Want an activity tracker but can’t decide whether to buy a Fitbit wristband or fork out for the rather lovely Apple Watch, now at Series 8? We pit Apple Watch vs Fitbit to see which comes out best on various aspects: fitness tracking, heart-rate monitoring, design, price, apps, battery life, phone calls, music, and so on.
Apple is known for its smartwatches, and Fitbit for its activity trackers and fitness and health smartwatches. But the boundaries and functions are getting blurred with Fitbits looking more like watches with attractive touchscreens, and Apple adding more health features to its Watch.
Even smarter Sense and Versa 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. And most feature on-wrist notifications such as Caller ID, Texts and WhatsApp—which, to be fair, are the most used non-fitness apps on most smartwatches anyway.
As a direct comparison, we’ll look at the Apple Watch (including the Watch SE, Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra) vs the Fitbit Charge 5, Versa 3 and Versa 4, and top-end Fitbit Sense and Sense 2. The reason we include the older Versa 3 and original Fitbit Sense is that they are actually more feature-full than Fitbit’s later smartwatches as Fitbit leans closer to its owner Google’s Pixel Watch, which includes Fitbit built in.
There are money-off deals on the very latest Fitbit Charge 5, Sense and Versa 3; see our roundup of the best Fitbit deals. And look out for the best Apple Watch deals too.
Both Apple and Fitbit make excellent products, so it’s a matter of deciding which features really matter to you. We will focus on health and fitness as a core requirement, but there is more to both brands than just these functions.
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.
In addition, the Apple Watch Series 6 and later, along with Fitbit smartwatches (excluding the Versa Lite Edition) all have a barometric altimeter that counts distance climbed (take the hilly route home, not the flat one). The Fitbits also sync weight data from optional Fitbit Aria scales, while the Apple Watch will play nice with any other health and fitness app that syncs with Apple Health on iPhone.
As a result, the Fitbit models range from everyday fitness and active fitness (just like the Apple Watch) and further to sports and performance fitness—with the Charge 5, Sense and Versa 3 and 4 supporting running, cross-training, biking, strength and cardio workouts.
Serious runners dismissed the original Apple Watch and Fitbit for their needs, preferring the Ionic or other dedicated running watches from the Garmin or Suunto. But that changed with the release of the Apple Watch Series 2, which featured a built-in GPS just like the Fitbit Charge 4, Versa 2/3/4 and Sense.
The 2nd-gen SE, Series 8 and Ultra have faster processors than the previous generation, so apps load quicker. All Apple’s Watch models, except the Ultra, still have weak battery life (and even the Ultra falls short of the Fitbits in comparison), topping out at 18 hours on average (the Ultra reaches 36 hours). A version with built-in 4G is also available so it can work without having to take your iPhone with you when you exercise.
This makes it a closer match to the Fitbit Sense and Versa 3 & 4, which (with similar built-in GPS, music controls, notifications and contactless payments) can take care of most of your exercise needs without requiring you carry a phone or wallet around. Fitbit sadly removed a lot of the apps and music controls with its latest Versa 4 and Sense 2 smartwatches.
Fitness is obviously at the core of the Fitbits, whereas the Apple Watch counts activity tracking among 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, which tracks running, cycling, swimming and walking. All this data is collected on your iPhone via the Activity app, although you can get a more holistic view of their health by using the Health app on your iPhone, which integrates data from multiple sources, not only the Watch.
Apple uses movement and calorie burn rather than steps, which is Fitbit’s primary metric—although Fitbit also measures calories and other metrics. Steps are counted by Apple but they are not a primary metric as you find on Fitbit. Apple sticks to movement rather than calories for users aged 13 and under.
Read here for some great tips and advice on how to use the Apple Watch Activity app.
While they work brilliantly with the iPhone, Fitbits do not officially 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 colorful 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 ring 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 haptic 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 works in the same way, and is found on all Fitbits.
The Apple Workout app gives you real-time stats for exercise time, distance walked/run, calories burned and pace, and although it was initially frustrating to use, a redesign means it’s not only easier to use, but importantly now works with 80 percent of gym equipment, so you’ll get the data from the running machine or bike you use at your local.
Setting goals: Fitbit wins
One big difference here is that Apple doesn’t let you set yourself goals for steps or other metrics, except for calorie burn. If burning calories is not your prime objective, then this is a definite limitation of the Watch.
In comparison, Fitbit allows you to set yourself specific goals for Steps, Distance, Calories Burned, Active Zone Minutes, Floors Climbed and your Hourly Activity Goal.
