The first impression with the the Fitbit HR was all held in anticipation of how I slept the night before. Naturally, I prepped myself to sleep early so that I can get “quality sleep” to register. So it did, showing how many times I was “Awake”, the duration I was in REM stage, Light Sleep stage and Deep Sleep stage.

That’s for a night’s sleep. How about going a few weeks wearing it? Does it encourage us to sleep more and yes, move more just like how activity trackers gamified fitness? Let’s find out.

Design:

Take away the straps, the Fitbit HR looks almost identical to its predecessor which is a good thing. The differences are subtle, such as the inclusion of the barely imperceptible fitbit branding at the bottom of the screen.

Fitbit Alta HR
Elegant, minimalist design even in logo placement.
Fitbit Alta HR Green Lights
LED green lights automatically turn on at the slightest movement and ready to measure activity.

The sides are just the same, elegantly showing the fusion of the screen with the brushed metal housing. The underside is where the glaring difference lies. The Alta HR now has two green pulsating LED lights with the sole purpose of tracking heart rate. Also, the straps that come with the Alta HR now includes the classic belt-buckle design – giving it a fashionable edge vs. its predecessor.

Fit:

Since everyone is accustomed to wearing watches with belt-buckle straps, the switch from the pin strap is a plus in terms of form and function. Its just easier to wear. Tightening the strap to get an accurate reading when it’s workout time can be done in a cinch.

Ensure a snug fit to get a good reading.

Performance:

As  a fitness tracker, the Alta HR has the basics nailed down. Using it as a pedometer, it excels as expected from a Fitbit brand. But, the Alta HR has something more under it’s belt. Besides the usual step-counter, its embedded SmartTrack technology auto-detects workouts such as, walking, running, indoor cycling, outdoor cycling, aerobics and elliptical. It successfully detected outdoor cycling when I bike commute.

Arms glazed with sweat? No problem. The Alta HR reads your pulse with no hitches.

The ultimate test: Bike and run in a triathlon

The Fitbit Alta HR is water-resistant and we were told in the press launch that it can handle a lot of sweat but you can’t swim or shower with it. So in my training for an upcoming sprint triathlon, I take it off before swimming but put it on during my brick workout (brick= bike then run in succession).

So far so good. But out in the real race? Will it hold-up against an open-water drenched arm and almost 2-hours of total bike and run time?

On race day, I placed the Alta HR in the bike transition area (also called T1 where one puts his bike together with the bike gear like the helmet and bike shoes). This is where triathletes go immediately after the swim to transition to the bike leg of the race. Normally, triathletes if ever they want an accurate reading of their performance in-race, they go with multisport watches. Today, I’m going with the Fitbit Alta HR and it’s going to go through what other more triathlon adapted watches will be going through save for the swim. Fair or not, it’s how this review will go down.

After a 20-minute open water swim in Subic Bay, I headed to T1 to prepare for the bike leg. There’s no time to wipe my arm dry before wearing the Alta HR. Without hesitating I just fastened it on my wrist, wore my helmet and tightened my shoelaces and off I went. To add to the challenge, aside from being drenched with saltwater and sweat, it rained. Hard. I thought, let’s see you go to hell and back, Alta HR.

After almost an hour of a 20km bike, it was time for the 5k run. I tapped on the edge of the Alta HR and found out that it was still working properly, showing me the time of day. My run was plagued by cramps on both my quadriceps so the run-leg wasn’t as fun as I would have liked. I stopped at every hydration station and bathed in ice water every chance I get. It was after pouring a generous amount of ice water on my head for the third-time  that something sent my spine chilling – and it’s not the ice bath: “Oops, I can’t shower with IT!!!”

Two big thumbs up. The Alta HR passes the unintended but necessary ice bath in the run leg of a triathlon.

I then tapped on the edge of the screen and was relieved to see it displaying the time and with another type, my heart rate, correctly. The reflection of the 10 o’clock morning sun on the screen made it a bit hard to decipher the display, however, tilting my wrist on a certain angle remedied the situation.

fitbit calories burned
Sink or sync? The Alta HR was able to capture in-race data and transmit these successfully post-race despite getting drenched.

