- 1 The Good
- 2 The Not So Good
- 3 Hardware: The culmination of Fitbit's tracker design
- 4 Setup and first experience
- 5 Personalization and settings
- 6 The same Fitbit app we've grown used to
- 7 The Charge 2 in daily use
- 8 Bigger picture: Fitbit Charge 2 and the competition
When I reviewed the Fitbit Blaze a few months ago, one of my main complaints was its bulky design and the identity crisis over what it actually is: a smartwatch, a sports watch, a fitness tracker, or all of the above to a certain extent. That was never a question with the company's best selling tracker, the Charge HR. From the first look, you knew it was an activity tracker first and foremost, and anything else that it could do was just a bonus feature.
Now the Charge 2 is here to carry the torch. It's an all-around better Charge HR with several significant improvements that nearly put it on the same level as the higher priced Blaze. But are they enough to justify jumping over from the old Charge HR and is this still one of the best trackers available on the market now? The answer, in a nutshell, is yes. If you need more words, I have more than 3000 of them for you below.
|Svelte design||The Charge 2 looks nice on the wrist and doesn't draw attention the way the Fitbit Blaze or Surge do. It's also very comfortable to wear.|
|Removable bands||If the Charge 2's band gets torn or old, or if you get bored of the color or material, you can easily switch to another band.|
|Larger screen||The Charge 2 can show more information on the screen than the Charge HR, including more detailed notifications and sport stats.|
|Continuous heart-rate||Whether you're sleeping, sitting, or exercising, your heart rate is always monitored and your cardiac health is shown in the app.|
|Automatic sleep and exercise tracking||No need to manually log anything, the Charge 2 recognizes when you've been sleeping, napping, running, walking, cycling, and so on.|
|Reminders to move||The Charge 2 vibrates every hour to remind you to get off the chair if you haven't walked 250 steps yet.|
|Sports tracking||You can manually start tracking any exercise and view your stats on the screen.|
|Fitbit community||It's still one of the main selling features of any Fitbit tracker.|
|Battery life||Fitbit seems to have decided that 4-5 days of battery life is good enough, but other brands are offering much more.|
|Not swim or shower-friendly||It's relatively water-resistant, but it's not recommended to swim or shower with the Charge 2.|
|Limited notifications||You get one chance to view a notification and that's it. No option to view previous unread notifications.|
|No built-in GPS||This is still a Surge exclusive. To track your workouts on a map, the Charge 2 uses your phone's built-in GPS.|
|Proprietary and finicky charger||Fitbit still comes up with a new proprietary charger for each of its trackers. And this one has to align perfectly to work.|
|Fitbit app||The Fitbit Android developers never seem to be done with their app's design. One section gets updated, the other stays behind. Rinse and repeat.|
Hardware: The culmination of Fitbit's tracker design
The Charge 2 mixes and matches many of Fitbit's recent tracker ideas in one model. The design is reminiscent of the Alta with the central tracker unit and removable band mechanism, but with the width and the back of the old Charge HR, and a band similar to that of the Blaze. What you get is something that, surprisingly, fits so well together that it looks clean. Sporty, sure, but well refined over Fitbit's first generation of trackers. You wouldn't look weird slapping a metallic band instead of the rubber one and going to a formal event wearing it.
The main unit has a full black front in the middle of which is the display. There's a 5mm border approximately on all sides that you can't see unless the screen is on and you notice that not the whole front is used to show information. Fitbit did a great job of blending the display in the black plastic and glass so that the end result is a uniform look, regardless of whether the Charge 2's screen is on or off.
The side of the Charge 2 seems to be made of anodized aluminum or stainless steel, with one button on the left side (if you're wearing it on your left wrist). The button has a good amount of travel and a satisfying click when pressed, an essential feature when you're exercising and need it to be responsive.
The back of the tracker houses the charging pins and the heart rate sensor bump. This is where you can also see the removable band's mechanism.
The entire device is well built and finished with no vulnerable aspects or unsightly seams. I dropped the Charge 2 once by mistake and it fell straight on the screen but nothing broke and there wasn't a single scratch on the glass. I have also inadvertently hit the door a couple of times without any visible scuff.