Heart-rate monitor: narrow Fitbit win
The Apple Watch and heart-rate-checking Fitbits use something called—deep breath now—photoplethysmography to measure your heart rate. This uses green LEDs 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 on 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 Fitbits 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 too.
Apple has improved the Heart Rate app, which now measures your resting heart rate and your recovery heart rate, and can give you notifications if anything seems awry.
The Apple Watch Series 8 comes with watchOS 9 pre-installed. watchOS 9 features a raft of new features and improvements, including car crash detection; Heart Rate Zones; customizable workouts; a Multisport workout that automatically switches between any sequence of swimming, biking, and running; Race Route, which lets you compete against your best time running or biking a familiar route; Automatic track detection; Running Form metrics; Running Power; Medication logging and reminders; Sleep Stages; AFib History; Temperature changes; and more.
Fitbit says that the Sense and Versa 3 have also improved heart-rate measurement, as the LED sensors have closer contact with the wrist.
The Apple Watch has the ability to detect and warn of a prolonged elevated heart rate when not exercising, and is able to spot low rates too (which could be a sign of bradycardia, when the heart is not pumping enough oxygen-rich blood around the body). It also looks out for irregular heart rhythms, notifying you of potential atrial fibrillation.
Patients visiting doctors often complain of heart problems that aren’t happening right then, so having detailed and long-term heart data on file in the Health app is potentially beneficial.
Let’s look at these heart sensors and how they can detect illness in more detail below.
Cardio Fitness VO2 max Score: Fitbit wins on testing
Cardio fitness is a measurement of your “VO2 max”, which is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can consume during exercise. The hospital-grade VO2 max procedure involves the person riding a stationary bike or walk on a treadmill at increasing intensity levels while wearing a face mask. using a fitness tracker may not be as accurate but it is still a strong indicator of how well your body uses oxygen during strenuous exercise.
Your cardio fitness level is a strong indicator of your overall physical health and a predictor of your long-term health. According to studies, people with low cardiorespiratory fitness have a 56 percent higher risk of death from heart disease than those who are the most fit.
While Fitbit uses heart-rate data from multiple workout types, including Bike for example, Apple gives its cardio fitness estimate by measuring how hard your heart is working during only the following workouts: Outdoor Walk, Outdoor Run or Hiking.
Fitbit’s calculation is therefore considered to present a fuller picture. If running and/or walking are your main workout types, then this distinction is largely irrelevant. My Cardio Fitness Score looks much more healthy on Fitbit—without using a bike ride to help the calculation. I do a lot of walking and I have a low resting heart rate but I’m not sure my VO2 max score is as great as Fitbit suggests.
Checking heart irregularities: Draw
Measuring heart rate also allows for the devices to check when the heart’s rhythm is irregular—which can be a sign of atrial fibrillation (AFib), a leading cause of stroke.
Both Apple and Fitbit include the ability to measure a person’s electrocardiogram (ECG) signal.
The Fitbit Sense and Apple Watch include ECG tests. For example, by placing a finger on the Digital Crown of the Watch you can get it to run an electrocardiogram (ECG) test on you.
Each ECG app is CE marked and cleared in the European Economic Area and FDA-approved in the US.
Note that the U.S. International Trade Commission has decided that the Apple Watch infringes ECG patents from medical device company AliveCor, so this could be a blocker for this feature in the future.
Checking blood oxygen (SpO2) levels: Apple win
The balance of blood-oxygen saturation is vital to health.
Low blood oxygen levels could indicate a condition called Hypoxemia. Most people don’t have the chronic health conditions (asthma, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) that require them to monitor their blood oxygen level, but if you do, then having an SpO2 sensor will be very helpful.
A normal SpO2 reading is typically between 95 and 100 percent.
Both the Apple Watch and the latest Fitbit smartwatches offer SpO2 sensors to detect blood-oxygen saturation. Both allow on-demand readings of your blood oxygen, but Apple’s solution is more flexible.
The new Apple Watch can take a blood O2 reading in just 15 seconds at any time of day, while Fitbit only measures your blood-oxygen levels while you sleep, and you have to remember to switch the clock face for it to take a reading unless you subscribe to Fitbit’s Premium service.
Fitbit users require a Premium subscription to then track trends over time in the Health Metrics dashboard within the Fitbit app.
You can also read your blood oxygen levels using a pulse oximeter. Here’s what that is and where to buy one.
Calorie counting: draw
The basic formula for losing weight is to count calories in and ensure you are expending more calories 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 count, which then dictates 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, helping to make calorie counts more accurate.
Unlike Fitbit, Apple splits apart “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 a little more rigorous than Fitbit’s approach. Fitbit allows for “resting calories” too.
