Fitbit doesn’t actually label its wristbands as smartwatches. The closest it gets is calling its Surge device a “superwatch”, and the Blaze as a "Fitness Watch". Otherwise the correct term is activity trackers. Fitbits don’t run multiple apps like a smartwatch, but they are directly comparable on many of their fitness-measuring functions, design themes and functions.
The Blaze looks more like a regular smartwatch, and has five times the battery life of the Apple Watch. Read our Fitbit Charge 2 review.
As a direct comparison we’ll look at the Apple Watch vs the Fitbit Alta, Fitbit Charge 2, Fitbit Blaze and Fitbit Surge. The Fitbit Flex 2 is the cheapest wristband but has a far more minimal display screen, and no watch function.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Activity tracking
Keeping fit doesn’t mean you have to be a gym freak or marathon runner. Keeping active throughout the day offers real health benefits too, and both the Apple Watch and Fitbit activity trackers are superb at getting you moving more.
The Apple Watch and Fitbit activity trackers measure steps taken, distance travelled and calories burned. They also show you how many minutes you’ve been active during the day. Each tracks your progress over time and can store historical data, and you set daily goals for yourself.
The accuracy of the trackers is probably less important than how they show your trend of activity and performance against user-set goals.
In addition the Fitbit wristbands (excluding the Flex 2 ansd Alta) have an altimeter that counts distance climbed (take the hilly route home, not the flat one). The Fitbits also sync weight data from the optional Fitbit Aria scales. As a result the Fitbit models range from everyday fitness and active fitness (like the Apple Watch) and further to sports and performance fitness – with the Surge supporting running, cross-training, biking, strength and cardio workouts.
Serious runners have dismissed the Apple Watch for their needs, preferring the Surge or other dedicated running watches from the Garmin or Suunto. But that might change with the release of the Series 2 Apple Watch, which features a buillt-in GPS just like the Fitbit Surge,
Fitness is obviously at the core of the Fitbits, whereas the Apple Watch counts activity tracking as one of its many features.
The Apple Watch offers two main fitness apps: Activity, which is all about health, movement, wellness and your daily routine; and Workout App, which tracks running, cycling and walking. All this data is collected on your iPhone using the Apple Health app. While they work brilliantly with the iPhone Fitbits do not support Apple’s Health Kit.
You can see at a glance how far you are with your daily movement and health goals by looking at the Apple Watch’s colourful three rings, which light up to show your progress. The Move ring shows calories burned. The Exercise ring displays how many minutes of brisk activity you’ve achieved. And the Stand ring shows how often you’ve stood up to stop sitting down. The aim is to complete each rung every day. It’s a great motivation tool.
Apple defines exercise as any activity that’s equivalent to at least a brisk walk. The Watch looks at your heart rate and movement data, so just going for a walk might not move that green ring as much as you’d think. It wants you to get your heart pumping a bit faster. The Apple Watch learns your habits so will push you harder the more active you get over time.
We love the Apple Watch’s ping to remind you if you’ve been sitting around too long – time to stretch the legs and get the heart rate up for a bit, or at least stand up. Basically it’s a get-off-your-arse alert – from the taptic pulses to your wrist to notifications that you’ve been idle for a long period of time. You can actually get an alert even when standing up because what the Watch is actually measuring is your lack of moving about. Fitbit's Reminders To Move work in the same way, and are found on the Alta, Charge 2 and Flex 2.
The Apple Workout app gives you real-time stats for exercise time, distance walked/run, calories burned and pace, but at the moment it relies on third-party apps to make it a proper sports tracker, and until the release of the Series 2 Watch we didn’t find the Workout app accurate enough for running (see below in our GPS comparison). The lack of built-in GPS (see below) puts the Series 1 Aple Watch behind the Fitbit Surge in this regard, but the Series 2 Apple Watch is now a real contender. The Watch's compatibility with some excellent third-party running apps improves on some of these native failings.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Heart rate
The Apple Watch and Fitbit Charge 2, Blaze and Surge use something called photoplethysmography to measure your heart rate. This uses safe green LED lights on the underside of the wristband to detect blood volume and capillary-size changes under pressure. When your heart beats, your capillaries expand and contract based on blood volume changes. The LED lights reflect onto the skin to detect blood volume changes.
Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. When your heart beats, the blood flow in your wrist – and the green light absorption – is greater.
