KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 17 — While smartwatches are overtaking traditional watches in sales, there is still a market for the simpler health tracker. Fitbit has again updated its Charge range with the Fitbit Charge 3, making some upgrades without changing too much of a winning formula.
If you just wanted a barebones fitness tracker, the likes of Xiaomi offer much cheaper alternatives but Fitbit has a following for a reason. Tracking steps, celebrating hitting steps goals and competing with friends is something Fitbit pioneered.
Even Apple has followed in Fitbit's wake of creating challenges but before we get into the software, let's talk about the physical bits.
Black is where it's at
Fitbit's tried to follow in Apple's wake with pricey alternative bands as well as limited editions. But the classic Black/Graphite aluminium tracker will likely be the bestseller of all the colour options and for good reason -- it's practical and goes with everything.
If you're not into black, there's also blue and the choice of either a frost white sport band edition or a lavender woven band alternate. The special editions also come with a spare black band as well.
The fit and comfort of the black rubber is decent -- not as thin as the Alta HR, but that means you have a bigger screen. I prefer the Charge 3's band to the Alta's -- it's sleeker and wider, and the texture doesn't irritate my skin the way the Alta HR's did. This means it will feel a lot more comfortable during workouts or while moving around.
You could get away with wearing it as a regular watch -- it even comes with a selection of watchfaces.
There is a physical button that feels more like a small recess on the side that takes some getting used to but after a while you appreciate it doesn't bulge out from the side from a comfort perspective.
The OLED panel offers greyscale resolution that is bigger and brighter than previous Charge models while not proving to be a drain on battery life. It's nice to have a device that you only have to charge every few days. While it claims to last seven days, I find it lasting up to five days at most.
With water-resistance up to 50 metres, you can now shower with the Fitbit Charge 3 as well as take a dip in the pool. It's not optimised for deep-sea diving deeper than 100 metres so take it off in those instances.
That Bluetooth, though
I wish Fitbit would sort out its syncing issues. Testing the Charge 3 with both an Android and an iPhone, Bluetooth syncing took far too long to the point with the iPhone I just left the Fitbit on my wrist and looked at it a few minutes later.
Even changing the Clock Face on the app was an annoying affair -- the first time setting it up, it took hours just to do. Later attempts were easier but still meant error messages claiming the app couldn't connect to the device.
It's a shame as the Fitbit Charge 3 offers a better experience in-app, with more detailed challenges as well as sleep tracking.
The addition of swimming tracking as well as better exercise detection means it's less fiddly. You don't have to tell the Fitbit you ran today -- the Charge 3 is smart enough to detect and record your 20 minutes of running around the neighbourhood this morning.
Another nice feature that comes with the Charge 3 is it comes with female health tracking as well as the ability to figure out how much calories you're actually burning in another day.
You also get a better mapping of what kind of heart rate zone you're in when exercising — this matters so you can tell whether you're at your optimal heart rate to get a proper cardio workout as well as peak and fat burning zones.
Unfortunately there's no onboard GPS on the device - it relies on your phone's GPS instead. Which means its battery will last longer but it also means you can't leave your phone at home when you run.
A new feature is the Relax app which is similar to the Breathe app on the Apple Watch. Think guided breathing to help you de-stress. It's novel; with text as well as vibrations to help you follow along and if you're doing well, your screen will display sparkles.
Why get it?
If you're comfortable with the Fitbit experience and don't mind paying a premium for it, the Charge 3 is a well-designed, top-of-the-line fitness tracker. Just remember this isn't a smartwatch; the apps available are limited and it doesn't support Fitbit's Fitness Coach service.
The Fitbit is most fun with friends. You can still have your friends install Fitbit's app on their phone even if they don't have a tracker (though it's better with one) and you can have fun trying to not just hit your own steps goal but see who can outdo the other.
It's also slightly embarrassing when you see how much exercise your fitter friends are getting while you're being a couch potato. When all else fails, peer pressure is a great incentive for exercise.
Now if only Fitbit would make Bluetooth syncing less painful, the Charge 3 just might be (almost) perfect. It is already available at all authorised distributors, with pricing set at RM728 for the standard version.