The Fitbit Charge 5, oriented towards both sports and health, takes the range to the next level by positioning itself on the edge of the world of smartwatches, where it intends to provide most of the functions in a smaller format.
The Charge 5 completes the Fitbit ecosystem. The American brand, bought by Google, keeps its own identity for the time being, and continues to rely on its own interface. We will probably have to wait until next year to discover its first products under Wear OS. Its latest connected bracelet is reminiscent of the Sense watch, from which it adopts certain features dedicated to health, such as its ECG sensor, but for a lower price - and unavoidable ergonomic concessions.
The price is $180, or $30 more than the Charge 4 when it was released, and comparable to the Versa 3, which has fewer sensors. The tracker, more expensive than products in its category, is therefore alongside connected watches with proprietary systems, such as the Oppo Watch, or even an Apple Watch Series 3 on sale.
Ergonomics and design
Activity trackers, compared to connected watches, often lack elegance. In any case, this is the flaw that Fitbit intends to address with its Charge 5, successor to a Charge 4 dating from early 2020. And we must admit that, on this point, the American brand has made real efforts.
The overall look of the device has undeniably gained in thinness. The case of the Charge 4 was 12.5 mm thick, and its successor does not exceed 11.2 mm. It is also more rounded and has a stainless steel finish, whereas plastic still reigned last year. The effect is much more appealing, and is actually closer to the design of a Fitbit Sense. In addition, the case measures 36.7 x 22.7 x 11.2 mm for 15 grams.
Another notable change if you compare the Charge 5 to the previous model: its screen. It measures some 21.93 x 14.75 mm, understand that it occupies barely half the case. This is the main criticism that we can make, but this display is much more interesting than that of the Charge 4. And for good reason: it is an Amoled slab in color, and no longer monochrome. It is coupled with a brightness sensor and is perfectly readable, even in bright sunlight.** The case of this Charge 5 hosts, on the back, a heart rate monitor and its magnetic charging pins. It is connected to a bracelet similar to that of the Sense watch, and of equally good quality. In addition, it is appreciable that two sizes are delivered with the device (suitable even for very small wrists) and that its attachment system is solid. On the other hand, the bracelets are attached to the case by a proprietary system that will require you to go through the Fitbit store or through compatible brands if you want to replace them.
Finally, we should add that navigation is done without a button. This has its advantages - the Charge 5 has a symmetrical design, and there are no buttons to hurt the user. However, some will regret that navigation is not always obvious, by sliding and tapping on the screen.
If the design of the Charge 5 makes it a variation of the Sense, its interface also looks very similar. Navigation is done through a system of side swipes, with each available application displayed on a full panel. The absence of an application drawer makes navigation both practical (you don't risk clicking on an icon by mistake) and tedious: to access the timer, for example, you have to scroll through the notifications, activities and alarms. It's best not to go too fast: while the screen is easy to read, it often lacks responsiveness, at the risk of frustrating the user.
As far as sports activities are concerned, only six are accessible from the bracelet, and benefit from automatic detection; you can set the duration beyond which it is activated (15 minutes by default, in running or cycling, for example). The manipulation to add one of the 20 activities proposed is not obvious: you must delete, in the Fitbit app, the activity that does not interest you to add a new one. Note that the Charge 5 loses the altimeter of the Charge 4 - a pity for hiking, in particular.
The watch allows you to receive various notifications. Without images, of course, but with emojis. You can send predefined responses (to be customized according to the apps) to your messages as needed, which makes up for the absence of a microphone for their voice input. Because of the small screen, you have to scroll a lot to read long texts, but we can easily forgive that with this type of product. It's a shame, however, that the Charge 5 does not offer music control, whether it's for streaming services (Spotify music control was offered on the Charge 4) or local storage. Only a small manipulation allows you to interact with Spotify and others: you have to allow notifications from your streaming app and, after pausing a song on your smartphone, a notification appears in the dedicated panel of the watch, with your messages... A few interactions are then possible, but, let's face it, the Charge 5 is not designed for that and it is tedious. The bracelet does not allow you to install third-party applications... The only possible additions are the watchfaces offered in the Fitbit app.
