A sleek design and recent firmware update make this our top fitness tracker choice, but it isn’t perfect.
Thank goodness I spent a month testing the Fitbit Charge 3 before writing this review: if I had rushed in after a week, my verdict would have been a short and sharp “great design, rubbish software”.
But then, like a modern-day England team, Fitbit scored an injury-time winner via a firmware update that fixed many of my problems. However, let’s concentrate on this unit’s many positives first.
Chief among them is its low-profile design. The Charge 3 is only a fraction slimmer than the Charge 2, but that makes a huge difference when it comes to shirt cuffs: I never had a problem with the Charge 3, whereas the Charge 2 kept catching.
It’s also a more subtle design than before, which avoids the “why are you wearing two watches?” question if you wear a watch on one wrist and a tracker on the other. The other big change is to the screen.
This is 40% larger than before but remains crisp and easy to read in all conditions. Don’t expect colour, but with many more greys to choose from, plus OLED technology, Fitbit’s software designers have created an attractive interface that doesn’t suck battery power.
There’s no third-party app store to tap into, but you can select from eight Fitbit-supplied watch faces. It’s a touch interface too, meaning you swipe through the interface to flick between options: left to right, up to down, or vice versa.
- This works fine when you’re sitting at a desk, but it’s not something you would wish to do much if you’re running and your fingers are sweaty.
I hit similar issues with the inductive button on the left, which replaces the physical button of the Charge 2.
The idea is to get rid of a moving part that could also allow water to seep in, but I’m not a fan. It works, but needs a firmer touch than a normal button. Not that you need to fiddle with the controls much.
The Charge 3 automatically detects when you start and stop exercising, and there’s no need to manually tell it that you’re going for a walk, run or cycle ride. Or indeed a swim, because at long last Fitbit’s Charge range supports swimming.
In the pool, at least – open water swimming isn’t yet an option. You’ll need to manually set the pool length, though, and I recommend you do this before you get into the pool because the screen isn’t responsive when wet.
As with all Fitbits, its step measurement errs on the generous side; typically it would end the day with around 20% more steps than my Garmin Fenix 5X, which is stricter when deciding between a body movement and a true step.
But I found it accurate enough to take for runs without bringing my phone, even if that meant there’s no GPS tracking of my route. The Charge 3, as with most Fitbits, relies on Connected GPS, where it piggybacks on your phone’s radio.
- Another new addition? To accompany the obligatory (and accurate) heart rate monitor, there’s now a “relative SpO2 sensor” that estimates changes in your blood oxygen levels to help detect conditions such as sleep apnoea.
This feature is still in the experimental stage, but it ties in with Fitbit’s mission to be a health tracker rather than an out-and-out fitness device. It’s a subtle but clear distinction in a market otherwise dominated by fitness brands such as Garmin. That’s reflected in the app, which is simplistic compared to Garmin’s.
However, this brings me to the early problems I suffered with the Fitbit Charge 3: compatibility. Before you buy, I recommend you head to Fitbit’s support site and check its list of compatible Android phones, because you may find that yours isn’t there.
The lack of my test phone, the newly released Huawei Mate 20 Pro, is forgivable, but it’s strange that both the popular OnePlus 5T and Motorola Moto G5 aren’t officially supported.
For the first four weeks of use, I found my connection was flaky. Connected GPS didn’t work, and there were some days where it refused to sync at all. But then along came a firmware update and it has been rock solid since.
That’s a relief, because this fitness tracker has much in its favour. On average, the battery lasted for just under a week during my testing, and takes around two hours to recharge (annoyingly, Fitbit uses a proprietary charger).
I also love how easy it is to remove the straps. This is in part a money-making move – Fitbit hopes you might be tempted by the £30 Woven Band or £60 Horween Leather Band.
Arguably, it makes sense to spend another £20 on the Special Edition of the Charge 3, because this not only comes with an extra band in the box but also Fitbit Pay support. Right now, only four banks in the UK support this, with Santander the sole big name, but more are meant to be on the way.
Whichever you choose, this isn’t a cheap option. You may even prefer to pick up the Charge 2, which has dipped below £100 at some retailers.
However, if you want the slickest tracker around, and you’re confident your phone is compatible, the Charge 3 is a great choice.
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