Fitbit Charge HR Review: Accountability on Your Arm

Fitbit Charge HRIf you’ve ever tried to make long-term changes in your life—whether they are spiritual, emotional or physical, you’ve probably found that joining a group or having an accountability partner makes a big difference.

My last exercise accountability partner had pointy ears and insisted that I walk or run at least two times a day. Clancy (and later her daughter Bella), made sure that I achieved my 10,000 steps a day—regardless of the weather. I know you might not believe me when I say they insisted—but who can resist the big, soulful eyes of a German Shepherd that looks at your shoes, the door, and you. Over and over again until you capitulate.

Twelve years ago, I started off with a pedometer to keep me accountable for moving enough during the day. It worked wonders. Through healthy (er) eating and moving more (not to mention stressing less), I lost 40 lbs. I wore various pedometers for six or seven years, until I realized that the dogs were just as effective at helping me exercise no matter what (and I never had to replace their batteries).

Last May, Bella went to live with her rightful owner—my daughter—and for the first time since 2003 I didn’t have anything to keep me accountable. It’s easy to put off exercising when the weather hovers around 20 degrees and the sun doesn’t come up until after I arrive at work.

It’s hard for me to battle a slow metabolism with no incentives and no data. Sure I had a heart rate monitor and watch for a few years—but the chest strap wasn’t very comfortable and I only wore it for exercising (and sometimes forgot to put it on before I started exercising).

When I invested in an iPhone in November and discovered that it had a built-in pedometer, I started investigating other devices that would easily sync with the new phone and would provide the data and accountability that I sought.

I chose the Fitbit Charge HR—even though I knew I’d have to wait a few months for its projected February release. Whilst shopping around two weeks ago, I discovered that REI had them in their warehouse (but not their stores). Not even Amazon or Verizon had them yet. REI also offered a $20.00 in-store gift card for members (I’ve been a member since the 80s), free shipping and a $15.00 rebate at the end of the year. Not to mention, I’d be able to try it out before February! (The $20.00 gift card offer is available until January 29, 2015 and must be used on a store or online purchase by February 11, 2015)

I’ve had my Fitbit Charge HR for a week now—long enough to give it a decent review (I’m not receiving anything from anyone for my honest review and I have no affiliate links—I’d just like to review the product because I think it’s a great idea!).

• The device itself is unobtrusive and looks like a techy watch.
• It monitors your heart rate, the number of steps you’ve taken, the flights of stairs you’ve climbed, the distance you’ve walked, and, of course, the time.
• It has a feature for timing your ‘active’ workouts (you hold down the button on the side of the watch until a stopwatch appears)—which includes the minutes worked, the calories burned, the steps taken and your current heart rate.
• You can set the device up to buzz unobtrusively and display the caller’s ID when you have an incoming phone call.
• It is easy to recharge—simply plug in the provided charging cord to a USB charging unit (or your computer).

Sizing: Because there were no comparable models available to try on, I had problems choosing the correct size. The Fitbit Charge HR only comes in two sizes: Small size fits wrists 5.5 – 6.5 in. in circumference; Large size fits wrists 6.3 – 7.6 in. in circumference (there is no Medium size). I measured my wrist and decided that the small would do. What they don’t mention is that they suggest wearing the Fitbit Charge HR at a different place on your wrist according to your activity level (2-3 finger widths from the wrist bone for intense exercise and one finger width away from the wrist bone for normal wear). The safety strap does not fit under and hook into the security loop on the largest setting, thus I’m worried that the watch might come off during vigorous exercise if I’m trying to wear the device correctly.
Brightness of Display: The display is difficult to see when I am outside in bright sunlight or wearing polarized glasses (and I do the majority of my exercising outside).
Heart rate zones—allegedly, the device will show lines underneath the heart symbol on the display to let one know if one is working in the fat burning zone, the cardio zone or the peak zone. Due to the problem with the display brightness (and I admit, the small size of the display—I’m getting old!), I haven’t been able to tell if this feature works or not. UPDATE–When I check the app on my phone whilst exercising, the lines do show up and are easy to see.

Setting up your Fitbit Charge HR

I’m not a complete technology geek, nor am I unaware of how technology works. I’m sort of your middle-of-the-road user who knows how to find solutions (usually) and can generally make technology work for me. That being said, the instructions included in the box about gave me a heart attack.

