I deliberated about getting a fitness tracker for a really long time. Probably more than a year. Every time I was determined to get one I would go online and spent hour researching every popular fitness tracking device on the market only to then decide after a few days that I could just use my iPhone instead.
It went on like this for a while. I decided and did the research and changed my mind at least 3 times. I think my sticking point was that there weren't a lot of devices on the market within a reasonable price range that also had heart rate monitoring.
I've done a bit of reading on heart rate monitoring in fitness tracking devices and the consensus amongst experts seems to be that the most accurate heart rate monitoring offered on a fitness tracking device at present is through the use of an additional chest strap, as with for example the Garmin Vivoactive.
That seemed like a bit of an inconvenience to me on top of being more expensive (the chest strap is purchased separately). There was also obviously the issue of what affectionately called "the boob problem" i.e. boobs + chest strap = disappointment.
I decided to wait until something better came on the market. Now, I'm really happy to say, that something is here and it's the FitBit Charge HR Wireless Heart Rate & Activity Wristband.
Let me be clear, I fully understand that the heart rate monitoring on the wrist isn't as accurate as heart rate monitoring around the chest. I get that. At the same time, even if it's not totally accurate it does provide a benchmark so you can see the effect of different lifestyle choices on your metrics with each passing day. Seeing my progress mapped out on a daily basis is really motivating for me and I'm sure for others.
Also, I'm really not into wearing a chest strap. Not only that, but the Garmin Vivoactive seems really bulky, especially for a petite frame.
Buying the FitBit
One day in early February of this year I got super determined. Over the winter I had seen fitness trackers on so many of my friends that it was starting to feel like a gentle nudge from the universe pushing me to just go buy one already.
I knew that the FitBit Charge HR had come on the market but I hadn't done all that much research. I read a few blog posts and reviews here and there but nothing very comprehensive. So when I decided that day in February that I was leaving right that instant and going to Best Buy to get one right away I surprised even myself. To say nothing of my bewildered husband.
At first I thought they were all sold out. I could only find a black one in large. Oh yes, did I mention it comes in a bunch of fun colours?
It also comes in two sizes. Small and large. I ended up buying mine in the small size. But I'm pretty small and the large size also fit me so I think the large size probably fits most people unless you have very, very delicate wrists.
Luckily they weren't sold out but fully stocked so I had my choice of color and size. I was initially drawn to the Tangerine. Like intensely drawn to the Tangerine. I started picturing myself wearing it in the summer and how it would go with all my outfits as a frisky, colourful accent. Then I bought black. Boring old black.
For a few days after I found myself staring longingly at my wrist wishing there was a cheerful pop of color there to greet me instead of a boring black band. Don't be boring like me. Get the Tangerine.
Buying the FitBit Aria WIFI Smart Scale
While I was deliberating over colors I happened to notice the FitBit Aria WIFI Smart Scale, placed ever so strategically just under the FitBit activity bands.
I wanted a body composition scale for a while. My in-laws had a body fat scale since before it was a thing and I was always so intrigued by the potential every time I used it.
I also, of course, deliberated about buying a body fat scale for a long time. I did the research was ready to buy and then changed my mind. Over and over again. Well, on this particular day I was feeling so decisive and determined that I bought the scale too!
I was so excited driving home with my new toys. Don't ask me how but I had the FitBit on my wrist before I even got out of the car. It was already displaying heart rate and steps before I even set up my account. The actual band feels sturdy but flexible. It doesn't really stick out too much. There are two blinking green lights on the bottom of the device that sit on your wrist and measure your heart rate.
The tracker also comes with a USB charging cable that can be used with any universal USB charging adaptor you have.
I pulled into the driveway and rushed inside and clawed at the box holding the scale until I had my prize in hand. It's a really attractive scale. Kudos to the designers. I love simple streamlined design. I also really like when everyday essentials just blend into the background. The FitBit Aria scale has a beautiful streamlined design. I also got the white version because it goes with my decor better and I just liked it more.
Setting Up The FitBit Charge HR & FitBit Aria Scale
The FitBit itself was pretty straightforward to start. I put it on my wrist and it was working right away. It wasn't connected to a profile yet of course but it was working nonetheless.
As for the FitBit Aria WIFI scale, I excitedly put the two included AA batteries into the scale, turned it over, placed it gently on the floor and hopped on. I got an initial weight reading but the body fat function didn't work. I surmised it was because I wasn't yet registered as a user. Turns out I was right. That's kind of annoying but I didn't think much of it at the time.