Your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is the number of calories that your body burns while you are at complete rest (with muscles relaxed, such as asleep) to keep itself alive (sustain vital organs such as your heart, brain, nervous system, lungs, kidneys, liver, muscles, and skin) and digest food. (Technical bit: Resting Metabolic Rate is not the same as Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which excludes the calories burned digesting food.)
If you set your calorie-burn target high on the Apple Watch you’ll need to walk the equivalent of 20,000 Fitbit steps.
The likes of the Versa and Sense recognize when you’re running and automatically enter Run Mode—starting the GPS or connected GPS—and even automatically pause when you do. The latest Apple Watch versions also do this.
Fitbit estimates the number of calories burned based on your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), calculated 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.
Sleep monitoring: Fitbit win, Apple improving
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. We should all be aiming for 8 hours of sleep per day.
Eight hours is a worthy aim, but unrealistic for many (such as parents!). Between 6 and 7.5 hours is maybe a goal you’ll hit more often.
Because its battery life is limited (see below), many users charge their Watch overnight. The Apple Watch’s battery life is much improved, however, so can (on light, non-GPS use) last nearly three full days and two nights. But to get anywhere near this level of battery life you’ll have to stop tracking workouts, minimize your app use and turn off the always-on display.
Apple prefers you to charge your Watch when you get a chance during the day. Check out our roundup of the best Apple Watch chargers, stands and docks. You can buy iPhone chargers that also charge your Apple Watch via the included cable; see Macworld’s list of the best MagSafe chargers.
But that is not as impressive as Fitbit battery life that can last a week or more between charges.
Since watchOS 7 Apple has included a Sleep app with the Series 3, 6, 7, 8, Ultra and entry-level SE Watches. It helps you establish a regular bedtime routine and keep track of your sleep trends night after night. watchOS 9 added Sleep Stages, an improvement of Sleep that monitors stages like REM and deep sleep.
If you charge your Watch overnight, Apple offers sleep tracking and is trying to position the Watch as something you can wear overnight, particularly if you’ve got the Ultra with its longer battery life—although it’s uncomfortable to wear in bed because it’s thicker!
Apple Sleep uses motion sensors, heartbeat sensors, and microphones to detect micro-movements to track how deeply users are sleeping. Watch will sync with the iPhone or iPad to show visualisations of the periods of wake and sleep, plus a chart showing weekly sleep trends. In watchOS 7 and later, Apple improved the offering with the addition of breath-rate monitoring.
Comparing Apple’s Sleep app to Fitbit’s is revealing, as my colleague David Price describes in his otherwise glowing Apple Watch 8 review. Despite loving the latest Apple Watch, he replaces it with a Fitbit at bedtime! He is more impressed with the sleep-tracking in watchOS 9: “Apple Watch’s sleep tracking feature has got a lot better this year. In the past I’ve complained that it’s far less sophisticated than the tracking offered by rival wearables, but now you get broken-down times for Awake, REM, Core and Deep sleep phases, along with estimates of the actual sleep you’ve had as opposed to the time spent in bed.”
If you use the latest Fitbits to track your sleep, you can see a record of the Sleep Stages you cycle through at night. While you’re asleep each night, your body typically goes through several sleep cycles: Light Sleep, Deep Sleep, and REM sleep that’s associated with dreaming.
Fitbit goes into much greater detail on the different Sleep Stages you go through, and now offers a nightly Sleep Score on the quality of your sleep.
Sleep stages are traditionally measured in a lab using an electroencephalogram to detect brain activity along with other systems to monitor eye and muscle activity. Fitbit’s trackers can’t match this level of medical accuracy but can estimate your sleep stages every night.
Fitbit estimates sleep stages using a combination of movement and heart-rate patterns. While you’re sleeping, your device tracks the beat-to-beat changes in your heart rate, known as heart rate variability (HRV), which fluctuate as you transition between light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep stages.
Like Fitbit, Apple use the Watch’s accelerometer and heart rate sensor to determine when you’re in REM, Core, or Deep sleep stages, as well as basic sleep duration that the Apple Watch already features. Users are able to view detailed information about the time and quality of their sleep with additional metrics including heart rate and respiratory rate, in sleep comparison charts in the Health app. This can help diagnose potential conditions like apnea.
Apple added fast-charging to the Apple Watch 7 and later, which will remind you when it’s time to charge it before you go to bed.
But Apple needs to seriously improve the Watch battery life if it’s going to be as effective in this key health measurement as Fitbit. While this is certainly the case with the Watch Ultra, the benefit to sleep tyracking is undone by this model being too bulky for comfortable nighttime wear.