I encountered a tiny flyer with “Log on to” in several languages. That’s all. When I went to the website, I discovered that the program was NOT compatible with my Macintosh computer’s OS system!

It took me ten minutes to figure out that I would need to download the free Fitbit App from the Apple store in order to set up my Fitbit Charge HR device. Once I downloaded the app, the set up process took less than five minutes.

I also signed up for a free trial of Fitbit’s health coach—I’ll write more on this later, once I’ve had an opportunity to figure it out.

Some of the features (such as setting ‘gentle, silent alarms’ can only be set up from the online account. Other features can be controlled by the app. I spend five or ten minutes a day getting to know the device better and trying to figure out all of its features.

Pros of the Fitbit app/online program:
• The device tracks your sleep! I find this very cool, because I could easily get sucked into my computer and spend hours commenting on blogs and living vicariously through Facebook. The sleep feature serves as an accountability partner.
• You can keep track of all that you eat by either entering items or scanning bar codes of items. I’ve never used a calorie tracker before, so I’ve been having fun with this one. My daughters use My Fitness Pal, and if you go to the website, you will find instructions for integrating the Fitbit with other apps such as Weight Watchers, Run Keeper, My Fitness Pal, Spark People and others.
• I’m a real sucker for games and challenges, so I find that I eat less when I actually keep track of what I’m eating in comparison with the amount of calories I expend throughout the day.
• You can log your water intake (I’ve recently stopped drinking as much water as I normally do due to my work schedule of teaching almost four hours of classes with no break).
• If you’d like additional competition (um, accountability), you can join challenges or hook up with your friends.
• You can scan food labels to enter the calorie counts of packaged foods (although you might get some odd looks when you walk up to the butter tub in the school cafeteria and scan it).

Cons of the Fitbit app/online program:
• At this time, Fitbit does NOT integrate with Nike+ Run (one I’ve used for five or six years), nor the iPhone Health app (although you can purchase an app that purportedly solves this: Sync Solver for Fitbit for $1.99 from the app store).
• It would be nice to enter calories for items that I cook or bake at home. It’s possible that I just haven’t figured it out yet—but I have to approximate when I enter home cooked foods.

Overall, I’d say that the Fitbit Charge HR and the program far outshine my chest strap and watch. It provides more data than the iPhone Health app, and I enjoy getting congratulatory emails and alerts when I reach my different goals for the day. There’s something about sharing one’s accomplishments with other like-minded friends that builds community.

As with all things technology related, you have to be willing to put in a little time to figure out the product—but the wonderful array of data and the accountability are definitely worth it!

UPDATE:  I was able to exchange my small FitBit Charge HR at REI for a large one.  They have wonderful customer service!

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Thank you for the review! I’ve been mulling over the thought of getting a FitBit. I’m going to mull some more, but it sounds like a good thing! I need to incorporate some exercise into my day.
    Lynnae McCoy recently posted…An Excellent Wife – Setting the Tone in Your HomeMy Profile

    • I’m glad I could give you some information :). It’s always good to move more!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Feeling Guilty?My Profile

  • Very helpful review. I’ve always wondered about fitbits and any other program, how they work and if they help.
    Ashley Tukiainen recently posted…How To Get OrganizedMy Profile

    • I’m glad I could give you the inside scoop ;). Thank you for stopping by!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Feeling Guilty?My Profile

  • An amazingly concise, well-written post on something I’ve been wondering about. Thanks so much!
    Ruthanne recently posted…10 Network Marketing Phrases to Make Prospects Flee, Part 2My Profile

  • Everyone loves this FitBit!!! Ha! I got my sister one last year for XMAS… And she wound up getting 2 others for the holiday too lol!
    GiGi Eats recently posted…Lil Wayne’s Sundae Breakfast, Wink, Wink!My Profile

  • Great review. I love to move! But moving takes time. My biggest challenge these days is that my time is so limited and when I do have a sliver of it… I write. That has be on my butt, not my feet. Can you walk a few thousand steps for me today?
    Wendy recently posted…when brothers have different love languagesMy Profile

    • One of the cool things about the Fitbit is that it tracks ALL of your movement–including chasing after kids and doing laundry ;). I have a standing desk at work and actually get quite a few steps in when I’m writing. But I’d be happy to walk a few K extra for you, my friend!

