Fitbit heart monitors are reliable after all, the Consumer Reports magazine is now insisting, after having tested the devices in its own laboratory.
Earlier this month, the popular manufacturer of activity trackers was slapped with a class-action lawsuit, having been accused that two of the gadgets it commercializes are grossly inaccurate while monitoring the user’s pulse.
According to the plaintiffs, the Fitbit Surge and the Fitbit Charge HR have been wrongly hailed as a reliable means of tracking one’s heart rate, especially during strenuous physical exercise.
Allegedly, the devices, powered by PurePulse technology, under-report the real number of heart beats occurring in a minute, underestimating pulse by an average of 25 beats, and sometimes being off by a highly dangerous margin, amounting to 75 beats per minute.
The claims made by Fitbit customers from Wisconsin, California and Colorado were supported by a cardiologist who analyzed readings recorded via the wearables with others made during electrocardiograms (EEGs), and indeed identified major errors when using the activity trackers.
At the time when the lawsuit was announced, Fitbit representatives declared that their devices are marketed for fitness purposes only, and while they are clearly more advanced than heart rate trackers found embedded in gym equipment, they aren’t supposed to be as precise as medical heart monitors.
Also, officials have argued that the lawsuit is completely baseless, since the technology behind the wearables is actually too sophisticated in order to allow such faulty readings to appear.
Now, it appears that the company has at least one supporter on its side, since the Consumer Reports magazine is also purporting that Surge and Charge HR are accurate in their measurements.
Experts conducted a series of tests involving the two devices, verifying the precision of their heart rate monitors during high-intensity interval training and other highly demanding workout sessions.
The gadgets were worn at various distances from the wrist, in order to discover if there would be major disparities between readings, based on the location of the trackers.
The values shown by the Fitbit heart monitors were contrasted against those measured while using Polar H7 chest strap monitors, which are normally believed to provide much sharper measurements.
Overall, it was determined that the Fitbit wearables are almost just as exact and reliable as their counterparts, readings differing by just around 3 heart beats in the comparative analysis.
The only statistically significant difference was encountered while using the Charge HR during especially difficult training sessions.
For instance, a female volunteer was found to have a pulse of 150 beats per minute (bpm) as recorded by the Polar H7, and of 139 bmp while wearing the Charge HR, the margin of error being thus of around 7.3% in the latter case.
Even so, inexact readings identified at such moments were easily offset by placing the trackers on the forearm, instead of keeping it in on wrist.
The fact that the Consumer Reports experiment didn’t reveal any major glitches when relying on Fitbit’s Surge and Charge HR for keeping track of one’s pulse doesn’t necessarily mean that such errors never appear.
It may simply be that the trial wasn’t extensive enough in order to take into account all the categories of customers that own such devices, and all the physical exercises that they perform while working out.
Even if faulty readings only happen once in a while, they can still be extremely hazardous, because they can cause people to overexert themselves while believing that their pulse is normal.
Putting too much strain on the heart can cause palpitations and even potentially life-threatening heart attacks, which is why the accusations regarding Fitbit’s gadgets must be more thoroughly investigated before they can be safely dismissed.
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