The Fitbit Charge 2, Surge and Blaze monitor your heart rate continuously, 24/7. They can store heart rate data at 1-second intervals during exercise tracking and at 5-second intervals all other times.
On the other hand (or should I say wrist?) the Apple Watch checks your heart rate only every ten minutes during the day. However, it does record your heart rate continuously when the Workout app is turned on, so you get constant feedback during training sessions. The Watch’s built-in heart-rate monitor does support external heart-rate monitors.
The Apple Watch impressed the testers at US Consumer Reports: “We pitted the Apple Watch against our highest-rated heart-rate monitor. Wearing both, our testers hit the treadmill – first walking slowly, then a little faster, then a jog back to a walk.” The test found “no significant differences” between Apple Watch and the dedicated heart-rate monitor, with both reporting similar readings.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Calorie counting
The basic formula for losing weight is to count calories in and ensure you are expending more calries out through exercise. Both the Watch and Fitbits help you count these calories.
The Apple Watch uses motion and heart rate data to determine calorie counts, which then dictate the Move metric of the Activity app. As you continue to wear your Apple Watch it will better learn your habits, average heart rate ranges, and normal activity levels. Calorie counts should get more accurate over time as the Watch learns your heart rate ranges and activity levels.
Unlike Fitbit Apple breaks out resting calories (calories you burn just by existing) and active calories (burnt through more vigorous activity). The Move ring is interested in Active not Resting calories, which is smarter than Fitbit’s approach.
However, some Apple Watch owners have complained about calorie-counting inaccuracies, which might be down to the Watch's occasional inability to accurately record distance. Macworld's Kirk McElhearn has pointed this out on his Kirkville blog, among other Apple Watch bugs, which we'd hope Apple fixes sooner rather than later.
Fitbit estimates the number of calories burned based on your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), calulated using your height, weight, age, and gender. The trackers that measure heart rate go into more detail, with the calorie burn estimate taking heart rate into account. Fitbit calorie tracking begins at midnight and incorporates the calories burnt while sleeping – which is obviously missed by the Apple Watch that has to charge overnight. When you sync your tracker, Fitbit replaces the estimated calorie burn with your tracker's data.
You can also manually log fitness activities, so the calories burned during those activities are also taken into account. When you log your meals each day you can set a Fitbit Food Plan that estimates your daily calorie consumption, and records the number of calories you have burned and eaten so far in the day.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Sleep monitor
Scientists are increasingly linking weight gain and poor metabolism to sleep deprivation, so getting a good night's sleep should be part of your health, fitness and weight-loss strategy. Sleep loss can lead to an increased prevalence of diabetes and obesity.
Sleepers who manage fewer than six hours of shut-eye each night are four times more likely to get ill than those who manage at least seven, says 2015 research from the University of California. Sleep was found to be a more important factor in catching a cold than stress or smoking. And Surrey University Physiology researcher Professor Derk-Jan Dijk says sleep is a fundamental ‘pillar of health’ alongside diet and exercise.
Because its battery life is so challenged (see below) the Apple Watch has to be charged every night, so sleep monitoring would obviously be a pointless function. So if you want a sleep monitor the Apple Watch is not going to help you.
The Fitbit trackers, however, do monitor the length and quality of your sleep. A Fitbit tracker's settings can record sleep in either "sensitive" mode for detailed sleep reporting or "normal" mode for a more basic idea of your sleep patterns. The normal setting counts significant movements as being awake (such as rolling over) and is appropriate for most users.
The sensitive setting causes your tracker to record nearly all movements as time spent awake. This setting may be helpful for users with sleep disorders.
The Flex 2, Alta, Charge 2, Surge and Blaze all feature automatic sleep detection so you don’t have to expressly tell the device when you’re falling asleep, which means you won’t miss sleep measurement because you’re, well, tired. Autodetection is based on your movement and, if you have a Charge 2, Surge or Blaze, your heart rate.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: apps
Apple’s Activity and Workout apps look glorious, of course, but Fitbit’s appealing multi-phone app features more stats and data graphics. Fitbit also wins by having a rich desktop dashboard to collect and organize your activity data.
