The Fitbit Charge line has produced some of favorite fitness trackers on the market since the original model’s debut in 2014. Now in its fourth generation, Fitbit builds on what we like about the Charge family with the addition of GPS to map your exercise route without a phone, Spotify support, more sleep tools, and a motivating new metric called Active Zone Minutes. Plus Fitbit Pay is now available on all Charge 4 models, not just the more expensive Special Edition. Though we’d like to see a color screen, the $149.95 Charge 4 is an excellent update, and an Editors’ Choice.
Design, Navigation, Battery Life, and Setup
The Charge 4 looks sleek, measuring less than half an inch at its thickest point. I especially like the styling of the Special Edition (pictured in this review), which costs $20 more than the standard model, but comes with a reflective granite/black woven band, plus a classic black flexible plastic band you can use for sweaty workouts. Swapping out the bands couldn’t be easier. There are two small buttons on the back of the tracker—just press them to release one band and snap on a new one.
Like its predecessor, the Charge 4 features a grayscale touch screen that measures one inch diagonally. That said, the grayscale is getting a bit long in the tooth at this point, especially compared with the bright, colorful display on the $25 Wyze Band. When you’re outside in the shade, the Charge 4’s screen is easy to read. In the sun, I had to squint.
The screen shuts off quickly to save battery life, and you can wake it by tapping the inductive button on the left side of the device (which also allows you to go back when navigating the interface), giving your wrist a small shake, or tapping the screen itself. In testing, I sometimes had to tap the screen several times to get it to wake up, which can be annoying. Overall, the display is definitely the main issue we’d like to see addressed in the Charge 5.
You can customize the tracker with different watch faces, depending on your mood or the look you’re going for that day. I selected the Mod Clock Date, which shows the current time, date, and your step count for the day. Other clock faces show additional metrics like your Active Zone Minutes and heart rate.
The interface is basic and uncluttered. You can swipe up from the clock face to view fitness stats including your steps taken that day, hourly steps, Active Zone Minutes, current and resting heart rate, distance covered, calories burned, floors climbed, sleep data, your weight, water intake, and more. Swiping left from the clock face lets you access on-device apps, including Exercise, Spotify, Agenda, Relax, Timers, Alarms, Weather, and Settings. A swipe down on the clock face brings up your notifications.
Fitbit says the Charge 4’s battery lasts up to seven days, or up to five hours while using GPS. After wearing it for a full 24 hours (before testing GPS), the Charge 4 still had 85 percent battery, which is pretty good. Using GPS to track a workout did depleted that number significantly faster, but that was expected.
The Charge 4 is water resistant to 164 feet; I wore it in the shower several times without incident. Fitbit says you should dry the tracker after wearing it in water to avoid skin irritation. Fitbit also recommends regularly cleaning it and your wrist, especially after working out or sweating.
For an accurate heart rate reading, you should wear the Charge 4 tight enough so that it won’t move around, but not so tight that it leaves a mark on your wrist or cuts off your circulation. You should also periodically loosen it, or remove it altogether, to give your wrist a break and avoid irritation.
Connecting the Charge 4 with the Fitbit app is simple. You open the app, select Set Up a Device, plug the tracker into its charger, and wait for a smiley face to appear on the screen to indicate it’s charging. From there, just follow the instructions in the app to pair it with your phone via Bluetooth and enable notifications. The app then begins setting up your Charge 4 and installing software updates if they’re available, which for me took more than an hour.
Fitness and Health Tracking
The Charge 4 tracks your steps, distance, floors climbed, calories burned, and Active Zone Minutes, a new metric earned for time spent in fat burn, cardio, or peak heart rate zone. Women can use the Fitbit app to track their periods and fertile windows, and view where they are in their cycle from their wrist.
Thanks to the Charge 4’s GPS, you can leave your phone at home and see your real-time pace and distance on your wrist. The GPS works with seven different types of activities: running, walking, bike riding, hiking, interval workouts, and a new outdoor workouts mode for things like kayaking, surfing, and skiing.
To use the Charge 4’s GPS, just select one of the compatible workouts, wait for the GPS signal, then tap Start. I tested this feature for a 23-minute walk/run and it worked perfectly.
