Review: The Fitbit Charge 4 steps up the fitness tracker game

The Charge 4 is the newest Fitbit model on the block. Photo credit: Fitbit.

Like many people, everything about my attitude towards exercise changed during lockdown. 

In the real world, I subscribe to an Auckland-based app which allows me to attend boutique - read: expensive - classes around the city, usually a mix of boxing, pilates and yoga. 

But as the city's studios shut down and, like many, I was confined to the restrictions of 'home workouts', I discovered that perhaps I don't need the polished concrete floors, soft lighting, and specialised equipment that comes with being charged $40 a class. Instead, I just laced up my sneakers and hit the pavement, or rolled my exercise mat out in front of the telly.

This change in routine coincided with being sent the new Fitbit Charge 4, released coincidentally during the COVID-19 pandemic. I wouldn't exactly recommend locking down at home for six weeks at a time to test a fitness product, but there's no doubt it's certainly effective. 

I was able to track my steps, which is satisfying when you're actually able to get out rather than sitting all day at your desk, and see how much incidental exercise I actually rack up. On top of this, I measured my heart rate during home workouts, measured my sleep patterns, and even dabbled in the odd guided breathing session when it all got a bit much.

Here are my thoughts: 

The Look 

Compared to my last Fitbit, the Versa 2, the Charge 4 is slimmer, lighter, and much easier to subtly hide underneath sleeves. It's particularly light, which is great when it's something you're meant to wear almost 24 hours a day. 

Having said that, it still very much looks like a fitness tracker. Unlike brands like Garmin, Fitbit never tries to disguise their products under attractive rose gold and metal in the name of style. They're not exactly what you'd call 'pretty', but if you're into a sporty aesthetic, it will be up your alley. 

The Features 

It might be surprising to a lot of people that the Charge 4 is the first Fitbit with built-in GPS - you may have thought your previous models also had it the whole time. But they actually operated with connected GPS, meaning your phone had to be nearby. That was no big deal, as you also probably had your phone in an armband or tucked down your sports bra to listen to music anyway.

But in wonderful news, the Charge 4 also has Spotify enabled - meaning you can now completely leave your phone at home if you so desire. Leaving my house without my phone is something that only happens in nightmares, so it didn't make much difference to me. But for those who want to be free of the bulky addition to pick up some speed, it's awesome. 

Another addition is Fitbit's latest innovation, the measuring of Active Zone Minutes. You earn one AZM for each minute you're in the 'fat-burning' zone during a workout, and two for each minute in the 'peak' or 'cardio' zone. This seems like an unnecessarily confusing system to me, someone who exclusively does low-impact exercise, but if you like to push yourself toward the point of death, you might want the extra validation that comes with double points. 

The sleep tracking function is really where Fitbits come into their own for me, and the Charge 4 is no exception. Every morning I would wake up excited to look at my 'sleep score' - often with surprising results. I always prided myself on being a good sleeper, but the Charge had other news for me, with indicators of when I was in light, deep or REM sleep. My 'deep sleep' minutes were much lower than I anticipated and it encouraged me to get to bed earlier and actually switch off my phone - a much-promised but little practised ritual of mine. 

The Cost 

The Charge 4 is ideal for someone wanting to splash out on a Fitness tracker but not pay too exorbitant a cost. At $269.95, it's considerably less expensive than the Fitbit Versa 2 ($359.95), but I think a superior product. It's much less than an Apple Watch (over $300) or the super pricey but very pretty Garmin 'wearables', which easily clock in over $500. I would say it's a great 'starting' fitness tracker, or one for someone who isn't particularly tech-focused. 

Final verdict: 

If you're a fan of tracking health by numbers, this is a great option. The feature-packed device offers a daily health evaluation on your wrist and takes out all the guesswork when it comes to working out. 

Personally, I'm not so sure fitness tracking is for me. I often switch between being obsessed with hitting 10,000 steps and forgetting to wear it weeks in a row. But that's more an attitude issue than anything else. If you're looking to improve your health and need a few nudges to move during the day, definitely consider the Fitbit Charge 4.