There's little denying that the Fitbit Alta HR is a reiterative product. It looks very similar to the regular Alta and a bit like a smaller Charge 2, but it sits somewhere between the two in terms of features. When it was announced last month, Fitbit called it the slimmest fitness tracker with continuous heart rate monitoring, a distinction that had to be made to justify the same $150 price as the Charge 2 while packing fewer options on paper.

I came to the Alta HR a bit skeptic. The Charge 2 was by far the most convincing Fitbit I'd ever used and even one of the best all-around activity trackers on the market. By stripping some features for the sake of size, the Alta HR was making a dangerous gamble and one I wasn't too enthused about. Turns out the compromises aren't that significant, at least for the targeted market, and the bonuses are sufficiently interesting on their own. While I'm not sure about the $150 price tag, I've fallen in love with the Alta HR and it has now kicked both the Flex 2 and Charge 2 off my right wrist.

The Good

Size It's small enough that it can almost go unnoticed. This isn't a Flex 2, sure, but it's less prominent than the Charge 2 and won't look weird if you wear a watch or smartwatch on your other wrist.
Continuous HR monitoring The highlight feature of the Alta HR — it's in the name after all — is a welcome addition in this small tracker size.
Battery life After trying many Fitbits with 3-5 days battery life, it's refreshing to have a model that lasts 7 days. More of this, please.
Removable bands Customization is great. Even better in this case: regular Alta bands work on the Alta HR so the market is already booming with compatible bands.
Automatic tracking Steps, sleep and sleep stages, all kinds of exercise, heart rate, everything is tracked without any intervention on your part.
Continuous updates Over the past year, Fitbit has released many updates for its trackers to add new features and bring options from newer models to older ones. That gives me confidence in the Alta HR's future support.

The Not So Good

No altimeter I don't use it often, but the option to see how many floors you've climbed is essential for many. Even the Fitbit One had an altimeter so why Fitbit keeps omitting it in some models is beyond me.
No "Multi-sport" It means you can't manually start an exercise from your Alta HR like you can from the Charge 2, Blaze, or Surge. So no live stats while you exercise and no GPS tracking with your phone.
No water-resistance Come on Fitbit, I thought we'd crossed that line with the Flex 2. The Alta HR is rain, sweat, and splashproof, but that's about it. As a result, I have to keep my Flex 2 for swimming.
Price At $150, we're in the Charge 2's territory and I find it difficult to explain the same price with fewer features.

Design and comfort

If you're looking for a slim fitness tracker with continuous heart rate monitoring, your options are expanding every day, but there's little denying that Fitbit and Garmin reign on top. The Alta HR is entering this crowded market with one ace up its sleeve: it's small, actually the smallest of all. It's still rather thick, but after a day or two, you forget it's on your wrist.

Clean display with subtle branding on top (left) and thin HR monitor on the bottom (right).

Like many other Fitbits, the Alta HR has two sizes of bands, S/M and L, but only one comes in the box. The Flex 2 had both and saved you from having to figure out which size you needed before buying, but that's sadly not the case here. Thankfully though, the bands are interchangeable and work with the regular Alta's so the market is full of official and third-party options (read: cheaper) to choose from.

Alta HR with grey rubber band and brown leather band.

The default rubber material on the band is very comfortable for all-day wear. Keep it a little loose like Fitbit recommends and you won't even feel a rub or chafe against your skin. You should only tighten it when you're exercising, and even then, I didn't find it annoying during any of my sweaty 10+ runs with it so far.

Follow the instructions to avoid any discomfort while wearing the Alta HR all day.

Plus, unlike the regular Alta and its band pins, the HR has a regular buckle on the band, which secures it perfectly on your wrist. The free loop has a little nudge that fixes inside the adjustment holes of the other side of the band, keeping the band from opening up inadvertently.

The band has a regular buckle and a free loop with a little inside nudge.

The Alta HR has a small OLED display that is way too thin to be used vertically. If you decide to go that way, you will see stats such as "9.8K" steps, which isn't very helpful when you're rushing to reach your daily goal at 11:58pm. Oh... am I the only one who does that sometimes?! Hah. Thus I personally prefer switching the display mode to horizontal, which looks awkward on my wrist but shows the exact number of steps, distance, and calories. It's not that I'm obsessed with the numbers, I've said many times that these trackers should be taken more for their global estimates and changing trends and not their varying accuracy, but I've always been a math person so exact numbers appeal to my inner nerd more than approximations.

Using the display vertically truncates everything. The horizontal layout shows more info.

