In brief: Before getting absorbed into Google, Fitbit is launching one more fitness wearable. It might not be the best time to do so, but the Charge 4 is a compelling upgrade to its predecessor that brings improvements in the right places. That is, if you're willing to sacrifice battery life and trust Google to support it with software updates throughout its useful life.
For better or worse, Fitbit is launching a fitness tracker in the middle of a global pandemic, with high hopes that it'll still prove useful to people who want to stay active, even when locked inside their homes.
The Fitbit Charge 4 doesn't deviate from the general design formula that made the previous generations so successful, but it does feature some overdue updates to the internals. The most important new feature is the built-in GPS, which means you no longer need to keep it tethered to a phone for that particular functionality.
Turning on the GPS function will influence battery life dramatically. The Charge 4 lasts for up to one week on a single charge with GPS off, but if you decide that you need location tracking, that figure goes down to just five hours. At least you get a "GPS-powered heat map" and seven GPS-based exercise modes.
Fitbit has also added NFC so that you can pay for goods and services at 500 retailers and 10 transit systems in 44 countries through Fitbit Pay, which brings the Charge 4 even closer to a smartwatch in terms of utility. You won't be able to install apps or play music from the device, but it does give you Spotify controls.
The Fitbit Charge 4 is up for pre-order and will start shipping on April 13, if you think $149.99 (or $169.99 for the special version with an extra reflective or woven band) is a fair price for something that is a middle ground between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch. Still, Fitbit is hoping you'll also subscribe to Fitbit Premium for $79.99 per year, which is why you get a 90-day trial with your purchase.
Last year, Google revealed that it was buying Fitbit for $2.1 billion, which is more than Facebook was willing to pay. Of course, Google heralded the acquisition as a strategic move to make Wear OS shine in the fitness department. The buyout is still pending and the DOJ is studying its privacy implications for consumers, but mind you that the Charge 4 might be the last of Fitbit's signature products before it gets absorbed into Google.