It's been a year since Fitbit released its latest products, the Charge, Charge HR, and Surge. But the company, still king of activity trackers, recently delivered software updates that make Charge HR and Surge much more compelling, along with an enhanced mobile app that now has weekly exercise goals.
Fitbit exercise goals
If you use Fitbit for iOS or Windows, you can now set a goal for the number of days you want to exercise each week. (The feature is "coming soon" to Android.)
The default exercise goal is five days per week, but you can adjust it. The app shows your progress toward the goal. Any exercise you get, even activities tracked in the Fitbit app only (instead of via a Fitbit device), count toward your goal.
[Related: The definitive Fitbit buyer's guide]
Fitbit's app (and website) let you set goals in the past, such as daily step, sleep, and weight goals. The new weekly exercise goal, however, may give users an extra incentive to keep moving. But it would be nice if you could define the goal. For example, I'd love the ability to set a goal of at least three hours per week of exercise in my cardio heart-rate zone.
Charge HR and Surge get auto exercise tracking
Fitbit also added automatic exercise tracking features to its Charge HR and Surge activity trackers. Instead of having to manually initiate exercise sessions, the two devices record exercise for you as soon as you start. Recognized activities include walking, running, outdoor biking, elliptical machines, sports (such as basketball and tennis), and aerobic workouts (such as Zumba).
In my tests, Charge HR's automatic tracking worked as promised, recording a long, brisk walk, as well as an elliptical workout, with no effort on my part — aside from the exercise, of course.
Fitbit's automatic tracking doesn't support indoor cycling. But out of curiosity, I wore the tracker to a 45-minute SoulCycle class. My Charge HR recorded the brisk-but-brief walk I took to the SoulCycle studio and merged it with about 10 minutes of exercise from the class itself. And it recorded all of the activity as one walk. So, you might notice a few odd exercise sessions captured that don't accurately reflect the workouts you did. However, you can easily delete any such workouts by swiping left on them.
Automatic exercise tracking, which Fitbit calls "SmartTrack," is a nice addition, and it's available in all of Fitbit's mobile apps (iOS, Android and Windows). Fitbit isn't the first to offer the feature, however; Basis Peak already auto tracks walks, runs, and bike rides.
Fitbit's enhanced heart rate tracking
Fitbit also released an update to its "PurePulse" heart rate technology for Charge HR and Surge, the only Fitbit trackers that measure heart rate. The company says its heart rate tracking performance now works better when you manually start or stop high-intensity workout tracking using Exercise mode on Charge HR, or Multi-Sport mode on Surge. However, I didn't notice any big differences in accuracy or performance compared to previous manually-tracked workouts.
All told, the upgrades make Fitbit apps and trackers more compelling than they already are. The company could further improve its offerings with some overdue hardware upgrades, though. Updated Flex and One trackers that automatically measure sleep and exercise would be on my Fitbit must-have list, for example.
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