When it comes to wearables, your choices primarily fall into two buckets: smartwatches that have fitness tracking features and fitness trackers that also have smartwatch-style notifications.
Fitbit’s new Charge 2 falls squarely in the latter group. It’s all about fitness, though its notifications are a useful addition. While few wearables manage to do both well, the Charge 2 strikes the right balance, if fitness-first features are what you’re after.
One of the $149.95 Charge 2’s most noticeable changes, compared with previous generations of the Charge line, is the slimmed-down design. Though the display itself is bigger and has a slightly higher profile than some smartwatches, the band is thinner and feels less bulky overall.
I’ve never been a big fan of wrist-worn wearables I’ve worn a Fitbit Ultra almost daily for years so getting used to a slightly chunkier band was a bit of an adjustment, though not as cumbersome as some other trackers I’ve tried.
Still, if you prefer a more minimalist fitness tracker, the Charge 2 may not be the one for you at least, not for everyday use.
The extra bulk does come with a few nice tradeoffs though, including a heart-rate monitor and spectacular battery life. Fitbit says its tracker is rated for up to seven days, and I’ve managed to squeeze a few extra days on top of that. Your mileage may vary, of course, but considering most smartwatches will barely last a day, it’s still quite impressive.
The Charge 2 is also more customizable than previous Fitbits: its bands are swappable and you can change out the standard blue, black, teal or purple plastic band for one of Fitbit’s new leather bands, which should dress it up a bit more for when you want to wear it outside of the gym.
All about workouts
Fitbit has also given some serious upgrades to its actual workout-tracking features, which is undoubtedly where the Charge 2 excels most. In addition to the standard metrics like steps, flights and heart rate, Fitbit has added the ability to track 19 different types of activities. These cover your standard gym routines (treadmill running, elliptical and weight lifting) to interval workouts, circuit training and yoga, as well as outdoor activities like tennis and hiking.
One that’s notably absent is swimming. The Charge 2 is not waterproof so, naturally, swimming is not one of the activities you can track. Though Fitbit’s other new wearable, the more minimalist Flex 2, is waterproof, it feels like a feature that should have also been included in the more high-end Charge 2.
Fitbit has added the ability to track 19 different types of activities
Of the 19 types of workouts you can track, you’re able to keep shortcuts for seven of these on the band itself (you can choose which ones in the Fitbit app) and tap through your saved activities on the display. Then, when you’re ready to start a workout, you just hold down the button on the side of the tracker.
Some activities will provide additional contextual information relevant to what you’re doing, interval workout mode will keep track of activity and rest times and hikes will keep track of your steps and elevation gain, and at the end you can view all your stats in the Fitbit app on your phone.
Fitbit previously added GPS-tracking to its app so when you go on a run or a hike you can see a map view of your route when you finished, along with your pace. It doesn’t have as many features as a dedicated running app like Strava, but it’s a handy feature to have built into the app and is a nice complement to the tracker’s activity presets.
Workouts aside, the Charge 2 also has a new “relax” mode that will guide you through 2- or 5-minute long guided breathing sessions to help you unwind at the end of the day or after a workout. The feature uses the device’s sensors to track your breathing and then uses an on-screen graphic to guide your breaths in an exercise that is surprisingly calming.
But perhaps one of the coolest features for fitness buffs is the ability to analyze your overall fitness level by estimating your VO2 max score (the app refers to this feature as your “cardio fitness level.”) The metric, typically used by professional athletes, measures how much oxygen you use during cardio activity to gauge your fitness level. (At a basic level, the more oxygen you can consume during a workout, the more in shape you are.)
A truly accurate VO2 max measurement requires specialized equipment in a highly controlled lab setting. Fitbit, however, uses information from your profile, including your gender, age height and weight, and heart rate information to estimate this score. (Experts agree that it is possible to estimate a VO2 max using these indicators, by the way.)
Fitbit’s estimate was very close to the score I was given in the lab.
I actually completed a VO2 max test at a local university a few months back so I was especially curious to see how Fitbit’s assessment stacked up. (The company advises you to first sleep with your tracker so it can gauge your resting heart rate and go on a run for at least 10 minutes in order for its assessment to be most accurate both of which I did.) And I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Fitbit’s estimate was very close to the score I was given in the lab. Fitbit gave me a score of 37 while my lab test came out at 34 (this, by the way, is only an “average” score for my age, according to the Fitbit app’s helpful, if blunt, explanation.)
In the past, we criticized Fitbit for not providing much analysis when it comes to the stats it’s actually tracking, so it’s nice to see the company adding more features that help explain what everything means.
Even though I already know I’m not working out consistently enough, it’s helpful to have a quantifiable metric beyond steps and calories to keep track of.
If you’re not a big gym-goer and are more interested in the basics tracking steps, calories and notifications from your phone then the Charge 2 is likely not the device for you.
But if you’re looking to make your workouts more efficient and keep tabs on your heart rate, the Charge 2 offers the best of both worlds in a tracker that still looks good enough to wear every day.
Fitbit Charge 2
Tracks everything Excellent battery life Swappable bands and customizable display
A little bulky for small wrists Not waterproof App can be difficult to navigate
The Bottom Line
Fitbit’s Charge 2 is the best tracker for all your workouts.
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