The display can be set to turn automatically on when you twist your wrist. I find this convenient, even if the current watch faces don't have any option to show the number of steps, just a progress bar. You will have to tap the display to rotate through the rest of the stats. Beside the daily activity stats, these include your current heart rate, the battery life (yes!), and your next silent vibrating alarm.

It feels awkward but the horizontal layout does show stats more clearly.

I know some users find Fitbit's screens unresponsive, but you have to slightly adjust the way you interact with it. This isn't a touch display so you can't use it like you do your smartphone. You have to actually tap it with a bit of force to trigger it. I've learned that from the Charge 2, so now I never miss a tap on the Alta HR and it always reacts to me. Personally, I don't mind this. Touch displays like my Huawei Watch are smoother to work with, but they sometimes get triggered by the slightest touch, even a piece of clothing rubbing on them. That'd be impossible to deal with while exercising with my Fitbit.

From a hardware perspective, the last thing to note about the Alta HR is that it comes with one of Fitbit's proprietary chargers. I no longer have a regular Alta to check if it's the same cable, but regardless, I would prefer if Fitbit would get its charger situation sorted across all models. I own the One, Flex 2, and Alta HR, and have 3 different cables on my desk right now. Sigh.

The features that matter

The Alta HR is a very capable tracker. Like all recent Fitbits, it can count steps and distance, but also automatically track sleep and intelligently recognize exercise. When I think about it, I'm always amazed by how it can accurately tell whether I'm walking, running, playing some group sport, or biking, without any intervention from my side.

It's going to take me a while to go back to my previous activity level, but I'm on the right track.

HR monitoring

The continuous heart rate monitoring is the highlight feature and it works like all previous Fitbit trackers. You can check your current heart rate at any time on the display and, inside the app, you can see a daily graph of your HR variations, the evolution of your resting heart rate, and the number of minutes you spent each day in Fat Burn, Cardio, and Peak heart rate zones.

Live HR reading. I guess I was excited to be on camera!

Plus, any automatically recognized exercise gets appended with a live heart rate graph and zones tally. I've been trying to get back to running lately and that graph proves to me daily that my endurance is improving. I used to hit my peak heart rate way earlier at the same speed, so I know that I'm getting better and that I can handle going faster.

It take me less effort now (right) to reach the same speeds in my run as before (left). 

Notifications

Also, like most recent Fitbits, the Alta HR offers some notification capability: texts, calls, calendar events, and reminders to move. It can be a good alternative to smartwatches if you don't own one and still want to get those important notifications on your wrist. I can tell you that it works, but I disabled it after a day. Having the same notification vibrate on my Huawei Watch (left wrist) and Alta HR (right wrist) was annoying, and the Alta HR lost because it can barely show a few characters on the screen and doesn't let me interact back.

Alta HR settings (left, left middle), notification controls (right middle), and display stats (right).

Sleep stages

The one new feature introduced with the Alta HR, which is spreading to other Fitbits with continuous HR, is the new sleep stages distinction. Previously, Fitbit would categorize sleep phases into 3 states: asleep, restless, and awake. That wasn't very helpful as it didn't tell you how much you spent in deep sleep and in light sleep. With the new stages, you can see when you're awake and when you go into REM sleep, light sleep, and deep sleep. However, it's worth noting that doesn't work for short 1-2hr naps: they default to the old stats (asleep, restless, awake).

Weekly sleep graph (left) and detailed daily stages (right) where short naps only show the old stats.

The graphs are accompanied with your 30-day average, comparisons against the benchmark percentages for your age and gender, and some explanation as to what each stage's benefits are.

One night's sleep, stage percentages, personal 30-day average, and benchmarks (left to right).

While that won't do you any good if you're pulling off weird sleeping hours because of work, a new baby, or other disturbances in your schedule, they do serve an informative purpose. You can track improvements if you're trying to stick to a more regular and fulfilling sleep schedule, and you can also figure out if you're feeling groggy because you missed sleep or because of some other reason. I've noticed that when I sleep less than 6 hours for a few days in a row, my mood tanks and I become easily irritable. I've also noticed that when I have a nice night of balanced deep, light, and REM sleep, I'm in a more productive and active state.

Detailed night's sleep with explanations of awake, REM, light, and deep sleep (left to right).

That's common sense, but without seeing the numbers on the screen, it's hard to tell what's wrong and very easy to continue in your destructive behavior. For example, when I saw that my sleep average for an entire week was 5 hours and 48 minutes because of late nights and early mornings (2nd screenshot at the top of this section), I knew I had to take a couple of afternoon naps to balance things out and keep my sanity. It worked.

7-Day battery life

If you ask me, this is by far one of the best features of the Alta HR. Most recent Fitbit trackers hover between 3 and 5 days of battery life, which is very annoying. I've often found myself with a near-empty Charge 2 or Flex 2 and no access to a charger for several hours by which point the battery would just die.

