Fitbit Alta vs Fitbit Flex – 8 Differences You Need to Know

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There have been other Fitbit releases since the Flex but I see the Alta as its true successor. With a sleek and customisable straps the Flex and Alta have more aesthetic appeal as they monitor your everyday fitness tracking. 

But with a three year release gap between these two releases, there’s plenty of ways these wearables differ from one another. So here’s my thoughts on the key differences between the Fitbit Alta and Flex activity trackers.

Alta can tell the time.

It doesn’t sound a big deal, but when you compare the two Fitbit releases, it definitely changes the way you use it. I know many Flex users who wear the device on one wrist and a watch on the other. Using the Alta as your activity tracker means you can ditch the watch and just pop on your wearable.

The clock faces on the Alta are customisable, you can show the date or seconds in a digital design, and choose whether to display the time in portrait or landscape view on the touch tap display.

Although there’s a clock face on the Alta, the wearable doesn’t provide an activity timer, like the Vivofit 2 and 3 do. For measuring circuit training activities, set the time to show a seconds count. OK, maybe not the best approach, but it is an improvement from the Flex.

More information on your wrist

The Fitbit Flex only displays the progress towards your daily step target in the form of 5 LED lights on the band. And though it tracks workouts and sleep, the data can only be reviewed on the Fitbit app. Designed with tap display, the Alta lets you cycle through a range of data fields specific for today.

  • total steps
  • distance in Kilometres or Miles (an estimate since there’s no GPS)
  • calorie expenditure
  • active minutes
  • time of day
  • alarm if set

All the metrics above are available to Flex users, but through the Fitbit app.

SmartTrack on the Alta

A feature which first debuted on the Fitbit Charge HR, SmartTrack recognises wrist movement patterns and automatically converts them into exercise entries in your log for you. A feature available on the Alta but not the Flex

SmartTrack is best at identifying these four activities:

  • walking
  • running
  • outdoor biking
  • elliptical training

There are also two non-specific categories which are used to collect everything else; aerobic workout and sport.  These help to recognise activities which lack the repetitive motions of standard cardio workouts. In theory, whether you’re having a kick about in the park or a spot of circuit training, SmartTrack should pick up on these motions and register it as activity.

The Alta will should automatically register an activity if it detects movement for a minimum of 15 minutes. You can down-weight these settings to 10 minutes, or even increase up to 90 minutes. You can set thresholds for each activity type, so you could recognise any run over 10 minutes but only any walk above 45 minutes, which might be handy if you do lots of walking in your job but don’t these to feature as workouts.

Once you’ve finished the activity, you can review it on the Fitbit app from your phone and check that its filtered into the right category.

Inactivity Alerts on the Alta

Fitbit Flex users won’t have access to this next feature. The Alta tries to get you to shake off the legs if you’ve walked less than 250 steps in a daytime hour; it’s a small ask but quite effective. You’ll feel a little vibration on the wrist with a persuasive reminder like “Fancy taking me for a walk?” or “It’s step o’clock”. Fitbit will track how many of these hours you complete with more than 250 steps. Achieve 9 out of 9 hours and you’ll get a strike through on the line; see Wednesday above.

Alta movement reminders - Fitbit app

In the Fitbit app, review how many of the hours you went over the 250 step threshold.

Auto-sleep tracking on the Alta

One feature Fitbit is renown for is its sleep tracking. In the older Flex wearable, you manually set the tracker into sleep mode by tapping the unit 5 times firmly with your finger. It worked effectively but had its frustrations if you forgot to set it or take it out of sleep tracking mode.

With the Alta, sleep tracking is automatic, meaning a much simpler process that’s easier to track.

For both wearables you set an alarm on the Fitbit app, which will wake you through a vibration on the wrist. Ideal if you share a bed and want to get up in the morning without disturbing others!

Smartphone notifications on the Alta

That screen on the Alta has a few extra uses. It can notify you of whose calling your smartphone as well as the first line or two of a text message (it truncates after so many characters). You can also set up calendar alerts to your wrist. A gentle vibration from the unit, nudges you to these alerts so you can look discreetly in your own time.

Different colours, different styles

There are four set colours for the Fitbit Alta: Black, Blue, Plum and Teal, which is a trim down of the 10 starting colours available on the Flex release.

For both products, the tracking unit can be fully detached from the band, allowing you to accessorise with different colours, styles and materials. For Flex users, the black unit is cocooned inside the band, whereas the Alta unit slides and clips into a new strap in seconds. It’s a much better approach than the Charge and Charge HR releases which are permanently attached to the strap you choose.

Though they both still get dirty…

I’ve ranted previously about how easily Fitbit devices get grubby. Unfortunately the Fitbit Alta is no better as this photo shows dirt and discolouration after a mere 2 weeks of usage on the teal band.

There are methods to reduce the dirt but these aren’t perfect. My recommendation is to pick a darker colour for everyday use. If you really want to wear a colour like teal, save it for an occasion where it’s not going to get exposed to sweat and dirt.

Fitbit Flex is much cheaper in price

Though Fitbit still sell their Flex online for $99 through their official site, you can find it much cheaper on sites like Amazon around the $79 mark. The newer Alta device retails currently at $129, which is reasonable considering the extra connectivity and automated tracking features.

Verdict: Fitbit Alta vs Fitbit Flex

To get the most out of your lifestyle tracking, it has to be a device you want to wear around the clock. The Alta is a decent improvement on the Flex; which should be noted is Fitbit’s most successful release of all time.

In my opinion the Alta beats the Flex hands down on beautiful design. It then backs that up with brains too, thanks to its SmartTrack, automated sleep tracking and inactivity alerts, all which enable a user to spend less time logging and more time jogging.

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I'm a super keen injured runner with over 20 years experience in races and endurance training. Get in touch with me over Twitter, G+ on in the comments below.

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