With all the different options out there for tracking fitness, it can be overwhelming. We all want to see results, but how do you really know if you are pushing yourself hard enough each day to get fit and healthy? The other challenge is finding a fitness tracking device that is easy to use so you can easily log and review your daily, weekly and monthly progress without having to read a manual or take a lot of time figuring out a complicated gadget. Even the best fitness trackers aren’t worth using if you can’t figure it out quickly and easily. The Fitbit Charge 2 is not only extremely easy to use, but it’s also like having your own personal trainer and fitness coach right on your wrist for under $150!
This review will provide an initial overview of the features and then we will dive into each specific feature so you can easily track your short-term and long-term fitness goals. One of the great things is that you can easily see your results on a daily basis to keep you motivated so you can monitor your short-term objectives and then easily look back at your progress so you can gauge your long-term targets. There are even ways to get discounts and points towards purchases with compatible retail store locations (basically, getting paid to workout). You may already know a lot about the Fitbit Charge 2, but want to learn more about certain features listed in this review. Feel free to skip to the sections you would like to learn more about. The bottom line is that this fitness tracking device is fun and easy to use, keeps track of your progress, and if you like to stay connected with others, it allows you to reach goals together with your friends, family and communities from all over the world!
Design: Style, Fit and Feel (Yes, It Vibrates!)
The band on the Fitbit Charge 2 is interchangeable and it can easily be swapped out for a different band so you can look stylish when going out for a night on the town or just going to work each day. There are many different styles and colors of bands available on Amazon to choose from. The band that the Fitbit Charge 2 comes with is a silicone sports band that is available in several different colors. The band is very comfortable on the wrist and the overall size of the Fitbit Charge 2 is smaller in size so it’s perfect for women. It’s so comfortable that I actually forget that I am even wearing most of the time! It is light weight and has adjustments so you can get the perfect fit. With a simple turn of the wrist, you can see a vibrant display which lists the time, date and your current steps. There are also 6 different clock face displays to fit your viewing needs. I like seeing the time, date and steps when I am at work and then switching to the time and heart rate while working out to check on my heart rate zone during my workouts. This can all be adjusted through the app which you download on your phone.
Besides the overall look and comfortable feel of the FitBit, there is also another part of the design which, if you look at it in a positive and motivating way, it’s a huge plus. This feature is the vibration reminder. In the initial set-up, you will set goals for yourself and throughout the day, your Fitbit reminds you to get active and move around so that by the end of the day, you can reach your activity goals. It is like having a competition with yourself each day! So the look, comfort and vibration function are all positive features which help you reach your goals faster and still look stylish while doing it.
Wrist Tools – Turn Your Wrist or Touch The Screen
I must admit, I am one of those people who just wants to get my “new toy” out of the box as quickly as possible and start playing with it without paying too much attention to the boring manual or instruction booklet. One day, I touched the screen on my Fitbit when trying to get to the button on the side, which I normally use to switch the viewing screens and the screen changed, and that’s when I figured out that it’s a touch screen face! All you have to do is touch the screen with your finger and you can scroll to the different viewing screens. It’s so easy! The screens you can view include: heart rate, workout type (run, weights, treadmill, workout, bike, interval workout), stopwatch, a relax feature, notifications (on/off) and the battery percentage. You can see your heart rate and select a certain workout to track by just tapping on the screen of the Fitbit Charge 2.
Weekly Reports – Get Detailed Updates
Each week I am emailed a report which shows the total activity in 10 different areas which include: total steps, total floors, total miles, average daily calorie burn, total active minutes, amount of days exercising in the week, average restful sleep, average hours with 250 or more steps, average resting heart rate, and weight loss. You can also review your daily report on your phone which shows your total steps, floors, miles, calories burned and active minutes. It is helpful to know what all of these components mean when tracking your fitness. However, don’t feel overwhelmed with the wealth of information because sometime it can seem like information overload. Instead, try focusing on one component at a time to set your goals and create a competition with yourself until you see which one you want to focus on the most for your overall fitness needs. I will review each area in-depth below so you get a general idea of how each one works.
