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Best Overall Fitbit
The Charge 2’s black sporty band frames a narrow screen that displays your vital signs. It ties with the Ionic for accuracy, soaring above the “good enough” attitude of most fitness trackers. We liked that the Charge 2 is full of features an intuitive to use. For a simple fitness tracker for walking around the neighborhood or sweating it up in spin class, the Charge 2 is our favorite Fitbit.
Best Incognito Fitbit
A fitness tracker that doesn’t look like a fitness tracker. Accurate and tiny, the Flex 2 has no heart rate tracker and small notification lights in place of a screen. But it has most of the features of the Charge 2, you just need to use the app to see your data.
Best Smartwatch Fitbit
The Ionic has a beautiful full-color screen, and looks more watch than fitness tracker. It builds on the Charge 2’s features with built-in guided workout programs.
The Charge 2 ($150) is our top pick, with a slim screen and narrow band that make it look like a slender watch. It records steps, distance, heart rate, and offers activity tracking. We loved how easy it is to navigate, with a simple click-through button to see your vital signs. There’s also a responsive tap mechanism to switch between activity types, so you can label your exercise as Run, Weights, Treadmill, Workout, Elliptical, Bike, or Intervals. The Charge 2 is a great all-around device to keep you on track for your fitness goals, but it’s only rainproof — best to take off if you’re doing the dishes or going swimming.
For a fitness tracker that won’t draw attention to itself, but also tracks your steps, distance, and activity levels, the Flex 2 ($60) is streamlined and inconspicuous. The actual tracker is a miniscule device, smaller than a AAA battery, that fits into a slim silicone-like band. It has five small lights that will notify you in a quick glowing pattern if you’ve received a text or a phone call, or will send you movement reminders to keep you on track for your daily steps. It doesn’t have a heart rate sensor, but it is swim proof — up to 100 meters deep.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one device to track your vital signs and exercise activities, with the benefit of a video “trainer” to motivate you through a quick work-out, the Ionic ($300) is your Fitbit. It has all of the features of the Charge 2 and then some. As a smartwatch, the Ionic comes with a few bonus features: you’ll be able to store music directly on it, and stream straight to a pair of bluetooth headphones, so you don’t need to carry your phone with you on your morning walk. It has a large, high-definition color touchscreen that’s really responsive, as are the three navigation buttons. And you can make payments with it, if you feel like leaving your wallet at home.
How We Found the Best Fitbit
The Best Fitbit needs to be accurate
Whether you’re training for a race, taking a walk around the neighborhood, or looking to lose or gain weight, accuracy is important. Accurate data will help you figure out how long you spent in each heart rate zone, how many steps you took today, and how quickly you ran that last mile.
From our testing experience with Best Fitness Tracker, and from research in the Fitbit community forum, we expected some Fitbits would perform better than others for measuring certain metrics. Most of the forum users estimate that their data is off by about 10%, though this will vary depending on which Fitbit you have (and the Fitbit technology available during its production). Accuracy also depends on you. Fitbit makes certain assumptions about users when they configure their algorithms for distance travelled or calories burned. Some of this is adjusted by the data you share with Fitbit, like your height and weight. Fitbit also has tips for calculating your stride length, which you can manually enter to increase distance accuracy.
Fitbit uses all of these data points to figure out how many calories you’ve burned. While having a small discrepancy in heart rate may not matter if your Fitbit is nearly perfect at measuring distance and steps, when multiple figures are off, it’s hard knowing if you’ve really burned 100 calories, or just 50.
We wanted to find which Fitbits were the most accurate in all three categories used to calculate your fitness achievements: counting steps, tracking distance, and reading heart beats. None of the Fitbits were right 100% of the time, but we preferred Fitbits that got closest and were off by the same amount every time. Like adjusting for a clock that runs 5 minutes slow, it’s possible to adjust for a Fitbit that always thinks we walked 10% fewer steps than we did. But a Fitbit that sometimes overestimates our heart rate, thinking we worked harder than we did, and underestimates the rest of the time is self-defeating.
What we tested
What we tested
We ran each Fitbit through three identical tests. We counted out 300 steps while wearing a heart rate chest strap — these track the electrical signal emitted as your heart contracts and are much more accurate than wrist wearables — and we used the app for our chest strap to keep track of how far we ran. Then we looked at our Fitbit stats and noted:
- Number of Steps. The Zip was the most accurate, reporting that we’d taken 301, 304, and 300 steps. On the other hand, among the worst for accuracy were the Alta, which both over- and underestimated by as many as 100 steps, while the Alta HR missed at least 50 steps in each test. Both the Charge 2 and the Ionic did well here, only adding one or two steps for every 100 that we took.