So the next step was setting up my FitBit app account. Little did I know that the next two hours of my evening would get sucked into that deceptively simple sounding little endeavour.
Setting Up The FitBit App
An unexpectedly and exceedingly frustrating part of the process was setting up my online account through the FitBit proprietary app. My husband (who doesn't have a fitness tracker...yet) was also trying to set up an account on his Android phone at the same time so he could use the scale.
While he started downloading the app, I went through at least 3-4 cycles of creating login credentials, after which I was given the option to login with Google or Facebook which I couldn't do because I had already created login credentials, which in turn then didn't work so I would be sent back to create login credentials and then it would tell me that the username or password is invalid.
It was the worst.
By the time I finally logged in my husband was just starting the login dance. I set my sights on the scale, which was similarly frustrating to sync with the app. I flipped the scale upside down, took out the batteries, put them back in after 10 seconds per the setup instructions, flipped it back upright and restarted it. I did this probably 5-6 times. The app on my phone that was supposed to be picking up the signal of the scale kept timing out when it was trying to connect the scale to out WIFI. Eventually it worked but we were both super frustrated for a while.
After all the fuss with opening the accounts, I then had to add myself as a user on the scale. That was also an adventure but by that point I was so frustrated I can't remember why exactly. Bogdan was really annoyed still trying to get the app set up. After I somehow managed to get myself set up as a user, I tried to set him up as well. Apparently before one can be set up as a user, you have to be friends with them first on the FitBit app. I sent him a friend request via email through the app and we became friends. I tried to add him again. No dice. Again the app informed me that I needed to invite him to be a user on the scale rather than just adding him. So, again, I sent him an invitation through the proprietary FitBit app. Then I resent it. And resent it. Then we gave up.
To this day that invitation has yet to be received by him.
All in all I'd say that the biggest issues as far as setup goes were related to the app and not the actual devices. As frustrating as that process was it's over and now I get the benefit of my devices working perfectly in sync every day.
Beyond setup, the FitBit app provides users with an array of comprehensive and well thought out fitness metrics displayed in your choice of a variety of color-coded charts. More on that below.
Using the FitBit Charge HR Activity Tracker
The FitBit HR activity tracker is super intuitive. I didn't need to read the directions to get it going. Although it's a seemingly simple one button design, there's a lot of functionality packed in. With one click of the button you are shown the time, keep clicking and the screen displays heart rate, calories burned, flights of stairs climbed, steps taken, and distance travelled.
The Tap Gesture
There are more advanced features that I learned after getting more familiar with the FitBit app. There may be more than I know of I probably just don't know them all yet because I chronically don't read directions. A really neat feature the designers have included is the tap gesture, which displays your preferred metric with a double tap of the FitBit tracker. It can be customized by navigating to Account > Charge HR > Tap Gesture.
Customizing Your Display
The FitBit app allows you to control which metric is shown first when you click the button if you navigate to Account > FitBit HR > Customize Display.
Customizing The Clock Face
The clock face can also be customized to one of four choices by navigating to Account > Charge HR > Clock Face.
Changing Units of Measure | FitBit Charge HR Tracker & Aria Scale
The units on the FitBit tracker can be changed by navigating to Account > Advanced Settings > Units. The Units on the FitBit Aria scale can also be changed by navigating to Account > Aria > Weight Units.
Wearability & Comfort
You'll likely notice in the screenshots below that I take my tracker off a few times a day. Mostly it's when I wash my hands, remove it to put on lotion, and forget to put it back on. I'm working on it. Generally I would say the FitBit Charge HR is very wearable. It slides comfortably under sleeves and doesn't stand out or stick out too much.
The only issue I have as far as comfort goes is that at night the tracker can sort of shift upwards on my wrist to the point that it becomes very tight an.d presses up against my skin. It isn't uncomfortable per se, because it doesn't wake me, but by morning the area has turned a bit red and is itchy because the skin has been covered and pressed on for so long.
When that happens I take the tracker off at least until the redness has gone away. It isn't really an issue and instead of taking it off I could easily change tracking to my other wrist by going into Account > Charge HR > Wrist.
FitBit App Dashboard
The FitBit app dashboard provides a functional and intuitive experience. Metrics are displayed with accompanying icons and color coded bar graphs. You click a metric for more information and more charts.