Fitbit doesn't revolutionize its application, which we had detailed in our test of the Sense and Versa 3. Basic data is provided, allowing you to see the number of steps taken during the day, the distance covered, the estimated number of calories burned during the day or the number of minutes in the "active zone", i.e. at high heart rate. In addition, there is targeted information, including sports activities or some health measures (including the integration of menstrual monitoring), but it should be noted that Fitbit puts more emphasis than ever on its paid service. Without it, there would be no health information dashboard, no detailed sleep info or daily fitness indicator. The latter aims to provide an overview of the user's fitness and, depending on his or her score, recommend suitable activities. Nice, but not free, nor the personalized training.
Let's add that this bracelet is equipped with an NFC chip allowing contactless payment. The number of compatible banks is still limited; as ours is not one of them, we were not able to use it on a daily basis.
Uses and precision
The Charge 5 differs from previous models in that it is not only sports-oriented, but also health-oriented. An ECG sensor makes its debut on it, he who was reserved for devices such as the significantly more expensive Sense. The feature was only rolled out on the device during November, so that means a late arrival for the first buyers. In any case, all you need to do is install the tool from the Fitbit mobile app to use it: electrodes are placed on both sides of the case, and we didn't encounter any difficulties in performing this type of measurement.
For the rest, we find within the bracelet an AED sensor (or electrodermal activity sensor, intended to assess the stress of the user), and others dedicated to oxygen saturation (SpO2) and body temperature (only at night). This provides a plethora of information that, however, is fully usable only for subscribers to the premium version of the Fitbit app - that is, by paying a monthly subscription. It is through this same channel that you can access guided relaxation sessions, for example.
A GPS is of course included in this bracelet. Despite a fix (time taken to capture the signal, editor's note) sometimes long, this GPS proved to be rather accurate during our tests, conceding less than 2.5% difference with the reading of our smartphone. We did notice a few occasional deviations from our route, which were quite noticeable in straight lines.
The heart rate monitor at work on the back of the wristband manages to fluctuate. It manages to follow without difficulty the variations of frequency undergone during split sessions, which is very appreciable, but it sometimes lacks precision. It tends to underestimate the values, at least if we compare them to our readings with the Polar H10 chest belt (about 4.2% difference on average, and sometimes about ten beats per minute on the peaks). The difference is much less pronounced during continuous exercise, and is then established at about 1.3%. On the whole, the data is sufficient for monitoring a common sport practice, but perhaps frustrating for the more demanding athletes.
The Charge 5 is also intended to be worn at night. It is difficult to assess the accuracy of the sleep cycles recorded, but the data collected by the watch (bedtime, wake-up time, wake-up phases) are consistent. A sleep score is delivered after each night, and can be viewed from the watch.
The Charge 5 comes with its own charger, to be plugged into a computer or a USB power supply; it is no longer a "clip-on" model like the Charge 4, but a more compact magnetic tip. You'll need to wait about 1 hour and 50 minutes to fully charge it. You won't have to do this too often, as the watch has proven to last more than 5 days with regular use (receiving various notifications, 15 minutes of sports with GPS per day, sleep mode activated at night). If you don't use the GPS much or just take the strap off at night, you can expect to reach a week's worth of use without too much difficulty - that's nice.
The Fitbit Charge 5 is an appropriate update to the Charge 4. Its smaller screen has the merit of being in color, and its rounded shapes make it a bit more elegant to wear on a daily basis. The device loses some of the options present on the previous model, including Spotify control or the measurement of floors climbed, but this is compensated by the multiple new functions related to health. The sports tracking, limited in terms of activities, is quite accurate, and its GPS has a minimal margin of error. In short, the Charge 5 is an interesting option for those who want to collect data related to their activity and well-being, but will frustrate those who want to use it for everyday functions (music, or even payment, as few banks are supported)... and even more so, those who don't want to subscribe to Fitbit Premium, as the application is almost indispensable to take advantage of the full potential of the bracelet.