Fitbit Charge 2 Guide:
- Total Steps
- Total Floors
- Total Miles
- Average Daily Calorie Burn
- Total Active Minutes
- Amount of Days Exercising in the Week
- Average Restful Sleep
- Average Hours with 250 or More Steps
- Average Resting Heart Rate
- Weight Loss Tracking
- Weekly Report
- How To Make Money
- Overall Rating
You might be wondering how the Fitbit Charge 2 tracks steps. Well, it is a very complicated process but just to break it down into simple terms, it uses a 3 axis accelerometer for motion (frequency/duration of movement + intensity + pattern of movement) to determine steps taken, distance traveled, and calories burned. It translates movement into data. To calculate your distance it uses the following algorithm: walking steps x stride length = distance or running steps x stride length = distance, or by default stride length using your gender and height. You will want to set the stride length for your steps so the Fitbit can customize your stride length for walking and running to have the best accuracy. It will also evaluate your data and automatically update your running stride length when you track your runs using the connected GPS. All you need to do is run at a normal pace for 10 minutes and it will automatically sync and update your stride length (a normal pace when running means no sprinting). In a nut shell, if the motion size is large enough, it will count as a step. There is a warning though. If walking on a very soft surface like a plush carpet, it might not count as a step so be careful. I have carpet in my home and did notice that it wasn’t actually reading my steps when walking around in my bare feet. However, if I put shoes on and walk around my carpet, it does calculate the steps accurately.
How does the Fitbit’s tracking feature log floors and what does it not track (although there is still a way around this part)? The tracker uses what is called an altimeter sensor, which is just a fancy way of saying your movement up and down. In order to be logged as a floor, you will need to increase your elevation (movement upward) by 10 feet at one time. When going down stairs, the tracker does not count the number of floors. It will also not count the amount of floors when using a stair climber, inclined treadmill or any stationary exercise machine which tracks floors because your body does not change in elevation by 10 feet. But, is there a way to track your activity when using one of these exercise machines? Yes, there is a way around this! You have to simply log the exercise into the Fitbit. Here are the instructions:
- Click on the blue plus (+) button on your dashboard.
- Click on track exercise from the menu.
- Type in “stairclimber” into the search area on the screen and it will automatically pop up in the fitness menu, then click on “stairclimber” (if that’s the machine you’re using).
- After your workout is over, type in the number of calories burned for your workout. By doing it this manual way, you will still at least get credit for your calories burned and get credit for steps too!
The tracker inside the Fitbit Charge 2 uses the algorithm I discussed in total steps to calculate your distance but it is important to calculate your stride length when setting up your Fitbit. Do the following to calculate your stride distance:
- Go to a place where you know the distance from point A to point B (starting point and ending point).
- Count your steps as you walk across that distance and make sure that you go at least 20 steps.
- Divide the total distance you walked (using feet) by the number of steps you took and this will give you your stride length.
Another way is to do this from your dashboard within the Fitbit app on your smartphone. Click on “settings/personal info”, then under “advanced settings” find “stride length” and click on “set your own” and adjust your stride length. Be sure to click “Submit” and sync your tracker. Then you will be set for the accurate calibration for your total miles.
Your calories burned information is calculated using these 3 main factors:
- BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate).
- Activity recorded by the tracking function.
- Activity you have logged manually.
Your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is the amount of calories your body burns with normal bodily functions such as breathing, heart rate, and brain activity. This part is calculated for you when you set up your account with your personal information (age, gender, height, weight). Then, when you perform any type of activity, those calories are also logged. If you do any exercises that are recorded manually, those will also be added to your daily calories burned. The “Average Daily Calorie Burned” feature is automatically reset at midnight.
How Accurate is The FitBit for Tracking Calories Burned?
According to a recent study conducted by Stanford, fitness trackers may accurately measure heart rate but not accurately measure calories burned. The Stanford study measured the accuracy of seven different devices and found that out of the seven, six accurately measured heart rate within 5% but none of them accurately measured the amount of energy expended which translates into calories burned for tracking purposes.
The researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine randomly selected 60 volunteers, 31 women and 29 men, to use seven different fitness trackers (Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Fitbit Surge, Microsoft Band, Mio Alpha 2, PulseOn, Samsung Gear S2) to track heart rate and energy expenditure. None of the devices measured energy expenditure accurately and the best one was still off by 27%. The most inaccurate device (they did not say which one) was off by 93%! The volunteers wore the devices while walking and running on a treadmill and pedaling on a stationary bike. Two “gold standard” measurement devices (medical-grade electrocardiograph for heart rate and another instrument for measuring oxygen and carbon dioxide in breath) were used to evaluate the accuracy of the fitness trackers for heart rate.
