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Fitbit Announces New Charge Fitness Bracelets and a $250 Smartwatch

Alyssa Bereznak
·National Correspondent, Technology

Here comes yet another bid for the real estate of your wrist.

Fitbit announced three new fitness wearables Monday morning, confirming leaks of a new release that surfaced earlier this month.

Like earlier Fitbit devices, Charge, the Charge HR, and a smartwatch competitor named Surge offer real-time tracking of your activity, including how well you sleep; the Charge HR and Surge add the ability to monitor your heart rate. All three devices now work with Windows 8 smartphones, as well as Android and iOS.

The new elastomer bands connect to your smartphone to bring basic cellular-related alerts to your wrist. Each model aims to address the tracking needs of three different types of people: the casual gym-goer, the consistent exerciser, and the hardcore athlete.

Fitbit Charge
Fitbit Charge

The Charge comes in black, slate, burgundy, and blue, and will be available in early November. (Courtesy of Fitbit)

The $130 Charge, for instance, displays the steps you’ve taken, the distance you’ve traveled, the calories you’ve burned, and the floors you’ve climbed via a small square OLED screen. It runs for seven days between charges and can alert you to incoming calls, as long as you’re within 20 feet of your phone. So when you’re in the zone at the gym, you can see at a glance if it’s worth fumbling to unearth your phone from some hard-to-reach pocket.

Read more: Apple Watch Tops List of Hottest Fitness Trackers

Unlike previous Fitbit wristbands — some of which had unwelcome rash-inducing features — the Charge can automatically sense when you doze off and begin tracking the quality of your shut-eye. That means you no longer need to worry about pressing the wrong button and accidentally recording eight hours of slumbercize (like my colleague Jason once did with an UP Band) or, more commonly, simply forget to press a button before falling asleep.

Unfortunately, the Charge’s new workout mode isn’t quite as smart. To turn it on, you have to hold a button on the side of the device until it vibrates, so it knows to continually stream information about the intensity of your current activity. It then stores that information in a monthly calendar on your phone, to help keep you honest about the consistency of your workouts. Another downside: Like every other fitness device on the market, the Charge won’t automatically recognize the type of exercise you’re doing. To differentiate a yoga session from a bike ride, you’ll have to rename those workouts manually.

Fitbit Charge HR
Fitbit Charge HR

The Charge HR comes in black, blue, plum, and tangerine and will be available in early 2015. (Courtesy of Fitbit)

One thing sets the slightly pricier $150 Charge HR apart: its ability to read your heart rate, thanks to LEDs on the inside of the band. These lights shine on the skin on your wrist and detect changes in the blood flow of your capillaries as they expand and contract. (The Apple Watch has similar LEDs, but they’re not quite as bright.) These changes automatically display on your screen, which separates your heart rate into fat-burning, cardio, and peak levels. This way you know if you’re pushing yourself to your limit and need to scale back to preserve energy (if, say, you’re a long-distance runner). You can then view your resting heart rate in a graph showing how it’s changed over the past month. If your resting heart rate goes down, that’s a good sign that your training program is actually working.

However, because these heart-rate tracking lights are on 24/7, the Charge HR’s battery lasts for only five days — two days less than the Charge.

Fitbit Surge smartwatch
Fitbit Surge smartwatch

The Surge comes in black, blue, and tangerine, and will be available in early 2015. (Courtesy of Fitbit)

Finally, we have the $250 Surge, a fitness smartwatch with a much larger screen and eight separate sensors: three accelerometers to track your speed and pace, a heart rate sensor, a compass, a gyroscope for tracking your axis of movement, an altimeter for tracking floors climbed, and GPS. Though the Surge is not nearly as pretty as the forthcoming Apple Watch, it seems an obvious competitor aimed at athletic types, especially considering the way it connects to your smartphone.

The Surge’s main draw is that you can turn on GPS tracking with a quick swipe and tap on the gadget’s touchscreen. That means you no longer need to bring your phone with you to figure out how far you ran. When you’re ready to go, you press a start button, and the GPS automatically turns on. When you’re done or need to pause, you press that same button to turn GPS off. This is key for anyone who wants to avoid draining the battery; with GPS turned on, the Surge lasts only five hours instead of five days.

You’ll also be able to receive incoming call notifications on the touchscreen (as long as your phone is within 20 feet) and control whatever music is playing from your mobile device.

In our brief time with the Surge, we noticed that the touchscreen lacks the kind of responsiveness you need when you’re running and tapping. In a demo last week it sometimes took me several tries to get it to respond to my poking. Also, the screen’s low-res graphics make the watch look like an 8-bit video game.

And while the Surge was presented as “really slim and light for its capabilities” it was the only one of the three new Fitbits that made me think, This might be embarrassing to wear in public. Though comfortable and equipped with awesome tracking devices, it lacks a certain slickness that’s required of a watch during those times when you’re not wearing Spandex.

The Charge will be available in early November, while the Charge HR and Surge will be released in early 2015 — just in time for some healthy competition with the Apple Watch. We’ll let you know when we get our hands (and wrists) on them.

Follow Alyssa Bereznak on Twitter or email her.