Fitbit charge hr

One year later, Fitbit Charge HR stands out as the best

Editors' note (August 29, 2016): Fitbit has announced the Charge 2, a new tracker with a larger OLED display and swappable bands. The new model will replace the Charge HR reviewed here.

I was a little bit wrong about the Fitbit Charge HR.

While I liked it when it first debuted, I thought it could do better. The Charge HR is Fitbit's step-counting band, plus a round-the-clock heart-rate tracker. It tracks sleep at night, exercise during the day, and active heart-rate levels when resting or working out, and it syncs with nearly every major smartphone and computer on the planet.

I expected more out of the Fitbit Charge HR's heart rate measuring, and how it translated that data into useful coaching. I wanted more app features, too. And I thought the band itself, a basic black device that doubled as a watch with its little LED display, could have been better designed.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Most of a year has passed, and the fitness-wearable landscape hasn't been able to beat what the Fitbit Charge HR does. No heart-rate band costs this little, feels this small, and connects to as good an app. Fitbit folds nutrition-tracking, sleep-tracking, heart rate-tracking, and social challenges with friends into one pretty clean phone experience -- and syncing is fast and easy.

The Charge HR fits well and has impressive battery life for its size: over four days, beating most continuous heart rate-tracking bands. And its little LED display-slash-clock is basic, but it's easy to lift your arm and see the time, or tap the display to see steps and other data.

Sarah Tew/CNET

New software and firmware updates have improved syncing and tracking, adding automatic sleep and activity-session tracking awareness and making tweaks to how it measures heart rate. It's smoother and better than when I first reviewed it. And it now feels like a truly automatic band.

It's the all-in-one fitness band I'd buy, especially for its low price ($150 in the US; in the UK, £120; or AU$180 in Australia) -- and it can be had even lower if you catch it on sale, which we've seen frequently. It's not perfect, but few wearable gadgets are -- and none of the other watches and bands have been able to beat it at its own fitness game.

Editors' note: This review was originally published on January 29, 2015, and updated significantly on November 24, 2015. The rating has been raised from 7.8 to 8.0.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design: Basic, but it works

The Charge HR looks nearly identical to the older Fitbit Charge, and the discontinued Fitbit Force before it. It has an innocuous rubberized wraparound band, with a narrow black LED display that tells time, steps, and other data. That LED display isn't always lit, but you can set the Charge HR to show the time when you raise your wrist, or show time and fitness data by tapping the screen. It's a functional but unattractive everyday watch.

The band attaches with a standard watch buckle-type clasp, making it more secure and less likely to pop off. It fits snugly, but sometimes feels uncomfortable on my wrist: an optical heart-rate monitor with green LEDs bulges out of the bottom, pressing against the skin a bit when the Charge HR's properly secured.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Fitbit recommends wearing the Charge HR a finger's length above the wristbone on your arm for ideal heart-rate readings, which is farther up my own arm than I prefer to wear things. But I found it generally worked no matter where I wore it.

The Charge HR comes in several muted colors; my review unit was black. It comes in several sizes, too, although each can be adjusted significantly.

The Charge HR comes with its own proprietary USB dongle for charging, plugging straight into the bottom. Don't lose it.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Heart rate: All day on your wrist

Once attached, the Charge HR immediately flashes its green LEDs to gather heart-rate data. It does it all the time. That, plus a built-in accelerometer and barometer gather data on steps, heart rate, elevation (steps climbed) and intensity of exercise (walking or running).

It works automatically, from the moment it goes on your wrist. The Fitbit Charge HR found my heart rate quickly and held onto the reading, so I could access it quickly by pressing the side button or tapping the display, cycling through to heart-rate mode. Like many other on-wrist heart rate readers, they're more accurate when resting. The reading fluctuated during active exercise. That's true of Apple Watch, the Microsoft Band and many others; it comes with the territory. The Charge HR feels as good as those.

Fitbit Charge HR review

Fitbit is pretty much the company that comes to mind when talking about activity tracking wearables, and many would say the Charge HR helped give the company the household name it has today. The Fitbit Charge HR has been on the market since January 2015, and still serves as one of the company’s flagship activity trackers. This device offers continuous heart rate monitoring, detailed activity tracking, sleep tracking and information on your resting heart rate, making this somewhat of an all-in-one wearable that aims to satisfy everyone’s needs.

