December 7 2017
Our squad of testers put the latest running and fitness gear to the sweat test to determine the winners of our 2017 Tech Awards.
The Fitbit Alta HR is Fitbit’s latest wristband that tracks your activities and heart rate. The Alta HR is a small, half-inch wide rectangle, so it’s less obtrusive than bulkier fitness watches and designed to be worn whenever you are not submerged in water. So, essentially all day.
As someone who has never used heart-rate tracking, I found this feature quite fun. It allowed me to better understand my sleep, exercise and general stress level. When I notice my heart rate is a bit high, I’ll count backwards from 4 to 0, one breath per count, and then back up again. I can see this lower my heart rate by 5-10 beats per minute. It’s neat to see how quickly you can affect your heart rate through breathing.
The Alta HR shows you not just how much you slept—which the basic FitBit Alta does as well—but also how much of your sleep was spent in deep sleep, light sleep or REM. It does this not by assessing when your heart rate is below 80 beats per minute, for example, because of course heart rate in deep sleep could be different for different people. Rather, it assesses your sleep by analyzing change in your heart rate.
Each morning the app shows a figure like this:
You can benchmark your sleep both to yourself (over the previous month) or to other people in your demographic, which is shown below. So it looks like (in the exceptionally good night of sleep that I am choosing to share with you) I had a higher percent of my sleep in deep sleep than most women my age.
The app also shows your daily “sleep insights,” which are sometimes interesting. One day it told me I’d “recently been sleeping for 8 hours and 48 minutes, which is higher than the average for your demographic at 7 hours.” It has also observed that I have a bedtime that swings more than 40 minutes day-to-day, which in the population at large is associated with less sleep.
If you’re so inclined, you can actually download all of your data into an Excel sheet from the Fitbit website and do your own little analysis. The app tracks your heart rate throughout the day, allowing you to see how much time was spent in “peak,” “cardio” and “fat burning” heart rate zones.
Here’s what it looks like; I did Barry’s Bootcamp—an exercise class that includes sprinting—in the afternoon.
If you start running, the Alta automatically captures that and provides a special analysis for the workout:
You can choose which display will be your primary one, or what shows up first when you double tap the screen. I switched it from the default and have it set up to show the time and my heart rate. With one extra tap it shows my step count.
As someone who enjoys the social aspects of fitness apps, it’s a little sad that I don’t have that many friends who use Fitbit. When I occasionally challenge a friend to one of Fitbit’s challenges (like who can get the most steps in over the weekend), it’s super fun. But my few friends who do use Fitbit don’t seem to use it as regularly as I do.
As with previous Fitbits, the Alta HR battery life is outstanding. With constant use, one charge lasts me 5 days.
At $150, the Alta HR is just $20 more than the Alta. The heart rate feature is fun and definitely worth the $20. My words of advice: If you’re going to get an Alta, splurge for the Alta HR.