Fitbit Alta HR sleep tracking: not quite living the dream
But that’s enough about exercise, what about the more important business of sleep? The Alta HR is one of only three Fitbits (along with the Blaze and Charge 2) to work with the Fitbit app’s new Sleep Stages and Insights features. At the moment, these are more interesting than genuinely useful, but there’s definitely some big potential.
Don’t loads of other fitness trackers offer a sleep-tracking mode? Yes, but the reason why Fitbit’s is interesting, and also the reason why it’s only available on those three trackers, is because it uses heart-rate variability (the space between your heartbeats) to more accurately pinpoint the exact stage of sleep you’re in, rather than an accelerometer or standard heart-rate.
The upshot is that every night you get a lovely graph showing how you phased between REM, light or deep sleep, along with comparisons against your 30-day average and the norm for people in your age group. Considering the amount of data Fitbit holds about fitness and, increasingly, sleep, there’s definitely potential for some handy shuteye insights.
Sadly, right now, the word is very much ‘potential’. So far, the ‘Sleep Insights’ I’ve received have been very generic comments – for example, “a regular wake-up time helps lock in a stable circadian rhythm” or “adding exercises like walking, running and swimming to your routine could help your sleep quality”. Not exactly searing insight.
Still, I’m optimistic that this is simply because it’s early days, and that Fitbit will be able to be bolder and more specific as more people use the feature. Having seen examples of insights that draw interesting comparisons between your weekday and weekend sleep, or the types of exercise you do versus sleep quality, there’s definitely scope for it becoming a useful feature, particularly on the discrete Alta HR.
Fitbit Alta HR: the competition
The Alta HR is right in the mix for being our favourite all-round health and fitness tracker. Whether it’s the best one for you depends on a few factors.
Do you like swimming? If so, you’re better off with a Misfit Shine 2 or the Fitbit Flex 2. Mostly into running and cycling? The Vivosmart HR+ is pricier and less handsome than the Alta HR, but crucially matches its heart-rate monitor with GPS. Prefer a watch form factor? The Withings Steel HR is the best-looking basic tracker around. Fancy some fitness coaching with those statistical fries? We’re still big fans of the motivational Moov Now.
Still, if you’re none of those things, and fancy a background health tracker that demands little in the way of prodding and interaction, the combination of an Alta HR and Fitbit’s excellent app is currently hard to beat.
Fitbit Alta HR verdict
Came straight to the conclusion? Here’s the short version: the Alta HR is, for casual exercisers, one of the best and most motivational health-trackers around. The heart-rate tracking adds some genuinely insightful meat to your stats, and it has an almost uncanny ability to tune into the type of exercise you’re doing. The week-long battery life is also a big bonus.
Sadly, the Alta HR notches up a few too many minors to get full marks: it’s not water-resistant, the screen is unresponsive and hard to read in sunlight, and it’s missing a few handy features that are found in other Fitbits like ‘guided breathing’ and an altimeter. The sleep-tracking features are also more about promise than real insight right now. It’s a slight shame, because it feels like Fitbit could have made a five star tracker if it didn’t have one eye on balancing out the rest of its range.
But unless you’re a swimmer or multi-sporter who likes to get lots of live data from your watch during exercise, it’s the best one it’s made so far.