The Charge HR was one of the highest-selling wearables of 2015. But that was 2015. Now that a new year is upon us and many other fitness trackers have become available to the masses, is the Fitbit Charge HR still worth it? And how has it held up overtime? Today we’re going to find that out, and much more, in our full Fitbit Charge HR review.

Review notes: I’ve been using the Fitbit Charge HR as my main fitness tracker for something close to ten months now. For most of that time I was using a Nexus 6 as my smartphone companion-of-choice, up until just recently when I switched to the Nexus 6P. 

 Fitbit Charge HR
Heart rate monitorYes
Sleep trackingYes
Splash proofYes
Battery lifeUp to 5 days
Sensors and componentsOptical heart rate monitor 3-axis accelerometer Altimeter

Vibration motor

CompatibilityWindows, Mac, Android, iOS, Web
ColorsBlack, Blue, Plum, Tangerine, Teal
DimensionsSmall: 137mm - 157.5mm (21mm wide) Large: 157.5mm - 193mm (21mm wide)

One of the things we liked most about the Charge HR is its simple design. It’s pretty sleek and doesn’t really stand out all that much, which we understand can be both a positive and a negative for some folks. The black version is particularly more nondescript than the other colors being offered by Fitbit, so if you’d like people to notice the tracker on your wrist, we’d suggest going with any of the other color options (Blue, Plum, Tangerine, Teal).

The display is very easy to read both indoors and out

It’s made mostly of a soft rubber material, save for the small OLED display that shows you time, steps, calories burned, flights climbed, distance traveled and heart rate. The screen color also matches the color of your band, which helps the fitness tracker not stand out too much. The display is quite easy to read both indoors and out. It’s always off by default, but with the handy Quick View feature turned on, your Fitbit will show you the time when you raise your wrist or when you tap the screen. This feature does impact battery life a bit, but not so much so that I needed to turn it off for any reason.

There’s only one button on this activity tracker, and it’s found on the left side of the OLED display. Pressing it cycles through time, steps, and other information, while holding it down for a second or two starts a stopwatch. On the bottom of the device you’ll find the heart rate sensor. While it looks like it’s a bit too bulky for comfort, it’s actually very tough to notice that the heart rate sensor is there. A problem with many heart rate-tracking wearables out there is that the sensors stick out too much, but luckily this isn’t the case here.

The Charge HR attaches like a standard watch with a buckle. This makes for a very secure and comfortable fit, and I never once thought the band was going to fall off when performing any activities. This again is a big problem with other activity trackers on the market, so we’re happy to see the Charge HR excel in this area.

If you need to charge it – and you won’t have to that often – you’ll need to do so by using the included proprietary USB charging cable. It’s not very long and needs to be plugged into a computer in order to charge. Try not to lose it, either. Replacement chargers from Fitbit can cost around $20, while third-party charging cables from Amazon can be yours for just under $10.

Like most other fitness trackers out there, the Fitbit Charge HR covers the essentials… and then some. Step tracking, calories burned, flights climbed and distance traveled are all present here, as well as the added benefit of heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking. Perhaps the nicest part about the sleep monitoring system is that it will track your sleep all on its own — there’s no need to put it into a “sleep mode” before you try drifting off for the night. We’ll talk more on that later.

The Charge HR isn't waterproof, and that will be a deal breaker for many

The Charge HR is 1ATM water-resistant, which means it’s rain and splash-proof. You shouldn’t wear it in the pool or shower, though. It can withstand an accidental drop in the water, but shouldn’t be submerged for more than a few seconds. This is definitely a potential deal breaker for some fitness-minded folks out there, as there are many other activity bands on the market that can be submerged in water and worn in the shower.

Aside from tracking your daily activities, the Charge HR can give you call notifications as well. You’ll need to turn on an extra setting in the Fitbit app in order to get call notifications sent to your wrist. Your wrist will buzz when you get a call, and the name of the caller will scroll across the display. The vibration motor is much more powerful in the Charge HR compared to an Android Wear or Pebble smartwatch, and it took me a pretty long time to get used to the jarring vibration on my wrist when someone would ring. Unfortunately there are no other notification options here.

Activity tracking

Like other activity trackers, the Fitbit Charge HR can track your steps taken, calories burned, distance moved and floors climbed.

