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My first wearable products were bands, the Microsoft Band and Jawbone UP trackers, but over the past few years I've moved on to using watches. Bands are generally designed for daily activity tracking while watches tend to be more powerful. Fitbit understands that even casual athletes appreciate a bit more accuracy in tracking outdoor activities so for the first time it added a GPS receiver to a band in the Fitbit Charge 4.
I've been running, sleeping, and walking with the Fitbit Charge 4 for about 10 days and while it isn't going to replace my GPS sports watch, it is a solid wearable option priced to appeal to the masses. A couple of years ago I tested the Fitbit Charge 3 and it couldn't serve as my running watch because it was lacking GPS. That's been addressed in this year's model, but there are some other improvements to consider as well.
If you currently use an Apple Watch or a GPS sports watch and enjoy those experiences, then this isn't a wearable you are likely to consider. The Fitbit Charge 4 is for those looking for a more powerful small tracker that disappears on their wrist and serves to track all aspects of their daily activity, including sleep. The tracker itself isn't anything spectacular, but the data available to you in the smartphone app and on the Fitbit web dashboard is valuable for tracking your progress, setting goals, and helping challenge you to live a healthier lifestyle.
Display: 1.57-inch grayscale touchscreen OLED
Materials: Plastic resin case with a durable material band and a stainless steel buckle
Wireless: Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
Water resistance: Up to 50 meters and sweat, rain, and splash-proof
Battery life: Up to seven days, 5 hours continuous GPS use
Dimensions: 35.8 x 22.7 x 12.5mm, weight of just 30g
The Fitbit Charge 4 is nearly the same size as the Charge 3 and at first glance, it is hard to see a difference. The primary difference in the exterior hardware is the plastic resin case of the Charge 4 compared to the aluminum body of the Charge 3. This move to a resin material likely helps ensure a strong GPS signal is possible with the Charge 4.
In addition to an integrated GPS receiver, all Fitbit Charge 4 models have NFC to support Fitbit Pay. The Special Edition brand, and $20 premium, means you receive a reflective woven band in addition to a classic black band in the package. It's great to see support for Fitbit Pay on all models in 2020.
Like Charge 3, there are no physical buttons on the Charge 4. There is a cutout in the body on the left side and pressing this area acts as a capacitive button to return home and perform other actions. The glass display is a touch screen so you can swipe, tap, and hold on it to navigate through the various apps.
The Charge 4 retail package comes with small and large bands. I tested the Special Edition model with a granite reflective woven band and it was extremely comfortable. The same push-button mechanism is used to release the bands. The clasp on this band is stainless steel. Charge 3 bands fit on Charge 4 so there is a host of available bands you can purchase for prices ranging from $29.95 (classic and sport bands) to $49.95 (Horween leather).
A USB-A cable with a clasp end that secures to the Fitbit Charge 4 is included in the retail package. The Special Edition model also includes a black classic band, which itself is a $29.95 band so the Special Edition package is a good buy with a $20 premium.
The heart rate monitor is centered on the back with four openings for the various lights used to monitor your heartbeat. Three gold dots are present for the charging connector.
Fitbit Charge 4 review: in pictures
Charge 4 band software
After charging up and connecting your Fitbit Charge 4 to your Android or iOS device, the first screen that appears when you rotate your wrist is the watch face. There are currently 24 clock faces to choose from in the Fitbit app gallery, which is significantly more than the five we saw with the Charge 3 in late 2018.
Swipe down from the clock face to view notifications and swipe up from the bottom from the face to see the on-device dashboard where you can continue swiping up to see all of the items on your dashboard. This data includes steps, activity periods, Active Zone Minutes, heart rate, distance traveled, calories burned, floors climbed, sleep score, sleep duration, weight, hydration, and days of exercise completed in the week.
Swipe from right to left to access the apps you have installed on your Charge 4. Available apps include exercise, Spotify, agenda, relax, timers, alarms, weather, and settings. The Spotify app lets you control the Spotify playback from your connected phone. Since I've been running more with my phone, for safety and photos, the ability to control playback from the Charge 4 has proven to be quite handy.
Quickly press in on the left inductive button to go back one display. Press and hold on this button to select to toggle the DND, sleep, and screen wake options.