Challenges & Badges
You can add also earn badges by completing build in or custom challenges. I thought this was a sort of unnecessary feature at first but then I earned my first badge and I was hooked. You can also compete with friends through the app.
FitBit Web App Dashboard
The FitBit web dashboard shows a lot of the same information as the phone app but what appears to be more options for how to display the data.
Charge HR Heart Rate Monitoring
The heart rate monitoring was of course the feature I most wanted in a fitness tracker. I can happily say I haven't been disappointed. While wearing the activity tracker you can access your heart rate simply by clicking the button or tapping the device, depending on what your settings are.
I don't know how accurate the heart rate monitor is, but I do know that it reacts appropriately when I know my heart rate has gone up. The obvious things like when I exercise show up as orange or red spikes in my regular heart rate monitoring. The spike in heart rate also tells the tracker than I'm buying more calories so it can adjust it's calories burned estimate.
The tracker tracks your resting heart rate over time, which is said to be an strong indicator of improvement in cardiovascular function and overall health. The tracker also shows you daily trends in your heart rate.
Charge HR Sleep Tracking
The sleep tracking is an interesting feature to have. It's good at determining when I fall asleep and when I wake up. The stuff in between is not as great.
I've noticed that the measurements of times awake or restless during the night aren't very accurate. There are times I know I've been wide awake when it wasn't picked up by the tracker, and times when I felt like I slept perfectly and it said I was restless a lot. That being said, it works much better than the awake/asleep clock app I used to use on my phone. It's a nice extra feature to have. If it was my primary reason for buying the tracker I might be less than satisfied, but it wasn't and I'm really happy with the functionality it does add.
Silent alarms are an awesome feature! they are exactly what they sound like. You set an alarm through the app and when the time comes the tracker gently vibrates on your wrist. Enough to wake you while leaving your sleep buddy undisturbed. It can be accessed by navigating to Account > Charge HR > Silent Alarms.
Charge HR Activity & Calorie Tracking
The Charge HR calculates calories burned by using your age, weight, & height to determine how many calories you would burn a day if sedentary (through your base metabolic rate BMR and total daily energy expenditure TDEE). It then uses your heart rate to adjust those calculations based on activity level.
The screenshot above is from the period when I gave up on the food log (as I'll explain below) which is why my calories consumed fall to 356 and then to nothing. I stopped tracking and went back to MFP.
If you also have the Aria scale like I do, the tracker also uses your body fat percentage to calculate your calories burned (because as we know muscle burns more calories than fat.)
Aria Weight Tracking
I have this problem where I love weighing myself like a million times a day. I know it's not a healthy habit. I also know that the number on the scale isn't an accurate representation of where you are vis a vis your goals. There's just something about weighing myself a bunch of times a day that makes me feel more connected to my body. Also, having the body fat percentage displayed makes me feel like the scale is a closer representation of my progress and also keeps me motivated.
I'm a woman so of course my weight fluctuates wildly yeah day. The screenshot above isn't a totally accurate representation due to those daily fluctuations. However, knowing my body I think it's safe to say that I've lost almost 5lbs / 2.25 kg since I started a month ago. Not bad for someone without a whole lot of weight to lose.
Charge HR Food Tracking
I'm just going to flat out tell you that the food log has a long way to go. I tried it for a few days but it couldn't find pretty basic foods (like greek yogurt or steamed veggies) giving me processed products instead (like strawberry yogurt tubes or restaurant sides of veggies).
I went back to MyFitnessPal, quite happily, and have heard that the apps can be linked. At this point MFP beats the pants off the proprietary FitBit food log. I'm not really bothered by it because, for me at least, it's less confusing to have them separate. When I did try tracking calories in with the FitBit food log it would automatically add calories to the amount of calories I had left to eat for the day. I try not to eat back the calories I've burned unless I'm doing rigorous exercise so I didn't like that feature anyway.
Table | The Pros & Cons Of The FitBit Charge HR
Features I LOVE
Features That Need Improvement
Why I LOVE It
I’m a big fan of the FitBit Charge HR because I’m losing weight, eating better, being more active and drinking more water! Having this little device on my wrist is a constant reminder to stay motivated. Seeing small increases in my daily activity motivates me to do more and stay on course. I’m really happy with this purchase. It makes a great addition to my healthy fitness arsenal and I don’t think I’d be as motivated to keep going if it weren’t for the daily progress reports.