If you’ve been seriously thinking about trading in your wristwatch for a health and fitness tracker, then the latest Fitbit Charge 5 is the one to take along for the ride.
The Fitbit Charge 5 keeps a pulse on your stress, heart health, typical daily activities and overall well-being regardless of your age or daily activity level.
Fitness trackers have come a long way since the pedometer, the original step counter that’s gone the way of Sears, Blockbuster video and the dodo bird. Ownership and utility are no longer just for obsessive health nuts and those who want to shed weight, get fit or simply get in their 10,000 steps a day.
Even better, newer devices are no longer big, clunky and odd-shaped – in fact, they’re downright stylish, like a typical wristwatch. And they’re now affordable, app-enabled and can easily connect wirelessly to hundreds of devices like iOS and Android and smartphones and tablets for even greater functionality.
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The redesigned Fitbit Charge 5 has kicked health and wellness tracking up a huge notch while maintaining, for the most part, the functionality of its predecessor, the Charge 4. It gets a new body and an entirely new look; the previous plastic housing has been swapped for a sleek, sturdy, slightly thinner and rounder stainless-steel case. The greyscale touch screen and side button are a thing of the past, replaced with a twice as bright colour AMOLED colour screen with better visibility in direct sunlight and a plethora of new coloured watch faces.
Its two most significant enhancements are the EDA sensor which measures your body’s stress response, and its ECG capabilities which measure the electrical activity of your heart. The EDA sensor monitors even the most minute changes in the sweat glands of your fingers through a simple two-minute test. The ECG is a 30-second test that records electrical signals and looks for signs of AFib – atrial fibrillation – an irregular heart rhythm that might necessitate a conversation with your doctor.
The Fitbit Charge 5 already has a built-in heart rate sensor that measures your pulse 24/7. You can optionally set up monitoring to alert you if your heart rate exceeds the desired range. While many factors can affect your heart rate, a high or low heart rate may indicate a heart condition that requires medical attention.
Beyond heart health, the Health Metrics dashboard in the Fitbit app offers a holistic view of other key wellness metrics. These include your breathing rate, variations in your skin temperature and SpO2, which estimates your blood oxygen saturation level while you sleep. Active Zone Minutes can also alert you to a target heart rate during a workout. With the Premium app, you can also track long-term trends and personal ranges.
Other new features include a Water Lock so that when underwater, the screen will not illuminate, preserving valuable battery power and an Always-on mode for continually monitoring your stats while working out without the display turning off.
The Charge 5, like the previous model, has built-in GPS functionality that keeps track of your location-based workouts and can save your data, navigate through adventures in real time and share the journey with friends and family. Sleep Mode turns off notifications and disables the screen so you’re not disturbed at night.
Ever wonder how much deep sleep, light sleep, REM sleep or how much time you’re awake during the night? Fitbit never sleeps, but it can keep tabs on you when you do.
Lifting your wrist displays the date and the number of steps you’ve taken. Tap it again to see your heart rate and, again, for the distance travelled today, calories burned and more. A quick swipe accesses a stopwatch and a battery indicator that gives a visual and a percentage of battery life remaining so you know when it’s time to recharge. What displays depends on which of the 20+ virtual watch faces you’ve selected.
The Fitbit also shines when partnered with a smartphone or tablet. You can set fitness goals, track workout routines and embark on new challenges. The app offers weight and nutrition guidance and tools and measures your hydration.
You can also use it for a number of your daily work or home-related activities.
Some of the functions of the Fitbit I’m now hard-pressed to do without include alarm alerts and messaging capabilities. While you might think of these as redundant smartphone features, having them built in is a definite plus – especially if your phone isn’t handy.
Alarms are handy for more than just a morning wake-up. They can also alert you of an upcoming appointment or remind you to take your medications. And instead of a loud racket disturbing the entire household, your Fitbit will gently vibrate to notify you. And it has a snooze button as well.
If configured to receive notifications, the Fitbit will vibrate and show you calendar alerts, text messages and who’s calling your phone, which is especially handy when pulling out your phone is inconvenient or just not a good idea (like when you are driving). But while you can accept or reject a phone call, there is no mic or speaker to actually take the call. You can also use your Fitbit to send back quick auto-replies if you have an Android phone.
Another handy feature is Fitbit Pay for contactless payments from your wrist, as long as your financial institution supports it. (There are only a select few in Canada).
Battery life is rated seven days, although results will depend on display use and GPS connectivity, among other factors. About four to five days is more typical.
Remember, however, that these devices are designed for general wellness and are not a replacement for proper medical attention.
The Fitbit Charge 5 is available in three colours and retails in Canada for $199.95 and includes a six-month free trial of the premium app membership.
Troy Media columnist Greg Gazin, also known as the Gadget Guy and Gadget Greg, is a syndicated veteran tech columnist, communication, leadership and technology speaker, facilitator, blogger, podcaster and author. Reach him @gadgetgreg or at GadgetGuy.ca.
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