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Regular readers know I wear at least one, often two watches daily with one usually some type of smartwatch and the other a model of GPS sports watch. While I wear two watches, millions prefer a more minimalist approach to activity tracking and still prefer the classic band form factor. Last year's Fitbit Charge 4 brought integrated GPS to the band form and it was a fairly compelling $150 wearable.
This year's Fitbit Charge 5 easily trumps the Charge 4, even with a $30 higher price. The Charge 5 is a much more elegant band with curved stainless steel, brilliant color AMOLED display, and shift away from unreliable capacitive buttons to a full touchscreen navigation approach. As soon as I pulled the Charge 5 out of the box I knew it was different and easily the best fitness band that Fitbit has ever released.
See also: Best fitness tracker 2021: Improve your health
Fitbit recently released the Fitbit Luxe with a color display and similar user interface. However, Fitbit was able to bring much of the detailed health and wellness features seen in the Fitbit Sense smartwatch to the smaller form factor Charge 5. The Charge 5 is to the band form factor what the Sense is to the watch form factor and for just $30 more than the Luxe it is clearly the best tracker available today.
As soon as I opened the review sample package, I noted the much more elegant form factor of the Fitbit Charge 5 when compared to the Charge 4. The stainless steel material has nice curves with high-quality silicone bands that fit right up into either end of the Fitbit sensor module. Then when that lovely AMOLED color display is turned on you know you have a special tracker in your hands.
The display is small but feels large for a tracker with extremely crisp fonts and brilliant colors. It lies fairly flat against your wrist and the touchscreen is very responsive. Unlike some other devices, the touchscreen interface is also consistent and reliable so you can trust a tap or touch will perform the intended action.
I personally cannot stand the touch-sensitive areas, rather than physical buttons, used by Fitbit on some past devices as I always found the response to be inconsistent with slightly misaligned positioning during a button press. With the Fitbit Charge 5 you simply interact with the touchscreen with taps, double taps, and swipes.
The default infinity band secures seamlessly to the sensor module with a secure loop and pin on the other side. It's a very comfortable and high-quality silicone material, similar to the lovely Apple Watch Sport band material. There is also plenty of other Horween leather, fabric, and sport band options. I also tried out the Deep Sea Sport band, available for $29.95.
While the sides of the Fitbit Charge 5 are not buttons used for navigation, for the EDA scan you place your fingers along each side of the Charge 5 for the sensor to detect your electrodermal activity. The EDA scan results feed into your stress management and mindfulness measurements, which are important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
The back of the Charge 5 has an optical heart rate monitor with sensors to measure your blood oxygen levels, skin temperature, heart rate variability, and breathing rate.
After charging up and connecting your Fitbit Charge 5 to your Android or iOS device, the first screen that appears when you rotate your wrist is the watch face. There are currently 23 clock faces to choose from in the Fitbit app gallery. App selection is limited on the Charge 5 with notifications, exercise, alarms, timers, SpO2, EDA scan, and settings. ECG measurements and Daily Readiness score were launched in November.
Swipe down from the clock face to access quiet modes, settings, water lock, display settings, brightness, Fitbit Pay, and more settings. Once you swipe to bring one of these into view you can tap to access more information or control the toggles.
Swipe up from the bottom to access the Today app and view the date, battery status, steps, Active Zone Minutes, heart rate, distance traveled, calories burned, sleep score, completed exercises, and menstrual health tracking.
Swipe right or left to access the apps you have installed on your Charge 5. One app that I used on the Charge 4 that is missing on the Charge 5 is Spotify. I used this to control the music playing on my connected phone while running and hope to see this for the Charge 5 in the future.
Double-tap on the middle of the display to return to the clock face. You can also swipe left or right on most screens to go back one step or go back to the clock face.
If you are working out outside and want 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. You can choose to have the always-on display mode enabled during your workout, but this will impact the battery so keep that in mind if you are planning a longer workout and have limited battery remaining.
See also: Google's $2.1 billion bet on Fitbit: What will it do with the corporate wellness business?
