Tech

Fitbit doesn’t back its products. So why should you?

Fitbit Charge 5Image: Fitbit

Tech devices have an inherent expiration date—eventually batteries die, soldering breaks, capacitors burn out. You never know exactly when it’ll be, but that day does come. 

But it’s an entirely other situation when the company that creates the device also kills it with a software update. Not only that—it then dusts its hands of the problem. 

That is what you can expect from Fitbit.

Back in 2021, PCWorld purchased a Fitbit Charge 5 for evaluation. It did well—I ended up naming it a top pick among the Fitbit models you could buy then. After months of use, I moved on to test other gear. At that time, I thought Fitbit had finally turned the corner with reliability. Earlier trackers didn’t always behave after app updates, but this one had held up smoothly.

Then late last year, I pulled out the Charge 5 to check a feature. I synced it to a phone, configured it, and ran the firmware update. It went dead. Black screen. No response.

Fitbits can be finicky after firmware updates. I did the usual first steps—attempted reset, attempted re-pair with the phone. Then I let it alone for a battery drain, in an attempt at a hard reboot.

AY / Foundry

Cue the New Year. I pulled the Charge 5 back out, but its screen still wouldn’t come on. Turns out it’s a known issue, and one happening since summer 2023. Customer support behaved exactly as described by other Fitbit Charge 5 owners: I was instructed to try a standard reset, then charge the battery for a bit. After neither of those steps worked, I was told my device was out of the one-year warranty period and offered a 35-percent-off coupon toward a purchase on the Fitbit website.

Yes, Fitbit Charge 5 owners have pay to replace a device broken by the company who made it.

The coupon also comes with a big restriction: You can’t use it on a Fitbit Charge 6, which is the only comparable tracker on the site. (The Charge 6 succeeded the Charge 5 in fall 2023, and Fitbit does not sell older versions of its trackers.) The code is only applicable to the full price of a device, too. Right now with New Year’s sales going on, it counts for little.

I reached out to Fitbit for comment on why this policy is in place, but at press time, I had not heard back.

PCWorld

Fitbit could make this situation right—offer a much bigger discount, for starters. I would prefer to just fix our Charge 5. As best I can tell, the display is simply not being told to fire up: a software issue, not a hardware one. I’d love to be able to push a newer firmware update (or roll back to a previous version) via a computer. I actually did some searching to see if I could sideload the firmware myself, but nothing came up.

Stuff goes sideways sometimes with tech. I get that. But this anti-consumer behavior is why I’m now changing how I recommend fitness trackers. You should see Fitbits as a one-year purchase in the US, and two years in regions with better warranty protections. Any additional time you get is a “bonus.” When you’re looking at the cost of a Fitbit, you should imagine how you’ll feel about paying that on a yearly (or biannual) basis to stay in the ecosystem.

Personally, I don’t believe that model deserves your hard-earned cash.

Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering software, PC building, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.

Recent stories by Alaina Yee:

Best Fitbit: Find the right one for your lifestyleFitbit Sense 2 review: Great hardware, but difficult to recommendGrab a healthy 30% off the Fitbit Charge 5 during Prime Day

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