The researchers found that there was an error rate of less than 5% when measuring heart rate. So, if you are using the Fitbit to track your heart rate, then you are in good shape. However, if you are using it to calculate the amount of calories you’re burning each day, then it looks like the numbers could be off. The reason for this, according to the researchers from the Stanford study, is that each device has its own special way to calculate energy expenditure and it is very difficult to have this calculation fit all types of people. Fitness trackers use an algorithm (fancy word for formula) based on your statistics (fitness level, height, weight) to track the amount of calories you have burned (energy expenditure). Heart rate is measured directly (it’s hard to mess that up) and is a direct measurement, so the accuracy is much better. It is important that we all know what is measured accurately with these fitness devices and what is questionable. Millions of people are making decisions regarding their overall fitness, health and eating habits based on the data from these fitness trackers which may be off by as much as 27-93%.
When doing any activity that is more strenuous than walking, the tracker will recognize and award you. This includes brisk walking, cardio and running. This calculation is executed using metabolic equivalents (METs) measured by the intensity of the activity you are doing. Anything that is above 3 METs is recorded as an active minute but only recorded if performed for at least 10 minutes which means 10 minutes of continuous moderate-to-intense movement. When you manually record an activity, you will only get active minutes if you also log a high calorie burn since custom activities do not have an assigned MET measurement.
There are 4 main ways exercise is calculated on your Fitbit and these include:
- MultiSport or exercise mode.
- Manually logging an exercise.
Your tracker will automatically track exercise if the intensity is more than walking and it is more than 10 minutes. If you want more accurate calculations, then you can tell your tracker when you are starting and ending a workout by either recording this on your smartphone using the Fitbit app or on your wrist using the different workout types. To see your exercise history, you can click on “Track Exercise” on the dashboard on your phone and it will list all of your exercise history for the week. For MobileRun, the Fitbit will calculate your distance, elevation and pace for your run, walk or hike. It will also calculate the calories burned for your activity.
You will need to wear the Fitbit to bed in order to have it track your sleep. After wearing it all day, I hardly notice it is on my wrist so it won’t be uncomfortable to sleep with it on. However, I recommend that you make sure to turn off notifications so you won’t get reminders and messages which will definitely disturb your sleep. It uses your heart rate to track your time in light, deep and even REM sleep and even your time awake. This feature definitely opened my eyes to how I was really sleeping (or lack thereof). I noticed that even though I had slept 7 or more hours, I still had many minutes of tossing and turning during the night. Sleep is so important to overall health and weight loss so I have made changes to my schedule to improve my sleep habits.
Your Fitbit Charge 2 is automatically set to 250 steps per hour which equates to just a few minutes of walking. If you are having one of those relaxing days, it will vibrate to remind you to get off your couch and get moving so you reach your steps goal, which for most people is 10,000 steps per day. You can click on the hourly activity to see an hour-by-hour log of your activity and swipe to see your activity for the past 30 days. I like to look at these two features to reflect on my activity for the month and see where I can improve upon and also look for trends. In the first screenshot below, you will see a view of my daily activity by the hour. My longest stationary period was from 8:00pm to 9:21pm. My average stationary period is 1 hour and 25 minutes for 30 days. The next screenshot shows my hourly activity for the week (today is Monday so I haven’t really done too much today yet) but as you can see, I had a pretty lazy Sunday! It is a helpful tool to review and definitely a great way to reflect on your fitness goals and make improvements for the upcoming week.
The last screenshot shows my stationary period average by the day. As you can see, Saturdays and Wednesdays were my days with the longest amount of stationary time compared to Sundays and Fridays with the least amount of time being stationary for the month.
Your heart rate is measured when blood volume changes as your capillaries expand and contract. The LED lights on the back of your Fitbit Charge 2 reflect onto your skin to measure these changes. These changes are measured automatically and continuously. Heart rate is measured in three main zones and the Fitbit Charge 2 uses the common formula (220 minus your age) to find your heart rate zones. The peak zone is 85% or more of your resting heart rate, the cardio zone is 70-84% and the fat burning zone is 50-69%. You can click on the “Heart Rate” function on your dashboard to see your heart rate zone in each of the 3 areas for the day. This is an area I like to use in order to really analyze the intensity of my workouts. I make my own personal goals for my heart rate tracking to see if I can increase the intensity of my sprints when doing my runs to increase my heart rate during certain portions of my workout. As you can see in the screenshots below, my resting heart rate was 65 bpm and I had 13 minutes in the peak zone, 43 minutes in the cardio zone and 6 hours and 33 minutes in the fat burning zone.
