Guess what: Fitbit's newest tracker is its best one yet. There are a lot of Fitbits to choose from, but after wearing all of them, the Fitbit Alta HR wins our vote. It has almost all of the same features as the Charge 2, our old favorite tracker, but in a design that is 25 percent slimmer with better battery life. The Alta HR has continuous heart-rate, basic phone notifications, and after wearing it for weeks it's proven to be a great fitness companion.
For me, it's all about design. I've been wearing the Alta HR for almost a month and plan to continue wearing it even after this review. It's comfortable to wear and doesn't sacrifice any features, but what sold me was the seven day battery life. Now if only it were swim-proof like the Flex 2, then it would have been a grand slam.
The Alta HR costs $150, £130 or AU$250, the same price as the Charge 2. For most people, the Charge 2's extra few features probably aren't worth it. If you do care about manually tracking workouts or having a stopwatch, get the Charge 2, otherwise the Alta HR is the fitness tracker we recommend.
Fitbit's heart rate tracking has finally found its way into a smaller band. The Alta HR is the same size as the original Alta, and has all of the same features, plus heart rate. It can track steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes and sleep. To look at these stats, just tap the Alta HR's case below the screen (the display isn't touch-sensitive, but the Alta HR can detect forceful taps). Unfortunately, it doesn't do stair climbing or have a "Relax" mode like the Charge 2.
The tracker's narrow monochrome LED will also display notifications for incoming calls, text messages and calendar alerts, and will provide reminders to move throughout the day. As I said with the original Alta, though, these notifications can be difficult to read due to the small display.
The heart rate sensor measures heart rate at 5-second intervals continuously throughout the day. This is the same as the Charge 2 and Blaze, but both of those can also manually start workouts which increase the sample rate to once every second. In everyday use over a few weeks, I didn't miss that faster heart rate sampling, but serious workout warriors might.
The Fitbit app provides a graph of all-day heart rate and resting heart rate. It also displays a personalized Cardio Fitness score. This is the same score that debuted last fall on the Charge 2 and is slated to arrive on the Blaze. It's an estimate of overall health that is based on your VO2 Max, a widely accepted metric that is used to determine how well our bodies can use oxygen during workouts.
The Alta HR supports a wide variety of swappable bands. There are rubber ones in multiple colors and even more stylish leather and metal options. The straps from the original Alta will work with the Alta HR (and vice versa). Swappable bands also mean less wear and tear on the actual Fitbit device.
While the straps are backward compatible, the clip-on proprietary charging cable isn't. Luckily, you won't have to charge it often. The Alta HR will last an entire week on a single charge, which is damn impressive given the small size.
Good software is equally important as good hardware, and the Fitbit app is one of the best. It's easy to use, and Fitbit has continued to update it with new features, such as integration with its Fitstar workout app which offers various workout routines for different fitness levels.
The one thing I love about the Fitbit app is the size of the community. Fitbit has the largest user base (23.2 million active users to be exact) and offers a variety of weekly challenges for competing against friends and family members. These challenges can help keep people active and motivated -- it does for me and is the key draw to the Fitbit platform. The company has found that users take 700 more steps when friends are on the platform and more than 2,000 steps when competing in a challenge.
The Alta HR is also the first to get Fitbit's new Sleep Stages feature. Rather than simply tracking how long you slept, it will now measure when you're in light, deep and REM sleep cycles, and provide insights on your sleep habits. But the Sleep Stages feature will also be coming to the Charge 2 and Blaze later this month.
The Alta HR and Charge 2 are priced the same. They both have heart-rate sensors, can both track all-day fitness, and can both display basic notifications. So what's the difference?
The Charge 2 has a built-in stopwatch and multiple workout profiles -- running, biking, Zumba, intervals and more -- for tracking individual exercises, while the Alta HR relies on automatic workout tracking. The automatic feature, which is also on the Charge 2 and Blaze, works most of the time but can occasionally miss or wrongly classify a workout, although this can later be fixed in the Fitbit app.
The Alta HR also doesn't include an altimeter and won't measure how many flights of stairs you climb each day, nor does it have the guided breathing sessions from the Charge 2. But these aren't huge trade-offs.
If you care strongly enough about these features, get the Charge 2. But for most people, the better battery life and smaller size of the Alta HR will be more useful.
The relatively long battery life, continuous heart rate tracking, and stylish design make the Alta HR an obvious choice for anyone in the market for a fitness tracker. All it's missing is swim-proofing, which is still only found on Fitbit's Flex 2. Even so, the Alta HR is the best pick for most people. It's easy enough to use for beginners, and flexible enough to fit a lot of wrists.
It's not the most feature-packed tracker ever, but it strikes a perfect balance. There might be more advanced Fitbit smartwatches down the road, but for now this is the best basic band of the bunch.