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Fitbit Charge 5 smartwatch review: Many health functions for the fitness tracker and finally a color display

In color. The update of the well-known fitness tracker doesn't turn out small. In the Charge 5, Fitbit replaces the outdated monochrome OLED of the predecessor with a color version, removes the button on the side, and expands several functions for health monitoring.
Update: ECG and Daily Readiness Score are available at this point.
J. Simon Leitner, 👁 J. Simon Leitner (translated by Mark Riege), 🇩🇪 🇳🇱 ...
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Fitbit Charge 5
Display
1.04 inch, , Full touchscreen, AMOLED, glossy: yes
Connections
Audio Connections: ⊖, NFC, Brightness Sensor, Sensors: Optical heart rate, 3-axis accelerometer, red and infrared sensors for oxygen saturation (SpO2), temperature sensor, multipurpose electrical sensors compatible for ECG and EDA scan
Networking
Bluetooth LE, GPS
Battery
Lithium-Polymer
Operating System
Fitbit OS
Additional features
Speakers: ⊖, Fitbit Charge 5, Infinity band (small & large), charging cable, documentation, Fitbit app, 24 Months Warranty, Compatibility: Android 8+, iOS 12.2+, MacOS 12.2+; GNSS: GPS, GLONASS; Water resistance: 50 m, waterproof
Price
179.95 Euro
Note: The manufacturer may use components from different suppliers including display panels, drives or memory sticks with similar specifications.

 

Case and Equipment – Fitbit replaces the monochrome OLED with a color AMOLED

Fitbit offers the Charge 5 in three color versions: Black/Graphite, Moon White/Soft Gold, and Gray Blue/Platinum. The case is made from aluminum, glass, and resin. Fitbit replaces the hard resin bands of the Charge 4 with softer versions made from silicone in the Charge 5. As before, two different band sizes are included: S for a wrist circumference between 130 and 170 mm (~5.1 - 6.7 in) and L for 170 to 210 mm (~6.7 - 8.3 in). In its accessory program, Fitbit offers additional colors, sports bands, and leather bands from Horween.

Fitbit had replaced the button on the side of the Charge 3 with a sensor key in the Charge 4. The Charge 5 completely drops this now. The reason for this might be the EDA scan, which is a health function that needs two sufficiently large contact areas on the case.

In addition to the optical heart rate sensor, which is mandatory for wearables, the sensors now also include a skin temperature sensor as well as red and infrared sensors to monitor the blood oxygen saturation (SpO2). The Charge 5 captures movements with a three-axis acceleration sensor. Thanks to an integrated GPS chip, it can also record the route in an outdoor training, but it lacks an altitude sensor. Fitbit has integrated NFC for Fitbit Pay. 

Display

The brightness of the contemporary color AMOLED display Fitness uses to replace the grayscale OLED of the predecessor is adjusted by a light sensor. While Fitbit states that the brightness is double the value measured in candela, it fails to mention exact values. In practice, the display can at least be read easily also when jogging under a clear sky, which wasn't always the case with the Charge 4. The display has an always-on mode. Corning Gorilla Glass 3 is supposed to protect it from scratches to a large extent. 

Setup and Operation – Fitbit removes the button

As with all Fitbit wearables, setup is performed using the Fitbit app on the iPhone or Android smartphone. Alternatively, you can also synchronize it using a Mac (starting from MacOS 12.2). We used an iPhone 12 Pro in our testing.

Using the Fitbit app, you can setup movement reminders and heart rate limits that should trigger a warning by the tracker, and also select the notifications that should be transferred from the smartphone. Among the available watch faces, there are several that change the displayed values when you tap on the display, for example switching between the heart rate and number of steps, or the covered distance and calorie consumption.

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The Charge 5 is navigated using the touchscreen: Downward swipes lead to Fitbit Pay, the Do Not Disturb mode, and additional settings. These include for example the option whether the display should automatically switch from standby to active mode when the arm is raised, or only do this when you tap on the display. Swiping up will open statistics including sleep duration and the status of the movement goals. Horizonal swipes will bring up the notifications, the training app, alarm and timer, as well as the EDA scan. At some point later, the ECG capability, which has been announced but not released yet, should also be added here. The back function, which had still been triggered by a button in the predecessor, is also replaced by a gesture. Double tapping on the display will directly jump to the home screen with the time display.
Update: The ECG function is available at this point.

The tracker signals incoming calls, and you can either reject or accept them and then take the call using the smartphone. The iOS app offers preconfigured text messages, which would theoretically allow you to respond to an incoming call. However, until now this is only possible in combination with Android, just like controlling the Spotify app via the app notifications. The Spotify app, which was installed on the Charge 4, is missing on the Charge 5. 

