Fitbit has made quite a significant amount of progress when it comes to fitness trackers and smartwatches, offering users a mix of options and even accessories to customise their look. I’ve had the pleasure of owning and reviewing the full range of devices released in the past two years and I’ve enjoyed how each of them perform daily functions along with a few additional features on the higher-level units. Devices such as the Ionic and Versa are upper and middle tier smartwatches, with a lot to offer. But, it’s devices such as the Charge 2 and Alta HR that gain market success, thanks to their competitive pricing and well-round feature set for tracking fitness activities. Having owned a Charge 2 for quite some time now, I’m more than happy with how it tracks my daily progress, sports, heartrate and sleep patterns. When Fitbit announced they were updating the Charge range with the new Charge 3, I knew it would be right up my alley, especially with new enhancements such as a touchscreen interface. How much improvement does it bring to the party over the previous Charge 2 and is it a must-have for existing owners?
Build and Design
At first glance, there isn’t such a major design overhaul that you wouldn’t immediately recognise the unit as a Fitbit and more specifically from the Charge family – okay, maybe not so much the original Charge. Fitbit has made quite a number of changes that have affected the build quality of the Charge 3, which makes it lighter, slimmer, more durable and, with the updated strap, more comfortable. In the two years I’ve owned my Charge 2 device I’ve been through three or four new straps as a result of playing contact sports and running long distance, which creates quite a lot of wear and tear. One of the first impressions on the new Charge 3 was how the strap attached to the capsule. Unlike the previous model, it doesn’t clip in as you slide it in from the top. Instead, it plugs straight in and is clipped in place by two pins, and held in place by another two circular pins. This makes it a lot more durable in the long run as there is a lot less flex in motion. Conducting a pressure test on the straps of both units reveals how much play the Charge 2 has, with zero play on the Charge 3. And for any persons that go hard at the gym, while running, or playing any kind of sport, this alone makes quite a significant difference.
The Charge 3 has the included benefit of having a higher IP rating than its predecessor, offering water resistance up to 50m. This means that users will be able to take their tracker along for a swim without needing to worry whether it will survive. One of the key changes to support the feature is the addition of the inductive button on the side, which replaces the physical button. This means that the capsule is completely sealed off to the elements. The underside is more curved than angular, which also makes it a bit more comfortable when in position.
A lot of work has gone into the redesign of the screen. Comparing the two units side by side while in standby mode, you won’t notice any of this. Turn the screen on and there’s a marked difference. For starters, the Charge 3 sports a grayscale, OLED touchscreen, which is also made with Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 to protect the screen. This also means it won’t easily scratch as on previous units. The screen itself is 40% larger, which means the bezel is smaller and there’s a lot more real estate to work with. Where the unit lacks in comparison to more recent units is the lack of screen interfaces to choose from out the box. There are rumours that Fitbit may be working on a patch for the software, but even after a recent update, you’re still left with eight to choose from. Personally, I would have liked to have the option to choose a screen that offers me the time, date, steps and possibly even heart rate all on one interface. With only two interfaces including the date, and only one of those having a step counter included, the choices are severely limited. I’ll touch (no pun intended) more on the performance of the touchscreen further down in the review.
Overall, while the device doesn’t look like a complete overhaul of the Charge 2 design, the Charge 3 offers a number of impressive design and build changes to make a noticeable difference where it counts. Without even touching on the improved and added features, users will appreciate these fine details and that goes a long way.
Fitness and Features
If you’re looking for a simple, easy to use fitness tracker, then the Charge 3 is a good device. If you’re looking for something a little more advanced, with a number of features to back it up, the Charge 3 is also a good device. The range of the Charge 3 (as well as the Charge 2) is fairly wide. The number of features on the Charge 2 is already quite impressive and more than capable of handling all your fitness, tracking and social needs today. The Charge 3 not only improves on these features, it also extends the list by some margin.
As mentioned previously, the Charge 3 is a fairly easy to use tracker. It has a number of automated tasks built into the unit so users never really have to perform any functions in order to track your daily routines, or even fitness activities – around 15 of them. It measures your steps, the distance, calories, active minutes, floors climbed, sleep and heart rate, all without you ever having to lift a finger. These aren’t just simple marketing words thrown at individuals in an attempt to lure them in. These are actual, proven capabilities. During the first three days after receiving and setting up the Charge 3, I didn’t have to tell it to do anything. This was strategic on my part, as part of the initial tests, which all worked well. In fact, the only real reason I actively mark the start and end of my workouts is to ensure that the Discovery app, which links to the Fitbit app, collects a minimum of 30 or 60 minutes of my activities to ensure I get my full complement of points for said workout.
