Nothing about Fitbit's newest fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge 3, is particularly revolutionary. But -- on paper, at least -- it seems like the best overall fitness tracker value that the company has produced. It replaces the Charge 2 ($108 at Amazon), which has been Fitbit's most successful tracker to date.
I was able to handle a preproduction model of the Charge 3, briefly, and it looks like a clear improvement over its predecessor in many key ways. For the same $150 starting price as the Charge 2, the new model adds swim-ready water resistance (finally), a better touchscreen OLED display, better band-swapping mechanics and a longer seven-day battery life. The Charge 3 also has full phone notifications with Android-compatible quick replies to messages, a few onboard apps such as weather, timers and alarms, and optional Fitbit Pay, if you spend a bit more. (If this all sounds familiar, it's because nearly.)
Available for preorder now but arriving in October, the Fitbit Charge 3 is sliding into what's going to become an extremely busy fall for wearable tech, with the Versa ($175 at Amazon) smartwatch, which is just a few months old., Google's expected and the presumed . Starting at $150 (AU$230 or £130), the Charge 3 is likely more affordable than most of those, as well as Fitbit's own $200
The aluminum case of the Fitbit Charge 3 looks like a shrunken-down version of the angular Fitbit Ionic ($228 at Amazon), but the comfortable bands and variety of designs (a perforated silicone sport band, woven bands and Horween leather) feel more like the Fitbit Versa. The touchscreen is far more responsive than any previous Fitbit Charge device. Its best feature might be a new haptic virtual button on the side that you can squeeze to control the fitness tracker. It works in water or with gloves, according to Fitbit.
An improved SpO2 (peripheral capillary oxygen saturation) heart rate sensor on the Charge 3 claims to offer more accurate heart rate and sleep tracking -- it's also on the Fitbit Versa and Ionic. Fitbit has plans for that sensor to eventually detect sleep apnea, although medical use cases may still be a year or two away. In the meantime, its Fitbit Labs division is launching a Sleep Score beta in the fall that will aggregate an overall sleep score, and start measuring nighttime sleep disturbances, as well as begin to study SpO2 measurements that could lead to other features down the road.
A bit of a mini smartwatch, plus added fitness
The Charge 3 adds plenty of extra functions with its 40 percent larger display, including a swipe-up fitness summary that will include water logging and sleep summaries (also coming to the Versa in an update). Full app notifications will pop up, and seem easily readable based on a quick demo. Messages can be responded to with quick replies on Android phones, just like on the Ionic and Versa.
Swiping back and forth can browse a bunch of mini app features, including weather, stopwatches and timers, and exercise recording. The tracker can autopause during runs and autorecognize activities, and Fitbit's adding new goal-tracking functions to 15 exercise types.
Fitbit Charge 3's swim tracking modes will record distance, lap, pace and duration.
Fitbit Pay, for a little extra
For an extra $20, a Fitbit Pay-enabled Special Edition will work with tap-to-pay payment terminals, and a second watch band is included in-box. Fitbit Pay launched with the Ionic watch in 2017 and has around 100 bank partners at the moment, but still lacks as many payment partners as Apple Pay (Citibank is one notable no-show at the moment). But, considering extra bands will cost $35 separately, you could say that buying the Special Edition is somewhat of a good deal, if you're already hedging your bets that you'll need to replace your band.
I don't have the Charge 3 to review yet, but based on features alone this seems like a promising go-to as perhaps the best Fitbit, especially if you don't need any fancy watch faces or custom apps. But the Charge 3 is going to have to deliver on its promise, while also duking it out with heavy smartwatch and fitness tracker competition this fall. Fitbit is going to have company, but it's bringing a strong contender to the table.