Fitbit Charge 5 REVIEW
The new Fitbit fitness tracker does more and does it better according to the increasingly sweaty gadget guru PAT PILCHER.
Having recently been acquired by Google, it’s fair to assume that Fitbit’s latest fitness tracker is probably going to be a lot smarter than its predecessors. Curious to see if this was the case, I got my sweaty paws on their new wrist widget, the Charge 5. Here’s what I found after spending the better part of three weeks putting it through its paces.
I’ve tested more than a few smartwatches and fitness trackers over the years and have watched as they steadily improved in terms of their usefulness, battery life and design. Fitbit’s Charge 5 is no exception.
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From a design perspective, its slim, curved, rectangular look ticks a lot of boxes. First of all, it’s comfy to wear. Its compact curves with soft edges and a seamless silicon strap meant that it never got caught up in my shirt sleeves, and I didn’t feel as if I had a brick fastened to my wrist.
Superficially, the Charge 5 bears more than a passing resemblance to the Charge 4. Still, there’s plenty more going on to make it a tasty edition in its own right. For a start, Fitbit has added a colour AMOLED touchscreen display. They’ve also done away with buttons, opting instead for a navigation system that uses taps and swipes, much like that of the Fitbit Luxe (read my review of that here.)
The review unit had a stylish gold case and a white silicone strap combo. While its curved design was comfortable and discreet, its silicon strap soon irritated my skin. This is unlikely to be an issue for most people, but it drove me nuts. Thankfully, there’s a good market for third party fabric and alloy Fitbit straps.
The Charge 5 may be smaller than most of Fitbit’s other smartwatches, but it is packed with sensors. There’s a heart rate tracker (which handily gives high and low heart rate alerts), and an ECG sensor that can detect atrial fibrillation. There’s also a SpO2 sensor (which will track blood oxygen levels) plus a skin temperature sensor and an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor, both of which will track stress levels.
EDA scans work much like the ECG. You simply place your thumb and forefinger to hold either side of the Charge 5, and its screen counts down from two minutes as it scans to create a stress management score out of 100. As well as your skin’s electrodermal state, the score is also based on logged activity levels and the amount of sleep you’ve had. A higher score means your body is coping with stress.
Suffering from atrial fibrillation, I found the ECG tracker useful. Like the EDA scan, you hold both sides of the Charge 5 for two minutes as it records your heart rhythm. Results are saved and can be shared with a medical professional to help them better diagnose any issues detected. That said, when I was experiencing atrial fibrillation, the ECG sometimes struggled to get a reading as my heart rate was either too fast or erratic.
As with other Fitbit widgets, sleep tracking is also baked in, and in the case of the Charge 5, you get a huge level of detail. The data covers sleep stages, levels of restlessness, plus heart and breathing rates. It’ll give you a sleep score out of 100 for an at-a-glance view of your night’s slumber. Sleep tracking was accurate too. Where the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 (read my review of that here) counted sitting still as sleeping, the Charge 5 was smart enough to know when I was and wasn’t stacking Zs.
While this sounds great, there is a small catch in the form of the need to subscribe to Fitbit’s Premium service if you want to know what all the data the Charge 5 gathers means. While you get six months of Fitbit Premium free when you purchase the Charge 5, once you go beyond that, you’ll need to pay $16.99 a month (or a one-off annual fee of $139.99). Premium gives you a tonne of useful info, including a detailed sleep score breakdown, mindfulness sessions and nutritional advice. Buyers should also beware that setting up for the free trial requires they enter credit card details, which are automatically charged when the trial expires. While many other corporates use similar marketing tactics, it is something to beware of when trying out Fitbit Premium.
That said, you don’t actually need Premium. You still get all the basic stats covering activity levels, how stressed you are and a high-level overview of how you’re sleeping, all on an easy-to-read dashboard. Premium pulls the data together to give a Daily Readiness Score. The Daily Readiness Score takes activity levels, heart-rate variability (HRV) and sleep into account to tell you if you’re ready for a workout or need a nana nap. The Daily Readiness Score looks to have the makings of a useful motivational tool for anyone serious about their fitness levels.
It isn’t all heart rate and sweat though. The Charge 5 also has workouts baked in. These range from cycling through to yoga, and even better still, it’ll autodetect some workouts too. Be aware, however, that storage constraints mean that the Charge 5 only holds six workouts, but these can be swapped out with others using the Fitbit app. If taking a dip is your thing, the Charge 5 is also water-resistant to 50 meters.
GPS is built-in, which means you can go on a run without having to take your phone with you. In use, I found its GPS to be quite quick, taking a mere 15 seconds to lock onto a GPS signal. It was reasonably accurate. The route info was comparable to what was displayed on my phone. If grabbing a post-run coffee takes your fancy, the good news is that you don’t have to take any cash or a card out with you. If you have an account with ASB or ANZ, the Charge 5’s built-in Fitbit Pay capabilities will see it acting as a PayWave compatible eft-pos card.
Speaking of compatibility, the Charge 5 plays nice with both Android and iOS, giving it an advantage over the iOS-only Apple Watch or the compatibility headaches of the Galaxy Watch 4. Using the Fitbit app, you can specify which apps can push notifications to the Charge 5. Android users can also send quick replies, but iPhone owners are limited to only seeing notifications.
So, if that’s what’s there, what’s not? The Charge 5 lacks enough storage for holding music, and music playback controls are MIA too. Unlike the Sense, there’s also no speaker and mic for taking calls from your wrist. This also means that firing up an assistant on your wrist is not possible. If these are must-haves, Fitbit’s Sense (read my review of that here) might be what you need instead of the Charge 5.
Fancy pants stuff aside, a biggie for many is battery life. It doesn’t matter what a smartwatch or fitness tracker can do if they’re flat. Thankfully, the Charge 5’s battery life isn’t half bad. With basic use, I got around seven days of energy. Your mileage will vary, depending on how often you use the built-in GPS and its always-on display.
At the time of writing, the Charge 5 could be had for a wallet/purse pleasing $259.95 instead of its usual $299. That sticker price makes it a no-brainer if an affordable but well-specced and capable fitness tracker is what you’re after.