The Charge HR really excels when it comes to step tracking

The Charge HR really excels when it comes to step tracking. It’s incredibly accurate and is very good at differentiating actual steps from random arm movements. As a test I counted a certain number of steps (500 to be exact) and looked at the Charge HR before and after. I started with 3,478 steps, and after I took 500 equally big steps, the tracker read 3,981. It was only 3 off, which isn’t bad at all. Additionally, the Charge HR seems to be in line with the Garmin vivosmart HR and the Jawbone UP3 in this case.

A recent update to the Charge HR makes it so you don’t have to remember to start the stopwatch at the beginning of your workout. It will automatically track when it thinks you’re starting your exercise, and it’s pretty much spot on every time. Whether you’re going for an intense run, light jog or simple walk, all of your data will be there inside the app when you’re done. This, paired with the automatic sleep tracking detection, makes it one of the most convenient activity trackers out there.

Heart rate tracking

The biggest difference between the Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit’s $100 Charge wristband is the inclusion of a heart rate monitor. The heart rate monitor sits on the underside of the Charge HR and slightly pokes into the top of your wrist when you’re wearing it. The heart rate monitor doesn’t make it too uncomfortable to wear, but it’s still slightly noticeable compared to the standard Charge.

Right off the bat, it should be noted that a heart rate tracker on your wrist isn’t going to be as accurate as one that you can wear around your chest. Even though they’re pretty annoying and can get in the way, chest straps are the way to go if you need the most accurate data. There’s also a growing number of earbuds that can track your heart rate, which are also plenty accurate and don’t get in the way as often.

In the Fitbit app, you can set your device’s HRM to be always on or always off, but you should just keep it in Auto mode. Auto mode means the tracker will be active when you’re wearing it and inactive when you’re not. If your device is struggling to find your heart rate at key times of the day, you can always turn it to always on in the settings. Alternatively, if you’d like to maximize battery life or aren’t too fond of HR tracking, switching it off will definitely be beneficial.

Since this is a wrist-mounted HRM, you sometimes won’t get an accurate reading if you’re engaged in an activity that requires lots of arm and hand movement. Heart rate monitoring will cut out at some points during activities like boxing, but Fitbit claims this shouldn’t be a problem. If, or more appropriately, when the heart rate monitor cuts out, the company says it won’t disrupt your overall data. The Charge HR will instead take good HRM data from other points throughout the day, which will give you an average HR reading for that period where the data was lost. This certainly isn’t the best way to go about things, especially if you’re someone who needs an accurate reading every couple of hours. Then again, you probably shouldn’t be using a wrist-mounted heart rate monitor in the first place if you’re in this scenario.

Sleep tracking

The Fitbit Charge HR makes sleep tracking easier than ever

One of my favorite features on the Charge HR is its ability to track sleep. This is by no means a groundbreaking feature, but it’s something the Charge HR does right. Most fitness trackers require you to press a “sleep now” button inside the companion app right before you try to catch some Z’s, which can be quite annoying. The Charge HR automatically enters sleep tracking mode when it thinks you’re sleeping, and most of the time it’s spot on with its assumptions.

Not only does it measure the amount of sleep you get, but also the number of times you become restless during your slumber. Of course, this isn’t the only information it gives you about your habits, either. In the companion app, you can also view your average sleep amount, history, and much more.

I’m a big fan of the Fitbit app. It’s simple, pretty, and gives you all of your most important information on the main screen – right where you need it. The home screen of the Fitbit app shows you which device is currently connected, number of steps, bpm, distance, calories, floors, active minutes, as well as some personal goal information. Tapping on your device will bring up a settings menu, where you can change notification settings and a few other display options.

There’s a slide-out menu on the left side where you can view your Challenges, Friends, Account and manage alarms. The Fitbit app is pretty good at giving you daily, weekly, monthly and yearly challenges, and will let you know when each challenge is met. You can also connect with friends who are in the Fitbit community. Finding new friends with which to connect is as easy as tapping the FAB at the bottom of the screen, and selecting which people in your contact list have Fitbit accounts.

The app runs on Android, iOS, Windows, and you can sync your tracker with a Windows or Mac computer. The Charge HR comes with a small USB dongle that lets you sync your data with your computer wirelessly. If you don’t want to to that, simply connect your tracker to your phone via Bluetooth and it will sync whenever you want it to.

