Smartwatches may be getting all the attention these days, but there’s still a lot to be said for a dedicated fitness tracker. It’s unobtrusive on the wrist and functional enough to not be excessively judged by watch-lovers, yet it does what most people want from their wearable—track their activity, steps and sleep included, and get their phone notifications… and not a whole lot more.
The Charge 3 from Fitbit does just that and does it really well – it’s the culmination and refinement of a category that the brand created all those years ago. But is it enough to stave off the challenge of not only the more powerful and feature-rich smartwatches but also the glut of significantly cheaper trackers in the market? We go hands… err, wrists-on to find out.
Same, But Different
Straight out of the box, the Charge 3 looks rather similar to the Charge 2 that came a little over two years ago. Look closer and you’ll realize there are a lot of design tweaks that, to Fitbit’s favor, make the Charge 3 look slick and fresh—it’s smaller and slimmer, the tracker has a gently curved display and the rounded edges on the back and sides help it sit better on your wrist. It does come in just the one size, with different sized, quick-release bands but the core tracker remains the same. There are two variants—a regular Rs 13,999 Charge 3 and a Special Edition (Rs 15,999)—and the only difference is the bands that come in the box.
Standard edition, regular black rubber sport band and the Special Edition, either a lavender woven band or a white sports band, depending on which one you pick. With the Charge 3’s new 50-meter water resistance capabilities, ponying up the extra two grands for the more breathable Sports band is worth it. Unless you’re a pro scuba diver, you can pretty much wear the Charge 3 throughout the day, splashes, baths and dips in the pool and all.
It’s stylish and unobtrusive enough to always keep on your wrist, even when you step out in the evening, and sleep tracking means you can continue wearing it at night—the good bit is that the battery lasts long enough that you’ll have to maybe take it off for an hour or two per week at most to charge. There’s one downside—that horrible proprietary charger.
Tap the display and you’ll notice the big changes in the new greyscale OLED touchscreen panel that’s not only 40 percent bigger but also higher resolution than the pixelated look of the Charge 2. I’m not such a fan of the significant bezel, but it blends into “barely noticeable” territory on the black body. In use, the new screen is crisp and responsive to the touch and combined with the new indented haptic button on the side, it’s easy to get familiar with using the Charge 3 even if you’ve never used a Fitbit previously. Swipe down for notifications, swipe up to see your fitness stats and battery percentage, left to access the fitness apps and right to access settings, with the side button taking you back a screen at any point.
Work It Out
With the Charge 3, you get all of Fitbit’s bells and whistles in the fitness and wellness department, right from heart rate monitoring and calorie/step tracking to sleep tracking, and alongside it all is Fitbit’s excellent companion app for Android and iOS smartphones. There’s workout tracking as well, and the Charge 3 will auto-recognize your selected activities once you’ve crossed the minimum set time threshold (or at least ten minutes of that activity).
In general, the automatic tracking was pretty good at detecting running or walking activities, though you’d probably be better off activating the exercise modes manually on the tracker to be safe. Tracking includes running, swimming, squats, among others, and since the Charge 3 lacks GPS, you’ll want to carry your phone along for the morning run if you want to map out your location/route. Swim tracking is present, albeit a bit basic (laps and times only), and the Charge 3 doesn’t record heart rate while swimming. In my use, the heart sensor was most on point when compared to an Apple Watch on the other wrist and good for amateur use and detection, and the Charge 3 carries on the Fitbit legacy of being easy to use and accurate for everyday use.
The Charge 3 packs in SpO2 sensors, but this feature is yet to be enabled in the software. When it does start to work, it will be able to scan for conditions like atrial fibrillation and sleep apnea. But—and this goes without saying—this is not serious athlete or medical device territory, so all readings are meant to be read relatively to each other and not in absolute terms. Fitbit’s secret weapon—how it plots and presents sleep data—remains unparalleled, as do its social features.
Fitness Tracker or Smart Watch?
While the Charge 3 isn’t a smartwatch, it does have some smarts in terms of phone notifications (still a bit of a squint fest) and quick replies (when connected to an Android smartphone). The limited apps on offer—a timer, a weather app and an alarm—point rather clearly to the Charge 3 being a fitness tracker first and foremost.
No Uber app, no camera shutter control etc that you’d associate with an app ecosystem, which begs the question for most—why not spend a little extra and pick up a smartwatch, maybe even a Versa from Fitbit’s own catalog? Don’t get me wrong, from a hardware standpoint, Fitbit has nearly nailed the brief for a fitness tracker, even if it’s at a premium over the generic tracker that costs half or less. Yet, for an industry gravitating towards smartwatches, the raison d’être for the Charge 3 comes down to scope and purpose.
It does exactly what it is supposed to do—gather lots of fitness data and present it in a meaningful manner—and it does it pretty well at that… while the battery lasts the better part of a week without having to reach for the charger.
Sensors & Components: 3-axis accelerometer, optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, vibration motor, relative SpO2 sensor, NFC
Display: Touchscreen, grayscale OLED, 100 × 150 pixels
Battery: Lithium-polymer, two-hour charge cycle
Memory: 7 days of per-minute motion data, daily totals for 30 days, heart rate data at one-second intervals during exercise tracking and at five-second intervals at other times
Weight: 29 grams
Price: Rs. 13,999 (regular), Rs. 15,999 (Special Edition)