A fitness tracker with something for everyone

Oct 18, 2018 12:30 GMT  ·  By  ·  Comment  · 
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Charge 3 is the latest fitness and health tracker from Fitbit. It's aiming at an exact niche of customers that want to monitor their daily activities and to have access to relevant data, all for a reasonable price.

Fitness trackers are now part of our daily lives, and it sometimes feels like the market is overcrowded with products. Numerous companies that build smartphones choose to explore the fitness tracking market as well, and, as a result, we now have so many brands and watches out there that it’s difficult to identify all of them.

On the other hand, Fitbit is a company that only makes wearables (watches and fitness trackers), and it’s somewhat of an odd duck in the mix. If you think about it, their direct competitors are Apple, Huawei, Xiaomi, Samsung, and a few other companies that sell watches that are not all that bad. As you can see, all of these are also making smartphones; but not Fitbit.

I’m not sure if the fact that Fitbit only makes watches and fitness trackers is a strength or a weakness, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless.

So, where is the place of Fitbit Charge 3? What is the company looking for with this tracker? Since it’s more or less a dedicated device, we have to assume that people that want some basic fitness data from their daily activities would be the ideal customers, but don’t be deceived. Despite its basic look, the Fitbit Charge 3 is much more advanced than people might imagine, and with very few exceptions it’s closer to Fitbit Versa.

Design

One of the things that will likely get everyone’s attention when they open the package for the first time is the size of the watch. If this is your first fitness tracker, you’re going to love the minimalistic, spartan look of the Charge 3.

While it’s true that most devices in the same class are also slim and strive to be as inconspicuous as possible, Fitbit Charge 3 manages to be even a little bit stylish as well, although I’m sure that most people are going to go for functional as their primary goal.

The watch itself is available only in two colors, or better yet two variants. One is entirely black, and the other is a combination of Rose Gold and Black. The traps, on the other hand, are more varied and should offer more choices. If anything, the white strap with the black watch is the prettiest of them all.

Fitbit Charge 3
Fitbit Charge 3
Fitbit Charge 3
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Charge 3 is not all that wide, and the height is manageable, but we’ll come back to this a little bit later. All in all, if you want to double it as a watch, you can do that as well. I suspect that lots of users are going to want to wear it on the right hand and keep the left for a classic watch.

As a side note, I have to mention users who wear their regular watches on the right hand. They sow disorder and chaos and are probably anarchists, at least a little bit. So, some of them are going to wear it on the left wrist.

As for the technical details of the main body, the watch is built out of aluminum, which is not surprising and comes with Gorilla Glass 3, just like the Versa.

Functions and usage

If you’re on the market for a fitness tracker, you probably want to know everything about a device before buying it. With the Fitbit Charge 3, the choice is not that difficult because it comes with pretty much everything you could want. Or, at least, it comes with what the majority of users will ask for, and that’s not a small order.

We covered the Fitbit Versa in detail so that we can make a comparison with some of the tech from the same company. It’s also entirely possible that you’re looking at other watches available on the market, some cheaper and some more expensive.

What I can say is that if we look at the price and functionality as a single package, Fitbit is somewhere in the middle. But people rarely look at a device from an objective point of view, nor should they. It’s something that stays on your wrist most of the time, and you’re forming a bond. You need to like it.

And here comes the shocker. Some of the features available in Charge 3 are actually better implemented than in Versa. I know, I was impressed as well. There is a caveat though. None of these features make such a big difference in the end, but it does show me one thing. The company is willing to improve upon its technology, and that can only be the right direction.

Fitbit Charge 3
Fitbit Charge 3
Fitbit Charge 3
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Let’s take a look at the features one at a time, and, of course, we’ll have to start with the heart rate monitor, which is arguably one of the most advanced on the market. And I’m not just saying that for the sake of argument. During workouts, the pulse is checked every second, and at five-second intervals rest of the time. It's what makes Fitbit watches excellent.

Combined with the algorithms used by the application, it provides a unique overall statistic for cardio fitness. Although, please keep in mind that you should not use the watch as an indicator for your health, but that should be evident for everyone.

I also need to mention the operating system and the interface itself, which has vastly improved since the previous generation. This time around, the OS was developed with the help of the Fitbit R&D department in Bucharest, which did a tremendous job.

Even if there are just a few watch faces available right now, it’s still fun to use. The system is responsive, intuitive, but most of all, well-designed. What I love the most are the stick figures animations used for exercises, not to mention the various other animations available. The disco-ball for achieving the step goal for the day feels like a celebration.