One of the nicest parts of the Fitbit app is that it connects with an enormous amount of third-party services. So whatever fitness app you’re currently using – whether that be Lose It!, RunKeeper or MyFitnessPal – the Fitbit app will make sure all of your most important workout and health data is recorded.

The thing I like about Fitbit’s app so much is that it takes on most of the settings that you don’t absolutely need on the fitness tracker itself. You can’t turn anything off from the tracker. So if you need to turn off heart rate, adjust Quick View settings or basically anything else, you’ll need to open the app. One of my major gripes with the Garmin vivosmart HR, which you’ll learn more about in our upcoming review, is that the vivosmart HR’s UI is a cluttered mess and doesn’t need to be that way. The Fitbit Charge HR is much more easy to use, and that’s because the app does the brunt of the work.

Fitbit says the Charge HR can last up to 5 days on a single charge, and that’s mostly true. I’ve been able to consistently get a solid 5 days of use when the heart rate monitor is turned off. But when the HRM is turned on, it’s more like 4 days of battery life. This is to be expected, as the constant flashing green lights take up more power.

Battery life is good. And it’s not often that a company tells you the proper battery life estimate. But I do have one gripe with the Charge HR, and it’s that you can’t find an exact battery percentage anywhere within the app or the tracker itself. The Fitbit app will show you whether your battery level is high, medium or low, and that’s it. You’ll also get a notification on your tracker when your battery is about to die, but there’s no exact percentage to be found. I don’t know if I’m just being nitpicky, but you’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult to display this information in the app.

So, should you buy the Fitbit Charge HR? That depends. The Charge HR does a lot right, and it’s not so good at a few things. If you’re looking for an accurate step tracker that’s easy to use, simple, durable and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, this might be the one for you. But if you’re looking for something that’s waterproof or something that will take an accurate heart rate reading, you might want to look elsewhere.

The Charge HR is good. And it might just be one of the best all-around fitness trackers on the market. But you should know that this isn’t a device for hardcore athletic monitoring, nor is it simply a pedometer. The Charge HR is good enough for most fitness-minded folks out there who are looking to get a better handle on their exercise routines. The app provides enough information to help you improve your workouts, and the fact that it can tell when you’re sleeping or exercising is just fantastic.

Right now, the Charge HR is available on Amazon for about $130. The Fitbit Charge can be yours for $20 less on Amazon as well, and the only thing you’re missing out on is heart rate tracking. Is it worth the $20? First you need to ask yourself — do you want to take a closer look at what your heart rate is doing during your exercises? If so, then the Charge HR is the one for you.

How did you like our review? Do you have any questions or comments? If so, be sure to leave your thoughts below in the comment section.

Fitbit Charge 2 vs Charge HR

If you’ve ever seen someone wearing a fitness tracker on their wrist, there’s a good chance it was the Fitbit Charge HR. The Charge HR is Fitbit’s most popular fitness tracker to date for a number of reasons. It’s affordable, accurate, packed with useful features, and it’s a pretty attractive little wearable.

Now the company is back with the Charge 2: a more refined, all-around better version of the fitness tracker we all know and love.

  • The best fitness trackers
  • Fitbit Charge 2 review

But which one should you buy? And if you already own a Charge HR, is it worth upgrading? We’ll answer that, and more, in our full Fitbit Charge 2 vs Charge HR comparison.

Fitbit Charge 2 vs Charge HR: design

Prior to 2016, it was clear Fitbit was having trouble focusing on design. Sure, the Charge, Surge and Flex all look okay, but they still very much look like fitness trackers. With the introduction of the Alta and Blaze earlier this year, Fitbit made it clear it was finally starting to focus on design.

  • Fitbit Alta review
  • Fitbit Blaze review

Now, to be clear, the Charge HR doesn’t look bad by any means, but Fitbit’s newest wearable looks a little classier. That’s mainly because of the redesigned tracker module.

