Fitbit Charge 3 Review: Better Fitness Tracking, Longer Battery Life, Same Price

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By Alexander Maxham November 01, 2018, 12:59pm
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Fitbit’s Charge 3 is a fitness tracker with a few smartwatch features sprinkled in.

Fitbit has launched the successor to its most popular fitness tracker ever, in the Charge 3. It’s the third-generation of the Charge, which has been fairly successful due to its $150 price point that also offers heart rate monitoring and a more useful display than something like the Alta or Flex. Making it a very popular fitness tracker for the company. But the Charge 3 is launching at a rather interesting time in the wearable space. There are a slew of new smartwatches launching right now, with Qualcomm having just released its Snapdragon Wear 3100, as well as the new Apple Watch having just come out. Of course, the Charge 3 isn’t actually a smartwatch, but it is a fitness tracker. That’s a segment that smartwatches have been taking over, as they have been adding more and more fitness tracking features to those smartwatches. But Fitbit believes that the fitness tracker still has a place in the market. The real question here is whether you should buy the Fitbit Charge 3, however. We have spent a few weeks with the new wearable, and well, let’s talk about the good and the bad of this new fitness band from Fitbit.

Specs & Unboxing

As usual, Fitbit doesn’t give us a lot of information on the specs side of things, (like the processor, RAM, display size/resolution), etc. But we do know that it sports a grayscale OLED display, this is to help extend the battery life of the Charge 3, and also because the Charge 3 has a slightly curved display. The battery size is unknown, but Fitbit says that it should last around seven days on a charge. It also can save up to seven days worth of activities on-board, without syncing with the Fitbit app. It uses Bluetooth 4.0 to connect to your smartphone or laptop for syncing with Fitbit’s app. Syncing range is about 20-feet, which is pretty similar to other Fitbit bands out there.

Internally, Fitbit has included a three-axis accelerometer, optical heart rate sensor, altimeter, vibration motor, a relative SpO2 sensor and NFC (though this is only available in special editions in the US, available in all models outside of the US). Fitbit made the band for the Charge 3 from a flexible and durable material that is similar to many other sport watches out there, and it also has an aluminum buckle. The bands are interchangeable as usual for newer Fitbit products.

In the box, Fitbit includes the Charge 3 of course, as well as the classic wristband which comes in both small and large. The large one is on the Charge 3 by default, but if you have a smaller wrist (most likely for females), you’ll want to use the small version. And of course there is also the charging cable. In the special edition model, you will get the woven or sports wristbands in both small and large sizes. That is in addition to the regular wristbands being included. The special edition is about $20 more, but for the extra band (which starts at $20 more anyways) and NFC, it’s actually a really good deal if you want to use Fitbit Pay.

Design & Hardware

The Charge 3 matches most of Fitbit’s recent design philosophy it has been using with the Ionic and Versa, and now the Charge 3. That includes removable bands, with a button on either side, on the bottom of the Charge 3. This makes it easier to remove the bands, but it also means that the bands are proprietary - that doesn’t mean that third-parties won’t make any though, as we’ve seen with the Ionic and Versa. The casing for the Fitbit Charge 3 is an aluminum one, which comes in either rose gold or graphite aluminum. With the black band, it’s a graphite aluminum color which looks really nice actually. Especially if you’re not looking for something that’s flashy, but something that works with everything. Whether you’re in workout clothes, or a suit.

What’s interesting with the Fitbit Charge 3 is the fact that there is no button on the Charge 3 now. Where the button used to be, on the Charge, Charge HR and Charge 2, it’s an indentation to look like a button, but it’s actually a touch-sensitive button. Similar to what HTC did on the U12+ this year, but this button actually works better. You can just touch it to turn on the display, go back to “home” or turn off the display. Of course, bringing your wrist up will also turn on the display. The button works really well actually, and some might say it works better than the actual button on the earlier generations of the Fitbit Charge 3.

Underneath the Charge 3, there is the SpO2 and Heart Rate sensors. These are used, not only for your heart rate, but to also measure your sleeping patterns. There is also three gold contacts towards the bottom, which is used for charging. On the front, it’s basically all screen. Though, with this sporting a grayscale OLED display, the black bezels blend in with the screen, so it looks like the entire front is screen when it actually isn’t. The touch screen works pretty well. There were no issues of it being unresponsive at all, which is good. But a colored OLED display here would have been nicer. However, Fitbit likely decided to go grayscale so that people  could get better battery life out of the Charge 3, and seven days is pretty nice to have out of a fitness tracker.