During a run, the Charge 4 shows your distance and pace on the screen, as well as how long you’ve been going. When you reach fat burn, cardio, or peak zone, it will vibrate and show an encouraging notification on the screen. After completing a run, the Charge 4 shows a summary, including the length of your workout, how many miles you traveled, your average pace, how many Active Zone Minutes you accrued, your average and max heart rate, how many calories you burned, the number of steps you took, and how high you climbed.
One limitation is that you can’t track a workout in the background and use another app at the same time. That means you can’t go back to the Spotify app to control your music, or even the clock face to see the time, unless you end your workout.
In the Exercise section of the Fitbit app, you can see a color-coded workout intensity map showing your route and your heart rate zone at any point. For my run/walk, the map showed that I reached cardio zone shortly after heading out, then alternated between fat burn, cardio, and peak zones for the rest of the time. Another color-coded map shows changes in your pace throughout the run.
The Charge 4 is the first Fitbit device with Active Zone Minutes, which measure how hard you worked during an activity based on your age and resting heart rate. You earn one Active Zone Minute for each minute spent in fat burn zone—regardless of what type of workout you’re doing—and double for time spent in cardio or peak zone. If you’re working hard and reach cardio or peak zone, the number of Active Zone Minutes you earn can exceed the length of your workout. During my 23-minute walk/run, for instance, I accrued 42 Active Zone Minutes.
The default goal is 150 Active Zone Minutes weekly, or about 22 per day, which Fitbit says can help prevent disease, reduce anxiety, and improve cognitive function and sleep, among other benefits. You can change your Active Zone Minutes goal in the Fitbit app.
There are six preinstalled Exercise Shortcuts on the Charge 4, including run, bike, swim, walk, treadmill, and outdoor workout, but if those aren’t your favorite activities, you can easily customize the list. To do so, go to the Charge 4 section of the Fitbit app, press Exercise Shortcuts, delete the ones you want to replace, and select the activities you want to track. There’s a good variety of options to choose from, including bootcamp, kickboxing, martial arts, Pilates, spinning, tennis, and more. You can also reorder the list and put your favorite activities at the top for easy access. I’m a regular yoga practitioner, so I added it to the top of the list, followed by weights, run, walk, bike, and outdoor workout.
The Charge 4 tracks the amount of time you spend in light, deep, and REM sleep each night. While sleep tracking has been available on Fitbit devices since the original Charge, the fourth-generation model features some sleep tools that were previously only available on the more expensive Versa 2 smartwatch. That includes the ability to see your Sleep Score on your wrist, and Sleep Mode, which dims the display and silences all calls and texts at night. To see your Sleep Score, just swipe up from the clock face. To enable Sleep Mode, long press the left button then swipe right.
Your daily Sleep Score gives you a “snapshot of your sleep quality and duration,” based on the amount of time you spent asleep and awake, how much deep and REM sleep you got, your sleeping heart rate, and how restless you were. The app explains that, “during deep sleep, your muscles relax and repair themselves, and during REM sleep your memory and mood are refreshed as you dream.”
A sleep score of 90 or above is considered “excellent,” between 80 and 90 is “good,” between 60 and 79 is “fair,” and less than 60 is “poor.” Fitbit says most people get between 72 and 83.
The first night I tracked my sleep using the Charge 4, it said I slept for 6 hours and 22 minutes, and gave me a sleep score of 77. Interestingly, the following night, I slept for a longer period of time—7 hours and 2 minutes—but I was much more restless, and the Charge 4 accurately tracked that, giving me a sleep score of 74. On my third night, I decided to wear ear plugs and logged a solid 6 hours and 41 minutes, earning a sleep score of 80.
I typically don’t like wearing anything around my wrist to bed, but the Charge 4’s slim form factor makes it surprisingly comfortable to sleep in. I did loosen it a notch, but it still tracked my sleep just fine.
The Fitbit app offers a wealth of information about your sleep. You can see graphs for each night showing the amount of time you spent asleep and awake, your sleep stages throughout the night, and how your sleeping heart rate fluctuated. These insights can be a good wakeup call if you’re not getting enough shut eye.
