Sometimes a Charge just can’t catch a break. When I reviewed the Fitbit Charge 3, it was right on the heels of the Versa, Fitbit’s game-changing and affordable smartwatch. Why would you get a Charge 3, when you could get so many more smartwatch functions for just a little more?
The new Charge 4 is much more sensible, with several new features you’ll only find in pricier fitness trackers. Unfortunately, it comes at a time when we’ve all set aside self-optimization in favor of survival. I turned off my screen time notifications on my phone so I can read approximately 3,000 horrifying news articles per day. Finding out how little I’m sleeping nowadays with the Charge 4’s sleep tracker is equally depressing.
If you think a value-oriented wearable will help you, whether by pinging you to get off the couch or stopping you from doom-scrolling, then the Charge 4 is a great pick. But also, feel free to chuck it out the window. Do whatever you need to do to get through this challenging time.
To me, the primary reason to get a Fitbit is battery life. It is so, so nice to not have to charge it every night like I have to do with my Apple Watch. When tracking one to two activities per day, with notifications turned on and at normal brightness, the Charge 4 lasts me between 5 to 7 days. It’s a relief to cut one device from my nightly routine of plugging in my phone, laptop, and kid’s iPod.
Longer battery life means you can wear the watch while you’re sleeping, another arena where Fitbit excels. Its sleep features are the best in the market, and one of the reasons why you should probably spring for a Fitbit Premium membership, which costs $10 per month or $80 per year.
It does stink a little that Fitbit hides so many of its best software features, like the advanced sleep software, guided programs, and personalized insights, in the Premium subscription. On the plus side, Premium is still a deal if you were planning on enrolling in a separate coaching or training program anyway.
The Charge 4 uses a three-axis accelerometer and the optical heart rate sensor to measure your time asleep and the amount of time you spend in different sleep stages. The new SpO2 sensor also measures the changes in your blood oxygen levels, and Fitbit uses a proprietary algorithm to calculate these factors into an overarching Sleep Score.
Scores range from a scale of 0 to 100. Anything under 60 is extremely poor and scores over 80 are good. For the past week and a half, the Charge 4 has accurately recorded how little sleep I’ve gotten and I haven’t been able to fool it, even on nights when I popped awake at 4 am, checked my watch, and spent hours lying there thinking about the fate of the world.
It showed my precise awake time and wasn’t fooled by the fact that I was lying perfectly still. Unlike other fitness trackers, the Charge 4 could tell that a prone person with an ever-increasing heart and respiratory rate is probably not snoozing.
Long Way Home
Most devices as simple and affordable as the Charge 4 don’t carry built-in GPS. That makes Fitbit’s latest a great choice for outdoor runners who want the increased accuracy of GPS tracking without a heavy, battery-blowing color screen. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you can go phone free. For example, you still have to carry your phone to listen to Spotify, and you can’t use the Spotify app while the watch is tracking your workout.
But it’s perfect for long, idle, outdoor days, like when golfing or hiking with friends (did I mention there’s a new “Outdoor Workout” category for tracking these kinds of activities?). I started up the Charge 4 every time I took my kids and dog out for a (socially distanced) hike in the park behind my house, and I had no noticeable delay connecting to GPS. It always produced an accurate mileage count and map on the app afterward.
Zone Minutes is a great addition, too. It’s a new metric that measures how long you spend doing heart-pumping activities, like walking briskly or biking uphill. If I decided to step it up, the Charge 4 pinged me when I entered the fat burn, cardio, or peak zones. These intense parts of the workout are even visible as a heat map in the app, so I can precisely see where I pushed myself a little harder. It’s a smart way to encourage new exercisers to introduce high-intensity training into their routines, which can, in turn, make those workouts much more efficient.
Otherwise, the Charge 4 is pretty much like the Charge 3, just much better value. Along with the aforementioned features, I can also use it to set timers or an alarm, check the weather, and get reminders for my daily agenda. The heart rate measurements are consistent with what I got from Apple’s and Garmin’s devices, too. Better yet, it’s small and comfortable on my wrist, you can re-use old Charge 3 bands, and the grayscale screen is bright enough to see just about anywhere (including a dark bedroom at 4 am).
But it’s hard not to feel like the Charge 4 is a relic from another planet. I couldn’t go on a long hike with my kids without thinking that so many families have lost the ability to do so. I couldn’t take an exercise class, go swimming, or test out NFC contactless payments at my coffee shop. When I went running and the Charge 4 congratulated me for entering the fat burn zone, it was tough to not shout, “Who could possibly care about that now?!”
If a fitness tracker will motivate you to keep active and stay healthy, the Charge 4 is the way to go. Just remember to wear a mask when exercising outdoors, and don’t let even a nice wearable make you feel bad if you need to hunker down at home for a while.