It's clear Fitbit is finally focusing on design

Similar to the Alta, the Charge 2 now has a more premium-looking stainless steel build with a much larger, tap-enabled display. You can choose from a handful of different clock faces, too, most of which are quite functional and sleek. You can tap on the display to cycle between your daily stats, which include steps taken, heart rate, distance traveled, calories burned, stairs climbed and active minutes. Pressing the button on the side of the device will cycle you through the clock, heart rate, activity start, stopwatch, relaxation timer and silent alarms. You can remove any of these and reorder them all from within the Fitbit companion app.

What’s more, the Charge 2 also supports interchangeable bands. This way you can opt for the leather or fancy Special Edition straps if you don’t mind shelling out a few more dollars. The Charge 2 is offered in Black, Blue, Plum and Teal color options, as well as Special Edition Lavender/Rose Gold and Black/Gunmetal colors. You can also buy leather bands in Brown, Blush Pink and Indigo.

The Fitbit Charge HR, on the other hand, is a few steps behind on the design front. It sports a rubbery strap that doesn’t feel as nice as the Charge 2. And since the strap is all one piece, you’ll need to replace the entire thing if yours starts falling apart. There are a variety of color options available though, including Black, Blue, Plum, Tangerine and Teal.

A smaller display means you won't see as much information at a glance

You may have also noticed that the Charge HR has a pretty small screen, which means it won’t be able to show you as much information at one time. This one is also a tap display, though, so you’ll still be able to cycle through the time and your daily stats, including your steps taken, heart rate, distance traveled, calories burned and stairs climbed.

At their core, both the Charge 2 and Charge HR are both quite similar in overall look and feel, though the Charge 2 comes out ahead in this category.

Fitbit Charge 2 vs Charge HR: specs, features and tracking

 Fitbit Charge 2Fitbit Charge HR
Display1.5-inch multi-line OLED Tap displayNarrow OLED Tap display
Heart rate monitorYes, opticalYes, optical
GPSNo, Connected GPSNo
Water resistantNo, splash proofNo, splash proof
Sleep trackingYes, automaticYes, automatic
Estimated VO2 max, guided breathingYesNo
Silent alarmsYesYes
NotificationsCall, text and calendar alertsCall
Battery lifeUp to 5 daysUp to 5 days
SensorsOptical heart rate monitor 3-axis accelerometer Altimeter

Vibration motor

Optical heart rate monitor 3-axis accelerometer Altimeter

Vibration motor

CompatibilityWindows, Mac, Android, iOS, WebWindows, Mac, Android, iOS, Web
Interchangeable bandsYesNo
ColorsStandard: Black, Blue, Plum, Teal Special edition: Lavender/Rose Gold, Black/GunmetalBlack, Blue, Plum, Tangerine, Teal
DimensionsSmall: 139.7mm - 170.2mm (21.3mm wide) Large: 170.2mm - 205.7mm (21.3mm wide)

XL: 205.7mm - 236.2mm (21.3mm wide)

Small: 137mm - 157.5mm (21mm wide) Large: 157.5mm - 193mm (21mm wide)
PriceStandard: $149.95 Special edition: $179.95 Additional classic bands: $29.95

Additional leather bands: $69.95


Fitbit really needs to start making more waterproof wearables

While the Fitbit Charge 2 is an improvement over the Charge HR in many ways, there’s still one area in which Fitbit has yet to succeed – waterproofing. Just like the Charge HR, the Charge 2 is only splash proof. This means you won’t be able to go swimming with it, and you probably shouldn’t take it in the shower. If you need a waterproof device and would like to stick with the Fitbit name, you’ll have to settle for the recently-announced Flex 2.

The similarities between the Charge 2 and Charge HR don’t stop there, though. Both devices feature optical heart rate monitors to help keep track of your active and resting heart rate. Neither device will be able to track your heart rate as accurately as, say, a chest-mounted heart rate monitor, though the feature is still there if you need it.

One other feature many look for in a fitness tracker is GPS, and sadly neither of these devices have this functionality built in. The Charge 2, though, does support Fitbit’s Connected GPS feature, which allows the device to connect to your phone’s GPS to get more accurate distance, pace and duration stats. This of course means you’ll need to carry your phone with you when you’re on a run, which isn’t really the most convenient solution.

Both devices are pretty on-par with each other in terms of overall activity tracking. They’ll both track your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, floors climbed, active minutes and sleep. Both devices track steps fairly accurately, with each one being only a handful of steps off from one another at the end of a run or brisk walk.