Apps: Fitbit wins on fitness, Apple on everything else
Apple’s Activity and Workout apps look glorious, of course, but Fitbit’s appealing multi-phone app features more fitness stats and data graphics. Fitbit also wins by having a rich desktop dashboard to collect and organize your activity data.
The Versa 3 & 4 and Sense 1 & 2 work with the Fitbit Coach and Premium, which combine dynamic video workouts with Audio Coaching sessions to help users increase endurance, speed and form. With pricing of £7.99 or $9.99 a month, Fitbit says its Premium service will grow to include advanced tools with a library of programs and workouts to deliver personalized adaptive health and fitness coaching.
Apple has released its own Fitness+ with workouts and trainers for £9.99 or $9.99 a month, and it’s compatible with most Apple devices including Mac, iPad and Apple TV. Though the offering was initially limited, it has expanded to include the likes of Yoga and HIIT.
The Versa and Sense might measure up better against the Apple Watch if they had a much-expanded range of non-fitness apps. Right now its apps are very limited outside of Fitbit’s impressive health and fitness functions, plus notification features.
Fitbit is actually moving backwards in terms of apps, removing most from its latest smartwatches, the Versa 4 and Sense 2. Fitbit’s owner Google is pushing smartwatch users to its newer Pixel smartwatch, with Fitbit built in.
If you want a large range of non-health apps then the Watch or an Android equivalent will suit you better than a Fitbit, although they do feature Caller ID, text message and calendar alerts on screen.
Wearing both Watch and Versa and Sense we found that the most used Apple Watch apps were Notifications, which are ably handled by the Fitbit smartwatches too—and in a less graphic way by the less-smart Fitbit trackers too. If the Apple Watch has a “killer app” it’s probably Activity—so the Fitbits compete very favorably for the most-used daily apps despite offering fewer third-party apps.
Other Apple apps include Calendar, Camera Remote, Weather and Apple Maps. And there’s a huge range of third-party apps for the Apple Watch.
With the Watch, you can also create an album of photos stored on your watch and share these with people. You can also create a Watch face with one of your photos as the background.
The Fitbits are limited almost exclusively to fitness features. In addition, the Inspire 2 & 3, Charge 5, Versa 3 & 4 and Sense all feature Caller ID and Text notifications, buzz and show on screen who’s calling when your phone (iPhone, Android or Windows Phone) rings.
Music: Apple wins
You can do a lot with music on the Apple Watch if you are using Apple Music. You can add music to your library, remove songs, mark what you like, add songs to the queue, browse an artist’s music, and view the contents of albums and playlists.
You can play music stored on Apple Watch, scroll through album artwork, then tap a playlist or album to play it.
You also have a certain amount of control when using Spotify on the Apple Watch: Play, pause, and skip music and podcasts; control volume; browse playlists and tracks; add songs to your Spotify library; get info about what’s playing; and save your favorites.
Fitbit’s music options depend on the smartwatch model. Previously, you could download 2.5GB of music (about 300 songs) or podcasts to the Ionic, Versa and Versa 2. But, frustratingly, with the Sense and Versa 3, you can use only obscure premium streaming services Pandora and Deezer, or use the watch to control Spotify Premium on your phone.
Fitbit has again gone backwards with the Versa 4 and Sense 2, which remove music controls altogether.
For actual offline music storage on the wearable, Apple wins easily —although only if you use its Music service or Spotify.
Design: Fitbit catching up
There are many different combinations of Apple Watch types, sizes and straps, from the simple Sport to the Watch Hermès Edition. Apple’s Jonathan Ive (now departed from Cupertino) scored another design success with the Watch, and it’s really rather beautiful. The choice of straps for the Watch is immense, and users praise their robustness—where older Fitbit bands used to fail more frequently.
Fitbit’s tracker wristbands are a lot more minimal, with simple screens (see below) and stark straps, available in a range of several colors. You can wear Fitbits such as the Inspire 3, Luxe or Charge 5 with your regular wristwatch, but I wouldn’t wear an Apple Watch with a normal watch on the same arm—the same is true of the Versa and Sense Fitbits, though.
The Apple Watch is your main watch, not another wristband. The Fitbit Charge 5 or Inspire 3 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.
Strap choice: The Fitbit Versa (below) and Sense looks a lot like the Apple Watch, but have a smaller but still decent range of straps—with a choice of colors in Small and Large sizes. There are more luxury straps also available at extra cost: Stainless Steel links or Mesh, plus Leather.
If you want a watch to look like a watch, then the Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa or Sense are for you. As a personal preference, we found the slimmer Fitbits to be the most comfortable of all the smartwatches we tested.
