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Fitbit Inspire HR review: Fitbit's best value tracker ever

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
90

Fitbit’s follow-up to the Alta HR is a damned fine fitness band

Pros 
Competitively priced
Stylish
Legendary Fitbit app and community
Cons 
Sometimes fiddly
Not brilliant for mid-run stats
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Fitbit is in a tough position. Squeezed by the Apple Watch at the top end and cheap Chinese wearables such as the Xiaomi Mi Band 3 at the other, is there still a place for it today?

Perhaps not, but the Fitbit Inspire HR is another example of why it would be sad if it were eventually squeezed out. It’s a well-balanced blend for people who want to get fitter but don’t want to spend hours analysing their form.

READ NEXT: Fitbit Versa Lite Edition review

Fitbit Inspire HR review: What you need to know

The Fitbit Inspire is what you’d probably call a mid-range Fitbit. It isn't quite as fully featured as the Fitbit Charge 3, but it’s closer to a smartwatch than the screenless Fitbit Flex 2.

It’s probably viewed by the company as a replacement to the much-loved Alta, which was the most stylish model in the range. However, the cheaper price point of the Inspire HR does result in a product that, to my eyes at least, doesn’t look quite as visually appealing.

It does have its advantages, though. As well as tracking steps, sleep and calorie burn, the Fitbit Inspire HR has a whole host of extra features, including a guided breathing app, a VO2 max estimate to give you an overall view of your fitness and what it euphemistically calls “female health tracking” – that’s period tracking to you and me.

Importantly, unlike the Alta and the non-HR version of the Inspire, the Inspire HR lets you piggyback off your phone’s GPS for more accurate running and cycling tracking.

Fitbit Inspire HR review: Price and competition

You get all that for £90 – pretty impressive given the original Alta launched for £99 and the Alta HR for £120.

The most obvious comparison is the regular Fitbit Inspire, which sells for £70. Considering an extra £20 gets you a heart rate monitor, connected GPS, VO2 max estimates and guided breathing sessions, that feels like a no-brainer of an upgrade (even if holding back connected GPS between models feels a bit cheap, given the work is done by your phone anyway).

There’s also the Fitbit Charge 4, which goes for £130 and at long last adds built-in GPS, along with Spotify playback, Fitbit Pay support and a new Active Zone Minutes workout measurement metric. Unlike its predecessor the Fitbit Charge 3, the Charge 4 is worth the additional £40. 

Elsewhere, the Garmin Vivosmart 4 offers pretty similar functionality for £120, albeit with stress tracking and Garmin’s innovative Body Battery feature, while budget buyers could do worse than looking at the phenomenally cheap Xiaomi Mi Band 3 at just £20.

Fitbit Inspire HR review: Design

The design of the Fitbit Inspire HR will be pretty familiar to anybody who has used any of the company’s bands from the past few years. A small plastic lozenge is the brain of the device, and it clips in between two silicone rubber straps.

Rather neatly, two bands come in the box, so you don’t have to figure out whether you qualify as having large wrists or not. These are interchangeable, so you can make your Fitbit Inspire HR look as smart or sporty as you like, with Fitbit selling straps from between £20 and £60, depending on whether you want rubber, leather or steel.

As for the brain part, it may look a little cheaper than the Alta – its predecessor was constructed from aluminium and this is plastic – but there’s not much in it. Indeed, I quite like the curvy elegance of the Inspire HR. It may be my memory playing tricks on me, but the OLED screen looks a little sharper as well as larger – perhaps it’s just a higher pixel density but it’s not a bad look in any case.

The Inspire HR is mainly controlled by touchscreen, which to my mind is never a great idea for a fitness tracker, given that sensitivity drops when they come into contact with water, which makes running in rain or, y’know, sweating a bit difficult. This is doubly the case when the touchscreen is teeny tiny, although to Fitbit’s credit this one works pretty well – certainly better than the more expensive Fitbit Charge 3. It has a single button on the left-hand side but this mainly functions as a back button or as a way of lighting up the screen if it doesn’t detect the fact that you've raised your wrist.

Surprise! Once again Fitbit has seen fit to bundle a brand-new kind of proprietary charger with the Inspire HR. I swear, Fitbit must have someone who loves designing new chargers on their payroll. Or cynically, perhaps the company executives just enjoy the huge markups they can make on selling replacements. I’m not sure which is worse.


Fitbit Inspire HR review: Performance

Fitbit has been in the step-counting game for nearly a decade, so it’s no surprise that the Inspire HR nails the basics. You can set your desired step target in the app (the default is 10,000 or around five miles for most people) and the little OLED screen dutifully keeps track, occasionally buzzing to tell you to get up for a walk if you’ve been static for too long.

The sleep tracking has come on quite a long way since the early days now, and the app claims to be able to tell the difference between light, deep and REM sleep. The beauty of this, from Fitbit’s side anyway, is that it’s impossible to prove either way, but anecdotally my charts seem to match up to what I remember. This 3am spike, for example, was thanks to a cat demanding I wake up and escort him to his very full food bowl.

The other features are equally well thought-out. The guided breathing app, for example, has you focus on a circle that grows and shrinks for two or five minutes to help you pace your breathing, while the Fitbit monitors your heart rate. It’ll even give you an estimate of VO2 Max to help you judge your overall fitness level and, more importantly, track your improvement over time.

In classic Fitbit style, this information is presented in a very user-friendly way, giving you a rating rather than a raw set of numbers to decode. And this is, of course, where Fitbit really shines: the app is not just user-friendly and accessible to people who may find a full Garmin-style stat-fest daunting, it also has a huge userbase, meaning you’ll likely find plenty of friends and family to compete with. Nobody comes close to matching Fitbit’s sense of friendly competition and it’s a world away from the overwhelming sense of elite athleticism that other apps try to instil.

But this cuts two ways in the case of the Fitbit Inspire HR. Frankly, I found it too small and fiddly to be much use as a running watch. The tiny screen means only one stat can appear onscreen at a time and swiping while running is distinctly awkward. Indeed, although its connected GPS gave a similar reading to the Garmin Forerunner 645 on my other wrist, it’s just not that useful mid-run.

That isn’t to say the Fitbit Inspire HR is of no use to runners. If you’re the kind of person to trust your body, you’ll find it fine for recording your performance. It’s just not that useful for assessing it on the fly compared with dedicated running watches that show multiple data fields on one screen.

READ NEXT: Hands-on with the Fitbit Ace 2

Fitbit Inspire HR review: Verdict

So it really depends what you’re looking for. If all you’re after is a smart fitness band to track your steps, sleep and general fitness level, the Fitbit Inspire HR is an easy recommendation. It looks good and is competitively priced. Yes, there are cheaper bands out there, but they don’t have the brilliant app and community.

Thanks to the addition of connected GPS, it can also give running watches a run for their money to some extent, although its tiny screen and fiddly usability make it better for recording performance than getting live feedback.

If that’s an issue for you, get a dedicated running watch such as the Garmin Forerunner 35 or the less fiddly, GPS-packed Fitbit Ionic. If it’s not, you could do a lot worse than spending £90 on the Fitbit Inspire HR.