I’m ready to break another Fibit. I don’t want to, but I know I will eventually. And why? Because I’ve broken three before (and one Withings tracker too). This post will have a fair amount going on, so I’m going to make this a little easier for you to click through:
My history with fitness trackers
Why I chose the Fitbit Inspire HR
How it compares to other fitness trackers I’ve had
My history with fitness trackers
I’ve got a rich history with slacker trackers. When the Nike Fuel Band came out, it had my attention because it gave you points for being active, and I was a Nike junky. I still kind of am, but I reformed enough to know their products are not always the best, so I go with what I can afford that I like. And I didn’t buy my first fitness tracker; it was a present.
Enter the Fitbit Force. This thing was amazing. I loved it. It tracked steps, stairs, and sleep. It was comfortable to wear. It functioned as a watch. And it was a nice, gentle alarm.
And then it started giving people rashes and chemical burns.
The company did the right thing and recalled all of them with a full refund. The only problem was a replacement didn’t exist yet. So I kept mine. I loved it enough to risk a chemical burn instead of giving it back and settling for the inferior Fitbit Flex. The Flex just didn’t do enough for me to be happy.
I had it for about a year, and then I cracked the back and got my own burn. We can’t say we’re surprised by this.
So my affectionately named slacker tracker had to go bye-bye.
By this time, Fitbit had the replacement out for the Force, the Fitbit Charge, which was basically the Force with a new name. Really, there wasn’t much difference aside from the materials feeling just a little different. In the name of sleek design, some things seemed a touch flimsier/cumbersome, but it was fine. The Charge HR existed by then, but I didn’t feel like the heart rate monitor was necessary, and you had to wear the band tighter for it to work, which I wasn’t fond of (not to mention, the HR monitor was good except when you were working out, which seemed like a bit of a bummer).
So I got a Charge, I was happy, and then the button broke 3 months later. I got a replacement, and then the actual tracker started coming apart from the band a few months after that. So I quit Fitbit.
I’d researched alternatives before (when the Force was recalled and when the Force actually harmed me), but now I was moving on. Jawbone had a well-reviewed product but no watch face aspect. Garmin had some options but they just seemed too pricey (you’ll get to laugh at me soon enough). And the Apple Watch was WAY too expensive and at the time had to be charged every day.
The winner was the Withings Activité. It looked like a watch, but it would track my steps. I decided to try to treat it well and not run with it. Eventually I bought a Garmin 225 (this is where you get to laugh at me), which can basically function as a fitness tracker, but I only wanted it for running (I’ll talk more about it later, but it’s bulky as all get-out).
The Withings felt flimsy, but it did what I needed: It counted steps, tracked sleep, and functioned as an alarm clock. It just didn’t do any of those things as well as the Fitbit did, and the band felt cheap. Then the band ripped in half. The band was replaceable, but that would mean another $30 for a device I didn’t love, so I moved on to a regular watch.
The watch was great except when the battery finally gave after two and a half years, it turned out to be a weird size that I couldn’t find at Walmart. And when I went looking for a replacement watch, I couldn’t find something I liked.
If you’re noticing a trend, it’s probably that I’m really lazy and don’t like being inconvenienced. This got me back to another fitness tracker.
Why I chose the Fitbit Inspire HR
The first thing that led me back to Fitbit in general was being happy with the actual product, aside from the breaking part. I’ve had 3 years to come back down from the rage, so I thought I’d try it again.
In looking at the current line of products, the Charge HR seemed like the best bet for me initially. At this point with as my body being a jerk and being stressed, the HR monitor seemed like a good idea.
But there was a new product to consider. I thought I might look at the Fitbit Alta, but it was no longer available online; its replacement was. The Fitbit Inspire was the Alta successor, and it seemed to do what I would need, aside from one thing: counting flights of stairs. Stairs are an easy enough thing to count, though, and my phone does that also, so I opted for the Inspire HR, which was $50 cheaper than the Charge 3 HR.
The one real complaint I’d seen online was that the band wasn’t the easiest thing to use, and considering bands had been my issue on others, that left me a little worried. That said, this band is also replaceable, so if I’m not pissy like I was with the Withings, I might actually replace the band if it breaks.
Long story short, it did almost everything I wanted and it’s price point was the same as I’d get for an actual watch that doesn’t do everything the slacker tracker does.
How it compares to other fitness trackers I’ve had
So I’ve gone through my history with fitness trackers, but just to make this a little bit more thorough, I thought I’d make a full comparison of all the devices I’ve had of the years: Fitbit Force, Fitbit Charge, Withings Activité, iPhones (I’ve been through 4), Garmin 225, and Fitbit Inspire HR.
Functioning as a Daily fitness tracker
In terms of just day-to-day fitness tracker, the Fitbits have really been the best. Each iteration gets a little fancier, but they just do the trick. The Inspire HR is the only one I’ve had that doesn’t do stairs, but the heart rate component has been fantastic to have alongside it.
In terms of counting steps, the Fitbit is probably the most generous. I’ve worn the Activité and a Fitbit at the same time, and for a 10,000-step day on a Fitbit, the Withings device had me around 8,000 to 8,500. Same for the phone.
The phone is probably the most accurate step counter because I keep it in my pocket, but I don’t always have the phone on me, and it does seem to require full steps, and doesn’t pick up smaller movements. Because I’ve only used the Garmin sparingly as a fitness tracker, I don’t know how its step counter really compares. Not as sensitive as the Fitbits, though.
The Inspire HR and the Garmin also give alerts for sitting still too long. The Fitbit line tracks by hour whereas the Garmin does it by general time. In other words, you can game the Fitbit more than the Garmin as a result, which kind of defeats the point.
