What's it like to wear a Fitbit Charge 5 for a week straight? Things get itchy under the strap, for sure. Overall, I have mixed feelings about the latest Fitbit fitness tracker, but even I must confess that the Charge 5 has some admirable qualities. I wish all the promised features would be available from day one, though.
On the fifth day of my week-long challenge to wear the new Fitbit Charge 5 non-stop, I remember thinking, "maybe I should take this off soon", as my wrist was getting itchy under the silicone strap of the newest Fitbit. But I persevered, and I learned a thing or two about this much-hyped fitness tracker in the process.
The Fitbit Charge 5 has only been announced recently, but there are already a bazillion reviews online. This is slightly surprising as not all features are available yet, including one of the most interesting ones, the "Daily Readiness score", making it almost impossible to form a conclusive opinion about this fitness wearable.
Nevertheless, I could test plenty of other features, such as the always-on screen, the EDA stress test, and the GPS/sensor accuracy. And after 168 hours of looking at the tiny screen of the Charge 5 and the Fitbit App, I have a pretty clear picture of what these features are capable of.
Spoiler alert: the Charge 5 isn't the best fitness tracker on the market today, nor is it the best Fitbit, but this doesn't mean it hasn't got anything going for it. As long as you don't compare it to a running watch or other, often cheaper fitness trackers, you won't be too disappointed.
Here are five things I learned wearing the Fitbit Charge 5 for 168 hours non-stop.
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1. Activate Premium as soon as you set up the tracker
One of the best aspects of getting the Charge 5 is gaining access to the Fitbit Premium service. Sadly not forever, but six months is a long time to enjoy the benefits of Premium, including advanced sleep-tracking and health insights as well as the Daily Readiness Score, which isn't yet available, but it's "coming soon".
Once you connect the Charge 5 to the Fitbit App, I recommend clicking every menu option to activate all the Premium features. For example, you have to approve the small print under "Stress Management" so the Charge 5 can start logging the data needed for this measurement.
Skin temperature data wasn't captured either until I had a look at the "Health Metrics" section of the app. It might just be that the app was building the baseline for the first few days, but seemingly other features (e.g. breathing rate) were measured straight away.
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2. Always-on screen is a bit 'meh'
The big appeal of the Fitbit Charge 5 is supposed to be the new AMOLED screen: it's brighter and more responsive than the Charge 4. Better still, the screen also has an always-on option; you don't have to flick your wrist five times to activate the screen anymore!
However, in practice, the always-on screen is a bit... disappointing. First of all, it's tiny, so there isn't much information available on it in the first place, even when it's fully lit. Even more disappointingly, the always-on mode dims the screen so much, you can hardly see the time, especially in broad daylight.
Fitbit is rightly obsessed with maximising battery life, but I want the always-on screen to be a fully working screen and would accept a hit to the battery to get it. Hopefully, a firmware update further down the line will make this happen.
Right now, the always-on screen simply isn’t worth the battery life it requires.
3. GPS can take time to pick up signal but it tracks position nevertheless
I went for a couple of runs to see how the Charge 5's heart rate sensor and the GPS fare against full-blown running watches, in this case, the Coros Pace 2 (fun fact: both wearables are roughly the same price). I didn't take my phone with me and set the Charge 5 only to use its own GPS.
The weather wasn't great, so after standing around what felt like half an hour, being rained on, I decided to just go for it and let the Charge 5 pick up the signal if it could. After the workout, I was majorly surprised to see that the tracker actually tracked the route. Not sure how this happened, but the data was certainly in the Fitbit App after the run. I don’t know how it did it… but I liked it.
The accuracy of the GPS wasn't bad either.
4. Heart rate tracking is surprisingly accurate
Heart rate sensors have come a long way since the early days of fitness trackers. I would still not recommend wearing a fitness band such as this over a chest strap for running training, nor would I compare the accuracy of the Fitbit Charge 5 with the Garmin Forerunner 945 or the Garmin Venu 2. However if you don’t want to spend more on a watch, and find the idea of strapping a sensor to your chest terribly old fashioned and cumbersome, the Charge 5 is a good backup option.
Heart rate reading accuracy on the Charge 5 isn't terrible at all. I wore it for running and strength workouts, and in both cases, data from the tracker wasn't far off the mark (I used the Polar Verity Sense for strength workouts, for the record).
On the heart rate chart, most of the peaks and troughs were the same on both wearables, but admittedly, additional data in the Fitbit App didn't come close to that found in Garmin Connect or Polar Flow. For everyday training, the Fitbit Charge 5 is more than accurate.
5. EDA stress test is fiddly to perform
The EDA stress sensor is another new thing in the Charge series of fitness trackers. Previously, it has only been available in the flagship model Fitbit Sense, but now you can keep track of just how stressed you are using the Fitbit Charge 5 too.
The scan itself is as straightforward as it gets: you have to sit still for a certain time and let the sensor do its magic. However, I often stressed over not being able to perform the test as it required you to hold the sides of the Charge 5 with two fingers.
Now, I have large hands, so you would think I can easily hold a small tracker such as the Charge 5, but no. I spent quite a few minutes overall trying to find a finger position that the Charge 5 deemed correct, often ending up in a weird pose where I couldn't see the screen.
This wouldn't necessarily be an issue in itself, but the Charge 5 doesn't let out any sound or vibration to let you know the test has concluded. Even a cheap fitness tracker such as the Polar Ignite 2 has a vibration motor that guides you during breathing exercises, no idea why the Charge 5 can't do this.
Fitbit Charge 5: price and availability
The Fitbit Charge 5 costs £170 in the UK, $180 in the US, and AU$270 in Australia. In all cases, this includes a six-month Premium membership, regardless of whether you are a new or returning customer, which is excellent.
Pricing of the Charge 5 might make sense within the Fitbit ecosystem, but for what it has to offer, I think it's too expensive. That said, Fitbit likes to discount its wearables a lot, so If I was you, I might hold off on this purchase until Black Friday.
Fitbit Charge 5: also consider
The obvious alternative to the Charge 5 is… Fitbit Charge 4. This has a less jazzy screen and lacks the stress-testing feature and ECG – although this is not activated on Charge 5 yet anyway – but for daily fitness tracking it is essentially the same device but for way less money. It is last year's model, sure, but it's still a smart purchase.
The Huawei Watch Fit offers a lot of the same functionality as Fitbit's devices but at a lower price. It's not as slick in terms of presentation, app and social backing, however.
Whatever your Fitbit preferences, have a look at the best Fitbit deals to see today's best prices.