Need something with accurate distance tracking? You might want to look elsewhere

Floors climbed and active minutes metrics are pretty much spot on as well, but thanks to the lack of GPS both fall pretty short in the distance tracking category. Of course, using Connected GPS with the Charge 2 will yield more accurate distance tracking results, but that’s only if you have your phone with you.

One of the best things about using Fitbit devices is the company’s powerful automatic activity tracking software, or SmartTrack. Both devices will be able to track walking, running, outdoor biking and elliptical workouts automatically, and will put each exercise into two different categories: Sport – which includes high-intensity movement activities like basketball, soccer and others – as well as Aerobic Workouts such as Zumba, cardio-kickboxing and other dance activities. Oftentimes SmartTrack does a great job at recognizing which activity you’re currently doing, though you’ll be able to get much more granular workout stats if you remember to select your exercise prior to starting your workout. Automatically-tracked workouts won’t show distance or pace, for instance.

Speaking of automatic activity recognition, both devices will also track your sleep automatically. No, there’s no need to tap an annoying sleep now button or anything; just fall asleep when you’re wearing your tracker and both devices will be able to pick up on your sleep patterns. When you wake up, you’ll be able to see your overall time asleep and sleep quality, which includes how many times you woke up and how many times you were restless throughout the night. Overall, both devices are great at tracking sleep.

  • Also read: The best sleep trackers

Now let’s get into some of the main differences between the two trackers. Fitbit has included two helpful new metrics on the Charge 2 that should help you stay healthy and relaxed in the long run. The first of these new features is a measurement of your Cardio Fitness Level. In the heart rate section of the Fitbit app, you’ll be able to see a personalized score based on an estimation of your VO2 Max (how well your body uses oxygen when you’re working out the hardest). Estimated VO2 Max is pretty much the gold standard for grading cardiovascular fitness. Basically, the higher your VO2 Max and Cardio Fitness Score, the better your cardiovascular fitness.

While the addition of a Cardio Fitness Score will certainly help people make improvements to their workouts overtime, it’s pretty odd that the feature is tucked away in the heart rate portion of the Fitbit app. You can’t find it on the main screen (or Dashboard), and unless you were really exploring the app you probably wouldn’t come across it.

In addition to estimated VO2 Max scores, the Charge 2 also supports an on-device guided breathing feature called Relax. When you navigate to the Relax feature, your Charge 2 will walk you through short 2- to 5-minute breathing exercises that should help you lower blood pressure, reduce stress and lessen anxiety. Each breathing session is powered by Fitbit’s PurePulse heart rate monitor that uses your real-time heart rate stats to measure your heart rate variability and determine the best breathing rate to suit your needs.

As far as battery life is concerned, Fitbit says both the Charge 2 and Charge HR can last up to 5 days, and that’s somewhat accurate. I’ve been able to achieve about 4 days of battery life with both devices, with the heart rate monitor set to automatic mode. Turning the HR tracker off will get you something closer to 5 days, but expect less than that if you’re looking to record your heart rate.

Pricing and final thoughts

The Fitbit Charge 2 is now available on Amazon for $149.95, while the Charge HR is still going for over $100. So which do you get?

If you’re buying a fitness tracker in this price range, it’s a no brainer – get the Fitbit Charge 2. Not only can you take advantage of a bigger display, more smartphone notifications and interchangeable bands, the Charge 2 also supports Fitbit’s Connected GPS feature, guided breathing and estimated VO2 Max. The Charge 2 is a solid upgrade from the Charge HR. If you fell in love with Fitbit’s most popular fitness tracker, the Charge 2 will definitely be worth your while.

The Charge HR is still a really good fitness tracker, but the sacrifices you’ll make for the price point just aren’t worth it. The display is just too small, it doesn’t support Connected GPS, you can’t swap out the bands, and it doesn’t take advantage of Fitbit’s new guided breathing or VO2 Max estimations.

Fitbit has done a lot of good things with the Charge 2. If you’d like to pick one up for yourself, head to the Amazon link below.

Buy the Fitbit Charge 2 from Amazon

What are your thoughts on these two devices? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

​Fitbit Charge HR review

The Fitbit Charge HR has spent the entire year at the head of the fitness tracker table – propelling the company to a huge IPO and making it the biggest seller of wearables for the year.

