When it comes to smart wearables, Fitbit bands are easily the most recognisable and reliable devices in the market. Several companies have launched smart-bands in the last three years, but the first reaction many unfailingly have is, “Is that a Fitbit?” However, brands like Xiaomi and Huawei have taken the game to the next level and started offering features that even Fitbit bands lacked. All that in the past, and now we finally have is the Fitbit Charge 5 – offering a large, coloured display without any physical buttons on the sides and noticeable features like ECG and blood oxygen monitors – typically present on smartwatches, including those from the Google-owned Fitbit.
Now, the Fitbit Charge 5, by no means, is cheap. It costs Rs 14,999 in India, way costlier than fitness trackers like Mi Smart Band 6 (Rs 3,499), Huawei Band 6 (Rs 4,490), and OnePlus Smart Band / Realme Band 2 (Rs 2,499 and Rs 2,999, respectively). However, I want to add that I’ve used the old-gen Fitbit Charge 2 for over three years, and there’s something special about the device. It still offers nearly five days of battery backup without taking too much time to charge. It gets the work done and is perfect as a no-frills device, especially in this day and age where your gadgets are abuzz with notifications and adverts. This is why I have taken so long to write this review, as I received this unit nearly two months ago. And quite honestly, the band has been glued to my wrist ever since. In case you’re wondering what’s so special about this band and whether you should consider buying it, here’s a breakdown.
Design: It is clear that Fitbit is taking a leap of faith with the design of the Fitbit Charge 5. As I mentioned, there are no buttons, and instead, we get metal plates on the sides that help in Electrocardiography (ECG), and EDA scans to detect electrodermal activity. The fitness tracker looks like an enlarged version of Fitbit Luxe that debuted in April this year. That does not mean the band looks unattractive by any metric. It weighs 28 grams, just 2 grams lighter than the Fitbit Charge 3 (by 2 grams) that I dearly and regularly used for three years.
We get two same coloured straps inside the box, a regular one (fits wrist 130mm – 170mm in circumference) and a large silicone strap in case you got thicker arms (170mm – 210mm in circumference). I tested the Lunar White / Soft Gold Stainless Steel colour model, but customers can choose between Black / Graphite Stainless Steel and Steel Blue / Platinum Stainless Steel option. Honestly, all the colour options look elegant, and the perfect blend of chic and minimalism sets this one totally apart.
The straps also get rid of the metal buckle, and for first-time Charge 5 users, putting on the band may seem a bit complicated. But after a few attempts, you can adjust the fit even in the most uncomfortable postures in bed.
Display: Coming to the screen, the Fitbit Charge 5 finally gets a colour display that offers a viewing area of 1.04-inches (diagonal) against the 1-inch screen on the Fitbit Charge 4. The smart-band fully supports touch controls and can work with Android and iPhone (we tested it with an iPhone 12).
The screen offers decent brightness both indoors and outdoors, and users can choose between three modes from the inbuilt settings – dim, normal, and max. I tested under normal brightness mode that delivered satisfactory results and even extended the battery life per charge. There’s also an always-on display mode on the Fitbit Charge 5, but sadly, you get less than 24 hours of battery. Additionally, the band is water-resistant up to 50 metres, and there seems to be no IP rating for dust protection. After occasional (and accidental) bumps against various surfaces, the screen withstood scratch marks.
Performance: But looks aside, Fitbit insists that the band is primary for fitness-oriented customers despite adding a large screen to rival Huawei and Xiaomi’s latest-gen bands. Customers get a host of features some present on most fitness bands and others unique to this device.
I will keep this section short and highlight the features users will love the most. That being said, the first would be notifications. I opted to get notifications from WhatsApp, Instagram, and iMessage. The fitness tracker fetches notifications as long as there’s internet on your phone, without any lag or delay. However, Android users get an extra option to reply that iPhones (including mine) lacked.
Honestly, I didn’t miss the reply back feature since I prefer a big display if I am typing a message longer than a sentence. The band also comes with an inbuilt DND (do not disturb) mode if you want to silence notifications while reading or working out.
Then we have the most priced ECG (also EDA scans) and daily readiness score – the latter only works with the premium membership (that we get free for 90 days). Both are highly useful features, but there’s also a catch. The ECG is only for reference and gives a generic overview, so if you are planning to compare it to the Apple Watch, it still has a long road ahead. On the other hand, the daily readiness score is calculated by tracking a bunch of parameters such as your daily activity, sleep and more, and you’ll need to juggle between the phone app to see results. I did get favourable results during my test, but it still requires some improvements. For instance, despite wearing the band for days and weeks, it failed to fetch a score at the start of the day.
But when it comes to the missing features, the omission of the altimeter is something I miss. You’ll still get some elevation details from outdoor workouts via the GPS, but COVID 19 has limited outdoor trips. Similarly, I hope Fitbit also adds support for weather apps and music control. Overall, there’s no doubt that the Fitbit Charge 5 performs well when we look at the features that it offers; however, the absence of these controls at this price tag may bother select customers.
Battery: Similarly, more features naturally means greater battery consumption, and one needs to laud Fitbit for managing to still offer a 5-day backup with a coloured display (normal brightness), notifications in the background, and other health trackers. If you use the EDA scan, I noticed a sudden drop of nearly two percent battery, so do keep this in mind. As mentioned, if you use the AOD feature, the band will barely offer a one-day battery backup.
But what I am not fond of is the magnetic charger instead of the clip-on charger that we got with the Fitbit Charge 4 and Charge 3. It essentially means you’ll need to purchase a new charger in case this one gets damaged, while the old one simply eats dust in your closet.
Verdict: Despite a sleek and modern design, nifty features, and good battery backup – Fitbit Charge 5 remains a very tricky device to recommend, which is why I purposely took so long to review this unit. In that case, I will try to break it down based on customer type and preferences.
Firstly, to make it clear – the Fitbit Charge 5, by no means is an average fitness tracker if this is your first smart wearable. In fact, it will simply up your expectations for Charge 6 or even Charge 7, whatever the company chooses to call them. But the other factor that remains is the price – a hefty Rs 14,999 price tag.
So without digressing more, if you’re planning to get a new fitness band to fight big screen fatigue, Fitness Charge 5 is your answer. But if you want something bigger and equally advanced, the Fitbit smartwatch or OnePlus Watch should suffice. And, if you’re an old Fitbit Charge customer and planning to upgrade, the Charge 5 should definitely be at the top of your list if you have the budget.
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