Wearables

Affordable fitness tracker with the frills

The Charge 4
The Charge 4

The Charge 4 is Fitbit's latest flagship fitness tracker, succeeding last year's Charge 3.

The biggest improvement over its predecessor is its built-in GPS and Spotify control functions. Other notable new features include a workout intensity map that gives a breakdown of different heart-rate zones and active zone minutes, for a measure of how hard you have pushed yourself during workouts based on your age and resting heart rate.

In terms of design, the Charge 4 looks almost identical to its predecessor. It is actually slightly wider and thicker, as well as heavier by one mere gram. But weighing 30g including the strap, it feels so lightweight, you probably would not notice it on your wrist.

It has a rectangular design like most wrist-band fitness trackers, with a touch-sensitive button on its left side and a 1-inch (100 x 160 pixels) monochrome touchscreen display. The Special Edition version comes with an exclusive granite reflective/black woven strap and a classic black strap.

Despite its small size, the display is easy to read in most lighting conditions except bright sunlight. It also responds swiftly to swipes and touches.

It took 30 seconds to get a GPS fix when I wore it for a run the first time. Subsequently, it took at most three seconds to do so. On my usual 5km jogging route, it tracked around 100m more than the actual distance, which was pretty good.

The active zone minutes feature is a nice addition. It will alert you with different number of buzzes when you reach certain heart-rate (HR) zones - three buzzes when you hit your peak HR zone and two buzzes for the cardio zone, for instance.

The intense zones are reflected on the workout intensity map after your exercise, so you know which segment of your running route is taking more effort.

The other new notable feature, Spotify control, is less useful. You need your smartphone with you to listen to music in Spotify as it works only as a playback control. And it supports only a Spotify Premium subscription. Furthermore, this feature cannot be activated when the Charge 4 is tracking your workout.

The Charge 4's daily step-tracking readings are spot on, differing by fewer than 20 steps from the readings of my calibrated Apple Watch Series 4.

For heart-rate monitoring, its measurements differed by at most three beats a minute from the readings of my Apple Watch.

  • FOR

    • Built-in GPS

    • Accurate tracking of steps and runs

    • Sleep tracking offers good insights

    • Fitbit Pay contactless payment convenient

    AGAINST

    • User needs a Fitbit Premium subscription to get more out of the device

    • Cannot use Spotify app during workouts

    SPECS

    PRICE: $248 (version tested), $278 (special edition)

    CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, Near Field Communication

    WATER RESISTANCE: 50m

    WEIGHT: 30g (with silicone strap)

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4.5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Like the Charge 3, it is water-resistant to a depth of 50m. Thus, you can swim with the Charge 4. But with public pools closed during this circuit breaker period, I was unable to test the swim-tracking feature.

Sleep tracking remains excellent. It automatically tracks the amount of time you spend in light, deep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stages, as well as the time you are awake. It accurately noted when I woke up to use the bathroom.

It also shows sleep stages against their corresponding readings according to age and gender, so you know if you are sleeping normally. For instance, I discovered I get more deep sleep than most men my age. It also gives you a Sleep Score to show how well your sleep quality is.

With a Fitbit Premium subscription ($10 a month), you can get a deeper analysis of your sleep score and tips on how to improve your sleep quality. In addition, the subscription unlocks guided training programmes as well as provides more personalised insights and detailed analysis of physical activities.

In short, you need to subscribe to Fitbit Premium to get more out of the Charge 4.

The fitness tracker also features Fitbit Pay contactless payment. It currently supports only Visa and MasterCard credit cards from OCBC, UOB and Revolut banks. This came in handy as I was able to pay for my post-jog drink and groceries without having to take along cash or a credit card.

Battery life is rated at up to seven days for normal usage. During the review, the battery level dropped to 20 per cent in five days of all-day usage, with two 5km GPS-tracked runs logged in. This is superb, considering some fitness trackers can last only two or three days.

Instead of spending more money on a smartwatch or dedicated GPS running watch, the more affordable Fitbit Charge 4 might be just what you need to help you stay fit.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2020, with the headline 'Affordable fitness tracker with the frills'. Print Edition | Subscribe