The Fitbit Charge 6 looks familiar, but the Google app integration is all-new
- Stylish and comfortable
- A £30 price cut
- Google Wallet and Maps are welcome additions
- Iffy GPS if you run without your phone
- Only YouTube Music is supported
- The Altimeter is still missing
The Fitbit Charge 6 is a weird device to review. In terms of hardware changes, there’s very little on which to comment, but it’s all-change on the software front – largely for the better – with Google beginning to make its presence felt.
It’s slightly irritating that Google didn’t just provide a significant software update for the Fitbit Charge 5, given the environmental cost of building new hardware. However, for the average consumer, it’s difficult to feel too annoyed when the company has slashed £30 off the RRP.
Fitbit Charge 6 review: What you need to know
In terms of hardware changes over the Fitbit Charge 5, it’s slim pickings here – all of the improvements are welcome, though. The Charge 6 sees the addition of a haptic physical button, doing away with the all-touch experiment, and the device now offers the ability to broadcast your heart rate to compatible gym equipment.
The changes to the software are more significant. You now have Google Maps with turn-by-turn navigation, Google Wallet for significantly higher contactless payment compatibility, and controls for YouTube Music.
Given Maps and Wallet were added to the Versa 4 and Sense 2 via a free software update, it sticks in the craw somewhat that Google hasn’t taken similar steps for the Fitbit Charge 5 – but there we are.
READ NEXT: Best Fitbits
Fitbit Charge 6 review: Price and competition
Thankfully, all of this comes with a very welcome price cut. While the Fitbit Charge 5 debuted at £170, its successor comes in £30 cheaper at £140. That’s definitely cause for celebration, but worth noting that the Charge 6 still costs £10 more than the Fitbit Charge 4 at launch in 2020; but a 7% price increase over three years isn’t the worst example of tech price inflation.
How does that compare to the best fitness trackers out there? Well, from Fitbit you can go more budget with the Fitbit Inspire 3 at £85 or more premium with the Versa 4 for £180 or the Sense 2 at £200. Note, however, that to get the best out of all of them you’ll need a Fitbit Premium subscription — more on that later.
Elsewhere, there’s the good but ageing Huawei Band 3 Pro (£70), or the Garmin Vivosmart 5 (£115). The latter lacks GPS, however, so you’ll be wanting the £180 Garmin Forerunner 55 if that’s important to you.
iPhone users might prefer something that plugs directly into Apple Health, and that means an Apple Watch. The second-generation Apple Watch SE is the comparison here, and it starts at £239.
READ NEXT: Best Fitbits for women
Fitbit Charge 6 review: Design
From a design perspective, there’s only one change from the Charge 5 – and it’s for the better. The haptic button on the left-hand side of the screen is far better to use than the all-touch design of its predecessor, which often came a cropper when trying to navigate in the rain or with sweaty fingers.
Personally, I’d still prefer an actual, physical button; what you have here is something button-shaped, but it doesn’t actually depress when pushed. Nevertheless, to be entirely fair to Fitbit, it does feel like a button – it’s only when you try pressing it with a nail and feel no movement that you realise you’ve been hoodwinked.
Otherwise, it’s all good. With the previous generation of the device, Fitbit made the Charge less ugly duckling than it had been in the past. The design changes have been maintained here, with curves surrounding the 1.04in AMOLED touchscreen. Despite its size, the screen is easy to read with superb brightness and punchy colours.
I’m still far from thrilled with the strap Fitbit includes in the box (of which there are two sizes to achieve the right fit). It’s comfortable enough once on, but it’s a buckle design where you have to tuck it inside itself – and, frankly, it’s a bit of a faff.
Thankfully, the week-long battery life means taking the device on and off your wrist isn’t a struggle you’ll have to undertake all that often. And if that’s too much, Fitbit sells plenty of other bands you can swap in, starting from £20.
Fitbit Charge 6 review: Performance and battery life
As a basic fitness tracker, Fitbit has pretty much nailed the formula over the years. It will diligently track steps, give occasional move reminders and create a sense of competition via the app. All that works as well as ever.
