There are very few brands that have become so ubiquitous with what they make that a large majority of the public have begun simply replacing the product’s noun with the company’s brand. Companies like GoPro, Jacuzzi, Maggi and Google, are good examples.
Then, you’ve got Fitbit, who — perhaps to a lesser extent — once dominated the smart fitness tracker market in a similar manner. They’re probably the most well-known fitness tracker maker in the world, and today I’ve got their latest product with me. It’s called the Charge 3 and here are my first impressions.
First thing’s first, the Fitbit Charge 3 is not a smartwatch. A smartwatch is something like an Apple Watch or a Samsung Galaxy Watch, with a full app ecosystem and a whole bunch more features. But it’s also not a dumb watch, like those hand made in Switzerland or that Dora the Explorer watch we all wanted as a kid.
It’s a smart fitness tracker, and it is this kind of smart wearable that Fitbit has basically built their entire company on. So, I suppose it won’t be too surprising then if I tell you that the Charge 3 looks like a damn good fitness tracker — and a significant update over its predecessor, the Charge 2.
Of course, being a fitness tracker, it still tracks your usual suspects like heart-rate, steps, floors climbed, calories burned and other fitness metrics. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t have built-in GPS tracking so you can’t track the route you’ve taken without bringing your smartphone along for the ride. But this time the Fitbit Charge 3 also comes with the same sensor as the Fitbit Ionic. Yes, that sensor which can also track your relative SpO2 — or oxygen saturation. At least, that’s what Fitbit Malaysia tells me, because apparently, they’re not calling it the tri-wave sensor anymore because I couldn’t find any mention of it in any of their marketing materials. In fact, when I asked them if it was the tri-wave sensor, nobody could give me a straight answer.
Nevertheless, Fitbit also equipped their new Charge 3 with Fitbit Pay. That’s the company’s very own NFC-based contactless payment solution that debuted with Fitbit Ionic. The idea here is that if you want to go for a run without your phone or wallet, you can still pay for stuff like water and snacks should you get peckish along the way.
Next, the smart fitness tracker’s also got a new case, one that’s made out of aluminium, that feels a lot sleeker and more robust than the Charge 2’s. But the best thing about this new case is the fact that it’s now waterproof up to 50m so you can take it swimming, or in the shower, or just dunk it in a glass of water for fun. Either way, this is a great addition that finally puts the Fitbit Charge 3 on par with the Gear Fit2 Pro.
It’s also got a new inductive button, which is Fitbit’s fancy way of saying that the watch has a pressure sensitive spot at the side which you can press. This functions like a normal button would, and you can use it to navigate the Charge 3 like you would with a regular button. Since I was never a fan of the Charge 2’s physical button — it was kinda flimsy and not very tactile — this is a welcomed change.
Finally, the device also features a new touchscreen display up front — hallelujah! The old Charge 2 had a “tap screen” display which you could tap to navigate the fitness tracker. It registered your taps with the accelerometer, but that never really felt very accurate for me. This one, though, works like a proper touchscreen so it feels a lot more grown up. Unfortunately, it’s still a monochrome screen, but at least that means you still get a 7-day battery life with the Charge 3.
I also think that the bands on the Charge 3 are better than they were before. They’re much easier to remove and reattach, and I think they also strap in more securely than before. Plus, they’ve got this Nike Sport-like band with all the holes in them for better breathability, and I totally dig that.
But, here’s my problem with the Charge 3. Two of their biggest features, aren’t features you can actually use right now. Fitbit Pay, isn’t supported in Malaysia just yet, so you can’t actually pay with it. When I asked Fitbit about when it would be available, they told me that they were still talking to the banks and the other necessary parties to get this going…which is pretty much exactly what they told me last year during the Ionic’s launch.
Then, you’ve got the SpO2 sensor, which is there, but doesn’t actually work yet. The algorithms are not in and the feature hasn’t actually been activated yet. Again, when I asked Fitbit for a timeline, they said they were still working on getting the necessary approvals before they can actually activate it…which is again, you guessed it, exactly what they told me last year.
So we’re kind of stuck here. The big new features that should have propelled the Fitbit Charge 3 past its competitors don’t actually work now, and what you’re left with is just a regular fitness tracker.
It looks like a really, really good fitness tracker — which shouldn’t be surprising since it’s a Fitbit — and it looks like a pretty significant upgrade over its predecessor, but it’s still a fitness tracker. And it’s one that doesn’t even have GPS built-in. And it’s kind of pricey too, with its RRP of RM728 for the regular edition and RM838 for the special edition.
But those are my thoughts. I’d love to hear from you, especially those on a Fitbit Charge 2, or were thinking about getting a Charge 2. Does the Charge 3 interest you? Let me know in the comments below.
Photography by Zachary Yoong with the Sony A7 III.