When you’re trying to solve a problem, it helps to have all possible information. It’s the same with losing weight and being healthy. Just putting on a wearable doesn’t mean you’ll start losing weight.
But tracking your steps and getting data on things like your sleep cycle can certainly be enlightening. My weight loss journey started with the simple obsession of filling up the activity rings on the Apple Watch. Every single day.
If you’re the kind of person who gets excited by new technology, strapping a computer on your wrist can be a great way to motivate yourself. And if you’re an iPhone owner, there are basically two options: an Apple Watch or a Fitbit.
The Apple Watch is better at almost everything. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, there’s nuance to this argument and making blanket generalizations don’t help anyone. But that’s what the rest of the article is for.
Apple Watch Is a Joy to Use
One of the starkest differences between a Fitbit (check out our Fitbit tips) and an Apple Watch is not so much the technology but how you interact with it. So we’re going to go deep on some interaction talk.
Apple Watch’s interaction model is way better than any Fitbit on the market. With watchOS 4, Apple has reduced the reliance on the Digital Crown and Force Touch. So now you mostly interact with the Apple Watch using swipe gestures and taps. And the experience is at the same level as that of an iPhone: reliable and fast (especially with the new Apple Watch Series 3).
This smooth interaction allows the Apple Watch to be a “real” smartwatch. Swiping between watch faces, interacting with complications and even opening apps happens in a couple of seconds. Plus, you can avoid interacting with the touch screen altogether by asking Siri to do things like start a workout or set a reminder.
Fitbits, on the other hand, suffer in this regard. Depending on your Fitbit of choice, your interaction experience can range from nonexistent on the Fitbit Flex to mildly annoying on the Charge 2.
Charge 2, for example, has a particularly annoying interaction model. There’s only one button on the side which you use to cycle through top-level functionality like fitness tracking, heart rate monitoring and so on. To cycle through different options in a particular list, you need to tap on the screen, with a bit of a vigor. And to start an activity, you need to tap and hold the side button. And because this is not a “real” touchscreen, the tapping part can be a hit and miss sometimes.
This experience is a bit better on Fitbits like Ionic and Blaze. The ones which have a real capacitive touchscreen. But here as well, Fitbit’s lack of software design prowess is striking. Watch faces aren’t interesting. You can get notifications but can’t do much with them. Plus, most both Fitbit smartwatches are downright ugly.
Different Approaches to Fitness Tracking
Functionality wise, Fitbit Charge 2 and Apple Watch Series 1 have the same basic functionality where fitness tracking is heavily dependent on your phone’s network and GPS. Apple Watch Series 3 (and Apple Watch Series 2, which Apple doesn’t sell anymore) comes with a built-in GPS. This lets you track your outdoor workouts without the need for your phone.
The Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE goes even a step forward. While it’s not exactly a standalone phone, you can go for long periods of time without touching your iPhone and still make calls, reply to messages, use apps and track all your workouts.
Fitbit offers automatic fitness tracking feature that Apple Watch doesn’t. Once you’ve been on the move for more than 15 minutes, Fitbit can recognize what kind of activity it is and file it off for you. Fitbit recognizes running, aerobic workout, elliptical, outdoor biking and even swimming (only on Fitbit Flex 2). I haven’t had a great experience with this feature myself (when walking). But your mileage may vary.
If you want on-device GPS tracking, you’ll need to buy the Fitbit Ionic or Blaze smartwatches.
Apple Watch Is Better at Being a Watch
When it comes to “smart” watch features like replying to messages, Apple Pay, interacting with notifications, viewing information on the watch face and using apps, Apple Watch is way better than any Fitbit (even the Ionic and Blaze). This is in part to Apple Watch’s first party advantage. Because Apple makes both products, it can tightly integrate basic features.
Fitbit’s notification system isn’t that useful. While you can receive notifications on your Fitbit, there’s usually no way to reply to messages from your Fitbit. You also can’t take calls on your Fitbit (given the lack of microphone and speakers).
Fitbit Charge 2 for example, lags a couple of seconds when notifying about a call (sometimes buzzing way after I’m done with the call).
Apple Watch is a great notification machine. You can reply using emojis or your voice. The combination of thoughtfully designed watch faces, a large library of complications, Siri and interactive notifications make the Apple Watch a much better smartwatch than any Fitbit on the market.
Fitbits Get Great Battery Life
One place where Fitbit wins hands down is the battery life. Even with heavy use (one-hour workout tracking every day), I still get four to five days of battery life. And this is same across the board. Even the new Fitbit Ionic, which is a “real” smartwatch with a capacitive screen and GPS still gets about five days of battery life.
Compare and contrast with the Apple Watch which gives you a day’s battery life on average. If the prospect of yet another charger in your travel bag sends shivers down your spine, it might be reason alone to stay away from the Apple Watch (that is until Apple’s AirPower mat comes out).
Fitbits Are Great for Sleep Tracking
I’ve tried all the possible ways to track sleep short of installing a medical sleep tracking apparatus (complete with a sleep doctor in a white coat) in my bedroom. I’ve tried iPhone apps that promise to track your sleep using your bed movements and AI. I’ve tried using third party sleep tracking apps on the Apple Watch. I’ve tried cheap $20 activity trackers. But none of them track sleep as consistently as a Fitbit tracker (Charge 2 and above).
Fitbit is just good at this. They’re using a combination of all available sensor data (your wrist activity, heart rate, when you use your phone) and adds in their algorithmic secret sauce to gauge just how much you slept. And how well you slept. Fitbit’s app will tell you how much time you spent in deep sleep versus light sleep.
More importantly, the tracker reliably tells you how much time you spent awake. This was the biggest pitfall of every other tracker. The cheap Xiaomi bands, for example, would just start the sleeping mode as soon as I hit the bed. If you’re like me, you need to spend a good hour and a half in bed until you’re actually asleep.
This data, just like every other kind of health data, leads to interesting insights. The apps will show your average sleep habits in the day, and you can compare it with the national average as well.
Apple Watch is far better at doing most of the things you’d expect from a smart wearable device (including fitness tracking). Fitbit, on the other hand, is great at some specific things (like sleep tracking and long battery life).
If those specific features are a deal breaker for you, get a Fitbit. Otherwise the Apple Watch offers so much more. Coupled with an iPhone, it’s going to be way more useful. Plus, if you’re a special kind of nerd who finds both sets of features useful, try using both. Wear the Fitbit at night (for sleep tracking) and switch to Apple Watch in the daytime.
Of course, there’s the matter of cost as well. You can buy a Fitbit Charge 2 (the best traditional Fitbit fitness tracker) for $150. The Apple Watch Series 1 (the fitness equivalent of Charge 2) costs $249 ($279 for 42mm version). The Apple Watch Series 3 (the one you’ll probably want to buy) starts at $299 for the GPS version and $379 for the GPS + LTE version. The 42mm LTE version goes up to $429. Looking at it objectively, both devices are quite expensive (even the $149 Charge 2 feels overpriced for what it is).
Your choice then depends on which features you value. As a basic fitness and sleep tracker, the $150 Charge 2 is good enough (albeit with some interaction frustrations). If you expect anything more out of a wearable, just by the Apple Watch Series 3.
Which fitness tracker or smartwatch did you end up choosing based on your needs? What was your thought process like? Share with us in the comments below.