And our Fitbit replacement? A Fitbit

Fitbit Surge and Charge

It was a tough decision from a strong field of candidates, but we think the decision has been made – for now, the replacement for our recently-deceased Fitbit Flex is … another Fitbit. This time, we’ve chosen the Charge HR as our day-to-day wristband, over a fast-growing and very competitive field of contenders.

It was a different story back in July 2013 when we bought the Flex as a replacement for a malfunctioning Jawbone UP. At the time, these two were the only smart wristbands on sale – the Nike FuelBand went on sale a few months later, as did the Misfit Shine.

Today, there are tens of smart wristbands, catering for a wide range of styles and sports uses – and some early attempts to make the predominantly grey/black bands look like more of a fashion accessory. Buyers can choose between premium brands, me-too brands, sporty brands and all-singing, all-dancing no-name smartwatches available for direct mail order from China for less than $50.

Slideshow: An ever-growing choice of smart wristbands – which one will you choose? 

We had thought the Withings Activité Pop analog smartwatch would be the official Flex replacement, but then ruled it out due to the Activité’s frankly dismal performance in tracking sleep, which is especially disappointing for a device sold to “track movement and sleep” – and this was despite an early firmware upgrade which Withings hoped would fix the problem.

Fitbit Charge HR also tracks pulse

Fitbit Charge HR also provides continuous pulse rate tracking

Just as our “shark” grey Pop was back in the box, it was rescued by a family member, who is now eagerly awaiting the introduction of Activité software for Android, which is promised in a few days – by the end of this month.

As an aside, it’s a worthwhile reminder for anyone buying a smart device of any kind to keep the packaging – all of it – because you’re going to get asked to return it all, if the device disappoints.

So to the Charge HR. In the end, it was a choice of the Fitbit or the sleek new Garmin Vivosmart – a surprisingly good-looking smart wristband/watch hybrid, especially considering the company’s previous efforts like the plasticky, cheap-looking Vivofit, which looks like a giveaway from a packet of breakfast cereal.

We also considered the rather odd-looking Jawbone UP3, but were put off by a higher price (an extra EUR 30 on top of the EUR 150 Fitbit) and a lack of any OLED display: Something that’s surely by now a must-have feature.

Nor did we let the recent “Rashgate” or Fitbit’s questionable data ownership policies get in the way: A looser fit on the strap is fine, and we use IFTTT to liberate our data from Internet of Things devices like the Charge and log it all to a Google spreadsheet.

The winning feature for us in selecting the Charge HR was its continuous pulse rate tracking. Although we wondered whether or not it would work properly, so far it has proven flawless.

Not everyone buying wearable tech will care about their sleep patterns, heart rate or other personal statistics that help make up the quantifiable self, but since the information is easily available, why not tap into it?

Next week we’ll be putting the Charge through its paces at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where we expect to find a rash more smartwatches and bands – but not yet any Apple Watch.

Whether or not the Charge HR will have the staying power to remain as our daily tracker of choice once the Apple Watch goes on sale depends on three as-yet-unknowns for Apple’s eagerly-awaited product: Usability, battery life and price.


4 Responses to And our Fitbit replacement? A Fitbit

  1. chris_debian says:

    I’m currently on my second replacement Jawbone UP, so my third one in 9 months. Not great! The problem is, I want to gather sleep and step data, use the Android application for tracking food, and then automatically feed it into Google Fit, so I (and the rest of mankind) can benefit from health data, when analyzed in a Big Data sort of way.

    Unfortunately, I’m yet to find a device that does all this, and Google Fit seems to have been rushed to market, without any useful functionality. I keep it installed, hoping for a useful update!

    I know this is still a developing sector, but I only track my data now, because I don’t give up easily. Also, I want to keep access to my data, as it must be useful at some point.



  2. Simon Jones says:

    Chris, thanks for the comment. Reliability of wearables is a real hobby horse on this blog, having seen so many devices fail – either in terms of user experience, or simply mechanically.

    As far as we can tell, the attrition rate on Jawbone UP devices is pretty high. My parents got Jawbone UP24s as Christmas presents in 2013 and it seems that every time we talk, they’re on another replacement, usually in an ever-brighter color.

    Hang in there with your data collection. It will be useful one day. I admire your determination in tracking food manually – I agree it would be a nice-to-do but home-made meals are far too hard to quantify for 99% of people to bother. At least, to keep going for more than a week or two…


  3. […] trackers like the Fitbit Charge HR, which continually monitors heart-rate, the Watch does so only on demand but logs this straight to […]

  4. […] started off so well for smart wristband and tracker maker Fitbit. The firm – which we consider to be the gold standard in smart wristbands / fitness trackers – completed its IPO in […]

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