The Inspire HR, Garmin, and phones all have the ability to do heart rate monitoring, but only the HR does it continuously. The Garmin, outside of workout mode, only does it when you turn manually go to it, and even then, it’s a one-off reading. The phone has an app that lets you do it through the camera and flashlight, and that’s not exactly convenient.
The Fitbit is king as far as being an all-day fitness tracker.
Functioning for workouts
The Fitbits are still good in this area, but they aren’t as good as the Garmin. The Garmin has GPS, which the types of Fitbits I’ve gotten don’t do. You can sync them to your phone, but since I don’t take my phone on runs, it wouldn’t do any good (and I don’t need another company with my GPS data).
The Garmin also has the benefit of being tested against an EKG treadmill test. Like I said, stress and my body hates me. But since I had to do it, I decided to wear my new toy. The 225 stayed within a beat or two of what the EKG was tracking, so that made me comfortable with my buy.
I haven’t seen a review of the newer Fitbits, but their HR monitors have not been as accurate by comparison in the past, especially during workouts. Garmin doesn’t even keep pace with Garmin at all times. They started doing their own HR monitor after the 225, which uses MIO HR technology. I had looked at the 235, which looked nicer but was more expensive and had a less trustworthy HR system. I went with the older, bulkier model because it’s been deemed more accurate (and I have an EKG treadmill test saying the same thing now).
I didn’t run in the Withings because I didn’t trust it for that, and it didn’t seem as comfortable for that use. The phone is fine, but I don’t have an arm band, so I can’t run with it, so it’s basically out of the question now, including the Zombies, Run! app I used to use.
So on this aspect, the Fitbits are fine, but the Garmin is still my running watch for a reason.
Overall use and feel
This is where things get all over the place. We’ll ignore the phones this round.
The reason I liked the Fitbit Force initially is because it doubled as a watch. The Charge was basically the same. The Inspire HR is actually a little disappointing here. It works, but they got too cute with some things. Its default is to show you the time when you lift up your wrist, but that means it’ll light up when you don’t want it to. You can also tap it or hit the button, but navigating the touchscreen is sometimes finicky. I liked just having the one button to press with the Force and Charge. That said, Inspire HR has the same feel to it, and it’s basically fine.
The bands are where things aren’t terribly fun. Each iteration of Fitbit seems to do a slightly worse band for some reason. The Inspire HR reminds me of the Withings Activité band, which is not a good thing.
The Withings Activité was mostly good for overall use and feel, except for the band. I liked that it looked like a watch, so it was a low-key fitness tracker. You didn’t know I was wearing one like you would with the Fitbits. But the band was a pain, and you could only take a rough guess at your steps. So as a watch it was great, but that came at the expense of the fitness tracker components.
The Garmin 225 is too clunky for daily wear. If I wanted an all-day watch, the 235 seems fine, but the 225 is so bulky that I can’t properly wear long sleeves with it. Other than that, it’s pretty good.
Heart rate monitors cause some issues here. Because they generally use a light-based system, they have to be tight enough to not allow in outside light. Tight is not fun. This is partially why I didn’t do the Charge HR a few years ago. That said, the Inspire HR hasn’t been that bad. It looks like they’ve designed it so it can be comfortable but still block light. The Charge recommends being worn on a weird spot and fairly tight for proper HR results.
So Fitbits win in this area, but the Force and Charge were better than the Inspire HR.
The little extras
This is where things get fun.
The main one is sleep tracking. They all do sleep tracking, and only the Fitbits seem to do it well.
The Force and Charge allowed you to manually set when you were going to sleep, which I loved, but they could also detect it automatically. If something was off, you could also adjust the time window in the app, which would then use the data it had to still assess quality of sleep. The Inspire HR only seems to do the automatic version, but it does a more nuanced version of sleep analysis than the Force and Charge did. It’s going to be downhill for the other brands.
The Withings Activité didn’t have any buttons, so of course it had to be an automatic process. It was fine, but it didn’t seem to be as accurate as the Fitbit line was. It also wasn’t as comfortable to wear to sleep because it was more like a regular watch, so its body was less comfortable. You also couldn’t check the time at night like you could with the Fitbits, unless the hands glowed in the dark and I don’t remember it.
The Garmin will also track sleep, but I’ve never worn it to sleep because it’s so big.
And the worst of them all: The iPhones. When I stopped using fitness trackers, I liked when Apple added the Bedtime function, but it does a miserable job of tracking sleep. You set when you’re going to sleep, but if you check your phone in the middle of the night, it then uses that as when you went to sleep, which meant I had bad data. And I only had bad data for weeknights. If you don’t set the alarm, it doesn’t track sleep at all. I actively despise Apple’s sleep tracking on the phone.
Related to sleep is the alarm function. I forgot about the nudging awake the Fitbits would do. I hate alarm clocks and being jolted awake, so having something gently nudging me was fantastic. The Withings was ok, but without the button, it was hard to tell it I was awake. The phones got better with the Bedtime function because you could pick sounds that would slowly escalate. I use bird song. The only downside is when real birds are outside my window, I think it’s my alarm.
Inspire HR also throws in some specialized exercise tracking and breathing exercises. These seems less useful than they are gimmicky, but I’m sure some people find them handy.
Fitbits win this are EASILY. It’s too early to see if the extra Inspire HR gimmicks make it better than the other Fitbits, but it’s certainly better than any other brand’s product that I’ve used.
I keep returning to Fitbit for a reason. Between data provided and what it’s like to use, they win handily for the products I’ve used. The Withings was fine as long as you didn’t want it to do too much. The Garmin was just too clunky to be useful as a daily product. And the phones just didn’t do anything very well.
We’ll see how long it takes me to destroy the Inspire HR, but a few days in, and I’m doing ok.