Fitbit Charge 5 review: Supercharged band comes with caveats

Some issues complicate a marvellous wearable
Fitbit Charge 5
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The Charge 5 is the latest in Fitbit’s supercharged fitness tracker range – and this generation is all change.

We were quite critical of the Charge 4 from a design standpoint, which didn’t change from the Charge 3, and lagged its rivals in terms of screen quality and usability. But it was our top pick fitness tracker, thanks to the excellence of health data and advanced sensors in the activity band form.

But in the face of stiffening competition from the likes of the Huawei Band 6, the Charge 5 has brought its A-game – and at $179, some top end pricing.

The Charge 5 brings a serious set of features, from ECG and EDA sensors to built-in GPS, inside an aluminum case with an AMOLED display.

But is this still the best fitness tracker money can buy?

Read on to find out.

Fitbit Charge 5 specs, features, price:

  • AMOLED display
  • Black, silver, gold case
  • GPS
  • Heart rate and SpO2
  • Stress management
  • EDA sensor
  • ECG
  • 20 workout modes
  • 7 day battery life
  • Sleep tracking
  • 28g
  • 36.7mm L x 22.7mm W x 11.2mm D
  • Price: $179.99

Fitbit Charge 5: Quick verdict

Fitbit Charge 5: quick verdict

We’re giving the Fitbit Charge 5 the benefit of the doubt in this review – as ECG and Daily Readiness features aren’t ready – and we need those to fire to make up for a couple of undercooked elements of the experience.

The caveats: GPS accuracy is problematic, and anyone excited about taking the Charge 5 for a run without a tethered smartphone should look elsewhere. What’s more, the touchscreen and usability could certainly be improved.

But in 2020 we asked for a better looking Fitbit Charge and we got it. It’s brimming with the best of Fitbit’s features – ECG, EDA, skin temperature, Fitbit Pay – and there’s a lot of bang for your buck here.

Lots of people will be better with Fitbit Luxe, but if the Charge 5 fits, it has our blessing.

Fitbit Charge 5: design

Fitbit Charge 5: design

It’s hard to argue the Charge 5 isn’t a huge step up on the Charge 4 in terms of wearability. But we’ve found the design of the Fitbit Charge 5 to be somewhat divisive – especially among women.

It does dominate smaller wrists, and it’s certainly not as svelte as the thinner Fitbit Luxe (see below). So if you have thin wrists, and are not in the market for the GPS or ECG sensor, you might as well go and read our Fitbit Luxe review right now.

The screen is an AMOLED 0.86” X 0.58” (21.93mm x 14.75mm) panel, with a 326ppi pixel density. It’s a lovely display, super clear and easy to read.

Fitbit Charge 5 side on

It’s touchscreen controlled, which is the only way to navigate the device. There’s no physical button on the side – as we saw on the Charge 4 – and we did miss this. The screen can be a little unresponsive to wake, and sometimes when deep in notifications it’s frustrating to get back to the home screen.

The Charge 5 does have an always-on option, and we quickly turned this on to overcome the frustration about the raise-to-wake – and accepted the knock-on effect on battery life (we’ll discuss this next).

Fitbit Charge 5 vs Luxe

The case is aluminum and there are three color options: gold, silver and back. It creates a high-quality look and feel.

The straps are removable – with plenty of options from Fitbit to attach new straps with premium finishes. It is a proprietary fitting, however.

It’s certainly a step up from the Charge 4 visually, although the raise-to-wake and lack of a physical button feel a bit of a backward step.

Fitbit Charge 5: Battery life

Even with all the bells and whistles, the Fitbit Charge 5 promises seven days of battery life. We got around 5-6 with standard use, dropping about 15-20% per day.

If you do use the GPS, you can expect more of a drop off.

However, we did spend plenty of time with the always-on display. If you toggle this on in the settings, expect 3 - 4 days between charges instead.

When we did use the always-on display, making use of the rapid charging was needed. Around 10 minutes on the charger will net you about 20%, so we didn't suffer any missed nights.

Fitbit Charge 5: Activity and health features

Fitbit Charge 5 stats

The Charge 5 – on paper at least – is a health and fitness powerhouse. It packs in every feature from the Fitbit Sense health watch, puts it in a smaller package, and for a lower price.

While the prospect of ECG on a £169/$179 fitness tracker is exciting, and a huge reason to buy (especially for older users) – it’s not live – so this part couldn’t be reviewed. Nor could the new Daily Readiness score.

