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Fitbit Charge 3 review: Still one of the best casual fitness trackers with one missing piece

The Charge 3 may not be the newest of the bunch, but still holds its own against the newer and pricier Charge 4 as long as you don't need built-in GPS.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
5 min read

Fitbit has just announced the Fitbit Charge 4.


Fitbit Charge 3

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

No onboard GPS. 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.

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.

I was at my dentist the other day, repairing a broken crown. I was wearing an Apple Watch on one wrist, and the Fitbit Charge 3 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 continues to be one of Fitbit's best designated fitness trackers, provided you're fine living in Fitbit's universe and don't mind taking your phone with you on a run. Aside from the built-in GPS, it's nearly exactly the same as the newer Charge 4 for a bit less money and a lot less than a full-fledged smartwatch like the Versa 3 or the Apple Watch. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Charge 3's price is reasonable ($130), 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.

Setting up the Charge 3 on an iPhone X and XS was occasionally challenging when Bluetooth pairing didn't seem to work. But I got it to work after a few tries and everything's been fine since.


Fitbit's app remains great, but the Charge 3's display doesn't quite tap into all functions.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Casual fitness vs. advanced workout tracking

The Charge 3 does best as a casual tracker, collecting data that can be read on the display or in Fitbit's phone app. I found starting and tracking workouts to be more annoying. Starting a workout involves swiping to the Exercise app on the device, tapping, swiping to the activity type, tapping again, tapping again, and weirdly, tapping yet again. To stop, you have to click the side haptic button twice, then tap the display's "finish" icon. It's way too many steps. I wanted to press and hold the side haptic button, but you can't program it to be used to quick-start a workout. The Apple Watch, by comparison, just involves tapping an on-screen shortcut.

During a workout, the Charge 3 display only shows three bits of information at once. To see more, you'll need to tap the display to change metrics. The longer, larger screen could easily hold more details, but there's no option to customize it. The Charge 3 also lacks any music remote controls, which means setting a playlist or even starting playback from a phone is impossible. The Fitbit Versa has a music remote and more on-screen readouts. The Apple Watch does the best job, showing multi-line information with an easy-access shortcut to the Music app.


Fitbit's improved heart rate tracking sensor, using red and green LEDs, could lead to more health features down the road and more accurate heart and sleep tracking.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Other things to keep in mind

Not having more watchfaces and apps is a bummer. The Fitbit Versa, which might be on sale for the same price this holiday, is a better all-around pick for its customizable buttons and downloadable, fun watch faces. There are some useful apps, too. I liked swapping colorful watch faces on the Versa, and the Charge 3 only has a couple of pretty boring watch face options.

I also miss controlling music. There's no onboard music storage on Fitbit Charge 3, and also no way to pause or skip tracks -- or control music at all. When I exercise, I do it with music. The Charge 3 can't be my musical wrist remote or my workout iPod.

Quick replies to messages is possible on Android, but not iPhone. A new software update lets you send simple canned responses on-wrist, but not deeper replies. The Charge 3 can answer a call, provided Bluetooth headphones are paired and on.

Waterproofing is great for showering and swimming. It's maybe Fitbit's best year-over-year feature add to the Charge tracker.

It has yet another proprietary charger. Fitbit hasn't used the same charge system for any two devices in I-don't-know-how-many years, and it's maddening. Just a word of warning to keep the alligator-clip contact-based pin charger in a safe place.

A week of battery life is better than the Versa. This Fitbit is a better choice for a solid week of on-wrist wear between charges. I averaged about six and a half days over my month wearing one.

Fitness trackers don't mean you'll lose weight. My weight has dropped and risen over the last few years as my discipline has waxed and waned. The Charge 3 is the best way to monitor your daily fitness habits, including sleep and weight, but it's still not a great trainer. I wish these things had better motivational tools. Or, I wish I did.


Fitbit Charge 3

Score Breakdown

Design 8Battery 8Performance 7Software 7Features 8