Despite many rash complaints throughout the years, Fitbit remains the top wearable and arguably the most popular brand of fitness tracker on the market. However its range of trackers haven’t been the most stylish. The company’s solution? The Fitbit Alta.
After unveiling fitness watch Fitbit Blaze, the wearable tech company came out with the Misfit Ray rival providing custom wristband accessories and even satin and silver finish bangles from designer names, Tory Burch and Public School.
These partnerships show that Fitbit is clearly gunning for Apple Watch-esque high-end accessories, which makes sense since fashionable fitness trackers that resemble jewelry include a wider demographic of women – though the Alta remains a unisex device for men as well who are looking for simple, discrete fitness trackers.
Opting for style has made the Alta far less sophisticated functionally than its predecessors the Surge and Charge HR but it obviously wasn’t made to take the place of the sportier trackers. Rather, it’s the chicer looking device that still provides the bare bones of fitness tracking. Read on to find out whether the pretty little Alta is worth your time.
Fitbit Alta: Design and comfort
The Alta looks every bit like your typical fitness tracker. A small 128-by-36-pixel, 1.4-inch OLED screen sits in the middle of a quick-release band.
The concept is similar to the Blaze though it’s really the removable band that will probably draw users to the Alta since you can swap in fancier looks. The Classic models are what you’ll get at the lower end of the price spectrum and look sporty in black, blue, plumb and teal. Additional Classic bands are $29.95.
Then you have the $59.95 Luxe models in blush pink leather, graphite leather and a $99.95 stainless steel option plus the aforementioned designer brands coming soon.
Alta bands come in three sizes to fit wrists: 14 – 17cm, 17 – 20.6cm and 20.6 – 23.6cm. The band itself is 15mm wide which is far slimmer than the Charge devices.
Switching out the bands is really easy. Simply push and slide the quick-release then mix and match to your heart’s content.
The clasp works slightly better than other Fitbits I’ve used – I hated the one on the Flex – but it’s the same two button configuration. It seems like the company’s made it easier to push into place though.
All in all, the Alta is actually a pretty sleek looking tracker despite its vanilla design. The Jawbone UP2 and UP3 are similar in looks but without the notification screen, which is where the Alta wins out a little bit. The Alta’s display isn’t much but in the end, it simply provides a bit more functionality.
Comfort-wise, the Alta has been rash free on my wrist, and I’ve worn it non-stop except for showering since it’s not waterproof. Fitbit notes that while it’s resistant to splashes, rain and sweat, it’s best to take off before hopping into the pool or shower.
Additionally, Alta’s thin form factor means it doesn’t get in the way of long sleeves and fits really well on my tiny wrists. In fact, I hardly notice it’s there because it’s so lightweight and unobtrusive.
Fitbit Alta: Features
Like your run of the mill trackers, the Fitbit Alta tracks your steps, distance, active time and calories burned in minutes with a 3-axis accelerometer.
Select activities are auto detected, using Fitbit’s SmartTrack tech, and are added as workouts within the Fitbit app, as usual. It automatically tracks sleep, too.
You can check your progress from your wrist by tapping the screen though I found it to be frustrating as it’s not very responsive. It would take a few hard raps on the tracker to show and got to a point where I felt like punching the thing. Other times, it would work just fine leaving the whole experience of checking stats annoyingly inconsistent.
However, you can tell the time easily enough as it’s able to register the turn of your wrist quite well. To customize the face, you can choose from five vertical or five horizontal clock options. I found vertical worked best on top of my wrist and horizontal on bottom as it’s easier to read.
Runners and those looking for more intense tracking will have to search elsewhere. There’s no extra features such as GPS, optical heart rate monitor or stair climbing.
Fitbit Alta: Activity tracking
So how well does the Alta actually work? I used the wearable during SXSW in Austin and GDC in San Francisco, which involved a ton of walking on a daily basis. In general, it seemed to be on the sensitive side.