That's not the case with the Alta HR. Even by the time I get the low battery notification, I can eek out several hours, maybe even a day, of battery life — more than enough to get me to where the charger is. And if I'm about to leave for the weekend with 50% of battery, I don't have to rush to charge it fearing it would give up before I came back. It can easily last through a few days without a top-up.

This means that I no longer feel like I have to babysit my tracker and set reminders every 3-4 days to fill it up. It brings to mind my Fitbit One, which could easily get through 10 days without a hiccup, though it's not exactly as long-lasting. That's a nice trend, Fitbit, and one you should keep up.

Missing features

As I said in the table at the top of this review, there are several missing features in the Alta HR if you compare it to the similarly-priced Charge 2. It wins on size and battery longevity, it loses in a few areas.

For one, there's no altimeter so you can forget about tracking the floors you climb. In daily activity, I don't care about that number that much, but when I'm hiking up mountains, I love seeing the total floors and bragging about them. At $150, it's disappointing to see that the Alta HR is missing that feature.

Also, there's no "Multi-sport" mode, which means that you can't manually launch tracking for an exercise on the Alta HR. You have to rely on automatic tracking and check your stats after-the-fact. Sure, you can tap the display to see your total number of steps/calories/distance for the day and your current heart rate, but you can't see live stats about the current workout only. So you won't be able to tell if you're going faster or harder than last time until you're done and your tracker syncs back with the app. That's another important feature that walkers, runners, and bikers will miss.

Comparison of features between the Alta, Alta HR, and Charge 2.

And finally, the Alta HR has the same water-resistance level of the Charge 2 (read: almost inexistent). It can handle sweat, rain, and splashes, but not immersion during showers or swims. This is one feature that would have made the price parity with the Charge 2 more acceptable, but alas it's not there. Fitbit needs to figure out how to bring the Flex 2's water-resistance to its other trackers soon or it will be left behind the competition. Misfit and Garmin's trackers can already withstand showers and swims, so Fitbit is still playing catch-up there.

The box says "water resistant" but that's not how Fitbit labels the Alta HR now. I wouldn't risk it.

Value for money

If the Alta HR existed in a vacuum, it would be easy to recommend as a good tracker that gets the essentials right and offers handy bonuses like continuous heart rate tracking while still keeping a slim profile. But hikers, runners, bikers, and anyone who obsesses over every stat during their exercise and likes to push themselves harder every time, need not apply. This isn't the tracker for you and your money is better spent on a Charge 2.

I keep coming back to it, but it's really difficult to talk about the Alta HR without mentioning the Charge 2 as was obvious from most of this review. The two trackers offer a similar design and feature set, with slightly differing options for the same $150 price. One for one, the Charge 2 wins the important battles thanks to the added altimeter and the live stats with manual tracking mode, but that doesn't mean the Alta HR doesn't have a raison d'être.

The similarities might confuse you, but the Charge 2 is targeted at sport enthusiasts who often exercise (gym, run, hike, bike, etc) while the Alta HR is more for those who are generally active and exercise every now and then without being too picky about their stats.

If I lowered my sleeve, you wouldn't even notice me wearing the Alta HR.

The Alta HR is lighter, has more chances of being inconspicuous on your wrist, and looks better if you already wear a watch (smart or not) on your other wrist. If you use both a smartwatch and a Charge 2 like I did for about a month, you will get a few weird glances and some inquisitive questions. The Alta HR goes unnoticed by comparison. The better battery life is also simpler to manage and easier on your mind.

But the most important difference is this: style. The Alta and now the Alta HR are targeted at fashion-conscious active people, hence the slimmer profile and the designer accessories lookbook with leather and metal bands plus gunmetal and rose gold special editions, and even designer accessories from Public School, Vera Wang, and Tory Burch. On the other hand, the Charge 2's lookbook only has leather bands, some different patterns on the rubber bands and different tracker finishes — no metal bands and no designer accessories.

The brown leather band looks classy.

Even if I personally prefer the Alta HR for everyday wear and find the balance of features and compromises better for my use, I still have a little trouble justifying the price. It feels like you're paying more for less, especially when you can find the Charge 2 discounted every now and then while the Alta HR is still new and it'll be a while before we start seeing deals on it. If it was $129.95 instead of $149.95, it would make a lot more sense. As it stands, you have to decide whether you're willing to sacrifice a few features for a slimmer profile and longer battery life or if you prefer to go all-in with the features regardless of anything else.

Buy: Alta HR $150 (Amazon, Fitbit), Charge 2 $150 (Amazon, Fitbit)