Fitbit has evolved its line of fitness trackers from simple motion-activated step trackers to devices that are a lot more complete. The Fitbit Charge has emerged as the middle ground in these trackers, in the form of a wearable band, but with functions getting closer to sports watches.
The Fitbit Charge 4 makes the big step of adding GPS for on-the-go tracking of exercise; that8217;s the missing piece of the puzzle that really prevented the Charge being the complete standalone solution. But it also moves the Charge into a new market position, where it8217;s against new rivals and facing new challenges.
- Two strap sizes in box
- 1.57-inch touchscreen display
- Black or rosewood colours
- Water resistant (to 50m)
The Fitbit Charge 4 has the same overall design as the Fitbit Charge 3. That means there8217;s a central tracker unit, with the heart rate sensors on the back, while the front occupies the display. There8217;s a capacitive button joining the touchscreen operation, which is pretty simple to get to grips with.
There are two strap sizes (small and large) included in the box. It8217;s incredibly easy to change these 8211; you just have to press the button to release the strap and off it comes. The straps can be changed to suit your preference, with a range of accessory straps available in varying colours and finishes.
The advantage of a fitness band design is that it8217;s a lot less bulky than a traditional watch. For many that8217;s the appeal 8211; it8217;s slimmer, lighter, easier to sleep in, and less intrusive. Some, naturally will prefer the larger display of a regular watch, but there8217;s still a huge amount of interest in this more compact design 8211; and rightly so.
The downside is that the Charge 4 hasn8217;t evolved beyond the Charge 3 in terms of its design, meaning it still uses a monochrome display. While the new information that this device will display is welcome, that information is rather small in scale compared to smartwatches with similar features, so it8217;s not quite as glanceable as it is on, for example, the Garmin Forerunner 45. Glance at the Charge 4 outdoors on a run and you8217;ll struggle to see all the information.
The Fitbit Charge 4 is water resistant to 50m, meaning it8217;s safe to get wet 8211; be that through sweat, swimming or just in the shower. It8217;s safe to wash and Fitbit recommends that you rinse it off occasionally to keep the band clean.
- GPS (global position satellite) for tracking
- 3-axis motion sensor
- Heart rate sensor
- NFC (Fitbit Pay)
The Fitbit Charge 4 packs in everything that was previously available on Charge 3 Special Edition devices, meaning that you get Fitbit Pay on this this device thanks to the integrated NFC chip. The only downside is that Fitbit Pay isn8217;t as widely supported by banks as Google or Apple Pay, so you might want to open an account specifically to use with your Fitbit device. That8217;s no hardship though, if you have a real desire to use it, it8217;s just unlikely to work with your high street bank if you live in the UK.
The Charge 4 has a full range of motion trackers, allowing it track those traditional steps, as well as automatically detecting when you8217;re exercising and log that via the app. This automatic detection works after a fashion, but won8217;t tell you on the device what it8217;s doing, so we suspect it8217;s only figured out once it syncs to the app. We8217;ve seen things like 8220;walk8221; accurately depicted, but if you want to track a run or yoga session, you8217;re better off starting that as a manual activity, so you can look at your device during the activity to get the feedback as you go.
The motion sensors work with the heart rate sensor for sleep tracking, so the Charge 4 will give you a breakdown of your sleep stages to analyse how much rest you got 8211; and give you a Sleep Score to help you easily keep track of that. This is broken down into segments and we like how it8217;s shown in the app, although it doesn8217;t balance this out with the rest of your daily activity as you8217;ll get from Garmin8217;s 8220;body battery8221; feature 8211; which tells you how much sleep you need to recover from strenuous days.
The biggest function of the heart rate sensor is in keeping abreast of your activity. It8217;s used to assess your resting heart rate as a baseline and then to track your heart rate through exercises, either those it automatically senses or that your manually track, with support for major activities like running, biking and swimming 8211; extending to pilates, yoga, weights and others that you can add as shortcuts to your device via the app.
Heart rate zones are reported, giving you feedback on the intensity and progress of your exercise, as you8217;d get from any other sports watch. Building on these functions is one of the new additions to Fitbit, called Active Zone Minutes.
Active Zone Minutes takes your age and your resting heart rate, then uses your active heart rate to assess your activity and award you points for it. The idea is to evolve beyond steps as a measure of activity 8211; because while 10,000 steps might be a great target for a sedentary person, for any normally active person it is an easy target to hit and might not actually have any real fitness gains.