Compared to the half dozen or so trackers I've worn around my wrist, the Charge 2 has got to be the best. The Misfit always worried me because it's prone to fall off, the Fitbit Blaze was too bulky, the Garmin vivoactive looked like those old calculator watches, the Amiigo was ridiculously thick, and so on.
Fitbit Charge 2 (teal) vs Blaze (purple) and Misfit Shine 2 Swimmer's Edition (white).
However, most things are just right with the Charge 2. It's slightly thicker than the Fitbit Blaze and Misfit Shine 2, but it's smaller and svelter than the former, and doesn't risk popping off from its band like the latter. It's comfortable to wear and goes unnoticed most of the time.
Thick and removable band
I have the teal Charge 2 in a small band size and it fits well on my wrist and hugs it perfectly. I've been wearing it for several weeks now and instantly got used to its size and feel on my hand. Whether I'm wearing short sleeves or long sleeves, I don't find an issue with the Charge 2, mostly because its relatively small width doesn't interfere with long shirt, sweater, or jacket sleeves.
The band slides and clicks in place on the tracker's top and bottom ridges, and removing it is easy but has no risk of happening inadvertently. The buckle is metallic and the band's free loop has a nub that goes inside the holes on the other strap and thus helps it stay put and tightly closed.
This removable band was my fiancé's favorite feature when he saw the Charge 2. He has the older Charge HR and his unit, like many, suffered from the dreaded air bubble. He had to get the whole tracker replaced because he couldn't just take the band off and get another one. The separate tracker and band design here solve that issue altogether.
Fitbit sells several sizes, colors, and materials of bands for the Charge 2, and the third-party solutions are also starting to pop up, offering plenty of choices from the cheap to the extravagantly expensive. From my past experience purchasing cheap bands for different Fitbit trackers on eBay, I know that you can easily find good ones for $3-4 if you don't mind the slow shipping.
Proprietary and annoying charger
If there's one frustrating thing Fitbit keeps doing again and again, it's the proprietary chargers. To add insult to injury, every tracker I've had from the company (One, Charge HR, Blaze, Alta, Charge 2, and Flex 2) uses a unique charger, making the whole situation even more ridiculous. Bought a spare cable for your Blaze? Well, you can't use it now that you've moved to the Charge 2. Because reasons!
The only saving grace in the Charge 2's cable is that it isn't as ridiculously convoluted as the Blaze. You don't need to pop your tracker off its band and put it inside anything to get it to fill up. Instead, the cable uses a clip design to wrap around the sides of the Charge 2 with two pogo pins (the gold dots visible on the bottom of the clip in the image below) that plug into the back of the tracker.
One more charger to worry about. Yay!
The problem with the design is that you need to make sure the cable's and the tracker's pins are perfectly aligned to start charging, otherwise you can leave it plugged for hours and no juice is going to flow between the two.
The difference between charging and not charging can be half a millimeter.
I know this isn't going to happen anytime soon, but I wish Fitbit would just implement wireless charging and be done with this whole mess already.
Setup and first experience
Fitbit's setup hasn't changed a lot in the past couple of years. The same thing I've said about the Blaze remains true of the Charge 2: after signing in to the Fitbit app, you add a tracker, select the Charge 2, input a 4-digit code that shows up on your tracker, let it connect and update its firmware, and you're done.
Fitbit's onboarding after the tracker is set is improving with time, and with the Charge 2, you get a detailed tutorial on the tracker's different features, a few graphics explaining how to wear it and charge it, and the option to choose between your dominant and non-dominant wrist.
For a more detailed manual, the app also includes a Fitbit Charge 2 101 guide that goes through everything related to your tracker.
Personalization and settings
Like every other Fitbit tracker, you get to customize what your Charge 2 shows, does, and how. This is done through the Fitbit app, as there's no way to access the settings from the tracker itself.
You can enable all-day sync to keep your stats aligned between the tracker and your phone, manually initiate a sync, set a personal greeting, add silent alarms for the Charge 2 to vibrate and wake you, choose which hand you're wearing the tracker on, enable "quick view" to have the display turn on when you flip your wrist toward you, choose the design of the main clock, activate or turn off heart rate monitoring, and more.
You get to choose which notifications show up on your tracker, but like the Blaze's first firmware versions, you're limited to one call app, one text app (you can't get WhatsApp and SMS at the same time for example), and one calendar app. You can also turn on the reminders to move and set the hours of the day and days during which the tracker will vibrate to remind you to get off the chair and walk around a bit.