No longer the jewel in the Fitbit crown – read our Fitbit Blaze review and Fitbit Alta guide for the latest updates – the Charge HR is a traditional band that offers continuous heart rate monitoring on the wrist for a better estimation of your daily activity, tracked workouts, tabs on your resting heart rate and its improvement as you get fitter and, of course, sleep quality.

Essential reading: Fitbit Charge 2 | Fitbit Flex 2

But does the Fitbit Charge HR live up to rivals, such as Fitbit's own Surge, and what kind of bar does it set for the long awaited Jawbone UP3? We put it through its paces to find out.

Fitbit Charge HR: Design

The Charge HR is available in a range of colours – black, plum, blue, teal and tangerine. The screen matches the colour of the band too, so it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately the black version is so anonymous it rarely attracts questions or comments – genderless would be a better description than unisex.

That screen is a monochrome OLED display and it's fairly vibrant and easy to read, despite being absurdly small. Press the button to cycle though the time, daily steps total, distance travelled, calories, flights climbed and of course your heart rate.

Essential reading: Fitbit Charge HR tips and tricks

The clasp is a normal watch affair, with a standard small buckle and a rubber strap.

Now, users initially complained of skin irritation issues, which we reported on last year. Fitbit's response was to urge users to take breaks from their band and to keep it clean.

Unfortunately, I followed that advice and still suffered some irritation after bouts of exercise. It's not an problem unique to Fitbit, but this is probably as bad as I've experienced. That said, editor-in-chief Paul suffered no irritation at all, so we'd just recommend that anyone with remotely sensitive skin think carefully before they buy.

Other than the mild scabbing, the Fitbit was actually comfortable to wear. It doesn't feel like a set of medieval leg irons, like the Microsoft Band, and it was comfortable enough to sleep with.

Fitbit Charge HR: Features

Advanced tracking is the name of the game, and the Fitbit Charge HR records all the usual statistics, each enriched by heart rate data. It will track your daily steps and calories by day, and monitor your sleep by night. Unlike older Fitbit devices, you don't have to tell it you're planning on snoozing and sleep mode will kick in based on your movements and heart rate data.

The Fitbit Charge HR also enables you to track exercise, and by holding the button on the left, you can put the band into 'stopwatch mode,' which means it starts tracking your training sessions – but more on that later.

Essential reading: How to train using heart rate zones

The final feature is caller ID, a sort of smartwatch-lite feature. The band buzzes when someone calls your smartphone, and the name of the caller appears on the screen. There are no other notification features, and while it's useful to check whether a call is important before reaching for your handset, it's not exactly a game changer.

The Fitbit Charge HR is 1ATM water-resistant, which is fine for the shower but don't wear it in the bath or a pool. That of course precludes swimming, so if that's your exercise of choice you should look to devices like the Misfit Shine.

Fitbit Charge HR: Activity tracking

Like every fitness tracker out there, the Fitbit Charge HR mainly keeps tabs on steps and calories. While tracked steps are never an exact science, over a 14,000 step day the Fitbit recorded in line with both the Garmin Vivosmart HR and the Misfit Shine, so we have no hesitation in giving this aspect a clean bill of health.

Now pay attention runners and cyclists: there's no GPS built into the Fitbit Charge HR, which puts it behind the likes of dedicated running watches and its big brother the Fitbit Surge.

Without GPS, the tracking of running and cycling is never going to be accurate in terms of distance or pace. An update released since launch means that the Charge HR does estimate distance, although the accuracy left a fair amount to be desired. A 2.1 mile run was guesstimated at 2.56 miles, which meant that the accompanying pace reading was also wrong. To some that's a big problem, to others it's nice to have an estimation of a Sunday run. You decide.

Must read: The real world wrist-based heart rate monitoring test

With the latest update you don't have to remember to start the stopwatch mode for the Fitbit to track exercise, which is a really nice touch. Any activity, from a brisk walk to the bus, a run or a gym session, will be recorded in the app, and you can tag the exercise type later. It works well and takes the pressure off you to remember to start a session.

Exercise tagging is extremely varied and includes spinning, weights, football, hockey, dancing – the lot.

When you do head to the gym or out on the roads, you'll get a report of the session showing your heart rate and time spent within zones, calories burned and time taken.