In order to capture an ECG reading, tap the app on your Charge 5 and then place your index finger and thumb on either side of the display. Hold still for 30 seconds while the data is captured and when the screen shows you are done wait for it to analyze and show your results. I've had normal sinus rhythm readings every time so that's great. You can also download a PDF report from the Fitbit smartphone app and share that with your doctor for further testing and analysis if you have an abnormal reading.
The Fitbit Dashboard is available on the internet when you login 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 really 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. Google Fast Pair is supported so the Charge 5 should appear quickly right on a pop-up on your Android phone once it is turned on. The Fitbit app essentially mirrors what we see in the web interface with a slightly different user interface.
You can tap the edit button in the far right of the smartphone app to customize your Today screen. Pull down to refresh your sync with the Charge 5 to view your latest data.
In addition, you can setup your smartphone notifications for the Charge 5. 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 5 and you can also initiate quick replies directly from the Charge 5. The notifications are very basic and just provide you with the information in a few lines.
High and low heart rate notifications, move reminders, health & wellness reminders, goals, and up to six exercise shortcuts are available for your to customize in the smartphone app so I highly recommend you take the time to fully explore the powerful application and optimize your Charge 5 experience.
See also: Fitbit Charge 4 review: GPS, Fitbit Pay, and Active Zone Minutes make this Fitbit's best band ever
Over the past 10 days or so I have been walking, running, sleeping, and living with the Fitbit Charge 5. The GPS did an excellent job with my walks, but I did have a couple of inconsistent experiences on a couple of runs. It turns out I had the Fitbit Charge 5 tightened down on my wrist just a bit too much so that seemed to have caused some GPS signal issues. Make sure to have it snug on your wrist, but don't tighten it up too much and make sure to position it high on your wrist above the wrist bone.
When comparing the Fitbit Charge 5 to my GPS sports watches, the Cardio Fitness Score very closely matches the VO2 Max measured by those more advanced and more expensive sports watches. The ability to receive Daily Readiness Scores was made available in November and I've captured a few scores in the couple of weeks of testing. The score is designed to indicate what level of activity your body is prepared to take on with a high score indicating you can go ahead and challenge yourself while a low score may encourage you to prioritize recovery. This coaching and guidance is important on devices like the Fitbit Charge 5 that collect an amazing amount of health and wellness data on your daily activity.
The Fitbit smartphone software is powerful and captures a lot of data, including data gathered through external means, such as blood glucose levels, food, hydration, and weight (assuming you do not have a connected Fitbit scale). I would also like to see the option to record and monitor blood pressure as that is a very important metric that is key to helping prevent heart attacks and other heart problems.
My experiences with the battery closely matched what Fitbit advertises, 7 days in typical mode, down to 2 days with always-on display enabled, and about 5 hours with GPS tracking enabled. This is solid battery life for such a small tracker with a brilliant color display.
One feature I love on Fitbit devices is the smart wake setting that wakes you up with an alarm during a light period of your sleep. However, I don't like that the window for this is 30 minutes as I may be woken up 30 minutes earlier than I really want to if I hit light sleep at that time. I would love to see if a 15-minute window is possible as it would encourage me to use smart wake more often.
One data measurement I personally found useful on Fitbit devices was floors climbed, but I do not see that as an option on the Fitbit Charge 5. Fitbit doesn't provide detailed specifications on the hardware, but this leads me to believe there is no altimeter in the Charge 5 as floors climbed is not an available metric.
The Fitbit Charge 5 comes with a free 6-month trial of Fitbit Premium and I highly recommend you take advantage of this service. This is a $40 value (based on annual billing) or $60 value (based on monthly billing) and provides a wealth of additional services over the free Fitbit ecosystem. Services include advanced health and wellness insights, 30-day and 90-day trends instead of just a 7-day period, Daily Readiness Score, more than 200 audio and video workouts, more than 300 meditations and soundtracks for mindfulness sessions, more than 15 guided programs, more detailed sleep breakdown, and more. It is clear that the Fitbit Premium service is worth the cost if you want to optimize your health and wellness experience.