The Blaze works with the FitStar Personal Trainer, which has on-screen workouts that deliver guided instructions and animated images to three of the popular personal trainer workouts from FitStar: Warm It Up (8 minutes), 7 Minute Workout, and 10 Minute Abs. Each workout is free and can be accessed at any time with no app or smartphone required. Annual membership with FitStar costs £29.99.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Design
There are many different combinations of Apple Watch types, sizes and straps, from the simple Sport to the blingtastic Watch Edition. Apple’s Jonathan Ive has scored another design success with its Watch, and it’s really rather beautiful.
Fitbit's tracker wristbands are a lot more minimal, with simple screens (see below) and stark straps, available in a range of several colours. You can wear a Fitbit with your regular wristwatch, but I wouldn’t wear an Apple Watch with a normal watch on the same arm. The Apple Watch is your main watch, not another wristband. The Fitbit Charge 2/Alta/Surge can easily be worn as your only watch, too, of course, but can ride further up the wrist if you still love your regular timepiece.
The Fitbit Blaze (below) has a smaller range of straps, launching with a choice of Black, Blue and Plum in Small and Large sizes. There are more luxury straps also available at extra cost: Stainless Steel links (add £89.99), plus Leather (Black, Camel, and Mist Grey) at an extra £59.99 on top of the £159 price of the Blaze itself (which comes with one of the basic straps as standard.
The Apple Watch looks more like a watch than the Fitbits, and it even has a functioing crown on the side. The Fitbits are more wristbands, although the Surge has a nice wraparound feel to it.
The Fitbits are comfortable, and in fact mostly it’s difficult to tell you’ve got one on at all, as they are so lightweight. We found the watch-type buckle of the Charge 2, Blaze and Surge to be more secure than the press-in tabs of the Alta and Flex 2.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Screen
The Apple Watch’s touchscreen is a colourful beauty, while the Fitbits’ minimalism means the display is white on black, and some grey with the Surge’s larger screen that shows icons as well as your activity data. The Blaze's colour screen is not as lush as Apple's but does allow for more than the other Fitbits' minimal looks.
Because the screen is small you might prefer using the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown to navigate as your finger will cover a big chunk of the display. Swiping works great, though, and this is available only on the top-end Surge in Fitbit’s line-up. And the Watch’s Force Touch technology can detect soft and hard taps for different functions. It’s obviously the winner here.
You also get customizable watch faces with Apple, from digital and analogue chronometer and photo backgrounds to Mickey Mouse.
The Watch fared very well in US Consumer Reports tests to see how scratch-proof its screen is. The Sport model was impervious to all but a masonry drill bit, and the Sapphire screen of the top Watch couldn't be scratched at all!
There’s no such choice or frivolity with Fitbit, which sticks to its monochrome digital display on all but the Surge and Blaze, which can show an analogue face if you fancy it. But their less-flashy displays mean huge extra battery life for the Fitbits compared to the quickly tiring Apple Watch. The Fitbit Surge and Blaze have touch/swipe screens like the Apple Watch.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: GPS
The Series 1 Apple Watch doesn’t have GPS built in – it pairs with the iPhone in your pocket. That’s a problem for runners away from an indoors treadmill. Yes, you can carry your phone around with you on a run, but the Watch sells itself as a dedicated exercise device, and without GPS it’s not so for runners. That problem is solved with the latest Series 2 Apple Watch, which has a GPS built in.
Using a hiking app ViewRanger you can pick from nearby hikes, get notifications about scenic points while en-route, make sure you don’t go off the trail, and record your activity tracking, all using the Watch’s GPS.
The Apple Watch Nike+ is designed specifically for runners, with a lightweight aluminium body, a special active watch face, and a perforated Sports band for better ventilation. With this special Watch, you’ll be able to ask Siri to start a run. While running, you can get a distraction-free display of the distance and your pace or an advanced mode with more details about your workout.
The Fitbit Blaze also needs to connect with your smartphone for GPS functionality, although it will work with iPhone, Android and Windows Phone compared to the Apple Watch's iOS-only compatibility. It's a shame that the Blaze doesn't have GPS built in, like the Surge does, as this would have been a major selling point against Apple.
Running a GPS eats battery life, and that’s something (see below) that the Watch doesn’t have oodles of. We suspect that battery life was the reason that GPS was dropped from the Blaze. Serious runners are probably better advised to go for a dedicated runner's watch from the likes of Garmin (more below), but the Series 2 Watch is now a proper contender.
