Good tracking, but lacks actionable insights

Fitness trackers have historically been kind of, well, ugly. That changed last year with the Fitbit Alta, a sleek device that compromised a bit on fitness functionality.

The company’s back with an upgrade, the Alta HR, which aims to give fashion-savvy workout warriors an appealing device with better features. It contains a version of Fitbit’s PurePulse heart rate monitor technology, previously found in the bulkier Charge 2 band and Blaze smartwatch. 

The Alta HR mostly accomplishes its goals, but it leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to down and dirty fitness tracking. The heart rate monitoring is a welcome addition — but the device doesn’t offer much beyond measuring your vitals. 

Fitbit’s latest sits well on the wrist without the extra bulk that bogs down other feature-packed trackers. It’s a full 25 percent thinner than the Charge 2, and the company is touting it as the slimmest wrist-based heart rate tracker on the market. 

It’s light, and the clip-on straps can be easily swapped out in just a few seconds to switch up the look. Along with the standard silicon band, I was provided a classic brown leather option to dress it up outside the gym.  

The Alta HR looks good — but if you’re accustomed to wearing a watch everyday like I am, you’ll have to pick one or the other. I usually wear Fitbit’s most basic tracker, the Flex 2, on the same wrist as my watch, but the Alta HR’s just a bit too large to sport both comfortably, and the OLED display makes a static watch face superfluous.

It might not look great with watches, but the Alta HR mixes well with other jewelry.

Image: lili Sams/mashable

It’s not a smartwatch, but the Alta HR receives notifications like one, buzzing on your wrist when you get a text, call or calendar notification. Texts are beamed to the screen, but its small size isn’t conducive to actually reading. Most of the time, I checked who texted me on my wrist, then read the message on my phone. 

Notifications are put to better use when they get you up and moving. The device prods you to reach your goals throughout the day, with specific requests to knock out steps, and you’ll get a call to action after long periods of inactivity. The notifications get old after a while, but you can turn them off or manage them in the Fitbit app’s settings.   

Fitbit talks a big game about the Alta HR’s battery life, claiming it’ll last for up to a week between charges — a 40 percent improvement over the original Alta, even with the addition of the PurePulse tech. When I wore it, the battery lasted a full 10 days, and it kept on chugging for an entire day after warning me that the power was running low. It’s possible that the battery life could degrade over time, but forgetful chargers will be very happy with the battery.   

Forgetful chargers will be very happy with the battery

On the road

When I took the Alta out on a jog for the first time, I was ready to push the tracker through its paces for some next-level insights. I had a full charge, a baseline heart rate reading to work with and a six-mile route to run.

My Alta HR shut down before I hit the four mile mark. 

It was 37 degrees outside, and cold temperatures often give batteries problems, so it wasn’t totally unexpected. And the next time I ran, it lasted all the way through—so maybe it was a blip. I was able to pull up my heart rate mid-route to see my progress, watching the levels rise and fall throughout the run.   

I also wore the Alta HR through a few Muay Thai training sessions. I was worried about the screen at first, since Thai boxing is most definitely a contact sport — but I was able to fit it under my hand wraps and gloves comfortably and had no issues even when I was sparring.  

My heart rate spiked during a Muay Thai training session.

My heart rate spiked during a Muay Thai training session.

Heart rate data is great to have — but the Fitbit app doesn’t follow through with many actionable insights. To learn how to apply that knowledge to my workouts, I needed to go elsewhere, which isn’t ideal for exercisers who want a one-stop shop to make the most of their training.   

Heart rate data is great to have — but the Alta HR doesn’t follow through with many actionable insights

What’s really missing here are some of the more useful fitness tracking features available on the Charge 2, like VO2 max score analysis, targeted activity logging and, oddly enough, the Relax mode. The omission of the guided breathing exercises sticks out, especially given the Apple Watch’s “Breathe” app.

Sleeping in style

Fitbit is also rolling out some advanced sleep features: Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights. Sleep Stages isn’t just for the Alta HR — the new tracking feature is hitting all Fitbit devices with the PurePulse, so Charge 2 and Blaze owners will also receive the update. 

With Sleep Stages, the wearable’s sensors hone in on the distinct levels of sleep throughout each night, giving you even more detailed coverage of your rest. You’ll know around how long you spent in light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep, and over time you’ll start to notice your tendencies and spot patterns.

In a week of use, I wasn’t able to compile a ton of data — but I could compare individual nights against benchmarks for other men my age. The conclusion: I need to sleep more. 

The Sleep Stages feature breaks down rest at an even more granular level.

The Sleep Stages feature breaks down rest at an even more granular level.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Unlike Stages, Sleep Insights are available across Fitbit’s entire product line with sleep tracking functions. The observations are much more general and, in my experience thus far, not as personalized or useful as advertised. But I’ve only had access to the feature for a week, so there’s bound to be some growing pains as the system learns more about my sleep patterns. With more logged nights and data, I’m betting Insights will become much more useful. 

The Alta HR comes up just a bit short for workout junkies who really want to get to the next level of fitness monitoring, especially when you could be using the powerful toolkit offered by the Charge 2 at the same price point of $150. If you can handle the bulk, you’ll be better off taking that option. 

Casual trackers will have a better experience, since the Alta HR gives you access to far more training data than its predecessor (or other devices without heart rate monitoring, for that matter). It leaves them in the lurch when it actually comes time to apply the data for IRL results, though, so you’ll have to learn a bit for the heart rate tracking to be really worth the upgrade. 

Fitbit Alta HR

The Good

Looks and feels great Extra long battery life Slimmest wrist heart rate tracker on the market

The Bad

Limited fitness tracking options Few actionable insights Same price as Charge 2 with less to offer

The Bottom Line

The Alta HR looks and feels great, but its fitness tracking functions could offer more insights.

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