Read our review of the Fitbit Alta to see if it's the right fitness tracker for you.

By Catherine Lee
May 13, 2016

It seems like everyone has a fitness tracker these days, and with Fitbit leading the pack, I was curious about the new Alta. I currently use a Jawbone Up band and was looking for a similarly compact tracker that would track activity, sleep and, most importantly, have a screen that would display things such as time and steps as I was moving. My Jawbone Up is an earlier model without a screen nor Bluetooth connectivity, so my biggest gripes are having to manually sync the device to my phone whenever I want to check my stats and not being able to check my activity progress in real time.

Initial setup

Right away I liked the Alta’s sleek look and that you could swap out the band for different colors pretty easily. The packaging was easy to open and was very minimalist—it came with the band, charging cord, wireless sync dongle and warranty pamphlet. There weren’t any instructions included in the packaging, which was interesting—instead, it directed you to the website for setup instructions. This didn’t bother me, but I could see other people wanting everything in one place. I had difficulty with the clasp the first time I tried putting on the band, but once I got used to it, it was pretty easy to take on and off. I especially liked how lightweight and thin it was—I barely noticed it was on my wrist most of the time. I wore my band everywhere and all the time, only removing it to charge and shower.

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Activity tracking and the app

The Alta tracks steps, calories burned, distance traveled, exercise, sleep and also has the option to input food and water intake for more accurate calorie counting. It also has a handy feature of silent vibrating alerts for alarms and even calls and text messages. The OLED screen is touch sensitive and you can toggle between viewing the time, steps taken and distance traveled by tapping on the screen. It is also supposed to “wake up” and have the display show whenever you flick your wrist, but I found this to be inconsistent. Similarly, the touch sensitivity of the screen was also inconsistent, oftentimes requiring me to jab at the band multiple times before my text preview showed or an alarm was disabled. It wasn't a deal breaker, but it was somewhat annoying at times.

I didn’t really use the calorie tracking since it would require me to input everything I ate, so my laziness prevailed. I could see it being useful for people who wanted to lose weight or be more conscious of what they were eating. I really like that the constant syncing allowed me to track my progress in real time, showing how far I traveled and how many calories I burned during workouts and just every day activities. The silent alarms were useful for reminding me to get up and walk and for my morning wake up call. I really like how everything was customizable via the app and the interface was really clear and easy to use. While I found the activity tracking enough information for my workouts and daily stepping, more hardcore fitness enthusiasts might feel this tracker falls short since it doesn’t measure heartrate and doesn’t seem sensitive enough to precisely track every activity. Another area where this tracker fell short was the sleep tracking. While it tracked how long I slept, one thing I really liked about my Jawbone that the Alta is missing is tracking my sleep pattern. I would love for the Alta to track the light and heavy points of my sleep cycle and then be able to set a smart alarm to wake me during the lighter points of my sleep cycle. Sadly, this tracker is missing that capability.

Syncing and battery life

It was pretty easy to set up the band and sync it with a smartphone—the app is easy to use and everything syncs pretty quickly. The battery life was as advertised—with constant use, I got about five days with it without needing a charge. I will say that a more precise battery percentage marker on the band’s screen would be helpful—it just shows you a battery icon with a fill marking showing how much charge is left, but it doesn’t really give much of a heads up when it’s actually on its last legs. The app is connected to your email, so every week I would receive an activity summary with how my sleep and movements tracked over the previous week with badges and motivators sent occasionally once you hit certain milestones.

Overall notes

I really like the sleek, light design and easy-to-use app. The touchscreen display, wireless syncing and text/call alerts are definitely upgrades over my old Jawbone Up band, but I really wish it could have more advanced sleep tracking and improved sensitivity of the touchscreen. The positives outweigh the negatives, though, and this is a solid tracker for everyday use.

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