Of the Fitbits only the Surge has built-in GPS, and it’s great for mapping your runs and hikes. Before you start your run you press the left button once to show Run, then you tap the screen to choose your type of run (eg. Free Run or Manual Lap Run). Tap the button again and the Surge looks for satellites – which can take some time, but you can jog off anyway as it starts your run time while it’s looking for a GPS link. To get like features with the other Fitbits you can use the MobileRun app, which gives you the ability to track runs, walks, and hikes using GPS. The MobileRun feature is available for all users of GPS-enabled devices running the Fitbit apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
The Apple Watch can also be tied to other iOS apps, such as MotionX GPS, that use the iPhone's GPS.
The Surge’s Multiple Sport Mode also lets you track your cycling (distance, location, average speed, heart rate and calories burned).
The Apple Watch’s Maps app, however, lends itself to long runs, especially in new locations.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Other features
The Apple Watch has a microphone and a speaker, so you can talk to it and it can talk to you. You can also use the mic to do voice dictation, send audio messages, and chat via walkie-talkie mode with other Apple Watch users. It also boasts 8GB of storage so you can keep a bunch of your dearest photos on your wrist, as well as 2GB of music.
Other Apple apps include Calendar, Camera Remote, Weather and Apple Maps. And there's a wide range of downloadable apps for the Apple Watch.
The Fitbits are limited almost exclusively to fitness features. In addition the Alta, Charge 2, Surge and Blaze all feature Caller ID and Text notifications, buzz and show on screen who’s calling when your phone (iPhone, Android or Windows Phone) rings. The Surge and Blaze also have on-watch music controls.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Battery life
The Apple Watch has so many potential uses (make calls, view photos, send and check messages, change music, check weather, activity tracking, digital payments, and, er, tell the time) that its battery runs down a lot faster than standard activity trackers.
Apple says you’ll get up to 18 hours of active and passive use: that’s 90 time checks, 90 notifications, 45 minutes of nonstop app use, and a 30-minute workout with Bluetooth music playback from the watch. So you need to charge every night unless you use it only to tell the time in which case you might get three days out of it in Power Reserve Mode.
The Apple Watch is smart about saving what battery life it has. The watch face always turns off every 15 to 20 seconds. When you put your arm down the screen goes black. When you raise your wrist, the screen returns. You can also put it into “Power Save Mode” in the Workout app on your phone to turn off heart-rate tracking completely during runs – although that’s not great for learning more about your run. Serious runners want detail before, during and after the run, and don’t want to carry their iPhone and their Watch with them.
Fitbits last a lot longer between charges, at around five days. Fitbit charge time is around two hours, around the same as with the Watch. If you use the Surge's or Watch's GPS a lot then battery life will drop considerably.
Fitbit's longer battery life means you can use them to track sleep, unlike the Apple Watch.
Anyone who’s a keen tracker user will know the fear when you are suddenly alerted to a fading battery. Every step must be counted. Overuse your Watch, and it might die during a workout or just moving around during the day.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: waterproof
Rejoice! The Apple Watch Series 2 is waterproof, "up to 50 metres" – although it's really not for deep water, as Apple explains: "Apple Watch Series 2 has a water resistance rating of 50 metres under ISO standard 22810:2010. This means that it may be used for shallow-water activities like swimming in a pool or ocean. However, Apple Watch Series 2 should not be used for scuba diving, waterskiing or other activities involving high-velocity water or submersion below shallow depth. Stainless steel and leather straps are not water resistant."
The Series 1 Apple Watch is less water resistant, but not waterproof so you shouldn’t submerge it in water at all. Apple’s states: “Apple Watch is splash and water resistant but not waterproof. You can, for example, wear and use Apple Watch during exercise, in the rain, and while washing your hands, but submerging Apple Watch is not recommended. The leather bands are not water resistant.”
The Series 1 Apple Watch has a water resistance rating of IPX7 under IEC standard 60529 – this means it can withstand incidental exposure to water of up to 1 metre (but no more) for up to 30 minutes.
The Fitbits are sweat, rain and splash proof, but only the Flex 2 is swim proof, and even boasts some basic swimming tracking features. Fitbit also recommends taking its wristbands off before showering because, as with any wearable device, it’s best for your skin if the band stays dry and clean. The Charge 2 and Blaze have been tested up to 1 ATM (up to 10 metres), and the Surge to 5 ATM (50m), but they are not swim proof so this figure is largely irrelevant. The Flex 2 is safe in the water at 5 ATM (50m), and fine for swimming. See: Are Fitbits waterproof? for more details.