- Number of Miles. The Charge 2 was the most accurate for distance. The Ionic came close, but occasionally would read .14 miles travelled instead of .15. On the other hand, the Blaze was the worst at measuring distance, and frequently underestimated us by nearly 20%, meaning that it read .13 miles when we had gone .16 miles.
- Average and Maximum Heart Rates. While the average heart rates for our test came out fairly similarly, we gave preference to a Fitbit with a narrow range of error over a wider one. While tracking heart rates is tricky for any light-based device, a narrow range of results indicates greater consistency in measurement. Most of the Fitbits underestimated average and maximum heart rate by about 10%. But where the Blaze would underestimate by 6 to 7 heart beats every time (like that clock that’s consistently a few minutes slow), the Surge sometimes overestimated by 17, and sometimes underestimated by 12. The most accurate, the Ionic and the Charge 2, had the smallest ranges in both average and maximum heart rate (around 5-8 bpms off), and were the most consistent.
How Does Fitbit Track Heart Rate?
How Does Fitbit Track Heart Rate?Fitbit calls its technology “PurePulse,” which seems to use photoplethysmography to count heart beats. The red color of blood means it absorbs green light. As your heart beats, more or less light will be absorbed depending on whether your heart is expanding or contracting. By flashing green lights at your skin, Fitbits tracks when less light is absorbed than usual, and estimates your heart rate from that.
Your Fitbit should be easy to use
After testing for accuracy, we looked at whether each Fitbit was easy to adjust and intuitive to use. We gave points to devices that were straightforward and accessible and dinged those that we had to fight with simply to see our daily stats (we’re talking about you, Zip).
Fitbits typically use two methods to scroll through different screens: clicking and tapping. Testers unanimously preferring the ability to click rather than being forced to tap. The Zip, Alta, and Alta HR operate by tapping through each screen to view time, steps, distance, and calories burned. But since they didn’t always respond to the first (or second) tap, we sometimes found ourselves furiously jabbing at our wrists to get our tap to register. We then ended up over-tapping and completely skipping the stats we actually wanted to check and had to tap back through the sequence. Our testers weren’t impressed.
The Charge 2 offers hybrid input: a side button to click through the main pages, but you need to tap to scroll through extra options on each page. So you click through to heart rate, and tap to switch from current to resting, and then click over to exercises, and tap from Run to Weights, Elliptical, etc. The Charge 2’s tap is fairly responsive (though it does miss the occasional one).
The smartwatches take things to the next level with a touchscreen. With their larger, color screens the Blaze and the Ionic are visually appealing and offer more icons and more pages. Their touchscreens are much more responsive than the tapping screens of their smaller siblings, so we never had to fight to change a screen. In addition to the touchscreen, they each have three buttons for easy navigation. We were concerned that with more options (read: rabbit holes to get lost in) the smartwatches would be more difficult to navigate than the simpler wristbands, like the Charge 2. But none of our testers had a problem learning the different buttons to move between pages and backtrack to the main menu. Instead, everyone found the Blaze and Ionic to be extremely intuitive, and no one had trouble getting the touchscreen to respond.
It also needs to be comfortable
Fitbit makes bands in two different styles. Most use a standard watch-style band with a small buckle, but both the Flex 2 and the Alta come standard with a two-pronged hole-punch band instead.
Like the polarizing click or tap results, testers universally agreed that the hole-punch bands were uncomfortable and difficult to put on properly. Several testers found that the prongs were too loose, and the Fitbit would fall off their arm unexpectedly. On the other hand, some found the prongs couldn’t fully insert into the band without jabbing into their wrist. While we fought to put on the Flex 2, once on, we also fought to take it off, which made finding the right fit a challenge. One tester with sensitive skin struggled to remove the Flex 2, and had a small rash where it rubbed against her skin as she pried it loose. Testers preferred the buckle clasp of the watch-style bands: they were easy to put on, take off, and adjust.
We asked testers whether each Fitbit was comfortable and if they’d consider wearing it all day (and night) long. This is where personal preference started to show. Certain Fitbits were comfortable for some people, but uncomfortable for others (except for the Surge, which was panned by all for being bulky and unwearable – perhaps an insight as to why it was discontinued). While some preferred the narrow face of the Altas, others liked the wider face and broader band of the Charge 2. Although similar in size, the Blaze’s slightly wider screen and lower profile were favored over the bulkier Ionic, although the Ionic actually appears sleeker in style with its smooth band transition.
If you’re considering a Fitbit more for daily step tracking and heart rate than heavy duty workouts, it may be worth investing in a different band than the standard silicone-like one that comes with each Fitbit. Testers greatly preferred the extra leather bands (available for every style) that we ordered for the Ionic and the Alta, which were more comfortable and less conspicuous. That said, they’re not great if you’re getting sweaty at the gym. Getting a new band, in whatever material, is also an easy way to mix up your style with a new color, or sidestep the two-prong fastener problem if you go for the Flex 2.
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