The Fitbit Inspire 3, Luxe and Charge 5 are also comfortable, and, in fact, mostly it’s difficult to tell you’ve got one on at all, as they are so lightweight.
Screen: Apple wins
Apple Watch vs Fitbit specs and dimensions: The Fitbit Sense and Versa fall slightly behind the smaller version of the Apple Watch Series 8. Both Fitbits are equipped with a 1.58-inch display with a resolution of 336 x 336 pixels, while the 41mm Apple Watch Series 8 sports a 1.69in display at 430 x 352.
The dimensions of the Sense and Versa 3 pebble are 40.48mm.
All Fitbits use an AMOLED display, which offers deeper blacks and sharper details than the original Versa.
The Apple Watch display increased with the Series 7, jumping up from 40mm and 44mm to 41mm and 45mm respectively, where it stays with the Series 8. While it doesn’t sound like a lot, combined with smaller bezels, there’s a 20% increase in overall display size.
The new Apple Watch 8 comes in 41mm (430 x 352 pixels) and 45mm (484 x 396) sizes.
The latest Ultra screen measures 49mm (410 x 502).
The 40mm Apple Watch SE has a 324 x 394 resolution. The 44mm Apple Watch SE has a 368 x 448 resolution.
The Apple Watch’s touchscreen is a colorful beauty. The Versa and Sense’s color screens are not as lush as Apple’s, but do allow for more than the other Fitbit activity trackers’ minimal looks—the Inspire 3, Fitbit Luxe and Charge 5 boast a small but color screen.
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 on the Charge 5, Luxe, Versa and Sense in Fitbit’s line-up.
You also get customisable watch faces with Apple, from digital and analogue chronometer and photo backgrounds to the Siri-powered watch faces and more, with an ever-expanding collection of faces. There’s also a range of complications from both Apple and third-party apps, allowing you to get information like the weather, air quality and more at a glance.
You can also select watch faces on the Ionic, and even design your own, but it can’t compete in the complication department.
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! With iPhone-like Gorilla Glass the Ionic’s screen is also impressive.
If you want your wrist’s screen to be always on, then only the Fitbit Versa and Sense and Series 6, 7 & 8 plus Ultra of Apple Watch offer this option—handy during workouts or cycle rides when you might not want to lift your wrist to your face.
There’s certainly less choice or frivolity with Fitbit, which sticks to its simple digital display on all but the Sense and Versa, which can show alternative faces if you fancy it. But their less-flashy displays mean huge extra battery life for the Fitbits compared to the quickly tiring Apple Watch.
GPS: Apple wins on built-in
The original Apple Watch didn’t have built-in GPS—it paired with the iPhone in your pocket and used its GPS instead. That was a problem for runners away from an indoor 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 was solved with the Series 2, meaning the current Series SE, 8 and Ultra all have 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 top-end Apple Watch Ultra features a dual-frequency GPS for precision.
Running GPS eats battery life, and that’s something that the Watch doesn’t have oodles of. Serious runners are probably better advised to go for a dedicated runner’s watch from the likes of Garmin, but the Apple Watch is now a proper contender.
The Fitbit Versa, Sense and non-smartwatch Charge 5 also have GPS built-in.
The Fitbit Versa Lite, Versa 2, Luxe and Inspire 2 & 3 need to connect with your smartphone for GPS functionality, although they will work with iPhone, Android and Windows Phone compared to the Apple Watch’s iOS-only compatibility. The Ionic does have a built-in GPS, and as mentioned earlier will automatically turn this on when it recognizes you have started a run.
To get similar 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 and RunKeeper, that use the iPhone’s GPS.
Fitbit’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. Both Watch and Fitbit smartwatches have Weather apps so you can tell whether to put a coat on before you leave the house.
The Apple Watch Series 6 introduced a built-in Compass to the range, with additional location data, such as heading, incline, latitude, longitude and current elevation. The Apple Compass has been improved on the latest watchOS 9.
Most recent models of Apple Watch also offer International SOS, which works by pressing and holding the side button to call the emergency services.
Phone calls on your wrist: Apple wins but Fitbit catching up
With the Apple Watch you can both make and receive voice calls on your wrist. You can even use Siri for hands-free dialling, simply by raising your wrist and speaking.
If someone calls you while you’re wearing your Apple Watch (and it’s within range of your iPhone, or a cellular model that can work independently of the phone), you’ll be alerted by a subtle vibration as well as an audible ringtone if you haven’t set the device to silent.
