Fitbit Charge 3 Full Review: Not Perfect, But Close
Since its initial launch, the Fitbit Charge has been one of the bestselling fitness trackers on the market. The second version, the Charge 2, took our top spot on a number of lists—including best Fitbit and best fitness tracker overall. But some things were missing even on this fan favorite, notably water resistance and swim tracking.
With Fitbit’s third go-round, the brand-new Charge 3, they’ve hit nearly every mark. Technology and sensors found on the wearable brand’s smartwatches are now beefing up the Charge, and a sleeker design plus some nice extras make this Fitbit’s best fitness tracker yet.
What To Know About the Charge 3
The most exciting thing about the new Charge 3 is that it is now water-resistant — something fans have been asking for since the first version of the popular tracker. You can wear your Charge 3 in the shower or the pool with no problem.
Here are some of the key features and specs:
- Water resistant to 50 meters
- 7 day battery life (depending on usage)
- 24/7 heart rate tracking
- All-day activity tracking — steps, floors climbed, active minutes, & more
- Sleep tracking — time asleep, stages
- 15+ goal-based exercise modes
- Automatic exercise recognition
- Smartphone notifications
- Special Edition version with Fitbit Pay
As you can see, the Charge 3 stays true to form with plenty of tracking capabilities, but it adds some of Fitbit’s most advanced technology, a sleeker design, and water resistant body to elevate the tracker.
Unboxing & Initial Setup
The Charge 3 has been out about a week at this point, and I’ve spent a lot of time reading through the initial reviews of early purchasers. There are quite a few negative reviews from folks who either couldn’t get the tracker to work or had it die within a few days. This is pretty common with brand new products — there will always be lemons, and there will always be some bugs that need to get worked out.
Having said that, I was a little worried when I couldn’t get the Charge 3 to turn on right out of the box. In the past, every Fitbit I’ve tested has had at least a half battery—enough juice to get me through the setup. I plugged the tracker in and fortunately it started working right away.
Setup for me was fast (took less than 25 minutes), including the update and pairing.
Even if you’re new to Fitbit, the setup process is very intuitive. It walks you through most of the process. The only tricky part can be figuring out where to go to adjust clock faces and a few other custom features. For that you’ll just need to tap the device in the upper-lefthand corner of the app’s main page.
What’s in the box: The Charge 3 comes with bands in two sizes (small and large) and a charger. You’ll have to go online for any additional instructions or info as it doesn’t come with any literature. (A win for the environment, but a little annoying if you’re new to the brand).
Let’s move into some specifics.
It’s difficult to talk about the Charge 3 without making comparisons to the Charge 2, but even without that comparison the Charge 3 is a fairly basic wristband at first glance. It has a slim design and a black and white touchscreen.
Fitbit made improvements on the resolution, so the screen looks crisp and it’s easy to read in sunlight. There’s less wasted space on the screen itself as well; the screen is larger than the Charge 2 but also has more active screen area.
The side button is now inductive (as opposed to the physical button that stuck out on the Charge 2), adding to the sleekness of the design. For interface purposes, the inductive button functions as a back or home button, which is nice to have when you’re swiping around the screen.
The Charge 3 is available in Graphite/Black and Rose Gold/Blue Grey, with two Special Edition options (more on that later) available in Rose Gold/Lavender (woven band) and White (sport band).
Sensors & Components
Let’s talk just a little about the guts of the Charge 3.
The Charge 3 features all the fixings for solid fitness tracking. That includes:
- Optical heart rate monitor
- Relative SpO2 sensor
That final point is something included on all three of Fitbit’s latest devices (Ionic, Versa, and Charge 3), but it’s not being used just yet. The SpO2 sensor will have a lot of value in the future as it can help track issues such as sleep apnea. No word yet on when any new apps will utilize this sensor, but it’s worth noting its availability.
Fitness & Activity Tracking
There’s not much new to report regarding fitness and activity tracking on the Charge 3, with the exception of more exercise options and the addition of swim tracking.
Within the app, you can set all sorts of goals for activity, steps, exercise, and so forth. The device reminds you to move each hour by default and most activities are logged automatically. It’s highly intuitive and overall this type of tracking is why Fitbit is a leader in wearable tech.
Based on my few days wearing it so far, the tracking seems to be accurate and I’ve found myself being better about moving around and being more active after a few months not wearing a tracker.
We haven’t yet put the Charge 3 up against other devices in terms of activity and fitness tracking, but on its own the Charge 3 seems to be a great match for anyone looking to improve overall activity levels or be empowered to aim for better health.
Combined with other functions and tracking features within the app, the Charge 3 offers a powerful method of understanding your overall health.