Finally, you can personalize a couple of the Charge 2's display options, including the main goal that it counts toward and the different stats that are shown when you gently tap the display while it's showing the clock.
I don't care about calories and distance on the main screen. Heart rate is redundant, you'll see why.
You can also choose the different menu items that the tracker cycles through when you press the physical button, including the heart rate (which is why it's redundant and I removed it from the stats above), exercise mode, stopwatch, breathing relaxation, and alarms. And last but not least, you can decide specifically which exercises you can manually launch on the tracker itself. There are 7 slots available with plenty of options to pick from.
The same Fitbit app we've grown used to
The Fitbit app hasn't changed much since my Blaze review. There's a beta version available that introduces the new dashboard found on the iOS app, but it's not yet public so not everyone can make use of it.
Everything I said and showed in the Blaze review's app section still holds true so you can check that out for all the details. The gist is that the Fitbit app is very capable and full of stats for daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly periods, and those are available for all the different metrics that Fitbit measures like steps, distance, calories, active minutes, and so on.
My favorite sections have to be the hourly activity and the heart rate ones. The latter is where I can easily see the benefit of several days of consistent exercise over my resting heart rate and the daily variation of my heart rate when I'm in an intense workout or just sitting down at my desk.
There's one new metric that the Charge 2 introduced into the Fitbit app on my phone that wasn't there with the Blaze (and I don't think it's been updated to support it yet): Cardio fitness.
This takes into effect your resting heart rate, weight, height, age, and other characteristics to give you a cardio fitness score, which is essentially an estimation of your VO2 Max. Your level is displayed on a scale and Fitbit shows you the potential impact of regular and intense exercise. It serves as one more incentive to improve your score.
The Charge 2 in daily use
I have said it time and again in my previous reviews, but it bears repeating: wearing an activity tracker isn't going to magically make you a healthier person. Unless you're willing to put the effort and use its data as motivation to keep improving, you're not going to get anything out of wearing a Fitbit on your wrist the entire day. But if you consider it as one more tool in your arsenal, one that easily lets you gamify your approach to a healthier lifestyle, it's easy to see the benefits.
The Charge 2 has a lot to offer in that context. It's comfortable to wear and almost easy to forget it's on my wrist. The display is visible outdoors and indoors, and the contrast between the white text and black background makes it easy to read even in direct sunlight.
Interacting with the Charge 2 is easy. I turn my wrist toward me and the main display lights up to show me the time and my progress for the day. Tap it gently and I can cycle through the stats that matter the most to me like my hourly activity, floors, and active minutes. If I need to check my heart rate or manually launch an exercise or stopwatch, I can do that with the button.
The silent alarms have easily become the best way to wake me up. I've been using them since 2013 on my Fitbit One and I can't imagine going back to something that beeps or rings or sings or whatever. Another cool feature are the reminders to move which serve as a gentle nudge to get off my desk and walk a little every hour. I have a tendency to drown myself in work so I appreciate this option.
However, the notifications are... just there. If you're expecting to use the Charge 2 as a pseudo-smartwatch, you'll soon be disappointed. The display is too tiny to let you see anything more than a few characters at a time. And you only get call, text (choose only one between WhatsApp, SMS, and any other texting app on your phone), and calendar notifications, and they're not even there to stay. One vibration, the message displays on the screen for a few seconds, then it's gone. You can't cycle through past notifications or bring the last one back up should you need to.
The greatest thing about the Charge 2 is that if I completely forget about it, it'll keep chugging along, automatically monitoring my sleep and any nap longer than an hour. It'll also magically figure out when I've been walking, running, riding a bicycle, participating in any sport (basketball, football, etc) and create an activity for it without my intervention.
Thanks to the continuous heart rate tracking, I can also see a detailed graph of my performance during any activity and figure out the intensity and impact it has had on my day. It's also easy to follow my progress and see how consistent exercise is helping me improve my pace and heart's strength (the same speed of running can be done with a lower heart rate over time, or going faster doesn't cause my heart rate to spike as much as it used to, etc).
And that's all, I must remind you, without even touching the Charge 2. I love not having to manually log or track anything. The data is just there whenever I want to check it out.