Look at your watch and you’ll see who’s calling, along with an answer or decline button. If it’s someone you want to talk to, tap the green answer button. There are a built-in speaker and microphone, so you’ll be able to chat without getting your iPhone out of your bag or pocket. If you don’t want everyone else to be able to hear your conversation you need to use a Bluetooth headset, or transfer the call from the Watch to your iPhone.
The only Fitbits with a microphone are the Versa 2, 3 & 4 and Sense, which uses the mic to operate Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant (usually a better voice assistant than Siri but Siri on Watch can give you directions or play you a song).
With both the top-end Fitbit Sense and Versa, you can now take hands-free Bluetooth calls with the on-device microphone and speakers, send incoming calls to voicemail, and control volume without reaching for a phone. Android users can also respond to text messages on-the-go with voice-to-text commands.
Likewise, 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 to friends via the Phone app. It also boasts up to 32GB of storage so you can keep a bunch of your dearest photos on your wrist.
But, of course, the Apple Watch pairs only with Apple’s iPhone, so Android users should consider Fitbit their friend, or look to other smartwatches from the likes of Samsung and Google’s own Pixel smartwatch.
Battery life: Fitbit wins, no contest
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 with the SE and Series 8: 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 latest Apple Watch Ultra boasts a 36-hour battery life—up to 60 hours on low power settings, claims Apple.
As mentioned earlier, Apple Watch has much-improved battery life, and with light use (Activity tracking, Time and Notifications just like on a Fitbit) can last nearly two full days—and crucially a couple of nights for sleep tracking. But Apple acknowledges the weaker battery life by not having sleep tracking as a built-in app.
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 (or dims if you’ve got an always-on model). 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. The Charge 5 can run for up to a week; the Inspire 3 for 10 days. Fitbit re-charging time is around two hours, around the same as with the Watch. If you use the Fitbit’s or Watch’s GPS a lot then battery life will drop considerably. With GPS turned on the Fitbit will fade by 10 hours, and the Watch by five.
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.
Find out how to get longer Fitbit battery life.
Water resistance: Apple Watch Ultra wins
The Apple Watch SE and Series 8 are waterproof, “up to 50 meters”—although it’s really not for deep water, as Apple explains: “This means that it may be used for shallow-water activities like swimming in a pool or ocean. However, Apple Watch 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.”
Divers fare better with the robust Apple Watch Ultra, which can reach depths of 100m (under ISO standard 22810), although Apple says that the Ultra “should not be used for diving below 40 meters”. A Depth app makes it suitable for snorkeling or casual underwater activity. With it, you can see the time, current depth, water temperature, duration under water, and maximum depth you’ve reached.
The Fitbits are swim-proof and safe in the water at 5 ATM (50m). 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. See: Are Fitbits waterproof? for more details.
The Apple Watch and Fitbit smartwatches offer swimming tracking features. Both the Watch and Fitbit Sense feature a gyroscope for more accurate swim measurements.
Rewards: Fitbit loses its medal, Apple wins
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 Fitness app on their iPhone.
Fitbit used to dish out lots of fun badges for achievements, tying them to comparative distances, so you’d get a Sahara badge when you’ve walked the equivalent distance (not all in one day!).
Sadly, Fitbit removed such badges and challenges at the start of 2023, claiming that they were rarely used.
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.
Apple Watch owners can share their Activity circles with your friends to keep each other motivated, but this is not as easy as with Fitbit, and you’re less likely to have a bunch of Watch-owning acquaintances unless you spend a lot of time hanging out at an Apple Store!
With Apple, you can invite friends to compete in a seven-day competition where you both earn points by filling your Activity rings.
Apple offers achievement badges for the first time you perform new exercises, workout records, 7-workout weeks, and move goals and streaks. There are monthly challenges, too.
Find My…: Apple wins, Fitbit catching up
Smartwatches aren’t cheap, and sometimes you mislay one. If it falls off your wrist while out on a run, your chances of finding it unaided are slim.
Luckily, Apple has built its Find My tech into its Apple Watch, just like it has with most of its products. Automatically enabled, this uses Wi-Fi or cellular connections in Location Services to detect where your Apple device was last recorded. Apple Watch with GPS can use GPS and a trusted Wi-Fi connection.
If your Apple Watch is paired with your iPhone, it is set up automatically when you turn on Find My iPhone.
You can see your Apple Watch devices on a map, play a sound to find it, display a message on a lost Watch, lock it until you recover it, and even erase it if you don’t. If your Apple Watch goes missing, you can immediately lock it from iCloud.com or your paired iPhone. When you find it, you can unlock it.
It’s not possible to use such technology with most Fitbits. The company has recently partnered with location specialist Tile to integrate its device-finding software with the entry-level Fitbit Inspire 2. We hope, and expect, the other Fitbits to have Tile tech added soon.
