I really wanted to like the Charge 2, a remake of Fitbit’s most popular wristband.
The Charge 2 looks like a smartwatch, feels like a smartwatch, and even displays text messages like a smartwatch. But it lacks the coolness and convenience of a bona fide smartwatch.
Hence my dilemma when I recently decided to buy a fitness tracker.
When the health and fitness wearables company announced the launch of two new trackers in August, it was clear Fitbit wanted to double down on its play for the smartwatch market.
The company made the Charge 2’s display four times larger, making it easier to read and allowing for more in-depth notifications, like text messages and calendar reminders. Thinner, more stylish bands are now interchangeable, so users can accessorize for work, workouts, and nights out. The device managed this makeover while maintaining a five-day battery life.
My Charge 2 and I fell into a groove almost immediately.
I spent about an hour learning to navigate the smartphone app and providing information around my current health and fitness goals. The new Cardio Fitness Level feature gave me a personalised score based on my profile, resting heart rate, and exercise data that answered the question almost everyone wants to know but is too scared to ask: “Am I in shape?”
In my case, the answer showed room for improvement.
In the past, I’ve tracked the food I eat on a Weight Watchers app. The preeminent weight loss program helped me shed about 25 pounds in college — and more importantly, I kept it off. That is, until a year ago when I moved from New York to San Francisco and started walking less.
The Charge 2 keeps me moving constantly. In settings, I programmed the device to buzz if it’s 10 minutes before the hour and I haven’t walked 250 steps yet. The little nudges give me an excuse to get up and fill my water cup or take a few laps around the office every hour.
When I hit 10,000 steps for the day, my wristband celebrates with a gleeful vibration sequence and an animated fireworks display. I feel accomplished and better about my health.
I also started tracking my diet on the app, which is helpful because the app displays the number of calories I can still consume in order to achieve my weight loss goals. I don’t have to perform the mental maths of subtracting calories in from calories out before indulging in a snack.
Fitbit’s food tracker blows away the Weight Watchers app. Its database includes simple generic items, like bananas, but also packaged items from national and regional brands, such as Arnold bread. I even track meals out from certain restaurant chains.
When I input baby carrots, it recommends I add two tablespoons of Sabra hummus, as well, since the app knows I usually eat them together. The little things like that make the Charge 2 so robust.
Unfortunately, about a week into reviewing the Charge 2, I started to notice how it fell short.
When I get a text, the display will scroll through the sender’s full name and display the first two or three words of the message’s content. I have to whip out my phone to see the full text, which kind of defeats the point of getting notifications on my wrist.
While the text, call, and calendar notifications were mostly a treat, I found myself wishing I could receive alerts from Slack and Gmail, as well. Being a remote employee based in Business Insider’s West Coast Bureau, most of my communication lives on third-party messaging apps.
A few features could make drastic improvements to the experience you get with the Charge 2. The device already offers third-party app integration with some fitness apps, such as RunKeeper and FitStar Yoga. But it neglects the productivity apps I want to monitor throughout the day, like email and Evernote, where I keep a to-do list.
In an email to Business Insider, a spokesperson for Fitbit explained that the company has “carefully curated” the smart notifications that are on the Charge 2 to best match the device’s form factor. It also completed customer research to assure text, call, and calendar notifications mattered most to their customers.
There are not currently plans to integrate more third-party apps, according to Fitbit.
Here’s something else I can’t do using the Charge 2:
Granted, if I wanted a device more in line with a smartwatch, I could try the Fitbit Blaze. It’s very good at being a fitness tracker, while also letting users control music playback on their phones and receive notifications. But as my colleague Jeffrey Dunn explains, there’s a difference between “doing smartwatch things” and “being a smartwatch,” however.
What I learned from this review is that what I really want is an Apple Watch. So, last week when Apple announced the high-tech Apple Watch Series 2, I ordered one.
I will be able use the Apple Health data that the watch collects in Fitbit’s app, which gives me the best of both worlds. The only real sacrifice you make by buying the Apple Watch is the affordability of a Fitbit product. The Charge 2 comes in just under $150.
If you’re looking for a device that is strictly fitness-focused, the Fitbit provides a fantastic experience. But if you, like me, find yourself itching for more information from your gadget, it’s best to keep shopping.
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