  • I hope you got compensated for this fabulous review!!! Inspiring!
    Susan Shipe recently posted…WONDERfull!My Profile

  • Thanks for the information – been wanting one of these devices.
    Debra Alexander recently posted…Day 22 – Fear Not – Save our NationMy Profile

  • Great review! Becoming more active is a goal for this year so I may need to look into this for myself!

    • 🙂 I love things that keep me accountable–I often perceive my activity to be much higher than it actually is!

  • Interesting, informative review, Anita! I’ve never used a pedometer. Maybe I’ll try it one day. As you say in the comment above, I probably perceive my activity to be much higher than it actually is! 🙂
    Betsy de Cruz recently posted…Finding Glory in Your MundaneMy Profile

    • ;). I’ve discovered stairs this week ;). As in, there are stairs that lead down to our basement (which I rarely visit), and they provide the perfect workout when it’s dark and cold outside (who needs a machine for stairs when you have a flight in your house!). Before the Fitbit, I would never have thought of this…but, because it counts flights of stairs climbed each day, I’ve become a stair master ;).
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Six Tips for Finding Financial Aid for Cancer PatientsMy Profile

  • I have wanted a Fitbit and never followed through on actually getting one. I definitely need some accountability!
    Melissa recently posted…Chemical-Free HaircareMy Profile

  • Thanks for the review! I have been interested in what the FitBits are really like- now I have a much better idea!

  • I have a watch and a chest piece, but I am considering switching to the fitbit there are several of my ladies at church who have one and they really like it! I may just be sold! They love to challenge each other with it and I LOVE a good challenge. I really think it would help add motivation and accountability to my routine.
    Laura recently posted…When Getting Dressed Is By Far the Hardest thing YOU did TodayMy Profile

  • Hey Anita … There’s something about accountability that makes things happen. Especially when it comes to exercise and eating well. Thanks for the review … this is something I’ve been thinking about and you’ve given me some good info …

    Be well, friend!
    Linda@Creekside recently posted…5 Absolute Must-Haves For When You’re Craving WarmthMy Profile

  • I’ve been curious about these things for months! Thanks for the review! I’m next to you on the raralinkup
    Alyssa recently posted…Could I Really Learn to Blog?My Profile

  • I’ve been eyeing one of these, and am seriously considering buying one. Do you know it the display part (or whatever it is) is detachable and can be used with other bands (when the market catches up and starts producing pretty colors). I’m just not a big fan of the black, but I don’t want to wait a few months for the other colors to come out. 🙂
    Jen @ Growing in Faith recently posted…Lavender and Sweet Orange Epsom Bath SaltMy Profile

  • Donne

    This is pretty funny. Steven and I just got Fitbit Ones. We need the accountability, yes, but also need a reliable way to track how much sleep he’s getting. Either way, it works for us. I would caution anyone who is considering buying a Fitbit to be careful when removing the dongle from the packaging. It would be a terrible thing if the dongle were to slip out of your hands as you bent to plug it into your computer and dropped down the heater register instead. Then, if your ductwork is soft tubing instead of the good, old galvanized ducts, it could be quite a chore to retrieve the little booger. Or, worse yet, you might be told that the only way to get it out would be to call the HVAC repairman. Thank goodness we don’t know anything about that!

    • Congratulations on your Fitbits! We need to ‘friend’ each other ;). And I’m so glad that you’ve never lost your dongle down the heater vent! I don’t need mine (it syncs with my phone), so if this were to ever happen to you, I’d be happy to share!

      • Donne

        Thank you very much, dear, for volunteering your dongle in the event that should ever happen. I shall keep it in mind. 😉 And certainly, I will search for you on the Connection page. But you must promise not to laugh. 🙂

  • Thanks for this comprehensive review! I’ve been looking at these for a while, now. I used to run quite a lot … But haven’t in the last few years and have been thinking one of these would be a good motivator to get active again!!

    • I’m glad you found it helpful! I love how much more active I’ve been in the three weeks since I got it!

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