After wearing it alongside the Jawbone UP2, I noticed it’d be a 80 to a few hundred steps ahead. On one day, it was about a thousand steps ahead. Due to traveling, more time is needed with the Alta to test out running, biking and other activities.
Sleep was finicky as well. For some reason, the first night I wore the Alta, it thought I woke up in the middle of the night and didn’t really track properly. It tracked fine the next day but stopped tracking at five in the morning on Saturday, thinking I had woken up – which I definitely did not do on a weekend.
One other thing that should be automatic is turning the display off at night. While tossing and turning, the screen would randomly turn on and boy, that thing is bright.
The sleep charts aren’t as refined as Jawbone’s since they only show sleep, restlessness and wake. In comparison, Jawbone shows estimates of deep sleep, light sleep and REM. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s a completely accurate picture of your night since fitness trackers are only monitoring movement and can’t always tell what various movements mean.
Fitbit Alta: Notifications
The notifications aren’t as robust as other devices. You get three basic call, text and calendar notifications displayed on the Alta’s screen accompanied by a short buzz.
Longer texts get cut off and you’ll have to pull out your phone to read the whole message though. Unfortunately, you don’t get third party app alerts.
Reminders to move also pop up every hour with 250 step mini goals. Throughout the day, the numbers change to reflect how many steps you’ve taken. If you don’t want to be constantly bothered, you can customize the reminders to start and end at specific times, and even days.
It’s actually an entertaining, whimsical aspect of Alta I didn’t expect. I’m used to my Apple Watch yelling at me to stand, but Fitbit took a different approach. When the time comes, the Alta will vibrate once quickly then show a little character with a different message like, “Feed me steps!” or “Still 145 more to go!” It’s a small thing but appreciated nonetheless, and actually motivates me to take a break to walk around.
After completing your goal, the Alta freaks out in congratulatory bursts of buzzing and on-screen “fireworks.”
Alta will show an image of a dead battery when it’s running low on juice, which isn’t the most helpful notification considering it tells you as it’s dying. It makes more sense to let you know in percentages over time, or to even have an option to display it with the clock face. There’s a battery indicator in the app, but seeing it on the Alta would be more useful.
Fitbit Alta: The app
If you’ve used a Fitbit before, the Alta app will look familiar since it’s basically the same interface.
It’s a fine ecosystem, full of social challenges with badges to earn that’s all clearly laid out and easy to use. You can also log food, water and track your weight loss with a plan as well.
Each day is presented on the main screen, and you tap a metric to get a broader look at your performance. For example, tap on the sleep score for the day and you can take a look at your sleep over time, and filter by day, week or month.
Overall, the Fitbit app is one of its strong points. Easy to use and clear, it offers enough data without feeling overwhelming.
Initial setup however, is a crapshoot. I’ve experienced connection issues with two Fitbit devices now, including the Alta. It requires a bit of finagling for it to sync and work, sometimes requiring restarting the phone after deleting your other Fitbit devices. After that, syncing works perfectly fine.
Fitbit Alta: Battery life
Fitbit notes that the battery life of the Alta should span five days depending on usage. A week is pretty standard for screen-less fitness trackers. I was able to get a whopping eight days from the gadget after only charging it once. That includes time spent at SXSW, where I hit 13,000-15,000 steps over four days, then a few days covering GDC.
The Alta also tracked my sleep and buzzed reminders to move when I was on planes or in sessions.
During the conference madness, I was barraged with text and calendar notifications as well though I didn’t have email notifications turned on.
I did take it off for showers since it’s only splash, sweat and rain resistant but that was about it.
The proprietary charger is again, different from the other Fitbit chargers. The Alta one is a clamp that connects to the back of the module. It’s definitely more secure than other magnetic chargers.
Managing to make it a full week and day on one charge is quite impressive in my eyes especially since I’m used to refueling smartwatches every couple of nights. The Alta screen is always off and it’s not exactly a battery eater but my usage of smart devices during travel usually require lots of recharge time. I’m curious to find out whether the Alta can repeat this feat and will definitely wear it during my next bout of travel.