Thursday, September 8, 2016

Ultimate fitness tracker comparison: Fitbit Charge HR vs. Samsung Gear Fit 2 vs. Huawei TalkBand B3

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have way too many fitness trackers for someone who is not a fitness person. How did this start?

Fitbit Charge HR, Huawei TalkBand B3, Samsung Gear Fit 2

Well, Huawei TalkBand B2 was my first wearable device ever and I quite liked it. This week I got a new TalkBand B3 to replace the lost one and it's slightly but better than B2, it's probably the only one I'll never get rid off because it's mostly a headset for me, not a fitness device or a watch. I actually never even considered getting a dedicated fitness device.

Then last year I found a Fitbit Charge HR on the beach (whoever lost it on Ta Yai, khop khun krap). And, to my surprise I liked how it works. you see, unlike most of fitness trackers, it's really useful even for occasional tracking: it measures your heart rate continuously so you get a complete data about how intense that quick stair-climbing was (it also counts floors using altimeter), it estimates calories you spend both passively and during exercise which is very useful for everyone (even if you don't count what you eat, with which it also can help, but more on that later), and it auto-detect most of exercise (at least long walks and running, I don't think it can do aerobics, but, again, more on that later). FitBit announced Charge 2 as a replacement for Charge and Charge HR so if you want a new one, better get that. I don't know if's worth an upgrade, I'm not planning such at this moment.

And, very recently, I got a free Samsung Gear Fit 2 with my preordered Note 7 (more on that in another post next week) which can do a lot more non-fitness stuff while also can do a lot of fitness things (it can detect aerobics to some extent, by the way).

Obviously, wearing all three of them is not an option so I needed to make a decision. This post is an attempt to highlight factors I considered. It's not a full review of all three devices (which would be just too long).

Unfortunately, you can't switch back and forth between different devices. They require proprietary app to be useful and integrations with third-party services are limited. There's no way to synchronize your data between three apps so if you switch you will at least loose your historical data.

Let's start with logistics. TalkBand is mostly a headset for me, everything else about it is secondary. So it has to stay on my non-dominant hand and wearing anything alongside it is next to impossible (makes taking the headset out very inconvenient, since it has two symmetric extraction buttons and you have to press both). That leaves the dominant hand for anything else, if anything. No way I'm wearing two devices there and touchscreen interaction is limited (I can only tap and scroll so much with my left) which suggests I should keep Fitbit if I'm also keeping TalkBand. If I want a single device, Gear has bigger and nicer display and more stuff there to use (you can even install custom apps and themes). Now let's highlight pros and contras of every device.

Firstly, Talkband. I already said that there's no equivalent for its headset part. Besides that and barely passable fitness tracking it can show some notifications (from any apps but within limited screen surface). Display is small, low-res, and monochrome but still quite nice (high-contrast PMOLED). It's rated IP57. If you don't talk much, battery is good for almost a week. App is very simple, basically it only shows you steps and sleep data and has very few settings. Simple, but not bad. Sync is very fast. It can do smart silent alarm (which might be not exactly 100% reliable and several non-smart alarms for notifications and stuff). Charges with standard microUSB cable, no idea why others don't do that.

Secondly, Charge HR. It's very good for fitness tracking. If I were a pro, I wouldn't consider anything else (except maybe something even more professional and specialized). Display is very small and interactivity is very limited, no "smart" features. Splash protected but not rated. It's good at auto-detecting exercises, at calculating calories, app allows you to track what you eat an drink (including calorie budget and food list from which you can add stuff relatively quickly), heart rate zones (continuous monitoring allows you to know exact time you spend in each zone, to a seconds), active hours, sleep schedule, logging weight (could be automatic with Fitbit Aria smart scales), add integrations with very many services and it's probably the best fitness app so far. Sync takes ridiculously long though. No smart alarm and only one non-smart one per day. Battery easily lasts a week. Requires proprietary cable for charging (which can be bought off aliexpress for about $3 if you loose it).

And, lastly, Gear Fit 2. Some say it's the best fitness device from Samsung. If so, they have very large room for improvement. It doesn't do continuous HR monitoring so heart rate data is mostly good for averages, you won't know exact time you spend in cardio or fat burn zone. Saves battery probably, which is important as it lasts couple days at best. Its shiny and hi-res AMOLED display is very good, if I new any apps that are good on such a small display, I might finds more uses for it. It can play music, I guess, and it can have a wifi connection of its own (but no mobile data so no walking with wearable edition of Spotify if there's something like that). Rated IP68 but still not designed for swimming (which it too bad, I like swimming). Dedicated GPS should help with tracking distance and routes. It can detect aerobics and S Health app knows more than a few types of exercise for manual tracking (yoga, rowing machine, you name it). Overall, it can do many things that fitbit can't (if only manually) and only a few things it does worse. But one of those things is sleep tracking (if I wake up for an hour in the middle of night it can't even show me total hours slept) so I mark Samsung devices as essentially unusable for me for now because of S Health (I can see the info required on device itself so it must be fixable). Sync is fast though, I like it. Charges with a proprietary cradle, very bulky to carry and probably expensive to replace. Device itself is bulkier than Fitbit. Wrist band is crappy, like Huawei's, I need to find some way to prevent losing it in some airport.

My preliminary verdict: unless I can found more uses for Gear Fit and/or fix it for my particular use cases, I'm going with combination of Fitbit and TalkBand. If I ever want or need to replace Charge HR, it'll probably be a similar Fitbit device, like new Charge 2. Maybe I'll write a short dedicated review for Gear Fit 2 and S Health app with more details about why I can't and won't use them, stay tuned.

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