Fitbit Charge 3 full review

The Fitbit Charge 3 is the updated version of the Charge 2, Fitbit’s most popular activity tracker to date. The Charge range has a slim design and core fitness features that appeal to many for the price and rich list of health-insight functions.

The Charge 2 (launched in 2016) was our #1 fitness tracker, based on its range of features and price. The Charge 3 takes what was good about the Charge 2 and makes it better by refining the fit, features and accessories to appeal to an audience that may not want to spend £200 or over on one of Fitbit’s larger-screened smartwatches, the Versa and Ionic.

With a bigger, better screen in a lighter, waterproof form - but still winning on all the benefits that made the Charge 2 a bestseller - the Charge 3 looks like a formidable upgrade without spoiling what those 35 million loyal users love about the best-selling tracker.

Check out all the Fitbit range in our best Fitbit roundup, and find the right tracker for your needs.

Fitbit Charge 3: Price, release date and availability

In the UK the Fitbit Charge 3 is available now from the Fitbit Store, and online retailers such as Amazon UK, Argos, and John Lewis. In the US it is available from the Fitbit Store, and online retailers such as Amazon.com Best Buy, and  Target. 

Fitbit Charge 3 models

The base price for the Charge 3 is £129.99 / US$149.95 / €149.95 / A$229.95. You can pick from Graphite tracker with Black silicone band or Rose Gold tracker with Grey-Blue silicone band. This is actually £10 less than the retail price of the older Charge 2, although you can find that version cheaper online - see our Best Fitbit Deals for more savings.

A Special Edition Charge 3 adds NFC for mobile payments (Fitbit Pay) and costs £149.99 / US$169.95 / €169.95 / A$269.95. These come in Graphite with White band or Pink with woven band, and will ship later than the regular versions in November 2018. Fitbit Pay isn't widely compatible with banks in the UK right now, but is better in the US. If you're not bothered by contactless payments via your wrist, the extra £20/$20 just buys you an extra band, as the Special Editions also ship with a spare Black strap.

Fitbit Charge 3 bands

Fitbit continues its slightly irritating trend of changing the strap and charger design with each new tracker, although here it’s the best strap release mechanism we've tested for a while – much less fiddly than the Versa and older Charge 2 are.

You can buy separate accessory bands for the Charge 3. Spare Classic Bands cost £19.99 / $29.95 each; this features a polygonal pattern, first seen on the Special Edition of the Charge 2. Woven Bands are £29.99 / $34.95 each. Leather Bands are priced at £59.99 / $49.95 each. Perforated silicon Sports Bands will be available as accessories for £24.99 / $29.95 each.

Fitbit Charge 3: Design and build

The Charge 3 is more curved in places than the Charge 2. Made from aluminium, it’s also 20 percent lighter than the Charge 2 (which is hardly a beast), and we could tell the difference when holding both. 

It sits on the wrist more snuggly to help improve heart-rate accuracy, but the heart-rate sensor isn’t as flush to the unit as it is on the Versa and Ionic Fitbit smartwatches. This is because Fitbit has crammed a lot of sensors into a much smaller product. It’s even referring to the tracker itself as the "pebble", perhaps a reference to the company it acquired to help it push on to smartwatch market dominance.

The pebble is now made of aluminium rather than steel and is very lightweight. A notable change is an inductive rather than physical button on the left edge, marked only by an indentation. We found this new button worked just as well as the older physical button.

You’ll still need to use the inductive button to go back in menus, but you can now tap icons like on any other touchscreen where before pressing and holding a physical button was less user-friendly. The display is built with Gorilla Glass 3 too, a decent level of scratch-and-shatter protection for such a small screen.

The vertical display is now 40 percent larger and fully touchscreen rather than only being able to react to taps. This allows you to scroll up, down and side to side through more detailed menus on a screen that can now display greyscale to improve animations (for instance, when you hit your 10,000 steps) and daylight visibility.

Fitbit Charge 3 screens

Fitbit Charge 3: Features and functions

The Charge 3 tracks steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes, floors climbed, heart rate, and sleep.

From the clock face you swipe up to see the Today app, which shows your daily stats, including Reminders To Move, which will prompt you (with gentle buzzes) to get up out of your chair and start moving for at least 250 steps per hour of the day - but don't worry, it won't wake you up during the night, unless you set a timed alarm (it vibrates so won't wake anyone else in your bed).

For more detailed and historical data you use Fitbit's excellent mobile app and/or its desktop dashboard.

Auto Exercise Recognition: The tracker automatically recognises exercises such as runs, swims, elliptical, and sports, and records them for you in the Fitbit app. Auto Stop & Start means your runs and activity are paused if you stop to take a breather halfway through, or get stopped at the lights. This is only during exercise though - you still have to manually start and stop a workout. 

Swipe left to choose from Exercise modes like run, bike, swim (yes, it's water resistant to 50 metres, and measures basic swimming metrics), treadmill, weights, yoga, circuit training and more. You can also set a goal and get real-time stats during your workouts.

If you want sets of fitness workout training sessions right there on your wrist, then consider the larger and colour-screen Fitbit smartwatches Versa or Ionic.

A neat new feature is setting Goals. Rather than going on a run for an hour, say, before you start an exercise you can now select time, calories or distance as a metric to achieve - sometimes it’s more rewarding to chase something other than that hour mark.

