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Fitbit Charge 5 Review

The Charge 5 has a great design, but inaccurate tracking means it struggles to live up to its high price

Fitbit Charge 5
(Image: © Nick Harris-Fry / Future)

Our Verdict

The Charge 5 brings all of Fitbit’s top sensors and features into a sleek band with a bright colour screen. It’s a great option for those who prefer a band to a sports watch, but inaccurate tracking undermines the experience.

For

  • Improved design with AMOLED touchscreen
  • ECG and EDA measurements
  • Great sleep and activity tracking

Against

  • Inaccurate GPS and HR tracking
  • Big jump in RRP from previous generations
  • Uncomfortable silicone band

The Fitbit Charge 5 is a considerable upgrade on the Charge 4, sporting a colour screen and an array of new sensors so it can take electrocardiograms (ECG) and measure stress via your electrodermal activity (EDA). The Charge 5 also has built-in GPS to track outdoor activities without your phone and Fitbit’s new Daily Readiness Score feature, which gives you activity targets based on how well recovered you are each day.

These new features come at a cost, however, with the price of the Charge 5 inflating to £169.99 – a substantial increase on the £129.99 price point at which the last few generations of the Charge have launched. While the Charge 5 is the most intelligent tracker band I’ve come across, offering all the features you get on Fitbit’s top smartwatches in a sleeker frame, the inaccurate tracking I experienced during testing undermines its on-paper promise. It’s one of the best fitness trackers, but its crown is slipping. 

Design And Hardware

Fitbit Charge 5

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)

The Fitbit Charge 5 is a worthy update on the Fitbit Charge 4 based on its looks alone. The new tracker is 10% thinner and has rounded edges, plus a 1.04in (26.4mm) colour AMOLED touchscreen that is a significant upgrade on the grayscale display of previous generations.

It’s a great-looking device with a fashionable range of bands, something Fitbit does particularly well. However, I found the silicone sports band it’s packaged with surprisingly uncomfortable, tugging on arm hairs every time I put it on, to the point it was sometimes hard to get a tight fit without it causing irritation. If you experience a similar problem you can upgrade to one of Fitbit’s fabric hook and loop bands (opens in new tab) (£29.99) to avoid this.

Fitbit Charge 5

(Image credit: Fitbit)

There are also updates under the hood: the Charge 5 has several new sensors that allow it to take ECG measurements and EDA scans. Like the Charge 4, the 5 has built-in GPS for outdoor activity tracking and an optical heart rate monitor.

The Daily Readiness Score

Fitbit’s Daily Readiness Score feature made its debut on the Charge 5, but is now available across most of the company’s range of devices, though notably the Charge 4 did not get the update. 

This score assesses how prepared you are for physical activity today and is based on three factors: your recent activity, the quality of your sleep over the past few days, and your heart rate variability during deep sleep. These are measured against personalised baselines and adapt to your fitness level.

Your score is accompanied by appropriate activity recommendations and advice. For example, if you have a high readiness score you’ll be given a more ambitious Active Zone Minutes target (explained below) and receive suggestions for workouts that can help you hit it. On the other hand, if you have a low readiness score you’ll be advised to focus on recovery, with recommendations for things like yoga or meditation sessions, and tips on how to improve your sleep.

Since the score is based on personalised baselines, it takes 14 days to fine-tune your results before you can expect accurate results. However, even after three weeks I found that my readiness scores were pretty useless, probably because I run almost every day. This is normal for me and something I’ve done for several years, but I was consistently given a low readiness score of 10 out of 100 simply because of high levels of past activity. The only time my score changed was after a rest day.

Based on my experience the daily readiness score simply isn’t that smart, and it’s a long way off what you’ll get from other devices that offer similar ratings like the Oura ring or Whoop 4.0, which do get to know you well and adjust their scores appropriately. The Fitbit Charge 5 never seemed to learn that I can run every day and recover fine, and simply dished out low scores because I had exercised the previous day.

It might be a useful tool for those who exercise three or four times a week, but even then, my experience makes me wary of saying it’s giving reliable advice. I don’t think it’s a major step up on simply looking at your sleep scores – the Charge 5 offers the usual excellent Fitbit sleep tracking and analysis.

However, what’s more disappointing about the readiness score than the iffy results I experienced is that it’s locked behind the Fitbit Premium paywall. A six-month subscription to Premium is bundled with the Charge 5, but after that it costs £7.99 a month or £79.99 a year. It’s a shame to see an interesting new feature given an ongoing cost, especially on a £170 device.

