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Fitbit Charge 2 Review

Fitbit Charge 2 Review
PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
  • $149.95
The Fitbit Charge 2 activity tracker is a neat, lightweight trackers that boasts just about everything apart from a built-in GPS. It records all the major fitness stats, and has a heart-rate monitor, plus specialised sleep-quality measures. Here is our Fitbit Charge 2 review, and details of release date, models and prices. 



FITBIT CHARGE 2: FEATURES
The Fitbit Charge 2 is similar to the older and popular Charge HR in features and looks, but with some significant enhancements, including: interchangeable straps; 4x larger screen; Reminders to Move; interval training; Cardio Fitness Level rating; Guided Breathing sessions; smartphone GPS syncing; and tap-sensitive navigation

Later, Fitbit added a further bunch of new features (pictured above) for Charge 2 users when they update their Charge 2 firmware, including: Workout Pause Function; Guided Breathing vibration cues; Do Not Disturb option; improved Heart Rate Zone display; on-device battery life; and a new clock face.

From March 2017 Fitbit added the impressive Sleep Stages, which uses accelerometer data and heart-rate variability to estimate how long you spend in Light, Deep and REM sleep stages. Sleep Insights are also available to Charge 2 owners in the Fitbit app.

We like the Charge 2 because it boats nearly all the features and functions as the higher-end Fitbit Versa and Ionic, but in a slimmer, lighter band that can even be work alongside a watch if you prefer to keep your old timepiece. Read our Fitbit Versa review and Fitbit Ionic review.

FITBIT CHARGE 2 REVIEW: WRISTBANDS AND ACCESSORIES
The interchangeable wristbands work very much like the Fitbit Alta's straps. And like the Alta, the main body is metal so it's tougher but sadly not waterproof (it is water resistant, so fine in the rain or a particularly sweaty gym session or run). if you want a waterproof Fitbit you need either the Flex 2 or latest Ionic smartwatch.

The flexible elastomer band feels comfortable and lightweight. The Charge 2 is 9g heavier than the old HR, but it's barely noticeable. The stainless steel buckle feels robust and should ensure that the wristband won't slip off, as some pop-clasp trackers do. The Fitbit Alta HR, colour-screen Fitbit Blaze and GPS Fitbit Ionic also have the steel buckle.

Accessories are clearly a big part of the Fitbit's strategy - now seen with the Flex 2, Alta, Alta HR, Versa and Ionic trackers.

Owing to the basic similarities we can be confident that the new Charge 2 is a worthy replacement for the HR. In fact, it's a worthy upgrade if you already have a Charge HR; for a detailed comparison of the Charge 2 vs Charge HR, see further down this review. The old non-HR Charge 1 won't be missed as it's ably covered by both the Alta and the new Flex 2 wristband. 

FITBIT CHARGE 2 REVIEW: PRICE
The Fitbit Charge 2 price starts at £139.99 (US$149.95; €149.95) for the entry-level Classic Band edition, available in Black, Blue, Plum and Teal colours.

This might sound a lot (and don't forget to check out the prices shown at the end of this review for the best available now) to pay for a tracker, but, believe me, you will quickly save that money back through walking more and catching buses, taxis and trains less, or just leaving the car back at home. I worked out that I saved the price of my first activity tracker within about two and a half months.

You can change the wristbands for new Classic straps, costing £19.99 (US$29.95; €29.95) each.

A Special Edition Fitbit Charge 2 costs £159.99 (US$179.95; €189.95), available in Lavender/Rose Gold, plus Black/Gunmetal and Blue-Grey/Rose Gold. The Special Edition wristband features the same Classic Band material but "reimagined" with a beveled diamond texture.

A Luxe Leather band is available separately in either Brown, Indigo and Blush Pink leather. Each Luxe Leather band costs £59.99 (US$69.95; €69.95) on the Fitbit Store. The leather band is not sweat proof so you need to swap back to the elastomer Classic band when doing heavy exercise.

The Charge 2 has some new accessories, including the Sport Band – a breathable, perforated design in Black, Cobalt Blue and Coral; pictured below. Each costs £24.95 / $29.95 / €29.95.
Check out the best online prices at the top and bottom of this review or click here to view today's best prices on Amazon. We've seen the Charge 2 with 20% off at some online retailers.

FITBIT CHARGE 2 REVIEW: FEATURES
Using its MEMS 3-axis accelerometer the Fitbit Charge 2 continues to track Steps, Distance, Calories Burned, Active Minutes and Hourly Activity, plus Sleep Duration and quality. An altimeter records number of floors climbed. Pushing yourself to take the stairs rather than the lift or escalator, or running uphill rather than on the flat is a great way to increase your heart rate and burn more calories.