One of my favorite things about Fitbit is insightful sleep tracking. Fitbit has put a lot into developing and improving their sleep tracking capabilities. Sleep is tremendously important when we’re talking about overall health, so having an idea about your habits is a smart way to ensure you’re working toward a better you.
The Charge 3 offers up the latest and greatest sleep tracking technology. I also appreciate that this device is lighter and slimmer than previous devices so wearing it to bed wasn’t a big deal from the get-go (some others — namely the Ionic — took time to get used to wearing to sleep).
There’s not much new in terms of data presentation through the Fitbit app, but for those of you who are new to Fitbit, here’s a look at the app.
- This overview gives you an idea of your entire night.
- Another tab shows how you compare to others.
- A closer look at the stages — swipe through for info on each stage.
In the sleep tracking part of the app, you can set goals and bedtime/wake-up times, as well as continue to see trends and improvements over time.
I’ve always found the Fitbit sleep tracking to be fairly accurate, and the Charge 3 is no exception. While it can be slightly off during the fall asleep/wake up stages, this is largely due to the changes in our bodies as we start to drift off and as we begin the torturous process of waking up in the morning.
Female Health Tracking & Guided Breathing
Female Health Tracking is the newest feature in the most recent Fitbit devices, but Guided Breathing has been around for a while. Both are great additions to a holistic health emphasis.
Guided breathing is called “Relax” on the Charge 3. You can select from 2- or 5-minute sessions that help you lower your heart rate and breathe deeply. This feature is especially useful when you’re stressed out or overwhelmed and it guides you through breathing to help you relax. The Fitbit monitors your heart rate variability know when you’re breathing correctly.
For women, the new health tracking feature lets you track menstrual cycles and everything that happens within those cycles. Logging details helps you see trends over time, cycle details, fertility windows, and more.
Charge 3 Vs. Charge 2 and Versa
We already took a look at the Charge 2 and the Charge 3 (see our full article here), and it’s safe to say that the Charge 3 is a solid upgrade from its predecessor. The key takeaway here is that the Charge 3 is offered at the same price as the Charge 2 originally (though the 2 is marked down to clear out stock) — which was already a pretty good value — but has water resistance, an improved design, and the latest and greatest in tech.
Compared to the Versa, which is about $50 more, it doesn’t have the same shine. The Versa is an affordable and sophisticated smartwatch hybrid with a great design. You’ll get more bang for your buck if you’re in the market for a smartwatch-esque tracker and if the $200 price point is worth it to you. See our full review of the Versa here.
Blank Screen Issues
I do need to mention a few issues — both a known issue with the Charge 3 and an issue I initially experienced.
On my first day wearing the Charge 3, the device kept freezing and going blank when I tried to clear notifications. I spent some time on the Fitbit forums and found a pinned post explaining that Fitbit was working on a fix for a known issue where the screen stayed black when off the charger. No mention of this being related to clearing notifications, though, so I chatted with support.
The rep I spoke with had me “replace” the Charge 3 in my app and ~voila!~ Problem solved. She explained that the black screen issue was now fixed, too, so head on over to support if you have one and are having issues.
I’m pleased with the Charge 3 so far, especially after getting the screen issue fixed. Having tested every new Fitbit since the Charge 2, I can see a marked difference in the technology and design of the 3. Though there are still some bugs to be worked out, I feel confident in recommending it both to newcomers to Fitbit and to those looking to upgrade.
Though the Charge 3 is a great device, it’s not quite perfect. Here are some of the negatives:
- Connected GPS only: Not having built-in GPS is a bummer on any fitness tracker. However, at the price point and given the size, it’s not the end of the world.
- Few watch faces: Currently, there are only a few watch face options, and I don’t love any of them. Not a deal breaker, and hopefully there will be more soon, but worth noting.
- Known issues: Those issues I mentioned above might be enough to scare away — or at least delay — some potential customers
- No music controls: Not being able to control music from the device is a nuisance, and it may be worth investigating other options if you want that ability.
- Notification & communication limited: Quick replies will only be available on Android and notifications overall are somewhat limited.
Even with those drawbacks, there is plenty of goodness on the Charge 3. A few of our favorites are:
- Lightweight design
- Good battery life
- Latest technology = better accuracy and more tracking options (& more possibilities, like rumored sleep apnea tracking)
- Water resistance and swim tracking
- Emphasis on holistic health
We really like the Fitbit app, too, so that’s another plus with the Charge 3 or any other Fitbit you may decide on.
Keep an eye out for more articles as we put the Charge 3 to the test against other consumer faves!