Health And Activity Tracking

To take an ECG measurement with the Charge 5 you fire up the ECG app and hold your fingers against the panels on either side of the device. The measurements can detect signs of atrial fibrillation, and if it finds any it’s worth getting checked out by a doctor. The ECG app works as expected for me and it’s a useful addition that’s available to all users of the band.

Fitbit Charge 5

(Image credit: Fitbit)

The EDA scan works the same way, holding the sides of the screen for a set duration – the default is three minutes. This scan measures the electrical activity in your skin and essentially checks how stressed you are. After the scan you’ll be told how many “EDA responses” you had during the test. A lower number indicates less stress.

Your EDA scans also inform an overall Stress Management Score in the app, which takes your sleep and activity into account. There seems to be some overlap with the readiness score, and it might be a case of picking one score to guide your activity.

Within the app you also get health stats covering your heart rate variability, blood oxygen saturation, breathing rate and skin temperature, with more historical data available to Premium users than to free users, who get seven days of stats.

Naturally you also get top-notch everyday activity tracking with the Charge 5, including Fitbit’s Active Zone Minutes, which are a better daily target than steps or anything else. The device will log how much time you spend in different heart rate zones, with the goal of hitting 22 active minutes a day when your heart rate is raised. This adds up to 150 a week in line with NHS recommendations.

However, one surprise omission from the Charge 5 is an altimeter, which means it will not track the flights of stairs you climb each day like previous generations have.

Sports Tracking

While the health and everyday activity tracking on the Charge 5 holds up, I found its sports tracking significantly less impressive, primarily because of the inaccurate heart rate tracking I experienced doing pretty much any sport, and the poor GPS tracking it produced during outdoor runs.

The Charge 5 retains built-in GPS, a piece of hardware introduced on the Charge 4. You can also use your phone’s GPS if you carry it with you during outdoor exercise, and I’d suggest doing so because the built-in GPS on the Charge 5 is dreadfully inaccurate.

The built-in GPS came up significantly longer than other devices, recording 1-2km more over runs of 10-12km, while the GPS tracks it showed in the app afterwards were awful, completely missing the routes I actually took.

The results were better using connected GPS, but if you don’t take your phone on runs and are hoping the Charge 5 will cover your tracking without it, think again. It also takes a long time to lock on to GPS, several minutes longer than other watches.

After a few runs where I had to hang around waiting for GPS to lock on, I stopped bothering and just used the SmartTrack feature on the band, which automatically logs a run without you having to start up an activity. This doesn’t produce particularly accurate results and you don’t get a map of your route in the app afterwards, but given that the results when using the GPS weren’t great either I preferred the convenience of just setting off.

Fitbit Charge 5

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)

The heart rate accuracy during workouts was also poor, even during relatively low-intensity sports like yoga and slow-paced strength workouts. On a couple of runs the Charge 5 had some spells where it recorded the same heart rate as a chest strap, but generally it was either too high or too low – which also scrambles the accuracy of your Active Zone Minutes score and calories burned.

In my opinion the only people satisfied by the Charge 5’s sports tracking will be those who just want a log of their workouts, including duration. If you are training with purpose and require accuracy to follow a plan effectively, the Charge 5 falls well short of that mark. Also, it’s still not that easy to see your stats during workouts despite the brighter colour screen – the display is just a bit cramped.

Bearing in mind that at £170 the Charge 5 is in the same price range as absolutely excellent sports watches like the Coros Pace 2, Polar Ignite 2 and Garmin Forerunner 55, there’s no reason for people who do want to track their workouts accurately to buy it.

Smart Features

The Charge 5 also disappoints on the smart features front. Music controls for Spotify and the weather app have been removed. It still has Fitbit Pay as well as timers, alarms and notifications, but again there are smartwatches available for a lot less that offer a lot more on this front, like the Huawei Watch GT 2e.

Battery Life

Fitbit lists a battery life of up to seven days. The Charge 5 I’m testing has needed charging every two to three days when tracking outdoor activity regularly. If you have the always-on screen turned off and don’t use the GPS or connected GPS as much, the battery lasts five days comfortably.

Is The Fitbit Charge 5 Worth It?

You really have to have your heart set on a tracker band rather than a watch to consider the Fitbit Charge 5 at £170. Even then there are bands from Huawei and Honor that offer a lot of the same features for well under £100, and the Fitbit Luxe, Charge 4 and Inspire 2 bands offer great activity and sleep tracking plus access to the Fitbit ecosystem for a lot less as well.

It’s the health tracking that sets the Charge 5 apart, as well as the impressive degree of analysis you get in the partner app. However, because Fitbit has locked part of that analysis behind the Premium paywall, the Charge 5 looks like poor value – especially since the workout tracking accuracy has been so unimpressive in my experience.

Nick Harris-Fry
Nick Harris-Fry

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.