But when I feel the need for more immediate stats or better tracking, I can launch exercise tracking on the Charge 2 and cycle through the duration, heart rate, current and average pace, and other live stats on the display without having to reach for my phone. The Charge 2 also triggers the GPS on my phone for runs, walks, bicycle rides, and so on, to map the activity and get a more exact estimation of the distance instead of relying on my stride's length.
Finally, I have tried the guided breathing exercises and I found them quite useless for me. You're supposed to follow a growing and shrinking circle to inhale and exhale for 2 or 5 minutes, but having my eyes glued to the screen completely ruined the experience because I had to keep glancing down at my wrist to check what I was supposed to be doing. So I failed at relaxing.
It's easy to nitpick at this or that feature, but all in all, the Charge 2 provided more enjoyable experiences than frustrations. Oh and that's not even taking into consideration Fitbit's social element and the challenges you can participate in with friends or the new adventure trails you can virtually walk on.
Bigger picture: Fitbit Charge 2 and the competition
I can't be very impartial when talking about Fitbit's trackers. I wore the One for three years and it helped me turn my entire life and lifestyle around (I had the will, it just provided constant motivation), so I've been familiar with the brand since 2013; I have seen where Fitbit started and where it is now and I appreciate the multitude of options that have been brought into the mix as time has passed.
The Charge 2 constitutes the culmination of Fitbit's efforts both in design and features. It looks and feels great, it works well, and it's easy to use whether you prefer a hands-on or hands-off approach to exercise. It tracks most metrics you expect from a wrist-worn band, including heart rate, and it provides the bare minimum of notifications just to quench your thirst for a smartwatch.
The question remains whether you should choose the Charge 2 or go for another tracker. In its $150 price range, the Charge 2 is challenged by dozens of trackers who offer something similar, give or take feature x, y, or z, but I'll concentrate on the most immediate and well-known competition.
In Fitbit's own product range, the Flex 2 ($100) offers swim tracking and better waterproofing but completely foregoes the display so you can't see any exact stats or notifications (review coming later), and the Blaze ($200) has better notifications and a larger display but nothing else (see my review). The $50 price hike was justifiable when the Charge HR had a small screen, no manual exercise mode (Multi-Sport), no text notifications, and a glued-on band. But now that the Charge 2 has solved all of those issues, I don't think there's enough incentive to get the Blaze unless you really like the watch look. In Fitbit's range, it's clear, the Charge 2 reigns.
The story is slightly different when you look at the other trackers on the market. The Misfit Shine 2 ($100) offers a completely different value proposition. It's a less involved tracker, it's waterproof, and the battery lasts months, but there's no automatic exercise recognition, no heart rate monitor, and no display to see any detailed stats or notifications (see my review).
The most direct competition that spells trouble for Fitbit is Garmin. Eighteen months ago, when I got my vivoactive, the Android app and the limited features were very frustrating, but Garmin has greatly improved the entire experience over time and its sales have skyrocketed. It's now the second largest smartwatch seller in the world according to IDC (which counts Fitbit as an activity tracker, not a smartwatch by the way), and it's easy to see why. Garmin knows sports and sport stats like no other and it's finally putting that expertise to use.
The old Garmin vivoactive ($150) offers waterproofing, swim tracking, customizable live stats on the screen, automatic sleep tracking, smartly adjusted daily step goals, better notifications, music controls, and more, but it doesn't automatically recognize exercises or have a heart rate monitor. It also looks like those old calculator watches.
The Garmin vivosmart HR ($120-150) is clearly Fitbit's closest competition among all the trackers I've mentioned above. It has a similar design, a continuous heart rate monitor, reminders to move, and brings better notifications, music controls, waterproofing, and super detailed exercise stats for the same(ish) price as the Charge 2. What it doesn't have are the automatically recognized exercises (though knowing Garmin, it might update that any day) and the Fitbit social aspect (but at the rate Garmin is selling these now, it may not be long before it has its own large community). The only thing remaining is the look. I find the vivosmart HR bulky and ugly and I'd much rather wear the Charge 2 on my wrist all day, but that's my personal preference.
All things considered, I think Fitbit has struck a great balance in the Charge 2. It's the ultimate activity tracker that keeps an eye on all of your stats every day, has a sleek design, and doesn't pretend to be a smartwatch or a sports tracker.