Review: The Fitbit Charge 5 opens up the smartwatch vs fitness tracker debate

This one is for folks looking for an unobtrusive, lightweight wearable that can co-exist with a conventional watch or stay in your gym locker when you don’t need it.
Person using Fitbit Charge 5 outdoors
Person using Fitbit Charge 5 outdoors

Just a few days after I started testing the Charge 5, Fitbit rolled out a significant update that adds a key wellness element – an ECG app. It’s a big part of Fitbit’s pitch for the Charge 5 as a fully loaded activity tracker. It only deepens the debate around smartwatch vs activity tracker. Do you need to ditch your conventional wristwatch for one more device that needs to be charged frequently or strap an activity tracker onto your right wrist without letting go of your old school watch? That might depend on your use case scenario.

The smartwatch scene

Let’s break down the smartwatch space for you first. There’s the Apple Watch that’s recently on to its seventh generation. This is easily the most sorted smartwatch of them all with a robust app ecosystem and heaps of wellness features. But it doesn’t come cheap and only talks to iPhones. Google’s Wear OS has some apps and is gradually finding space on many wrists. And Samsung has become the latest brand to add to the watch ecosystem with its latest Galaxy Watch 4. 

Fitbit might be owned by Google now, but it’s still driven by its own watch ecosystem that offers some apps. Brands like Amazfit and Noise have carved a big part of the Indian wearable pie but aside from wellness features and watch faces they don’t offer much else. That opens up the whole smartwatch vs tracker debate. It might boil down to what you want from a wearable. If you’re good with the functionality of an Amazfit or OnePlus smartwatch, then that’s enough smartwatch for you.

A premium activity tracker

The Fitbit Charge 5 appears to be clearer about its positioning. This is an activity tracker but one with a premium price tag. Brands like OnePlus or OPPO have good-looking trackers that cost less than Rs 5,000. So, how does Charge 5 justify its premium price? It starts with the build. The Charge 5 is finished in aluminium, ditching the plastic build of its predecessor (the Charge 4). The display gets a boost too – an OLED display (1.04-inches) that’s brighter (326 PPI) even under harsh sunlight. The build quality is indeed premium; this is a wearable that won’t look out of place in a boardroom. The Fitbit is available in three colours, including the platinum-coloured frame with a steel blue silicon band that we checked out.

Big on wellness

Let me start with the newest feature on the Charge 5. This is one of the only trackers with an on-demand ECG feature that records the timing and strength of the electrical signals that make the heartbeat. Fitbit’s ECG app checks these pulses to assess your heart rate and detect if the upper and lower chambers of your heart are in rhythm. I measured this thrice and it worked without a fuss. But even if you use a wearable that offers this feature, it is always best to seek professional medical advice.

I spent time evaluating the other wellness features that are currently available on the Fitbit Sense, which sits on top of the brand’s portfolio. There’s SpO2 tracking that works even better than on the Fitbit smartwatches – you don’t need to get a specific watch face to track it; it is measured automatically. You also have an EDA (electrodermal activity) sensor to check stress levels and a temperature sensor that measures skin temperature variation.

It listens to your body

Fitbit is offering a six-month free trial offer on its Fitbit Premium membership after which it’s Rs 999 (for an annual subscription). The Charge 5 has also just added the Daily Readiness Score (only available for Fitbit Premium users) that recommends how hard you should work out. I have tried this out earlier on the Fitbit Sense and it’s a handy tool especially for people who need to listen to their body more. All this data can get quite overwhelming and it’s best you work out what you really need for your daily wellness goals.

With a Rs 15,000 sticker price, the Fitbit Charge 5 has its task cut out. You can get smartwatches that look good and offer a much larger display at this price. But they don’t offer the wealth of wellness features on the Charge 5. This one is for folks looking for an unobtrusive, lightweight wearable that can co-exist with a conventional watch or stay in your gym locker when you don’t need it. It’s also for serious fitness freaks who will appreciate the solid battery life (about a week without the always-on display) and basic connected features.  

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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