We help you decide between Fitbit’s flagship fitness tracker and smartwatch
For some time, the Charge 2 has led Fitbit’s line of fitness trackers, showcasing the best of the company’s software smarts while still remaining a stylish package.
Recently, though, Fitbit officially entered the smartwatch market with the Ionic. So not only is it competing with the likes of Xiaomi on one front, but now also Apple, Samsung and the plethora of options running Android Wear.
But which of these two devices is best for you? Are you more in need of a fitness tracker or a smartwatch? Well, below we’ve compared the pair to help guide you along the right path.
Naturally, how these two compare will likely be down to whether you prefer the look of a fitness band or a more traditional smartwatch on your wrist. However, let’s explore the finer points.
Ever since the first leaks for the Fitbit Ionic filtered onto the web, we’ve found its design divisive. Since we got our hands on the device, it’s grown on us, but it still isn’t for everyone. The square 1.42-inch, 348 x 250 pixel Corning Gorilla Glass 3 display is a little on the small side, but there’s no doubting its quality. The brightness can be pumped all the way to 1,000 nits, meaning this compares favourably to the best in the business, the Samsung Gear Sport and Apple Watch Series 3. The Charge 2’s OLED screen, on the other hand, is built into 0.84-inch wide band, and doesn’t give you the same colour or vibrancy.
As this is Fitbit, both do, however, possess the ability to change up the bands. That means you can count your steps and track activity with a more sporty silicon band before switching to a more dressy, leather option, if needed.
Navigation around each device is also fairly similar. While you can swipe your way between menus, you also have the option to employ the left side-button to go back, while the Ionic possesses two more on the right hand side to, for example, start and pause an activity.
We’ll come more onto activity features below, but it’s worth pointing out that the design of the Fitbit Charge 2 is only sweat, rain and splash proof, but isn’t ready to accompany you on your swim. The Ionic, meanwhile, offers waterproofing up to 50 metres.
All in all, the Charge 2 is bringing you an standard, inoffensive fitness tracker design — it’s light, simple and able to be customised on the wrist. It’s not as dainty as the Flex 2 or Alta HR, but it’s not a burden on the wrist. The Ionic, meanwhile, is giving you the better experience through design, but the square, sporty look won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Design is more of a personal preference, but there’s nowhere to hide when it comes to tracking smarts, which is often where these battles are won and lost. Thankfully, whichever device you decide to opt with here, you’re getting a solid tracking experience, both in general activity and sports.
Both cover the basics, tracking your steps, distance, floors climbed, active minutes & calories burned and also automatically track exercises like running, cycling and weight lifting by giving you real-time stats on display. This is better on the Ionic, of course, with its bigger display, but that’s to be expected.
It’s all backed up by Fitbit’s PrePulse heart tech, too, giving you continuous looks at your pulse, as well as simplified heart rate zones and a VO2 Max score.
It’s not just on the go you’ll have tracking support, either, with automatic sleep monitoring also available through both the Charge 2 and Ionic, allowing a user to keep tabs on how long they spent in light, deep and REM stages. Both devices also provide more wellness support through Guided Breathing, helping you take time for breathing sessions.
So, they’re pretty much the same equation? Well, with one key difference. The omission of in-built GPS in the Charge 2 means that those looking to leave their phone behind on a workout will be left disappointed, since only the tethered Connected GPS option is available. The Ionic, though, gives you free reign on your exercise, and during testing was actually one of the more accurate GPS performers we’ve seen in the smartwatch category.
If you’re big on exercising (especially swimming), then the clear winner here is the Ionic. But since its Coach platform isn’t yet fully fleshed out, those who don’t mind being stuck to their phone may still be able to tolerate what the Charge 2 brings.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that while there’s currently little to separate the pair, the Ionic’s tri-wavelength sensor will soon help Fitbit track relative SpO2, a measure of oxygen in the blood, and detect sleep apnea. Glucose tracking, in partnership with Dexcom, is also set to land at some point in the future.
Features and battery life
If the differences in tracking aren’t enough to sway you in either direction, it’s also worth bearing in mind just what other features are crammed inside.
Notifications, for example, are available on both, as well as reminders to move. The former is often clipped if the text message, email or third-party alert is long, while emojis aren’t shown at all. It’s a more nicely presented package through the Ionic, but apart from answering/rejecting calls you can’t respond to the majority of notifications on either device.
Where notifications are lagging behind rivals in both devices, Fitbit has joined the rest of the smartwatch crowd in offering its own payment service, Fitbit Pay, through the Ionic. The device will also be used to debut the upcoming app store, with only four third-party apps currently available on the device. Naturally, the older Charge 2 doesn’t allow you take advantage of either of these features.
Music, too, is also available through the Ionic. However, with the company failing to reach a deal with Spotify, US users will have to make do with Pandora, and those in Europe currently have no option. You can though transfer your own music to the Ionic to soften the blow. We expect this to develop as the device grows older, but it’s certainly a red flag when compared to its smartwatch rivals. Thankfully, in this matchup, it shades its sibling due to the Charge 2 offering no support for music — not even control of your smartphone’s tunes.
So although it’s a work in progress with the Ionic, Fitbit has unquestionably packed more features under the hood. It’s now simply about waiting for more apps and music support to hit the scene.
One positive both devices hold here is the battery life, allowing you to fully take advantage of tracking features such as sleep monitoring. From our testing, the Charge 2 will give you around six days of use, even with the likes of notifications and 24/7 tracking turned on. And if you do run low, a quick half-hour charge can see it survive for a few more days.
It’s a similar story with the Ionic, which somehow manages to squeeze out four days of life on a single charge — compared to the Apple Watch, for example, which struggles after a day of use. It may not be as strong as the Charge 2, but considering this is a smartwatch with more features and sensors in the background, it’s mightily impressive.
When it really comes down to it, these two devices currently offer you a fairly similar software package with a very different design.
But for those looking for a more feature-packed all-rounder with room to grow, the Ionic is the choice; its contactless payments, streaming potential and upcoming app store will result in this almost certainly being a solid Apple Watch rival as the months go on and updates climb aboard.
Of course, there’s less offered with the company’s fitness tracker, despite the Charge 2 sitting as our highest rated device in this field. For some, its sleeker design will prove to be the difference, but its also true that the extras available through the Ionic may not appeal to everyone. The fact is, the Charge 2 is still bringing you enough of the same tracking smarts to be considered.
With the $149.99 Charge 2 also costing around half of the $299.95 Ionic, this will also no doubt factor in your decision. However, whichever way you choose to go, you’re getting a round-the-clock tracking experience with plenty of room to customise and killer battery life.