Image source: Fitbit

Fitbit Charge 5 vs Charge 4 vs Charge 3: should you upgrade?

In this article we compare Fitbit Charge 5, Charge 4 and Charge 3. Announced a few days ago the first is the latest version of the San Francisco outfit’s most popular activity band.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets

Despite being nearly two years old, the Charge 4 sells very well. But let’s face it, the wearable was due for a refresh. Is the fifth generation device worth the extra expense? Particularly when you take into consideration its predecessor will now fall in price (check Charge 5 price on Amazon). Should you upgrade if you have one of the older devices?

Read on to find out all this and more.


Fitbit Charge 5 vs Charge 4 vs Charge 3: Technical specs

Fitbit has stuck to the tried and tested look over the years for its Charge range. Try and spot the design difference between Charge 4 and 3. It’s not as easy as it sounds – the two are practically identical.

Similar in size and shape, they have exactly the same water-resistance and quality of screen. Both are built from very lightweight material including an aerospace grade aluminum case and Corning Gorilla Glass 3 display. The housing and buckle are made of anodized aluminum.

As far as display, the duo packs a grayscale touchscreen and single physical button on the side to help with navigation. Apparently the backlighting adjustment is slightly better on Charge 4 so visibility should be better. The other difference is that the button is recessed on Charge 4.

Fitbit Charge 5 – a major design overhaul

With Charge 5 Fitbit has introduced some more significant aesthetic upgrades. Yes, the device is still recognisable as part of the Charge range, but with rounded edges it looks a lot sleeker than before. It also looses the physical button so you need to rely solely on the display for navigation.

The company has obviously taken inspiration from Luxe. Charge 5 packs a colour display for the first time and it’s twice as bright then the grayscale of its predecessors. There’s also an ambient light sensor which automatically adjusts brightness.

The Charge 5 display comes with an always-on option but you might want to think twice about using it as it will eat into battery life. We’re guessing it will halve the battery life.

The display is still surrounded by thick bezels. But the company has ditched the Fitbit logo below which can only be a good thing. The gizmo also features stainless steel panels on the sides for a classy look. They double-up as sensors when taking ECG measurements.

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Fitbit Charge 5 vs Charge 4 vs Charge 3

In terms of actual specs, the core unit of Charge 4 has a depth of 12.5mm (vs 11.8mm) and weighs around 30 grams (vs 29 grams). It is therefore a fraction bigger than its predecessor, not that it’s going to make much of a difference.

Fitbit has not released yet the exact measurements of Charge 5. But the company says the device is abut 10% thinner than before.

Charge 5 has ECG and EDA sensors

Under the hood once again there are lots of similarities, along with some important differences.

The devices share a 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, optical heart rate monitor, PulseOx and vibration motor. The most notable extra that you get with the fourth and fifth generation bands is built-in GPS/GLONASS. Charge 3 has Connected GPS, a fancy way of saying it needs your smartphone to tap into the satellite signal.

Interestingly, the altimeter that is built into Charge 3 and 4 does not appear on the Charge 5 specs sheet. Which means that Fitbit has decided not to include floor count as a metric on its latest wearable.

But you do get some hardware extras on the latest generation fitness band. These come in the form of multipurpose electrical sensors compatible with the ECG and EDA Scan apps.

Battery life is around a week

Battery life is the same on all of these, about a week on a single charge. Switch on the built-in GPS on Charge 5 or 4 and this falls to a perfectly respectable 5 hours. It is impressive that Fitbit has managed to retain the same sort of battery life despite introducing a colour display on Charge 5.

Here’s a table showing how the specs compare.

