The Charge 2, priced at $149.99, is more expensive than the Alta but cheaper than the Blaze, and just about the same price as the old Fitbit Charge HR and Charge when they first launched. With the Charge 2, there's a host of new features including guided breathing, interchangeable bands, a larger screen and new data tracking with VO2 Max.
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While the Alta keeps things simple and the Blaze has its watch-like abilities, the Charge 2 is harder to categorise. It's definitely not a smartwatch, but it's not quite the most powerful fitness tracker you can get. Rather it straddles the line and is closer to 'almost best', since it lacks what Samsung Gear Fit2 and Microsoft Band 2 bring to the table.
We've spent a lot of time over the past few weeks putting the Charge 2 through its paces, testing those new sensors and features to the max. We've even been chatting to the Fitbit team to address some of our queries and issues along the way. So here it is folks. Our verdict on the Fitbit Charge 2.
Fitbit Charge 2: Design and comfort
The Charge 2 retains a very Fitbit-esque look. Taking cues from its predecessor, as well as the Fitbit Alta and a little from Surge, it's actually much sleeker than the others, with a larger black and white OLED screen that's four times bigger than on the old Charge devices. It's also more fashionable looking with a polished silver body that's similar to the one on the Alta. Thankfully it also has the same clasp system as the Charge/Charge HR, making it easy to put on and adjust.
For a device which requires so little user interaction, it's surprisingly complex to use. Metrics are scrolled by tapping on the touchscreen. You can then cycle through modes by pressing the side button, and then move through exercises by swiping down on the screen. To access a mode, you need to long-press the button. You can tell that Fitbit knows things are convoluted, as hints on how to use the device appear on the screen during the first few hours of use. It's overly complex, and takes a lot of getting used to.
It is a little annoying that you can't scroll back, and instead must keep tapping to get back round to a previous screen that you might have missed. There aren't a lot of screens to go through but it's still a hassle if you're in a rush.
The size of the display has been comfortable and sits better than the Surge does on the wrist, which is a relief. The overall design is oddly pleasing, perhaps because the display is larger than Alta's but still smaller than the Surge (and even the Fitbit Blaze), which means you get to see a little more information without it being uncomfortably big.
The sensitivity of the display is also little questionable at times. It's as if you need to be in a certain position for an arm turn to register, and often it didn't illuminate the screen properly.
Fitbit Charge 2 rivals
After wearing it for longer, the bulk from the heart rate monitor hasn't been as noticeable as we originally thought either. Getting it to sit on the sweet spot for the best heart rate info (just behind the wrist bone) seems tricky on a small wrist as it's always too tight or too loose but we were able to find a good in-between with the Charge 2 where it felt snug and comfy.
Wearing it for more than just fitness is also definitely an option, as the band can be switched out for nicer materials if you feel so inclined. The $29.95 Classic band comes in black, plum, blue and teal, and there are special editions including black with gunmetal body, or lavender and rose gold, which are pricier at $179.95. Like the Alta, the Charge 2 will also get Luxe leather accessory band options, in brown, blush pink and indigo, which cost $69.95.
Fitbit Charge 2: Activity tracking
Long pressing the side button starts tracking specific workouts manually and you'll get a detailed summary in the app afterwards. The Charge 2 is also equipped with SmartTrack, which automatically recognises running, cycling and more. Sleep is also auto-detected along with floors climbed, active minutes and hourly activity.
Sleep tracking proved the most accurate. It struggled picking up the actual time we woke up – especially if we stayed in bed for a while. However it's been pretty good at recording bathroom breaks and the times we've fallen asleep. Annoyingly, there are no settings you can adjust on the tracker itself for sleep mode or dimming the screen, so tossing around in bed leads to the screen lighting up the room. Ironically, the Fitbit caught these moments of wakefulness in the graphs.
Step tracking is on a par with other Fitbits and manages to keep up with the Alta and Blaze, although we found the Charge HR clocked a lot more steps over long distances than the Garmin Fenix 3, and we felt that if anything, it had a propensity to over-estimate.
Stairs weren't always counted if our hands weren't at our sides though. This is an ongoing problem with other wearables that claim to count stairs, and while we were hoping the Charge 2 would be the standout, we weren't all that surprised it couldn't catch every stair climb.
