- Great design
- Lovely screen
- Massive range of sensors
- GPS signal problems
- Touchscreen and raise to wake slow
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 even the Fitbit Inspire 3 now brings many of the best features of the Charge 5, at an even lower price.
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? We lived with it to find out.
Fitbit Charge 5 specs, features, and price:
- AMOLED display
- Black, silver, and gold case
- Heart rate and SpO2
- Stress management
- EDA sensor
- 20 workout modes
- 7-day battery life
- Sleep tracking
- 36.7mm L x 22.7mm W x 11.2mm D
Design and comfort
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.
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).
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.
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.
Activity, ECG and health features
The Charge 5 – on paper at least – is a health and fitness powerhouse. It packs in every feature of the Fitbit Sense health watch, puts it in a smaller package, and for a lower price.
First up as an ECG sensor, and the prospect of that feature being available on a sub-$150 fitness tracker is certainly appealing. It's easy to take a reading, by placing your fingers on the case as shown. The results are shown on the Fitbit Charge 5, and in the Fitbit app.
The Fitbit Charge 5 has also been treated to the new continuous heart rate rhythm detection feature that has rolled out across the Fitbit family. That uses the PPG sensor to look for abnormal rhythms automatically. If you are alerted, you can then use the ECG feature to take a reading, and then use that as a basis to talk to your doctor.
It's not something everything will need, but for many people this will be immensely useful and possibly life-saving.
Step tracking and heart rate tracking are 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 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.
There are calories burned and distance traveled 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 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 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 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 a 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.
Sleep tracking is more Fitbit's 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 is different from the rest of the Fitbit lineup.
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.
Stress detection and the EDA sensor
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 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.
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 your heart rate data and inform you how ready you are for the next sweaty training session, or just to take on the day.
This is behind the paywall of Fitbit Premium, so you'll need to pay the $7.99 per month to access this Whoop/Oura-style score.
There are built-in sports tracking modes, and the 20 most popular types of activity (running, cycling, etc) will be recognized 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.
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. A 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.
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 (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 the 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.
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.
Should you buy the Fitbit Charge 5?
The Fitbit Charge 5 is an excellent fitness tracker, that will put you in charge of your sleep, heart rate health, and workout data. As ever, some of the juiciest data is behind the Fitbit Premium subscription, but the core features are still some of the best and most insightful in the world of wearables.
It's not all perfect. We found GPS accuracy to be 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. This is not a brilliant smartwatch alternative.
But back in 2020 when we reviewed the Charge 4 we asked for a better-looking, slicker device – and we got it. The Charge 5 is 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.