Charge 5
Charge 4
Charge 3
Material
The housing is made of aluminium, glass and resin. The band is made of silicone and has an aluminium buckle.
Built of more lightweight material including an aerospace grade aluminum case and Corning Gorilla Glass 3 display. The housing and buckle are made of anodized aluminum.
Built of more lightweight material including an aerospace grade aluminum case and Corning Gorilla Glass 3 display. The housing and buckle are made of anodized aluminum.
Dimensions
36.78mm x 22.79mm x 11.2mm (H x W x D)
35.8mm x 22.7mm
35.8mm x 22.7mm
Depth
 11.2mm (10% thinner than Charge 4)
12.5mm
11.8mm
Screen resolution
260 x 170 pixels
100 x 160 pixels
100 x 160 pixels
Display type
 AMOLED
OLED full touchscreen, TFT, Grayscale
OLED full touchscreen, TFT, Grayscale
Physical button
No
Yes
Yes
Battery life
up to 7 days or up to 5 hours with GPS. Use of the always-on display and SpO2 features will require more frequent charging. 
up to 7 days, or up to 5 hours with GPS
up to 7 days
Water resistance
up to 50 metres (swim-proof) – 5 ATM 
up to 50 metres (swim-proof) – 5 ATM
up to 50 metres (swim-proof) – 5 ATM
Weight
 TBC
30g
29g
Sensors
Optical heart rate tracker,
3-axis accelerometer,
SpO2,
temperature sensor,
multipurpose electrical sensors compatible with ECG app & EDA Scan app,
vibration motor,
ambient light sensor
Optical heart rate tracker,
3-axis accelerometer,
altimeter,
SpO2,
temperature sensor,
vibration motor
Optical heart rate tracker,
3-axis accelerometer,
altimeter,
SpO2,
vibration motor
GPS
Built-in GPS
Built-in GPS
Connected GPS
NFC
 Yes
Yes
Only Special Edition
RRP
 $179
$149
$149

Fitbit Charge 5 vs Charge 4 vs Charge 3: Functionality

An average person will find pretty much everything they need for tracking fitness around the clock on any of theses. This includes all-day heart rate monitoring, steps, distance, active minutes, calories burned, blood oxygen (during the night) and advanced sleep tracking. There is also automatic activity recognition, Guided Breathing, Female Health tracking, Multi-Sport mode, move reminders and some more advanced performance metrics such as VO2 Max.

Let’s jump right to the differences.

Heart health

Charge 5 is the first Fitbit fitness band to pack an ECG sensor. Sense has it so the latest wearable could, very well, eat into its sales. The ECG sensor checks for signs of atrial fibrillation (AFib) and other irregular heart rhythm. This works with a compatible ECG app.

In order to take a reading you will be required to touch the conductive panels on the sides of the timepiece with your finger or thumb. The watch will then map out the electrical activity of your heart and let you know if anything is amiss.

EDA

The EDA sensor monitors electrical changes in your skin’s sweat levels. This helps to more precisely identify how stressed you are. Once again, this is a sensor that can only be found on Fitbit Charge 5 and Sense.

Taking a reading is very similar to taking an ECG reading. It uses the same panels and, once again, you are required to touch the sensors. The software will then look for changes in electrical activity. If you are sweating, this will be taken as a stress indicator.

It’s worth noting, the stress metric is not new – other devices have it, as well. But by using the EDA sensor you will get more precise readings. These are on-demand, though, so the EDA sensor does not work automatically around the clock.

Daily Readiness Score

The metric which has generated a lot of interest is called the Daily Readiness Score. Charge 5 has it and Fitbit says it will also come to owners of Sense, Versa 3, Versa 2, Luxe and Inspire 2. As you can see, Charge 4 and 3 are not on this list.

The metric sounds very similar to Garmin’s Body Battery and Polar’s Nightly Recharge. What it does is it lets you know how prepared you are for exercise on a particular day. You can then use this info to decide whether to go out for that run in the afternoon or laze away on the dining room sofa.

Or you can let Fitbit make that decision for you. Charge 5 comes with exercise recommendations that tap into these readings. For example – on a day where you are fatigued, the device might suggest some light stretching or yoga.

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Image source: Fitbit

Charge 5 taps into heart rate variability (HRV), activity levels and sleep stats to calculate the Daily Readings Score. If you were exercising hard the previous day or have not had enough sleep – your body will need rest in order to recharge. This will be reflected in the readings.

The bad news is that the feature sits behind the Fitbit Premium paywall so not everyone will have access. We really are not a fan of the paywall functionality Fitbit seems to be using more and more.

No floor count on Charge 5

As mentioned above, there’s no altimeter on-board Fitbit Charge 5. So if a floor count is important to you, stick to the earlier generation bands. We’re not really sure why the sensor was dropped on the latest band. Perhaps it is something to do with the fact that the metric is known to be wildly inaccurate at times. Many things can effect it.

