Fitbit Charge 3 First Impressions

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.

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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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Conversation 33 comments

  • Simard57

    12 October, 2018 - 2:36 pm

    <p>thank you for the article. I have had a Charge 2 for a long time – replacing my MS Band that was refunded. I too hated the watchband and when it broke I purchased a metal mesh band (;psc=1) which I have found to work well and would recommend – granted it is throwing money at a problem but that seems common now-a-days. It uses a magnet to connect and can be easily adjusted. I was worried it would pinch or grab the hair on arm but have not had that happen. The only issue I have with it is that it has faded a bit (perhaps should spray paint it?).</p><p><br></p>

    • RonH

      Premium Member
      12 October, 2018 - 3:31 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#352710">In reply to Simard57:</a></em></blockquote><p>I bought a Blaze with my refunded Band… I have the Blaze version of this strap since the first week with the Blaze. I recommend it as well. It is just starting to show some wear. Not enough to get some black spray paint yet! The strap is infinetly adjustable so it is very easy to move the device to different locations on my wrist. </p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      13 October, 2018 - 11:55 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#352710">In reply to Simard57:</a></em></blockquote><p>Thanks, I may actually order this.</p>

    • dick

      14 October, 2018 - 10:28 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#352710">In reply to Simard57:</a></em></blockquote><p>Absolutely change the bands on any fitbit. They'll literally fall apart if you actually use your fitbit in about a year. </p>

      • Simard57

        15 October, 2018 - 12:00 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#353150">In reply to dick:</a></em></blockquote><p>That is what my experience was and why I went looking for an off brand replacement</p>

  • Skolvikings

    12 October, 2018 - 2:42 pm

    <p>How does it's size and bulk compare to the Charge 2?</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      13 October, 2018 - 11:53 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#352714">In reply to Skolvikings:</a></em></blockquote><p>It's a little taller.</p>

      • Skolvikings

        15 October, 2018 - 1:45 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#352933">In reply to paul-thurrott:</a></em></blockquote><p>Okay, thanks.</p><p><br></p><p>My Charge 2 suddenly died a few months back. Shortly afterwards they announced the Charge 3, so I've been holding out for one. In the meantime, I broke my left wrist so I haven't been in a hurry, but just preordered the special edition one with the white band. Hopefully it lasts longer than my last one.</p>

  • evequefou

    12 October, 2018 - 8:02 pm

    <p>These tracking screens seem almost identical to those powered by the Charge 2. Can you perhaps highlight any differences? </p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      13 October, 2018 - 11:54 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#352809">In reply to evequefou:</a></em></blockquote><p>I came from the Alta, so I'm not sure. </p>

    • dick

      14 October, 2018 - 10:26 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#352809">In reply to evequefou:</a></em></blockquote><p>They're better on the charge 2 with the exception of one face that offers a second hand. You only gave 5 faces as opposed to the charge 2s 11. Keep your charge 2 until fitbit fixes all the first release bugs. Read the forums. Not this marketing hype. </p>

      • MikeGalos

        15 October, 2018 - 10:30 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#353149">In reply to dick:</a></em></blockquote><p>I think the question was about the tracking screens (which really are the same) but, you're right that the clock face choices for the device itself are not as good on the Charge 3 as they were on the Charge 2. In particular, they don't show the date.</p>

  • Belralph

    12 October, 2018 - 11:11 pm

    <p>My wife and I started out with Charge 2s but she ended up dropping back to the Alta HR. Her main complaint was the width of the Charge was too wide and her arm/hand was getting pinched when she bent her wrist at an angle. She is happy with it but wishes it had a more readable/larger display but then you're back to the Charge size. I had the non HR Alta after the demise of the Band 2, which I immediately returned since I wasn't paying attention to the specs and didn't notice it didn't have HR. This was prior to the Alta HR so I got the Charge 2. I like it. The battery life is a lot better than the Alta, not surprising due to the size difference. I wish it was waterproof so an upgrade to the 3 may be in order with the other upgrades it offers. I have gotten my 2 very wet, fully underwater in the spa a couple times without issues so short of full on swimming I'm not sure of the water limits of the 2. I wear mine at work and have beaten the crap out of it and it's held up very well. Just recently the little loop that holds the tail of the strap broke. I had a cheap watch laying around with the same width so I pirated the loop off it. </p>

