The Fitbit Charge displays the time, your number of steps, distance traveled, calories burned, and floors climbed. (Daniel Bean/Yahoo Tech)
A lot is riding on this little band. It’s the first Fitbit product to come out since the company recalled a similar item for its tendency to give people nasty rashes. As you can imagine, this was not good for a business that recommends that you wear its product 24/7.
So the $130 Charge is not only supposed to be an exercise band that notifies you of phone calls, counts your steps, and tracks your sleep. It is also supposed to not irritate your skin.
The Fitbit Charge did notify me of my phone calls, count my steps, and track my sleep. Unfortunately, it did irritate my skin.
Though it was nothing serious, the Fitbit Charge made my skin red and itchy. (Alyssa Bereznak/Yahoo Tech)
The Charge irritated my wrist so much that I scratched at it throughout the entire week and a half that I wore it. As a result, I developed a mild, unsightly rash. Although the whole thing was too minor to see a dermatologist, it most definitely made me not want to wear it. Just to make sure it wasn’t a figment of my imagination, I took it off for a day. The redness went away. I put it back on. The redness returned.
The Charge’s default setting keeps its OLED screen powered off when not in use. (Daniel Bean/Yahoo Tech)
Asked whether Fitbit knew of this issue, here’s what James Park, CEO and co-founder of Fitbit, told Yahoo Tech:
“Fitbit takes every complaint very seriously, and we have also been in contact with the handful of Charge users (out of the tens of thousands sold) who have reported redness or skin irritation after wearing the product.” A representative later told me the company didn’t have specific details about these complaints.
After publishing this piece, I received a tip from an anonymous Fitbit user who has experienced rash issues with the Force. The message linked to a short Google Doc filled with posts about and pictures of Charge-induced rashes. Here’s a quick sample of the kind of complaints it contained.
“If any users are experiencing these symptoms, we encourage them to remove the device to give their wrist a rest. If symptoms persist longer than two to three days after removing the device, to contact a dermatologist/their doctor. Users can also contact our support team to return their Charge for another Fitbit device or get a full refund.”
It’s worth noting here that the Charge is not made of the same material as the Charge HR or the Surge (which will come out next year). But, as Park said, “all products have undergone the same testing and met the same testing protocols and stringent standards.” He also detailed some basic directions for cleaning the Charge.
It sounds like Fitbit has confronted its unfortunate rash program head on. But frankly, irritation of any kind is a deal-breaker for me. Especially considering I’ve never had any similar problem with competing fitness trackers like Jawbone’s UP wristband. Or even any jewelry, for that matter.
Design-wise, the Charge, made of a thin, flexible material called an elastomer, is not as attractive as the UP, either. It resembles an ankle monitor given to a criminal on probation — unapologetically unisex. The colors it comes in — burgundy, blue, slate — are similar to those of hospital gowns.
Aside from those caveats, the Charge’s technology proved solid. The band, like most of its competitors, can count the steps you’ve taken, calories you’ve burned, and the distance you’ve traveled. It also rewards you with fun badges and games on its companion apps, which are available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, and can sync to your Mac or PC.
Unlike a lot of its competitors, the band has a nice, bright display to show your fitness data in real time. But more important, it connects to your phone via Bluetooth to display incoming calls. This is an endlessly helpful feature for those of us whose workout is often interrupted by “just calling to chat”-type communications. Anytime you’re within 20 feet of your phone, incoming calls will route to the Charge’s small, rectangular screen, and the band will vibrate once. If it’s from a number you don’t know, the screen will display a ringing phone icon. If the number is logged in your phone, however, it’ll identify who’s calling. This gives you a chance to avoid incoming communications from your mother. And I found it to be even more convenient when I was out and about and didn’t want to rifle through my giant bag to find out why it was vibrating. My only complaint here is that it took me several tries to actually connect my phone and my band via Bluetooth.
This screen is also a nice way to see your progress throughout the day with a quick glance. Clicking the button on the left side of the band will take you through stats like time, steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and floors climbed. You can adjust the order you see them from within the app as well. It’s not life-changing, but it’s an encouraging feature if you’re looking to reach a certain goal.
I found the Charge’s automatic sleep detection feature to be convenient as well. When using similar fitness bands like the Jawbone UP, I’d often forget to press a button to tell it that I was going to sleep. As a result, I’d miss out on tracking those patterns. But with the Charge, all I had to do was wear the thing and remember to charge it once a week.
The band can also track your workouts. Just hold down a button on the left of the Charge’s screen whenever you’re about to engage in a continuous activity (like a run or a cycling class). It’ll vibrate and then start running a stopwatch. The real challenge is remembering to turn it off when you’re done. For me, after, say, an intense yoga class, my mind is focused on some basic things — for example, my aura. I’d often find myself jumping to turn it off an hour and a half post-workout.
My question is, if the Charge can sense when I’m sleeping, why can’t it tell the difference between exercising and just existing? (The difference, I can assure you, is stark.)
The Charge is 22 millimeters wide and features a small, rectangular OLED screen. (Daniel Bean/Yahoo Tech)
I like the Charge’s easy-to-use mobile and desktop companions. Its new features relating to sleep detection and smartphone alerts are improvements. The fact that it has a screen really sets it apart from its competitors.
But, ultimately, I didn’t find myself wanting to wear it. It’s like one of those itchy sweaters your grandma buys you: comfortable enough to don when necessary, but too itchy (and dowdy) for daily wear.