To log your weight loss, it is important to log your weight each week using the same scale for accuracy. You can also purchase the Fitbit Aria Smart Scale which syncs with your Fitbit to calculate the following items (you can also set goals and use the calorie coaching feature to achieve them):
- Body weight.
- BMI (Body Mass Index).
- Lean mass.
- Body fat percentage.
I highly recommend looking at your weekly report to analyze the data and set goals for yourself. This weekly report is emailed to whichever account (email address) you used to set up your Fitbit. There is so much information contained in the weekly reports, but to simplify things, I like to first look at my overall steps. This is an easy way to determine my goals for the next week. One week I saw that I had 54,813 steps and my best day was 13,910 steps. I then noticed that I only reached my goal on a couple of days. For the next week, I decided to step up my goals by increasing my movement and the duration of my runs. I increased from 54,813 to 84,539 steps and my best day increased from 13,910 to 18,179! I also had 5 days of reaching my goal versus 2 days in the previous week. My total floors increased from 51 to 63 which is another area to focus on for goal setting. As you can see, the more active you are, the more calories you burn. The average hours with 250+ steps went from 6 of 9 hours all the way to 8 of 9 hours. This is an ongoing journey with yourself and not a final destination so make sure to set small, achievable goals for yourself instead. You will feel better about tracking your results if you look at your achievements this way.
One of the best things about the Fitbit Charge 2 is that you can actually make money with it! Two great smartphone apps you can use are “Walgreens” and “Achievemint”. With Walgreens, you simply create an account and link your Fitbit to your account. You receive rewards for making healthy choices. For setting your healthy goal and linking a device, you will receive 250 points for each one. Then, you will receive 20 points for walking, running, cycling and 20 points for frequent activities. You can also earn points for weight tracking, blood pressure, blood glucose tests and nicotine replacement therapy. The balance rewards for healthy choices are added to your reward points. For every 1,000 points you receive $1. This is automatically recorded for you, so once you set it up, you don’t have to do anything else (set it and forget it). When making purchases at any Walgreens, you can redeem your points for money when you reach at least 5,000 points which is equivalent to $5.
I give the Fitbit Charge 2 a rating of five stars! I’ve been using this tracker for 5 months now and not only has it helped me hold myself accountable with regard to my personal fitness goals but also provided support and incentives to keep me motivated. Before using this fitness tracker, I had no way to really tell how intense my workouts were or how often I was active on a daily basis. I also didn’t have any positive motivation to stay healthy. I only had the negative thoughts in my head like, “If you don’t workout you will gain weight” or “If you don’t get up and move your health will deteriorate”. Years ago, I had a personal trainer which definitely helped me stay on track and motivated. However, it was extremely expensive and I couldn’t keep paying someone to keep me motivated to workout. I joined a gym which was cheaper of course and I attempted to keep a workout journal but it just seemed to be more time-consuming and didn’t really give me a feeling of accomplishment. I then came to a point where I could no longer pay for any extra fitness expenses (personal trainer or gym) and received the Fitbit Charge 2 as a gift for Christmas.
I had previously spent thousands of dollars on gym memberships and personal trainers. Now, I’m accomplishing all of my fitness goals and enjoying my overall fitness experience, all for under $150! I like to call the Fitbit Charge 2 “The personal trainer on my wrist” and I give it a five star rating for the following reasons:
#1: Easy To Use
With the flip of my wrist I can see my heart rate and steps which makes it easy to see if I am on track to reach my goals each day or if I need to step it up and push myself a little harder. If I forget to do this, the Fitbit Charge 2 will vibrate and remind me (this is a setting you can set up in the app). If I want to check my daily progress, all I have to do is pull out my smartphone, open the app and everything is right there on one screen for me to see. When I have reached my goal for the day, the tracker will vibrate and notify me. It is like having my own personal trainer and motivational coach to guide me, and the great thing is that I don’t have to pay it by the hour! The tracker notifies me when I need to do things such as exercise, eat or even get ready for bed.