Instead, Active Zone Minutes (AZM) will look to reward you for higher heart rates. This is where running up the escalator, vacuum cleaning the whole house, going for a run, or doing a HIIT workout at home all counts 8211; and where steps would make no sense at all. The aim is to hit 150 AZM a week (a World Health Organisation and UK NHS recommended level) and the Charge 4 will help you get there.
You can change the number of minutes you need, because it doesn8217;t take much to hit that figure if you8217;re a sporty person 8211; but it8217;s really a measure to support those who are less active, to show the benefit of, for example, 20 minutes of digging the garden. It all counts, and rightly so, the aim being to motivate you to be active in a range of different ways.
The addition of GPS to the Fitbit Charge 4 also supercharges your exercise. This, in addition to the altimeter, means you can accurately keep track of your exercise route, speed and elevation change. Above everything else, it8217;s the addition of GPS that evolves the Charge 4 into a more accomplished sports device and makes the biggest difference over previous Charge devices.
Above any other platform, Fitbit has an approachability: it8217;s not too geeky, the information is nicely displayed in the Fitbit app, and there8217;s plenty to explain what it all means and represents. That8217;s great for those interested in fitness, without necessarily considering themselves to be athletes.
That means you don8217;t need to take your phone with you to get an accurate route trace, you can be more confident in the speeds reported and distance you8217;ve covered 8211; and for anyone starting out with running, that8217;s a great addition. It8217;s accurate enough too: we tested it against the Garmin Fenix 6 8211; Garmin8217;s top device 8211; and found Fitbit to come out within about a few hundred metres distance variance. The route isn8217;t always as accurate: Fitbit seems to smooth corners and the lines don8217;t always match the path or road you8217;ve taken. For example, if you8217;re running along a river bank, you might find your route is in the actual river, so absolute accuracy isn8217;t as good as some.
The same applies to heart rate monitoring, where we found the Fitbit to give consistent readings, usually within 2-3bpm of our reference device. Again, it8217;s close enough to be useful and give you a good understanding of what your heart is doing, but the important thing is that your device tracks you through different heart zones, gives you the data at the end, and reflects the real-world experience.
But there8217;s a downside that comes with adding GPS: it8217;s a big drain on the battery, moving the Fitbit Charge from a device that will last you a week, into one that only lasts a couple of days if you8217;re doing regular GPS tracking. Of course, it all needs perspective. Ising it for a 30 minute run will eat about 10 per cent of the battery 8211; on top of what you8217;d normally use in a day. We went cycling for 90 minutes and saw that battery drop some 40 per cent, which sort of shows you where the limits lie.
That won8217;t matter to someone who is tracking their activity through the week with perhaps three or four 30 minute workouts, because it will still last the week. But if you want to regularly track longer activities, you8217;re better off with something with a bigger battery. And that8217;s the complex position that the Charge 4 finds itself in: in adding more features to improve this tracker, it8217;s moved itself into a position where it8217;s not as well placed to compete against rivals in terms of battery life.
Fitbit has supported a range of smartphone notifications for some time and those notifications continue on the Charge 4. You can control these functions from the app on your phone, which really does play a huge part in living with the Fitbit Charge 4.
The Charge 4 introduces Spotify control, but this doesn8217;t extend to offering offline music support. What it will do 8211; once you have linked your Spotify account 8211; is allow you to control Spotify music on your devices. That8217;s not just your smartphone, we8217;ve found that it will recognise other devices like Amazon Echo or Roku and let you play on those through Spotify Connect.
That8217;s not immediately useful for runners, but it does mean you can control music easily during home workouts from your wrist. But there8217;s a major usage problem: you can8217;t access those controls once you8217;ve started a workout. That sort of reduces it to being a feature to control music when you8217;re on your commute, and little else, again becoming a lifestyle rather than exercise feature.
While the Fitbit itself will give you some of your data, syncing with your phone really turns up the real results. It8217;s via that app that the important data gathered by the Charge 4 is collated and packaged up. For example, on waking in the morning your Fitbit won8217;t say too much, but sync with your phone and the app can tell you everything about how you slept.
Fortunately, the app is one of the best out there and although we use a wide range of devices and services, Fitbit is often the easiest to use and easiest to interpret. It8217;s also compatible with a range of other services, so you can get all your data in one place. Fitbit doesn8217;t go as far as platforms like Garmin Connect or Polar Flow with the detailed stats, but will still offer you access to things like training programmes.