Read reviews of these pool-friendly trackers in our Best waterproof fitness tracker for swimming round up.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Rewards
When they reach their personal bests or hit milestones, Apple Watch users get a special badge for each achievement, which is then stored in the Activity app on their iPhone.
Fitbit also dishes out badges for achievements, tying them to comparative distances, so you’ll get a Sahara badge when you’ve walked the equivalent distance (not all in one day!).
A real motivational plus with Fitbit (and many other activity trackers) is the ability to compete against friends. This is a fun way to push yourself that bit further: walk that escalator, leave the lift and take the stairs. Using watchOS 3 means Apple Watch owners will also be able to share your Activity circles with your friends to keep each other motivated.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Price
Of course price is important when choosing between Fitbit and Apple Watch.
No one ever accused Apple of selling cheap products. Its ability to make the industry’s most expensive products into bestsellers is the reason that it’s one of the richest companies on the planet. And the Apple Watch, while in no way the most expensive watch in the world, is the priciest smartwatch.
The cheapest Apple Watch costs £269, for the 38mm aluminium Series 1 Watch with Sport Band; the larger 42mm model is priced at £299.
Series 2 Apple Watches start at £369, and keep going up to the £1,299 White Ceramic edition.
Fitbit wristbands start at £79.99 for the minimalist Flex 2, although this doesn’t actually have a watch function. The Fitbit Alta and Charge 2 are priced at £129.99, the Blaze at £159.99 and the Surge as £199.99. So even the most expensive Fitbit is nearly a third cheaper than the cheapest Apple Watch. And you can often pick up a Fitbit cheaper online from stores such as Amazon. Apple rarely offers discounts. For the best prices see our Fitbit tracker reviews.
Of course you get a whole lot more functionality for your money with the Apple Watch, but if it’s activity tracking you’re after then you save a bunch going for a Fitbit.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Compatibility
Fitbit is compatible with iOS, Android and Windows Phone. You don’t have to have a smartphone for Fitbit to work, as you can sync with the excellent desktop Fitbit Dashboard, but it’s good to have more syncing opportunities and be able to see some fancy stats and graphs on the go.
While it can’t run apps itself a Fitbit wristband can be integrated with apps such as MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal, Runkeeper, Endomondo, Strava and more.
For obvious reasons Apple Watch is compatible with iOS devices only, so the iPhone is the only smartphone that will work with it, and you really need one for it to make sense.
Apple Watch can run other fitness apps, such as Nike+Running, Runtastic Pro, Pocket Yoga, Map My Run, Endomondo, and Cyclemeter GPS. New apps will be released in the future so the Watch should get better functionality as developers work out new features.
Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Verdict
If fitness is your primary focus then we think the Fitbit trackers come out on top (especially if you’re into multi sports or are even a semi serious runner), but the Apple Watch, of course, offer a lot more than just activity tracking and heart-rate monitoring. The expanding Apple Watch app ecosystem will make the Watch a much more versatile wearable than a dedicated fitness band. And the new waterproof Series 2 Apple Watch with built-in GPS is a major advance in Apple creating a proper activity tracker, despite its poor battery life.
But that comes at a pretty steep price, starting at £269 – compared to the Fitbit trackers that range from £79 to £199. The £159 Fitbit Blaze offers more of a smartwatch look but lacks the many apps you can access with the Apple Watch.
The Fitbits offer much better battery life, because their screens aren’t so pretty and they don’t have to sync with a phone to gain most of their functionality.
They also offer sleep monitoring, which can be nearly as enlightening to the state of one’s health as one’s daytime exercise routine. And we love the motivation offered by Fitbit’s Friends league.
Crucially if you have an Android or Windows Phone the Apple Watch is simply not for you. Without an iPhone it’s pretty useless.
Apple Watch users don’t need to get a Fitbit as well as their prozed digital timepiece, but runners and the fitness nuts should consider adding some third-party apps or a dedicated sports watch from Garmin, Suunto or Polar.
So for fitness and activity tracking we vote for the Fitbits, but applaud Apple for the Watch’s fitness apps that should push Watch owners to get up and move about more – something all of us gadget owners could do with to stop us sliding into unhealthy lifestyles.
See Which Fitbit is best for a full comparison of the range.