A fitness tracker that does it all

Diana J. Smith
Fitbit Charge 5 Review

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Fitness is more than just spending time on the treadmill or in the weight room. Keeping your stress in check and getting enough sleep is just as important for your health as hitting a new personal record. Whether you care about your calories burned or getting enough shut-eye, the Fitbit Charge 5 tracks it all. But what makes this fitness tracker stand out from the rest? Read on to find out why we at Reviewed love the Charge 5.

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What is the Fitbit Charge 5 fitness tracker?

For a comprehensive fitness tracker, check out the Charge 5.

The Charge 5 is the latest iteration in Fitbit’s Charge collection. It’s about one inch wide, slightly larger than some other fitness trackers like the Fitbit Luxe, but smaller than a smartwatch. Some handy features of the Charge 5 include its built-in GPS, 20 exercise modes (six of which you can add as shortcuts and start straight from the device), sleep tracking and contactless payments.

But one of the biggest advantages of the Charge 5 is how much you can do right from your wrist. It’s easy to swipe through the tabs to find the feature you want. Scrolling side to side you can access your notifications, exercise shortcuts (which allow you to quickly start recording an exercise using the tracker’s GPS), alarms, timers, electrodermal activity sensor (which tracks your stress level) and any other apps you download to your home screen. Scrolling up lets you access the “smart” settings which include the display settings, water lock (which locks the screen while showering or swimming to prevent splashes from activating any features), sleep and “do not disturb” modes and payments options (for contactless payments). Scrolling down gives you summarized health information such as steps taken, calories burned, distance walked, your “active zone minutes,” hourly activity, heart rate, resting heart rate and summarized sleep data.

You can view more detailed information about your heart rate, sleep, weight, stress and workouts on the Fitbit app. Pretty much any information you could want from a fitness tracker, you’ll get with the Charge 5.

What do we like about the Charge 5?

The Charge 5 is comfortable and easy to use.

The ease of recording workouts

The Charge 5 is especially inspiring when it comes to fitness motivation. In addition to the expected step tracking and reminders to move when you’ve been sitting too long, using the tracker outside for walks, runs and bike rides is a cinch. I found the screen easy to read thanks to its increased brightness (Fitbit says it’s twice as bright as the Charge 4), and responsive to my touch, even while I was dripping in sweat. To start recording a workout, you scroll over to the exercise shortcuts, select the type of activity you’re looking for and tap the screen to press play. If you have your phone with you, the built-in GPS connects almost immediately (it takes roughly five seconds) and I didn’t experience any disconnect or delays during my workouts. If you don’t bring your phone, the GPS takes longer to connect—about 15 to 20 seconds. However, you don’t need to wait for the GPS to connect before taking off. The Charge 5 will estimate where your activity began and adjust the distance traveled. In my tests, the tracker accurately determined where I started exercising.

What’s more, if you forget to start a workout mode on the tracker, your walk, run, swim or bike ride will be automatically counted in the app, as the Charge 5 recognizes sustained repetitive movement lasting at least 10 minutes as an exercise session (though you can change the settings to auto-recognize activity after anywhere from 10 to 90 minutes of movement). You won’t get to see your route traveled, but you can still check out your heart rate, calories burned and “zone minutes” earned.

For workouts you track with the GPS, not only can you view your course later in the app, you can see on a map how your heart rate and pace changed throughout your workout. For example, when your heart rate is in a lower zone, the distance ran (or walked or cycled or swam) in that zone is colored in yellow. When your heart rate increases, you can see on the map where it gets up to the orange or red zones. You can view your pace in a similar way—“low pace” stretches are blue and “high pace” stretches are green—so you can see where you sped up or slowed down along the way.

Heart rate alerts to help monitor intensity

If you want to keep tabs on your heart rate while exercising, you can set the tracker to alert you when you enter a new heart rate zone. I used this feature during a HIIT cycling class and it confirmed when I was pushing myself into the next zone or letting my heart rate drop during a recovery phase. It helped me push a little harder during the intense periods (I tried to get from the “cardio” zone into “peak”) and gauge when my heart rate returned to a lower zone during recovery stretches.

Wrist-based heart rate tracking is never as accurate or quick to respond to pulse changes as if you were to wear a chest strap-based monitor, but I found the Charge 5 seemed accurate enough for me in the workouts where I paid attention to it. When I went on a run with the Charge 5, my heart rate peaked when I was sprinting and slowed while I took a break to walk. I didn’t feel the tracker took too long to catch up with my rising or falling pulse, and felt the heart rate measurements and workout intensity maps accurately represented my heart rate, even if it wasn’t 100% perfect.

Sleep tracking to reinforce a bedtime routine

I found the Charge 5’s sleep tracking and features to be accurate and useful for improving my sleep cycle. It tracks interesting data like the time spent in your sleep phases (awake, light, deep and REM), your heart rate and estimated oxygen variation (which can be a sign of breathing disturbances while sleeping). You can also answer a few questions for Fitbit about how much sleep you want to get and what time you like to wake up in the morning, and it will set a goal bedtime for you and send you reminders when it’s time to start winding down at night.

