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Fitbit Alta review: A stylish tracker with long battery life and basic phone notifications

The Fitbit Alta is a stylish fitness tracker with swappable bands, basic phone notifications and week-long battery.

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Dan Graziano
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Dan Graziano

Associate Editor / How To

Dan Graziano is an associate editor for CNET. His work has appeared on BGR, Fox News, Fox Business, and Yahoo News, among other publications. When he isn't tinkering with the latest gadgets and gizmos, he can be found enjoying the sights and sounds of New York City.

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5 min read

You can spot a Fitbit from across the room. The Fitbit Charge HR and Surge, the company's two most popular trackers, aren't exactly jewerly, and I would never be caught wearing one to a wedding or another formal event. But Fitbit is changing.

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7.9

Fitbit Alta

The Good

The Fitbit Alta is a stylish fitness tracker with swappable bands, basic phone notifications and week-long battery life. The new "Move" alerts bring something new. Fitbit's software is still one of our favorites, and has the largest social base as well.

The Bad

There's no heart-rate sensor, and it can't be worn in the shower. The tracker is expensive for what it can do and so are the accessory straps. The display is difficult to see outdoors and is susceptible to scratches, and notifications are hard to read.

The Bottom Line

While ultimately a more stylish (but heart-rate free) version of the older Charge HR, the Fitbit Alta is a winning fitness tracker with solid style appeal.

In addition to the new Fitbit Blaze smartwatch, the Alta is the company's most visually appealing tracker thus far. It's slim, has a nice big display, supports a variety of interchangeable bands and does all the basics (tracks steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes and sleep).

It would be my favorite Fitbit or quite possibly favorite tracker overall if it was a bit cheaper. The Fitbit Alta costs $130 (£100, AU$200). Initially that doesn't sound too bad, but when you consider the older Charge HR is often discounted to around the same price, it makes you stop and think.

While the Alta can display calls, text message and calendar alerts from your iPhone or Android device, it doesn't include a heart-rate sensor (like the aforementioned Charge HR), which can help provide a better estimate on calorie burn and sleep tracking. And it's not water-resistant, so you can't wear it in the shower or pool.

But for those who want a Fitbit that isn't an eyesore, the Alta is worth a look, especially if you can find it on sale.

Hands-on with the Fitbit Alta (pictures)

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Stylish, but at what cost?

The Alta doesn't discriminate against wrist size or gender. It looks nice on just about everyone, which can't be said about the Charge HR and Garmin Vivosmart HR. It's not as stylish as the Jawbone Up2, but it does add a display for showing real-time data on activities and notifications

The tracker features a quick-release mechanism that make it easy to swap out the bands. Fitbit offers multiple options that help you personalize the Alta. There's a basic rubber strap in a variety of colors for day-to-day use, while the leather and metal options add some extra flair for a special night out.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Unfortunately like the tracker itself, the accessory bands feel a bit overpriced. The rubber straps cost $30 (£20, AU$50), while the leather one goes for $60 (£50, AU$100) and the metal for $100 £80, AU$170). That would bring the total price of the Alta to $230 (£180, AU$370), which is absurd. At that price, you're in Apple Watch or Fitbit Blaze territory.

All of the wristbands (with the exception of the metal bangle) have a two-button clasp rather than the watch-like buckle of the Charge HR. I've worn the Alta for more than a month and never had an issue with it falling off, but I still find myself constantly checking my wrist to make sure it's actually there.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are no buttons on the Alta. It's pretty sleek. The screen will turn on when you raise your wrist or when you tap the top of the strap. I have heard reports of some users having issues with the tapping gesture, but I haven't experienced any.

But the screen isn't perfect. It can be difficult to read when outdoors on sunny days. It's nice and big, but unfortunately that has made it susceptible to scratching. There's currently a small, yet noticeable scratch on my display, which is annoying.

What's new?

The Alta can display notifications for incoming calls, text messages and upcoming calendar events from iPhone and Android phones. (Sorry, there's no support for email.) Notifications are accompanied with a gentle vibration. That same vibration can also be used as a silent alarm to wake you up in the morning.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

I really liked being able to see who was calling, but this isn't new. The Charge HR also has caller ID, as does the Vivosmart HR and a few others. I'm a big fan of text message notifications, but not the way Fitbit implemented it. Messages would simply scroll across the screen once and then never reappear. It was incredibly frustrating and difficult to read.

Rather than a basic "stand" or "move" reminder, the Alta encourages you to meet a mini-step goal of 250 steps each hour. If the goal hasn't been reached 10 minutes prior to the top of the hour, the band will gently vibrate to remind you. Fitbit says this is equal to about 2 to 3 minutes of walking, and could help keep your metabolism up and reduce the negative impacts of sitting. I found Fitbit's method more motivating than the stand reminder in the Apple Watch.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

In addition to tracking activities and sleep (which is done automatically), the Alta can also automatically recognize and record when you are doing certain activities and workouts. By default, workouts are recorded when you've been continuously active for at least 15 minutes, but that time can be manually adjusted to activate sooner or later depending on your preference.

Activities that can be detected include elliptical, outdoor biking, running, walking and general aerobic workouts, which includes Zumba, cardio-kickboxing and sports like soccer, tennis or basketball. You also have the option to exclude certain activities from being recognized. The same feature is available in the Charge HR and Surge, and a similar one can be found on Jawbone's trackers.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

There's no timer or stopwatch feature on the band, although you can use the app and GPS on your smartphone to record runs. The Alta also doesn't include an altimeter for tracking floors climbed.

Data and activities is stored on the band for 30 days. If you don't sync it within this time, older data will be overwritten. before it needs to be synced.

Battery life

Fitbit's 5-day battery life estimates is a bit conservative. The Alta hasn't lasted under a week since I began testing it, and on one occasion even went for 8 days.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

These results are better than the Charge HR (5 days) and Vivosmart HR (6 days), but both include heart-rate sensors that drain the battery quicker. The screenless Jawbone Up2 also lasted a week in our testing.

One annoyance is the Alta's proprietary charger. It's different than other Fitbits, and also a bit bulky.

The Fitbit for everyone?

I like the Fitbit Alta. While the notifications may not be perfect, it does all the basics well. The high-price and lack of a heart-rate sensor is disappointing, but I like the week long battery life and swappable straps. Overall, it's one of the better options out there.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Those interested in heart-rate should check out the Charge HR or Garmin Vivosmart HR. The Jawbone Up2 is also an appealing and fashionable device (it can also be found for around $80), although it doesn't include a display.

I also can't shake the feeling that we'll see a heart-rate-enabled "Alta HR" within 12 months, which gives me pause.

The main reason to buy a Fitbit, though, isn't the hardware, it's the software. If you know someone who owns a fitness tracker, there is a very good chance they own a Fitbit. The Fitbit app includes social aspects that allows you to friend and challenge others to various competitions. While I prefer the smart coaching features in the Jawbone app, I don't know anyone else who owns a Jawbone, and fitness tracking is more fun when competing with others.

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7.9

Fitbit Alta

Score Breakdown

Design 8Battery 8Performance 7Software 8Features 8