Fitbit Charge 3 First Impressions

Posted on October 12, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Fitbit, Wearables with 33 Comments

The Fitbit Charge 3 sits in an interesting space between a basic fitness wearable and a true smartwatch. It offers important improvements over the Fitbit Alta I’ve been using for over two years. But I’m not sure if I can deal with the size and heft.

Fitbit announced the Charge 3 back in August and I immediately preordered the base version, which costs $150 and doesn’t offer the Fitbit Pay capabilities found in the $170 Charge 3 Special Edition. No worries there: I’m looking for fitness tracking only.

Compared to my Alta, the Charge 3 is bigger, much bigger, or about twice as wide on my wrist. It’s also much heavier, and more noticeable throughout the day. And while the strap that came with the device is much nicer-looking than the Alta’s, it also has a more complicated, watch-like buckle8, which makes removing and refitting it more tedious. I don’t like any of that, for sure.

But there are, of course, advantages: The Fitbit Charge 3 is far more capable than its lower-end sibling. It’s waterproof, for starters, so you can use it to track swimming too. Its calorie burn and resting heart measurements are more accurate than those of its predecessor. (The Alta does not provide heart rate tracking at all.) And this is the first Fitbit wearable with a SpO2 sensor, which will let the device estimate changes in blood oxygen levels and help track new health indicators, including sleep apnea. (This last feature will be enabled next month.)

The Charge 3 also has a larger and better monochrome display than the Charge 2. Now, it supports swiping in addition to touch, and it’s more pleasant to look at, based on a side-by-side comparison with my wife’s Charge 3. You can quickly get back by pressing a small inductive button on the left side of the display.

But what I was really interested in was the device’s additional and improved tracking capabilities.

The heart rate monitoring is interesting, though I’ve only had the wearable for a few days. The heart rate tracker provides an overview of your resting heart rate over time, plus shows how activity changes things: You can see the big hill I run up each morning, and the resulting cool-down, very clearly in each day’s graph.

The sleep tracker is vastly improved, even without the SpO2 data. And depressing, though I’m not surprised, as I sleep terribly. But you can see the more detailed analysis from the two most recent days here, where I wore the Charge 3 instead of the Alta to bed.

That said, I find the Charge 3 distracting at night, too. Because I move around so much, the screen often flashes on, and it’s as bright as one thousands suns in the dark.

The Charge 3 also measures floors climbed, a feature that wasn’t available on my Alta. So this is new to me, and I’m not sure what to compare it to.

I’ll use the Charge 3 this coming week while I’m walking around Dublin and see if the enhanced tracking functionality and improved battery life—supposedly 7 days—compensates for the size and bulk.


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