But my favorite sleep feature is the “smart wake” alarm, which signals your Fitbit to vibrate half an hour before your alarm is set to go off to gently wake you up. As a night owl and a deep sleeper, I found this feature effectively roused me and made for a much more pleasant awakening than a traditional alarm clock—it would be especially useful for people who have to get up at a different time than their sleep partner.

What don’t we like about the Charge 5?

Not all of the Charge 5's features were perfect.

Fitbit’s atypical heart rate zones

Though I felt the Charge 5 accurately evaluated my heart rate—I measured my pulse the old-fashioned way a few times and found the tracker’s estimates to be near-perfect—I didn’t like the zones Fitbit calculated. Typically, heart rate is measured in five zones, ranging from 50% to 100% of your maximum heart rate. However, Fitbit uses four zones—“below zones,” “fat burn,” “cardio” and “peak”—which feels less accurate and slightly confusing.

Adjusting to four heart rate zones can be difficult for those who already track their heart rate. And for those who don’t already pay attention to their pulse, Fitbit’s zone names can be misleading. From my estimations, the “below zone” was anything less than 59% of my maximum heart rate, the “fat burn” zone was 59% to 73%, the “cardio” zone was 74% to 89% and the “peak” zone was 90% to 100%. When your heart rate is 50% to 60% of your maximum, that’s generally considered zone 1. You’ll find yourself in zone 1 during light activity like on recovery days or during a warm-up, and though your heart rate is relatively low, it doesn’t mean you aren’t working out, as “below zone” may imply. Similarly, the “fat burn” zone is not necessarily the most effective zone to target if your goal is to lose weight. Though you will burn more calories from fat than carbs proportionally at a lower heart rate, the most efficient way to lose weight is to burn more calories overall, which will happen at a higher intensity. And lastly, you don’t need to stay in the “cardio” zone for your entire cardio workout—in fact, you will see more aerobic improvement if you mix up your intensities during some workouts.

Smart notifications that aren’t very useful

Although I appreciate Fitbit’s efforts to include some smartwatch features on the Charge 5, I didn’t find them up to par. While receiving text or app notifications on the Fitbit can be useful, the feature falls flat for iPhone users like me, given the fact that only Android users can “quick reply” from their wrists.

It’s also not very convenient to view the notifications on the tracker because the screen is not as large as a typical smartwatch. You’ll find yourself scrolling down to finish reading even short texts and getting frustrated trying to read anything longer at the rate of two words per line. Overall, the notifications fail to live up to their potential.

The lack of device customization

Even though it was easy to scroll back and forth on the tracker, the volume of tabs and features is… a lot. For example, I never used the timers or text notifications—and don’t see myself using them in the future—and would like to get rid of the excess tabs clogging my home screen, but that’s not an option for most of the pre-loaded apps.

Similarly, I think the Charge 5 could benefit from some customizable simplification for the workout statistics. While walking or running, you can view your current pace, average pace, heart rate, calories burned, steps taken, time of day, distance traveled, time spent working out and zone minutes earned by tapping through several screens on your tracker. It’s nice that Fitbit includes so many data points, but it feels cluttered and makes it more difficult than it should be to check these statistics while exercising. I could tap the screen three times to look at my heart rate, then would have to tap four more times to see how far I had run (or walked or biked) and then four more times to get back to my heart rate. It’s unlikely that you’ll be keeping tabs on all these statistics in the middle of a workout, and it would be smart if you could remove the ones you don’t use so you can do less tapping mid-movement—this customizability is also not an option on the Charge 5.

What new features does the Charge 5 have?

The Charge 5's new features set it apart from other trackers.

Though the latest addition to Fitbit’s Charge collection looks similar to its predecessors, it has a few new upgraded features—and a higher price tag, retailing for about $180. The Charge 5 is somewhat slimmer than the Charge 4 (10%, says Fitbit) and even more comfortable to wear all day long. The company claims the screen is twice as bright as the Charge 4’s, which makes for easy viewing in the sun (a complaint we’ve had about other Fitbits).

The Charge 5 also includes electrodermal activity (EDA) sensors, previously introduced on the Fitbit Sense smartwatch but new to the Charge collection, which evaluate electrical changes in your skin and tell you how stressed you are on a scale of one to 100. The sensors are on the sides of the screen; to use them, you start an EDA scan in the menu and pinch your thumb and forefinger around them for three minutes.

Should you buy the Charge 5?

The Charge 5 is a great for tracking many aspects of your health.

Yes, if you want comprehensive activity tracking in a slim package

The Charge 5 is our top pick for an all-around fitness tracker. It tracks a myriad of useful health information, not just your steps taken or calories burned, and is easy to use. The sleep and exercise tracking are knockout features of this Fitbit, and the inclusion of stress tracking is an added bonus to an already great product.

Despite all the features we love, the lack of customization contributes to the Charge 5’s cluttered feel and the features that aren’t very useful like the text notifications knock off a few points. Additionally, the features that Fitbit doesn’t do so well, like it’s wonky heart rate zones, are drawbacks to any Fitbit tracker.

At nearly $180, the Charge 5 is on the higher end of fitness trackers. But for such a nifty device that keeps tabs on your movement, stress and sleep, we think it’s worth it. The Charge 5 is easy to use, provides plenty of data and for a fitness tracker, looks pretty sleek. Any fitness lover will enjoy using this tracker to get more information about their health.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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