It was in early 2016 when, on account of my birthday, I got a Fitbit device. The model was Charge HR, which promised to track my steps, distance walked, floors climbed and so forth, as well as continuously track my heart rate throughout the day and make a note of my sleep pattern (a function I wanted because of my sleep apnea). It would also sync with my iPhone via the Fitbit app, and a neat bonus was vibrating call notifications on the device, even when my iPhone was on silent. It had a clock face option showing date and time, which meant I didn’t have to wear a watch any more.

Always an aficionado of technology in various forms, I was particularly excited to receive and start using my first Fitbit, the Charge HR. I had not jumped onto the personal, wearable technology trend so far, and most of the offerings in this category had so far seemed to be too, and needlessly, expensive. The Fitbit Charge HR was a good buy at a reasonable cost (under $200), that I expected to wear and use everyday. My order was placed at Newegg dot com, a reputable online electronics retailer which I have done business with many times in the past.

fitbit charge hr

Fitbit Charge HR (January 2016): image ©Fitbit Inc., downloaded from Welcome email from Fitbit for illustrative purpose.

I was overjoyed when I received the device. I charged it up using the provided cable, downloaded the iOS Fitbit App, registered myself at the online Fitbit community, and reminded myself to leave my iPhone’s BlueTooth on at all times—since that is how the device communicates with the app for syncing data.

The odyssey had started. At the end of each day, I’d faithfully sync the Charge HR with the app, noting how many steps I had taken and stairs I had climbed that day, as well as the sleep pattern from the previous night. It required me to wear the device on my wrist 24/7—except the times I would take a shower (since the device is not completely waterproof) and when I’d need to recharge the device; once fully charged, it held power rather well, for at least 5-6 days, before needing another charge.

Call it user psychology (or user gullibility—probably more likely in my case), I realized that my active behavior did change. Because now there was a definitive numerical goal that could be achieved (the step count), I was actually walking more, trying to walk to close-by places (like the neighborhood pharmacy or RedBox kiosk) I’d usually drive to, and engaging in activities at home that required walking around. At work, I was trying to stay on my feet more, walk about more, and even started to look forward to assignments that would require me to walk to a different building and/or go up the stairs and so forth. Enjoyable family trips to different cities became more enjoyable when I realized walking about seeing the sights enabled me to hit the 10,000 steps per day goal, without me being aware of it. The Fitbit Charge HR silently sat on my wrist and kept counting my steps, as well as alerting me to phone calls, with caller ID, when my phone was on silent or I was outdoors, in noisy places, and couldn’t hear the phone ring. I was all in. I was even wearing it to sleep so that it could accurately measure my sleep pattern, how many times I had woken up, whether my sleep was smooth or disturbed.

So imagine my dismay when in early August 2016, merely 8 months after I bought the Charge HR, a weird thing happened. While the device itself was working just fine, the rubber/polymer covering bubbled up and detached itself from the body of the device. (See photo below, left panel.)

I contacted Fitbit Customer Support in August, who—after asking the initial round of inane questions and sending me links to instructions on “wear and tear”—confirmed that my Charge HR was still under warranty, sent me a replacement, which I started synced to the app as a new device and started using immediately… UNTIL about 7 and a half months later, in early April 2016, THE SAME EXACT THING happened to the replacement device (see photo, right panel).

Fitbit Quality Issues

I had no choice but to contact Customer Service again, and they were most obliging… Ha-ha. Just kidding. They basically told me that since the ORIGINAL device was first paired/registered on January 21, 2016, the 1-year warranty on the REPLACEMENT device stayed the same, so that the replacement’s warranty had run out and I was Shit Outta Luck. Very helpfully, though, they pointed me at other devices available at their store and even offered me 25% discount for any of them—because my ‘welfare’ is their ‘main goal and customer satisfaction remains a number one priority’.

Yeah. Right.

I gave them a piece of my mind.

So I was right then; it is indeed planned obsolescence of your products, because of which after eight months’ use the device falls apart, and then you replace it under warranty – but don’t extend the warranty to the replacement device. And lo & behold! The replacement device also falls apart in exactly… wait for it… Eight months. Of course, by that time, the original warranty has run over.

I am weighing my options at this time, whether to lodge a complaint with Better Business Bureau and other consumer forums, or to approach my State Attorney General’s office. Nowhere in your documentation does it mention that the Fitbit Charge HR falls apart after 8 months of use – which means that your warranty for the product, which costs over a hundred dollars, doesn’t last two replacement cycles.

Regardless of how I decide, I am going to take to social media to educate other hapless users like me, who might have suffered the exact same disappointment after using your products.

Thank you for your offer of 25% discount, but I decline – since it is of no use to me. The next $100+ device I buy from your company would likely again fall apart in 8 months, and I don’t want to participate in that charade.

Fitbit Customer Support responded saying that they checked with a supervisor and would provide me with a “One Time Exception” and send me a complimentary replacement for my Charge HR for free. They thoughtfully included an ominous note, saying “Just to set your expectations that your warranty would not be renewed or refreshed into the replacement that you will be getting from us but we can guarantee you that your replacement is in good condition.” Yeah, whatever dude.

The second replacement came soon thereafter, I started using it. Recently, at the end of October 2017, about 6 months later, I noticed that the Charge HR’s band is again bubbling over. Since yesterday, it was suddenly dead. D-E-A-D. It won’t charge, won’t respond to short or long button presses; the usual green light that shows up around the sensor on the wrist-side is gone.

I poked around the Fitbit User forum, and found others with same or similar issues of dead device. Fitbit people have occasionally offered various types of advice, but while those worked for some, they didn’t work for others—and didn’t most certainly work for my Charge HR, which remains deceased.

At this point, I have no choice but to give up. Fitbit is not a company I want to keep dealing with. I shall need to find another fitness tracker. May be it won’t be as good, may be its app won’t be as easy to use. But at least I won’t have to deal with devices that spontaneously fall apart or Customer Service that doesn’t give a rat’s arse about that.