Connectivity & Battery Life

Connectivity, as it is with any wearable, is super important. For Fitbit trackers, that is how you will sync your information from your wrist to your smartphone and to Fitbit’s servers. So having a stable Bluetooth connection is super important. In the early days of our review (we got a unit from Fitbit before it was actually available in stores) we did have some trouble with syncing the Fitbit Charge 3 with any Android smartphone. But a software update quickly fixed that issue. Since then, there hasn’t been any issues with syncing the Fitbit Charge 3, which is a good thing for sure. And we’ve used it with a couple of different Android smartphones, without any issues. That includes the Google Pixel 2 XL and the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

When it comes to battery life, typically the number that Fitbit touts is not quite what we experience in our review phase. But the seven days that Fitbit is touting on the Charge 3 seems to be right on target. We were able to get seven full days out of the Charge 3, and likely could get eight full days on a charge. That is pretty impressive. Now, the battery life is going to depend on what you are doing with the Charge 3. If you are syncing it several times a day, working out a few times a day, getting a lot of notifications from your smartphone, etc., that will all affect the battery life, and might give you less than the seven day number that Fitbit boasts on the box. But it does last longer than any other tracker from Fitbit with a heart rate sensor, which is important for those that want to keep track of their heart rate while working out.

Software

The software on the Charge 3 works pretty similarly to the Charge 2, though it does have a slight face lift. Some things have moved around. Swiping left to right will bring you into different options. This includes going to Exercise which allows you to track a specific exercise, Relax where you can work on your breathing, as well as Settings, Weather and a few other things. If you want to see all of your stats for the day, swipe up from the home screen. This will show you the battery percentage, and the rest of your stats. The battery percentage is a nice addition here, as that was something that the Charge 2 did not have, but the Ionic and Versa did.

The watch faces on the Charge 3 can be changed, but there’s not much customization available here. There’s only a handful of watch faces available for the Charge 3, and the only data it will show you is your steps taken, the time and your current heart rate. So if you were hoping to see your steps taken and your calories burned, that’s not possible here, you’ll need to swipe up to see that and the rest of your stats. There is a watch face here that one might think was inspired by the rings on the Apple Watch. It’s a circle that indicates your steps taken. So instead of showing you how many you’ve taken compared to your daily goal, it shows a circle. With the Apple Watch, everyone wants to finish those circles, and that is also the case with the Fitbit Charge 3, people want to finish that circle and get all of their steps in. It’s a nice and clean watch face, the only real complaint that we have here is that you can’t really customize any of the watch faces to your liking.

Workout Tracking

The Charge 3 sports all of the workout tracking features that you’ve seen on other Fitbit trackers. That includes tracking your steps, calories burned, your workouts (including running, elliptical, weights, aerobics and more) and of course your sleep. But Fitbit has added a few new features this year to the Charge 3. For one, it is now fully waterproof, and like the Ionic and Versa, it can track your swimming. So you can take this into the pool and track your swimming. On top of that, Connected GPS is still here. Many would rather have on-board GPS for running, but Fitbit went the Connected GPS route here so that you could get better battery life out of the Charge 3. Fitbit is positioning the Ionic as the tracker for runners, which does have on-board GPS.

Perhaps the biggest new feature of the Charge 3 is goal-based workout tracking. Previously you could track your workout and the stop it once you’re done. Now with the Charge 3, you can set a goal, which might be a time-limit, a specific amount of calories, or distance (if you are running). And once you’ve hit that goal, it will vibrate to let you know you are finished. Of course, you can still choose to just track it, and not have a specific goal in mind. But adding this feature is actually a pretty big deal, and it works really well. Say you want to run a 5K, but instead of having to keep checking your wrist to see how far you’ve gone, you can just wait until it vibrates then you know you’re all done. You can do this all on your wrist as well, without needing to open the app.

Workout tracking is pretty good on the Charge 3, but calories burned are still not that accurate. This is due to the heart rate sensor. While Fitbit has done pretty well at improving the heart rate sensor, mostly by adding the SpO2 sensor in recent products, it is still not too accurate. The reason for this is because it is measuring your heart rate from your wrist. It will never be 100-percent accurate until it is measuring it from your heart. So if you are a someone who is really working out hardcore, and heart rate really matters, you’re going to want to get one of those chest straps that Polar has, which will be more accurate. But for the most part, it’s pretty accurate, and in-tune with what smartwatches put out.

Wrap Up

Fitbit’s Charge 3 is the perfect fitness tracker for most people. Those that are looking for something to track their activity, and motivate them to be more active and/or lose weight, the Charge 3 will work perfectly fine. Those that are a bit more hardcore, and run many miles a day, everyday, may want to look at the Ionic, unless Connected GPS is something you’d rather have. The goal-based tracking is also a really big deal for Fitbit and it will likely be added to other fitness trackers in the near future, though Fitbit hasn’t confirmed that it will be. For $150, the Charge 3 does basically everything the Charge 2 does, plus a bit more, and it’s the same price. That makes this a really good upgrade, especially if you weren’t looking for smartwatch features like what the Versa and Ionic feature. The good thing is, Fitbit has a tracker for everyone’s needs and price range now.

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November 01, 2018, 12:59pm
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