Health and Fitness – The Charge 5 measures the skin temperature and the ECG is supposed to follow

The Charge 5 counts the steps during the day and computes the covered distance from this. In contrast to the Fitbit Sense, it does not determine the virtual floors climbed, since it lacks the altitude sensor that would be necessary for this. From the actively recorded workouts and additional movements recognized by the tracker in combination with the individual body data, it computes the calory consumption. In addition, Fitbit shows the so-called Activity Zone Minutes. When these are computed, the minutes of high intensity activities are multiplied. 

The Fitbit app also allows you to record your meals and fluid consumption, and women can also record their menstrual cycles. The information is displayed clearly in the Dashboard. The following screen shots show a section of this, as well as the statistics display on the Charge 5.

In terms of the health functions, the Charge 5 has largely closed the gap to the Fitbit Sense

In particular, the Charge 5 measures the skin temperature and creates an EDA scan for stress analysis. To do this, the Charge 5 has sensors on both sides of the case that measure the changes of electrical skin resistance, the so-called electrodermal activities, over several minutes when touched by two fingers.

During our testing period, the ECG function that was announced for the Charge 5 was not available yet. Fitbit will deliver it with an update. This also goes for the new Daily Readiness Score, which is supposed to indicate whether the body is ready for a workout (again). The Daily Readiness Score will also become available soon to users of the Sense, Versa 3, and Versa 2, as well as the Luxe and Inspire 2 fitness bands. However, according to our information, the Daily Readiness Score requires a Premium subscription. This will also expand the awareness exercises that are available for free and the video workouts of the Fitbit App by many more. In addition, several health analysis options also fall behind the paywall, such as analyzing the sleep quality including restauration or restlessness during sleep.

When buying certain wearables, which also include the Charge 5, Fitbit offers a free six-month membership. After that, you have to pay 8.99 Euros (~$10) a month or 79.99 Euros (~$90) if you pay yearly. 

With the exception of the resting heart rate, Fitbit determines several health data points exclusively during sleep. Without a subscription, users will see the chart of the nightly breathing rate, heart rate variability (as an indicator of stress symptoms), skin temperature, and blood oxygen saturation for the last 7 days. With a subscription, Fitbit increases the time span to 30 days. Those who purchase their subscription 30 days after buying the device will see information for the last 30 days instead of only 7. The tracker itself stores the movement data measured each minute for 7 days, and the daily total values for 30 days. The tracker and apps only synchronize when opening the app, so this doesn't necessarily have to happen. 

Sleep Tracking

Fitbit also reserves several analyses of the sleep tracking for Premium subscribers. These include the heart rate diagram and the analysis of restlessness during sleep. The first two screen shots of the test were taken before activating the free 6-month subscription. The third screen shot with the heart rate and restlessness analysis were taken after activating the free trial subscription, since you cannot see it otherwise. The display on the Charge 5 itself remains unchanged.

Training Recording

The Charge 5 is waterproof up to a depth of 50 m, so that you can also wear it while swimming. Fitbit offers a choice of 20 training modes, 6 of which you can transfer to the Charge 5. Before an interval training, you specify the time it takes to complete a set and the length of breaks as well as the number of sets. The tracker signals the changes by vibrating. You can activate or deactivate the always-on display for each type of sport individually and can also activate an auto-pause function while running or biking.

The Charge 5 records workouts on the cross trainer, aerobic trainings, walking, running, biking outdoors, and swimming. However during the test, riding an e-scooter was misidentified as biking. If the tracker is unable to identify the movement pattern, for example during ball sports, the training is recorded as "sport" in general. You can activate or deactivate the identification for each type of sport individually, and you can also specify a time until the recording should be activated. The fitness tracker does not record the route in automatic mode. 

Fitbit only displays the training results on the tracker right after the training. After that, you can only see it in the app. You can export workouts with route recordings either from the app or from your Dashboard at fitbit.com in the tcx format. 

During regular operation, the PPG sensor of the Charge 5 measures the heart rate every 5 seconds, and during a workout, every second. We compare the recording while jogging and during a short interval training session with the heart rate that is recorded with the Polar H10 chest belt in parallel. The Fitbit does not handle the change during the interval training very well, and the optical sensor records neither the high nor the low heart rates accurately. 

While jogging, it also has some problems with the steep increase in the beginning, but from the moment when the heart rate levels out, the Charge 5 is able to keep track and records a similar chart as the Polar heart rate sensor. 