Use the 24/7 heart rate monitor to better track calorie burn and optimise workouts that should help you reach your health and fitness goals. You can see real-time heart rate zones to check whether you’re in the Fat Burn, Cardio or Peak zone during exercise and workouts. You can also get a personalised Cardio Fitness Score.

Fitbit Sleep Stages

The heart-rate monitor also gives greater insight into the quality of your sleep, with the full Sleep Stages information rather than the old Charge 2's more basic sleep stats. Fitbit is working on something it is calling Sleep Score to add further insight into what is now considered a key health metric.

Sleep Stages is the first thing we check when we sync our Fitbit in the morning. It's genuinely interesting, and motivational to get more (and better) sleep.

Sleep is becoming an increasingly important health metric, and you will really get into the data the Charge 3 offers - letting you see your time spent in light, deep and REM sleep. Aim for 8 hours a night, but anything over 7 should be a more realistic goal.

Fitbit uses insights it has gained through collecting (anonymised) data from its 25.4 million users, and shares this with you at relevant times. For example, you can benchmark your sleep data against people of a similar age and fitness level.

Fitbit’s SpO2 sensor is included too, something the company claims in future updates will help track medical conditions like sleep apnoea and breathing difficulties.

Fitbit Charge 3 specifications

Battery life: Fitbit claims the Charge 3 can run for up to seven days on a single charge. This is an important improvement as it’s a product you are going to want to wear around the clock in order to get the best metrics out of it. In comparison, the latest version of the Apple Watch barely makes it through two days, and so is next to useless for sleep measurement, for instance. See our Fitbit vs Apple Watch for more comparative details.

The Charge 3 now joins the Fitbit Flex 2, Versa and Ionic as fully waterproof up to 50m, meaning showers and swimming are no issue and the tracker can record laps and distance in the pool, plus the duration of your swim.

The Charge 3 is connected-GPS only, meaning you’ll still have to take your phone on that run if you want to record your route. The reason for leaving it out here is the physical limitations of a smaller tracker, and to keep the price down. The only Fitbit with built-in GPS remains the Ionic. The Versa also has connected GPS; the Alta and Alta HR do not.

Fitbit Charge 3 notification screens

Fitbit Charge 3: Software and apps

The software on the Charge 3 is like a mini port from the Versa and Ionic - indeed Fitbit is calling this its "smartest tracker", with even the promise of basic apps being added soon.

You can swipe down to view your unread notifications, of which there are many more (Caller ID, texts, Calendar, WhatsApp, etc). Charge 2 could only display calls, texts and calendar but now there is full support for all phone notifications. If paired with an Android phone you will also have access to Quick Replies when it is released.

You can even see your Fitbit Leaderboard right there on your wrist.

Female health tracking was introduced to Fitbits with the Versa, and is compatible here too. When Fitbit updates the feature later in the year it will be able to track ovulation, and you’ll be able to view this directly on the dashboard of the Charge 3.

Alarms, timers and a simple weather app that links back to your phone are here too - and while Fitbit promises third-party apps soon, we won’t be getting our hopes up for anything earth-shattering given the limitations of the display - but apps aren’t what the Charge 3 is for.

if the trackers detect that your heart rate has been higher over the past seven days it will (if you want it to) suggest some relaxation. It might also look at the correlation between sleep loss and weight gain.

Fitbit Charge 3 clock faces

Clock faces

The Charge 3 makes a nice watch, and you can choose from a selection of clock faces. This, however, is our one serious complaint with the tracker. It's easy to see the time, but a quick glance to see your step count isn't easy - the step count is small and in a toned down grey.

Maybe we're just spoiled by the Ionic's bright, colourful display, but we wish Fitbit had brought the step count to the fore in at least one of the clock-face options.

Fitbit Mobile App Screens

Fitbit Charge 3: mobile app

One of the major benefits of choosing Fitbit is the mobile app where you can go to see more detail about your health and fitness, plus all the historical fitness stats you've achieved.

The app also offers Adventure Races (where you can, for example, run/walk the length of the New York Marathon over the course of a few days, or race through Yosemite), and Challenges to have with friends.

Here you can compete against your Fitbit-wearing Friends in the Steps Leaderboard, and you can also join other groups and communities, and get Fitbit Coach guidance and set exercises.

Fitbit Charge 2 vs Charge 3

Fitbit Charge 3 vs Charge 2

Should you upgrade? For many experienced Charge 2 users just the water-proofing of the new Charge 3 will be reason enough to upgrade. No more checking the wrist as you dive into the pool or walk into the shower, or vice versa.

Battery life is much improved, too, from up to five days to an impressive seven - and a two-year-old tracker will probably have a slightly drained battery anyway.

The tracker and band designs are better, and the heart-rate monitor more accurate.

The Charge 2 is still a great activity tracker, and you'll find some online bargains, we're sure, but the Charge 3 is a decent step up, and well worth the upgrade.

See also: Fitbit Flex 2 review  |  Fitbit Alta review  |  Fitbit Alta HR review  |  Fitbit Versa review  |  Fitbit Ionic review

Verdict

We loved the Charge 2 and this update makes our favourite activity tracker even better. You get a ton of features (some new) wrapped up in a better design that's waterproof and has a week-long battery life. 

You'll find cheaper trackers out there, but none at this design quality and with as many features, and remember that you should make that money back by catching fewer buses or walking rather than driving whenever you can.

That and the small matter of being fitter and healthier make us recommend the Fitbit Charge 3 as our number-one general fitness and health tracker.