(Pocket-lint) - The Fitbit Alta HR brings heart-rate tracking to its slim and stylish fitness tracker, the Alta. The earlier device was fabulous for basic tracking but it missed out on a couple of features, stopping it achieving excellence.
The HR, however, aims to right some of those shortcomings. It marries fashion with function, offering what Fitbit claims is the slimmest heart-rate tracker on the market, along with huge improvements in sleep tracking too.
Does the Fitbit Alta HR have what it takes to become king of the fitness trackers?
Fitbit Alta HR review: Design
- 15mm wide, interchangeable straps
- 1.4-inch OLED display, 128 x 36 pixel resolution
- PurePulse heart-rate monitor
The Fitbit Alta HR features an almost identical design to the original Alta, meaning it retains its lovely slim and stylish build. The main difference in the new device is the addition of the PurePulse optical heart-rate monitor on its underside, along with a change in clasp from the two-pin mechanism to a slim, colour-matched buckle for a more secure fit.
Fitbit has managed to make the PurePulse monitor smaller compared to the Charge 2, Surge and Blaze trackers, which in turn means the Alta HR is the same size as the original Alta. The HR therefore measures just 15mm wide, making it very unobtrusive compared to its larger siblings. Sadly it isn't waterproof like the similar-sized Flex 2.
Like the original, the Alta HR has a lovely chamfered metal frame with a 1.4-inch OLED display on top. The display is sharp enough in appearance and responsive to touch-based controls most of the time, allowing for easy progress checking without opening the accompanying Fitbit app. There are occasions where you have to tap a little harder, but overall it's a good display - just not an exceptional one in bright conditions.
On the underside of the Alta HR are clips that enable you to remove and change the straps easily. The HR comes in four standard colours, all of which have a textured elastomer band, but there are special edition models available, too. Extra bands include leather options for a smarter look; there's even a bangle for when you want to wear the Alta HR out for the night - you'd be surprised how many steps dancing involves. All the bands for the Alta are also compatible with the Alta HR.
The charging port is positioned on the underside of the Alta HR too, offering the same mechanism as the original Alta with a bull-dog-style clip that locks into the pins. The original device offered a five day battery life, but Fitbit has increased this to seven days for the HR model, which we have generally found to be accurate. We achieved between six and seven days most weeks, which isn't quite as good as the Withings Activité Steel HR and it's 20-something days, but it's still impressive for a device this size.
Fitbit Alta HR review: Features
- Tracks steps, distance, calories, active minutes, heart rate and sleep
- Smartphone notifications, Reminders to Move
- Automatic exercise recognition
- No GPS or Multi-Sport tracking
The Fitbit Alta HR tracks steps, distance travelled, calories burned, active minutes, heart rate and sleep data. Fitbit has made improvements in its sleep tracking functionality, adding heart-rate tracking to sleep, REM information and breaking sleep down into more useful data.
The Alta HR also offers Fitbit's SmartTrack feature, which means it will automatically recognise certain activities, such as running, walking and elliptical workouts, recording them in the exercise section of the app. The "Reminders to Move" feature is also present (which does as it says: alerts you to get off your ass), as well as call, text and calendar alerts.
There is no physical button on the Alta HR and it is aimed at the everyday consumer, rather than the active one, meaning the it misses out on several of the Charge 2's features, which is only £10 more expensive. There is no Multi-Sport Tracking, Connected GPS, Guided Breathing or Cardio Fitness Level (the last of which translates to VO2 Max).
Fitbit Alta HR review: Activity tracking performance
The lack of some of the features found on the Fitbit Charge 2 means the Alta HR is more suitable for monitoring general wellbeing and everyday activity, rather than intense workouts or gym sessions. The Alta HR is good at automatically recognising when you are taking part in certain activities (walking, running, cycling, elliptical, sports, aerobic) but it's not possible to physically start a workout directly from the device itself, as you can with the Charge 2.
However, it is possible to individually adjust the length of time you need to be doing each of the recognised exercises before tracking begins, and it's also possible to categorise the exercise in the Fitbit app once you have completed it. Generally speaking, the Alta HR is good at knowing what exercise is what, but if it gets it wrong, you can choose between numerous options, including those that aren't auto-recognised (such as rowing) from within the app.
Once an activity is recognised, it will appear within the Track Exercise tile in the Dashboard tab of the Fitbit app. From here, you'll be able to see a summary of your exercise over the weeks and tapping on each will present more information, including time active within heart-rate zones, a heart-rate graph and calories burned, as well as the impact that activity had on your day in terms of steps taken, calories burned and active minutes.
Overall, heart-rate tracking was on par with the Charge 2 during exercise, which we found to be within a couple of beats per minute of where we expected. Step tracking was also fairly accurate, even if it overestimated a tiny amount, while distance wasn't bad either given the lack of GPS. Calories burned is a little harder to determine the accuracy of, but the Alta HR was consistently on par with the predictions from gym machines.
Fitbit Alta HR review: Sleep tracking performance
- Awake, REM, light and deep sleep stages tracked
- Sleep Insights are clever and useful
- Big improvements over Fitbit's previous sleep tracking
Sleep tracking on Fitbit devices has always been ok, but never brilliant. If sleep tracking was the main reason you were buying a tracker, then Jawbone would have been a better option, or one of the dedicated sleep systems like Withings Aura. That's no longer the case though, because Fitbit has dramatically improved its sleep tracking functionality.
