Which feature-packed tracker should you choose?
Fitbit’sline-up of fitness trackers is now pretty huge and deciding between the Fitbit Alta HR and Fitbit Charge HR isn’t easy. On face value they are pretty similar propositions, and it makes the decision of which Fitbit to choose a little trickier.
If you’ve settled on the Fitbit ecosystem and you’re looking for an all-rounder with a display then both fit the bill.
And both have enjoyed substantial price cuts over the holiday season. The Fitbit Alta HR and Charge 2 now retail widely at a tantalising $129 across the board. And given the amount of fitness tracking tech packed into these two devices, it’s a really reasonable proposition.
But you’re here to find out which of these fitness trackers is best for you – so here goes on our breakdown of how the two Fitbits compare in terms of design and comfort, features, activity and sleep tracking, battery life and more.
On aesthetics alone, the Alta HR (above) is likely to win more fans than the Charge 2. The slimmer profile means the fitness tracker can be worn with dressier outfits and alongside a watch on your wrist.
The same size as the non-HR Alta, which is impressive technologically, it also, in our opinion, looks and feels more like an accessory designed with women in mind. Which isn’t to say some of the Luxe leather strap options won’t look suave on men’s wrists too.
The Alta HR is sleeker, lighter and 25% slimmer at just 15mm wide but the overall design is very similar on the Charge 2. Both offer a small-ish black and white OLED display, polished silver body and textured elastomer straps that you can swap out for a decent range of different colours, finishes and materials. (One small point – the Charge 2 has a stainless steel clasp, the Alta HR doesn’t.)
It should be noted that since launch the Fitbit Alta HR has attracted the attention of a wide array of 3rd part band makers, and the choice for customisation is impressive. Check out our round-up of the best Fitbit Alta HR bands.
The main impact of the overall designs on how you’ll use each tracker is that if you want a bigger screen, to easily glance down at, then go for the Charge 2 and make do with the larger device.
On the Alta HR, there are no buttons so all interaction with the device is done by tapping on the touchscreen. Since Fitbit screens tend to need an extra tap to register, you might prefer the Charge 2 as controls are via a combination of tapping, swiping and pressing the side button.
Both the Alta HR and Charge 2 have the exact same water resistance recommendation from Fitbit: both are sweat, splash and rainproof but not to be worn in the shower or swimming. If it’s a waterproof Fitbit you’re after, go for the Flex 2 instead.
The Charge 2 offers a lot of features that you won’t find on the Alta HR and any one of them could be a deal breaker.
The Fitbit Charge 2 has ConnectedGPS (which will piggyback your phone’s GPS when you’re out for a run to get accurate distance data), workout modes and Relax which uses the HR sensor to track guided breathing exercises. The Alta HR was updated to offer Cardio Fitness Score, which is essentially a dumbed down VO2 Max reading – although in our testing we found it to be fairly off the mark.
We assume the breathing feature could be added as an update for the Alta HR but it’s a shame not to see it on this lifestyle device as we reckon it would be a good fit. As for the sports features, this will depend on what you want to get out of your Fitbit – remember these two trackers are the same price so it really is a question of form versus function.
As the name suggests, the Alta HR does have a heart rate sensor like the Charge 2. Sleep tracking, which now brings heart rate data into the insights, is available on both devices if you want to wear your tracker in bed. And of course both use the Fitbit app and ecosystem with its graphs, dashboards, leaderboards and new features like Adventure challenges.
Neither of these Fitbit trackers is trying to masquerade as a smartwatch but it’s worth noting the smartwatch-like features. Both trackers handle notifications, including from some third party apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, though we prefer reading them on the Charge 2 as a clipped message than on a slant as they are displayed on the Alta HR.
For phone calls, you can see who is calling and this is fine, working well on both device’s displays. Plus both trackers also send you Reminders to move alerts every hour throughout the day.
Let’s start with the Charge 2. It’s generally accurate day to day though one of our reviewers did find that it slightly over-counts steps and misses some stair climbs in testing. SmartTrack automatically recognises running, cycling and other activities and VO2 Max – labelled as Cardio Fitness Level in the app – is a proper fitness metric which is a little high compared to other devices but accurate enough to be useful.
Resting heart rate from PurePulse is bang on and once the sensor has locked on – which can take up to 10 minutes – HR data from steady runs is useable too. For HIIT workouts, though, we found the Charge 2’s heart rate monitoring unreliable.
Over on the Alta HR, in some ways the devices are very similar. Step counting is accurate if slightly high. Again, resting heart rate throughout the day is generally very accurate and will work well for casual users.
You can’t start a workout like you can on the Charge 2 but SmartTrack is on board here too and does the job. There’s no GPS but distances are fairly well estimated. As for heart rate during runs, the Alta HR was usually within 5bpm of our chest strap, during steady exercise – with readings getting a little less reliable at really high intensity.
In terms of sleep tracking, both the Alta HR and Charge 2 struggle slightly with waking up times but the Charge 2 gave very similar readings to our dedicated Beddit 3 in testing. So far, we haven’t noticed any difference in accuracy between the two.
And both trackers are otherwise getting more and more useful thanks to Fitbit’s recent overhaul. The sleep upgrade, called Sleep Stages, are on the Alta HR now and land on the Charge 2 in April.
Tracking now combines the accelerometer and heart rate sensor to improve accuracy of detecting light, deep and REM sleep. And in the app, you now get Sleep Insights, i.e. tips each morning based on your sleeping habits. These are a mix of generic and genuinely insightful now but Fitbit says they will get more useful over time.
On paper Fitbit puts the Charge 2 as up to five days and the Alta HR on up to seven days battery life. But in testing we found that we generally get six days from the Charge 2 and six days for the Alta HR. In both cases that’s with everything (notifications, heart rate, sleep tracking) turned on.
We’re sure you can easily get seven days out of the Alta HR, though, as it does always depend on how you use these devices. But the difference isn’t so great that it should swing your decision away from the Charge 2.
When comparing the Fitbit Charge 2 and Fitbit Alta HR it really comes down to form factor. Updates to the Alta HR really mean the only features you lose are for workout modes and ConnectedGPS.
The Alta HR sheds the pretence of being the workout fanatic’s friend. It does what Fitbit does best: performs as a top lifestyle tracker that offers insights into steps, sleep and heart health, while looking great.
If you’re the type of person who likes a lunchtime fitness class or a chilled weekend jog, the Charge 2 is certainly your best device – but more serious athletes will likely feel a little short changed. Otherwise, we’d advise picking between these two trackers based on design and the one you’d be happier to wear.