Fitness trackers are steadily adding more sensors to the bank of wearable stacked stacked on your wrist, and while that’s now led to a healthy amount of competition in the market, the pioneers aren’t to be counted out. That’s Fitbit mind you – the company that got the world into fitness trackers to begin with, and it seems with the Charge 4 they are holding onto their reputation despite a fierce market that’s increasingly loaded with options.
The Fitbit Charge 4 is not the most attractive on the market. Aside from the newer, more expensive Fitbit Sense, the brand never wins points for aesthetic (that goes to rival Withings), but the Charge 4 is such a highly competent and comprehensive tracker that look doesn’t really matter; besides, you can’t expect a dedicated fitness tracker to look as good as a smartwatch or hybrid.
Still, it’s a sleek and slim form that, in the world of fitness trackers, doesn’t look too bad on the wrist. The preference towards minimalism has certainly helped, moving away from the awkward aesthetics of previous models and towards something that just looks more harmonious, and less embarrassing. Plus, it’s so light that its easy forget you’ve even got this little personal fitness computer wrapped around your wrist.
The narrow, rectangular OLED display is complemented by a silicone strap in either plain black, a blue/black hybrid, or the slightly more flamboyant rosewood. Whatever you choose, it’s a comfortable fit, and the straps are easy to remove for anyone looking to switch things up on occasion.
You’ve still got the monochrome black-and-white screen, so nothing particularly pops in colour, and while so many competitors have moved towards splashier displays with more engaging visuals, the stubborn commitment to minimalism is at least more practical and power efficient. Plus, do you really need cheap visual engagement tricks for motivation?
The lack of an always-on display feels like it’s left behind when you look to what other brands are doing, but raise-to-wake is just fine. Although it would be much easier to like if the display was brighter for longer, making it a bit of an exercise in itself to quickly look at the watch while its still intelligible in bright conditions, before it quickly fades and you have to touch it to get the brightness back. Given the small size of the display, it can be hard enough to read all the text – assuming you’ve chosen a dense watch face from the stack of options – so having it dim so quickly is one of those small but notable examples where user-experience isn’t as tight as it should be.
Getting rid of all physical buttons and relying only on swipe gestures takes awhile to get used to, for those who are upgrading from previous Fitbit devices anyway. Regardless, it’s all very intuitive and well thought out.
All the standard Fitbit-standard tracking is here, so I won’t go through that. What’s most notable is the addition of a new fitness measurement which Fitbit are called Active Zone Minutes. This is firmware update that has rolled out to other Fitbit models like the Versa 1 & 2, Vera Lite and Ionic, but the Charge 4 was the testing ground. And its a successful test at that.
Calibrated in-line with the recommended minimum from various authoritative health bodies, its essentially a tracker that measures the exact time you have spent in your target heart rate zone, encouraging you towards more vigorous and effective activity to maximise your efficiency. Target zones are calculated based on your age and resting heart rate, so the calibration is dynamic enough to account for changes in fitness level over time. It’s a great way to track progress, but most of all, an extra slice of motivation.
The other new key feature here is a built-in GPS, bringing Fitbit up to speed with highly regarded rival Garmin. This makes the Charge 4 the first Fitbit that’s actually preferable for runner, cyclers and hikers, with the GPS fast and efficient without needing a phone. It’s one more step towards a wearable sector that will be at its most valuable when you can finally leave your phone at home on a run. Direct Spotify steaming is the next step, which Apple has recently benefitted from with their smartwatches.
The Charge 4 also features an altimeter for stair-climbing, reliable NFC for contactless payments (via Fitbit Pay), and an Sp02 pulse oximeter sensor for basic sleep tracking, measuring restlessness and oxygen variation so you can be alerted to any issues (like sleep apnea). There are watches that go in much deeper for sleepers – like the Withings ScanWatch – but having the fundamentals there certainly helps the Charge 4’s value. Unfortunately, I found the heart rate monitoring a bit inconsistent at times.
Over 20 preset exercise and workout modes have been included, specifically designed for the likes of swimming, treadmill, running, kayaking, surfing and skiing.
Fitbit have always been accurate when it comes to promised battery life, and the Charge 4 is no exception. I’d easily expect a week’s worth of use from this, if I was using it as a standard fitness tracker. Unfortunately, the GPS is a mega-drain on the juice meter, with actively using the feature cutting use to, at most, three hours per day. That’s fine if you’re using the GPS each day to run around the block, but it will require you to keep it charged up each night.
Verdict & Value
Given you can pick up a Charge 4 for around $168 right now (RRP $199), it’s without any doubt one of the most valuable wearables Fitbit has put out to date. The built-in GPS is key to this, but given the battery drain, it’s far from the best to make use of the feature. It seems like the focus here is to do many things, and to do them efficiently enough to offer a better balance than any other model at this price point. But if you want to target certain features, you might be better off saving and forking out more for other devices. For example, those focusing on sleep tracking would be better off with the Withings ScanWatch, while those who want to make the most use of a GPS-enabled phone should look towards what Garmin are doing.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Finally, a Fitbit with a built-in GPS; contactless payments very reliable; Active Zone Minutes works well; still one of the best at basic fitness tracking.
Lowlights: No direct Spotify streaming; heart rate monitoring is inconsistent; major battery drain with GPS turned on.
Review based on unit supplied by Fitbit.