1 January 2017
Fitbit says that its original Charge and Charge HR were its best-selling fitness tracker. So it's not surprising Fitbit has taken everything that proved popular on the original and used this as a basis for the Charge 2. As original Charge HR owner, figured I'd try my hand at the newest Fitbit Charge 2. Pre-ordered from Amazon.
Packed with everything you could want, except GPS, the Charge 2 covers all of the basics. You can consider this device more of an evolution than a reinvention, but by correcting many of the shortcomings of the original, the Charge 2 proves to be a great all-rounder.
The Fitbit Charge 2 isn't a massive advance on the Fitbit Charge HR. The design has improved a bit, and the larger display is useful for running through your stats as well as for checking phone notifications, but those are things the Fitbit Blaze already offers, yet for a higher price. But if you're looking for a fitness tracker to monitor your heart rate throughout the day, and want multi-sport tracking features, then you'll want to consider the Fitbit Charge 2.
If you're after a running watch you won't want the Fitbit Charge 2. But if you're after something to track your daily step count, and a bit of exercise every few days, this is one of the best choices money can buy. The additional fitness features bring this Fitbit closer to being the best option for those who want to be able to wear the same tracker day in day out. There's not all that much reason to update from the Fitbit Charge HR, but as a first Fitbit tracker, or a replacement for a less-substantial model, the Fitbit Charge 2 is well worth a look.
There's a much larger screen here than on the Charge HR – but the device is a fair bit thicker too, so you may not be a fan if you liked the compactness of the last version. Having that said, the screen is still relatively small and it's not colour, but it is an OLED display, new selection of watch faces and the larger vertical display mean I can see time, steps and heart rate all at once – plus it's a touchscreen, which is a first for the Charge range. However, I found the touchscreen to be a little unresponsive, but it is not particularly frustrating – you just need to give it an extra tap sometimes.
There's a button on the left-hand side of the tracker that you use to skip through the menu options, such as steps, time, heart rate and calories; you can hold this button down to activate certain features as well. Its screen is not always on, but a lift-to-look gesture works okay (1/7 most likely to be missed), or you can tap the display, or you can press the side button. The button on the left side of the device is much more pronounced (good thing). You can give it a nice firm click, and it doesn't feel loose or cheap as some of the Charge buttons were prone to.
On-board features include a stopwatch, exercise tracking mode, heart rate. There's also a new Guided Breathing feature “Relax”, which will monitor your heart rate for 30 seconds and then set you a breathing challenge to help you improve your condition. This is the first time Fitbit has offered this kind of feature, and I found that it would indeed calm down heart rate when I wanted it to. It's interesting to see Fitbit focus on a feature that's not entirely exercise-focused, and it's a welcome addition.
Notifications pop up in a limited way -- texts, calendar appointments and phone calls, which scroll slowly across the bottom of the vertical screen. Not great, and you can't respond to anything, of course, but it's better than nothing.
The Fitbit Charge 2 tracker itself is rather small, and comes with one two-section strap in the box. Each part of the strap can be detached by pulling it out of clips on either side of the tracker, if you want to swap-in a different one for a style change. Thumbs up for that! The choices are as follows: plastic strap in light blue, dark blue, black or purple. The two more premium options for the fashion-conscious among you are lavender/rose gold and black/gunmetal.
Is it waterproof?
The Charge 2 isn't waterproof like the Fitbit Flex 2, but it is water-resistant, meaning it can handle a few splashes while you do the washing up, or sweat when you're exercising. You won't be able to wear the Charge 2 in the shower or when swimming, though. It's nice to be able to wear a fitness tracker in the rain without worrying about it being damaged.