  • Davor Radman

    13 October, 2018 - 1:04 am

    <p>I'd love to know how inexpensive xiaomi mi band 3 compares to this.</p>

  • PeterC

    13 October, 2018 - 3:28 am

    <p>Is there no way to reduce screen light at night? Some kind of screen off function when sleeping.</p>

    • tehpenguin

      13 October, 2018 - 1:52 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#352863">In reply to PeterC:</a></em></blockquote><p><br></p><p>If you hold the power button, you can disable the auto-screen wake (making the power button the only way to turn on the screen).</p>

  • Briggzcountry

    13 October, 2018 - 8:33 am

    <p>How did you get the screen colors changed? I also got the charge 3 yesterday and so far not impressed. It is a large step back from the Microsoft Band 2 that I used previously. Also, I feel like the Fitbit app is an unorganized mess. But I am literally 1 day in….so going to give it a fair chance</p><p><br></p><p>…also, fyi if you hold the button (on the side) down, you can disable "screen wake" which should keep it from coming on while you are trying to sleep.</p>

  • eeisner

    Premium Member
    13 October, 2018 - 5:04 pm

    <p>I'm really curious about the SPO2 sensor, and how reliable it is… like you, I sleep horrifically – insomnia has been an issue for a while, and at 25 and in slightly above average shape, I shouldn't be waking up to use the restroom as much throughout the night as I do – but I'm admittedly hesitant and scared to go see a doctor. If the SPO2 sensor can detect apnea close enough to motivate me to see a sleep doctor, that makes the purchase itself worth it. </p><p><br></p><p>Although, I don't know if I really want to know just how few hours of actual sleep I get a night…</p>

    • Skolvikings

      15 October, 2018 - 1:47 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#353041">In reply to eeisner:</a></em></blockquote><p>I've had the Charge 2 for awhile and at some point, I stopped looking at my sleep stats. Like you, I don't sleep well. At a certain point, it just got discouraging. I'd actually feel worse when I saw how little I slept the night before.</p>

    • richfrantz

      Premium Member
      15 October, 2018 - 2:31 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#353041">In reply to eeisner:</a></em></blockquote><p>Sleep apnea does not wake you up to use the bathroom.</p>

  • wright_is

    Premium Member
    14 October, 2018 - 4:09 am

    <p>Being waterproof is a big plus, compared to the FitBit Charge 2 I've been using for the last 2 years.</p><p>The sleep tracking is very good on the 2, and it certainly showed a marked improvement as we got our new bed, I went from around 4 hours average to around 6.5 hours average after we got the waterbed.</p><p>I don't find the strap or the size of the Charge 2 disturbing, but thereagain, I've always worn a watch and the Charge 2 is a lot smaller and lighter than most watches.</p><p>I got my Spaceship badge this week, for climbing 40,000 floors.</p><p>I would have got it sooner, but I paused wearing it between June and last week. I found I was constantly looking at fulfilling the daily statistics (250 steps an hour, daily sport and 10,000 steps). I was fulfilling most of them every day, but when I had a long day at the office and I failed to reach the 10,000 steps, I felt depressed. I'm hoping that after the 3 month break, the Charge will be useful again, as opposed to being oppresive.</p>

    • Skolvikings

      15 October, 2018 - 1:49 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#353122">In reply to wright_is:</a></em></blockquote><p>I know what you mean. On days I'd forget to put my Fitbit on, I'd literally be like "what's the point of moving, I won't get any credit for it." It's like the tracker becomes the focus rather than the health benefits that it's supposed to promote. So you're definitely not alone on that.</p>

  • dick

    14 October, 2018 - 10:23 am

    <p>This tracker sucks. Thee is missing BASIC functionality in addition to the buggy cheap software. There is no date on any of the only 5 clock faces and the alarms do not work. I came from the charge, charge 2 HR and returned these cheap overpriced charge 3s (mine and my wife's were both buggy) by day 3. $150 a pop and no date, limited clock face customization/choices and buggy software, no thanks. I'll reconsider in 9 months when it's on sale in some bin. </p><p><br></p><p>OH and 1 full 30 minute update right out of the box and another 45 minute update yesterday still didn't address the poor software build. Go read the forums not this marketing hype. </p>

