Fitbit’s new Charge into activity trackers hits right notes
Review: Charge 3 is slimmer and sleeker – but no built-in GPS
Product name: Fitbit Charge 3
Where to buy: fitbit.com
It’s January, which means most of us are full of good intentions when it comes to diet and exercise. It’s the time of year when gym memberships peak, fitness apps see a frenzy of downloads, and a whole pile of new fitness trackers are set up.
So it seems like a good time to take a closer look at the Fitbit Charge 3, before we all run out of good intentions and willpower wanes.
When it comes to activity trackers, it’s hard to deny that Fitbit knows its stuff. The company has carved out a place for itself, making it almost synonymous with the devices. The Charge 3 is the newest addition to the lineup, sitting just below the Ionic and Versa.
The original Charge made its debut in 2016; over the past couple of years, the improvements that have been made to the original have made it a far sleeker, more useful device, including built in heart rate monitoring and now a proper touch screen. You can swipe to scroll through the menus and tap on the function you want; to go back, you simple squeeze the sides of the display. There are no physical buttons on the Charge 3.
The functions are what you’d expect: exercise tracking for everything from biking, walking, running and swimming to yoga, weight training and intervals. You can put shortcuts for your favourite exercises on the tracker, but you only have room for six at a time.
There is automatic exercise tracking though. If you start walking, you don’t have to tell your tracker that’s what you’re doing. Once you go over 15 minutes of activity, it will automatically register your workout and use its brainpower to figure out exactly what exercise you are doing. It’s not always 100 per cent accurate - a quick walk somehow became a cycle - but the more I used it the more accurate it was.
When it comes to accurate locations though, you’ll still need to carry your phone. The Charge 3 doesn’t have built in GPS, which means if you want to track your position, you’ll need to rely on your smartphone. That’s a bit disappointing, but there are plenty of more expensive smartwatches out there that have the capability built in, including Fitbit’s Ionic smartwatch. You’ll pay for that addition though, with the Ionic coming in at about €300 compared to the Charge 3’s €150. You get more than just the built-in GPS for that premium, but on balance, it’s not such a hardship to carry your phone.
One of the chief problems with activity trackers is that charging them is a bit of a pain. If the battery doesn’t last long enough from a single charge, eventually you end up running out of patience and the tracker will get shoved in a drawer, never to be seen again. The Charge 3 battery lasts up to seven days according to Fitbit, and in tests it certainly lived up to promises. It all depends on what you want to do with it though; I knocked off smartphone alerts for a few days and the battery lasted longer. That makes sense, but not everyone will want to sacrifice the convenience of the notifications for a longer battery life. Personally, I just wanted the Charge 3 to track my activity rather than constantly poke me about stuff happening on my phone.
That brings me to my biggest annoyance about the Charge 3 - and fitness trackers in general, really. It has a proprietary charger, which is inconvenient and a pain to replace when you inevitably lose or break it. Universal chargers, please; it would make life a lot simpler.
Designwise, the Charge 3 is still recognisable as part of the Fitbit range, but it makes a few improvements. It feels lighter than its predecessor, even though you get a bigger screen. And speaking of the screen, the touchscreen is also a good addition, making it easier to interact with the tracker.
The not so good:
Fancy leaving your phone at home while you go for a run? Not if you want to track your location with the Charge 3. No built in GPS means you are tethered to your phone for the foreseeable future.
The Charge 3 supports Fitbit Pay, but only with certain versions of the tracker. The standard Charge 3 doesn’t; the special edition does. That’s an extra €20. The number of banks in Ireland that support Fitbit Pay currently stands at two - KBC and more recently AIB - so it’s not so widespread that thousands of Fitbit users will feel the loss. Still, it’s a handy thing to have if you are out for a walk minus your phone and want to stop for a coffee or a quick bite to eat.
The Charge 3 has a range of interchangeable bands that include leather, woven and silicone sports bands, so you can dress it up or down as you see fit.
Don’t want the expense of a full-on smartwatch? The Charge 3 is a good halfway house.