All of our testers chose the Charge 3 as their hands-down favorite fitness tracker for its mix of good looks, easy-to-navigate device menus and companion app, and plethora of activity- and sleep-tracking info.
Testers rated the setup “super-easy” for getting the device and app up and running. Once in use, the Charge 3 makes itself known, with hourly reminders to move and a 250-step countdown to hit before you sit back down. The Charge 3, like the other Fitbits and Garmins we tested, also automatically detects sustained activity, based on the movement patterns and heart-rate data the watch records, giving you credit for it in the app. Walks, runs, and bike rides especially are chronicled pretty accurately within a minute, plus or minus. However, it’s not foolproof: an apparently vigorous laundry folding session gave me credit for “sport.” There’s also no indication that anything is tracking on the device so you won’t know if it worked until later, and our testers didn’t initially know where to find this information in the app (it’s under “Track your exercise”).
If you prefer not to rely on the device to automatically recognize your workouts, you can turn on an exercise mode, selecting from seven on the watch that you preset from about 15 options on the app. The Charge 3 has “connected GPS,” which means that if you want mapping and more accurate paces for your walks, runs, and bike rides, you’ll need to bring your phone along, unlike running watches, which have a built-in GPS chip. The Charge 3’s screen stays dark unless you raise your wrist, which can have an annoying split-second lag if you want to scope your stats mid-workout and it turns off very quickly, so you may not see everything you want in that glance.
Fitbit offers an extensive and active community centered around step-focused challenges, something that no other fitness-tracker company has had the same success replicating. Having a social aspect to help you set and meet goals can be a driving factor for sticking to your wellness plans, and the community is a selling point for Fitbit fans. (During our testing, Google announced it was acquiring Fitbit, which has raised privacy concerns regarding how the tech giant might use all health data accumulated from its vast network. Until the sale is final, we just won’t know, but it’s something we’re keeping an eye on.)
Testers reported that the Charge 3’s sleep tracking seemed to record accurately, though one commented that “moving around and whatnot gets in the way.” Other user-friendly health features include a breathing activity for stress reduction, menstrual cycle tracking, a hydration log, a food log with a searchable database of common foods, as well as pay-to-play workout, meditation, and other wellness programs.
The Charge 3 has some smartphone features, including notifications, which you can customize or turn off entirely if all that buzzing gets on your nerves. You may reply to texts from the watch using preset canned replies and emojis, but if you want voice-to-text to reply in your own words, you should consider a smartwatch.
For a similar range of features with a larger screen, the Fitbit Versa Lite may be your preferred pick (see below). In general, though, our testers preferred the smaller overall size of the Charge 3, particularly for sleeping, despite the compromise to the display.