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Fitbit Charge 5 review: An improvement but at a price

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
170
inc. VAT

The Fitbit Charge 5 makes the fitness band every bit as desirable as the Versa, but the price will put some people off

Pros 
Much more stylish
Bright, colourful OLED screen
Built-in GPS
Cons 
More expensive than the Charge 4
No more Spotify controls
Daily Readiness score needs Fitbit Premium
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It may seem obvious to say it, but the Fitbit Charge 5 is the best wearable of the series to date and, for the first time, it can count itself as a bit of a looker. After four generations of being ugly but functional, Fitbit has given the Charge a slick makeover, making it every bit as stylish as the Fitbit Versa 3.

On top of that, it builds on the improvements that made the Fitbit Charge 4 such a step forward for the series, although there has also been one significant step backwards, which I’ll get onto later. But with a price increase of £40 on the RRP of the Charge 4, is it really worth the money?

Fitbit Charge 5 review: What you need to know

The biggest change for the Fitbit Charge 5 is the design of the tracker itself. Not only is this now 10% thinner than before, it also takes on the rounded edges of recent Fitbit watches such as the Sense and Versa, considerably softening the austere, utilitarian, square look of its predecessors. Build quality is also improved, with a move to stainless steel from the plastic case of the Charge 4.

The gently curved display is a colour AMOLED panel this time around, which is a big improvement on the monochrome screen of the previous generations.

As with the previous model, the Charge 5 comes with built-in GPS and there are some additional sensors this time around, giving the Charge 5 the ability to measure electrodermal activity (EDA) and perform electrocardiogram (ECG) tests. The latter isn’t available at launch, however, with Fitbit set to enable the functionality later this year.

You also get six months of Fitbit Premium in the box, which is handy as it enables something called a “Readiness Score” (again, this is “coming soon” – and to the more recent Sense, Versa, Luxe and Inspire devices, too). This will advise you on what kind of exercise your body is ready for each day, to theoretically ensure you don’t overdo it.

READ NEXT: Our guide to the best fitness trackers money can buy

Fitbit Charge 5 review: Price and competition

That’s a great set of updates on paper, but they come at a premium. The Fitbit Charge 5 now costs £170, which is £40 more than the Fitbit Charge 4 at launch, and considerably more than the £115 you can buy it for in 2021.

In Fitbit’s defence, the Charge 5 comes with six months of free access to Fitbit Premium, which normally costs £8 a month. With the usual free trial lasting only 90 days, you’re effectively getting £36 worth of subscription for free, which softens the blow of that price increase somewhat.

That being said, the hard truth is that the £170 price pushes the Fitbit Charge 5 beyond the usual fitness tracker price bracket and firmly into smartwatch territory, and here the competition is fierce. A couple of our favourites are the Fitbit Versa 3, which has a list price of £200 but more commonly goes for around £160, and the Garmin Venu Sq, which is even cheaper, with a list price of £160 but a more common price of £140.

If you prefer a fitness tracker that can hide in plain sight, disguised as regular watch, then the Withings Steel HR Sport (£190) or the Garmin Vivomove 3 (£220) are also decent alternatives, although neither has built-in GPS like the Charge 5, and their more traditional design makes keeping track of workouts in real time a bit fiddly.

Fitbit Charge 5 review: Design

As covered in the intro, the Fitbit Charge 5 is a huge improvement over its predecessors in design terms. It now looks every bit as classy as the Fitbit Versa series with a smooth, curved screen that outputs bright, punchy colours.

It’s worth noting that, as with most wearables, the seemingly thin bezel is an optical illusion pulled off by the black background on every screen. If you swipe between each one slowly enough you can clearly see there’s a thick black border around the screen.

But it hides it well enough, and text and graphics are easily readable, so it’s hardly a deal-breaker. That said, I do have two issues with the design of the Fitbit Charge 5.

The first is the strap that comes with it. It’s comfortable enough, and Fitbit is to be applauded for including two sizes in the box to get the perfect fit. But the band is one of those that loops up inside itself, and I’ve never met anyone who wouldn’t prefer a simple buckle mechanism.

The good news is that this can be easily removed and replaced with something better. While earlier Charge bands aren’t compatible thanks to the smaller size, Fitbit sells its own, and I’m sure it will only a be matter of time before a cottage industry of Charge 5 accessory sellers emerges on Amazon.

The second issue is harder to let slide: the continuation of Fitbit’s war on buttons. The Fitbit Versa 3 had an infuriatingly inconsistent capacitive button and the Charge 5 goes one step further: it’s now touchscreen only. That’s a bold move for a device with such a small screen, and operations frequently verge on the fiddly, especially if you intend to run with your Charge 5 in the rain. Or, y’know, perspire at all.

