The Fitbit Alta HR is the first product that we’ve reviewed in a while that does exactly what its marketing material says it does, and holds no surprises beyond that. But is that such a bad thing?
The Alta HR looks and feels very familiar to past offerings from the company. The main unit is a metal and glass construct with detach points for the interchangeable bands.
Before you turn it on the first sign of change in this new model is on the band itself. Instead of the previous system – which used holes and metal plugs to stay on your wrist – you have a regular metal buckle instead.
While the previous iteration was fine, we prefer this version. On the wrist it’s very light and unassuming, and even for someone like me who is averse to irritants and doesn’t sport a watch or band regularly, I forgot that I was wearing it after a couple of hours.
There’s also charging cable in the box, which takes the form of a claw that grips onto the main body and charges by way of exposed metal contacts. This is one of the biggest problems we have with the Alta HR. Not only is the cable very inelegant, it’s important to the function of the band outside of charging.
The USB end which you plug in for power has a small button on it which grants access to functions that are unavailable when the band isn’t connected to the dock.
You’ll need this button to activate some functions, such as resetting and rebooting the Alta HR. Not having a way to do that outside of plugging it in is a pain, and it could be a problem if you’re out of the house for an extended period of time. It was a problem for me when my test unit took a dip into the bath while I forgot I was wearing it.
Luckily this band can stand up to water abuse or, at least, the times I made it wet by mistake. Aside from the bath it functioned in heavy rain for hours on end at Geekfest, and the screen and sensors worked fine in the deluge.
That small screen is a monochromatic affair that takes a while to get used to. You’ll need to tap it a bit harder than you would a phone, but when you do it will cycle through your fitness information and the date and time.
There is an array of sensors on the device’s underside, including the Alta HR’s namesake: heart rate monitoring. The pair of green lights used for this do their job well and were quick to pick up when an exercise was started or if I had fallen asleep. The one complaint – which isn’t endemic to the Alta HR and more to this tech in general – is that the light can be annoying at night. It’s a small problem but, if you bought this band specifically to track sleep, you’ll need to know this.
The other stumbling block is the accompanied app that, while extremely competent, can sometimes hang during a sync. Its automated syncs go off fine, but if you want to manually sync say, after you exercise, you may find it taking a while. This can be bothersome if you want the more detailed information the app offers over the summaries displayed on screen.
Other than that the Alta HR really is a solid band that you should consider if you’re in the market for a fitness tracker that monitors heart rate. The battery lasts a really long time (my lazy butt got more than 9 days of light use), it has some nice features like the reminders to get up and walk and there are a lot of customisation options with the bands.