To use GPS for your exercise tap the exercise option and then slide left or right to choose your activity. Swipe up to enable GPS for those activities that support GPS. You can also toggle auto-pause and heart rate zone alerts. Activities can also be auto-detected if you desire. This auto-detect option is also available to manage in the Fitbit smartphone app.
The Fitbit Dashboard is available on the internet when you log in to your Fitbit account. You can customize the various widgets that appear on your Dashboard and it provides a more consolidated view of what you find in the smartphone app. Dashboard elements include Today data, active minutes, resting heart rate, recent exercise, badges & trophies, weight loss progress, sleep status, calories, and more.
Within these various elements, you can view more and dive down into the details of the data. There are a lot of options here for viewing your data and helping you track your progress towards achieving goals.
There are iOS and Android apps for Fitbit. The Fitbit app essentially mirrors what we see in the web interface with a slightly different user interface. However, one new element in the smartphone app that I do not see present on the web interface are the cool heart zone and pace intensity maps when you view your GPS data on the phone. You can see color-coded lines on your route that quickly shows various zones for these two metrics. This can help you target areas of your routes for future improvement.
A new metric for Fitbit, launching with the Charge 4, is Active Zone Minutes. This is calculated using your age and resting heart rate with goals based on the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization.
In addition, you can set up your smartphone notifications for Charge 4. Options include calls, text messages, calendar events, email and app notifications. On Android, you have full control over which apps have notifications appear on the Fitbit Charge 4 and you can also initiate quick replies form the Fitbit. The notifications are very basic and just provide you with the information in a few lines.
With Fitbit Premium, you can select various programs to participate in and these will appear in the Fitbit smartphone app. Charge 4 can be used to track your heart rate during these various programs to help track progress towards your activity goals.
Even though it is likely my upcoming half marathon will be canceled due to coronavirus, I continue to train for it since the training program also helps promote good health and fitness during this period of physical distancing and isolation. I've been finding services, such as Strava Routes, useful for my training, but these advanced services also require a compatible GPS sports watch. I appreciate all of the advanced capabilities of a GPS sports watch and won't personally be moving to a Fitbit Charge 4.
However, while people are working from homes or restricted to their homes, the Fitbit Charge 4 is a perfect product for helping people move around their living spaces, take part in various programs found in Fitbit Premium (a 90-day free trial is now available), and challenge family and friends. Challenges and following various groups provide you with various ways to stay in touch with people and help pass the time. I find the move reminders helpful as the buzz to get up and walk at least 250 steps each hour keeps me from diving into the computer without taking a break. You can safely walk these steps by taking a tour of your living spaces.
I ran with a Polar Vantage V and Garmin Forerunner 945 at various times to check the GPS accuracy of the Charge 4. For my runs between four and six miles, I saw only a 0.1-mile difference with only a couple beats per minute heart rate difference. For my long 7.5-mile run, I saw a 0.43-mile difference, which is pretty significant. For some reason, Fitbit is also estimating nearly double the calories burned that my other GPS watches do, but since I don't track calories I take in this data is meaningless to me. However, if you do track calories, then take what Fitbit is calculating with a grain of salt and try to validate these numbers too.
Fitbit states about five hours of battery life with GPS tracking. In my experiences, I saw battery life closer to three hours with GPS tracking so be ready to track your run and then charge up the Fitbit Charge 4 for the rest of your 24/7 tracking period. I also had a hard time seeing the display at times in cloudy conditions.
One of the major strengths of the Fitbit Charge 4 with its PurePulse heart rate tech is the advanced sleep tracking. With something as light and comfortable as Charge 4, it is easy to sleep with. One major benefit of working from home is that my 2.5-hour daily commute has translated into more than one hour more of sleep each evening. Over the past week, I have seen my sleep score range from 80 to 90 with an average of 85. When I look back to my Fitbit sleep data from before this crisis, my sleep score ranged from 69 to 79 with an average of 1.5 hours less sleep.
The Fitbit Charge 4 does a decent job of tracking your outdoor activities with GPS but excels at sleep tracking and step counting. The heart rate monitor matches other wrist-based monitors and has proven useful for managing stress. There are some wonderful programs available in Fitbit Premium and I highly encourage everyone to take advantage of the 90-day trial.