Everything on the watch is done with swipes from top to bottom, from left to right, and so forth. There is also a capacitive button on the left side, with haptic feedback, for going back and for stopping the exercise monitoring process.

It’s weird a little bit because I didn’t feel this way about Fitbit Versa. Even if Charge 3 doesn’t have a color screen, it has much more character, if that’s the right word to describe a watch.

Users can choose from a selection of six different types of exercises, but the watch can detect certain activities on its own. Unfortunately, it can only recognize some of the more obvious ones, like running or swimming. Other events, such as biking, where you keep your hands steady, are not going to register unless you start the monitoring process yourself.

Fitbit Charge 3
Fitbit Charge 3
Fitbit Charge 3
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And since I mentioned swimming, I guess you figured out that the watch is water resistant as well. The maximum depth is 50 meters (about 165 feet,) which should be more than enough for everyone.

All Fitbit products are pretty good at monitoring exercises, steps, and so on, so you don’t really need to worry about accuracy. But please be aware that, just like the Versa, Charge 3 doesn’t have its own GPS, and it requires a phone in proximity for this type of data.

This takes us to the battery, and like most fitness trackers out there, it should provide enough juice. In theory, it should last for about seven days, but I used it in exercises, biking, and it lasted more than that. It’s a case by case scenario, but I guess that a week is a reasonable estimate. It’s also true that while seven days might seem a lot, there are a few devices out there that do have better performance. They lack in other aspects, but it’s relevant to mention if the battery life is essential to you.


The Good

It’s not difficult to find great things about Fitbit Charge 3. Even if we put aside the beautiful design, the operating system, and the advanced optic sensor, we’re still left with a lot of stuff.

For example, the GPS connectivity on Charge 3 is much faster than on Versa, and the watch connects almost instantly to the phone. The connection doesn’t drop, and, best of all, because there is no physical button, I can’t hit it by mistake. A similar problem plagues the Versa. When you’re biking, for example, the glove can touch one of the buttons, stopping the monitoring.

The watch also comes with a relative SpO2 sensor, which isn’t being used just yet. It’s an advanced sensor capable of detecting sleep apnea and other similar problems by measuring the concentration of oxygen in the blood. Fitbit is one of the few companies that are working on this technology, which should become available in 2019 if everything goes well.

Furthermore, Fitbit Charge 3 also comes with an NFC chip for Fitbit Pay, but the only problem is that it’s available only with the Special Edition version of the watch, and just in select countries.

The last thing I want to mention, once more, is the operating system. The way in which it was personalized makes all the difference, and I can only hope that Fitbit will consider getting those beautiful stick figure animations on other devices as well (maybe some current ones?).

The Bad

While it might look that it’s all praises for the Fitbit Charge 3, that's not the case. To be fair, all devices have various small issues, but the problems are serious only when it’s impeding customers from using their devices. Fortunately, all of the problems I found with the watch are minor, and some of them can be corrected.

The first thing that anyone will notice is that the edges where the straps come into contact with the case are a little bit raised. It’s not much, a fraction of a millimeter, but it’s enough to get stuck on clothes, for example. The problem will most likely go away after some use, but it’s annoying nonetheless, especially when the extra strap I had didn’t have the same issue.

Secondly, there is the brightness setting, which only has three options, Dim, Medium, and Auto. When the watch is on Auto, it’s not difficult to read it in sunlight or inside, but I found it to be insufficient, at least for me. I would love a High setting, even if it comes with a warning that it might drain the battery faster.

Lastly, I mentioned at the beginning of the review the fact that it’s a little bit high as a band. The problem is now that it’s too high, but that the watch has a trapezoidal shape, with the narrower edge pointed towards the hand. In some positions, I could feel it pressing on the hand, even if the strap was being used just like the company recommends.

Conclusion

Fitbit Charge 3 is definitely something that you should consider when getting a fitness tracker. The advanced optical sensor makes it a good purchase, although you need to balance it with the price, which is over the average price for such devices.

If we remove the screen from consideration and focus on the functions alone, we’ll notice that it’s quite close to Versa, which is probably the reason for the $150 price point. And then we have to keep in mind that it comes with support for more apps and watch faces, and it integrates the relative SpO2 sensor.

When all is said and done, Fitbit Charge 3 is probably one of the complete fitness trackers available right now, and it’s not difficult to see why it would be an excellent choice for everyone, albeit amateur or professional.

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Fitbit Charge 3
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