Fitbit Charge 4 review: Small and steady wins the race

In a world of smartwatches that can make calls, check heart rhythms, and summon personal assistants, the Charge 4 is something of a throwback. While it’s an improvement over the Charge 3 in many ways, its plastic body, grayscale screen, and giant bezels are a constant reminder that the Charge 4 isn’t an Apple Watch, a Galaxy Watch, or even a Versa for that matter. And with its $150 price tag, it feels like it costs about $25 more than it should.

But if you can get past all that, the Charge 4 is the very best fitness tracker Fitbit has ever made. It’s not just that GPS and NFC chips are now standard—the whole package is smarter and more responsive than the Charge 3. Small, meaningful additions like Spotify controls and a calendar app help bridge the sizable gap between it and a bona fide smartwatch.

An all-too-familiar design

There isn’t much to say about the Charge 4’s design that wasn’t already said about the Charge 3. It comes in a new color called rosewood, which is something of a deep red wine mixed with burgundy, but I suspect most people will opt for the classic black color.

Michael Simon/IDG

The Fitbit Charge 4 shows its bezels when you choose an analog clock face.

The plastic resin case is something of a downgrade over the Charge 3’s aluminum body, but there’s so little of it that’s visible, most people won’t mind (or even notice). Even with the lighter body, however, it’s a touch heavier than the Charge 3 (30 grams versus 29 grams) and slightly larger all around, but for the most part, the Charge 4 will feel about the same on your wrist as its predecessor and way more comfortable than the Charge 2.

The screen is essentially the same as it was on the Charge 3, meaning it has pretty thick bezels and a prominent Fitbit logo beneath the display. The OLED display and dark UI do an admirable job of hiding it, but it’s distractingly apparent when using one of the analog faces.

The band system is the same as well, so all of the Charge 3 straps work with the Charge 4. Some new ones are available at the usual price points ($30 to $50), including several rosewood options to match the new case color. The nicest option is the versatile graphite reflective woven band that you can only get on the SE edition (which also comes with a classic black band for an extra $20), but the lack of an exclusive partnership like the PH5 knitwear bands for the Versa is a bummer.

Smart enough for most people

Setup as always is a breeze, with my phone automatically recognizing the Charge 4 (like Apple does with AirPods) before I even opened the Fitbit app. Notifications, too, seem improved, with alerts opening and clearing instantly on my phone when the respective action is taken on my watch, a hit-or-miss affair on the Charge 3.

Michael Simon/IDG

A new Spotify app on the Charge 4 lets you control the songs playing on your phone.

Fitbit doesn’t officially divulge what kind of processor powers its smartwatches and trackers, but the Charge 4 feels noticeably faster than the Charge 3. I didn’t experience any of the lag that plagued earlier devices, and swipes and taps felt downright snappy. Battery life is still excellent as well, easily logging a week with normal use. However, Fitbit is still using a pin charger rather than the Inspire’s inductive one, so you might struggle to line it up (as I did).