Wednesday , August 23 2017

Review: Fitbit Alta HR, the stylish tracker for the average person


Fitbit and fitband. Same thing apparently. Just ask any average Joe or Joanne. Fitbit were the first to do the fitband thing well and have since continued to make high quality wearable fitness tracking devices. Their latest offering, the Alta HR is an incremental upgrade on last years Alta. Read on to find out my thoughts on Fitbit’s new fitband offering.

Design

The Fitbit Alta HR is not aimed at the serious athletes out there. It’s aimed at the average person who wants a stylish, yet unobtrusive tracker that can track the most basic of features. Fitbit say the Alta HR is their slimmest tracker available designed to be seamless in your life with different bands available to allow you to tailor the look of the band to the occasion. It is thinner than the Charge 2 but does not add any extra height to the fitband.

The standard band is a very comfortable elastomer band that uses a basic watchband buckle and the sleeve that Fitbit have been including recently that also locks into the holes in the band securing it further. When on the band is very comfortable — although not as comfortable as some fitness tracker bands I have tried recently owing to the stiffish nature of the elastomer band. I had no issues wearing it 24/7 though as it’s slim design was not too large on the wrist which sometimes annoys me while sleeping.

For those that do want to change the look of the band there are a variety of bands including leather in various colours and metal bracelets. I was unable to test any of these but I dare say that for those that this band is aimed at it may well be an option they will seriously look at.

Display + Hardware

The display is average at best. It is a basic black and white display which is touch sensitive. It’s touch sensitivity is marginal at best — double tap the display to light it up and then a single tap changes the “widget” displayed on the screen. The very basic nature of the display most likely contributes to the extended battery life.

The double tap to turn the display on worked a majority of the time but was a bit hit and miss when attempting to turn it on. A very solid double tap helped it each time. The display is also meant to turn on when the wrist is raised to read the time which also worked a majority of the time, albeit slowly.

Included in the Alta HR this generation is a heart rate monitor. As per usual I tested it against a medical-grade, fully tested heart rate monitor and it was close to spot on. The Alta HR was within a few beats of the medical HR monitor which is impressive for a heart rate monitor you can buy at Rebel Sport.

Lacking in the Alta HR is GPS. Without a GPS chip inside of the fitband there is no way for someone to track their runs/rides etc unless they take their phone on their run with them. Seems an oversight but as I said at the start this fitband is not aimed at the serious athlete — those who want or need GPS the Charge 2 is the fitband they should be looking at.

Software

I’ve talked about the software Fitbit have for their devices recently so I won’t mention them again. If you want a reminder head over to the Fitbit Charge 2 or Blaze reviews. The big difference here with the Fitbit Alta HR is the new Sleep tracking. This is the first time we have seen this although it is coming (if not here already) to the Charge 2 and the Blaze.

The Sleep tracking is what makes this fitband so attractive to me. The ability of the Fitbit to ascertain the different levels of sleep that one enters into and for how long during the night is advantageous to any person, let alone an athlete. Neerav went into more details regarding it in his recent article but I have been tracking my sleep every night although I am yet to figure out how to manipulate my sleeping so I spend more time in the more useful sleep stages. Sleep stages is one good reason to buy a Fitbit that supports it.

Fitbit have recently added new functionality to their app, Fitstar and Adventure Races. Fitstar is your own personal trainer to help guide you through various workouts. While not free it is great for someone who just wants to get fit at home. Adventure Races gives the user the ability to challenge a friend or family member to a race through various scenic locations. Not only is it a race but a race with a view where you can pause to take in the scenery as the race progresses. Both of these are available to users of the the Alta HR.

The Alta HR does NOT track sports automatically like the Charge 2 does but that is something I did not miss. You can easily start a sport or exercise yourself from within the app. For those that the fitband is targeted at this is not something that will stop them purchasing it. It does offer good heart rate analysis though which would come in handy, even for the non-athlete.

Battery life

Most fitbands have decent battery life but once you add in a 24/7 heart rate monitor the battery life often takes a hit. Fitbit have added a heart rate monitor to the Alta this year without taking much, if any, of a hit to the battery. I was able to get around six to seven full days of use of the Alta HR wearing it 24/7 and having the heart rate functioning every minute of the day.

I did not have the fitband continually syncing with my phone as that would have killed the battery life of the device much faster and there is no reason to do it — the notifications that the Fitbit is able to receive is extremely limited with it buzzing and notifying when a phone call of sms arrived. That is it. If notifications are something that is essential to you in your fitness tracker then I suggest you look elsewhere.

Conclusion

The Fitbit Alta HR is not the most advanced fitness tracker around. It is not the most functional fitness tracker around but what it does it does well. It is designed to be the fitness tracker for the average person who wants the tracker to be subtle and blend into their everyday fashion, and it does this, well. Not only is the tracker slim but also has the added fashion sense of various stylish bands that are interchangeable based on the users mood, attire and desire.

While the Fitbit Alta HR is not waterproof so is useless for swimming laps, does not automatically track activities, and is woeful at smartphone notifications but what it does it does really well.

The steps and calories are counted by the Alta HR as per usual for a fitness tracker but also the heart rate on a 24/7 basis. The heart rate function on the tracker is very accurate when compared to a medically calibrated heart rate device which is surprising considering the miniscule size of the tracker that Fitbit have put it in. The heart rate functionality is also used to obtain detailed information regarding the user’s sleep patterns, offering insights into their sleep. This feature, Sleep Tracking, is the single best feature on the Alta HR and is also available on the Charge 2 and the Blaze. It is enough to make me recommend the Alta HR to the average person who wants to track the basics.

Overall the Fitbit Alta HR gets a two thumbs up from me for the person it is targeted at — the average person who wants a stylish fitness tracking watch that does the basics well with a few bells and whistles.

The Fitbit Alta HR is not cheap and is available from the Fitbit website for $249.95. It can also be purchased from Harvey Norman, The Good Guys, JB Hi-Fi, Rebel, David Jones and Myer. Extra bands can be purchased from Fitbit’s website or some of the selected outlets mentioned above.

 
Disclosure Statement:
Fitbit allowed Scott to retain the Fitbit Alta owing to hygiene reasons once the review was complete.

Scott Plowman   Associate Editor

Scott is our modding guru - he has his finger on the pulse of all things ‘moddable’, pointing us towards all the cutting edge mods hacks that are available. When he’s not gymming it up, or scanning the heck out of Nexus devices, you'll find him on the Ausdroid Podcast.

Outside of Ausdroid, Scott's a health care professional and lecturer at a well known Victorian university.

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3 Comments on "Review: Fitbit Alta HR, the stylish tracker for the average person"

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I’d suggest the screen is not really “touch sensitive” as much as it is tap sensitive. It uses the accelerometer to detect taps (as you say, it can be a bit hit and miss). To highlight this, if you give your Alta-toting wrist a double-tap on a table, the Alta should wake up, and then navigate through with subsequent taps, without actually touching the screen. I love the sleep tracking, although it’s highlighted for me just how poor my sleep generally is. But it does – to a very rudimentary level – track “activities” automatically… in the sense that if… Read more »
montalbert_scott
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montalbert_scott

that would explain why i had to “tap” it so hard to get it to turn on.
by tracking automatically i meant it would detect exactly what exercise you were doing and record it automatically — the charge 2 did this quite well

I do like it though as I’m not one to track the exercise I do with any real specifics.

Member

I’m a huge fan of the way the Alta works as well. I’m more interested in it just detecting what my heart rate (and therefore calorie burn) is doing, rather than starting/stopping specific exercise for the purposes of logging that.

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