For other Fitbits, you need the app and some luck. Check the Fitbit app to see the last time your device synced. If it synced recently, then it’s probably within the range of your phone, so take your phone to where you think you lost it, and try to sync. If you’re in luck and the Fitbit is within 30 feet Bluetooth range, the Fitbit will sync, proving it’s nearby.
You can also try using a Bluetooth locator app to help you find your device within about 100 feet if its battery is still live.
Comparing all the models: Apple Watch vs Fitbit
While it’s a great entry-level fitness tracker, the Fitbit Inspire 3 is maybe too basic to be compared with the Apple Watch.
The Fitbit Charge 5 is not a smartwatch. Its apps are basic, although it has seen an upgrade from monochrome to color touchscreen. But other than that, it’s an activity tracker that offers a lot of fitness and smart features, including built-in GPS, heart-rate monitor, automatic workout detection, altimeter, smartphone notifications, contactless payments, and even stress monitoring. Prices start at: US $149 / £129.
The Fitbit Versa 3 is a smartwatch with a great color touchscreen that allows for brighter graphics and on-screen workouts, plus an always-on display option. It has a microphone and speaker for phone calls, and has both Alexa and Google Assistant voice tools, music control, and some smartwatch apps. Prices start at US $169 / £169.
The Fitbit Versa 4 smartwatch matches the Versa 3 on most looks and features, but crucially is limited on others (such as third-party apps, Google Assistant and music control), making the Vesra 3 the better fitness smartwatch, and it’s cheaper too. Prices start at US $229 / £199.
The Fitbit Sense adds a bunch of sensors that are built around health as well as fitness. It has stress-management tools based on sensors that measure Electrodermal Activity (EDA) and Skin Temperature. There’s SP02 monitoring for blood oxygen and electrocardiogram (ECG) to check your heart’s rhythm with high and low heart-rate notifications. Prices start at US $279 / £219.
As with the cut-down Versa 4, the Fitbit Sense 2 has been hobbled by Fitbit/Google to push the Pixel Watch, so we prefer the cheaper original version. Prices start at US $299 / £269.
Google, which bought Fitbit in 2019, now has its own smartwatch, the Pixel Watch. It boasts a lot more apps than the Fitbit Sense or Sense 2 but, despite having Fitbit features baked in, doesn’t have as many health and fitness sensors as the cheaper Fitbit smartwatch. Prices start at $349 / £339.
The Apple Watch SE is the entry-level model, but matches the higher-end Apple Watch models on many features, although lacks some of the health and fitness functions. For basic fitness monitoring, it’s a great value smartwatch in either 40mm or 44mm sizes. Prices start at US$249 / £259.
The Apple Watch Series 8 has a larger display (41mm or 45mm) that curves around the edges (that can be set to always-on), along with ECG, blood oxygen monitoring, faster charging and a more advanced heart sensor. While the SE has an aluminum case, the 8 has options in stainless steel, too, with more color and band options. Prices start at US$399 / £419.
The Apple Watch Ultra is the ultimate Apple Watch and is priced accordingly. It has a larger, brighter 49mm display (410 x 502 pixels) and is super tough, made with titanium. While not matching Fitbit’s battery life, its 36-hour duration smashes the SE and 8’s 18 hours. It is waterproof up to 100m, compared to the other Watch and Fitbits that can reach 50m, so is a better option for divers. Its GPS is more accurate than the other smartwatches reviewed here. Prices start at US$799 / £849.
Price: Apple getting cheaper
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.
But Apple has now cut the entry-level Apple Watch price down to Fitbit smartwatch levels of affordability. Fitbit still has much cheaper options for trackers that aren’t smartwatches, though.
The Apple Watch SE is the entry-level Apple Watch, priced at US$249 / £259 for the 40mm variant and US$279 / £299 for the 44mm variant, with the cellular model costing US$50 / £60 more.
Series 8 Apple Watches are a noticeable jump up in cost, starting at US$399 / £419 for the 41mm version, with the steel variant costing a lot more more (from $699 / £729), and the cellular model of each also costs more (US$499 / £529 for the aluminum body).
The Apple Watch Ultra is on another level but not too far off the steel Series 8, starting at US$799 / £849.
Buy at the Apple Store US, Apple Store UK or Apple Store AU.
Fitbit wristbands start at US $99 / £84 for the Fitbit Inspire 3. The Fitbit Charge 5 is priced at US $149 / £129, the Fitbit Versa 3 at US $169 / £169, and the Fitbit Sense at US $279 / £219. Don’t bother with the more expensive but cut-down Versa 4 or Sense 2.
