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Fitbit Alta review: No longer the savvy buy it was

Alan Martin Riyad Emeran
18 Jun 2019
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Fitbit Alta
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
99
inc VAT (as of 18th of April)

Well designed in every respect, it may not be feature-packed, but this is still a good buy

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Specifications

Pedometer: Yes, Heart-rate monitor: No, Display: Yes (OLED, tap display), Battery life: 5 days

Update: The Fitbit Alta was once a solid recommendation from us, but unless you see it very cheap, it's hard to endorse in 2019.

It's not that it's any weaker a product than it was when it first released, just the Fitbit has bettered it several times over. Firstly, with the Fitbit Alta HR, and then with its replacement for the series: the Fitbit Inspire and Inspire HR.

Of these, the last is the one to go for: you get a lot more value for just £20 more, including more detailed sleep tracking thanks to the heart-rate sensor, and the option to track runs by piggybacking off your phone.

The Fitbit Alta will do the job, but unless you can get a bargain, the Inspire HR should be your first choice.  For more info on all our favourite fitness trackers, take a look at our best fitness trackers list.

Riyad's original review continues below.

Recently we've seen a number of devices which aren't sure if they're fitness trackers, fitness watches, smartwatches or all three. By comparison, the Fitbit Alta knows exactly what it is and where it sits in the fitness tracker market. In fact, the Alta is one of the best trackers I’ve seen for a while, combining great design, intuitive usability and a decent feature set.

Yes, there are more feature rich trackers out there, like the superb Garmin Vivosmart HR, but the Fitbit Alta is aimed at a completely different user; the type of user who’s not a fitness fanatic, but would like to improve their level of activity.

Specifications & accessories

The Alta continues the modular theme seen in previous devices, with the device itself interchangeable with different strap colours and types. The Alta comes with a rubber strap that’s available in four different colours – black, blue, plum and teal. The strap comes in two parts, each of which clicks securely into the Alta – there’s a clip at each end of the Alta which will release it from each part of the strap.

The Alta can be equipped with a leather strap (in pink or graphite), and while this does improve the overall look, it doesn’t transform it in terms of aesthetics and comfort the way the leather strap does on the recent Fitbit Blaze.

Put simply, the Alta looks and feels pretty good with the standard rubber strap, so my advice would be to save yourself the £40 that a leather strap would cost, and maybe invest in a second rubber strap in a different colour – those are only £20 after all.

Fitbit Alta two straps

Fitbit also sells a solid metal bangle for the Alta, but given that this will set you back an additional £80, it’s not far off the cost of the Alta itself, and I found it neither aesthetically pleasing or comfortable to wear, but I doubt I’m the target market for that particular accessory.

So, the standard Alta configuration is the sweet spot – it looks good, wraps around the wrist nicely, and is comfortable to wear. The securing clasp has two teeth the push through the holes in the opposite part of the strap – there’s no secondary securing loop, but the Alta stayed safe and secure on my wrist regardless of my activities.

The supplied USB charging cable clips to the underside of the Alta, allowing the metal contacts to meet and the charge to initiate. You do need to make sure that you’re lining up the contacts on the cable with those on the device, otherwise you’ll come back and find that it hasn’t charged at all, but you’ll only make that mistake once.

Fitbit Alta side

Fitbit also bundles one of its USB wireless dongles in the box, which is a great feature – this allows you to sync the Alta wirelessly with your computer whenever you’re close to it. Okay, so you’ll probably sync most regularly with your phone, but it’s still nice to have that option.

Features

The Alta is dominated by an OLED display. The display is much larger and easier to read than the examples on the Fitbit Charge and Charge HR, and of course the Flex doesn’t have a display at all. The display can be configured in various formats to suit the individual – you can have the information displayed in portrait or landscape formats, depending on which is easier for you to read at a glance.

Another nice touch is that the Alta has been equipped with the same automatic screen activation that the Blaze has – that means that although the screen is off by default, as soon as you raise your wrist to look at the Alta, the screen will automatically activate. It’s not infallible, but it works most of the time.

The screen will display the time of day, along with date and day by default. Tapping the screen will cycle through the data that the Alta is gathering – steps taken, estimated distance, estimated calories burned, active minutes and alarms set.

There’s no built-in heart rate monitor, but that’s not really the type of user that the Alta is aimed at. I would have liked to have seen an altimeter included, since the Charge will count the flights of stairs you take each day, and that’s a great way to encourage you to ditch the lift.

The Alta will also try to ascertain when you start any form of exercise, automatically logging when you go for a walk or a run, while also logging those periods as active minutes.

