the market, going so far as to even make a foray into smartwatch territory with its clock faces and wrist notifications. Starting at $160, it maintains a decent price for a tracker, but provides a lot of value for that price, essentially being the king of bang-for-your-buck. The Charge 2, its special editions and additional straps can be purchased online, from Fitbit’s official store.