Heart rate diagram during interval training. Blue: Fitbit Charge 5 PPG sensor, red: Polar H10 heart rate sensor
Heart rate diagram during interval training. Blue: Fitbit Charge 5 PPG sensor, red: Polar H10 heart rate sensor
Heart rate diagram while jogging. Blue: Fitbit Charge 5 PPG sensor, red: Polar H10 heart rate sensor
Heart rate diagram while jogging. Blue: Fitbit Charge 5 PPG sensor, red: Polar H10 heart rate sensor

GPS and Navigation

The Charge 5 supports the GPS and GLONASS satellite navigation systems. You can save some battery life by specifying to use the smartphone GPS instead of the integrated GPS of the fitness band in its settings. As a third option, the tracker is able to switch between both GPS versions by itself - possibly the signal quality plays a role in this.

During the jogging run above, we also recorded the route with a Garmin Venu 2s in parallel to the Charge 5. Of the three screen shots, particularly the one in the center shows that the Fitbit tracker placed itself some meters from the actual route several times. For an actual route of exactly 5 km (~3.1 miles), it reported a slightly longer distance of 5.08 km (~3.16 miles).    

Yellow line: Garmin Venu 2s, green line: Fitbit Charge 5
Yellow line: Garmin Venu 2s, green line: Fitbit Charge 5
Yellow line: Garmin Venu 2s, green line: Fitbit Charge 5
Yellow line: Garmin Venu 2s, green line: Fitbit Charge 5
Yellow line: Garmin Venu 2s, green line: Fitbit Charge 5
Yellow line: Garmin Venu 2s, green line: Fitbit Charge 5

Battery Life

With low usage and if you make do without the always-on display, you can get a battery life of up to 7 days. If you turn on the always-on mode and otherwise also leave power saving options such as the Do Not Disturb mode turned off, you can get between 3 and 4 days. After two 30-minute running sessions supported by the GPS, the battery life shortened to 2 days in the test.  

It took slightly more than 1 hour of charging until the Fitbit app displayed "full battery" in our test. However, the test unit always displayed 99% instead of the full 100%. 

Pros

+ GPS
+ bright display
+ always-on display
+ temperature sensor
+ ECG

Cons

- evaluation of many health statistics only at night
- mediocre battery life for a fitness tracker
- expensive

Verdict – Good but expensive compared to others

Test unit provided by Fitbit
Test unit provided by Fitbit

Fitbit upgrades its Charge 5 fitness tracker in several areas: The display changes from monochrome to color, the watch band from relatively hard to soft, and in the health functions, the Charge 5 closes the gap to the Sense with a temperature sensor, EDA scan, and the announced ECG. The list of features that are lacking compared to Fitbit's top smartwatch include a barometric sensor for altitude measurements as well as a speaker and microphone for Google Assistant or Alexa.

The Fitbit Charge 5 is currently the fitness tracker with the best equipment – and also the most expensive. 

For this, the high-priced brand increases in price drastically, and the entry level price is now 179.95 Euros (~$204). This is more than three times as much as the price of competitors such as the Huawei Band 6, Samsung's Galaxy Fit2, or Xiaomi's Mi Smart Band 6 that all have a significantly longer battery life. Even the better-equipped Huawei Watch Fit smartwatch, which has a form factor that closely resembles fitness trackers, is considerably more affordable. 

Functions such as dedicated controls for the music player and camera of the smartphones, which can already be found in most fitness trackers at this point, the Charge 5 is offering only rudimentarily or not at all. The number of sports types is also relatively meagre. 

On the other hand, the Charge 5 is taking a pioneering role among fitness trackers in terms of the health monitoring functions.

Price and Availability

Compared to the predecessor, Fitbit increased the recommended retail price significantly to $179.95 in the US. You can get the Charge 5 from Amazon for slightly less. For comparison, the Charge 4 is available for $132.90 from Amazon at the time of our test.

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J. Simon Leitner
Editor of the original article: J. Simon Leitner - Founder, COO - 747 articles published on Notebookcheck since 2005
I am one of the founders of Notebookcheck, which I dedicated myself with after my studies at the Vienna Technical University were completed. Notebookcheck has now become an internationally active online medium that is published in 14 languages. Computers have been an integral part of my daily activities since the time of the Commodore C64 and Atari 1040ST. Besides new technologies such as electric mobility and environmental technology, I am also interested in architecture and construction engineering.
Mark Riege
Translator: Mark Riege - Translator - 266 articles published on Notebookcheck since 2018
Having worked as a programmer for 20 years (medical devices, AI, data management systems), I've been following the computer scene for many years and especially enjoy finding out about new technology advances. Originally from Germany but living in the US, I've been working as a translator more recently, with Notebookcheck allowing me to combine my interest in new devices and translation. Other interests include Buddhism, spending time in Tibetan monasteries, and translating ancient Tibetan texts.
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Fitbit Charge 5 smartwatch review: Many health functions for the fitness tracker and finally a color display
J. Simon Leitner, 2021-11-17 (Update: 2021-11-17)