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Fitbit Charge 2 review:

​The best Fitbit of the bunch

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The Good Swappable bands. A multi-line OLED display that can show time and fitness data. Always-on heart rate. A great companion app. Affordable price. Five-day battery life.

The Bad Not water-resistant for swims or showers. Lacks GPS. Phone notifications on the Charge 2 display are limited and hard to read.

The Bottom Line If you don't need water resistance and GPS, the Fitbit Charge 2 is the best overall fitness tracker you can buy.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.2 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Battery 8.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Software 9.0
  • Features 8.0

Lots of things track steps now. Tons of trackers and watches -- and even phones -- do a good enough job.

In 2016, you buy a fitness band for its app and software. Fitbit does what it does so well and so simply, and across enough platforms and phones and social networks, that it wins out as a platform of choice.

And the best overall Fitbit hardware you can get right now? That's the new Charge 2, which costs $150 in the US, £130 in the UK, AU$250 in Australia. (A slightly pricier special edition at $180, £150 or AU$290 with a different band finish.) It's the follow-up to our previous favorite (an no longer available), the Charge HR. The Charge 2 is a slight redesign, with a few new features. I still don't think anything else nails the combination of app, feature set and functional, affordable design like it does.

If you're a dedicated long-distance away-from-your-phone runner, or want to swim, or want a fully-connected smartwatch, go with other choices. But the Charge 2 is a do-everything band for the average person. I've worn one for about a month now and it's won me over. It's the easy answer to "which fitness tracker should the average person buy?"

Just don't swim with it.

Editors' note (March 27, 2017): The Charge 2 was previously awarded an Editors' Choice award in September 2016. While the Charge 2 is still a very good device, we are now recommending the new Fitbit Alta HR as our best all-around fitness tacker, which is available for the same price as the Charge 2.

fitbit-charge-2-outside04.jpg

Compact design, larger display.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's a Fitbit Charge HR with extras

As I said, the Charge 2 is a similar band to the Charge HR, replacing that older model in Fitbit's lineup at the identical price. It still has five-day battery and always-on heart rate tracking, but adds a much larger OLED display that shows all the data I wanted it to in the first place. And its design, while still a bit bulky, is sharper: a steel body, larger screen (covered in clear polycarbonate) and swappable leather or rubber bands. It isn't the most jaw-dropping design of all time, but its watch-style buckle fit me securely (it comes in three sizes).

If you're looking for a small snug band, this might be too bulky for you. Consider the Fitbit Flex 2, a less expensive no-screen waterproof tracker that lacks heart rate.

fitbit-charge-2-01.jpg

Multi-line display, at last.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bigger screen is better

The Charge 2's new selection of watch faces and the larger vertical LED display mean I can see time, steps and heart rate all at once.

Its screen is not always on, but a lift-to-look gesture works fine, or you can tap the display, or you can press the side button. That side button shifts between modes on the tracker, while tapping on the display brings up extra data (estimated calorie burn, or pace, or resting heart rate).

Onboard features include a stopwatch, exercise tracking mode, heart rate and a new "Relax" mindfulness app. Notifications pop up in a limited way -- texts, calendar appointments and phone calls, which scroll slowly across the bottom of the vertical screen. Not great, and you can't respond to anything, of course, but it's better than nothing.

fitbit-charge-2-01.jpg

Trying to calm down.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Relax = a little mini-mindfulness, sorta

Fitbit's one small step into the expanding mindfulness wearable tech world is Relax, which only lives on the Charge 2: much like the Apple Watch's Breathe app, it is a focused timed breathing exercise that aims to encourage relaxation. It doesn't sync back any data to the Fitbit app. It gathers a simulated respiration rate from heart rate data, and encourages timed inhale-exhales over 2 or 5 minutes, showing your heart rate afterwards. That's it. It's designed to time breathing based on actual heart rate readings, which is interesting.

OK, it got me to focus. But it's not anything that a regular meditation exercise couldn't also do. I don't use it much, but as a freebie bonus, it's not bad. I just didn't know what to do with it, and I wasn't encouraged by my Fitbit to ever go back and use it on a daily basis.

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Fitbit's new trail-based challenges are kinda fun.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Better software, better features

Fitbit's own app has gotten pretty comprehensive. It's great. It's easy to use, and tracks everything you'd need: standing, stair climbing, weight loss, nutrition, water intake, heart rate, exercise, sleep...and oh yeah, steps. And unlike the Apple Watch -- twice as expensive or more -- it also tracks stair climbing and sleep.

The easy-glance dashboard design has won me over, and I can pair enough other things into the experience, such as hooking in a Withings scale to sync weigh-ins via the cloud, that I never feel like it lacks anything I need.

I also like Fitbit's tweaks to its other measurements, especially its reminders to move. Unlike many other bands, Fitbit makes you walk 250 steps to "earn the hour." It made me want to walk more, instead of just standing.

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