Charge 5 and 4 have built-in GPS, Charge 3 doesn’t

An important omission on Charge 3 is the lack of a built-in GPS. This can be found on Charge 4 and 5.

Built-in GPS means you can go running or cycling outdoors, leave your phone behind and still get detailed statistics and a map of your route. This is going to make a huge difference to some, but to others it probably won’t make the slightest bit of difference. It really depends on whether you use GPS often to track your outdoor exercise.

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Fitbit Charge 4
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It is worth noting, you can use Charge 4 with Connected GPS if you have your phone with you and want to save battery life. We are sure this will be available on Charge 5, as well.

Stemming from this are a few new software based features. One is the ability to show training intensity on a map after a workout. This can either be in the form of pace or heart rate zones shaded throughout your route.

Then there is something Fitbit calls Active Zones. This measures the intensity of your activity by rewarding you points for various heart rate zones. Whats more Charge 4 and 5 will alert you when switching from one zone to another.

Non-fitness features

In terms of non-fitness features, there’s the above mentioned NFC which comes built into all Charge 4s and 5s. Again, this is something that will make a difference to those who use Fitbit Pay but those that don’t won’t even notice it.

There’s also the usual support for notifications, the ability to set up alarms, timers and more. Charge 5 gets all these features but the important difference is that you will be able to use all of these on a colour AMOLED display. Plus it has a wider collection of watch faces.

You still can’t download songs for offline listening. But Charge 4 and 5 allow you to play, stop, shuffle and skip Spotify songs without reaching for your phone.

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Fitbit Charge 5 vs Charge 4 vs Charge 3: The bottom line

Fitbit Charge 5 or Charge 4? The upgrade from one to the other is quite big. The latest device has taken the best of what the company has on offer and packed it all into a slim body. Think of it as Fitbit Sense, but in the form of a fitness band.

For first time buyers, its a no-brainer. Go for Fitbit Charge 5 as it is clearly the better device. We think the $30 price premium over Charge 4 is worth it (check current price on Amazon). Charge 5 has some important extras such as the ECG and EDA apps, Daily Readiness Score and an AMOLED display with an alway-on option.

The caveat is that Charge 5 does not pack an altimeter for floor counts. But all the other features are there, including 5 ATM water-resistance and one week battery life.

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Fitbit Charge 5
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If you are holding on to a Charge 4 you will need to decide if the extra features are worth the hassle of selling the old device and purchasing the new one. For Charge 3 owners, it might be time to upgrade. Even Charge 4 will be an attractive purchase, as it will see an inevitable fall in price. If you can live without a colour display and the ECG/EDA features, it remains a viable option.

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8 thoughts on “Fitbit Charge 5 vs Charge 4 vs Charge 3: should you upgrade?

  • Do you really mean that when you turn on the GPS, the battery life of the Charge 4 falls from about 7 days to 5 *hours*? Did you mean 5 *days*?

    A 5-hour battery life is not “respectable” if you mean to use the device for long hikes, or just don’t want to charge it every day.

    Reply
    • You’re not going to get much more with GPS turned with any other fitness tracker or smartwatch. They all last hours rather than days with built-in GPS switched on. It’s very power hungry.

      Reply
    • Do you jog more than 5 hours a day? Then it is not for you.

      Reply
      • Ha! 5 hours a day of jogging is more than enough.

        Reply
  • I like the charge 3 rose gold

    Reply
    • Me, too, plus I’m not a runner or cyclist. At 68, I get my exercise caring for my 9 month old grandson, who is now crawling…soon to be walking, and then running! LOL I’ve been logging over 10,000 steps and more. LOL

      Reply
  • I already have the charge 3 and as I’m not a runner or cyclist I can’t see any reason to upgrade to the charge 4.

    Reply
  • It seems like every two years the screen on my device die, so I have to buy a new one. I wear it all the time, except in the shower. I track my running, bicycle riding, and hiking. It tracks my heart rate, shows me how much I sleep and in what stage, I can also log my food and water intake. I was happy with the the version 3 but since I have to get a new one anyway, I will get the 4.

    Reply

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