  • dick

    14 October, 2018 - 1:55 pm

    <p>There's a dimming control for the display in the settings. Did you really use this device at all? </p>

  • dick

    14 October, 2018 - 1:55 pm

    <p> The interface in the app is the exact same as the charge 2. Only the tiles are different. </p>

  • elessar25

    15 October, 2018 - 10:14 am

    <p>Paul can you write about article sometime comparing the best Google watch vs Apple watch vs Fitbit? Especially taking things like price, comfort, and accuracy into account?</p>

    • wright_is

      Premium Member
      15 October, 2018 - 10:38 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#353396">In reply to elessar25:</a></em></blockquote><p>The FitBits aren't very accurate, when it comes to steps, although the pulse seems more reliable.</p><p>I've walked through the house, gone up the stairs, cleaned my teeth and walked into the bedroom (around 120 steps) and the FitBit has registered zero steps (it does this quite often, especially if you are very close to 10,000 steps, it seems you need to put in a lot more than 100 steps between 9900 and 10,000, it often won't shift, then it will suddenly spring to 10,050 or 10,100…</p><p>Likewise, the oppostie can be true, you can sit on the sofa and clock up a hundred or so steps watching a film.</p><p>Cutting vegetables or making a salad can get you a good 1500 steps.</p><p>Need another 50 steps for your 250/hour target? Just rub your tummy until it buzzes.</p><p>I think the main problem with the FitBit is calling it "steps", it is arm movements and vibrations in the body, not actual steps. That means that several "other" activities can be registered as steps.</p><p>And don't even get me started on FitBit warning me that I shouldn't ride my bike after going to bed! (I'll leave you to your imagination on that one.)</p>

      • summersk59

        17 October, 2018 - 2:35 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#353401">In reply to wright_is:</a></em></blockquote><p>Try vacuuming, I generally rack up about 5 km, but when kayaking, I get next to nothing. I did try a step test by counting steps walking a hundred steps and that worked correctly and was accurate. </p>

  • edboyhan

    15 October, 2018 - 12:47 pm

    <p>I use the Fitbit Blaze, which I've had for about 2 years now. It does all of the things that the Charge does (in fact your screen shots seem identical to what I get with the Blaze. I originally got the Blaze because it allowed me to control Disco dance music from my old Windows 950XL phone (since replaced with a Moto X4 because it has hands free Alexa) while roller dancing. I am thinking of upgrading to a Versa or Ionic — I'll probably wait a few months to see if an Ionic 2 appears. GPS would be a really nice to have.</p>

  • bservies

    Premium Member
    15 October, 2018 - 3:23 pm

    <p>I will probably return my Charge 3 when I am next by an REI. The pedometer is useless, as is their tech support that suggested on a forum post that rebooting might help. It makes me skeptical of all the other features being even remotely accurate. </p>

  • summersk59

    17 October, 2018 - 2:30 am

    <p>I've been using the Charge 2 going on two yrs, BTW, your sleep looks about as messed up as mine! The other thing I hope they resolve is the syncing with my Samsung S7, yes it's old but Fitbit's software app really sucks. One other thing, the accuracy of the steps counter, I can rack up 5.5 km ( about 3 miles ) just doing the vacuuming! My home is only 1720 sq ft on the main floor, so not sure why? But if I'm out kayaking, it's like I'm in a coma with hardly any activity even when I travelled about 15 km ( 9 miles ). So I really hope the new Charge 3 will be more accurate and the sort out the android app. </p>

  • marvyn

    Premium Member
    25 November, 2018 - 2:03 pm

    <p>Any follow up thoughts after a month of use? I am looking to replace a Charge 2, so I don't think the size/bulk will be an issue but was curious if anything else came up.</p><p><br></p><p>Thanks.</p>

  • thesmartestonearth

    19 December, 2018 - 5:40 am

    <p>wow Man.</p><p>This is something interesting…..</p><p>while searching for the <a href="; target="_blank">best fitness band</a> for me i found this…. </p>

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