Even the most expensive Fitbit is around the same price as the cheapest Apple Watch—even the Watch SE. Note that you can often pick up a Fitbit cheaper online from stores such as Amazon, while Apple rarely offers discounts.
See our updated roundup of the best Fitbit deals.
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.
Compatibility: Apple is iPhone only
Fitbit is compatible with iOS and Android. 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 only the Versa 3 and Sense smartwatches can run apps themselves, these Fitbit wristbands can be integrated with apps such as MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal, Runkeeper, Endomondo, Strava and more. Later Versa 4 and Sense 2 are severely cutback when it comes to third-party apps.
Google’s Pixel Watch, as you might imagine, is Android only.
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+Run Club, Runtastic Pro, Pocket Yoga, Map My Run, Endomondo, and Cyclemeter GPS, with more being added all the time.
Hearing: Apple wins helping your ears
Apple introduced a Noise app in watchOS 6 that measures ambient sound levels and duration of exposure. watchOS 7 added further aids to hearing health with headphone audio notifications.
This will show how loudly you are listening to sound through your headphones when using an iPhone, iPod touch or Apple Watch, and how these levels may impact hearing over time.
Apple will tell you when your listening has reached 100% of the safe weekly listening amount as determined by the World Health Organization.
The Health app can even control the maximum level for headphone volume.
Fitbit Premium vs Apple Fitness+
Both Apple and Fitbit have special subscriber services, where extra features, some stats, and personalized insights need to be paid for.
Apple’s Fitness+ is, as the name implies, focused on workouts and fitness, while Fitbit Premium takes in fitness, health, nutrition and wellbeing.
Apple’s Fitness+ subscriber service is fairly new. It costs $9.99 / £9.99 per month or $79.99 / £79.99 per year. Fitness+ can be shared among up to six family members for the same price. When you buy an Apple Watch, new users get three months of free Fitness+.
It includes home workout programs that complement the Watch’s fitness features so your activity is tracked alongside the workouts videos that can be watched on your iPhone, iPad or AppleTV.
Workout categories include High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Strength, Yoga, Dance, Core, Cycling, Treadmill (for running and walking), Rowing, and Mindful Cooldown.
Virtual trainers tailor the workout to your required level.
After the workout, you can see your workout metrics, such as heart rate, duration, pace and calories burned. As you hit various targets, the Watch’s Activity ring is mirrored on the workout’s video screen.
Fitbit Premium has been going for longer and offers lots more than just workouts, including guided programs to help you stay active, eat and sleep well, and manage stress.
It is priced similarly to Apple’s service, at $9.99 / £7.99 per month or $79.99 / £79.99 per year, so a little cheaper in the UK when paid monthly.
It features video and audio workouts (walking, weights, cardio, dance, martial arts, yoga, and more) that can be viewed on your phone via the Fitbit app, and even some on your Fitbit watch.
Subscribers receive personalized insights, Sleep Score breakdown, and a Wellness Report based on your stats. There are also Premium-only challenges.
There’s a three-month free trial of Fitbit Premium, and new users get free Premium when buying a tracker or smartwatch, up to a year’s worth with the Fitbit Inspire 2.
There is no family membership option for Fitbit Premium.
Fitbit also offers Fitbit Premium & Health Coaching membership (US only for now), for $54.99/month. This service lets you work one-on-one with a professional health coach to get individual support and a custom action plan, with unlimited in-app messaging and data-driven guidance.
Which should you buy: Fitbit or Apple Watch?
If fitness is your primary focus then we think the Fitbit trackers come out on top (especially if you’re into multi-sports), but the Apple Watch, of course, offers 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.
But that comes at a pretty steep price.
The Fitbits offer much better battery life (the Charge 5 lasts up to a week!), and so don’t have to be charged every night while you sleep. Only the expensive Apple Watch Ultra gets close at a day and a half.
Detailed sleep monitoring can be nearly as enlightening to the state of one’s health as one’s daytime exercise routine. While Apple has added a Sleep app, its weaker battery life makes this troublesome for users. Sleep tracking on the Fitbit is much easier, although Fitbit does hide some of the metrics back for its Premium subscribers.
And we love the motivation offered by Fitbit’s Friends league.
Crucially, if you have an Android, 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 prized 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, or try out the Ionic.
Of course, one big advantage of the Apple Watch is its ability to make and receive phone calls, matched only by the Fitbit Versa 3 & 4 and Sense 1 & 2.
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.
Check out our Which Fitbit is Best roundup here.
Smartwatches, Wearable Fitness Devices, Wearables