READ NEXT: Our guide to the best fitness trackers money can buy

Fitbit Charge 5 review: Performance

When running, I’d much rather be able to press a button, as manual dexterity isn’t my strongest suit when going at speed. In particular, I found it very easy to accidentally double tap and skip over the screen I wanted, forcing me to cycle through the lot again with.

It’s not the best running interface I’ve ever used, but nor is it the worst. Three metrics are shown on the screen at a time; two of them – distance and time – are fixed, while the larger one in the middle changes with each tap, cycling through pace, average pace, heart rate, calories, steps, time, distance (again), time (again) and Zone Minutes.

Fiddliness aside, my early verdict is that the built-in GPS and heart-rate tracker does an imperfect job of keeping pace (pun very much intended) with the Garmin Forerunner 245 that I use as my daily running companion and which is usually dead-on 5K at Park Runs.

A run that measured exactly 5.00km on my Garmin came up a bit short on the Fitbit, clocking in at 4.79km, and the average heart rate of 155bpm was a little shy of Garmin’s 162bpm average as well. Nothing new there, really: in my experience, Fitbit has always had issues with underestimating heart rate, although I didn’t experience anything like the problems we had with the Fitbit Luxe earlier this year.

Fitbit Charge 5 review: The Fitbit app

But, for me, that underappreciates Fitbit’s real strengths, which lie in being helpful to non-athletes looking to improve their daily fitness in a non-intimidating way. And, as ever, Fitbit does a fine job here, putting steps, active minutes and calorie burn front and centre.

The Fitbit app, with its brilliant sense of community and gentle competition, is a big part of this appeal, and I believe the app alone makes paying the extra cost for a Fitbit worth it, compared to some of its cheaper rivals.

In this lifestyle-friendly mould is a new feature: the same EDA sensor found on the Fitbit Sense. Sit still and hold the two metal pads either side of the screen between your thumb and forefinger for between two and seven minutes (it’s customisable), and Fitbit will tell you how stressed you are based on the number of EDA responses it detects.

What’s curious is that this seems to have replaced the guided breathing exercises on the wearable itself, and I couldn’t find any way to bring them back. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer that low-tech solution to reducing stress, rather than something that measures how stressed I am without remedy. Incidentally, having to sit still while gripping a wearable for three minutes gets surprisingly uncomfortable and may just create more stress than it alleviates.

READ NEXT: Our guide to the best fitness trackers money can buy

Fitbit Charge 5 review: Missing features

Speaking of missing features, Fitbit seems to have removed the ability to control Spotify playback from the Charge 5, which is a bit disappointing for people who enjoy some beats while they work out, and there are two more features that are coming soon but are currently unavailable.

The first of these is the ability to take an ECG test, which can indicate signs of possible heart arrhythmia. While Fitbit doesn’t position the Charge 5 as a medical device (you should always consult your doctor if you think you have a problem), it could highlight an issue you didn’t know you had.

The second is a Daily Readiness Score, which assesses your energy levels each morning and advises on activities relative to your status. While I haven’t been able to test it yet, it sounds like a more user-friendly version of Training Status and Body Battery found on mid-range and upwards Garmin devices. There, it’s just part of the hardware, but here, it’s an exclusive for Fitbit Premium subscribers.

At this point it’s probably worth assessing whether Fitbit Premium is worth the £8-per-month/£80-per-year price of entry. A six-month trial comes with the Fitbit Charge 5 so you can see for yourself but, in short, I’m yet to be truly convinced of its utility. For your money you get over 150 video and audio workouts, guided programmes on topics as diverse as mindful eating and sleep improvements, enhanced sleep data and a personalised wellness report.

Perhaps Daily Readiness will be worth the price of entry, but it does stick in the craw a little that this genuinely useful-sounding feature is set to be paywalled, especially given the Fitbit Charge 5’s £40 price inflation over the previous generation.

Finally, to battery life, which Fitbit says is up to seven days per charge, which feels about right to me, give or take 24 hours. Enabling the always-on display brings it down to about two days and, if you leave the GPS on continually, you’ll get five hours out of it. These aren’t bad numbers at all, especially when the Apple Watch Series 7 is still stuck on 18 hours of general use.

Fitbit Charge 5 review: Verdict

As with the Fitbit Versa 3, I’m left feeling that the Fitbit Charge 5 is frustratingly close to being the ultimate fitness tracker. But the lack of buttons, missing features (the breathing exercises and Spotify controls, not the “coming soon” ones) and the £40 price increase means it falls short of that accolade.

That said, the Fitbit Charge 5 is, in some ways, greater than the sum of its parts. The new look is great, the screen is fantastic, and I’m still tempted to call the Fitbit app the best in class for those who tentatively want to get fitter but aren’t ready for the stats fest of Garmin Connect.

The eventual implementation of Daily Readiness and ECG readings may push it into “Recommended” territory, but for now, four stars will have to do.