If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t already own a fitness tracker, Fitbit is trying to rally the last of them. This much was evident with its spring product lineup, which introduces new wearables that look no different than older Fitbits, but now come at a lower price point without sacrificing too much in features.
The $99 Inspire HR is the most interesting of the 2019 Fitbits, as its announcement consolidates and eliminates the Fitbit Alta / Alta HR, Flex 2, and Zip in one fell swoop. The Inspire (available in versions with or without the heart rate sensor) frankensteins the Alta’s slim display with the Zip’s clip-on pedometer mode and Flex 2’s swim-proofing, making it one of the more versatile budget wearables you can buy.
The most interesting of an otherwise similar-looking lineup doesn’t necessarily mean it’s exciting, though. As both Fitbit and Apple compete in the wearables space to partner with businesses and health companies for their wellness programs, the Inspire HR feels like it was created as a scalable way to get customers wearing a fitness band. But it might just be cheap and basic enough to catch on.
First things first, the Inspire HR is small, even for someone like me who’s been critical of tech companies for making gadgets that are oversized for women. This is partly because the Inspire uses the same body as the kid-friendly Ace 2, so younger wearers can graduate up to the Inspire interface when they’re ready. Put differently, the Inspire is a child-sized fitness tracker with adult features.
That means the screen is likely going to be bothersome for many adults, or those with poor eyesight. The only font size you can change on the Inspire is the clock face; all other screens such as exercise modes, timers, and step counters remain fairly tiny.
It’s something that took me a few days to get used to after having worn the much bigger Fitbit Versa and Versa Lite. However, the Inspire’s module has a steeper curve than the Alta, fitting much nicer and more comfortably on the wrist than any other Fitbit I’ve tried in the past.
Where the Inspire’s screen also improves from the Alta is its OLED touchscreen, which is now brighter and more vivid. You can tap and swipe up and down to cycle through exercise modes and metrics, and hold the button on the side to access quick settings such as battery information and turning notifications on or off.
On the subject of notifications, if you have the device synced to your phone, the Inspire can alert you to incoming calls and text messages. However, you really can’t do much with it other than look at them and acknowledge their existence. For what it’s worth, for an extra $50 to $100, the Versa and Charge 3 offer quick replies, but even that only works with Android phones, so you’re likely not missing out on much either way.
Another notification Fitbit will nudge you on is hourly steps, which generally comes at the 50-minute mark of the hour if you’ve been a bit less active. The buzz is gentle enough that it doesn’t bother me to simply ignore if I’m busy, but you can also just change the hours of the day you want Fitbit to nag you (the default is 9AM to 6PM) or turn it off entirely.
I’ve been wearing the Inspire HR for three weeks, and while it generally does the job of tracking steps and heart rates during workouts, I have noticed that the screen would occasionally flicker during my exercise. When I run on a treadmill and stop to look at my heart rate levels by flicking my wrist or pressing the side button, the screen would light up and immediately shut off, forcing me to tap the screen again. This can be easily remedied by turning screen wake off, but remembering to do so every time you begin a workout can get annoying.
Where the Inspire packs its punch is the various exercises it can track. The device can track up to 15 different indoor and outdoor exercises such as running, elliptical, swimming, and weightlifting, but to get GPS information on outdoor runs you’ll need to sync it with your smartphone. Comparing the Inspire’s treadmill stats with the Peloton Tread (a review on that is forthcoming), the Fitbit tends to over-report step count, distance covered, and calories burned than the Tread by about 5 to 10 percent. If you’re aiming for precision, this may not work for you, but it should be a negligible difference for the casual exerciser.
The Inspire HR also offers a guided breathing mode, which can be done in 2- or 5-minute sessions. The device buzzes to let you know when to deeply inhale, and again to exhale, cycling through until your time is up. I’ve been using this to lure myself to sleep on particularly restless nights, and while it’s useful, I much prefer the Versa’s implementation to the Inspire’s. The Versa uses a brief, but continuous vibration to alert you to begin inhaling or exhaling, whereas the Inspire pulses three times. It’s a small, but noticeable shift that often throws me off my meditation game.
Once you’re asleep, the Inspire also does an accurate job tracking when you go to bed and wake up. This is where the Inspire’s diminutive size is its advantage, as it is so small and light that you hardly notice it when wearing it to bed. The app offers more insight of your various sleep stages, and Fitbit said it plans to redesign the app to present data in an even more actionable way. For now, it’s good for recognizing how to shift your sleep schedules to fit in more snooze.
Battery life is also a strong positive on the Inspire, since its tiny screen uses less processing power. In the three weeks I’ve worn it, I’ve only had to charge it four times. That averages around five days, with three of those days running its 45-minute long treadmill workout tracking. Charging it back to full generally takes about an hour or two via the USB-based magnetic stand. I do wish the charger had a longer cord, though. That’s a request users have been asking about for years, but one that Fitbit hasn’t exactly addressed out of the box.
I haven’t been able to swim with the Inspire to test its swim-proof feature, but I have worn it in showers and baths with no problem. And that’s a big plus if you often forget to take off accessories before hopping in.
Taking control of your fitness should be simple, and while the Inspire isn’t Fitbit’s most groundbreaking device, there’s something to be said about a device you can just put on and go with little to no learning curve. Sticking to the basics can sometimes be the best for Fitbit; since testing the device, I’ve gotten more interest from friends than when I was wearing the higher-end Versa, which people mostly thought of as an Apple Watch clone.
If you’ve held out on fitness trackers, or found previous iterations to be too clunky, the new Inspire line combines all the greatest hits from past versions at a price that makes sense for most people. And since it’s universally designed to fit anyone from kids to seniors, you can bet on the device lasting you for the long haul.
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