So let’s start at the bread and butter.

Step tracking and heart rate tracking are an ever-present, and can be seen by swiping down from the home screen. It’s a good way of keeping tabs on your daily activity, and there’s more than one way to set a goal.

If you want your 10,000 steps, you can check in with this from some of the watch faces, or swipe down.

Likewise, you can track Active Zone Minutes, where you get rewarded for having your heart rate in elevated zones by walking or working out.

It’s a decent system that was introduced on the Charge 4, and unlike counting steps, means you actually worked hard enough to make a positive impression. You start earning AZM at a brisk walking pace, but get double points for working up a sweat.

We still think AZM is a tad opaque – but if you can get your head around what it means – it's a decent metric.

Fitbit Charge 5 spo2

There’s calories burned and distance travelled in the day, too.

The Charge 5 has a sedentary monitor, and you need to get 250 steps in the hour or it will bug you to get up and move. We didn’t find that very intuitive, but we know it’s useful to some people.

Heart rate is tracked and shown live on its own widget – and you can see resting HR in the Fitbit app.

Fitbit tracks VO2 Max, in a Cardio Fitness Score within the app. Ours was between 49-52, which is quite a large confidence range. Historically, we’ve found this score to be way too high, but 49 is about right – so this element seems to be have been improved.

And there’s a host of other health sensors. A skin temperature sensor is here, as it was on the Charge 4. That’s joined by the SpO2 sensor, which will measure blood oxygen – which is tracked in Fitbit Premium level sleep analysis and in the Health Metrics dashboard.

The Health Metrics Dashboard is possibly the most important part of the Fitbit app from a wellness perspective. It tracks breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation, skin temperature and heart rate variability – within established personal baselines – so you can keep an eye out for anything unusual. Spikes or dips could be a sign you’re getting sick, and you might want to work from home or take day off the gym.

Even if you don’t have Fitbit Premium, the Fitbit platform is the best out there. Things like establishing a ‘normal’ baseline for things like body temperature puts it miles ahead of the likes of Huawei, which boast the same sensors, but near meaningless data.

But none of this is exclusive to the Charge 5 – so it still might not be the best Fitbit for you.

Fitbit Charge 5: Sleep

Fitbit Charge 5 sleep

Sleep tracking is more Fitbit bread and butter, and we’d say it does it better than anyone else.

Its sleep tracking is more than just a record of time spent in bed, as you’ll find on some cheaper rivals. Fitbit hammers you on sleep quality. If you want to use a wearable to get better rest, Fitbit is what you need.

The Charge 5 is no different, but then again, the experience different to the rest of the Fitbit line up.

You get the same sleep monitoring on the Luxe, Versa and Sense. Inspire 2 has no SpO2 sensor so blood oxygen is out, but the sleep tracking itself is the same.

You get a breakdown of the night’s rest and the all-important sleep score – which is based on the duration of sleep, how much deep and REM, and how your heart rate dipped while sleeping. Fitbit Premium users get to see a breakdown, and loads of whizzy extra graphs, including blood oxygen variation during the night.

It’s a great sleep tracking experience – but again, not one that’s unique to the Charge 5.

Fitbit Charge 5: Stress detection and the EDA sensor

Fitbit Charge 5 EDA

The Charge 5 brings across the electrodermal activity senor (EDA) from the Fitbit Sense, which reads sweat on the palm of your hand to measure stress responses.

On the Charge 5, it’s done by pinching the bezels with your fingers, which is less comfortable to hold for the duration of the 3 minute test than on Fitbit Sense, where you place your palm across the screen.

We still find the EDA test a little odd. The number of EDA responses you accumulate isn’t implicitly tracked, although the personal reflection is. The data from the sensor seems a little meaningless – we don’t really get it.

You can access EDA meditations in Fitbit Premium (along with other mindfulness and workout content) where your stress responses are measured throughout the program – but we’re not sure what the EDA offers over doing some mindfulness in a more comfortable setting.

The Stress Management score is different from the EDA features, but this has been rolled out across most Fitbit devices.

The score is based on your sleep, exertion and heart rate variability – and is a nice way to check in on stressful feelings. Low scores here are certainly worth acting on – ours rarely changed in the review period.