In terms of tracking tech, the FitBit Charge 2 is similar to other fitness trackers. If you wear the Fitbit Charge 2 in bed it'll monitor your sleeping patterns. Like other Fitbit products, this feature is a little more temperamental. However, I was slightly disappointed, as silent alarm and sleep tracking isn't a smart alarm that can wake you up at a more optimal time. Having that said, I actually had jawbone up3 for a while, and I really miss this feature. Yet I choose Fitbit over Jawbone for its app and software. Fitbit does what it does so well and so simply, and across enough platforms and phones and social networks, that it wins out as a platform of choice. The Charge 2 only gives you a time "asleep", which is the time you spent "awake" and "restless", subtracted from your overall tracked sleeping time. It means that while you might have "slept" for eight hours, the "time asleep" reading on the dashboard might only read 2hrs 42mins. It’s worth keeping this in mind before assuming that the device isn’t tracking your sleep correctly. I think this is actually a better, and less misleading, measurement than the overall "sleeping time" that other trackers and sports watches offer. It can show you why, even though you’re getting your target hours of sleep, you’re waking up fatigued and weary come morning. Really it's the quality of asleep alongside duration that's important for appropriate recovery and well-being.
Back to the topic, Fitbit will monitor your step count throughout the day, but it also features some of the innovations seen on the Fitbit Blaze and Alta.
A key improvement over the original Charge is that the Charge 2 offers multi-sport tracking – you can track outdoor running, treadmill running, walking and weight training, as well as bike, elliptical trainer and interval workouts. The Fitbit Charge 2 will track your exercise automatically, so you don't have to start sessions manually – if you start running, for example, the Charge 2 will detect this and begin monitoring. It means you don't always need to remember to press buttons when you're exercising – although if you're embarking on a specific workout I’d recommend setting up the tracker to ensure you're getting the exact readings you want.
Bear in mind that this isn't the best device on the market for running – there's no GPS tracking here, and if you want a dedicated device I’d recommend the Fitbit Surge, or a more expensive running watch. The Fitbit Charge 2 will at least work with your phone's GPS to track the distance travelled – a feature both the original Charge and the Charge HR lack. It does mean you need to take your phone out for a run with you though.
New with the Charge 2 is a VO2 max approximation to provide what Fitbit is calling your "Cardio Fitness" level. This is the maximum amount of oxygen your body uses during intense exercise and is another good indicator of your overall cardiovascular health. Fitbit calculates this by comparing your personal data against your running speed while using connected GPS and your heart rate measurements. Your score is provided against other people from your gender and age. It won't ever be as accurate as a true VO2 Max test, but in fairness, a proper VO2 test is a far more complicated and expensive process that wouldn't be available to many.
The dashboard provides plenty of at-a-glance information on your day, from the time asleep as mentioned above, to floors climbed, steps taken and distance covered. You can jump into each sub-menu for more detailed information, with everything logically laid out. The Cardio Fitness score is tucked away behind the heart rate reading, for instance, and the continuous heart rate readings graph is easy to understand. There are also areas where it's possible to log your food and water intake; useful if you want to have an overview of everything from activity to nutrition as well.
New to a recent update are Adventures, which are found under the Challenges menu. These are virtual tours of famous locations. By getting in extra steps, you unlock content along the route, including facts and photographs of landmarks that you can view using the gyroscope in your phone. It’s a nice touch, and gives you the extra impetus to be more active. They’re particularly great if you don’t like the idea of competing against friends, but would rather do something on your own.
If there's one complaint about the app, for me it’s the lack of guidance. I'd love for Fitbit to take a leaf out of Jawbone’s book with its Smart Coach feature, which lets you know how all of the data can affect your wellbeing and health. It provides useful prompts – such as staying better hydrated, or explaining how going to sleep 30 minutes earlier might have a positive impact, then offering to set you a sleep reminder.
Battery life is rated at around five days, which is about right. A major improvement over the old Fitbit Charge is the new "clamp-style" USB charging cable. This locks around the tracker on both sides and makes orientating it much easier, ensuring it stays connected. The old Charge had a connector that plugged in directly and therefore could easily become dislodged. You'll get a notification and an e-mail to let you know the Charge 2 is running low on battery.