Fitbit is the most popular fitness tracker manufacturer in the market today, with a range of products available for consumers – and now, a Fitbit Blaze smartwatch for the more sophisticated wrist-minded consumers among us. However, the company is now at the heart of a heart rate monitoring lawsuit over inaccuracies regarding user heart rates. The lawsuit particularly concerns the Fitbit Charge HR and the Fitbit Surge.
Consumer Reports says the Charge HR and Surge are both quite reliable
Consumer Reports, one of the most trusted US voices in the market, decided to test these devices to see whether or not the lawsuit had any validity. Consumer Reports (or CR) said that the lawsuit seems invalid, according to its own tests:
“In our previous testing, we had captured our data when the subjects were at rest, and when they were undergoing moderate exercise. But the problems cited in the lawsuit had allegedly cropped up during harder workouts. For our new test, we recorded our subjects’ heart rates at four levels of intensity: at rest, a walking pace (110 bpm), a jogging pace (130 bpm), and a running pace (150 bpm). All tests were conducted twice. A total of 64 heart rate measurements were recorded.
The new testing confirmed our earlier results: Both the Charge HR and Surge were very accurate when compared to the reference Polar H7 ECG monitor. During nearly every trial, the variance between the chest strap and the Fitbit devices amounted to no more than three heartbeats per minute.
However, there was one exception: When our female tester wore the Fitbit Charge HR on her wrist and got up to higher intensity levels, the margin of error crept upwards. During one run, when the chest strap read 150 bpm, the Fitbit Charge HR read 144 bpm. During the second run, the device read only 139 bpm. That problem went away when she wore the Charge HR on her forearm. (And the Fitbit Surge was accurate no matter how it was worn.)”
What the Consumer Reports study shows
Consumer Reports (or CR, for short) says that the Fitbit Charge HR and the Fitbit Surge are rather accurate, although there are instances when the Charge HR wasn’t so accurate. The Fitbit Surge was accurate regardless, CR says.
This seems to confirm that the consumer lawsuit against Fitbit regarding its devices is unjustified. However, there are some factors that aren’t entirely highlighted with CR’s claims.
What the Consumer Reports study doesn’t show
The CR Fitbit Charge HR and Surge study doesn’t show performance decline or maintenance over time
While CR can say that Fitbit’s products are reliable, they can’t say that the devices are 100% reliable. The truth of the matter is that no product is completely, entirely reliable. Working in the tech field, I can say that no device is perfect. No matter how great or accurate the device when you first receive it, it only takes a few weeks or a few months for something to decline in performance. If you purchase a smartwatch that is IP67 or IP68 water and dust certified, it only takes a few months to find out that the watch isn’t water-proof when you run water over it and it stops working.
Putting this into perspective with CR and Fitbit, it seems that the devices are in top shape at first, but it doesn’t show what the Fitbit Charge HR and Surge will perform like after 3 months or 6 month. Any brand new car will work excellent at first, but it may take 6 months for you to notice that the car has a bad engine that starts to do weird things at weird times. Computers work the same way; those that are non-operational at the start should be returned immediately. The CR study shows us that we can have some confidence about the product – as a new product, however, not as an old product.
The CR Fitbit Charge HR and Surge study doesn’t show whether or not the specific user devices were faulty
If the CR study says that the Fitbit Charge HR and Surge are reliable devices, then the next step involves testing the actual devices of the lawsuit complainants in question. It could be the case that they received faulty, flawed devices. Samsung and Apple have had their share of faulty devices that they’ve had to recall. Apple has recalled world travel adapters and some iPhone, iPad, and MacBook chargers within the last few weeks due to flawed design, as well as faulty cameras in the iPhone 6 Plus. Fitbit, then, isn’t the first or the worst to have flawed, defective products.
The problem with the Fitbit Charge HR and Surge study by CR is that it didn’t test the specific devices responsible for recording the inaccuracies. Could it be the case that sweating, body fluids, and rain and dust (the elements) are responsible for the heart rate inaccuracies? We’ll never know, because CR never tested those specific devices.
It’s the equivalent of going to turn in your car and claim a defective system, only to be told that your claim is inaccurate for your car because all Toyotas (your make and model) have been tested and found to work perfectly. Well, that may help future buyers, but that doesn’t address the problem of your specific car. Even if all the models, the same as yours, come out working fine, that doesn’t mean that your claim about your specific vehicle is unfounded or wrong.
CR’s test, in effect, is rather irrelevant. There could be a number of causes behind why the Fitbit Charge HR and Surge devices of the lawsuit filers aren’t working properly. Just saying “Fitbit’s devices work great” doesn’t deal with the issue at hand: that of the lawsuit filers whose specific devices aren’t working properly.
Consumer Reports wants you to have faith in Fitbit’s products, which is good, but what if you find yourself in the same predicament as these lawsuit filers in a few months – with a good product that’s validated by CR but stops working as it should? What should you do? At that point, you won’t hardly be able to return the product, so you’re stuck with a “sour lemon” that won’t benefit you for the lifetime of what CR said was a trustworthy, reliable, and dependable device.
This is the reason why reports such as those of CR, in this specific instance, do little to help consumers whose devices aren’t performing at tip-top shape. Any device can and should perform well right out of the box (that shouldn’t surprise us), but its performance or decline over time usually gets consumer attention.
At the end of the day, whatever happens in the Fitbit Charge HR/Surge lawsuit, it makes sense that the few inaccuracies recorded with Fitbit’s devices are not common to just those few devices. If users claim that the devices are inaccurate, and the new, tested devices are already recording inaccuracies, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the inaccuracies will only grow over time.