When it comes to the hardware, we’ve already discussed a few of the physical hardware capabilities of the Charge 3. What I didn’t mention is that the unit also includes NFC, which would allow users to make payments by tapping their devices at tills. Unfortunately, this feature is still locked in South Africa. The unit does have a few drawbacks from a hardware perspective, in that it doesn’t include a built-in GPS and also doesn’t have any storage capacity to store music. While it does have Bluetooth support, it doesn’t go beyond the point of pairing the unit to your smartphone.
The touchscreen also has a few new capabilities on top of the 40% increase in its size. One simple new addition is that there’s now a stat to display your sleep for the night, directly from the Charge 3. This means you no longer have to log into the app to view it. The screen also has auto brightness, and while it’s not overly sophisticated, it is able to brighten and dim the display based on whether it’s day or night.
Fitbit has made a few changes to how it tracks your sleep. The range of Fitbit devices are already the leading trackers for sleep across all brands, even more expensive smartwatches from the likes of Apple, Samsung and Huawei. The Charge 3, as with all the other Fitbit devices with heart rate monitors, track sleep automatically. It measures your heart rate, time slept, times woken during the night, as well as a vibration alarm. The inclusion of the Sp02 sensor will allow the unit to track and diagnose sleep apnoea, although that feature has not yet been activated. Still, this is a nice to have future capability.
The Charge 3 isn’t a smartwatch, neither does it claim to be. But that hasn’t stopped Fitbit from adding a feature smart features to the device often reserved for smartwatches. These includes viewing of calls, texts, emails and calendar events. The Charge 3 goes a little further by allowing users to accept or reject calls, clear notifications received on your smartphone directly from the watch, while also being able to read a few mails and send pre-set quick replies. The unit is also able to display the weather, while this is updated via your smartphone.
In terms of your health benefits, the unit, as with the Charge 2, provides users with guided breathing exercises to help relax, while also including move reminders and the likes. There are additional features such as logging food, water and tracking weight, all via the app. The Charge 3 now also includes the tracking of women’s health, which includes tracking periods, recording symptoms in relation to this, predicting your ovulation schedule and many others. Some of these are also viewable via the device interface.
There’s a good community for the Fitbit devices. This is among the best in the world, especially given the market size it enjoys. These allow users to engage directly with friends or via the social groups, which users can interact with. These social features allow users to compete in daily, weekly or monthly goals with friends, while also being able to create challenges and setup virtual goals such as hikes and other goal-based challenges.
Performance and Battery Life
There has been a number of improvements on the Charge 3, as already mentioned above. When it comes to the performance of these features, the unit performs really well. On the Charge 2, there is a one to two-minute difference when using the auto-tracking activity tracker and when you actually started. On the Charge 3, the unit still takes a minute or two to recognise an activity, but what it does well is check the heart rate and movements beforehand on where the workout would have possibly started and factors that in at the end.
When you do manually start tracking an activity, starting it isn’t overly complicated. Ending an activity, however, is a little trickier. This is not due to the addition of the inductive button, but because Fitbit added a secondary pause screen between an activity and ending it. If you long press the button, as you do on the Charge 2, it simply brings down the drop down while the activity is still being tracked in the background. This is both good and bad. Good because you’re able to read messages you’ve missed even while still busy tracking. And bad because there’s no shortcut to ending an activity. The pause screen is a little complicated to use as well. Clicking on the screen simply restarts the activity, while pressing the button once does the same. Users will have to swipe and then select end from the pause screen. When you’ve just completed a 10km run, or 90 minutes of football, the last thing I wanted to do was battle my way through ending the activity.
One of the other hardware improvements include a larger battery capacity, which allows for 40% longer battery life, up from five days to seven. Over the two weeks during the review period, I only charged the unit twice, once when receiving it, and another a week later. It would be good to see how it evens out over time, but so far so good. Even with all the features turned on the battery still lasted the same seven days.
Charging the unit, however, still relies on a proprietary charging cable that docks the unit. It would have been nice to have a Type-C charging port, but my assumption here is that it takes up too much of the minimal real estate on the device.
The Fitbit Charge 3 offers a great number of new features over the Charge 2, while also improving on a few others. The team has done a great job of redesigning the unit to make it sleeker, lighter while also increasing the screen size. Users have the luxury of choosing how they wish to use the device, as a simple tracker or a more advanced tracker for semi-advanced users.
As already mentioned, the unit isn’t labelled as a smartwatch and with good reason, but still quite a number of smartwatch features as a somewhat cross between a basic fitness tracker and a smartwatch. Even better still is that the unit doesn’t cost anywhere near close to many other units. In fact, it costs only a fraction more than the Charge 2 currently, making it a really worthwhile purchase by any standard.
The Charge 3 costs R2,999 at all your leading retailers and will definitely replace the Charge 2 as one of the most popular trackers available on the market today.
Fitbit Charge 3
The Fitbit Charge 3 improves over the Charge 2 in almost all aspects, bridging the gap between a fitness tracker and smartwatch. At a price of R2,999 the unit is almost a steal.