As mentioned, the Charge 2 has heart-rate tracking built in, so you won't have to worry about choosing between two variants. The heart-rate tracking uses Fitbit's PurePulse tech for continuous monitoring whether you're exercising or not.
There's no onboard GPS, and the Charge 2 relies on connecting up with your phone using the ConnectedGPS feature to get pace and distance stats. All these features can be found on the other Fitbits in some form – but the VO2 Max and guided breathing training are new.
VO2 Max in the Fitbit app is labeled as Cardio Fitness Level. Wearing your Charge 2 to sleep to ensures the tracker measures your resting heart rate. Then it takes your user profile – age, height, weight and fitness data – to give you a score which is matched up against other people in your age group and gender. You also get bar charts of your fat burn, cardio and peak heart rate zones which makes for the most complete picture of your ticker's data of any Fitbit to date.
The data is slightly hidden, and can only be accessed via the heart rate tab on the Fitbit app dashboard. Unlike the resting heart rate, Cardio Fitness Level isn't tracked over time, and is displayed as a single figure which you should see rising over time. Why Fitbit didn't opt to plot Cardio Fitness Level we're not sure.
Now VO2 Max is properly calculated with a fairly hardcore test in a sports science lab, so the Fitbit Charge 2 is always going to offer something of an estimate. It clocked us at 49 – close to the Jabra Sport Pulse (47) and Garmin Fenix 3 (48), and while it does appear at the higher end of the scale, there are no complaints here. We also let someone else borrow our Fitbit for a day, which caused the score to change, which at least demonstrates a degree of sensitivity in the data.
The Cardio Fitness Level feature is one of our favourite additions to the Fitbit Charge 2. It's a proper fitness metric that's new to the company's ecosystem – and one that we hope to see evolve over time to become even more useful.
Breathing in deeply isn't a new concept for calming down. Thus Fitbit didn't invent the wheel – rather it's giving us a nice little tool to help us remember, which is why the Guided breathing has been a surprising but welcome feature. At Wareable we've already noticed a growing trend of mindfulness apps and wearables solely dedicated to managing stress.
Fitbit Charge 2 personalises its guided breathing exercise by taking your heart rate to find a good rhythm, making sure you're not inhaling too deeply or exhaling too quickly. This is actually the debut of some serious new tech for Fitbit, and is the first time heart rate variability has been used on its devices. You can also complete a two minute or five minute session for a moment of relaxation, or use it to cool down after a workout.
After taking your heart rate, the Charge 2 readies you to breathe in time with a pulsing circle that's animated on the screen.
When we first used it to wind down after a workout, we felt like we were doing it wrong – inhaling too deeply and practically holding our breath. The second time we used it was to 'relax' and de-stress. This worked better and were able to breathe in time with the animation.
We've used it many times since both for post-workouts and relaxation with it working much better. The Charge 2 has been able to accurately find the correct rhythm allowing us to follow the pattern on the little screen. It's oddly comforting watching the animations, and after continuously using it, two minutes flies by pretty quickly – whereas when we first started using it, we'd keep wondering when the exercise would be over. We're also fans of the fact that there are no metrics making sure you're doing it correctly; rather it's available if you want it.
Heart rate training
All eyes will be on the accuracy of the PurePulse heart rate sensor, but disappointingly it's still somewhat of a mixed bag on the Charge 2.
The good news is resting heart rate, which was tracked with aplomb and matched up to our Garmin Vivosmart HR data. We found the Blaze often tracked RHR too high, so this is an improvement over previous versions.
Generally, we found data from long steady runs to be useable – but the sensor took around 10 minutes to lock onto our heart rate when compared to a chest strap.
We also found that while generally accurate during steady and prolonged periods, it had a tendency to under-report current heart rate, often up to 5bpm. And when it comes to HIIT, the Charge 2 is more miss than hit. We undertook a couple of high intensity sessions and ran into a few problems with the Charge 2.
Interval woe: Fitbit Charge 2 and Garmin Fenix 3 with chest strap
First is the lag time, which often meant that as we reached 180bpm on the first interval the Charge 2 was stuck at 115. This usually improved as the session got underway, but often the Charge 2 was almost an interval behind.
