Fitbit Charge 4 review: Built-in GPS and better sleep tracking, plus it’s pretty

The Fitbit Charge 4 ($ 130 best buy) has everything you need in a fitness tracker for under $ 200. Finally, it includes built-in GPS to track outdoor workouts independently, has better training tools for athletes, and fits most of the same features of smartwatches in a slimmer package than the more expensive Fitbit Versa ($ 170 on Amazon). It’s still my favorite Fitbit. If you’re looking for a fitness tracker that behaves very much like a smartwatch without the extra bulk, the Fitbit Charge 4 might be the perfect fit.

I do not like

  • Low visibility in direct sunlight
  • No quick response for messages on iPhone
  • Shorter battery life than Fitbit Charge 3

Features added without the added bulk

There are many great wearables for athletes, such as the Garmin Forerunner 945 and Suunto 3, which have far more fitness capabilities than the Charge 4, but aren’t the most stylish. The $ 150 (£ 130, AU $ 230) Charge 4 is a tracker I’ll happily wear 24/7 thanks to its sleek, understated design (and it’s often on sale for a lower price). If you are familiar with Charge 3 ($ 98 on Amazon), the new version doesn’t look very different – it’s just a little bulkier on the wrist.

The screen can only be viewed in black and white, but I like it to be almost half the size of a traditional smartwatch, like the Apple Watch ($ 399 at Apple)and it does away with the physical buttons as well. Instead, you control the Charge 4 with a combination of the touchscreen and pressing the left side of the tracker to navigate the settings. The touchscreen isn’t as responsive and takes a few seconds to turn on when you raise your arm to wake the screen, but I finally got where I wanted to go. The only time the delay really bothered me was while I was running and wanted to have a quick look at my stats without taking my eyes off the road. Like the Charge 3, it’s also difficult to see the screen in direct sunlight.

The regular Charge 4 comes in three different colors with silicone sports bands, but the Special Edition, or SE version, which I tested, comes with a braided band option for $ 20 more. The straps are easy to replace (unlike the Versa 2 ($ 179 best buy), which has complicated switches) and if you’re upgrading from Charge 3 you’ll be able to use those bands on the newer tracker. There are also loads of third-party strap options available to customize your look.

The Charge 4 is comfortable to wear all day and doesn’t penetrate my skin when I hold it on a run. You can also wear it in bed. Like other Fitbits, it also tracks sleep. I won’t go so far as to say it’s comfortable to wear in bed, but at least I didn’t want to rip it in the middle of the night like other trackers.

The Charge 4 pushed me to run faster

As a basic fitness tracker, previous Charge models already checked most of the boxes: measuring steps, calories, floors climbed, heart rate and distance (using the phone’s GPS). But that wasn’t enough for more serious runners like me. I’m by no means an elite athlete, but I run regularly, so having a built-in GPS is high on my wish list. GPS allows Charge 4 to map your route during a walk, run, bike ride, or hike outdoors without having to rely on your phone.

I did a few runs, and the Charge 4 gave consistent distance readings on the same course with and without my phone. You can also view a heat map of your route on the Fitbit app, which also indicates the intensity at which you were running based on your heart rate.

The only other Fitbit device that offers built-in GPS is the Ionic ($ 198 on Amazon) watch, but is now over two years old and I found it too big and bulky to be worn regularly. (This will change at the end of this month when the new Fitbit Sense and Fitbit Versa 3 are released, both with built-in GPS.)

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Vanessa Hand Orellana / CNET

The Charge 4 tracks over 20 different activities, from cycling to yoga. It is also water resistant to 50 meters like Charge 3, so you can use it for swimming. You can program up to six exercise shortcuts on the Charge 4, but you need to choose and sync them from the phone app. You can also set it to automatically track your runs and set goals for things like pace, distance, or calories burned before starting each activity.

GPS isn’t the only tool for athletes. The Charge 4 has added a new metric called Active Zone Minutes, which uses heart rate zones to determine the intensity of your workout. The goal is to have 150 active minutes recorded by the end of each week, but you can increase or decrease the goal based on your fitness level.

