Anyone who has used one of Fitbit’s entry-level fitness trackers in the past will know what to expect from the Fitbit Alta HR. Simply put: this is the Fitbit Alta, plus heart rate monitor.
What that means is that you’re getting a device that is great for passive users and that will reliably track steps taken, sleep quality, and basic activities. It has one of the best app ecosystems out there and a solid design that’s comfortable to wear. However, this is not a device meant for serious athletes or even anyone with more than a passing interest in running or other activities such as CrossFit.
For those casual users though, this is a likeable and well-made tracker that is worthy of your consideration. This is our Fitbit Alta HR review.
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In terms of appearance, this device barely deviates from the Fitbit Alta that came before it. It’s a slim tracker that blends into its strap. It also has a simple black screen that requires a firm tap to activate and scroll through. This is the only input the Alta HR will recognize and it’s not particularly sensitive – it gets annoying quickly. You can also turn on the screen to check the time (or a chosen metric) by bringing your wrist up to your face. This only works about 80% of the time, unfortunately.
The straps have been updated since the last generation of Altas, and now use a more conventional and less fiddly locking system, which is certainly a welcome addition. The other good news is that you can swap out the straps to find the one that best suits your personal style (or lack thereof). And yes, it is backwards compatible with the Alta, meaning you can try all the fancy leather and metal straps that are already out there.
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The Alta HR is comfortable to wear, doesn’t get in the way much and is certainly a welcome break from my bulky vívoactive HR. It’s visible enough to say ‘hey, I track my health’ but not ostentatious enough to draw unwanted attention.
Battery life is fairly middling and although it claims it can manage seven days, I’ve found mine tends to start running low at around five. I’ve seen better from far more feature-packed devices, but it’s long enough not to be an issue for most use cases. Oh, and the charger is proprietary (so don’t lose it), but it is easy to use and charges fairly quickly.
Fitness and health tracking
Nearly everything the Fitbit Alta HR does, happens on the downlow
But this device is all about the fitness tracking. Earlier, I described the ideal user for this device as being ‘passive’ and that’s particularly accurate seeing as nearly everything the Fitbit Alta HR does, happens on the downlow.
Step counting of course happens in the background and is pretty accurate for the most part, but so too does most activity tracking. That is to say that you don’t ‘tell’ the Alta HR that you’re going for a run or engaging in sports; rather, it will try and detect that on its own. You do have the option to start a walk, hike or run if you want to sync with the GPS through the app, but there’s no way to manually begin other activities.
Specifically, the Fitbit Alta HR can automatically identify and track walks, runs, outdoor bike, the elliptical machine, aerobic workouts, and the all-too generic “sports”. As an entry-level fitness tracker, there is no GPS built-in here. There’s no water resistance this time around unlike the Flex 2, so swimming is off the cards. There’s also no way to track weight training, which for me is a big letdown. Looking at the Fitbit during a workout also doesn’t provide any useful information.
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Fortunately, the algorithm here – called ‘SmartTrack ’– appears fairly impressive and accurate. Only now it has the added benefit of a heart rate monitor for even better accuracy. It can successfully auto-detect bike rides and runs which never ceases to amaze, but that said, it’s not infallible. I recently used some edge trimmers to cut the grass around the edge of my lawn for instance, which the Alta HR recorded as a bike ride!
If you’re dedicated to your workouts, the heart rate monitor will help you see your fitness improve over time
The heart rate monitor provides an interesting additional metric for your workouts, but it’s not as accurate as more sports-oriented trackers and doesn’t provide a particularly detailed report after activities. Rather, it mainly comes in useful as a way to track your heart rate throughout the day and to provide you with a score for your resting heart rate. This is a useful measure of overall fitness and a nice addition to have. If you’re dedicated to your gym sessions and runs, you’ll be able to see your fitness improve over time.
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Jogging and other forms of steady-state cardio in particular cause the left ventricle to grow, which in turn allows the body to pump more blood with fewer beats and this in turn helps to reduce stress and cortisol production. You can also check your current heart rate at any time during the day, and the heart rate monitoring should result in a slightly more accurate total for your daily calorie burn as well.
The impressive sleep tracking and related ‘resting heart rate’ metric
The heart rate monitor also ensures that users can take advantage of the new and improved sleep tracking, which now breaks your sleep down into four distinct stages: Awake, REM, Light, and Deep.
This is possibly the best implementation I’ve yet to experience with sleep tracking. It’s accurate in my testing and the additional information is very welcome and useful. I’m going to miss this when I stop using the Alta HR, and luckily any other Fitbit that includes a heart rate monitor will be able to do this going forward.
Oh, and there’s also movement reminders, which are pretty much par for the course these days. Although it is a nice touch when the device challenges you to ‘feed it’ 177 steps.
Remember one thing: this is not a smartwatch
There are some very basic smartwatch features here. Specifically, you can receive notifications on your wrist as with most other trackers these days as well as calls and calendar reminders. Notifications are limited to just a few apps, though and messages are truncated even when you choose the maximum length for them in the settings. After they’ve disappeared, there’s no way of getting them back to see the messages you missed. It’s nice not having to get your phone out to see who texted you or who is calling, but that’s as far as it goes. Do not buy this as a smartwatch!
The big bonus of using any Fitbit device is the software. The Android app remains one of the most intuitive and useful of any fitness tracking solution on the Play Store, and there is fantastic support and integration from a wide range of other services ranging from Alexa and IFTTT to MyFitnessPal. Insights are useful and the ‘badges’ and messages are generally motivating.
The popularity of Fitbit is also a big plus here – as it means you’ll be much more likely to be able to find friends to compete with. I’ve been challenging my wife with the Weekend Warrior challenge, which has been a fun way to encourage a few more steps out of us both. I’ve heard it said before that the best fitness tracker is the one your friends are using and for many, there is likely to be some truth to that.
The big question is whether or not the Fitbit Alta HR can improve your health and help you lose weight. The answer to that is… yes! If you diligently track your calories consumed and calories burned (and make sure to maintain a deficit), you should see steady weight loss. The heart rate monitor will only help make that calculation more accurate and the automatic activity tracking is seamless and certainly useful. Less driven users will likewise benefit from the ability to track runs and monitor their sleep and resting heart rate. As they say: that which is monitored, improves.
That said, those looking for full smartwatch features or who are more serious about their training should look elsewhere for something that comes with more precise and fully-featured activity tracking. I’ll be sticking with my vívoactive HR. This does a lot for a basic health tracker but falls short of being a full sports tracker.
As I said before, this is pretty much the standard Alta with a heart rate monitor and a few new sleep tracking functionalities built in. But that heart rate monitor makes a big difference and opens up a lot more possibilities for sleep tracking and calorie counting. It is refinement rather than true innovation, but that’s often what yields the best and most reliable technology.
It’s refinement rather than innovation, but that’s often what yields the best and most reliable technology.
You pay a little more for a Fitbit as compared with similar products from other manufacturers, but in exchange you get a reliable brand with a thriving ecosystem. It’s nice to wear, good at what it does, and has a decent amount of features for basic health and light activity tracking. If you are a casual user looking to collect a little data about your health and maybe shed a few pounds, then the Fitbit Alta HR is a fairly comprehensive and very reliable choice.
Are you interested in the Alta HR? Have you used one in the past? Let us know what you think in the comments below!