The Charge 2 might not have HR in its name anymore, but it retains the HR's PurePulse Heart Rate monitor, which allows users to track workout intensity and calorie burn, and see the results via interactive charts and graphs on the app and Fitbit dashboard.

The heart-rate icon on the Charge 2 display tells you if you're in one of three heart-rate zones. The low- to medium-intensity Fat Burn zone is measured at 50-69 percent of maximum heart rate. The optimum Cardio zone is at 70-84 percent of maximum heart rate, and is the medium- to high-intensity exercise zone. The Peak heart-rate zone is the high-intensity exercise zone for short intense sessions that improve performance and speed – it is greater than 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

A quick-glance gauge allows you to adjust your intensity on the fly for a precision workout.

Heart-rate monitoring works well with the new Interval Training feature, which guides you in alternating periods of high-intensity exercise and recovery to maximise workouts like circuit training so you can stay focused on your workout.

Experts now believe that 60-80 beats per minute (bpm) is a healthy level. Your heart rate can change as you get older, but it can also indicate a change to your health. If your resting rate is consistently below 40bpm or above 120bmp, you should see your GP to check if that’s normal for you. The heart is a muscle, so the more aerobic exercise you do, the stronger it becomes. The fitter you are, the lower your resting heart rate will be.

If you want super-accurate heart-rate data then you need to strap a specialist device to your chest. This will truly measure your heart rate at source. Wristband heart-rate monitors instead use an optical heart rate monitor that detects the pulse by shining a light through the skin to see blood flow. Some consumers recently took Fitbit to court over its claims of heart-rate accuracy, but tests by the respected US Consumer Reports organisation backed up Fitbit's reasonable level of heart-rate accuracy.

So if you demand medical-level accuracy either buy a chest strap or check your pulse using your fingers (!). Wrist-based optical heart-rate monitors like that found on the Fitbit Charge 2 might not be as accurate but will certainly give you an indication of how your exercise is pushing your heart, and that's fine for most casual athletes.

The Charge 2 can also measure your Cardio Fitness Level, which gives a score as an estimation of your VO2 Max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use when you’re working out at your hardest). The higher the Cardio Fitness Score, the better your cardiovascular fitness.

Keep reading for the Charge 2's smart notification features...

Fitbit has upgraded the smartphone Caller ID, Text and Calendar alerts, which use the Charge 2's vibration motor – adding Reminders to Move, which alerts you if you aren't moving enough during the day. Fitbit encourages you to take at least 250 steps an hour during the day. Desk-bound workers or daytime TV viewers will be egged on to get up and get moving. These hourly activity stats also show up on the mobile Fitbit app.

The Call and Calendar notifications are excellent, although the Texts on your wrist are a little slow to arrive and show only the first 40 characters, although that's usually enough. Such notifications are welcome, though – especially when exercising. Fitbit has changed the sequence for text notifications has changed. Now the message scrolls first, then the sender’s name.

The Do Not Disturb option means you now can turn notifications (calls, text, calendar alerts, reminders to move) on or off directly from your Charge 2. While in the main clock face menu on your device, you press and hold down the side button. Or click the side button until you come to the notification screen and then press and hold down that same button to turn notifications on or off.

When you’ve got more than one unread notification, a plus sign (+) appears on the tracker display.

The Charge 2 expands on the HR's multi-sport tracking capabilities, with a connection to the user's smartphone GPS for data on pace and distance. Users can track specific exercises such as running, weights or yoga to see their workout stats on the tracker's display. The lack of a built-in GPS might disappoint some runners and cyclists who prefer not to carry their smartphone with them on a run or bike ride. Apple has just added a built-in GPS to its Series 2 Apple Watch (from £369). See Fitbit vs Apple Watch for a more detailed comparison. 

The Blaze and the Ionic also feature multi-sport modes and Cardio Fitness Levels, but not the Alta HR.

SmartTrack automatically recognizes select fitness activities and records them in the Exercise section of the Fitbit mobile app.

The Charge 2 lets complete a series of guided intervals during your workout. Interval training includes any workout that alternates between intense bursts of activity followed by periods of lower intensity activity or rest. Adding intervals to your workouts can help you burn more calories and improve your aerobic capacity. The tracker will vibrate and you’ll see the word “Move” on your screen when you should begin moving. When it’s time to recover, your tracker will vibrate again and you’ll see the word “Rest”. 

If say you’re stuck at a traffic light during your run, you can press the tracker’s button to pause any multi-sport exercise mode. The screen will flash while your workout is on hold. When you’re ready to resume, you press the button again.

The Charge 2’s interval timer vibrates when it’s time to transition between intervals. The dimmed display screen will now also light up, making it even easier to follow along.