Fitbit Charge 5: Exercise tracking

Fitbit Charge 5 exercise

The Charge 5 certainly has an exercise focus – without stepping onto the toes of the likes of Garmin, Polar and perhaps even Apple.

Its launch heralded the Daily Readiness score, which aims to take workout data and tell you how ready you are for the next sweaty training session. Sadly, this score still hasn’t rolled out at the time of writing.

There’s built in sports tracking modes, and the 20 most popular types of activity (running, cycling, etc) will be recognised automatically.

And then there’s GPS – which debuted on the Charge range last year and stays for the Charge 5. This will be music to the ears of runners, joggers and park runners wanting to track their runs alongside daily stats.

Sadly, GPS tracking on the Charge 5 is problematic, and it can’t be recommended for those with an interest in accurate running data.

Fitbit Charge 5 review: Supercharged band comes with caveats

GPS was a recurring issue in testing

If your smartphone is in range the Charge 5 will piggyback on that by default. Connected GPS can be less accurate thanks to the placement of the phone, which is usually tucked away.

Connected GPS runs were mostly OK, but all had variations in GPS distance with significant wandering causing slightly elevated distances.

But when running without a phone and relying on the built-in GPS alone, we found a loss of signal butchering run data, with large portions estimated from cadence, and distances not resembling reality. Slight tree cover was enough to cause a terminal loss in signal on test runs.

Wonky run data will affect the Cardio Fitness Score. And, presumably, the Daily Readiness scores as well. There’s so much great stuff in the Fitbit platform that it’s unfortunate we seem to have an issue with something quite simple.

It’s also important to remember that the Fitbit Luxe (and even Inspire 2) will track runs via Connected GPS. So if you’re looking at the Charge 5 for its GPS tracking, this might not be the right Fitbit for you.

Fitbit Charge 5: Heart rate accuracy

Heart rate accuracy

If you’re looking for top heart rate performance, then the Charge 5 puts on a good show.

We found HR logged on runs against a chest strap were reported almost identically, with the same average HR and max HR peaks recorded. An optical sensor will always be a little slower and laggy than a chest strap – so if you want real time data, it’s best to use a strap.

However, users of the Charge 5 will just want to make sure that calories, active zone minutes and workouts are reported accurately, and we felt it was a solid performer.

Fitbit Charge 5 vs Garmin chest strap HR

Fitbit Charge 5 (left) vs Garmin chest strap (right)

If you do a lot of HIIT and short bursts of activity, it’s certainly possible to make the sensor crap out. That’s standard for optical HR sensors.

We did find a few strange issues with heart rate at lower levels. We experienced some isolated spikes in HR – sometimes awarding AZM when not when we weren’t active – on two or three occasions. We managed to validate against a chest strap that the Charge 5 was reading too high. This isn’t something we’ve experienced before – and we hope it’s something that can be weeded out with a software update.

Fitbit Charge 5: Smartwatch and notifications

Fitbit Charge 5: Smartwatch and notifications

The Fitbit Charge 5 is certainly an alternative to a smartwatch – and it does offer notifications.

Messages from WhatsApp are easy to read on the Charge 5 screen, and you get enough text displayed to get the gist of whether it’s something you need to reply to.

Calls and calendar notifications will also be sent to the wrist too, and Android users can use smart replies to text messages.

However, an ongoing issue with iOS and Fitbit, that seemingly cannot be resolved, means if you use iCal then you’re likely to be buzzed to death with notifications until you turn calendar alerts off.

Fitbit Pay is also present on the Charge 5, for wrist-based payments.

And we did enjoy the smart wake silent alarm. It wakes you with gentle vibrations (and not the rest of the house), and you can set a window earlier in the morning to be woken if the sleep tracking detects you stirring. That, theoretically, should make waking to the alarm gentler.

Fitbit Charge 5
By Fitbit
The Charge 5 looks great and brings the best of Fitbit’s ecosystem to the wrist band form factor. We easily recommend for men that don’t want a smartwatch. Everything we love about the Fitbit ecosystem is in fine fettle here. But Fitbit has fumbled here. The GPS tracking is not good. ECG and Daily Readiness aren’t yet released, so we can’t vouch for them. Usability could be improved by a sharper wrist raise and a more sensitive touchscreen.

  • Great design
  • Lovely screen
  • Massive range of sensors
  • GPS signal problems
  • Touchscreen and raise to wake slow
  • Waiting on ECG