First look: Fitbit Charge 2

After training indoors for more than a year, I have made notable strides in my fitness and ability. However, I’ve been pushing myself without an objective way of gauging how hard my efforts are.

The holy grail for cyclists’ training is a power meter. Coming in various form factors – from rear hubs, to road bike pedals, and single crank arms to entire cranksets – these tools measure the power output of a cyclist in watts in real time. The beauty of power meters is that for a given level of accuracy, power data is independent of external factors. Also, as a scientific measurement, watts can easily be translated into measuring the effects of other things such as aerodynamics and rolling resistance.

Alas, despite their prices coming down year after year, power meters are still expensive, and they don’t do anything on their own when not paired to a head unit – usually a Garmin, Lezyne, or Wahoo device that offers GPS navigation. These two components together can easily cost as much as a mid-range bike.

While power has nowadays overtaken heart rate as the premier training metric, athletes still use heart rate monitors as an instant measurement of their condition as they train. Lagging and fluctuations due to caffeine, stress, and emotional state aside, it’s still a valuable metric to keep track of; it was the best people had for a pretty long time. It also helps that, to some extent, many training concepts used with power can be replicated with heart rate.

With all that said, I decided to get a Fitbit Charge 2.

The Charge 2 is a wrist-worn fitness tracker which can be used to detect blood flow and heart rate via the green LEDs on its underside. As of this writing, it’s the most full-featured fitness tracker in the Fitbit lineup before moving into their full smartwatch offerings.

While ultimate accuracy of heart rate won’t be as great compared to pulse-sensing chest straps, the Charge 2’s more concise and more comfortable form factor means it can do its job for more of the time. Fitbit intend it for all-day use, where it claims to help track even your sleep patterns.

I bought mine from Tobys Sports for PhP8,490. Interestingly, they don’t stock it in any of their retail stores; you have to order it online. Based on wrist circumference, I got mine in the “L” size.

The only things of note included in the box are the safety instructions and the unique charger, which connects to a normal USB Type-A port and is essentially a giant clothespin that clamps onto the Charge 2. As it does, it mates to charging contacts on the Charge 2’s underside. Neat design, but also highly proprietary.

Finally, we have the Charge 2 itself.

A single sticker serves as a display mock-up as well as protection for the two green LEDs, heart rate/blood flow sensor array, and charging contacts on the underside. Via “photoplethysmography,” Fitbit’s “PurePulse” tech uses the green LEDs and light diodes to optically measure blood flow and pulse.

A couple other things about the Charge 2 are that it’s not waterproof, only splash-resistant; and that its wrist bands can be changed via the clasps on the underside. Unfortunately, this isn’t the device for you if you go swimming…but at least you can swap out the wrist bands if this included teal one is too loud for your taste.

In the next installment, I’ll delve into the Fitbit smartphone app and how the Charge 2 fares in day-to-day use.

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