The Charge 2 automatically records select exercises such as hiking and cycling, so users get credit even if they forget to log a workout. Swimmers should consider the waterproof Fitbit Flex 2. Fitbit allows multiple trackers to be active on an account, so a Charge 2 user could switch to a Flex 2 when entering the pool or a watery environment. While this continues to monitor your activity we weren't overly impressed with the Flex 2's ability to accurately measure swimming activities.

Fitbit has ialso introduced a Fitbit Cardio Fitness Level that allows the user to see a snapshot of their fitness level using a personalised Cardio Fitness Score. Viewable in the heart-rate section of the Fitbit app, the score is an estimation of your VO2 Max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use when you’re working out at your hardest). Cardio Fitness Level issues users a rating based on their resting heart rate and personal information (such as weight) from their profile that compares their fitness against other people of the same age range and gender.

This is a much easier way to work out your VO2 Max score. Usually, this is measured in a lab where you run on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike until exhaustion with a mask strapped to your nose and mouth to gauge the amount of air you inhale and exhale. You can't see your Cardio Fitness score on the tracker itself (although Fitbit has hinted that this may change with a software update). You can find it on the Fitbit mobile app.

Fitbit says that you may need to go on several runs that are at least 10 minutes in length to affect your score.

Sometimes it's healthy to calm down. Fitbit has introduced Guided Breathing, which is meant to help users find "moments of calm" throughout the day with personalized breathing sessions based on their heart rate. This is similar to the Breathe app Apple is introducing on the Apple Watch shortly. Similarly, Fitbit's feature uses the vibration motor so you can breathe in sync without looking at the screen. There's a choice of two minutes or five minutes, and it takes around 30 seconds to measure your initial heart rate and personalise the session.

While in Relax mode, you can now close your eyes or look away from your tracker – a light vibration signals when you need to inhale and exhale during your guided breathing sessions.

Fitbit's Sleep Stages is a massive improvement on the previous measuring of "restlessness". Now you can see when you were in Deep Sleep, Light Sleep and dreamy REM Sleep, and also when you were awake during the night. You can benchmark these stages of sleep against people of a similar age.

Your sleep stages are estimated using a combination of movement and heart-rate patterns. While you’re sleeping, the Charge 2 tracks the beat-to-beat changes in your heart rate, known as heart rate variability (HRV), which fluctuate as you transition between the different sleep stages. 

FITBIT CHARGE 2 REVIEW: DISPLAY, STRAP, LOOKS
The Fitbit Charge 2 features a large interactive OLED display, which shows off more fitness data right on your wrist. As well as the time and date, you also see two stats, and a simple tap on the screen toggles to the next set of information. You can personalise what you see, and choose from different clock styles via the app.

It's monochrome, and less luscious than the Apple Watch or even Fitbit's own Blaze or Ionic trackers, but this keeps the battery life longer.

This type of display was first seen on the Fitbit Alta, with customisable watch faces. You can wear the Charge 2 as your main timepiece or double up with your favourite standard watch if you prefer. With the call, text and calendar notifications (plus the fitness tracking features) the Charge 2 will certainly offer you more than a normal wristwatch.

At first I wondered how useful this larger screen would be. I don't need to see the time and date alongside every stat, but the more I use the Charge 2 the more I appreciate the larger display over my old trusty HR. It means I have to push the button less, as just raising my wrist brings up not just the time but my step count too – no need to push or tap.

Also the Caller ID and especially the Text notification alerts are really helpful on the larger display.

But to see the wealth of exercise metrics you do need to delve deeper. You can either push the side button of the tracker or tap the screen to view tracked data. Below you can see the screen displays found by pushing the side button.

Below you'll see the many faces of the Fitbit Charge 2 found by tapping the display to cycle through the stats.

The display is still monochrome, which is fine for most of us. If you want a colour display you need to look at the Fitbit Blaze sports watch or Ionic smartwatch.

FITBIT CHARGE 2 REVIEW: DESIGN

One of the complaints about the older Charge HR was that you couldn't replace the wristband, so if it was damaged you had to buy a whole new tracker. Fitbit says this was the number 1 user request for improving on the older Charge HR.

Fitbit has fixed this by giving the Charge 2 interchangeable straps, so you can fit the removable tracker into different colours and versions of wristband, from the Classic through Special Edition beveled-diamond designs, to luxury leather straps.

The Charge 2 retains the HR's stainless steel watch-buckle, which is much more secure than the pop-in clasp connectors of the Fitbit Alta and new Flex 2.

The Charge 2 sits a little higher on the wrist than the old HR band, so some shirt wearers might find the cuff fits less easily over the tracker, but we didn't find this extra height overly bothersome.

