Everyone knows Fitbit: The proud Fitbit data announcements of that dude from high school on Facebook, the friend who wears a Zip on their hip or your coworker with a Charge on their wrist. It’s the best-known name in fitness trackers.
But it’s had a rough time lately. People slammed its first genuine smartwatch, the Blaze, earlier this month and the company’s stock has been on a downward slide since August of last year. The company needs a win and the Alta, a new slim fitness brand for the “fashion-conscious” is the closest to a win they’ve got.
It’s tempting to call it the first Fitbit with fashion in mind: it’s got well-publicized choices. There’s a nice black option, pink leather choice, three pastels in plastic, and a very attractive stainless steel band that I’d covet if it didn’t cost $99.95 sans tracker. As a reviewer, I had a choice between a traditional black band and gross muted tan gray leather that felt like a “leather” jacket purchased at Mervyn’s circa 1994 and looked like the skin that sloughs off zombies as they trundle towards their dinner. I went with the one that did not look like the fetid flesh of the undead.
But this isn’t the first Fitbit focused on fashion—it’s just the first one to not treat fashion like an afterthought. From the clasp (a little annoying to use) to the levers to take the band off, this thing is clearly thinking “style” every step of the way.
Back in 2013 they made their first attempt at the fashion thing with a whole line of Fitbit Flex bands made by Tory Burch. They were infinitely more attractive than anything the Alta has (outside of that steel band). They were also really fucking expensive. I love Tory Burch as much as the next girl, but I’m not going to drop nearly $200 on an accessory for a device that goes for less that $100.
The Alta, even with the fancy leather bands, is under $200 ($129 MSRP)—reasonably affordable for a device meant to be worn all day. And because it’s still identifiably a fitness band, it doesn’t have to worry about the high watermark for fashion the Blaze had to deal with. People are used to seeing folks with a hunk of rubber strapped to their wrist, and unless you’re rocking it at a black tie event, no one’s going to call out the fashion faux pax.
Instead they might be impressed with what the Alta can do. It’s like they took the best bits of the Flex and Charge and smooshed them together. The band is thin like the Flex (though it sits a little high on the wrist), but has a detailed display like the Charge. With time, traditional fitness stats, caller ID and even calendar notifications all on the small black and white OLED display, it’s the most informative Fitbit display yet.
There is, however, an almost-fatal flaw—the tap response, which might be one of the most unreliable features I’ve ever seen in a consumer electronic device.
A double tap of the display should reveal the time with each subsequent tap going through your calories burned (highly unreliable), steps taken (pretty reliable), and miles walked (holy crap, I get around). Except for the very rare occasion, I’d have to tap the display like a god damn morse code operator to get it to activate. When it turned on, it would immediately rotate through all the screens before settling down and being the responsive product I was promised. That’s some serious WoW-on-Comcast-level lag. The “flip your wrist to activate the display” feature was significantly more accurate, but I still had to shimmy my wrist repeatedly, which earned me a few looks on the subway.
The only time the display consistently turned on was when the entire device would buzz to remind me of a meeting. The buzz to notify me of a caller, however, took a good five to ten seconds after it started buzzing for the caller ID to appear on the display. With that kind of sluggish response time, I could have just pulled my phone out of my pocket, something Fitbit doesn’t want you to do.
With its focus on fashion, the Alta wants to be an everyday device rather than just a fitness device. The fantastic battery life (the Alta regularly lasted 6 days) and the wicked fast recharge time go a long way to achieving that goal.
I’ll admit, as janky as the display has been, I’ve still found myself wearing the Fitbit Alta almost every. Damn. Day. I love waking up in the morning and syncing up to see how much sleep I got and I dig recoiling when it reports on those two-hour naps on Friday night (though it also recorded an entire’s night sleep—including bouts of restlessness—when it was just sitting on my desk at work). And I get a little, satisfied thrill when it celebrates 10,000 steps or my first 40 miles of the year.
For a brand that needs a win, the Alta gets over the line. Fitbit’s unspoken goal is world wrist domination and this is its best band yet—if only the damn display regularly worked.
- Great “wear and forget about it” battery life
- Boring band options
- A display so laggy you might rip it off your wrist and crush it beneath a car
- Fitbit’s best band yet
Update (3/30/16): Fitbit would like to point out that you need to flick your wrist to activate the display, not merely tilt your wrist and stare.