Fitbit Alta HR: Going the extra mile
Design, Features & Conclusion
When Fitbit debuted its dainty Alta fitness tracker early last year, most people (us included) were a little disappointed by the fact that it didn’t have a heart rate monitor. It was a glaring omission, especially once you realize that the majority of its siblings – including the Charge 2, Surge, and Blaze – are actually equipped with one.
So, why not the Alta? Because according to Fitbit, there wasn’t a heart rate monitor in existence that was small enough to fit inside its tiny chassis. And as a result, Fitbit had to work together with the ingenious minds at Texas Instruments to develop a PurePulse heart rate monitor specifically for the Alta HR.
The overall design of the Alta HR isn’t all that different from the Alta. In fact, you might even think that they look one in the same. Look a little closer, however, and you’ll notice that the differences are in the details.
For starters, the silicone wristband of the Alta HR uses a more traditional watch buckle to securely latch itself around your wrist, instead of the snap-on mechanism of the Alta. But of course, the easiest way to distinguish between the two fitness trackers would be by flipping them over, as you’d immediately notice the two green LEDs of the Alta HR’s PurePulse heart rate monitor flashing frantically.
The OLED display of the Alta HR looks identical to that of the Alta. It’s small, but perfectly useable nonetheless. We could easily tell the time with a quick glance, and hardly ever needed to do a double take. To conserve battery, the display of the Alta HR will automatically switch itself off when not in use, and will immediately spring back to life the moment you tilt your wrist towards you, as you naturally would to check the time.
Because there aren’t any physical buttons on the Alta HR, you’ll need to repeatedly tap (and not swipe) on its display to cycle through your various fitness metrics, which includes the number of steps you’ve made, your current heart rate, the distance you’ve walked, the calories you’ve burnt, and the minutes you’ve spent active.
The fashion conscious amongst you would certainly appreciate how easy it is to detach and interchange the wristband of the Alta HR. Fitbit even has quite an extensive selection of accessory bands for you to choose from, but do bear in mind that they don’t come cheap. Expect to cough up RM130 for the Black, Blue Gray, Fuchsia, or Coral-colored silicone wristband, RM300 for the Brown, Indigo, or Lavender-colored leather bands, and RM450 for the Gold or Silver stainless steel bracelets.
One of the more practical advantages of having a detachable wristband is being able to give it a thorough scrub after a long, sweaty workout without having to worry about damaging the tracker itself. Yes, the Alta HR isn’t waterproof, so bringing it for a swim or into the shower is definitely out of the question. That being said, a little rain and sweat wouldn’t hurt it, though.
One of the headlining features of the Alta HR is its ability to track the quality of your sleep. Wear it to bed, and you can indulge yourself in all sorts of intriguing sleep-related biometrics when you wake up, including the duration of your sleep, and the amount of time you’ve spent in light, deep, and REM sleep – all conveniently depicted in a visually appealing graph.
It took us a couple of days to get used to sleeping with the Alta HR strapped around our wrist, but it shouldn’t be that much of an issue if you habitually wear a timepiece to sleep. The Alta HR doesn’t need to be strapped tightly around your wrist to work its magic, as it had no problem monitoring our sleep pattern despite us wearing it loose enough to slide back and forth a couple of inches below our wrist bone.
Of course, the Alta HR is more than just good for tracking your sleep quality, as it’s still very much a fitness tracker at heart – but a rather basic one at that. On that note, the Alta HR doesn’t have a dedicated GPS module nor a connected GPS feature for mapping the route of your fitness activities.
But there is, however, a way to circumvent this problem. Integrated within the Fitbit mobile app is a feature called MobileRun, which uses the GPS of your smartphone to generate a route of your walking, running, and hiking activities, while also keeping track of metrics like distance, elevation, and pace.
The data obtained by MobileRun can be supplemented and incorporated with the data gathered by the Alta HR – such as your heart rate and the amount of calories you’ve burnt – thus giving you a comprehensive insight into your activities. Regrettably, this means you’ll have to bring your smartphone along with you whenever you want the route of your activities shown on a map, which isn’t always convenient.
Unlike the Charge 2, which allows you to manually start and stop tracking exercises using the physical button on its side, the Alta HR has to depend on its SmartTrack automatic exercise recognition feature, which only works after you’ve embarked on “activities with continuous movement or high movement” – be it running, jogging, kickboxing, tennis, basketball, or soccer – for a minimum duration of 10 minutes.
We weren’t compelled to feel skeptical about the accuracy of the Alta HR, as it didn’t seem to grossly exaggerate or understate our daily steps or heart rate. Nonetheless, you probably should take the numbers you see with a pinch of salt, and not treat them as the gospel truth.
It goes without saying that the Alta HR is able to display notifications from your smartphone as well, but literally only from one messaging app and one calendar app at a time. This means if you want the Alta HR to show WhatsApp notifications, it will completely ignore the notifications you get from Facebook Messenger, and vice versa.
Perhaps this limitation of sorts is what allows the Alta HR to achieve a battery life that lasts for just over a week on a full charge, which, for a fitness tracker, is actually really impressive.
The Alta HR is definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a lightweight and inconspicuous fitness tracker with a solid selection of features, including heart rate monitoring and detailed sleep data. The fact that we didn’t feel inclined to rip the Alta HR off our wrist after wearing it for an entire day – as we normally would with bulky fitness trackers and smartwatches – is already a merit in itself.
Interestingly, at RM730, the Alta HR is priced similarly to the Charge 2, which packs a larger OLED display that can be used to view the stats of your workout in real-time, and a couple of additional features including guided breathing sessions and connected GPS.
That being said, the extra features doesn’t necessarily make the Charge 2 a ‘better’ tracker, as it ultimately still comes down to choosing the tracker with features that matter the most to you. Eager to know more about your sleeping pattern in excruciating detail? The Alta HR is the way to go. Devoted fitness junkies, however, would probably be more appreciative of the fitness-focused features of the Charge 2.