A few years ago, Fitbit began dividing heart rate data into training zones for each activity based on age and weight. After a workout you can log into the mobile app and see how long you’ve been burning fat, cardio, or peak. Charge 4 adds real-time notifications about heart rate zones so you can take action while exercising.

I had to push myself a lot harder than usual to get my maximum heart rate alert on the screen (you also hear a buzz on your wrist as you hit each zone). I realized that I was overestimating my effort and it was helpful for the Charge to push me out of my comfort zone. I see this is a good training tool if you are looking to break your personal best in a race.

Battery life takes a hit

The only downside to having GPS on charge is that it will drain the battery much faster than on the Charge 3. Fitbit says the Charge 4 can last up to seven days on a charge, but I could barely reach the fourth day earlier. to have to connect it.

I didn’t mind having to recharge after four days, but if you’re looking to make the most of the battery life (and plan to use it at night) I’d recommend turning off the GPS when it’s not in use. You will just have to remember to do it after training. You can do this from the shortcuts of the charging exercises. Swipe up from an activity that uses GPS, such as running or cycling, and turn it off.

Sleep tracking has some serious benefits

I have never been able to take much advantage of tracking my sleep in the past. With a 6 month old baby and toddler waking me up at odd hours of the night, I was also afraid to see my stats the next morning, let alone get rated on my sleep. Each morning, the Fitbit app gives you a sleep score based on everything from sleep duration to sleep stages, heart rate and changes in blood oxygen levels – aka SPO2.

After a few nights of testing, some useful data was actually provided on my sleep habits. For starters, I got a pass mark (over 60) every single night, despite having woken up to breastfeed my little one. The app told me it’s normal to spend up to 45 minutes awake every night, which was comforting. It also gives you tips on how to improve your score, like keeping bedtime consistent, no matter how late (or early) it is.

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Vanessa Hand Orellana / CNET

Everyone can see basic information in the app, such as the amount of sleep you sleep and its quality, but Fitbit Premium subscribers have access to heart rate and blood oxygen data. I haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary in my chart, but I can see that this feature is extremely useful for people who suspect they have a more serious sleep-related condition like sleep apnea. If so, it might be worth the extra $ 9.99 (£ 8.99, AU $ 15.49) per month for a premium account.

There is a predictable downside: with all this sleep data I worry that I may become addicted to the sleep score to feel aroused during the day. That is, a low sleep score can subconsciously make me feel tired, even though I felt like I had a good night’s rest.

More than just a fitness tracker

The Charge 4 goes beyond health and fitness tracking with some smart features up its sleeve. It mirrors every notification you can get on your phone, regardless of whether you have an iPhone ($ 699 on Amazon) or an Android phone, but only Android users will be able to reply to messages with preprogrammed quick replies.

You can’t yet store music on board to take it with you on a ride, but if you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber, you’ll be able to use the Charge 4 as a basic wrist remote to pause and skip tracks. However, there is no volume control.

It now also includes a new agenda app along with existing apps for timer, alarm and weather.

You’ll be able to set up Fitbit Pay on your wrist and use Charge 4 on any tap-to-pay payment terminal as the tracker now has built-in NFC (previously, you had to purchase the special Charge for Fitbit Pay edition). Unfortunately it doesn’t have as many banking partners as Google or Apple Pay yet and it wasn’t compatible with my main bank (US Bank), so I couldn’t test it. I’m also quarantined at home, so most of my payments are still done online, not in physical stores.

Everything you need in a small package

The Charge 4 does a lot considering it’s essentially a fitness tracker. But you don’t end up saving a lot compared to a smartwatch like Fitbit’s Versa 2 (the regular Charge 4 is $ 50 less than the Versa 2, which only has GPS connected).

So price alone isn’t reason enough to pick the Charge 4. For me, it’s about getting everything Fitbit offers, including GPS, in a slimmer package than the Versa 2. The Charge 4 is my favorite Fitbit until today.

First published on May 18.

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