Fitbit Alta side

Vibration alerts are also on the menu, and the Alta will buzz after an hour of inactivity to try and encourage you to go for a walk. Even more useful is the silent alarm feature that will wake you up in the morning without disturbing your partner – a vibrating alarm on your wrist is a surprisingly effective yet gentle way to wake.

Of course the Alta will also automatically track your sleep – there’s no need to manually activate a sleep mode – and it’s pretty accurate when it comes to logging when you wake in the night, or whether you’ve been particularly restless. As always, though, I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do with this data, since you can’t act on it directly. However, you can ascertain whether your new, more active lifestyle is resulting in better sleeping habits, too.

The Alta will relay basic notifications from your phone, too – you’ll get your text messages, calendar reminders and call notifications. It's well short of what you might get on a fully-fledged smartphone, but it covers the basics and that's all that most people need.

Fitbit quotes five days of battery life for the Alta and I’d say that’s pessimistic. I charged the device on a Thursday and realised on Friday evening that I’d forgotten to bring the charging cable home – I needn’t have worried though, since the Alta ploughed on through the weekend, and into the middle of the following week. I’d suggest that you’ll be looking at between six and seven days from a full charge, which is pretty decent for a tracker with a built-in display.

App and web portal

While great hardware is important, a tracker’s supporting ecosystem is just as, if not more, important. A well-designed, easy-to-use app is imperative, while a solid web portal will let you check your progress from a browser without needing to dig your phone out of your pocket or handbag.

Fitbit has both those bases covered, with an app that’s clear and easy to navigate, putting all the important data front-and-centre, while also giving you lots more to dig down into.

Fitbit Alta app

There’s a food diary built into the app, and while Fitbit’s food database used to be far too US focused for my liking, the company has made a solid effort to improve the UK database, and the barcode scan option makes it incredibly easy to log what goes in your tummy.

If you already use MyFitnessPal to track your food intake – as many of us do – worry not, since you can link the two apps together, allowing the Fitbit app to pull in all your data from MyFitnessPal and base your dynamic calorie count on the MFP data, offset with the Fitbit activity data.

There’s a decent selection of other apps to pair with – if you use Strava for your bike rides and runs, you can pull all that activity into your Fitbit stream. Unfortunately if you use a Withings smart scale to track your weight – as I do – then you’ll have to manually enter your data, since the Fitbit app won’t pair with the Withings app, unlike the Jawbone app, which is happy to play with almost every other platform out there.

The web portal is great, with all your data presented as dynamic tiles – you can move the tiles around to suit your preference, allowing you to focus on the data that matters most to you. Here you’ll see your leaderboard – a list of Fitbit friends you follow, and a log of all activity – this will either make you feel good about topping the table, or give you the incentive to push yourself that bit harder.

Fitbit web dashboard

There's no point in using the portal if the data isn't up to date. That shouldn't be a problem here though, thanks to the bundled wireless dongle – every time you open the web page, your Alta will automatically sync its data.

Conclusion

The Fitbit Alta is a great fitness tracker for the typical user. While it’s not as feature-packed as the excellent Garmin Vivosmart HR, it’s not really trying to compete on that level. The Alta is aimed at someone who’s either looking to become more active, or perhaps upgrading from a more basic device like the Fitbit Flex.

With a price of £100 there are cheaper devices available, but none of those have the balance of design, functionality and flexibility that the Alta has. The display is bright and easy to read, the battery life is impressive, the bundled wireless dongle is a real plus point, and the interchangeable straps will certainly please the fashion-conscious.

While I’d still like to see Fitbit play nicely with a wider range of third-party apps (Withings HealthMate for one), that’s not a deal breaker with a device at this level. The lack of altimeter functionality is a disappointment, though, and had Fitbit included the ability to track the flights of stairs you’re climbing – as you can with so many other Fitbit devices – the Alta would be walking away with five stars and a Best Buy award.

Despite that small caveat, though, the Fitbit Alta still nabs a respectable four stars, along with our Recommended award. If you’re not a hardcore fitness freak and need a daily tracker, the Fitbit Alta is hard to beat. Buy Now from Amazon

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Hardware
Wearing modesWrist strap
PedometerYes
Heart-rate monitorNo
GPSNo
DisplayYes (OLED, tap display)
WaterproofYes (splashproof)
Smartphone connection
OS supportAndroid, iOS
WirelessBluetooth
Battery
Battery sizeN/A
Battery life5 days
Buying information
Warranty1 year
Detailswww.fitbit.com

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