Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Fitbit Charge 2 Review - Still One of the Best

The Fitbit Charge HR is the best selling fitness tracker of 2015. So, it is only apropos that Fitbit discontinued that line by replacing it with something so much better:

The Charge 2 seems like the offspring of the aforementioned HR and the Fitbit Alta. The Charge 2 combines the width, the heart rate sensor and the band style of the Charge HR with the OLED display of the Alta and its jewelry-like appearance.

Just like the Alta, the Charge 2 is being sold not only as a fitness band but as a jewelry accessory also. It has removable bands, so you are not stuck to the band that came with the unit. Fitbit also offers bands that are made up of leather, though I don't think it is a good idea to use the leather band when you are working out... The leather is supposed to go with your dress or your tux.

And for me, the Fitbit Charge 2 succeeds in doing that - to be a fashion accessory rather than an obvious fitness tracker. For me, the glossy appearance of the display makes it feel like its a jewelry-like accessory. I just wish that all Charge 2 came in the all-black, gun-metal look. For me, the silver metal on the side of the display causes a distraction to the over-all look and feel of the device. However, despite this, and because of its form factor, I consider the Charge 2 as a bracelet, rather than a watch or a fitness tracker. So, I don't mind pairing it with my G-Shock watch, if ever I had a desire to wear that proper watch.

As I have said, the band of the Charge 2 is user-replaceable. So that means, you can wash the band after so many sweaty work-out sessions. Note though that if you decided to wash the band, you should detach it from the Charge 2 body as it is not water-proof. The Charge 2 is only sweat, splash and rain-proof. It's a pity that Fitbit did not make the Charge 2 waterproof. I don't swim for fitness reasons, but I have sometimes been caught in the rain while jogging and, every time, I feel that the Charge 2 is gonna die on me. But thank goodness it has not happened. Yet, I hope that the Charge 3, or whatever Fitbit will call the next version is already waterproof.

The Charge 2 is a complete fitness tracker and can give most fitness trackers a run for the money, including the more expensive ones. It tracks exercises automatically: if you spend 15 minutes or more of continuous activity, Fitbit will be able to properly guess what you are doing for you. As an example, I had forgotten to set my treadmill run several times already, but when I sync my Charge 2 to my iPhone, the Fitbit app already said that what I did was run on a “treadmill“. If you are not happy with the app's classification, you can change it after the fact. You have several choices on the type of activity, like biking, interval workout, yoga, pilates, basketball, etc.

And speaking of interval training, you can set the Charge 2 to give you cues when you want to change paces between fast phase and rest phase. Say you set your interval workout to be a sequence of 3 minutes of sprint and 5 minutes of slow jog. Once the 3 minute sprint is up, the Charge 2 will vibrate and you can then slow down to a moderate pace. Then, the Charge 2 will vibrate again once the 5 minute rest period is over.

The Charge 2 doesn't have a built-in GPS antenna, but it can piggy-back on the GPS antenna of your mobile phone. I tried walking with this feature on and my pace and distance travelled were fairly precise. However, by looking at the map, it seems I was able to jump over buildings in a single bound... However, that is the phone's GPS's fault, and not that of the Charge 2.

The heart rate sensor of the Charge 2 is heaven sent. With it, I can tell at what heart rate zone my heart is. From normal, to fat burn, to cardio and to peak. Peak is what all of us should attain. This is the heart rate zone that will really improve your fitness level. If you constantly reach this zone, then you will have a healthier heart in general. And comparing the heart rate measurement of the Charge 2 with that of the heart rate sensor on the machines in the gym, my iPhone and a dedicated BP monitor, I can say that the heart rate measurement of the Charge 2 is really precise.

The Fitbit Charge 2 can also determine your VO2 Max number. With this number, you will be able to find out your fitness level compared to other people of the same age group. I am happy to say that my fitness level is between very good and excellent...

I love my Fitbit Charge 2! :)

The Charge 2 can also measure the quality of your sleep and you don't have to set it before going to sleep. Based on your lesser movements and lowered heart rate, Fitbit will know that you are already sleeping. [On a side note, my other Fitbit tracker, the Surge, thought I was asleep when I watched Batman Vs Superman... Just saying…] When you sync the tracker to the app when you wake up, you will be able to determine the quality of your sleep and your resting heart rate. For almost a year now, I am happy to say that, since I first wore a Fitbit wrist tracker with a heart rate sensor, my resting heart rate has gone down by 5 points. However, I have a friend in the Philippine Navy whose heart rate is 17 points lower than mine! I don't know if I will be able to catch that...

The Charge 2 can also measure your floors climbed, something that the Apple Watch Series 2 can't even do. That fact, that the Apple Watch can't measure floors climbed is really baffling for me. Even my very first Fitbit, the One, which I had in 2014, can measure floors climbed! The Charge 2 can also remind you to stand and walk for three minutes (or 250 steps) per hour if you have been sedimentary. This is a very nice reminder though I think I have only achieved getting 10-three minute hourly activity for one day…

I have heard this somewhere: sitting is the new smoking... So the Charge 2 can, in principle, prevent us from being stuck in our desks and couches.

There is also a new "Relax" app within the Charge 2. With this, the tracker can tell you to breathe, hold your breath and breathe out. It's a new mindfulness activity that seems to be in vogue at the moment. The watchOS 3 in the Apple Watch also has this. I don't, however, use this much because I feel I am not "chill" enough... The wife, who actually practices Zen meditations, will actually benefit more from this.

And of course, all of these stats are combined beautifully in the Fitbit app. Actually, your data from the tracker is essentially useless if you don't use the app. With the app, you can see your progress and your past achievements. Fitbit has one of the best, if not the best, and most comprehensive app among fitness tracker makers and the stats captured by the Charge 2 is beautifully displayed, stored and summarized in its fitness app.

The Charge 2, when paired with your smart phone, can alert you to incoming calls, text messages and calendar events. However, the display is not big enough to make the notifications meaningful, so I just turn the thing off. It can do in a pinch though you should not expect much from the 1.5-inch display.

The battery life of the Charge 2, according to Fitbit is five days. I can almost get that value though by the end of the fifth day, the Charge 2 is practically begging me to put it in the charger. And speaking of chargers, this is one thing that I am absolutely not thrilled with Fitbit. Each tracker has its own proprietary charger. I love the iPhone and the iPad but I hate the fact that the charging cable that I have to use for them is not a common standard, like USB 3.0. Well, Fitbit is worse... The chargers used for the One, the Surge, and the Charge 2 are all different! Even the charger for the Charge 2 and the Charge HR are not the same! So, if you are upgrading from an HR to the 2 and you thought that you can use the same charger... Well, no... At least for the iPhone and the iPad, I only need to use the one charging cable.

All-in-all, the Fitbit Charge 2 is a winner and is what most people will need if they want to enter the world of fitness trackers. It is more capable than a lot of trackers in the same line and it can even give more advanced, more expensive trackers a run for their money. If you want to start using a fitness tracker, get the Charge 2. If you're Charge HR is already failing - its battery, its band - then get the Charge 2. If you want to complement your Apple Watch, which cannot really measure the quality of your sleep, get a Charge 2.

The Fitbit Charge 2 is Highly Recommended!

Photos shot with an iPhone 6+ using the iOS app Hipstamatic

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