Keep reading for the Charge 2's battery life specs, water resistance limitations, and more on the Fitbit app and challenges...

FITBIT CHARGE 2 REVIEW: BATTERY LIFE
Fitbit claims that the new Charge 2 has a battery life of up to five days, a little less than the 5+ days promised by the older Charge HR. This slight reduction is probably due to the larger display screen, and is the same claimed for the Alta. The battery is lithium-polymer, with a charge time of between one and two hours.

We found battery life to be a little better than five days, but knowing when to charge was always a problem until Fitbit added the On-Device Battery Life display. Now you can see the percentage of battery life you have left directly on your Charge 2 display. Fitbit also emails you when the battery dips to 20% charge, so you shouldn't forget to power it up to max again.

Fitbit continues its annoying habit of designing a new charging cable for every single one of its trackers, with the Charge 2 requiring a different cable (above and below) to the old Charge HR and Charge 1. It does look similar to the Alta's charging cable, but has a slightly different fitting. Why?

The charging cables cost £16.99 (US$19.95; €19.95) if bought separately. Each Charge 2 will ship with a charging cable but Fitbit users will be used to the idea that having at least one more (say, at work) is essential to ensure your tracker doesn't lose you steps when it eventually runs out of juice.

FITBIT CHARGE 2 REVIEW: WATER RESISTANCE
Fitbit's Flex 2 and Ionic trackers are waterproof and ready to track swimming stats, but the Charge 2 remains water resistant only, so good against rain, sweat and splashes but not up to a dive in the sea or your local swimming pool.

That said, we think Fitbit's being over cautious here. A Fitbit product manager told Yahoo tech expert David Pogue that he always wore his Charge 2 in the shower, so Pogue did too – with "zero problems", although that was for a limited time only. Conclusion: the Fitbit Charge 2 is water resistant enough for showers and maybe even a dip in the pool/bath, but don't go diving with it. However, remember that this is not what Fitbit recommends.

FITBIT CHARGE 2 REVIEW: APP, CHALLENGES AND BADGES
The joy of using a Fitbit as your wearable activity tracker is not just in the hardware. The mobile Fitbit app is superbly designed, with simple, clear graphics and graphs showing you how you are doing to hit those daily health metrics (step count, floors climbed, distance, calories burned, sleep duration and quality, heart rate, weight loss, etc). Each can be tapped for more detailed historical trend analysis so you can see how all that exercise is helping you get fitter.

Fitbit also shows off your health data on its desktop dashboard, which is more than most other tracker brands do.

The company also leads the way in making fitness fun and competitive, if you want to, that is. It's a real incentive to compete in your 7-day step count against friends, colleagues and family. You can also contest in special daily or weekend Challenges.

Fitbit Adventures is a new series of immersive Challenges in the Fitbit app that let you virtually exploring scenic destinations and even compete on famous running courses. Get more steps by seeing how you are doing on the New York City Marathon, which features a 3.1-mile Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K race experience, a 10-mile challenge, and the full 26.2-mile distance. With each of your real-world steps you virtually advance on a pre-set route.

FITBIT CHARGE 2 VS FITBIT CHARGE HR
Fitbit has retired the best-selling Charge HR, although you can still find it on Amazon for reduced pricing. We have no doubt that the Charge 2 is a great update on the HR, but is it good enough for HR users to upgrade to the new tracker?

If you value minimalism over on-the-wrist stats display then the HR might suit you better than the Charge 2, but maybe you're really a closet Fitbit Flex 2 fan and don't know it. HR owners who want to keep their tracker as small as possible while retaining the heart-rate monitor might favour the Alta HR.

At 35g the Charge 2 is 9 grammes heavier than the HR (26g), but you won't notice it. The Charge 2 costs £10 more than the HR used to, but you'll find it cheaper from online retailers.

The Charge 2's larger display shows off a lot more stats than the HR's but how much you need all that data then and there is up for debate. From my point of view I'm learning to really appreciate the larger display. It also makes the Charge 2 into more of a watch replacement, albeit one with fitness and smartphone notifications built in.

The ability to switch strap colours will appeal to some, although at the date of release the HR actually had a wider choice of Classic colours, but none of the Leather or Special Edition fancies.

Runners will appreciate the Charge 2's ability to connect with their smartphone's GPS, a feature missing from the older HR.

Reminders to Move are a neat little touch, with the buzz prompting you get out of your chair and move around a bit. With the HR you have to refer to the mobile app to see how you are doing on an hourly step goal.

Fitbit Charge 2: Specs
Tracks steps, distance, calories burned, floors climbed, active minutes & hourly activity, heart rate, Cardio Fitness Level, plus sleep quality

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