I’ve long been a fan of Fitbit and love their devices. When Fitbit’s newest tracker came out, I thought it would be a good idea to ask someone who’s not used a Fitbit in quite some time to take on this review. Guest blogger Gillian agreed to take on the challenge. – Erin
Fitbit bills its Charge 3 fitness tracker as its “most advanced fitness tracker yet” – is it enough to woo back latent fitbitters?
Fitbit Charge 3 review
The new Fitbit Charge 3 has a host of advanced features aimed at going head to head with its competition in the fitness tracker world. Advanced fitness tracking combined with some smart features such as notifications, combine to create a tracker/smart watch hybrid at a sensible price.
Fitbit Charge 3 looks & styling
The Fitbit Charge 3 arrives in a package that is not dissimilar to an Apple product. White box, few instructions other than to download the Fitbit app. The base model comes with a plastic band similar to previous generations and models of Fitbits. The tracker itself comes in either black/graphite aluminum or blue grey/rose gold. (Additional special edition devices are also available in frost white sport/graphite and lavender woven/rose gold aluminum.) The model I have been given is the blue grey/rose gold and immediately, I find the combination is attractive and sophisticated.
The size of the Charge 3 tracker seems middle of the road for Fitbit products. About one inch wide and two inches long, it is not as sleek as the Alta but far less bulky than the Versa and Ionic models which have large, square screens.
Setting up Fitbit Charge 3
Setting up the Charge 3 is as simple as opening the box, downloading the app, charging the tracker and locating the device via Bluetooth then syncing the device to the app. Altogether, it took about 45 minutes or so to charge the tracker enough for it to be ready for setup. It was a simple process though that allowed me to multi-task with other things while the whole setup was going on.
The charger itself is an USB cord with a “clip-on” type charger that can connect to your computer or with an USB power adapter. The cord itself is pretty short at 18 inches so is best suited to sitting beside your laptop or countertop charging.
Charge 3: Charging & battery life
Using my laptop, it took about two hours to fully charge the Charge 3. A seven-day battery life is one of the boasted-about features of the new Charge 3 and I will agree it doesn’t disappoint. On day seven, with 24 hour use, my Charge 3 still has 33% of its battery life left.
If you haven’t had a Fitbit before, getting the most out of the tracker requires entering some basic info into the Fitbit app such as age, height, weight. This information helps provide more accurate detail for calorie-burning and heart rate tracking.
The Fitbit app also includes a product-specific “How to Use” section which can help navigate through the many features of the Charge 3.
Nice feature: female health tracking
For women, the Charge 3 provides tracking of your menstrual cycle, sending notification before your period is due and identifying your “fertile” window. A logging feature also allows you to track how you feel, which could be helpful for women who suffer from migraines and other period-related symptoms.
During the setup process there is also the option to “turn notifications on” from your phone which will send a notification to the tracker when you receive a notification on your phone. The basics include phone calls, text messages and calendar notification but can also be expanded to include any app on your phone that you have set up for push notifications. For simplicity’s sake, I stick with the basics.
Fitbit Charge 3 features
The first feature I gravitate towards is the ability to customize the watch face on the tracker. From digital display to analog watch face, the tracker offers five different designs. A traditionalist, I choose the analog display. It’s sleek and minimal.
The Charge 3 does come with a ton of features:
- Heart rate tracker
- Step counter
- Exercise tracker
- Sleep tracker
- Calories burned
- Calories consumed
- Silent alarm
While the model I have does not include Fitbit Pay, for a moderately higher price you can purchase a Charge 3 model that allows on the go payments from your fitness tracker. In Canada, only credit cards from select banks can be connected to Fitbit Pay.
‘Smart’ fitness & sleep tracking accuracy
Those who had earlier versions of the Fitbit will appreciate the heart rate tracker and ability of the Charge 3 to automatically recognize (some) activities such as walking, running, swimming and sleep.
This is one of the advancements that makes the Charge 3 much more user-friendly that earlier tracker versions. I had a Fitbit tracker six years ago and found I could never quite get the proper tapping sequence to put it into sleep-tracking mode. On the Charge 3, you don’t need to do anything, after a period of non-movement, the tracker automatically starts recording your sleep. And accurately. After six nights it recorded the time I went to bed and woke up pretty much to the minute. It’s worth noting that sleep tracking stats are simplified for periods of sleep under 3 hours. To get full Sleep Stages info you need to sleep longer than 3 hours.
The Charge 3 will also recognize if you are embarking on a period of exercise without the need to go into the app and select the type of exercise you are doing. That feature is still available, and if you want to GPS record any exercise activities still necessary, but if you’re just headed out for a walk, the tracker can be set to automatically recognize the activity and log it accordingly.
Fitbit Charge 3 Swim Tracking feature needs some work
One of the new features of the Charge 3 is that it is waterproof/swimproof and boasts a swim-tracking app. Apparently you can set the length of the pool you are in for even more swim-tracking information but in spite of consulting the “How to Use” manual in the app and several online forums, I can’t find it.
