Fitbit just launched new generations of its popular Charge and Flex wristbands without increasing their price points. The Flex 2 has been made smaller and swimproof; the Charge 2 received a facelift, more heart rate tracking capabilities and improved recording of activities beyond walking and running.
Flex 2 is smaller, more versatile
The Fitbit Flex is geared toward the busy-but-health-conscious crowd that stays active, but isn't seriously concerned about athletic performance. This is Flex's first update since it was first introduced in 2013, which is a considerable period of time in the booming world of wearables.
The original Flex was one of the earliest wristbands that could track sleep and was comfortable enough to wear around the clock. For a while, it helped make Fitbit nearly eponymous with fitness trackers in general. How does the Flex 2 measure up?
The Flex 2's changes are certainly significant enough to warrant an update, but they may not be game-changing improvements for every lifestyle. Most notably, it's the first Fitbit device to be swimproof, so it can finally track workouts in the pool, and there's no need to take it off before hitting the showers. All other Fitbit flagships are only water resistant enough to withstand rain, sweat and splashing (with the exception of the Alta, which is showerproof).
The second-generation Flex is also 30 percent smaller. It's hard to see that as anything but a perk: Flex 2 has no screen, so additional size would add nothing but bulk. The orientation of the band's LED indicator lights has also changed. The original Flex had a row of small LEDs across the width of the band; on the Flex 2, the LEDs travel down its length.
As with the original Flex, the tracker can be removed and placed in other bands and accessories (sold separately). Fitbit Flex 2 (US$100) is available for pre-order now, and will ship in late September.
Charge 2 is upgraded, but not upcharged
This is Fitbit's third iteration of the Charge in as many years. This offering might be subject to frequent tweaks due to its sweet spot in the market: Charge is equipped with enough features and tracking power to please serious amateur athletes, without encroaching too much on the "smart fitness watch" territory occupied by the Fitbit Blaze and its competitors.
Charge 2 expands on last year's Charge HR heart rate tracking technology with two additional tools. The "Cardio Fitness Level" tool calculates your personal fitness level and scores you based on information from your user profile, heart rate and exercise performed. There's also a "Relax" tool that leads you through guided breathing sessions designed to bring your heart rate down, an intriguing response to the trend toward mindfulness in the wellness arena (and perhaps to the Breathe app for Apple Watch).
Charge 2 also hints at improved tracking of non-pedometer-measured activities like calisthenics and lifting weights. According to Fitbit, Charge 2 "offers precise exercise modes that provide real-time exercise stats … including multi-sport modes for tracking specific workouts like runs, biking, weights, yoga, and interval workout mode." This is exciting, but the language is vague, and we'll have to have a full experience in order to interpret the specifics. If Fitbit has found a streamlined solution for tracking workouts without steps, that's a big improvement from previous generations, where these types of exercise had to be input manually.
The Charge 2 has also gotten a major facelift. The display is now four times bigger, letting you see more than one of your fitness stats as a glance. The watch face now has a steel body with interchangeable bands, allowing you to swap off sporty-looking bands for something more traditional when the occasion calls for it.
What's (still) missing? Standalone GPS capability. Like the Charge HR before it, Charge 2 requires bringing your smartphone along if you want to map your workout route. If rumors are true that the Apple Watch 2 will have a built-in GPS, then Fitbit will face stiff competition there.
At $150, Charge 2 is available for pre-order now and will ship within a week.
Is Fitbit still poised to be an industry leader?
With these updates, Fitbit made a number of improvements to two of its most popular flagships without increasing their price points. This seems like a smart move that could help Fitbit retain its status as a leader in this booming market, especially when you consider that these are just two of Fitbit's seven different product lines. With an ever-growing list of competitors, catering to different types of users could be key to its success, but that remains to be seen.
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