After all the leaks, it's official. Say hello to the Fitbit Charge 3. The Charge 2 successor that shows the company is not preparing to throw the towel in on fitness trackers just yet, despite its early successes entering the world of smartwatches.
Fitbit says it's done the research and that research shows that there's still a greater demand for fitness trackers in comparison to smartwatches in certain territories (the UK for example). So it's beefing up the powers of its flagship tracker and making it more attractive to help bring it in line with its Versa and Ionic smartwatches.
Fitbit is introducing the Charge 3 at the same price as the current Charge 2, so it's $149.95 for the standard version with the special edition coming in at $169.95. It's available to pre-order now and goes on sale in October.
We've had some hands-on time with the Charge 3 to see what changes Fitbit has made and how it hopes to keep people buying its fitness trackers.
Fitbit Charge 3: Design
It's been a long road getting from the plastic not-so-fantastic looking Fitbit devices of the early years. But since the introduction of the Alta line and more recently the Versa, things have changed for the better, and the Charge 3 benefits from that change in design philosophy.
It still has that Fitbit Charge DNA, but with a big dollop of Fitbit Versa. You still have the touchscreen display that is slightly larger and brighter than the one on the Charge 2. You also have removable straps, but Fitbit has made notable changes to make it feel overall sleeker, slimmer and just more attractive than previous Charges.
We're going to start with the straps because that's what grabs you first. They're interchangeable and there's a lot to pick from. There's the standard classic bands that come in the box, but you also get your pick of more workout-friendly silicone sports bands, woven bands and Horween leather bands. You want to dress up your Charge 3 to look less like a tracker? You've got plenty of options here and they do the trick.
Fitbit has switched up the case materials too, opting for aluminium over stainless steel to make things feel lighter. But what really makes an impact when you're wearing it is the bulk that has been shaved off from the inside of the tracker. That makes it sit more naturally on the wrist and should make it more comfortable to sleep with too.
Despite making things slimmer, Fitbit has managed to still find room for its new SpO2 sensor alongside its heart rate sensor. This will future proof the device for the same serious health tracking promised with Fitbit's smartwatches – that's yet to turn up.
To deliver that sleeker look, there has been one sacrifice and that is the solitary physical button that featured on the Charge 2. The reason for ditching the button is related to the device's inherited waterproofness (more on that shortly) and has been replaced by a more discreet inductive button.
This means you now give the areas on either side of screen a little squeeze to skip back through menus. Doing that provides a small vibration to indicate that you've skipped back a menu screen.
If you have the special edition Charge 3, which includes NFC to unlock Fitbit Pay, this is how you'll be able to start the contactless payment process too. The inclusion of the inductive button helps preserve that much slimmer profile and that's something we can definitely get on board with.
Fitbit Charge 3: Supercharged
When you look at what Fitbit has added in the features department, it’s clear that it wants to bring it in line with what its smartwatches are capable of.
The restraints of a significantly smaller body to play with means it's not able to bring all of the Ionic and Versa features over to the Charge 3, but there are certainly some big upgrades when you compare it to the Charge 2.
Read this: The ultimate guide to the Fitbit app
One of the most welcome upgrades is 5ATM of water-resistance, which means that the Charge 3 joins Fitbit’s smartwatches and the Flex 2 budget tracker as a swimming-friendly Fitbit.
There’s swim tracking, as you might expect – but the on-device experience is slightly different to what you’ll get on the Versa and the Ionic. It’ll automatically track your swim activity, letting you see duration on the device, but you’ll need to head to the app to see details on laps and pace when your swimming session is done.
From the device you can start tracking a range of exercise modes, including running, cycling, swimming and yoga, with the new goal based mode. This means if you want a little motivation you can choose to go for a specific distance or duration instead of simply heading out on a run or a ride.
There are some familiar inclusions here, like Fitbit’s SmartTrack tech to automatically recognise a range of exercises, 24/7 activity tracking including some of the best sleep tracking in the business and mindfulness features like guided breathing. It’s also bringing as much as possible of the data that’s stored inside the app to the device itself, inspired by the My Day UI that was recently introduced to Fitbit's smartwatches.
Something that doesn’t make the cut is built-in GPS, which is disappointing when you see that Samsung managed to squeeze the tech into its fitness tracker. There are also cheaper trackers like the Huawei Band 2 Pro, which managed to find room for it too.
Like the Versa, though, you can piggyback onto your phone’s GPS, and Fitbit has its reasons for not including a GPS sensor. They told us that it would have meant compromising on the slimness of the design, and it also believes that the type of person the Charge 3 is aimed at won't necessarily have a demand for this feature. We’d be interested to hear if the majority of Charge 2 owners agree with that.
Fitbit Charge 3: The smarts
As we mentioned above, Fitbit is clearly trying to bring as much as possible of the experience it delivers on its smartwatches to its flagship tracker. But there are obvious limitations.
On the software front, the Charge 3 doesn't run on the same Fitbit OS as its smartwatches. So you don't get an app store or a collection of watch faces to download. But Fitbit is hoping to introduce some form of third party app support similar to ones found on Versa on the Ionic further down the line. For the time being, you'll find apps for alarms, a timer and the weather with Fitbit Leaderboard and calendar apps available in a future update.
Smartphone notification support has improved, letting you view call, calendar text and app notifications on the tracker. The ability to respond and send quick replies is a feature reserved for Android phone users, while the ability to accept or reject calls will be added in the future.
From the companion app, you'll find support for new female health tracking features, which is available to all Fitbit users. There are also new personalised insights on the way that will analyse activity, heart rate, sleep and nutrition to offer tips and recommendations. It's not clear how much data the app will need to start making these recommendations, but it's a good to see that Fitbit is ready to make data more actionable for users.
Fitbit Charge 3: Initial verdict
As an upgrade to the Charge 2, there's a whole lot to like here. It looks so much nicer, it's finally brought about changes we've wanted to see on the Charge for some time (waterproofing FTW) and it's enhanced features that have already impressed us on the current Charge.
It looks like Fitbit has got the pricing right, and future proofing it with the addition of the SpO2 sensor to unlock serious health tracking is great to see too. The lack of GPS is disappointing, but aside from that, the Charge 3 looks set to be another fitness tracker hit for Fitbit.