Australian Review: Fitbit Alta - A very wearable wearable

Fitbit Alta
Australian Review: Fitbit Alta - A very wearable wearable

Fitbit makes good fitness trackers, but so does everybody these days .You can buy an AUD$20 fitness band from Xiaomi and it will count your steps with a reasonable degree of accuracy, or you can buy a AUD$500 Apple Watch and it will also count your steps with a reasonable degree of accuracy. A pricier one might have a few more bells and whistles, a cheaper one might be a little more liberal with its readings, but at the end of the day, fitness trackers have the same core functionality.

For me, Fitbit manages to set itself apart with its wider ecosystem. Its trackers are good, but its app is great. The Fitbit companion app makes it easy to look at your history, set goals, and measure your progress. It's  a top tier fitness app, and one of the key reasons you'd buy a Fitbit over another fitness tracker.

With the Alta, Fitbit finally has a fitness tracker that matches its ecosystem's level of polish. 

Of late, Fitbit's family of trackers have all taken a function over form approach. While this makes sense to a certain degree, it resulted in more than capable trackers that you didn't always want to wear. They were clunky and chunky, and the elastomer Fitbit used for bands easily irritated my skin.

The Alta changes this. It's the first Fitbit I've comfortably been able to wear for weeks with no irritation. It's the first Fitbit I've been able to forget that I'm wearing. In part, this can be attributed to due to the Alta's interchangeable bands. The first thing I did when setting mine up with swap out the black elastomer strap for a graphite leather band. While this does add an extra expense, it's made the Alta a Fitbit I want to wear.

I wouldn’t describe the Alta as slimline - it's still a little chunky - but it should curve around your wrist nicely. It's not as thick as most smartwatches, and it's light to the point where you can forget you're actually wearing it.

The Alta's brain - a small metal and glass unit - offers a black and white display that shows the time and your fitness metrics. Flicking your wrist towards you wakes up the display, but it can be a little slow to respond. Simply turning your wrist  might not be enough to wake it up either, you need to put a little bit of force into the movement. When the display is on, you can tap it to toggle through key fitness metrics. The Fitbit app gives you a small amount of customisation when it comes to the display; you're able to change the order that panes appear in (for example, you could put step count first if you have another watch) and you can remove items from the loop entirely.

While the Alta isn't trying to be a smartwatch, it also provides basic notification support for text messages, phone calls, and calendar appointments.

The one thing that lets the Alta's user interface down is that it's hard to gauge your overall performance against your goals without opening up the app. While you can view your step count, your activity time and more by cycling through panes, your cumulative progress isn't glanceable in the same way it is on the Apple Watch or on the Fitbit Blaze.

In Fitbit's pursuit of fashion, the Alta launched with a number of interchangeable bands that fall in to three categories: elastomer sports bands, leather bands, and stainless steel. A small hinge on each strap lets you pop it off easily, and new bands just click on.

Out of the box, every Fitbit Alta sold in Australia comes with the typical elastomer sport band. While these are fine, I find they can irritate my skin after extended usage. Your mileage may vary, but either way, the metal brain helps break up the rubbery appearance and imbues the tracker with a bit more class.

For me, I've found the optional leather bands a much nicer option. Out of the box, the band was a little stiff, but it softened up after a few days of usage. Leather probably isn't ideal if you're genuinely sweating up a storm, but it’s a great option for day-to-day wear. However, if you like to keep your gadgets looking pristine, leather probably isn't for you. After just two or so weeks, mine has already started to show a bit of wear, tear and discolouration. I guess you can say it adds character. It's just a shame that you have to pay an extra AUD$99 to get a leather band; it would have been great to see Fitbit sell an Alta that simply bundles the tracker with the leather straps, minus the elastomer.

If you're after something a little more bling, Fitbit will also sell a stainless steel Alta band. I didn't get a chance to try one of these on.

Once again, the Alta isn't water resistant. You can't go swimming while wearing it, let alone take it into the shower. It would be great to see Fitbit address this sooner than later, but at the same time, I guess you really wouldn't want to take a leather band underwater anyway.

In terms of tracking capabilities, the Alta is more of a barebones tracker. It counts steps, distance, calories burnt, activity time, and sleep. There's no heart-rate monitor. The Alta isn't designed for fitness enthusiasts. It won't necessarily give you 100% accurate fitness information, but it's a device that can provide a healthy dose of motivation thanks to Fitbit's polished ecosystem. Fitbit's smartphone and web apps are clear, easy-to-use, and easy-to-understand. They make setting goals, checking your progress, and checking your history over the time incredibly simple.

While the Alta is fairly basic in terms of what it monitors, it still has a few nifty features that make it more than a pretty pedometer. Fitbit has seemingly taken some inspiration from the Apple Watch, as the Alta now offers hourly activity reminders. If you haven't taken at least 250 steps in the hour, the Alta will give you a buzz at 10 minutes before the hour's end and prompt you to get moving.

The Alta is also able to automatically detect certain types of exercises such as brisk walking, running, cycling, or working out on an elliptical. This means you don't have to even open up the Fitbit app to tell it that you've started exercising, the band already knows. The one catch is that you have to be doing the same thing for a sustained period of time, around 10 to 15 minutes or so. Regardless, it's almost like a plug and play approach to wearables. You put the Alta on, pair it with your smartphone, and then it does the rest.

Fitbits have become renown for battery life that can almost be measured in weeks, and the Alta is no exception. I was consistently able to get a full seven days in between charges. Topping up the tracker from empty to full only takes around an hour, so you don't need to go without for too long.

The Alta is Fitbit's best designed tracker yet. If you want a basic fitness wearable that doesn't look like a fitness wearable, the Alta should be your go to. Good looks come at cost though, with the basic Alta package priced at a AUD$75 premium over the Fitbit Flex (which tracks the same health metrics, but doesn't have a screen and notification capabilities). And after your AUD$199 outlay for the tracker, you're potentially looking at another AUD$99 for a leather band, if you're that way inclined. Is it worth it?

While the answer will be different for everyone, for me the leather band has turned the Alta into a fitness tracker I'm happy to wear all of the time. This is especially useful when it comes to analysing my sleep - something I don't always get enough of.

The Fitbit Alta is a fitness tracker for the rest of us. It's not necessarily for those already working out on a daily basis, it's for people who need a bit of motivation to get more active in their days to day lives. The Alta is something you can pop on and forget about, which is exactly what a fitness tracker should be.

Cybershack Score - rating backgroundrating 4

Looks great, leather bands are greatPremium price
Fantastic battery lifeNo water resistance
Polished companion appsSlow to respond screen

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