Fitbit's Alta HR adds heart-rate monitoring

Fitbit's new Alta HR tracker adds heart-rate tracking to its slim, stylish Alta wristband. The company also announced new sleep-tracking features for Alta HR and a few other wearables.

fitbit alta hr family
Fitbit

In its aim to offer a wearable device for every conceivable user profile, Fitbit has announced Alta HR. The company says it’s “the world’s slimmest wrist-based, continuous heart rate tracking device.”

Alta HR is priced at $150 and up, depending upon the styling. That’s the same price as Fitbit’s best-in-class Charge 2, which also tracks heart rate but is larger and offers more features than Alta HR.

(The original Alta, which doesn’t track heart rate, remains available for $130. Alta HR will ship in April but is available now for preorder.)

So, if you’re considering a Fitbit tracker with heart rate monitoring, you now have another choice: Go slim and light with Alta HR. Or spend the same money for more features in a bigger package, with Charge 2. (Fitbit's Blaze and Surge also offer heart rate monitoring but cost more.)

To decide, it helps to know what you’re getting — and not getting — for your $150.

What you’ll get only with Alta HR

Fitbit says it developed a “one-of-a-kind” chip that reduces the size and components required to read heart rates, resulting in a wristband that’s 25 percent slimmer than Charge 2. As with Charge 2, you’ll be able to see real-time heart rate zones on the Alta 2 screen as well as in the Fitbit app.

A slim, light wearable that tracks heart rate is good news, in my opinion. And from the images I’ve seen thus far, Alta HR looks just as stylish as Alta, which I consider to be Fitbit’s most stylish tracker. (As of this writing, I haven’t tested Alta HR.)

Other non-exclusive Alta HR features

  • Enhanced sleep tracking and recommendations. With Alta HR, Fitbit announced new sleep-related features, Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights. Sleep Stages, which uses heart rate variability and accelerometer data to differentiate light, deep, and REM sleep, will also work with Charge 2 and Blaze. Sleep Insights leverages Fitbit data from its user community, as well as your own, to offer “actionable guidance and coaching” to improve sleep quality and overall health. Sleep Insights will work with all Fitbit devices that track sleep.
  • Automatic sleep and exercise tracking, such as walking, running, cycling, elliptical, sports and aerobic workouts.
  • Reminders to Move for at least 250 steps every hour of the day that you designate.
  • Call, text, and calendar alerts from your connected smartphone.
  • Interchangeable bands in different colors and materials, like rose gold.
fitbit alta hr special edition rose gold Fitbit

Fitbit Alta HR in rose gold

What you won’t get for your $150 with Alta HR

  • An altimeter. Neither Alta HR nor Alta can count floors climbed. To maintain Alta HR’s slim form, Fitbit says it had to prioritize features, such as automatic exercise recognition and Reminders to Move, as well as “up to 7 days of battery life,” over an altimeter.
  •  A swim workout. Flex 2 ($100) is still the only Fitbit you can wear for aquatic workouts. 
  • Cool Charge 2 features like Exercise Modes, Connected GPS, Cardio Fitness Level, and Relax guided breathing.

A cautious or sensible approach? 

Fitbit has its challenges as a company. Everyone seems to want a piece of the wearable/fitness watch pie these days, including Apple, Samsung, and even New Balance. Fitbit’s year-over-year growth declined 22.7 percent in Q4 2016, according to IDC (a sibling company to CIO). Some new wearables, like Mio’s Slice, take direct aim at Fitbit’s step-counting dominance. The company's stock has been hammered as well. If you simply Googled 'Fitbit' and looked at the news results, you'll find no shortage of headlines like this one from Barron's: "Fitbit Needs New Steps to Restore Health."

So, skeptics might view Alta HR as a struggling company playing it safe, releasing — as it did recently with Charge 2 and Flex 2 — sequels to some of its greatest hits. You might wonder when, or if, Fitbit will make a bold leap and truly take wearables to the next level. And sooner vs. later, Fitbit — or one of its competitors — will have to make that leap, so that the activity tracker market will continue to have a heartbeat. 

But in the short-term, with Alta HR, Fitbit is playing up its strengths, which seems like a sensible approach. The company excels at offering an ever-wider variety of activity tracker choices at differing price points, supported by an easy-to-use app and a large ecosystem of compatible apps. And this is one of the best parts: Fitbit products are energized by its huge user community, where you can compete against friends, family members and colleagues. 

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