It’s somewhat ironic reviewing a fitness tracker when we’re all confined to our houses and only allowed out once a day for exercise.
Fitbit didn’t plan on the coronavirus pandemic and so it’s hardly fair to expect it to adjust a release schedule for products that began development many months ago. So we have the Fitbit Charge 4 launching at an extremely challenging time when it comes to personal health and fitness.
To its credit, Fitbit has responded well to Covid-19 by making its Premium service available for 90 days and stocking it with at-home workouts to help us work up a sweat without leaving lockdown.
And if you want the ultimate fitness accessory to keep you in check at the moment, well – that’s where the Charge 4 comes in.
Outwardly, there’s no difference from the Charge 3 that was released back in 2018 but a big change on the inside makes the Charge 4 different.
For the first time in a fitness tracker, we have on-board GPS, meaning you don’t need to tether your phone when you go out for a run or a cycle. Having GPS means the battery gets drained faster but the trade-off is worth it for accuracy when it comes to distance and pacing. Until now, if you wanted GPS you’d have to opt for a smartwatch like the Fitbit Ionic or the Apple Watch.
It goes without saying that if you want the most functionality then you should still opt for a smartwatch. Fitbit’s own Versa 2 is good, as is almost anything from Garmin when it comes to fitness tracking. But many people won’t want a smartwatch either because of the price or because the chunky designs make wearing it to bed (for sleep tracking or a silent alarm) uncomfortable.
The Charge 4 packs in enough features to keep moderate fitness buffs happy and still keeps the price (relatively) affordable – it costs £130 – and the battery life up.
There are a few nods to smartwatch-esque features: you can have notifications pinged to your wrist, there’s the option to control Spotify from the Charge 4 (providing you’ve got a premium subscription) and you can pay for things with Fitbit Pay using the tracker.
But the rest of it is fairly bare-bones. You can track up to six different activities at a time on the wristband (you’ll have to pick and choose from the app) and there’s also apps for weather, a countdown timer and stopwatch and guided breathing for relaxing.
Battery life is quoted as being seven days at a time although this goes down if you’re constantly using the GPS. Which is going to be hard given the current lockdown.
The Charge 4 uses a proprietary charger which is a bit of a pain but it secures the device’s waterproofing. It’ll manage up to 50m underwater so you can take it swimming when coronavirus passes over and we’re allowed back in the pool.
The Charge 4 is a competent fitness tracker and it picked up my heart rate and cadence accurately when I took it out for a run. A new feature is called Active Zone Minutes which makes the tracker buzz on your wrist when you’re in different heart rate zones during exercise. The idea is it can give you a prompt to work a bit harder or even cut back slightly depending on your training plan. It’s a neat idea but I tended to find it a bit irritating after a while.
Away from the Charge 4, a lot of credit should go to Fitbit’s smartphone app which is clearly arranged and packed full of data. You’ll get breakdowns on your exercise and sleeping habits as well as recommendations and workouts to follow. There’s also a huge network of Fitbit users out there that you can connect with as part of the community.
When it comes to the Charge 4’s shortcomings, I can only point to a couple. Firstly, the raise-to-wake option can still miss on occasion if the movement of your arm isn’t pronounced enough.
Secondly, the touchscreen just isn’t as responsive as, for example, the Apple Watch. It’s a much smaller target (which is fine, trackers are meant to be that way) but if you’re used to swiping through the screen on a smartwatch then the Charge 4’s 1-inch monochrome OLED display takes a bit of getting used to. One further point on the display: it doesn’t go particularly bright so you may find an issue reading it in direct sunlight.
Those are nitpicks, but the truth is that if you’re looking for a compact, light fitness tracker you can wear all day (with casual or dressy clothes) as well as in bed then the Charge 4 is the best choice. It offers the best all-round fitness tracking features and compromises little on battery life and price.
More seasoned fitness fans will want to look at Garmin or Polar’s catalogue of smartwatches. Similarly, if you’re an iPhone user and want more than just fitness tracking, the Apple Watch Series 3 or 5 are both great choices.
Still, Fitbit’s app is hard to beat and, thanks to GPS, the Charge 4 is the best fitness tracker to support it.
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