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Fitbit Alta: A Good Mid-Size Fitness Tracker

Time to check in to see how you’re doing with your New Year’s resolution. How’s it going? Have you been working hard? Just in case you need a little bit of encouragement, maybe you aught to think about getting a fitness tracker. I’ve spent the last month with the Fitbit Alta and if ever there were a device that constantly reminded you how little you move, this is it.

In the case that you aren’t familiar with Fitbit or fitness trackers in general, the name should speak for itself. They serve as a way to quantify your daily/weekly/etc exercise and track your improvement as time passes. With Fitbit, they take it a few steps further to also track your sleep activity, allow you to track your weight, and even track your food intake, all from one handy (and free) app.

Basic Use

Much like the Charge HR, the setup of the Fitbit Alta is drop-dead simple. You basically just connect the band via Bluetooth (which the app can do by itself, even if you don’t mean for it to) and start walking (or running).

In some ways, the app for the Fitbit is only as good as the amount of effort you’re willing to put into it. Myself, I don’t have a Fitbit Aria scale (or a bathroom scale at all, right now) and I don’t feel like attempting to find out how many calories are in every meal or snack that I eat in order to get the most out of the app. However, it will track just about everything about your health, including your calorie input and output, your current weight, the restfulness of your sleep, and of course the amount of exercise you get every day.

Over the years, a lot has changed about the Fitbit app and the hardware that they sell has certainly become more refined, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that you still can’t really get your Fitbit wet. It seems so strange to me that you would wear something all the time but the one time of day that you take it off isn’t when you’re sleeping but when you get up and get into the shower.

Like with the last time I wrote a Fitbit review, the Fitbit comes with a USB dongle, which gives users the option to sync its tracking to a PC rather than a phone. While I am aware that not everyone has a smartphone, I can’t imagine at this point that there is someone who would wear a fitness tracker but not have a smartphone. It seems almost a waste to include it in the box.

Style & Comfort

I really think that the Alta represents the perfect form factor when it comes to fitness trackers. Some are really bulky and watch-like, which isn’t what most people are looking for in a fitness tracker, while others are so small that they don’t have a screen for displaying your progress throughout the day or notifications (like this does).

If you take a look at the screenshot from my sleep habits above, it may appear as though I simply didn’t sleep some days. That’s because I found the Alta to be incredibly uncomfortable to wear in bed. It may have been tracking my sleep, but I felt as though it was also inhibiting my ability to sleep well. After a while, I simply stopped wearing it to bed.

When it comes to fashion, it’s rare for me to see a fitness tracker that isn’t a major eye sore and obviously a fitness tracker. The Alta is no exception. That having been said, I have to hand it to Fitbit with this one. It’s incredibly easy to swap the band for a new one, meaning the tracker won’t be useless once the band wears out and they have a large selection of replacements if you don’t like the one that came with it to begin with. You can get a standard rubber one or even leather, metal, or rope replacements. They are far from cheap and in some cases far from reasonable prices but they exist, so I’m calling it a win.

Accuracy & Sensors

I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed with some of the data and overall sensory from this thing. I’m sure that it is generally correct when it comes to your overall number of steps and exercise. In fact, I was really impressed with how it was able to tell when I was playing tennis for 1.5 hours one day and actually pretty much nailed it.

My biggest issues were these:

  1. I know for a fact that it was counting non-stepping motions as steps. Once I was sitting still in a chair when it decided to go off and tell me that I had met my hourly goal. Another time (embarrassing disclosure) I was swinging my arms around in the car when I was getting really into my music and it went off for the same reason. Like I said before, I’m sure it’s generally correct, but it’s definitely not precisely correct, which I don’t think anyone really expects it to be, anyway.
  2. It was like pulling teeth to get the display to turn on – especially after it sent a notification. I had to time it just right after the notification came in and turn my wrist with just the right amount of purpose for it to show me what it had buzzed for. I generally had better luck when just checking the time, but overall it was pretty unreliable.

Battery Life & Charging

The battery life on the Alta was very impressive. I’d say that it took about 1.5 weeks between charges and there’s no way you’ll not know that the battery is dying. Oddly enough, the Alta itself won’t tell you that it’s dying but you’ll get both a notification on your phone and an email letting you know that the battery was drained and it needed to be charged soon. It certainly beats having to charge yet another device every day.

As far as the charging itself is concerned, I’m still not crazy about the fact that it requires a proprietary clamp/pogo-pin charger that costs $20 to replace if you lose it but it gets the job done and since the battery lasts so long, I don’t see it likely that you’ll need to move it around a lot. You can go on an entire week-long vacation and not need to bring the charger with you, for instance. I just plugged it into one of the USB ports on the side of my monitor and let it dangle, there. I could charge it over-night once every couple of weeks and it would be good to go for a couple more. Of course, it doesn’t come with the actual A/C adapter, but that seems to be the case with a lot of things these days. They just assume we have a bunch of open USB ports waiting to have accessories plugged into.

Final Thoughts

My only other criticism is that the latching mechanism on the wristband is quite simply, terrible. It’s really difficult to latch and I know for a fact that it will eventually wear out in a spectacular fashion, leading it to fall off at a moment’s notice. Its only redeeming quality (I guess) is that it has two pegs and pretty much stays one once it’s latched.

That having been said, at a price of only $129 starting (you can pay an additional $20 for a 22k gold plated unit, for reasons), I think that this is one of the best fitness trackers out there, for what you get. The form factor is not particularly off-putting and it does everything you would want a fitness tracker to do.

Much like with other Fitbit products, if it’s really important to you that the data is accurate and precise, it probably isn’t for you, but for the average person like you who is just trying to keep up with his or her New Year’s resolution, this is just the ticket.

Purchase: Verizon Wireless