Ironically, heart rate discrepancies with a chest strap were more apparent on the screen read out than the summary – like the Fitbit algorithm made sense of the data after the event. Often long sessions ended up being only 3bpm out from a chest strap, despite a stream of nonsense displayed live on the device during the workout.
One such example was a very annoying tic in the device where the live bpm readout plummeted to zero during hard intensity sessions for around 10 seconds. We took this information to Fitbit and the company confirmed it was a bug with the interface and that it would release a fix via an update, soon after the Charge 2's release. It could be that this fixes some of the above issues, but it was fairly clear from extended use which were screen reporting issues and which was just the PurePulse crapping out – and unfortunately both issues were prevalent.
As with the Blaze, what we have here is a device far better suited to everyday lifestyle use than for hardcore fitness fans. Despite the move to VO2 Max, the device isn't up to the rigours of hardcore training or high intensity sessions.
Fitbit Charge 2: Notifications
The Charge 2 isn't a smartwatch and it's not trying to hide this fact. While you'll get notifications, you can't reply to them or review them on the fitness tracker – they simply disappear.
Call, text and calendar notifications can all be displayed on the Charge 2 but your phone must be nearby. Right now, the tracker isn't able to display third-party notifications from social media, meaning all your Facebook notifications from Messenger, tweets and Instagram likes will go unread.
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When receiving a call or text, the Charge 2 buzzes briefly then shows the phone number (and/or name) of the person calling. Texts show a clipped version if the message is long, and emojis can't be seen at all.
Other notifications you'll see include reminders to move, which debuted on the Fitbit Alta. It's the same concept where every hour you'll get a little message telling you to take 250 steps.
Fitbit Charge 2: App
If you've used a Fitbit before than you should be familiar with the app, which hasn't changed much for the Charge 2. You get your usual graphs and dashboard items along with settings for each device that's paired and you can still view leaderboards.
What's new can be found in the Challenges. Fitbit released the 'Adventures' Challenge for its entire lineup so it's not specific to the Charge 2, but we tried it out anyway since it was announced at the same time.
The idea of Adventures is pretty creative and fun. There are different step goals for various Adventure locations – for example, it takes 15,000 steps to 'walk' on the Yosemite Vernal Falls hike. That means every step you're taking at home, work, wherever is then matched up to the hike Fitbit's set up in the app. You even get to see your steps mapped out with the app telling you how many more steps you need to go. You don't have to complete the whole thing immediately, though the app gives you a daily destination with points to meet based on your seven day step average.
The step goals you meet on the 'trail' unlock a new panorama image that Fitbit's taken in real life, called 'Landmarks.' The company noted that these are about the same amount of steps you'd need to take to actually reach the locations in real life. After reaching one, moving your phone out in front of you will let you pan around the image. There are also 'Treasures' to discover, which are just bits of trivia, little health quizzes and motivation.
Adventure has been enjoyable and really easy to get into since all you need to do is press start. Sometimes you'll forget you've even begun the challenge so it would be nice if you could get notifications on the Charge 2 screen letting you know you have goals to meet. But aside from that, we like seeing the map's route matching up to the usual steps you take each day. We'd definitely rather be hiking the actual steps in Yosemite, but this is fun too.
Fitbit Charge 2: Battery
Fitbit says the Charge 2 battery will last up to five days depending on use. This was surprising, since it's the same battery life as the older Charges which had a much smaller screen. In comparison, Alta is supposed to last five days and in our testing it lasted a little over a week.
After using it for two weeks with every notification it's able to receive turned on, for fitness, continuous heart rate, sleep tracking and general daily usage, the Charge 2 lasted a little over six days. After charging it up for 15-20 minutes, it lasted another six days. Like the Alta battery life, that's better than expected.
It's nice to know that I'll get almost a week's worth of use from the Charge 2, but it'd be even better if there was a battery life indicator on the device itself. It was annoying having to check the app when I wasn't sure how long it would last. There is an indicator on the last day in the final hours – a giant dead battery flashes on the screen, then stays when you really need to re-juice, but that's about it.
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