Let’s face it, after a long day at work I need some motivation to workout. Sure, I realize that if I don’t workout my body won’t look as good, and more importantly, my physical and mental health will go down the tubes, but sometimes I need that little extra boost of encouragement to keep me going. The Fitbit Charge 2 gives me two great incentives and this includes friendly competitions with other users and making money! Being a part of a fitness group has always motivated me and the daily, weekly and monthly challenges not only keeps me on track for being fit, but also gives me a way to connect with my friends. I have friends who live all over the country and sometimes it is hard to stay in touch, but with the Fitbit Charge 2 challenges, I am able to stay in touch with them despite the distance. I feel like they are right there with me while I am working out. The other factor that keeps me motivated with the Fitbit Charge 2 is earning money. If I can do something that I know will improve my overall health and make money at the same time, why wouldn’t I be motivated to do it? I earn points for my Walgreens account and Achievemint. This is a great incentive and something that is automatic. I don’t have to remember to log my points or fill out a form since the Fitbit Charge 2 app does all of that for me. I also earn points for my health insurance through Humana. My personal trainer and gym couldn’t even provide that service.
#3: Educational Tool
I have learned a lot about fitness through the app itself. The links to the instructional manual provides great insight into each of the areas being tracked (heart rate, sleep, etc) and I have learned ways to improve my overall health through the research and information found in the app. I don’t have to go looking around for how the tracker works because it is right there in the app.
#4: Goal Setting
We all know that having reasonable goals is important, but coming up with those goals can be a real challenge. Using the Fitbit Charge 2, I can not only set long-term goals, but also short-term goals to keep me focused. There are many ways to set goals using the tracker and I like the flexibility I have using the app. Each day, I have a step goal and I always try to beat it! It is like having a competition against myself. For example, one day I went over my step goal by 6,000 steps. The next day, as I was finishing my run, I noticed that I had again gone over my goal by 6,000 steps but then pushed myself even further to get to 7,000 steps and surpass my goal even further! It was just a few extra laps around my neighborhood and made me feel good that I was pushing myself harder. It is easy to set goals with the information right there on your wrist. I don’t just set goals with steps, sometimes I set goals with the amount of floors (stairs) I complete. In order to keep things interesting, I find new ways to set goals and push myself.
#5: Fits Into My Routine
Life is already complicated and having one more thing to document or keep track of is not something I can or even want to do. I needed something to do that for me and the Fitbit Charge 2 does a great job of keeping track of my workouts, heart rate and sleep. I make slight changes as needed, but it does not interfere with my daily routines. I don’t want something extra to do when it comes to working out. Instead, I want instant feedback so I can reflect on how I am doing and then make adjustments as needed. The Fitbit Charge 2 is like having a second brain that tracks information for you. Sure, I have to decide how I will improve my overall cardio workouts, or if I need to run faster to reach my peak heart rate during other workouts, but it provides me with the information I need to take those next steps.
What Can Make The Fitbit Charge 2 Better?
As much as I enjoy using the Fitbit Charge 2, there are a few things that could make it even better. The first thing is the lack of being waterproof. I like to swim once in a while and that is impossible with the Fitbit Charge 2. It’s not even supposed to be taken into the shower. The Fitbit Charge 2 is water-resistant, meaning that it’s rain-proof and splash-proof, so you can get it slightly wet, but make sure to avoid fully submerging it in water. If this is a deal breaker for you and you’re looking for something to swim with then look into the Fitbit Flex 2 which is completely waterproof.
The battery life is also a slight issue. It says it should last up to 5 days, but I have to charge mine every 2-3 days. I do look at my tracker for the current time and to see my overall steps throughout the day, but I still feel the battery should last longer. There are a few tips to improve the battery life on the Fitbit Charge 2, so I will need to review that information further. I have not used the tracker for counting calories, but it does have a way to scan in your food, but tracking each food item will take a lot of time. I use an app called My Fitness Pal to log my calories which can be synced up with the Fitbit Charge 2 app. The overall positives totally outweigh the slight negatives I’ve noticed with this fitness tracking product and I highly recommend the Fitbit Charge 2 to anyone who wants to track their fitness so they can reach their goals faster and live a healthier life!