- New Alta HR adds heart-rate tracking to Fitbit’s slimmest wearable
- Also tracks sleep patterns for a more holistic approach to wellness
MODERN life dictates that we spend countless hours a day glued to our desk in order to be a productive employee. However, this comes at the cost of our health as our sedentary lifestyle will result in the deterioration of our fitness and wellness levels.
In light of this, companies like Fitbit have made it their business to create fitness bands that track one’s overall well-being (even going as far as to monitor our sleep patterns).
Fitbit’s latest wearable device, the Alta HR is one of its smallest yet, keeping in line with Fitbit’s push to make its products more lifestyle friendly.
But does the Fitbit Alta HR offer more substance over style and is it worth an upgrade?
Speaking of looks, the Alta HR actually sports the same looks as last year’s Alta but has added heart rate sensors, hence the ‘HR’ in the name. While it would have been great if Fitbit had offered a refreshed design to go along with the new device, it still looks attractive.
Fitbit has kept the design clean and simple with no buttons anywhere on it. What you get is a touch-sensitive finger-wide OLED display connected to the default band.
The bands are easily detachable so you can customise the Alta HR with a variety of colours or materials like leather, stainless steel and rose gold.
For the most part, the screen stays off and only turns on when you tap on it to wake it. Interaction is minimal at best, so don’t expect a smartwatch experience. By tapping on the screen, you can cycle through information like the time, step counter, heart rate, distance travelled, calories burnt and active minutes.
To maintain the mindset of using the Alta HR as a traditional timepiece, you can set the screen to automatically wake when you bring your hand up to read it like you would a watch. There were several occasions when this did not work and I had to resort to tapping on the screen to wake it to tell the time.
Though the OLED screen is perfectly readable indoors, it is hardly visible when outdoors. The dim display is simply not bright enough for outdoor use.
One may argue that the primary purpose of the Alta HR is as an information-gathering device rather than one that disseminates it, hence the lack of focus on the screen. But it would have been a nice touch if the screen were better.
In case you were wondering, the Alta HR isn’t waterproof, so you can’t take it with you for a swim. That may be a deal breaker for swimmers but otherwise, though not recommended, the Alta HR can actually survive a shower.
The Alta HR is just one part of the equation to the overall Fitbit experience. Much of what you can do and control comes from the Fitbit app, which you can install on your Android or iOS device.
Pairing the two devices proved to be quick and painless during the initial setup process.
Once paired, you could say the real Fitbit experience really begins with the app itself. Here you get to access all sorts of information that is recorded by your fitness tracker.
You can set goals to meet within the app, be it the number of steps you want to take within a day, times to exercise in a week or hours of sleep needed.
After selecting the types of goals you want to achieve, the Alta HR will act as your Jiminy Cricket, constantly reminding you when it is time to get moving and exercising by way of vibrations and encouraging messages.
Keeping fit is about a change in lifestyle, hence devices like the Alta HR are all about forming new habits to get people to change their lifestyles.
To a degree, the Alta HR did make this reviewer more conscious of the number of hours I put into walking and even sleeping.
While not brand new, the Alta HR’s Smart Track features are convenient as it saves you the trouble of manually logging your workouts. It recognises and automatically logs an activity when you are performing an exercise be it running, walking or cycling.
However, the Alta HR has a limited set of exercises that it recognises. It did not register callisthenic workouts like push ups, dips or crunches and neither did it pick up a session of weightlifting at the gym.
Though the Alta HR noted that my heart rate was elevated, it did not count the session as a workout.
Fitbit definitely needs to work on expanding on the various forms of exercise as competing fitness trackers already have this along with additional features that count the repetitions you perform for, say, lifting weights.
In addition, the lack of an altimeter sadly means that you can’t see how many steps you have climbed up the stairs.
Conversely, the one thing great about the Alta HR that makes it better for sports enthusiasts is that it has great battery life. Fitbit says the tracker is able to last up to seven days on a single charge and that is better than its predecessor’s claim of five days and ahead of competing wearables.
That claim comes pretty close as our review unit only required a recharge at around six and half days.
That is pretty impressive considering how small it is and the recharge time of one to two hours means the Alta HR can monitor your stats more losing much time.
It is not all just about exercise with the Alta HR. One new feature is its ability to track sleep patterns. Though not exclusive to the Alta HR, it is also available on Fitbit’s Blaze and Charge 2, it is an interesting new feature that gives one better insight on how you are sleeping.
Using heart-rate variability, it can accurately pinpoint the various stages of sleep you are in.
This makes for some very interesting details as you can learn just how long you are in REM, light or deep sleep. Compare it against what is the norm for people in your age range to get a better picture if your good night’s sleep is in line with what health experts recommend.
That being said, the Sleep Insights provides rather generic information on your sleep pattern. There isn’t nearly enough information to discern if your pattern is healthy for you other than comparing it to the average person your age.
It would have been great if the feature offered tips to users who face sleep problems and possibly used data collected as information for sleep experts to decipher one’s sleep problems.
The Fitbit Alta HR at its heart is an activity tracker that is great for casual exercisers.
It may not meet the needs of all sports enthusiasts as it isn’t waterproof and lacks an altimeter, but for the rest of us who need constant motivation to keep our resolutions, the Alta HR is great.
It is impressive how Fitbit managed to cram a heart rate monitor and improve the battery life at the same time on one of its smallest and slimmest form factors to date.
Heart rate monitoring is great for knowing how your performance really is, instead of relying on the pedometer alone. The sleep insights felt like it could be improved further, the information while informative doesn’t tell you much aside from how much sleep you should ideally be getting.
So if you are in the market for an activity tracker that does more than just count your steps but looks into your overall well-being, then the Fitbit Alta HR might just be the tracker for you.
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