The app also shows an Estimated Oxygen Variation graph indicating changes in your breathing as you slept. The app notes that “blood oxygen saturation normally fluctuates, but high variations can be linked to breathing issues.”
The Charge 4 also lets you set a silent alarm so it will wake you up at the specified time with a gentle vibration on your wrist. This is a great feature if you sleep with someone or have roommates and thin walls.
Also headed to the Charge 4 is a feature previously only available on Fitbit smartwatches called Smart Wake, which uses machine learning to wake you at an optimal time when you’re in light sleep. At the time of this writing, that feature is not yet available, so I haven’t yet tested it.
Spotify, Fitbit Pay, and Notifications
Spotifysupport has been a top request among Charge device users, so it’s nice to see it on the fourth-generation model. To set up Spotify, go to the Charge 4 section of the Fitbit app, select Apps, then select Spotify. From there, press Settings and log into your Spotify account. Note that you must have a Spotify Premium subscription to use the music streaming service on Fitbit.
The Spotify app on the Charge 4 lets you browse your recently played music; play, shuffle, and skip content; like songs; and choose the music output. The app is a nice addition to the Charge 4, but its controls are somewhat basic. You can’t, for instance, click into a playlist and select a specific song you want to hear. You also need to have your phone connected.
Another nice upgrade to the Charge 4 is that Fitbit Pay now comes standard on all models. On the Charge 3, the mobile payment system was limited to the pricier Special Edition model..
With Fitbit Pay, you can leave your wallet at home and pay right from your wrist. Fitbit Pay works with Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, PNC, SunTrust, Wells Fargo, and many other banks and card issuers (for the full list, head here).
To set it up, you first need to set a four-digit PIN code for your Charge 4, then enter your credit or debit card information and billing address. When you set up Fitbit Pay, the app informs you that merchants will only see a device-specific number, not your real card number, a nice privacy assurance.
One you get it set up, you can use Fitbit Pay anywhere that accepts contactless payments. When you see a contactless or mobile payments symbol at the register, press and hold the left button on the Charge 4 for two seconds. If prompted, enter your four-digit PIN code, and your card will appear on the screen. Then, just hold your wrist near the payment terminal, and voila.
This feature is convenient, and especially helpful in the age of COVID-19, allowing you to reduce your contact with potentially germ-laden point-of-sale systems. The first time I tested it at my local grocery store, Publix, I tried waving my Charge 4 over the reader without following the steps above to pull up my card, and the payment obviously didn’t go through. The second time, I pulled up my card while waiting in line, and it didn’t work at first. I had to go back and pull up my card again, then it worked. My advice is to wait until the moment you’re about to pay to pull up your card.
The Charge 4 can also display notifications from your phone for calls, texts, and meeting invites. If you use an Android phone, you can send quick replies to texts. It’s a shame iPhone users are left out of that party, but Apple’s closed ecosystem prevents Fitbit from offering quick replies on iOS.
To control notifications on your device, just head over to the Charge 4 section of the Fitbit app, tap Notifications, and use the toggle to turn call, text, and calendar alerts on or off. You can also opt to enable notifications from certain apps. I enabled notifications from Amazon, Coinbase, and Slack, for instance, but left them off for Snapchat.
If you’re looking to level up your health and fitness, the Fitbit Charge 4 and its excellent companion app offer a wealth of insights that can help encourage you to get moving and improve your sleep. Its display could be better, but the Charge 4 has a sleek design, good battery life, and is water-friendly. In Fitbit’s lineup, it sits in between the $199.95 Versa 2 smartwatch and the more basic $99.95 Inspire HR fitness tracker. Thanks to the addition of GPS, Spotify controls, more sleep tracking tools, and Fitbit Pay on all models, the Charge 4 stands out as one of the best advanced fitness trackers you can buy, and our Editors’ Choice.
Fitbit Charge 4 Specs
|Display Type||Grayscale Touch Screen|
|Heart Rate Monitor||Yes|
|Battery Life||7 days; 5 hours with GPS|