In an age of smartwatches with cellular chips and near edge-to-edge screens, the Fitbit Charge 3 is something of a throwback. It doesn’t have a color screen. You can’t install third-party apps. It doesn’t even store music.

But even without many of the things that make a smartwatch, well, smart, the Charge 3 may as well be Fitbit’s flagship device. The Ionic and Versa have higher price tags and more features, but the Charge 3 is the perfect balance of smartwatch and fitness tracker. Rather than trying to chase Apple or Samsung with large-screened devices that can answer calls, turn off the lights, and play games, the Charge 3 is just smart enough to be relevant in a crowded wearable field.

fitbit charge 3 watch Michael Simon/IDG

The Fitbit Charge 3 has a bigger and higher-resolution screen than the Charge 2.

The Charge 3 won’t help you unplug or let you leave your phone at home on a night out, but it might make you rethink how much you really need your watch to do. I’m a smartwatch enthusiast and generally gravitate toward watches that do more, not less: Apple Watch, LG Watch Sport, Galaxy Watch, etc. But taking form factor, battery life, price, and reality into consideration, the Charge 3 is definitely something I’d consider wearing every day. Even without full smartwatch functionality, the Charge 3 does mostly everything I need it to do, even if it falls short of the things I think I want it to do.

Getting the band back together

Like the year-and-half-old Charge 2 that it replaces, the Charge 3 is more of a band than a watch. At first glance it looks quite similar to its predecessor, but there are significant differences. It has a similar vertical rectangular aesthetic as the Charge 2, but the 17.64mm x 4.95mm screen takes up significantly more of your wrist. And even with a display that’s some 40 percent larger than the Charge 2, the Charge 3 is still a couple of grams lighter, largely due to the use of aluminum rather than stainless steel.

fitbit charge 3 bands Michael Simon/IDG

Swapping bands on the Fitbit Charge 3 is even simpler than it was on the Charge 2.

Extending out of the sides of the screen is a new swappable band system, and it’s much sleeker than the Charge 2’s bulbous lugs. The swapping mechanism is more like the Ionic’s now, which is to say it’s drop-dead simple, and the bands feel more like classic watch bands, subtly changing the look of the rose gold or graphite aluminum body rather than choking the sides of the screen. As always, Fitbit is selling a variety of them at various price points, and that sound you hear is the third-party market kicking into gear.

With a softer look and a longer body, the screen is on full display here, and it’s a good one. It’s still a monochrome OLED affair, but Fitbit’s playful use of whites and grays make the watch faces seem as lively as they do on the Versa or Ionic. Text and menus are bright, crisp, and easy to read even on a tiny screen thanks to a higher resolution though not-quite-Retina display. But more importantly, the screen is fully touch enabled now, a major upgrade from the tap-only Charge 2.

fitbit charge 3 apps Michael Simon/IDG

You can swipe to navigate screens on the Charge 3.

As you’d expect, navigating apps and menus on the Charge 3 is much more pleasant. On the Charge 2, switching between apps requires tapping the corner of the screen or tapping the button, neither of which is all that intuitive in 2018. With the Charge 3’s touch screen, however, navigating is as you’d expect:

  • Swipe left to see your apps
  • Swipe up to see the Today screen
  • Swipe down to see notifications

While taps and swipes are all that’s needed to get around, the Charge 3 also has a home button on its left edge that would go unnoticed if not for a small indentation at the bottom. And unless they read the manual, people still might not realize it’s there.



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