This Fitbit-breaking update feels like the last straw

Fitbit Charge 5 Outdoor Hike
Fitbit fans feel like Google is telling them to take a hike. (Image credit: Fitbit)

What you need to know

  • In December, Fitbit updated the Charge 5 with new exercise modes, clock faces, on-device Daily Readiness score, and right-to-left text language support.
  • The forum post announcing the change now shows hundreds of complaints from users claiming the update has "bricked" their Charge 5s.
  • Google "can confirm" that the issue isn't caused by the firmware update, but that doesn't explain the source of these widespread problems. 

Fitbit updated the Charge 5 with a few useful features back in December. A month later, it appears that the update was ground zero for a critical bug that burned through its "7-day" battery in a matter of hours. And Google has no answers for what's causing the issue, except to say that the update isn't to blame. 

The Charge 5 Firmware Update 194.91 forum page has an innocuous list of feature updates, such as new clock faces, new languages, and bug fixes. It lets the tracker access more than six exercises on your device at a time, which the Fitbit Charge 6 first offered. And it lets you see your Daily Readiness Score on your wrist, instead of the app alone.

Behind the scenes, however, it appears update 194.91 may have kicked the Charge 5's processor into constant overdrive, burning through the battery life. Many users report needing to charge their device once or twice a day, or the device won't turn on anymore. 

For those who can still access their Charge 5s, users report that the device can no longer track your sleep overnight — one of its most important features. Others say that the Charge 5 shows the words "NO DATA" under every field, or that they can no longer sync their trackers to their phones after the update, essentially "bricking" them.

Fitbit Charge 5 showing cardio zone on screen

(Image credit: Christine Persaud / Android Central)

When asked about this issue, a Google rep told BBC, "We're still investigating this issue, but can confirm it is not due to the recent firmware update." That seems unlikely, given how widespread the complaints are. We've contacted Fitbit for comment, asking if they've pinpointed the issue or have imminent plans for a hotfix. 

Most users say that when they contact customer service, they are offered the option to buy a new Fitbit for 50% off rather than any way to resolve the issue. Others report that they followed Google Support's instructions to reboot the Charge 5, then after this bricked the device, they were told that their Charge 5 was no longer under warranty and to buy a new Google product, with no discount.

Given the fact that Google hasn't managed to fix this problem a month later, it isn't giving long-time users much impulse to stay within the Fitbit ecosystem. Many posts show people asking for alternatives to Fitbit for health or fitness tracking while lambasting Google's stewardship of Fitbit.

Fitbit leadership recently left Google, so it's unclear who will be resolving this problem or what Fitbit's next steps are. Google also chose to cut the countries where it sells Fitbits in half to align with its Pixel territories. 

Even though the Fitbit Charge 6 is an excellent device, this fiasco makes us pessimistic about its long-term prospects — or about whether the Fitbit brand will keep any loyal customers after this. 

Ultimately, this issue is exactly why we wrote that fitness trackers need to promise proper post-launch software support. A $160 fitness tracker with a monthly subscription shouldn't be falling apart from the strain of adding new clock faces and languages — and Google shouldn't be shrugging its shoulders and telling customers to buy another one instead of fixing its own mess. 

Michael L Hicks
Senior Editor, VR/AR and fitness

Michael is Android Central's resident expert on fitness tech and wearables, with an enthusiast's love of VR tech on the side. After years freelancing for Techradar, Wareable, Windows Central, Digital Trends, and other sites on a variety of tech topics, AC has given him the chance to really dive into the topics he's passionate about. He's also a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves D&D, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings.

For wearables, Michael has tested dozens of smartwatches from Garmin, Fitbit, Samsung, Apple, COROS, Polar, Amazfit, and other brands, and will always focus on recommending the best product over the best brand. He's also completed marathons like NYC, SF, Marine Corps, Big Sur, and California International — though he's still trying to break that 4-hour barrier.

  • taynjack
    When a company tells me the only fix is to buy a new device, that's certainly when I change brands. I won't be replacing my Fitbit with a Pixel watch either. I'm wearing out my last Fitbit, then I'm heading to Garmin. Selling Fitbit to Google was the worst thing that could have happened to Fitbit. Unfortunate for me, I bought my last Fitbit a month before this sale to Google happened.
  • Mooncatt
    taynjack said:
    I'm wearing out my last Fitbit, then I'm heading to Garmin.

    I'd heavily research them before you make that jump. I have a Garmin Vivo Active 4 and less than impressed. The battery life while tracking everything stinks, and the pulse ox is consistently around 10 points low when compared to a medical grade machine from a hospital. The pulse ox issue especially seems to be a long standing problem with them not interested in fixing, judging by posts on the Garmin forum.

    While this next issue may not apply to you if you want an activity monitoring watch, I decided I'm not as interested in all that as I initially thought and have tried disabling those features. I say try because it always seems to turn activity tracking back on by itself and without my input. I usually find out because I'll get a surprise notice on the watch that I've reach my daily step goal. There's no way to permanently disable activity tracking.
  • Roby117
    The battery issues are not limited to Charge 5, I have had a Charge 4 for 2 years (without any battery issues). It is definitely a firmware issue.

    I have experienced the exact same thing battery drain issues and so have hundreds if not thousands of Fitbit users since the last firmware update. My device degraded in a few days and now is unusable. Fitbit/Google is not taking any responsibility and is only offering a 35% discount on a new device purchase. Are these devices meant to be disposable? EXTORTION!

    Search for this thread on Fitbit forum and like the original post....