While fitness bands used to be king just a few years back, smartwatches have quickly become the norm when it comes to smart wearables. This is evident not only by the Apple Watch being the best smartwatch/health device around, but also by Fitbit's last two products — the Versa and Ionic.
Fitbit knows it needs to keep pushing forward with smartwatches in order to stay relevant, but it can't abandon its bread and butter just yet.
The Charge 3 is a culmination of everything Fitbit's been working towards, and the end result is perhaps one of the best fitness bands we'll ever see before they're completely dominated by smartwatches.
More than a basic fitness tracker.
The Fitbit Charge 3 excels at all the usual fitness tracking features while also offering week-long battery life, a sleek design, mobile payment support, and notifications from your phone.
- Excellent slim design
- Battery lasts up to 7 days
- Phenomenal fitness tracking
- Fitbit Pay on Special Edition
- Notification support isn't very reliable
- The Fitbit Versa offers a full smartwatch experience for just $50 more
Fitbit Charge 3 What I like
The Fitbit Charge 3 does more right than wrong, so let's dive right into the good stuff.
Although I never owned the Charge 2, it's immediately apparent that the Charge 3 has a vastly superior design compared to its predecessor. The aerospace-grade aluminum body comes in two colors (Graphite Aluminum and Rose Gold Aluminum) and does an excellent job at pairing well with either a sporty silicone band or a fancier leather one. It's lightweight, clean, and just an all-around great design.
Speaking of bands, Fitbit's four collections (Sport, Classic, Horween Leather, and Woven) offer good variety for changing up your look. There's a new band system to connect these to the Charge 3 that's easier to use than any other Fitbit wearable, but that also means your old Charge 2 bands won't work here.
Each end of the bands you end up choosing flank the Charge 3's touchscreen display that's quite a bit larger than that of the Charge 2's. The screen is plenty sharp and bright for this kind of device, and the experience you get while interacting with it is surprisingly feature-rich.
Fitbit manages to cram a lot of stuff onto the Charge 3's screen without it ever feeling cluttered.
A swipe up from the clock brings you to the Fitbit Today dashboard where you can see your steps, distance, active minutes, heart-rate, and more. If you do a swipe down, you'll see any notifications you've received from your phone. Unlike the Charge 2 that was limited to just texts, calls, and calendar appointments, the Charge 3 can retrieve any and all notifications. Also, if you're using the Charge 3 with an Android phone, you can send off quick replies to texts, WhatsApp messages, etc.
Lastly, a swipe to the right shows a small selection of available apps, including Exercise, Relax, Timers, Alarms, and Weather (a Calendar app is coming soon). You shouldn't expect app support similar to the Apple Watch anytime soon, but for a device that's primarily a fitness band, this added functionality is great to have.
All of those extra features are simply extras that live alongside the Charge 3's health and activity tracking, and in those regards, the Charge 3 excels. Along with your regular fitness tracking you've come to expect, the Charge 3 also offers guided breathing sessions, 5ATM waterproofing so you can record swims in the pool, and if you use Fitbit's female health tracking tools, you can view data relating to that directly on your wrist.
This is a Fitbit through and though, and when you combine that with the added smarts, great design, and a battery that easily lasts one week on a single charge, you end up with a seriously powerful fitness band.
Fitbit Charge 3 What needs some work
The Charge 3 is the first fitness band from Fitbit to go beyond basic call and text notification support, and while that's a change I'm glad the company made, the execution hasn't been the best.
Some notifications come through in a timely manner, but others take a solid 30 seconds or up to a minute from hitting my phone to actually appear on the Charge 3. Notifications certainly aren't the main focus for a device like this, but if the feature's being offered, I'd prefer it to actually work and be consistent.
Should you buy it? Yes, but keep your options open
On its own, the Fitbit Charge 3 is an insanely good gadget and probably one of the best products Fitbit's made to date. It brings a ton of fitness + health features to the table and absolutely nails them while offering fantastic battery life and a seriously great design. Add that together with some decent smart features and a starting price of $149, and you end up with a winning formula.
However, if you're willing to spend just $50 more, you can step up to the Fitbit Versa and get a full-fledged smartwatch with all of the same fitness features, on-screen workouts, better notification support, and access to a ton more apps.
If you were looking into the Charge 3 because you want something that gets you into the Fitbit ecosystem while also offering smart features, I'd take a hard look at the Versa before throwing your money down on the Charge 3. It does a better job at combing health + fitness into a good-looking package that's still not terribly expensive.
On the flip side, if your main focus is getting a rock-solid fitness band that just happens to support notifications and basic apps, the Charge 3 won't let you down. It's unclear how much longer Fitbit will keep making fitness trackers before it moves over completely to smartwatches, but right now, this is the best one the company's ever made.
This review was originally written in October 2018.
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