IOS Cen­tral Re­views

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

In an age of smart­watches with cel­lu­lar chips and near edge-to-edge screens ( go. mac­world.com/srs4), the Fit­bit Charge 3 ( go.mac­world.com/chg3) 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 ( go.mac­world.com/inic) and Versa ( go.mac­world.com/vrsa) 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.

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: the 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.

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 high­er­res­o­lu­tion though not-quite-retina dis­play. But more im­por­tantly, the screen is fully touch-en­abled now, a ma­jor up­grade from the tap-only Charge 2.

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 these days. 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.

Here’s why: the but­ton on the Charge 3 is not a tra­di­tional but­ton, its an in­duc­tive one. To ac­ti­vate it, you need to press your finger against the side of the band un­til you feel a small bit of hap­tic feed­back. Since you don’t need it for nav­i­ga­tion any­more, the main use for the but­ton on the Charge 3 is to turn the screen on and off—you won’t need to press it all that of­ten. It’s a cool in­no­va­tion that will surely im­pact Fit­bit’s fu­ture de­signs in more mean­ing­ful ways, but it’s not re­ally all that use­ful on the Charge 3, other than giv­ing the body a cleaner look.

ALERTS, NOT APPS

Other than a phys­i­cal but­ton, the other thing the Charge 3 doesn’t have is a way to in­stall apps. While that’s not un­com­mon in the world of fit­ness bands, it feels a bit con­strict­ing as it fol­lows in the foot­steps of the Versa and Ionic. Granted, the app li­brary on those plat­forms are se­verely lim­ited com­pared to Wear OS and Ap­ple’s watchos, but on the Charge 3, there are but six apps, and one is Set­tings. The oth­ers are Ex­er­cise, Re­lax, Timers, Alarms, and Weather. Cal­en­dar and Leader­board are com­ing soon, and there’s also a Wal­let app for Fit­bit Pay on the Nfc-en­abled spe­cial edi­tion Charge 3, but for the most part apps are lim­ited to oblig­a­tory func­tions.

Clock faces are lim­ited as well, with just 7 to choose from as op­posed to the dozens that are avail­able for Ionic and Versa. And any new ones will need to be de­signed by Fit­bit for now, as the com­pany isn’t re­leas­ing an SDK for cus­tom apps and faces. It is, how­ever, work­ing with “a num­ber of pop­u­lar brands” to bring ex­tra func­tion­al­ity to the Charge 3. Stay tuned.

Based on its app li­brary alone, the Charge 3 is nowhere near as smart as the Versa and Ionic. Most no­tably, there’s no mu­sic app or con­trols, so all mu­sic

stream­ing will have to come from your phone. That’s a bum­mer and the Charge 3’s big­gest detri­ment, but since it doesn’t have on-board GPS, you’ll need to have your phone most of the time, any­way.

The Charge 3’s ex­er­cise track­ing fea­tures are as ro­bust as you’d ex­pect from a Fit­bit de­vice, though au­to­matic ex­er­cise recog­ni­tion was a lit­tle wonky. For ex­am­ple, it prop­erly reg­is­tered a walk to a lo­cal restau­rant but clocked my time there as an hour of out­door bi­cy­cling for some rea­son. And if I for­got to hit stop af­ter a work­out ses­sion, my Charge 3 con­tin­ued to record my move­ments for hours de­spite a re­turn to a rest­ing heart rate.

Where Fit­bit has ex­panded the Charge 3’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties is with no­ti­fi­ca­tions. The Charge 2 was able to get alerts for calls, mes­sages, and emails, while the Charge 3 can dis­play any no­ti­fi­ca­tion that comes to your phone, mak­ing it in­fin­itely more use­ful. It’s here where apps like Uber or Spo­tify are missed, but the Charge 3 does well to keep you ap­prised of what’s go­ing on. While you still aren’t able to in­ter­act with any of the alert you re­ceive—an­droid Quick Replies are still on Fit­bit’s com­ing-soon list and there’s no mi­cro­phone for an­swer­ing calls—it makes the Charge 3 a true all-day com­pan­ion to your phone.

Did I say all day? I meant all week. With­out GPS or a color screen, Fit­bit has man­aged to squeeze seven days of bat­tery life out of the Charge 3, and in my test­ing, reg­u­lar work­outs didn’t pre­vent it from reach­ing day seven, with a full week of sleep track­ing to boot. And since it’s wa­ter re­sis­tant up to 50 me­ters, you re­ally won’t need to take it off un­til the bat­tery dies a week later. When you do need to charge it, Fit­bit has in­tro­duced yet an­other charger that’s ba­si­cally a smaller ver­sion of the Versa’s squeez­able dock.

BOT­TOM LINE

Fit­bit hasn’t changed the price of the Charge 3, so it’ll still run you $150 (or $180 for the spe­cial-edi­tion model, which comes with an NFC chip and a se­cond band). Com­pared to the $279

Se­ries 3 Ap­ple Watch or even the $200 Versa, it’s a bit of a steal. Quite frankly, a touch screen alone would be enough to make the Charge 3 a wor­thy up­grade over the Charge 2, but

Fit­bit has made its new­est wear­able smarter to boot.

Even with greater ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the Charge 3 is sim­plis­tic com­pared to the

Sam­sung Galaxy Watch or up­com­ing Huawei Watch GT, but that’s the whole point. It’s not about pil­ing on fea­tures and func­tions to chal­lenge high­er­priced watches. It’s about of­fer­ing a con­cen­trated al­ter­na­tive to full-sized smart­watches with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the things that are nec­es­sary to the ex­pe­ri­ence. Other than mu­sic, I didn’t miss much about my other smart­watches while wear­ing the Charge 3 for a week. Sure, it would be nice to an­swer calls or re­spond to mes­sages, but it also made me con­sider the ur­gency of each alert.

At some point the Ionic, Versa, and Charge 3 will con­verge into a sin­gle de­vice that’s small enough for ev­ery wrist and smart enough for ev­ery task, but un­til the day ar­rives, the Charge 3 is def­i­nitely a best-of-both-worlds propo­si­tion. You can find smarter, more ca­pa­ble watches out there for sure, but they’ll be big­ger, more ex­pen­sive, won’t last through the week. And they just might change your per­cep­tion of how smart your watch re­ally needs to be. ■

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

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

You can swipe to nav­i­gate screens on the Charge 3.

That’s a but­ton.

As al­ways, fit­ness takes cen­ter stage on the Charge 3.

Full-sized alerts make the Charge 3 smarter than ever.

The Fit­bit Charge 3 has a big­ger screen and less ag­gres­sive bands than the Charge 2.

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