All Hands on Tech – Fitbit Charge 3 review

What is the Fitbit Charge 3? Is it a supercharged pedometer? A smart watch? A personal fitness coach? Well it’s a bit of all three of those things at once. ITWC Editorial Director Brian Jackson wore the Charge 3 for several weeks and is ready to report on where it was useful and where it wasn’t so great.

Let’s start with the design. Because I think this is really a strong point of the Charge 3. A lot of fitness trackers look more functional than fashionable. That may turn off a lot of people who really want to wear this all day to get the full benefit of the fitness data it can produce. I think the Charge 3 is the best Fitbit design yet. It’s very slender on the wrist, and the brushed aluminum sides and black OLED touch screen give it an understated jewelry look. I have the rose gold colour here, but it’s also available in Graphite Aluminum.

The OLED touch screen comes alive when you tap it. Then you can swipe through the menus and tap the options you want. An inductive button on the side acts as the “back” button or the “home” button, depending on what you’re doing. The interface is super simple and I felt it worked really well. Easy to use even when I was jogging. OK, so it looks good. But the Fitbit is supposed to help you improve your health. So I put it to work with some different exercises.

Since the Fitbit Charge 3 is waterproof, I had to take it swimming. My Alta HR wristband can go in the shower, but it’s not recommended to dunk it in the pool. So I was curious to see what I’d learn from having the Charge 3 strapped on while swimming laps.

Right before jumping in the pool, I started a “swim” exercise session. You set a goal for how long you want to swim for, and then a timer starts running. The device vibrated to let me know when I was halfway to my goal time, and then again when I completed my time. You don’t get heart rate data while you’re swimming, because being immersed in water disrupts that sensor. But at least you can see if you’re on pace to complete as many laps as you’d like. And afterward, you can review the data on your smartphone. I was surprised to see it kept accurate track of how many laps I swam. So I really think this could be useful to track swim workouts.

I also tried out the exercise mode on the treadmill. I started the exercise right before my jog, and set a goal to run for 30 minutes. Note that there are actually different exercises for when you’re running a route vs. running on the treadmill. And if you’re running a route, you can set a goal for the distance covered.

While on the treadmill, I can see the time I’ve been jogging, the pace I’m keeping, and what my heart rate is. This is really helpful for me, because I want to always be in the fat burning zone when I’m exercising. So for cardio exercises like running and swimming, the Charge 3 provided useful information. And even if you forget to set your goals or don’t bother with the exercise mode, it will just automatically detect that you’re exercising and start tracking for you. But the Fitbit didn’t add much when I was at the yoga studio or lifting weights. I guess this is because it’s harder to track the movements or because your heart rate doesn’t vary as much.

You can start a “weights” exercise manually. This will show you your heart rate, and tell you how long you’ve been doing the set for. At the end, you get a report for the number of calories burned. If you want to track your yoga exercise, you’ll have to add yoga to your exercises through the mobile app. 

The Charge 3 can also help you relax. Just select “Relax” from the menu and it guides you through a stress-relieving breathing exercise. A little dot animation guides you to breathe in and out and you get sparkles when you’re doing it well. I used this a couple of times to try it out, but I don’t think it’s something I’d do often. But I can see how this will help some people with simple mindfulness exercises.

Like other Fitbits, the Charge 3 is supposed to show you some notifications from your smartphone, such as calendar reminders and text messages. I just never got this working. I’m not sure why because all of the notifications were turned on. But I don’t really like to be bothered that much anyway, so I didn’t try hard to fix this problem.

One big positive for this device is the battery. Fitbit has really figured out how to engineer these devices so you can charge them up about once a week and just wear it the rest of the time. That’s great, as it means it’s less likely you’ll just leave this at home to charge, or not have your exercise tracked because the battery is dead.

The Fitbit Charge 3 is priced at $199.99 in Canada. But I bet you can find it even cheaper than that as we approach end of the year deals. For the special edition, which has Fitbit Pay and comes with an extra band, the price is $219.95.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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