However, with even the most cheap and basic fitness trackers offering these to varying degrees, the Charge 6 has to compete at the higher end – and here its performance is a mixed bag.
First of all, the altimeter hasn’t returned, after being removed in the previous generation of device, and means that stairs climbed aren’t counted.
Second, though GPS is built in, by default the Charge 6 runs off a hybrid “Dynamic” model where it uses both the device itself and your smartphone to get the best of both worlds.
You can force it to run exclusively from the Charge 6, but this meant it took a long time to lock on to a signal and delivered some eyebrow-raising tracking. Observe the difference between these two GPS reports, for example:
The one on the left is the Garmin Forerunner 245. The one on the right is the Fitbit Charge 6 running purely off its own GPS. Neither is perfect (not surprisingly, I was running along the pavement; not weaving through gardens), but the Fitbit is all over the place.
In all, this resulted in only a 60-metre difference in the total over 4.2km, but it’s something to bear in mind – especially as others have seen significantly worse results.
I should say that in “Dynamic” mode – where the Charge 6 uses its own GPS and that of your phone – my results were spot on over multiple 5km parkruns; but this likely means you’ll be relying on the quality (or not) of your phone’s GPS, which isn’t ideal. Indeed, if your phone has great GPS, you may as well get the GPS-free Fitbit Inspire 3.
On the plus side, Google promised improved heart-rate tracking with the same algorithms used in the Pixel Watch, and this seems to have been delivered. I compared the Fitbit Charge 6’s heart rate sensor to a chest strap connected to the Forerunner 245, finding very little difference – just 2bpm apart on the average, with dips and very similar figures throughout.
Elsewhere, the three additions of Google-made software are welcome. In order of usefulness, first there’s Google Wallet – a huge improvement on Fitbit Pay. In the UK, Fitbit Pay supported a pitifully small number of banks, and Google Wallet fixes that instantly.
Second, there’s Google Maps. This provides turn-by-turn navigation via your connected smartphone; in other words, it will buzz with the direction you need to turn as the moment approaches. This is pretty good, but the small screen does mean it’s basic instructions rather than a full map.
Finally, there are controls for YouTube Music. Great, if you use YouTube Music; but you probably don’t use YouTube Music. Nothing else is supported.
To get the most out of your Fitbit Charge 6, you’ll also need a Fitbit Premium subscription. This delivers deeper sleep insights, a bunch of video and audio workouts, guided programmes on mindful eating and sleep, a personalised wellness report and Daily Readiness, which informs you of how capable you are of pushing yourself hard on any given day.
That’s all useful stuff, and a free six-month subscription to the £8/mth service is included in the box; but it’s still annoying that Google has decided to paywall it. This is made extra irritating by the fact that the aforementioned YouTube Music costs £9.99/mth. In other words, you’ll need to pay around £18/mth for the full Charge 6 experience once the free trials have reeled you in.
What you won’t have to spend too much on is electricity – or spare chargers. As ever, battery life on the Fitbit Charge 6 is stellar, with the seven-day battery life promise being more or less met, even with a few workouts thrown into the mix. If you want to turn on the always-on display, this will drop to around two days, however.
Fitbit Charge 6 review: Verdict
Despite a couple of shortcomings, the Fitbit Charge 6 has plenty going for it. It’s stylish, comfortable and good at nudging you towards better fitness choices – especially if you’re happy to pony up for Fitbit Premium once your free trial comes to an end. The price cut makes it more compelling, too.
Nevertheless, it’s still in a slightly awkward position between fitness tracker and smartwatch. The GPS feels questionable once you take the phone away, and the app integration – though welcome – is limited to a handful of Google-owned bits of software, which isn’t an issue on smartwatches such as Google’s own Pixel Watch.
In the end, it’s still a thumbs-up for casual fitness fans. Even with its limitations, the Fitbit Charge 6 is a decent, unintrusive companion on your fitness journey that justifies its price of entry.