Fitbit Charge 4 Review – First Impressions

Fitbit Charge 4

I’m kind of on the search for the perfect fitness watch. So far nothing has changed my mind away from the Apple Watch Series 5 (GPS + Cellular).  It does it all and it does it well.  The thing that pushes the Apple Watch over the top for me is the CELLULAR PHONE.

If you don’t mind carrying a phone (although you don’t HAVE to) you can save a ton of money and maintain a lot of functionality.  I ride a bike that has a rear rack with a bag so it’s no problem to carry a phone.  But I don’t like carrying a phone.

So it is with a bit of trepidation that I test the Fitbit because it is just another tracker without cell service. To my surprise though I really, really, really like this thing.

First and foremost it is minimalist, small, and very unobtrusive.  It is also super comfortable as well.  It’s probably the only fitness watch I have that you just don’t really know you are wearing it.

I own multiple watches and they all mostly do the same thing.  Track your activity with a GPS, and track your heart beat with a heart beat sensor.  Those two things though are very powerful and with the right software will let you analyze your performance and work on improving your workouts by understanding heart rate zones and spending more time in the right zones.

Let’s go after the first one of those things.  The Fitbit Charge line has finally added a GPS onboard in the Charge 4 and it is pretty darn good.  You might see a lot of people complaining about corner smoothing or accuracy.  Here’s an example of that.

Fitbit Charge 4 GPS Corner Smoothing

Zoomed way in you can see that the GPS says that I’m cutting corners and not on the road.  This really bothers a lot of people and I’ve no idea why.  GPS accuracy is around 16′ with phones and probably could be less with small devices that make compromises for light weight and maintaining a small size.   The only way to do better is to pay THOUSANDS for military grade stuff that receives 2 GPS frequencies that greatly improves accuracy.  Down to centimeters, in fact.

You are not going to find that on ANY fitness watch GPS.  Take John’s word for it.  The GPS accuracy is fine.  Good even.

Regarding GPS and battery life:  I took my fully charged Charge 4 on a 90 minute bike ride and a 1 mile cool down walk.  After I got home the battery state was at 46%.  I’m not sure I would get the 4-5 hour advertised time before battery depletion.   Depending on your workouts your watch could be spending as much time on the charger as on your wrist.

Don’t get me started about the weird charger as well.  It clamps around the watch and can be installed upside down where it won’t work.  I don’t get this charger design AT ALL.

The heart rate monitor seems to reflect what I know my heart rate is during certain exercises.  I can’t complain about the accuracy.  What I can complain about is that because of the small screen when doing an activity like bike riding you can see pretty much one set of criteria and one only unless you swipe right or left on the watch.   To clarify when I start the bike riding activity the screen I see shows my speed and distance.  To see my heart rate I have to swipe over a couple of screens.  Then I don’t know what my distance is.   That creates an issue for me however it is a small screen and that’s the way it is.  Having to make a choice, I will choose Heart Rate in most instances.

One thing I REALLY like is that Fitbit syncs up with Strava.

Strava and Fitbit Integration

You can set this up in the Fitbit webpage or app.   Strava is FAR superior to the Fitbit app for looking at and analyzing your workouts.

I found the activities to be buried in the Fitbit app. I guess once you find them though it is easy to find them again.  But it took me a while to find this bike ride.  I do find the Fitbit app to be a bit perplexing.  All the more reason that I’m happy that it uploads its data to Strava.  Maybe the app will grow on me, but I doubt it.

Another thing I noticed that when I tried to view the screen while bike riding the wrist raise feature didn’t work that great.  you really have to be animated in how you move your arm/wrist to make the screen light up.  I can’t find a sensitivity adjustment in the app to deal with it.  Also to get the screen to light up from a touch you have to REALLY MEAN IT WITH YOUR TOUCH.  A light, quick tap does not cut it here.

It may seem like I’ve honed in on some of its deficiencies however here’s the scoop.  It is a great fitness tracker, that doesn’t break the bank that does GPS and heart rate monitoring well.  It syncs with a major fitness website, Strava, which makes it worth the price of admission.

One noted beef would be the battery life with GPS on.  This tracker would not be a great choice for a long day hiking.  And I’m not sure how robust the screen is either.  Pretty sure a couple good scrapes against the trees would deface it pretty good.  Definitely not a hiking watch.

UPDATE:  AFTER USING THIS THING A FEW TIMES I’VE COME TO THE FOLLOWING CONCLUSION.  I CANNOT SEE THE SCREEN IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT.  THROW IN A FINGERPRINT SMUDGE OR TWO AND YOU CAN FORGET TRYING TO SEE THE SCREEN AT ALL.   IF YOU RUN AT NIGHT OR BIKE IN THE TWILIGHT…….IT WILL PROBABLY BE OKAY.  IF YOU ARE IN SUNLIGHT AND TRYING TO CATCH A GLIMPSE OF YOUR TIME OR HEART RATE.  FORGET IT.    I CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS DEVICE FOR SERIOUS FITNESS USEAGE IN THE DAYLIGHT.

Pretty sure though this would be my choice for swimming.  It has a nice, low profile for that which is probably more conducive to swimming than a giant round watch.   And of course swimming doesn’t require the GPS to be on with the subsequent big battery draw.  For swimmers, this is your Huckleberry.

Fitbit Exercise Screen

Get one and RUN!  Just not in the sunlight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.