Fitbit Charge HR: Heart rate tracking

The main benefit of the Charge HR, however, is for other activities. While many GPS devices are so focused on running and cycling that they ignore gym work, the Charge HR embraces it, and enables you to get accurate details of your workouts via the optical heart rate monitor that uses a bright LED to 'see' the blood pulsing through your wrist.

We tested out the heart rate information both while out running on the roads and when strapped into some of the machines in the gym. Using gym bikes and weights where we were generally static we found the Fitbit Charge HR's bpm tracking to be spot-on against the machine's own tech, but when running results were fairly wide of the mark compared to a chest strap. That, presumably, is due to the extra 'noise' created when bouncing up and down on the road.

The Fitbit Charge HR will also measure your resting heart rate, which is designed to be taken as soon as you wake up. The idea is that as you get fitter the rate of your heart at rest will decrease. It's a great idea – and we love that Fitbit uses this metric – but, worryingly, the data wasn't correct. Our actual resting heart rate (measured via old fashioned pulse and the Garmin Vivosmart HR) was well below 54bpm. The Fitbit had it at over 68bpm in some cases. That's criminally wide of the mark.

Fitbit (top) vs Garmin chest strap, and a 35bpm difference at 10:00 mins

So what can we conclude? Well, the Fitbit is a decent activity tracker but its heart rate tech really struggles. In terms of features it's pretty much on a par with the Garmin Vivosmart HR, which also struggled to match a chest strap for accuracy, but managed to be a more useful tracker of resting heart rate. Its heart rate tech can inform your workouts but it's far from an effective training tool.

Fitbit Charge HR: Sleep tracking

As we mentioned, sleep tracking is now performed automatically by the Fitbit Charge HR, which means no more missed nights of sleep.

It may surprise some, but Fitbit's sleep reporting is actually way more simplistic and static than any of its direct competitors. The graph shows a blue block, which is your sleep duration. The total time is listed in the app, along with the day's stats. The block isn't coloured to designate hours of deep or light sleep as with other sleep trackers, but there are lines that mark when you toss or turn.

It's a remarkably simplistic feature which is surprising for a leader like Fitbit, yet as we've repeatedly said, sleep tracking is one of the least useful elements of fitness trackers. There's very little to learn about your sleep patterns, short of making sure you get your eight hours every day – which the Fitbit is more than capable of.

If you're keen to see detailed sleep patterns, the Withings Activité Steel or Misfit Shine will do a better job.

Fitbit Charge HR: The app

While not as in-depth as the Withings Health Mate app, or as open as the Jawbone one, the Fitbit Charge HR's app is clean, simple and easy to use. It's also quick to sync, with no frustrating pairing problems.

When you open the app, you're presented with all your data from the day, including steps, heart rate, distance travelled, calories burned, stairs climbed, amount of 'active minutes', bursts of stopwatch captured activity and sleep.

There are plenty of metrics to sink your teeth into, and that's without the additional food tracking, food plans and weight tracking options which require manual daily inputs – a step too far for us.

Any metric can be tapped to show historical data, as well as weekly totals. That's especially useful for 'active minutes' which is the amount of time spent in the day with your heart rate elevated. Upping this total means you're getting fitter.

Delving into the app further will reveal plenty of controls, where you can fine tune the device to your dominant or non-dominant wrist, or turn on the caller ID notifications.

You can also challenge yourself to beat certain step goals in the challenges tabs, and even invite friends to participate, too. It's a good idea, although we were disappointed by the choice of goals. Each of the four challenges simply involves walking more, not burning more calories or racking up more active minutes of exercise. Those seem far more meaningful, and thus far, don't exist within the Fitbit app.

Fitbit Charge HR fitness tracker

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Fitbit Charge HR: Battery life

Given the continuous heart rate monitor flashing away under the device, battery life is impressive. You should be able to get five days easily from the tracker, and we found it easy to keep topped up.

Of course, after recently testing the Withings Activité and Misfit Flash – both of which boast battery life in the months rather than days – charging is a bit of a hassle. But neither of those devices can touch the Charge HR for its workout tracking.

Charging is via a proprietary cable that magnetically hooks into the back of the device. Of course, if you lose that cable, you're stuffed, but we're sick of complaining about this seemingly ubiquitous wearables issue, and it's not something confined to the Charge HR.

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