I’m not a swimmer so I lent the Charge 3 to a former competitive swimmer to try it out. (Having the same person test all the features is ideal and would provide the best results, but in this case it’s not an option, so infer what you may.) The results were less than impressive. The first swim was to test if the tracker would auto-recognize swimming. Of a 2500m swim in a 25 meter pool, the tracker logged only 950 meters and only 30 minutes of the 45 minute swim.
We found out later that it’s possible to set the pool length on your wrist by swiping to the left from the home screen, selecting ‘Exercise’ then swiping left until you hit Swim. Swipe up and from there you can select the distance and unit (metres/yards).
It performed slightly better when swimming was selected as the activity from the tracker’s menu. It logged a 45 minute swim but only 1,550 meters. Both modes performed poorly on time tracking as well: per 100 meters the tracker logged from 2’45” to 3’45”. Not impressed, the swimmer disagreed that their “slow” 100 m time is still below 1’20”. If you are training for an Ironman, the Charge 3 may not provide the most accurate results.
We’re told Fitbit is aware of undertracking of laps for stronger swimmers so expect improvements to the swimming features in future updates.
Better performance with other activity tracking
The Charge 3 did perform very well tracking hiking and walking activity. In auto-mode the tracker correctly identified the start and end of a one hour and 15 minute hike, logging average heart rate and calorie burn. The auto-tracker doesn’t calculate your pace per kilometer but when you log your exercise through the app it performs very well and provides accurate GPS tracking along trails and roads. Logging heart rate during exercise provides more information than previous trackers, including a calorie burn estimate and how much time spent in “fat-burning”. I find this to be an excellent exercise motivator.
The heart rate monitor tracks all the times you enter into “fat burn”— intentional or not. A trip to my storage locker to retrieve deeply buried Halloween items records the effort and credits me with 14 minutes of fat-burning. I feel rewarded for my frustration and effort.
Diving deep on Charge 3 Sleep Tracking
The updated sleep tracker provides a significant amount of information that the sleep-obsessed and not-so sleep obsessed will find helpful. As mentioned, there is no need with the Charge 3 to try an elaborate tapping routine to start the sleep tracking. It automatically knows when you are asleep (it only begins logging sleep information for more than 3 hours of sleep however) and tracks light, deep, REM sleep and the number of times total time spent awake. The Fitbit app provides detailed information about each type of sleep and “sleep insights” which identify changes in your sleep pattern and what that may mean to your day, from feeling not-so-refreshed to less REM sleep which can make exercise feel more intense and harder than usual.
Vibrating alarms are a nice wake up
To compliment your sleep, the Charge 3 offers silent alarms which allows the user to set several vibrating alarm times. If you don’t like waking up to sound, the vibration is a helpful alternative. The downside is that there is only one standard vibration setting which I am assuming is meant to mimic a duck quacking as tipped off by the image of a duck quacking on the tracker’s face. For a morning wake up, it’s a bit intense. The tracker offers a touch “snooze” mode but I think this feature would be much more attractive and appreciated if there were multiple vibration modes from slowly increasing to gently vibrating. It is effective though.
Notifications work well, come in handy
One of the most useful features of the Charge 3 is the ability to receive notifications on the tracker. If you don’t enjoy being tethered to your phone at all times, the Charge 3 gives you (Bluetooth) distance and will let you know if you have a text, call or calendar notification as well as other push notifications you choose from your phone. Don’t want to miss those Instagram comments? The Charge 3 is on it. Since I am always missing phone calls I found the call notification extremely helpful. For texts, the Charge 3 offers a limited set of replies for Android users. iOS users do not have this option.
Navigating through the fitness tracker screen options can be a bit challenging. The screen is not always responsive and requires a bit of fiddling at times. If your fingers are cold, good luck. Several times I had to warm up my hands to get the screen to respond. It can be a challenge to remember which features to swipe up/down/right for but overall, the tracker is fairly easy to interact with.
Overall review of Fitbit Charge 3
My last fitness tracker was an early version Fitbit and I found the Charge 3 helped me fall in love with fitness trackers again, years after the shine of my original Fitbit had faded. The new features and in-depth information from the Charge 3 brought me back on the fitness tracker wagon.
While it seems that the swim tracker needs a bit of work, being waterproof is a very useful feature for the Charge 3 that allows more use without the worry of getting it wet.
What I like most about the Fitbit Charge 3 is that it is an attractive hybrid between a fitness tracker and smart watch. Switching out the standard plastic band that comes with the Charge 3 with the leather band creates an attractive watch accessory that looks sharp in any setting. The smaller tracker size that pairs with an adequately size screen is perfect for smaller wrists. Where other fitness trackers tend towards very “sporty”, the Fitbit Charge 3 provides style and information in a sleek package.
For those who don’t want to invest the extra hundreds of dollars for a true smart watch— and wouldn’t likely use all the app features and options of a smart watch anyway— the Fitbit Charge 3 offers a great array of features and functions starting at $199.
Note: As of 2023, the most recent model, the Fitbit Charge 5, sells for about $199 and is available from Amazon.
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