In the past, Fitbit trackers capable of sleep tracking presented time asleep as a total figure, with sleep quality detailed as times awake, times restless and number of minutes awake or restless. The Alta HR introduces light sleep, deep sleep and REM, like the Withings Aura, but it also offers information on each category, benchmarks for your gender and age and insights on how to achieve goals and how sleep could be related.
Within the sleep tracking section of the Fitbit app is a standard bar graph of number of hours slept, with daily breakdowns underneath. A tap on a specific day will present a different graph, said to be similar to what you would get at a sleep clinic, showing Sleep Stages. A tap of the arrows in the top right corner will then show more information on each stage and why they are important.
Additionally, Fitbit has added detail below the graph to present a simple breakdown of the time in each stage, plus 30-day average all measured against a personal benchmark.
Each morning, Fitbit also offers Sleep Insights, which you can like, dislike or learn more about. These Insights are designed to improve over time, offering personalised feedback based on how you sleep, as well as how that might correlate to the amount of activity you have done that day - the latter of which is something the dedicated systems wouldn't necessarily know.
As with all sleep tracking, it's almost impossible to determine how accurate the results are. Based on our experience, the Alta HR seemed to get when we went to bed and when we woke up correct, although it didn't always pick up if we woke up in the middle of the night for a brief moment. We've used dedicated sleep systems in the past, but we much prefer Fitbit's new sleep tracking for its simplicity and presentation.
Fitbit Alta HR review: Notifications
- Calls, texts and calendar alerts
- Reminders to Move is useful
The Fitbit Alta HR offers text, calls and calendar notifications, as we mentioned above, along with Reminders to Move. The call notifications are very useful, with the name appearing on the Alta HR's display followed by a gentle vibration to ensure you don't miss an important call.
Text and calendar alerts are a little less useful, with the name and part of the message or event scrolling quickly across the display before you really have a chance to read, but they are still a useful feature. All three can be turned off within the Fitbit app, which is handy.
Reminders to Move is a feature that's been around on Fitbit devices for a while. At ten minutes to every hour (for up to 14 consecutive hours) you can choose to be reminded to get up off your ass and move to achieve the necessary 250 step count. You can set a start time, end time and the days you want to be reminded, or turn the feature off entirely.
The one thing you can't do, which we wish you could, is change the 250 step goal. We'd love to be able to set an hourly goal of 1000 steps, for example, but with a bit of luck this will come as a software update in the future.
Fitbit Alta HR review: App
- Clean, simple user interface
- App has five main tabs with Dashboard being key
- HR data added for Alta HR over original Alta
The Fitbit app looks clean and concise, making it easy to navigate. We won't dive into too much detail here as you can read our Fitbit tips and tricks feature for everything about the app and the features it offers.
In a nutshell, however, there are five tabs at the bottom: Dashboard, Challenges, Guidance, Friends and Account. Dashboard is the main tab and where you will find the majority of your data, while Account will take you to various settings including more found by tapping on your respective tracker.
The Alta is by far the most stylish Fitbit thanks to its slim body and interchangeable straps. Add heart-rate tracking and improved sleep tracking and the Alta HR steps things up to a notable degree.
Fitbit hasn't added waterproofing or elevation data to the Alta HR and some of the useful Charge 2 features have also been omitted, but the addition of the PurePulse heart-rate monitor is a huge win for such a slim device.
Price-wise, the HR is pitched at the everyday user rather than the ultra-active one, so for some it won't do quite enough - and given the Charge 2 is only £10 more expensive, that will be the better option for those seeking that little more.
For everyone else though, the Alta HR is the Fitbit you've been waiting for. It's a fantastic activity tracker with plenty on offer. We adore our Charge 2, and although we won't be giving it up just yet, the Fitbit Alta HR is our new everyday favourite.
Alternatives to consider...
Fitbit Charge 2
The Fitbit Charge 2 offers the same features as the Alta HR but in a slightly bigger format with some extras including VO2 Max, Guided Breathing, Connected GPS and Multi-Sport Tracking. It too has interchangeable straps and a solid build quality but it offers a larger, informative OLED display, along with a physical button for enabling activity tracking from the device itself.
Read the full review:
Garmin Vivosmart HR+
The Garmin Vivosmart HR+ stuffs a lot of functionality into a device that's only a little larger than some other fitness tracker bands on this list. It isn't as good looking as Fitbit's Alta HR, nor does it offer interchangeable straps for a smarter look, but it's the feature set that appeals, with both heart rate monitoring and GPS on board.
Read the full review: Garmin Vivosmart HR+ review: A fully-packed fitness tracker
Withings Activité Steel HR
The Withings Activité Steel HR offers heart rate monitoring and smartphone notifications like the Alta HR, but it comes in the form of a beautifully-designed analogue watch offering a stainless steel casing and an interchangeable silicone strap. It is bigger than the Alta HR and the heart rate monitor only takes a reading every 10 minutes, except for during workouts, but because of this, the Activité Steel HR has a battery life of 25-days.
Read the full preview: Withings Activité Steel HR preview: Stylish heart rate monitoring