Remember the beginning of lockdown, when we were all posting #homeworkout selfies with dogs and kids providing raucous comic relief? Or that first weekend of Level 4, when we donned masks and hit the streets in a glorious celebration of freedom? Personally, I thought I was going to emerge from lockdown like an action hero from a montage, all snatched and svelte and ready for the beach. Shame. Truth is, with each message from Uncle Cyril, my enthusiasm for exercise waned. The first winter cold front finished it off. And load shedding drove a nail through the coffin, making it sure it was dead. Then, one day, as I was shovelling down another spoonful of my feelings, a package arrived: the Fitbit Charge 4. And with it, renewed motivation. Because this nifty little tracker really is perfect for lockdown.
Value For Money
For most of us, 2020 is not going down as a year of balling. So if we’re going to splash out on something, it needs to be worthwhile. The main difference between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker is that a tracker’s main purpose is to gather data about your activity and feed it into an app for your viewing pleasure. A smartwatch, on the other hand, has a lot more functionality at the wrist and is more geared towards managing your life — receiving emails and notifications and so on. Smartwatches also tend to have more features. And you pay for all of these privileges. Coming in at R2 999, the Charge 4 has an impressive list of capabilities. You get a lot of the functionality of a smartwatch but at a fraction of the price.
There’s a walking mode.
Even at peak fitness, I’m no triathlete. No marathon runner, either. I like to lift heavy things, run the odd 10-kay and torture myself in HIIT classes. Often the smartwatches I test seem geared towards serious endurance athletes. I feel a tad loserish when I set the watch for a Parkrun, knowing it was built to traverse deserts on a single charge. The Charge 4, however, is a great match for someone like me. There are 20 exercise modes available and you can programme six of them into the tracker at a time through the Fitbit app. I felt a twinge of sadness as I scrolled past gym-based options like swimming (it’s waterproof), spinning, treadmill (sob), elliptical and circuit training. But it was convenient to have lockdown-specific activities to choose from, such as yoga, Pilates and hiking. I added running; there was a time, four months ago, when I called myself a runner. But I also added walking; a more accurate reflection of my current reality.
You can leave your phone behind.
If all of this is sounding so far, so mundane, here’s where the Charge 4 gets properly impressive: It has built-in GPS and integrated Fitbit Pay. That means, for the first time in a Fitbit tracker, you can leave your phone at home when you head out for a walk and still use GPS tracking. The battery will last five hours in full-GPS mode — that’s plenty of time to complete a 10-kay or even a 21, if you’re so inclined. And if you activate Fitbit Pay, you can stop for a coffee and pay with the device. So no need to carry a wallet, either.
It helps you sleep.
Anyone else struggling with really messed-up sleep schedules since lockdown started? You’d think that spending more time at home would be conducive to getting more sleep, but apparently you’d be wrong. Fitbit has always been a leader in sleep hygiene and the Charge 4 has a number of features designed to help you get more and better-quality shut-eye. If you set your preferred bedtime, it’ll prompt you to start winding down half an hour before. Set a Smart Wake alarm and it’ll monitor your sleep patterns and buzz you awake during a light sleep cycle for a gentler wake-up. In sleep mode you don’t get alerts and it doesn’t light up when you move your wrist — something that irritated me with previous Fitbits. You can also dim the screen.
Charge 4 says, “Move your ass.”
OK, not in so many words. But I’d forgotten how that little buzz on your wrist prompting you to move every hour gets you off your butt. Now there’s an added incentive: Active minutes are a new goal Fitbit has created to get your lazy lockdown self moving. It’s not necessarily structured exercise, but rather based on non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) i.e. you being active while just living your life (say, vacuuming the house; walking the dog; chasing the fleeing toddler). The tracker registers the activity automatically and it counts towards your daily goal of 150 minutes.
I’ve tested a few smartwatches that were so difficult to get the hang of, I would have thrown them on the ground in frustration had I not had to give them back a few weeks later. The Charge 4 is refreshingly simple. There’s one concealed button on the side that you need to find. Once you’ve made that discovery, it’s pretty straightforward to navigate using the touch screen and the app. As a small-boned woman, I also like that it’s light and discreet and not clunky on my little twig-wrist.
More cool stuff
The Charge 4 has heart-rate tracking at the wrist, menstrual cycle tracking, integrated Spotify, you get call, text, calendar and other app notifications of your choosing and you can even send quick text replies on android.
So is there anything not to love?
Honestly, not much. The battery life is not what you’d get with a decent smartwatch. You’ll need to plug in your Charge 4 every four or five days, maybe sooner, depending on how much time it’s spent in GPS mode. If you haven’t used GPS much at all, it can last a week. But it charges fast, which is a bonus. Like previous Charge models, the 4 has the option of interchangeable wristbands, which is awesome for #fashun, but I found my previous model eventually came loose where the bands attach. Of course, this is something you’d probably only become aware of a couple years down the line. And by then, who knows what fun new toy you might have you eye on?