“all that hard work in the race was tracked by the Alta HR despite the downpour it was unfairly and unnecessarily subjected to.”

How fit are you?

Now that Fitbit has enough data about my activity, it can now compare my level of fitness vs. men of the same age. Here is where all that data comes in and lets you know your Cardio Fitness.

Whoopee!
Here’s Fitbit, explaining how they measure fitness…
Next page tells you how to further improve your fitness score.
Even at the high-end of the scale, there’s still room for improvement.

30-plus days and nights. Did it improve my sleep?

They say that having a fitness tracker encourages the Average Joe to increase physical activity. For people who already embrace the active lifestyle, wearing one can bring about getting your fitness goals to another level. It’s about constant improvement. Which begs the question, will having a fitness tracker that tracks sleep improve sleep?

Last year’s model determined your sleep quality with how much movement you made while taking a nap. It didn’t really tell me anything aside from how much time I slept which, from my standpoint relied on too much guesswork.  In contrast, the Alta HR maximizes heart rate data to determine your sleep stages.

Fitbit Alta Sleep Pattern 2016
How I slept exactly a year ago:  Last year’s model just shows how much you tossed and turned…
Fitbit Alta HR 2017 Sleep Stages
…while the Alta HR determines sleep quality more accurately via its use of the heart rate data during sleep.

With close to two months of data, here’s how Fitbit logged in my hours of sleep for the months of May and June.

No, it wasn’t “sleep all day” on the 23rd of May. That’s the day when I forgot the charger at home and the fitbit recorded non-activity as “sleep”.
Not good. This sleep chart this June can only mean one thing: Get more Zzzs!
Fitbit Alta HR Sleep Stages 1 day
The Alta HR shows time spent on each stage per night,
Fitbit Alta HR Sleep Stages 30 day avg
…and gives you a 30 day average.
Fitbit Alta HR Sleep Stages benchmark
Finally, it shows you the most helpful insight on how you did vs. people your age. Looks like I need more of that REM sleep – important for memory and mood.

So I have yet to meet my daily target of 7 hours and 15 minutes of sleep. And not getting it, as per Fitbit, means I can get cranky or forgetful or both. Fitbit also shares other insights such as You sleep a bit better on nights after a run. It’s subtle, but you spend 5 fewer minutes being restless/awake on those nights.” Good stuff.

Battery Life: 

For such a gadget this small with always-on heart rate sensors, one can reasonably expect this to last just two to three days. But, for almost two months of wearing the Alta HR paired to an all-day sync with my mobile phone, I have only recharged it once a week.

Charging it only takes 2 hours at the most. If you don’t want the Alta HR to miss a beat, just charge it everyday while taking a shower. Those 20 minutes of everyday charging can keep the juice level full so you won’t have to experience a complete battery drain.

Some hiccups:

Just like our review of last year’s version, message and call alerts are not consistent. There are times that I get a notification, other times I don’t. This is a head-scratcher for me since I’ve experienced no issues with the all-day sync turned on. Still, don’t depend on the Alta HR to give you a heads-up when a call or text arrives. So, even with the Alta HR, make sure your phone’s ringer is loud enough or vibrate mode is turned on.

Final thoughts:

“Recovery is part of the race”, fellow triathletes tell me. I’m glad that Fitbit, in making the Alta HR, shares this perspective. With the Alta HR, sleep gets its fair share of the activity being tracked. How Fitbit was able to pack this kind of always-on capability and 7-day battery life in a sleek looker of a bracelet is a fine technological achievement. Even after subjecting it to post-swim Subic Bay saltwater, hard rain, copious amounts of sweat and unforgiving ice-bath, the Alta HR was a workhorse and was able to read my heartrate and live to sync data to my mobile phone.

But, more than the hardware, its how fitbit gives you a complete picture of your fitness that impresses the most. The way it lets users know their level of fitness down to the quality of sleep is just the stuff that fitness tracker dreams are made of.

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Author

Allan Abaca is an avid gamer through and through. Virtually, he is locked-in with his PS4 almost daily and has just introduced the awesomeness of gaming to his two sons. Next in his sights is PC gaming. The platform which he nows considering going back to after a two decade hiatus. Oh, and let's not forget the Nintendo Switch... His psn id is hip2b2