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Fitbit Charge 3 review: The best casual fitness tracker, but Versa's a better smartwatch

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The Good The Charge 3 is affordable, lasts a solid week on a charge and can be worn while swimming. It has a larger touchscreen and added features include app notifications, weather, stopwatch and timers. Works with iOS and Android.

The Bad Limited watch faces, and you can't get new ones or apps like the Fitbit Versa can. Single haptic pressure-sensitive side button isn't customizable to start workouts. No music storage or remote playback. No GPS (but syncs with a phone's GPS to record runs).

The Bottom Line Fitbit's improved general-fitness tracker does just about everything well, and covers most everyday needs, including phone notifications. But the Fitbit Versa offers just a bit more.

7.9 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Battery 8
  • Performance 7
  • Software 7
  • Features 8

Fitbit has just announced the Fitbit Charge 4.

I was at my dentist the other day, repairing a broken crown. I was wearing an Apple Watch ($280 at Amazon) on one wrist, and the Fitbit Charge 3 ($124 at Amazon) on the other. The dental assistant smiled and showed me her arm. She was wearing a Fitbit and Apple Watch, too.

I was wearing mine for work, I explained to her. She said she wears both because the Fitbit is better at social fitness, while the Apple Watch is better for messages. This is the truth, and the reality of fitness wearables: Nothing does everything perfectly.

The Fitbit Charge 3 is probably Fitbit's best pure fitness tracker band, provided you're fine living in Fitbit's universe. Which, really, is a pretty good place to be for social fitness, checking daily habits, and adding activity challenges.

The Apple Watch Series 4 is a great watch, but still feels more like a piece of the iPhone ($420 at Back Market) that detached and started living as a satellite on my wrist. It's fine with fitness, but not as fine-tuned at times as what the Fitbit delivers. And it's far more expensive.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Charge 3's price is reasonable ($150), and its feature set is nearly complete. It gives you heart rate, sleep tracking, 50 meter swim water resistance, a larger display with phone notifications, plus weather, timer and stopwatch apps and optional NFC payments in a special edition. It also lasts about seven days on a charge. I still think the Fitbit Versa, Fitbit's more watch-like fitness tracker, is a better bet for its fun watch faces and music capabilities plus its extra-customizable physical buttons, and it's being offered on sale this holiday at nearly the same price.

While the Charge 3 is super functional, its missing features include:

  • No onboard GPS (it tracks using your phone's GPS)
  • No music storage or remote music controls
  • No app store
  • No watch face store

It comes down to this: If you're looking for an everyday fitness tracker that has app notifications and just a bit of smartwatch-ness, the Fitbit Charge 3 is a pretty great pick. It's similar to what other manufacturers are making in fitness bands, and a close match would be the Garmin Vivosmart 4, which adds a new pulse oxygen-detecting heart rate sensor that promises similar advantages now to what Fitbit is claiming it will unlock in its improved Charge 3 heart-rate sensor down the road. But the Fitbit Versa still is worth the upgrade for its large collection of watch faces and apps, bigger color display, sideloadable music storage, and extra physical buttons. (For a comparison between Versa and Charge 3, read my impressions here.)


The Fitbit Versa on the left. The Fitbit Charge 3 on the right.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design: A perfectly fine tracker

The Charge 3's grayscale touchscreen OLED is larger than the previous Charge 2. It fits time, steps, and heart rate into most of the selectable watch faces. It's easy to glance at, and swiping up the screen shows other daily fitness goals and stats (stand hours, sleep, distance, stairs climbed and active minutes), while a swipe-down shows notifications. Fitbit's app allows discrete control of individual app notifications, too.

It's also an easy tracker to wear, although not all the bands felt super comfortable. I preferred the black silicone band included in-box, while the woven nylon and perforated sport bands felt a little less cozy on my wrist. All the bands, however, are easy to snap on and off with a simple release mechanism on the back. Charge 3 straps use specific proprietary connections, but aren't as difficult to attach as the Versa's straps were.

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